LGBT+ history month: underrepresented sexualities

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Over the last few years, LGBT+ representation in literature has come a long way. With more and more books featuring LGBT+ characters being released by mainstream publishers across a variety of genres, LGBT+ experiences are finally getting their chance at the spotlight. 

That said, this doesn’t mean all sexualities are treated equally, and some still have a long way to go in terms of being equally acknowledged or explored in the literary world. Many authors seem to shy away from writing about characters who don’t fit into binary categories, and where representation does exist, very few authors actively acknowledge it as more than an afterthought. Positive representation is important, not only to dispel myths and promote acceptance and support for marginalised communities but because it helps people to understand and feel confident about themselves and their sexuality. In light of that, here are some recommendations for books which offer representation to otherwise underrepresented sexualities which you should definitely add to your reading list. While this is by no means an exhaustive list and these books do not offer perfect representation, hopefully it will serve as a starting point for reading about experiences that are not always easily found on an average library’s shelves. 

Many authors seem to shy away from writing about characters who don’t fit into binary categories

Radio Silence –  

Written by an asexual author and Durham University alumnus, Radio Silence is often overlooked in favour of one of Oseman’s more recent releases, Loveless. Radio Silence is a contemporary novel about a girl named Frances, who is looking to her future and trying to decide if the path she always expected to take in life is what she really wants. Not only does this novel feature a variety of diverse LGBT+ characters, but it also offers explicit, on-page representation to perhaps one of the most underrepresented sexualities, demisexuality, which falls under the umbrella of the ace spectrum. 

Unlike so many novels which place a huge emphasis on the romantic relationships between their main characters, Radio Silence tells the story of the platonic friendship between a boy and a girl who are looking to understand their place in a world full of academic pressure and expectations. 

Let’s Talk About Love – Claire Kann 

Another recommendation from the YA genre, Let’s Talk About Love tells the story of a black biromantic asexual girl named Alice who, at the end of her first year at university, learns to talk about her sexuality through her relationships. Unlike many stories which tend to conflate asexuality with aromanticism, this book focuses on a character who is biromantic, giving an insight into the misinformation that tends to surround asexuality through the ways other characters view her. 

Kann’s book also looks at the intersection of race and sexuality. This is especially important representation because people of colour are underrepresented for all sexualities, and Black asexual people in particular are often rendered invisible in fiction, as well as in mainstream LGBT+ movements. 

Black asexual people are often rendered invisible in fiction

Every Heart is a Doorway – Seanan McGuire 

If the YA contemporary genre isn’t quite your thing, Every Heart is a Doorway, the first part of the Wayward Children series, is a fantasy novella with an explicitly asexual protagonist, written by an asexual author. 

Arguably one of the staples of ace literature, this novella tells the story of children who have fallen through portals into fantasy worlds, and upon finding themselves back in our universe, are sent to Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children as they struggle to adjust to their new lives. Although it is a portal fantasy, this #OwnVoices book deals with overcoming trauma in a surprisingly serious way, and there’s far more going on under the surface than the premise might suggest. 

Maurice – E.M. Forster 

Perhaps a slightly obscure final addition to this list, Maurice, written in 1914 and only published posthumously in 1971, tells the story of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality in the context of Edwardian England. While the main protagonist and title character is gay, another important character talks openly about his attraction to both men and women insofar as the language at the time would allow – something that is still fairly rare in contemporary novels, let alone something written over a hundred years ago. 

Inspired by the author’s own life and relationships, Maurice makes for a really interesting read, not just for the representation of bisexuality, but also for the unusual historical perspective it gives into the intersection of class and sexuality, as well as the ever-elusive happy ending! 

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