|“||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.||”|
— Kilian Meloy, "Influential Gay Characters in Literature"
Overview and history
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.
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, as well as to educate the members of that culture.
It was common in early modern gay works of the 18th and 19th centuries to include allusions to Greek mythological characters as a code that gay readers would recognize. Gay men at this time "commonly understood ancient Greece and Rome to be societies where homosexual relationships were tolerated and even encouraged," and references to those cultures might identify an author or book's sympathy with gay readers and gay themes but probably be overlooked by straight readers. James Jenkins of Valancourt Books notes that "these sorts of coded, subtextual ways of writing about homosexuality were often necessary, since up until the 1950s British authors could be prosecuted for writing openly about homosexuality, and in the U.S., authors and publishers could also face legal action and suppression of their books, not to mention social or moral condemnation that might end an author's career."
18th and 19th centuries
As homosexual activity had been outlawed in England (and by extension, the United States) as early as the Buggery Act 1533, it was dangerous to publish or distribute anything with overt gay themes. Many early Gothic fiction authors, like Matthew Lewis, William Thomas Beckford and Francis Lathom, were homosexual, and would sublimate these themes and express them in more acceptable forms, using transgressive genres like Gothic and horror fiction. The title character of Lewis's The Monk (1796) falls in love with young novice Rosario, and though Rosario is later revealed to be a woman named Matilda, the gay subtext is clear.
A similar situation occurs in Charles Maturin's The Fatal Revenge (1807) when the valet Cyprian asks his master, Ippolito, to kiss him as though he were Ippolito's female lover; later Cyprian is also revealed to be a woman. In Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), the close friendship between a young monk and a new novice is scrutinized as potentially "too like love." Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla (1872) basically invented the lesbian vampire story and influenced Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). Stoker's novel has its own homoerotic aspects, as when Dracula warns off the female vampires and claims Jonathan Harker, saying "This man belongs to me!"
The Sins of the Cities of the Plain (1881) and Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal (1893) are two of the earliest pieces of English-language pornography to explicitly and near-exclusively concern homosexuality, both published anonymously. The Sins of the Cities of the Plain is about a male prostitute, and set in London around the time of the Cleveland Street Scandal and the Oscar Wilde trials. Teleny, chronicling a passionate affair between a Frenchman and a Hungarian pianist, is often attributed to a collaborative effort by Wilde and some of his contemporaries. Wilde's more mainstream The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) still shocked readers with its sensuality and overtly homosexual characters.
By the 20th 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.
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." The book was not published until 1971, after Forster's death.
Blair Niles's Strange Brother (1931), about the platonic relationship between a heterosexual woman and a gay man in New York City in the late 1920s and early 1930s, is an early, objective exploration of homosexual issues during the Harlem Renaissance. Though praised for its journalistic approach, sympathetic nature and promotion of tolerance and compassion, the novel has been numbered among a group of early gay novels that is "cast in the form of a tragic melodrama" and, according to editor and author Anthony Slide, illustrates the "basic assumption that gay characters in literature must come to a tragic end." Slide names only four familiar gay novels of the first half of the 20th century in English: Djuna Barnes' Nightwood (1936), Carson McCullers' Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941), Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) and Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar (1948).
The story of a young man who is coming of age and discovers his own homosexuality, The City and the Pillar is significant because it is recognized as the first post-World War II novel whose openly gay and well-adjusted protagonist is not killed off at the end of the story for defying social norms. It is also recognized as one of the "definitive war-influenced gay novels", being one of the few books of its period dealing directly with male homosexuality. The City and the Pillar has also been called "the most notorious of the gay novels of the 1940s and 1950s." It sparked a public scandal, including notoriety and criticism, not only since it was released at a time when homosexuality was commonly considered immoral, but also because it was the first book by an accepted American author to portray overt homosexuality as a natural behavior. Upon its release The New York Times would not advertise the novel and Vidal was blacklisted to the extent that no major newspaper or magazine would review any of his novels for six years. Modern scholars note the importance of the novel to the visibility of gay literature. Michael Bronski points out that "gay-male-themed books received greater critical attention than lesbian ones" and that "writers such as Gore Vidal were accepted as important American writers, even when they received attacks from homophobic critics." Ian Young notes that social disruptions of World War II changed public morals and lists The City and the Pillar among a spate of war novels that use the military as backdrop for overt homosexual behavior.
George Baxt's A Queer Kind of Death (1966) introduced Pharaoh Love, the first gay black detective in fiction. The novel was met with considerable acclaim, and The New York Times critic Anthony Boucher wrote, "This is a detective story, and unlike any other that you have read. No brief review can attempt to convey its quality. I merely note that it deals with a Manhattan subculture wholly devoid of ethics or morality, that staid readers may well find it 'shocking', that it is beautifully plotted and written with elegance and wit ... and that you must under no circumstances miss it." Love would be the central figure in two immediate sequels Swing Low Sweet Harriet (1967) and Topsy and Evil (1968) and also two later novels, A Queer Kind of Love (1994) and A Queer Kind of Umbrella (1995).
The founding of the Lambda Literary Award in the late 1980s helped increase the visibility of LGBT literature.
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 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" 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.
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. 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. During the pulp magazine era (1920s-30s), explicit sexuality of any kind was rare in genre science fiction and fantasy. Then, according to Joanna Russ, in the more relaxed Golden Age of Science Fiction (1940s-50s) the genre "resolutely ignored the whole subject" of homosexuality. Some writers were able to introduce more explicit sexuality into their work as the readership for science fiction and fantasy began to age in the 1950s, however until the late 1960s few depicted alternative sexuality or revised gender roles, or openly investigated sexual questions. After the pushing back of boundaries in the 1960s and 70s, homosexuality gained much wider acceptance, and was often incorporated into otherwise conventional SF stories with little comment. By the 1980s, blatant homophobia was no longer considered acceptable to most readers. In Lois McMaster Bujold's Ethan of Athos (1986), the titular "unlikely hero" is gay obstetrician Dr. Ethan Urquhart, whose dangerous adventure alongside the first woman he has ever met presents both a future society where homosexuality is the norm and the lingering sexism and homophobia of our own world. Uranian Worlds, by Eric Garber and Lyn Paleo, was compiled in 1983 and is an authoritative guide to science fiction literature featuring gay, lesbian, transgender, and related themes. The book covers science fiction literature published before 1990 (2nd edition, 1990), providing a short review and commentary on each piece.
As speculative fiction 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.
James Jenkins of Valancourt Books notes that the connection between gay fiction and horror goes back to the Gothic novels of the 1790s and early 1800s. Many Gothic authors, like Matthew Lewis, William Thomas Beckford and Francis Lathom, were homosexual, and according to Jenkins "the traditional explanation for the gay/horror connection is that it was impossible for them to write openly about gay themes back then (or even perhaps express them, since words like 'gay' and 'homosexual' didn't exist), so they sublimated them and expressed them in more acceptable forms, using the medium of a transgressive genre like horror fiction." Early works with clear gay subtext include Lewis's The Monk (1796) and both Charles Maturin's The Fatal Revenge (1807) and Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). Somewhat later came the first lesbian vampire novella Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde, which shocked readers with its sensuality and overtly homosexual characters. There is even gay subtext in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) as the title character warns off the female vampires and claims Jonathan Harker, saying "This man belongs to me!" The erotic metaphor of vampirism, inspired by Carmilla, has resulted in numerous vampire films since the 1970s strongly implying or explicitly portraying lesbianism.
James R. Keller writes that in particular,"Gay and lesbian readers have been quick to identify with the representation of the vampire, suggesting its experiences parallel those of the sexual outsider." Richard Dyer discusses the recurring homoerotic motifs of vampire fiction in his article "Children of the Night", primarily "the necessity of secrecy, the persistence of a forbidden passion, and the fear of discovery." With the vampire having been a recurring metaphor for same-sex desire from before Stoker’s Dracula, Dyer observes that historically earlier representations of vampires tend to evoke horror and later ones turn that horror into celebration. The homoerotic overtones of Anne Rice's celebrated The Vampire Chronicles series (1976-2014) are well-documented, and its publication reinforced the "widely recognized parallel between the queer and the vampire."
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. With any mention of homosexuality in mainstream United States comics forbidden by the Comics Code Authority (CCA) until 1989, earlier attempts at exploring these issues in the US took the form of subtle hints or subtext regarding a character's sexual orientation. 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.
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." 
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.
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.
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
In July 2014 Singapore's National Library Board (NLB) confirmed it would destroy three children's books with pro-LGBT families themes as they saw the titles as being "against its 'pro-family' stance following complaints by a parent and its own internal review." The three books; “And Tango Makes Three,” which covers the true story of a pair of male penguins that successfully raise a chick, “The White Swan Express”, which features children adopted by a variety of families including gay, mixed-race and single parents, and “Who’s In My Family”, discusses families, including references to gay couples came to the attention of religious conservatives two weeks after a gay rights rally. The rally "sparked a fierce debate" between the religious conservatives opposed to the event and Singapore’s growing gay-rights lobby." The NLB is a state funded network of 26 public libraries. The decision was widely criticized by LGBT supporters and the arts and literary community who see the actions as akin to book burnings and other forms of censorship.
- Lesbian fiction
- List of books portraying sexual relations between women
- List of poetry portraying sexual relations between women
- Singapore gay literature
- List of LGBT writers
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- Keller, James R. (2000). Anne Rice and Sexual Politics: The Early Novels. McFarland. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-0786408467.
- Dyer, Richard (1988). "Children of the Night: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism". In Susannah Radstone. Sweet Dreams: Sexuality, Gender, and Popular Fiction. London: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd. p. 64.
- "Submit to Anne". Salon.com. September 16, 1996. Retrieved June 25, 2014.
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- 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, xroads.virginia.edu, retrieved 2009-03-18
- 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
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- Getlin, Josh (January 5, 2004). "Gay references touchy in children's literature". Seattle Times.
- 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
- Meade, Michael J. (April 27, 2006). "Parents File Federal Suit Over Gay Book". 365Gay.com. Retrieved 2007-03-04.[dead link]
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- "Singapore national library to destroy LGBT-themed children’s books" Library says three books are contrary to its “pro-family” stance. The AFP, July 2014, TheJournal.ie. http://www.thejournal.ie/singapore-destroy-books-1565594-Jul2014/
- 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
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-  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)
- Lambda Literary Foundation – Publishes the Lambda Book Report and the Lambda Literary Awards
- Blithe House Quarterly – online journal
- Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Culture on Gay Literature
- NuWine Press - Gay Christian Book Publisher featuring fresh perspectives on the Christian faith
- Lodestar Quarterly — an Online Journal of the Finest Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Literature
- Lesbian Mysteries features Lesbian Mystery Novels
- Gay Authors Online LGBT Fiction Stories
- Gay's the Word UK LGBTQ Specialist Bookshop
-  Annotated Bibliography of Children's Books With Gay and Lesbian Characters
-  Lists, summarizes, and offers reader reviews of Teen, Middle Grade, and Picture Books with Gay (GLBTQ) characters and themes.]
-  LGBTQ Reserve Collection