Literature’s LGBTQ Characters: an Update

In honor of June 2019’s Pride Month, I’m going to revisit LGBTQ characters in fiction — LGBTQ of course standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer.

I previously wrote about this topic in 2013 (a year before starting this blog) and mentioned a number of novels with openly, closeted, or maybe-they-are/maybe-they-aren’t LGBTQ characters in lead or supporting roles. Among those books were Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Colette’s Claudine at School, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, Margaret Drabble’s The Sea Lady, Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

This blog post will mention some of the novels I’ve read since 2013 with LGBTQ characters.

Despite the cruel right-wing intolerance in the U.S. and elsewhere that’s setting back various kinds of human rights these days, LGBTQ people are generally more accepted in many places than decades ago. This is reflected in recent literature — where there are more LGBTQ characters (from both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ authors), where these characters are usually treated more positively or at least more three-dimensionally than in the past, and where in many cases a big deal isn’t made of these characters; they’re one of the many parts of the human mosaic. That’s a good thing.

The five-person Lambert family that Jonathan Franzen focuses on in The Corrections (a great novel I also mentioned last week) includes daughter Denise, who’s had a bisexual life but is almost certainly lesbian. Her portrayal is satisfying and convincing partly because her sexual life is depicted as just one of many aspects of her — she’s also a conflicted daughter/sibling, a strong personality, very smart, a star professional chef, a hard worker, generous at times, unkind at other times, etc.

In Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy — which begins with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — the brilliant, abused, troubled, brave, vengeance-seeking Lisbeth Salander is bisexual. The most memorable character in those three riveting novels.

Among the many memorable characters J.K. Rowling has expertly created, from her Harry Potter series to her crime fiction, have been LGBTQ ones. For instance, in The Cuckoo’s Calling novel written under Rowling’s Robert Galbraith pen name, Guy Somé (pictured on the right in the above photo) is stereotypical in certain ways (he’s a fashion designer) but is depicted as a fairly complex person devoid of several other gay stereotypes.

The Secret History‘s Francis Abernathy is gay but that’s not overemphasized in Donna Tartt’s compelling debut novel. Her emphasis is more on the insularity and strangeness of the small group (including Francis) that protagonist Richard falls in with when he goes to college.

It’s not secret history that there’ve been LGBTQ people throughout time, and one example of this is in Philippa Gregory’s excellent novel Earthly Joys. Set in the 17th century, it features a master royal gardener (John Tradescant) who’s married to a woman but ends up having a same-gender sexual dalliance with a charismatic “bad boy” duke.

A novel that sort of/sort of not fits this blog post is Abigail Tarttelin’s excellent Golden Boy, which — like Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex — features an intersex character. The hermaphroditic gender confusion embodied in protagonist Max Walker has echoes of what transgender people face.

Your favorite novels featuring LGBTQ characters in lead or supporting roles?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which comedically compares my town in 2019 vs. 1796 — is here.