Queer women’s literature is my passion in life, and not just because two of my primary identifying characteristics are “giant lesbian” and “reader.” I love lesbian books because they unapologetically centre women in their narratives, and we need more stories like that. Unfortunately, while gay men’s literature has made (some) strides in being seen as worthwhile for readers outside of that demographic, queer women’s literature seems to still be largely seen as only for queer women–unless, perhaps, it belongs to the holy trinity of lesbian literary mainstream writers: Jeanette Winterson, Sarah Waters, and Emma Donoghue. Queer women novels that are not by and about straight cis, abled people face even more barriers. Here are five reasons that straight women should give queer women books a shot.
1. Because They Always Pass the Bechdel Test.
Pass the test? Queer women literature created the test! After reading Maddie’s post about how reading Thomas Hardy led her to reading romance novels, I started to think about how little this comes up in my reading life, because lesbian literature takes that “by women, for women, about women” strategy to the next level. Half of the books I read are queer women books, which means that they are almost always by women and certainly about women. After reading a particularly dude-heavy story, it can be a relief to dive into a book that you know will feature women and will treat them with respect. (Which isn’t to say that misogynistic lesbian books don’t exist, but they’re a lot more rare, in my experience.)
2. Because Love is Love, Man.
Not all lesbian books are romances, but for the ones that are, you don’t need to be attracted to women to relate. If you experience romantic attraction, you can still get butterflies reading about a couple without actually wanting to be either person in that relationship. You might be surprised what you find romantic or sexy regardless of the people involved–a personality trait, a setting, a quippy line. Queer people are very used to having to relate to straight romances because they’re often all we see. In that instance, it can be suffocating, but only when there isn’t any choice involved. Plus, there is less room for a lazy writer to fall back on gender norms, which gives a different dynamic to the relationship.
3. Because You Might Learn Something.
One of the many, many reasons to read more diversely is to learn about experiences different from your own. In my opinion, this is one of the best parts of reading: being able to walk around in someone else’s head. The thing about living in a heterosexist culture is that you’re steeped in it, even if you’re queer positive and really trying. Even as a queer person, I still deal with having to unlearn a lot of what straight (not to mention white, cis, abled) society teaches from an early age. One of the best ways to do that is through consciously choosing the media you absorb in order to counteract some of those messages. Of course, there’s always the chance that you might learn something about yourself, too. For some people, falling down a queer romance/erotica rabbit hole might lead to the conclusion that they’re not as straight as they thought they were.
4. Because You’ll Be Fighting Stigma and Helping Closeted Queer People.
Since queer women books are assumed to be only for queer women at this point, it makes it difficult for closeted queer and questioning people to a) buy queer books and b) read queer books publicly. Which is a shame, because that’s the point in which the right book can save your life. Giving queer books more visibility means that for one thing, it sends a message to publishers that these books have an audience and they should publish more of them. Beyond that, it gives closeted and questioning people the possibility of picking up those books without feeling like they’re outing themselves before they’re ready. Just like the “queer people and allies” invitations can give closeted people a cover to attend (“I’m here as an ally”), making queer books more mainstream makes them more accessible to people who aren’t ready or able to come out.
5. Because a Good Story is a Good Story.
One of the best reasons to read diversely: because you’re missing out on fantastic books! Queer books don’t just as much publicity, and because they’re assumed to be just for queer readers, you may not have heard of them. Lesbian books are not just romances and erotica, though those are great, too. They span every genre and range from highbrow literary to cotton candy fluff. If you take a little time to seek out queer women books, I guarantee you that you will find incredible stories that you’ll fall in love with.
So go forth and queer your reading! I’ll be happy to give recommendations if you’re interested, and you can find some good places to start right here on Book Riot, including lesbian classics, general fiction, and romances. Good luck and happy reading!