‘Not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour — and in the oddest places! — for the lack of it,’ declares the character Jacques in James Baldwin’s 20th-century classic Giovanni’s Room.
Thousands are expected to line London’s streets this Saturday for Gay Pride.
We have come a long way in a short time, but nonetheless I find it staggering that as a country we have lived with The Beatles and Rolling Stones songs, miniskirts Mary Poppins and The Sound Of Music for longer than the laws that began to decriminalise homosexuality.
When Baldwin — a gay, black American writer — first submitted Giovanni’s Room, his U.S. publisher, Knopf, strongly urged him not to publish it. Yet how many desperate, confused young men must it have helped since? Before I knew for sure that I had friends who were gay, I had vicariously experienced the excitement of a country misfit’s arrival in the city, his coming-out and journey of self-discovery through Michael Tolliver’s rites-of-passage in Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City series.
These San Francisco-set stories, first published in a newspaper, were among the earliest to address the horrors of the Aids epidemic.
There are some dazzling historical novels starring gay characters. Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter is partly inspired by his maternal great-grandfather’s mysterious emigration to a farm in the distant Canadian prairie land. There, Gale imagines a heartbreaking love story for ‘Cowboy Grandpa’ Harry.
Staying in the Wild West, a cross‑dressing pioneer is the hero of Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End.
While, an absolute belter of a heist story is Sarah Waters’s Victorian gothic lesbian novel Fingersmith, an unnerving, jet black, Dickens and Wilkie Collins-infused erotic tale of role reversals, back-stabbing and dangerous attraction.
Read these literary gems — and all the brave works that paved the way for them — with pride.