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Celebrating the Books That Queered Us


Celebrating the Books That Queered Us

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Blog 15th Anniversary

Celebrating the Books That Queered Us

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Published on June 7, 2023


Books are gateways.

You know this.

Gateways, as a structure or a concept, can aid in many things: They can hold things in; keep things out; serve as intermediary places between thoughts and ideas; hold space for newness to develop; invite us somewhere unexpected; keep things safe.

We pretend to forget this because knowing that books are gateways imbues them with no small amount of power. But that knowledge doesn’t go away.

This is also true: We spend our lives looking for what we need, and what we often need most is connection. So much of our searching, interactions, and activities are excuses to seek out others and ask if they recognize what we’ve experienced, how we think, what we feel. Gateways are powerful architecture in that geography—they are effectively roads made to facilitate that connection. They make the navigation of our paths just a little less fraught and lonely. And sometimes, if we’re very fortunate, those gateways can help us make room for what we keep buried in ourselves.

A book can’t make you queer—no matter what some pundits might suggest—but it can help you carve a path to that damp mound of earth inside where there are precious blooms, heavy scents, and thickets of strange thorns desperate to break through and find a little sunlight. A book can’t make you queer, but it can unlock your brain and reach its dirty, nail-bitten hands inside to poke at your default settings. A book can’t make you queer, but it can lead you through a gateway to find you standing on the other side, arms akimbo, wondering what took you so long.

We wanted to talk about that.

This series began as a way to find connection through the books that are meaningful to us. What it became was revelatory—a series not just about feeling seen or represented, but about the ways science fiction and fantasy can help us discover new worlds, both on the page and within ourselves. We gave writers the opportunity to write love letters to the characters they’d fallen in love with and to writing that opened their minds to new ways of thinking. We gave them the opportunity to explore the ways that literature can make us feel less alone, the ways that literature can be a gateway to a better, fuller, happier version of themselves.

Not everyone is afforded this opportunity in childhood. Part of the reason talking openly about queerness in literature feels important is because many of us, most especially readers and writers of color, did not feel loved by the literature of our youths. Fantasy worlds full of elves and dragons didn’t necessarily feel welcoming; sci-fi futures featured light speed travel, but only for certain privileged peoples. In this series, you’ll see some glaring gaps in who we were able to include—because often when authors of color were asked to write for this series, the response was: “I didn’t have a book like that growing up. I didn’t see myself in books until I was an adult, and the gateway to queerness had already opened elsewhere”. It is a blessing that those authors grew up and wrote books so that younger generations can have the experience they were left out of.

We know that books can be powerful things—in the hands of the right reader, a book can be a life-changing, and sometimes a life saving event. This is why we see so many people in power try to prevent books from reaching their readers. Having our minds opened to new ideas and possibilities is dangerous to those who want the world to stay the same. But to be queer, in its essence, is to be a subversion of the status quo. We live, we love, and by our very nature move outside the paths society has set up for people to follow.  We can only survive this by knowing we are not alone. Literature is one of the many ways we connect with our community, and therefore one of the ways we survive and continue our legacy.

We’re proud to present this collection of essays, paying homage to the queer texts that have come before us, and the many ways we find ourselves in art.



Finding My Identity in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles by K.M. Szpara

“I was probably too young to be reading Interview with the Vampire, but I devoured it and the seven other extant books of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles with only one lingering question: did my mom know how gay these books were?”


Queering L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley and Diana Barry by Cori McCarthy

“On the outside, Anne of Green Gables is an enchantingly talkative, acutely sensitive, feminist character for the ages. Anne is also a hero for those who have been maligned for being themselves. The attraction for the queer-at-heart audience only magnifies when you take a close look at one of the pivotal relationships in the story: Anne and Diana’s “friendship.” I use quotation marks here because their friendship is indeed crafted like a love story, with parallels to the inherent problems and joy within queer relationships.”


Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Books Didn’t Give Me Validation — But They Did Give Me Permission by Sam J Miller

“Maybe coming of age without ever seeing yourself in books or movies leaves wounds that run deeper than can be cured by a self-taught crash course in the queer classics. Because as a writer of science fiction and fantasy—and especially young adult—I couldn’t figure out how to tell those stories.

“The Mortal Instruments series wasn’t around to give me the validation I so desperately needed as an adolescent—but as an adult, as an artist, it gave me something just as valuable—permission. Permission to be queer as hell while writing YA.”


Quotidian Queerness in Kushiel’s Dart by Natalie Zutter

“I first borrowed Kushiel’s Dart from a friend who once posted a Facebook status about how her marriage to a man doesn’t change her bisexuality. She was in turn borrowing the book from another friend, who sometime in the intervening years has also come out as bi. There is something so wonderful about the idea of this novel being passed from bi lady to bi lady like some sort of introductory text.”


Finding Role Models in Madeleine L’Engle’s A House Like a Lotus by Leah Schnelbach

“Reading this book at age 11, I was probably supposed to identify most with awkward and gangly 16-year-old Polly—or at least look at her like a big sister. But it wasn’t her I cared about. The only character who mattered to me was Polly’s absurdly over-the-top neighbor, whose name was, I shit you not, Maximiliana Sebastiane Horne. Obviously she’s called Max, or sometimes Metaxa, after “a strong Greek liqueur.”

“I shouldn’t have to explain why I blew right past Polly and identified with Max as hard as I could.”


Queer Transformations in Enigma by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo by Charlie Jane Anders

“One of the weirdest comics to come out of Vertigo was Enigma, an eight-issue series by writer Peter Milligan and artist Duncan Fegredo. I found a battered trade paperback of Enigma at the back of a used book store during that godawful winter, and it blew my mind. I still have that collected edition on my shelf, and it’s still one of my favorite comics.

“[…] This is a story about falling in love with a heroic ideal, and about being transformed as a result, and Michael’s embrace of his own queerness resonated with me on so many levels.”


Questioning Defaults in David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself by S.L. Huang

“It is one of the best time-travel stories I have ever seen. It is also very queer.

“[…] The whole book stuck with me also as a flat-out amazing novel, but the gender and sexuality aspects in particular stuck in my head, even though they’d seemed like such logical and seamless bits of the book at the time. Some itch I couldn’t define. I wasn’t even sure why.”


Imagining Other Worlds in Diana Wynne Jones’ Witch Week by A.K. Larkwood

“My teenage queer experience was chiefly one of obliviousness. […] There will be a special place in my heart forever for the books that slipped queer themes past me without my realising, managing to feed my sad little heart, as it were, intravenously.”


Finding Freedom and Unexpected Heroes in Mike Carey’s Lucifer by A.M. Strickland

“Growing up, because of not wanting to follow the rules for the rules’ sake, and realizing my attraction to women, I had always felt like a freak—and I had the creeping guilt and shame of feeling like the bad guy in my own story without even knowing why.

Lucifer flips all of that on its head. […] Maybe the devil could be a hero instead of a villain. And so could queer people.”


Discovering Myself in Fandom and Roleplay by Victoria Lee

“We lived out these possible-lives online, through fandom. For me–in the roleplaying games, as well as in my fanfics–I had something like a brand. I only ever played queer people. Across the board, regardless of my characters’ genders, everyone was always very, very gay.”


Queer Communities and Found-Family in Speculative Fiction by Ginn Hale

“These stories reflect so much more about what it means to be queer—and in fact what it is to be human. […] Some reflect costs and complications that arise around our communities, other celebrate the best of our diverse, queer identities. But all of them are testaments to the fact that we are not alone.”


Through Doorways: Portal Fantasies and Queer Escape by A.J. Hackwith

“Dorothy Gale and Luke Skywalker were my lifelines, and I spent years looking for my doorway—not just off the farm, but out of the world that was wrong in ways I didn’t have words for. One that didn’t have words for me.”


Queer Healing and Acceptance in The Last Herald-Mage of Valdemar by Tessa Gratton

“I met Vanyel Ashkevron when I was just a little bit younger than him. Thirteen to his fifteen, he immediately became my favorite because his feelings of isolation and difference resonated with me; his fears and loneliness and the way he hid behind a mask of know-it-all arrogance to hide his inner turmoil. He was different, and he only needed to find people who could see it.

“And he didn’t know it was possible to be queer any more than I did.”


Queer Heroism in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers by Sylas K. Barrett

“From Aramis’ “dreamy eye” to d’Artagnan’s meteoric rise to heroism, to the fact that the book is mostly just there to give you lush descriptions of 17th century Paris (right down to exacting depictions of each of the musketeer’s households and affairs, and also the Queen’s), it was pretty much a fledgling trans boy’s gay dream.”


Happily Ever Afters in Merry Shannon’s Sword of the Guardian by K.A. Doore

“Even a full decade after the night I first came out, I was still writing stories where the girl got the boy. Internalized homophobia is a bitch, and the process of shedding that particular narrative was long and drawn-out, but it started with Merry Shannon’s romance fantasy, Sword of the Guardian.”


Spectrums of Sexuality in John Varley’s Wizard by Annalee Newitz

“In the section after the title page, where fantasy novels have maps, Varley had a complicated chart of all the sexual positions possible for his aliens, the Titanides, who possessed three sets of genitals. Every year, the Titanides competed for the best sexual positions, and the winners were allowed to reproduce. As I looked over the little boxes full of circles and arrows indicating group sex, solo sex, gay sex, and whatever-the-hell sex, I felt seen for the first time.”


Channeling Queer Anger With Hothead Paisan, Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist by Nino Cipri

“Hothead is always exactly who she is: uncompromising, protector of Womyn, proud lesbian. Product of her time, and seemingly trapped in amber.

“[…] I’m glad Hothead Paisan was in that bookstore when I was fifteen. I desperately needed some cathartic vengeance against the world, problematic as it was (and is). I also needed a hero I could see myself in: gender-defying and angry, feral but somehow charming. I aspired to give as few fucks as Hothead did.”


Queer Visibility & Coding in Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn by H.A. Clarke

“Before I could even conceptualize my own gender perils, I understood this story was about the stakes of misrecognition—how it’s variously annoying, frightening, debasing, excruciating—and that I could legibly exist and be my own pseudo-mythic weird thing if I could find others like me, who surely existed in the great wide world beyond one’s own little forest patch.”


Queer Dads: Demons and Machines in Sorcerer’s Son by Phyllis Eisenstein and the Terminator Franchise by Shelley Parker-Chan

“One of the most fondly-remembered books of my childhood was also one that I’d forgotten entirely. I couldn’t remember the title, author, or even what it was about. But what I remembered was the figure of someone who had a male body, but was not male—a father who was not a man—and a powerful feeling of recognition and yearning. Somewhere in those forgotten pages, I had seen not just myself—but also something I wanted for myself.”


Magic, Transformation, and Going Over the Rainbow by May Peterson

“Here’s the thing about Dorothy. The thing I never thought to ask, even though it was staring me in the face, a question threading through my connection to all these other imaginary surrogate selves with their jeweled implements and cherry blossom hair.

“Do the people back in Kansas also think she is a witch? And if so, good witch or bad?

“Is there a difference?”


A Manga for the Transgender Soul: Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2 by Ryka Aoki

“For me, Ranma 1/2 was more than a coming-of-age experience—it was an epiphany. This work not only challenged so many prevailing (and rather depressing) thoughts and philosophies about being trans—but did so as a manga.”


Horror as Strength: Queer Armor in Stephen King’s IT by Alex London

“When I was 12, I wasn’t particularly afraid of clowns or monsters or troubled ghosts, but as puberty hit at the start of middle school, I was terrified of myself. […] I tried not to think about holding hands with the other boys, or wrestling with them and losing, or any of the millions of fleeting thoughts that an almost 13-year-old is helpless against. The more I fought, the more I failed, and the more I failed, the more afraid I became.

“And then, that 6th grade year, I read Stephen King’s IT, and it made my horrors vivid, grotesque, and real.

“And IT saved me.”


The Edited Version of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray Somehow Made Me More Queer by Emmet Asher-Perrin

“Once in college, a professor asked us to bring in selections of erotic literature to read aloud. She made a point of giving us zero parameters in this exercise; if you’d stood in front of the room and recited the warranty for a microwave, you would have received full credit. The point being made to the class was that what constituted “erotic” writing meant vastly different things to different people. We heard poems about female anatomy, sections from romance novels, even diary entries.

“I read a selection from the opening pages of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.”


Traveling Between Genders in V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic by Christina Orlando

“At the time I first read A Darker Shade of Magic, I was only just starting to figure out my relationship with gender. I’ll admit that I came to it later in life – before my mid-twenties, I hadn’t heard anyone use the term ‘genderfluid’ or ‘nonbinary’ before. What I knew was that the performance of femininity had always made me feel uncomfortable. It always felt fake, like something I was doing for the benefit of others rather than for myself.

“[…] I felt very much like Lila does – excited by the prospect of being seen as masculine.”

About the Author

Christina Orlando


Learn More About Christina

About the Author

Emmet Asher-Perrin


Emmet Asher-Perrin is the News & Entertainment Editor of Reactor. Their words can also be perused in tomes like Queers Dig Time Lords, Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Uneven Futures: Strategies for Community Survival from Speculative Fiction. They cannot ride a bike or bend their wrists. You can find them on Bluesky and other social media platforms where they are mostly quiet because they'd rather talk to you face-to-face.
Learn More About Emmet
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