From a mother and son sex advice duo, to trans rights across continents. From American comic writers with a wry touch, to queer friendship in the face of mentally trying times, it’s been a brilliant year for LGBTIQ literature.
Here are 12 of our favourite reads of 2017:
Down The Hume
Masculinity, sexuality, and immigrant identity crash head on in Western Sydney author Peter Polites’ mean streets debut. Set in that multicultural melting pot, "Down the Hume" is written in a clipped vernacular that fits its “queer "suburban noir” structure. Unpicking the sketchy existence of its prescription drug-addicted protagonist and his abusive roid-munching boyfriend, Polites’ voice is raw and exciting.
When he’s not hosing down moral panic over the Safe Schools program, writer and TV presenter Benjamin Law tackles curly sex questions from total randoms with the aid of his mum, Jenny Phang. Immortalised on SBS drama "The Family Law", this kooky duo gives good laughs in "Law School", the eye-opening compendium of real life letters from their "Lifted Brow" column. An affirmation of the full sexual spectrum, there’s also bonus advice from Dan Savage.
Theft By Finding
Speaking of much-loved American queer literary lights, "Theft by Finding" is the riveting first volume of David Sedaris’ diaries. Whittled down from 156 tomes, it’s littered with his trademark dry observations of everyday people’s bizarre behaviour. Taking us from 1977, escaping small-town America and a pretty serious drink and drug problem, all the way up to a post-9/11 world, it features cameos by also-famous sister Amy. David’s partner Hugh is a rock in this inner monologue that glows with strange patterns, small victories, and sore losses.
New York Times best-selling author, TV host and activist Janet Mock was one of the most eloquent voices speaking up on the historic Women’s March on Washington. Whereas her first memoir "Redefining Realness" detailed her early identification as a trans woman, Mock’s empowering follow-up "Surpassing Certainty" notes that that identity wasn’t always front and centre during her twenties. And that’s okay too, she insists - everyone sets their own pace.
The Sparsholt Affair
Handsomely athletic David Sparsholt causes latent homosexual hearts to flutter with his nightly half-naked appearances at an Oxford University window during the Blitz in Alan Hollinghursts’ magnificent new novel "The Sparsholt Affair". With the call to war imminent, his meeting with Evert Daxsetsoff a remarkable chain of events spanning generations as Sparsholt’s son crosses paths with Dax and an old scandal surfaces. And then the focus shifts again. And again. Marvellous.
Treasured "Tales of the City" author Armistead Maupin did not spring forth from a left-leaning family of open-minded, queer-friendly attitudes. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Riveting memoir "Logical Family" outlines his unlikely rise to queer superstar status following his relocation to swinging San Francisco in the ‘70s. Rubbing shoulders with movie star Rock Hudson and slain politician Harvey Milk, he found his voice through his newspaper serial, before moving onto much-beloved books.
Eyes Too Dry
Queer friendship sometimes gets overlooked in the literary focus on romance, but that’s not the case in powerful graphic memoir "Eyes Too Dry". Stylistically and emotionally similar to Alison Bechdel’s game-changing "Fun House", Melbourne mates Alice Chipkin and Jessica Tavassoli (Tava) decided to help each other process the latter’s confronting depression by putting their thoughts down in words and pictures. An excellent and engaging look at mental health, the initially self-published title was so successful it got picked up by Echo Publishing.
Now based in Canada, author and playwright Anosh Irani vividly recalls his childhood fascination with the sex workers of Mumbai’s trans ‘hijra’ community. Officially recognised as third sex in Indian law and loaded with centuries of superstition, acceptance hasn’t been a given with hijra people, both adored and feared. Irani tackles this complicated history and the bitter reality of child sex trafficking in "The Parcel", a challenging but also darkly comic novel.
The Trauma Cleaner
Australian Sandra Pankhurst’s job is fascinating. As "The Trauma Cleaner", she cleans up the squalor of hoarders, and also the aftermath of murders and suicides. For those that still live, surrounded by chaotic mess that may suggest mentally ill health, she’s a kind and patient ear. And when writer and lawyer Sarah Krasnostein interviewed Pankhurst, she found that her story was fascinating too, as a trans woman who has survived terrible neglect and abuse and rebuilt her life.
The End of Eddy
Published in France in 2014, Édouard Louis’ startling debut novel "The End of Eddy", heavily based on his tortured childhood, was translated into English this year. A harrowing account of homophobic abuse at home and in the schoolyard, perhaps the only way Louis could address this pain is by colouring it as fiction, but the brutal truth burns through every page. You long for Eddy’s escape even as, paradoxically, you don’t want the novel to end.
Queer, Jewish and identifying as gender non-binary, Melbourne youth worker and activist Nevo Zisin’s memoir "Finding Nevo" depicts their journey from tomboy, to lesbian, to transitioning and a new understanding that humanity is not defined by an arbitrary male/female divide. Nevo does not see themselves as having been born in the wrong body. The tagline “how I confused everyone” belies a refreshing confidence in this brilliant new Australian voice.
Sydney was scandalised by the 1920 trial of “man-woman” Eugenia Falleni, hounded as much for daring to live life as a man, Harry Crawford, as they were for supposedly murdering one of two wives. Australian author Pip Smith fictionalises the many gaps in the story in her occasionally magic realist debut "Half Wild", which by its very nature examines a form of trans identity long before Westerners had a name for it.