The world is not an easy place to live in if you’re a woman; even less so if you’re a woman of colour (WOC) or part of the LGBTQ+ community. If you’re all of the above then it’s practically impossible to live anywhere on this planet without some form of discrimination or oppression. Unless you’re alone on a beautiful deserted island somewhere, life is in some way going to be difficult.
The publishing industry, in particular, has always had a bias towards men, especially cisgender, straight, white men. In order for their writing to be considered good enough for publishing, female authors have had to use pseudonyms for many centuries. The Brontë sisters are one example of women who have had to publish their works under a male pseudonym, choosing the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton. More recently, instead of using her actual name, Joanne Rowling was advised by her publisher to use the name J.K. Rowling for the Harry Potter books so as not to put boys off.
Even today, women are not represented enough within the literary world, with visibility especially limited for WOC and LGBTQ+ women. They’re less likely to be published and supported in the UK publishing system, which in 2015 was described as having “an old mono-culture”.
We should be working together to change these facts.
The books we consume leave an impact on us and having representation we can relate to can make a difference, even if it’s just for one single person. Having diversity in our books is essential. These women’s stories need to be told, and we can help by supporting and promoting their books.
Here are some of my personal favourite LGBTQ+ female authors and I hope you find at least one author that you could see yourself looking out for in the future.
An American author who writes in a variety of different genres, but with a focus on feminism. She’s black, identifies as bisexual, and has a reputation for being really funny.
Bad Feminist, her most notable work, became a New York Times best-seller. Published in 2014, it’s an essay collection about how feminism intersects with her experiences as a bisexual, Haitian, woman of colour. Her first novel, An Untamed State was also released in the same year, and she has also had short stories and essays published in various publications.
An exploration of experiences with weight, body image, and building a positive relationship with food, Hunger is an upcoming work which will be released sometime in 2017.
Another project she has been working on is Marvel Comics’ World of Wakanda, which is a spin-off from the company’s Black Panther. Gay and poet Yona Harvey will both be writing for this, making them the first black women to be lead writers for Marvel.
That in itself is groundbreaking but it gets even better — the story is meant to focus on two of the Black Panther’s female bodyguards who fall in love. This is one I’m really excited for, especially since it’s so rare to find a non-white relationship in fiction between two women that’s written by a non-white bisexual woman. The fact that women are still prominently underrepresented in comics definitely makes this an amazing accomplishment and hopefully heralds change.
Lacour is American who teaches English and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her wife and their daughter. She has had four novels published, two of which involve girls who like girls. Another novel she co-wrote with David Levithan (a prominent writer in LGBTQ+ literature, particularly young adult literature), called You Know Me Well also includes several LGBTQ+ characters.
Everything Leads to You was released in 2014 and it was the first book she published that had LGBTQ+ characters. It’s about a young set designer, Emi, who discovers a mysterious letter that leads her on a journey to a girl named Ava. One of my favourite things about the book is that it’s explicitly stated that these characters are not straight. It’s essentially a rom-com in book form, only with two girls. The importance of this is that this isn’t a coming out story that focuses on other people’s reactions to the characters’ sexuality. Instead, it’s just a typical, somewhat cheesy story about two girls falling in love.
Her most recent work, We Are Okay was published in February 2017 and focuses on themes of loss and loneliness. Although the relationship between the two girls in the novel isn’t necessarily the main aspect of it, the book is written beautifully. Themes of family are woven into the narrative in such a natural way that it leaves you thinking about the significance of the family you choose for yourself.
Russo currently lives in Tennessee with her two children. She is a transgender woman who began living as her true self in late 2013.
Her debut novel If I Was Your Girl is about a trans girl called Amanda who moves to Tennessee to live with her dad. She has to deal with issues that most teenagers face, like trying to fit in and making friends, but she’s also dealing with her past and how that affects her relationships in the present. The book was partially inspired by Russo’s experiences as a trans woman and the model on the hardback cover of the US edition is also a trans girl. In an interview with WHSmith, she says:
To cis people: we are human beings with all the same hopes, dreams, and fears as you, not curiosities or political objects. To trans people: you are real and valid and deserve to be loved and respected
She hopes her novel will help and inspire transgender youth by having a character that is relatable and likeable and to show them that they can feel accepted and not alone.
Her upcoming novel, currently titled Birthday is set for publication in the summer of 2018. It’s about two teenagers who couldn’t be more different. They meet on their shared birthday before embarking on a journey that defines their identities.
Lo is an Asian-American author who has worked in several different professions, ranging from publishing to entertainment journalism, until she finally decided to become a novelist. She primarily writes young adult literature, including novels and short stories. Most of her work includes gay or bisexual women. She is the co-founder, along with Cindy Pon, of Diversity in YA, a project that celebrates diversity in young adult books.
Her first novel, Ash, was published in 2009 and is a retelling of Cinderella “with a lesbian twist”. In her first draft of Ash, the Cinderella character falls for the prince, but Lo had a change of heart. “It wasn’t until my good friend Lesly read it and said, “You know, the prince guy is kinda boring,” that I realized that Cinderella was gay,[sic]” she explains on a previous version of her website.
Her second book, Huntress, is a fantasy novel where two girls are drawn together on a dangerous journey into unknown territories to save their world, in which they begin to fall in love. She has also released a science fiction, almost apocalyptic duology dubbed the Adaption Series.
Hopefully, books like these will become the norm, where diversity isn’t forced or dismissed beneath the common excuse that “these people weren’t there in *insert historical period here* times”. If there can be warlocks and dragons, then why should you not have an Asian lesbian character to fight them?
Lo’s upcoming novel, A Line in the Dark will be released in October 2017. This one is a mystery, and of course, there will be girls who like girls.
Farizan is an Iranian-American author. Growing up, she felt out of place at school not only because of her background but also because of the fact that she likes girls.
Her debut novel, If You Could Be Mine was published in 2013. It’s about a teenage girl called Sahar who’s in love with her best friend Nasrin. Their main obstacle is that they’re two girls in love in Iran, where it’s dangerous to be gay and out. However, being transgender in Iran is recognised by the government so Sahar figures this is the only way she can be with the girl she loves.
Whilst the book touches on a lot of social issues, Farizan was more focused on writing a story that people connected to as readers, rather than sending out any kind of political message.
Her second novel, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, is far more light-hearted and funny. It’s set in America but the main character still has Persian heritage and likes girls. It brings us a flawed teenager dealing with stereotypical things like school, friends, and crushing on the new girl.
Books like these normalise diversity in every sense of the word in the world we live in, which is so important. Readers’ enthusiastic reviews online, particularly those that are LGBTQ+ emphasise just how much these kinds of books are needed.
A few honourable mentions include Tess Sharpe, whose book Far From You is one of the few where the word bisexual is explicitly used. Another is Gabby Rivera, a queer Latina author whose debut novel Juliet Takes a Breath is critically acclaimed. She is also currently writing a series titled America about a beloved Marvel character called America Chavez, a Latina superheroine who likes girls.
For these stories to be told by the LGBT+ community and by people of colour we have to be willing to buy what they put out. Not only will doing so be supporting someone from a minority group, but it will also show publishers that we want to read diversely, and we want to read about the world in the way that it really is, with all our differences included.
If you’re usually someone who doesn’t pay attention to the author of a book you buy or borrow from the library, hopefully, this will make you look twice and encourage you to branch out and seek work from minority groups.