Gay literature

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Zephyr and Hyakinthos: Greek mythology, which often features homosexuality, is a source for much modern speculative fiction and mythic figures continue to appear in fantasy stories.[1]

Gay literature is a collective term for literature produced by or for the LGBT community, or which involves characters, plot lines or themes portraying male homosexual behavior.[2][3]

In a historical sense, literature as we understand it is a fairly new innovation, and the current concept of homosexuality is even fresher from the cultural oven. It's no great surprise, then, that gay literature — or even gay characters in literature — are so relatively new as to still be shiny.

Overview and history[edit]

Because of the frequent persecution or opposition to homosexuality in many world cultures throughout history, LGBT individuals have often turned to literature as a source of validation, understanding, and beautification of same-sex attraction. LGBT literature may also document the psychological stresses and alienation suffered by the gay community as LGBT individuals confront such challenges as prejudice, AIDS, self-loathing, bullying, violence, religious condemnation, denial, suicide, persecution, and other such obstacles.

Themes of love between individuals of the same gender can be found in a variety of ancient texts throughout the world. The Ancient Greeks, in particular, explored the theme on a variety of different levels in such works as Plato's Symposium.

20th century[edit]

The 20th century British author E.M. Forster earned a prominent reputation as a novelist while concealing his own homosexuality from the broader British public. In 1913-1914, he privately penned Maurice, a bildungsroman that follows a young, upper-middle-class man through the self-discovery of his own attraction to other men, two relationships, and his interactions with an often uncomprehending or hostile society. The book is notable for its affirming tone and happy ending. "A happy ending was imperative," wrote Forster, "...I was determined that in fiction anyway, two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows.... Happiness is its keynote."[4] The book was not published until 1971, after Forster's death.

By the twentieth century, discussion of homosexuality became more open and society's understanding of it evolved. A number of novels with explicitly gay themes and characters began to appear in the domain of mainstream or art literature. Notable authors include Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, Christopher Isherwood, Edmund White, Yukio Mishima, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Henry James and nobel prize-winner André Gide.

The founding of the Lambda Literary Award in the late 1980s helped increase the visibility of LGBT literature.

21st century[edit]

In the twenty-first century, much of LGBT literature has achieved a high level of sophistication and many works have earned mainstream acclaim. Notable authors include Alan Hollinghurst, André Aciman, Michael Cunningham, Michael Chabon, and Jamie O'Neill.

LGBT themes have also become more visible in a growing body of high-quality young adult literature, with notable authors including Alex Sanchez, Stephen Chbosky, Shyam Selvadurai, Perry Moore, and David Levithan.


Gay pulp and gay science fiction are genres of gay fiction that represent some of the earliest incorporation of this "taboo" subject in contemporary literature.[citation needed]

Gay authors, characters and themes are present in all genres of literature, but the increasing amount of gay fiction emerging in recent years has established several (if unofficial) subgenres, including gay mystery, horror and romance, as well as gay teen.

Gay themes in mythology[edit]

Many mythologies and religious narratives have included stories of sex or romantic affection between men, or feature divine actions that result in changes in gender. These myths have been interpreted as early forms of gay literature.

The status of mythology varies by culture. Myths are generally believed to be literally true within the society that created them and deemed erroneous or fictitious elsewhere. Other cultures may regard myths as containing psychological or archetypal truths. Myths have been used to explain and validate the social institutions of a particular culture,[5] as well as to educate the members of that culture.

Gay pulp[edit]

Gay pulp fiction or gay pulps, refers to printed works, primarily fiction, that include references to male homosexuality, specifically male gay sex, and that are cheaply produced, typically in paperback books made of wood pulp paper; lesbian pulp fiction is similar work about women. Michael Bronski, the editor of an anthology of gay pulp writing, notes in his introduction, "Gay pulp is not an exact term, and it is used somewhat loosely to refer to a variety of books that had very different origins and markets"[6] People often use the term to refer to the "classic" gay pulps that were produced before about 1970, but it may also be used to refer to the gay erotica or pornography in paperback book or digest magazine form produced since that date.

Children's fiction[edit]

Compared to gay and lesbian teen fiction, sales of gay-themed books for younger children and availability of these books in public and school libraries remain "very dicey and very different."[7] [8]

One of the earliest books to address homosexuality was Jenny lives with Eric and Martin. Originally published in 1981 in Danish as Mette bor hos Morten og Erik, it tells the story of Jenny, her father and his partner and their daily life. Controversy and politicization followed its publication.

Some of the best known children's books with gay themes include Heather Has Two Mommies (1989) and Daddy's Roommate (1991), published by LGBT publisher Alyson Books. Both books discussed same-sex parenting and attracted criticism and controversy. The American Library Association ranked Heather Has Two Mommies as the 11th most frequently challenged book in the United States in the 1990s.

Recent controversies include King & King, originally written in Dutch and published in English in 2002. The book is about a prince uninterested in princesses, who eventually falls in love with another prince. In 2006, parents sued a Massachusetts school district after a teacher read the book to their son's second grade class.[9][10]

Australian titles include the books in the 'Learn to Include' series: The Rainbow Cubby House, My House, Going to Fair Day and Koalas on Parade.

The 2013 publication of House of Hades, Book 4 in the The Heroes of Olympus young adult series by Rick Riordan featured one of the supporting characters coming out as gay. Specifically, Nico di Angelo confesses that he has a crush on the titular Percy Jackson. While Nico is not the main protagonist of this series, this subplot is an important step for children's literature.

A more extensive list of gay children's literature includes:

  • "A Name on the Quilt: A Story of Remembrance" By: Jeannine Atkins
  • "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" By: Sarah S. Brannen
  • "A B C: A Family Alphabet Book" By: Bobby Combs
  • "1 2 3: A Family Counting Book" By: Bobby Combs
  • "Oliver Button is a Sissy" By: Tomie dePaola
  • "Asha's Mums" By: Rosamund Elwin and Michele Paulse
  • "The Sissy Duckling" By: Harvey Fierstein
  • "Molly's Family" By: Nancy Garden
  • "Antonio's Card/La Targeta de Antonio" By: Rigoberto González
  • "Best Best Colors: Los Mejores Colo res" By: Eric Hoffman
  • "Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle" By: Pija Linderbaum
  • "Everywhere Babies" By: Susan Meyers
  • "Felicia's Favorite Story" By: Leslea Newman
  • "Saturday is Pattyday" By: Leslea Newman
  • "Too Far Away to Touch" By: Leslea Newman
  • "The White Swan Express" By: Jean Davies Okimoto and Elaine M. Aoki
  • "It's Okay to Be Different" By: Todd Parr
  • "Tiger Flowers" By: Patricia Quinlan
  • "And Tango Makes Three" By: Justin Richardson
  • "Seeds" By: George Shannon
  • "My Two Uncles" By: Judith Vigna
  • "William's Doll" By: Charlotte Zolotow


Science fiction[edit]

Illustration by D. H. Friston that accompanied the first publication of lesbian vampire novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu in The Dark Blue magazine in 1872. Carmilla is an early work depicting gay characters as morally impure.[12][13]

Homosexuality in speculative fiction refers to the incorporation of homosexual themes into science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction and related genres which together constitute speculative fiction (SF).[a] Such elements may include a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual (LGBT) character as the protagonist or a major character, or exploration of varieties of sexual experience that deviate from the conventional.

Science fiction and fantasy have traditionally been puritanical genres aimed at a male readership, and can be more restricted than non-genre literature by their conventions of characterisation and the effect that these conventions have on depictions of sexuality and gender. However, speculative fiction also gives authors and readers the freedom to imagine societies that are different from real-life cultures. This freedom makes speculative fiction a useful means of examining sexual bias, by forcing the reader to reconsider his or her heteronormative cultural assumptions. It has also been claimed that LGBT readers identify strongly with the mutants, aliens, and other outsider characters found in speculative fiction.[citation needed]


LGBT themes in comics is a relatively new concept, as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) themes and characters were historically omitted intentionally from the content of comic books and their comic strip predecessors, due to either censorship or the perception that comics were for children.[14] With any mention of homosexuality in mainstream United States comics forbidden by the Comics Code Authority (CCA) until 1989,[15] earlier attempts at exploring these issues in the US took the form of subtle hints or subtext regarding a character's sexual orientation.[16] LGBT themes were tackled earlier in underground comics from the early 1970s onward. Independently published one-off comic books and series, often produced by gay creators and featuring autobiographical storylines, tackled political issues of interest to LGBT readers.

Comic strips have also dealt in subtext and innuendo, their wide distribution in newspapers limiting their inclusion of controversial material. The first openly gay characters appeared in prominent strips in the late 1970s; representation of LGBT issues in these titles causes vociferous reaction, both praise and condemnation, to the present day. Comic strips aimed at LGBT audiences are also syndicated in gay- and lesbian-targeted magazines and comics have been created to educate people about LGBT-related issues and to influence real-world politics, with their format and distribution allowing them to transmit messages more subtle, complex, and positive than typical education material. Portrayal of LGBT themes in comics is recognized by several notable awards, including the Gaylactic Spectrum Award and GLAAD Media Awards for outstanding comic book and comic strip.

Since the 1990s LGBT themes have become more common in mainstream US comics, including in a number of titles in which a gay character is the star. European comics have been more inclusive from an earlier date. The lack of censorship, and greater acceptance of comics as a medium of adult entertainment led to less controversy about the representation of LGBT characters. The popular Japanese manga tradition has included genres of girls' comics that feature homosexual relationships since the 1970s, in the form of yaoi and yuri. These works are often extremely romantic and include archetypal characters that often are not identified as gay. Since the Japanese "gay boom" of the 1990s, a body of manga aimed at LGBT customers has been produced, which have more realistic and autobiographical themes. Pornographic manga also often includes sexualised depictions of lesbians and intersex people. Queer theorists[who?] have noted that LGBT characters in mainstream comic books are usually shown as assimilated into heterosexual society, whereas in alternative comics the diversity and uniqueness of LGBT culture is emphasized.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Marchesani, pp.1–6; Joseph Marchesani, — Encyclopedia of GLBTQ culture, "Science fiction and fantasy literature"
  2. ^ Gregory Woods. A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition. 
  3. ^ Byrne R. S. Fone. Anthology of gay literature. "This anthology offers a chronological survey of writing that represents, interprets, and constructs the experience of love, friendship, intimacy, and desire between men over time--that is, what most readers would call gay male literature." 
  4. ^ Forster, Edward Morgan (1971). Maurice. 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31032-9. 
  5. ^ Pequigney, Joseph (2002). "GLBTQ Enylcopedia, "Classical Mythology"". New England Publishing Associates. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  6. ^ Bronski, Michael, ed. Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2003, page 2.
  7. ^ Getlin, Josh (January 5, 2004). "Gay references touchy in children's literature". Seattle Times. 
  8. ^ Spence, Alex.“Controversial Books in the Public Library: A Comparative Survey of Holdings of Gay-Related Children’s Picture Books.” Library Quarterly 70(3) (July 2000): 335-379
  9. ^ Meade, Michael J. (April 27, 2006). "Parents File Federal Suit Over Gay Book". Retrieved 2007-03-04. [dead link]
  10. ^ Williams, Margo (April 20, 2006). "New Dispute Over Gay Books Erupts At Mass. School". Archived from the original on 2006-10-28. Retrieved 2007-03-04. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Collected in In a Glass Darkly
  13. ^ Eric Garber & Lyn Paleo Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (1983), G K Hall, ISBN 978-0-8161-1832-8, "Carmilla" p. 76
  14. ^ The Yellow Kid, first serialized in 1895, is considered the "first newspaper comic strip," though "the mechanics of comic strips were in use well before the Kid's debut in illustrated magazines." Wood, Mary (2004-02-02), Origins of the Kid,, retrieved 2009-03-18 
  15. ^ Nyberg, Amy Kiste (1998), Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, pp. 143, 175–176, ISBN 0-87805-975-X 
  16. ^ Applegate, David, Coming Out in the Comic Strips, MSNBC, retrieved 2009-03-29 

Further reading[edit]

  • Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914 edited and with an introduction by Mark Mitchell and David Leavitt, Chatto & Windus 1998
  • Homosexuality in Literature, 1890–1930 by Jeffrey Mayers, Athlone, 1977
  • A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition by Gregory Woods, Yale University Press, 1999
  • Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature edited by David Bergman, University of Wisconsin Press, 1991
  • Beyond Sex and Romance?: The Politics of Contemporary Lesbian Fiction edited by Elaine Hutton, Women's Press, 1998.
  • Lesbian and Gay Writing: An Anthology of Critical Essays edited by Mark Lilly, Macmillan, 1990
  • Love Between Men in English Literature by Paul Hammond, Macmillan, 1996
  • The Homosexual as Hero in Contemporary Fiction by Stephen Adams, Vision, 1980
  • The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse edited by Stephen Coote, Penguin, 1983
  • Essays on Gay Literature edited by Stuart Kellogg, Harrington Park Press, 1983
  • [1] Spence, Alex.“Controversial Books in the Public Library: A Comparative Survey of Holdings of Gay-Related Children’s Picture Books.” Library Quarterly 70(3) (July 2000): 335-379 (abstract)

External links[edit]