Queer Media for Pride Month and Beyond
One of the trends that gives me hope for the future is seeing more and more queer media on shelves and screens. It's heartening that, even in the face of alarming and depressing times, queer and trans people still manage to make art and tell stories. Too, with the pushes to censor queer content, it's important to show authors, publishers, producers, and others involved in the creative process that the number of people who want and need these stories far outweighs the number howling for their removal.
To that end, members of the Scarleteam have put together a list of some of our favorite pieces of queer media. It's mostly books (we're big readers here), and our hope is that if you're looking for queer stories to soothe, inform, or inspire, you can find some here.
Stars in their Eyes by Jessica Walton, illustrations by Aśka: This story follows queer, disabled teenager Maisie as she attends her first fanconvention (similar to Comic-Con) where she meets and immediately develops a crush on volunteer, Ollie, and navigates this accompanied by her supportive yet embarrassing Mum. This book is written from a queer disabled perspective and it shows, the novel depicts Maisie & Ollie beautifully as individuals, and focuses on the joy of her being able to express themselves though fandom whilst challenging the everyday ableism she faces. Both Masie and Ollie’s parents are supportive (if also embarrassing, and needing to learn a bit about giving personal space through the story) and the story is a fast-paced joy to read. It is a book filled with the joy of self expression central to Pride.
FINE: A Comic About Gender by Rhea Ewing: One of my favorite books about gender, in any format, full stop. The author's journey to understanding their own gender identity is interspersed with excerpts from their interviews with a wide range of people about their own understanding of gender and what it means to them. We see how what seemed like a series of fairly simple questions about gender and identity spiral out into a complex and sometimes contradictory assortment of ideas and experiences.. The subjects covered in interviews range from basic questions of identity to discussions of community, family, loss, and joy. (Full disclosure: I was one of the people interviewed for this project!)
Motherlover by Lindsay Ishihiro (currently ongoing, will be released full in 2023 by Iron Circus)
A comic about two moms with their own issues—one dealing with the loss of her emotionally distant parents, the other dismissed and unappreciated by her husband—becoming friends and eventually falling in love. Beautiful art and a nuanced, thoughtful look at motherhood, families, and relationships.
The Trans Self-Care Workbook: A Coloring Book and Journal for Trans and Non-Binary People by Theo Nicole Lorenz
A lot of trans people need a little extra care and love in their lives right now, and this delightful book is just that. Lorenz is the author of several coloring books that have gained a devoted following (Unicorns are Jerks, Fat Ladies in Space, Mer World Problems) and this book expands on the coloring book format to include affirmations, mindfulness exercises, and important moments of transgender history. Topics covered include coming out, handling dysphoria, and finding community. Lorenz's joyous and expressive illustrations make this a sweet treat for a difficult time.
Be Gay, Do Comics: This collection from comic artists at The Nib is one of my go-tos when looking for queer history to highlight. The compendium is a mix of historical stories, personal anecdotes, satire, and peeks into parts of the queer community that don't always get the spotlight.
The Last Days of the Dinosaurs by Riley Black: When we're talking about queer media, I want to include items that aren't solely about queer experiences. Those stories are important, but sometimes people assume that queer people are siloed into one area of society, research, and writing. Our voices, observations, and work are everywhere. I first read Black's work when she published My Beloved Brontosaurus, my favorite piece of writing on dinosaurs ever, so I was excited to find this at the library. The Last Days of The Dinosaurs is equally captivating, conveying piles of scientific information with a poets grace. Even if dinosaurs aren't your thing, I recommend checking this book out from the library for the last chapter on it's own; it's one of the most beautiful meditations on life, identity, death, and the earth I've ever read.
The Moomins by Tove Jansson: This series of children's chapter books is one of my go-to comfort reads, the literary equivalent of a cup of chamomile tea. Jansson was a queer woman and she included representations of at least two of her partners in the Moomin books (including a pair of characters named Thingumy and Bob that are meant to be her and her girlfriend). I also find the Moomin world to be very queer in the sense that the Moomin family themselves aren't terribly interested in living according to societal expectations. Their desire to plant potatoes, make art, and live in a big house full of friends mirrors a lot of the queer spaces I've been in my life.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: When Monty, Percy and Felicity head out on their Grand Tour of Europe they don’t expect to lose everything, run after an alchemists dream or fall in with pirates. Vice and Virtue deals with heavy subjects – abuse, chronic illness, substance abuse – with humanity and wisdom. We see the world through Monty’s eyes and it quickly becomes clear that he is not a perfect protagonist, but this book is as much about what it takes to do the work and become the person you want to be as it is about the adventure or the love story
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Lesbian necromancers in space! Expect waaaaay more bone-related vocabulary than you could have possibly imagined existed, and a lot more somehow cute-yet-gory descriptions of epic space battles than actual romance. Gideon is funny, angry and tough as nails and would far rather be practicing with her sword than wasting time on any of Harrow’s quest nonsense. Harrowhark is ruthlessly ambitious and doesn’t let a little thing like bleeding from the eyeballs get in the way of flexing some serious necromantic ability. They’ve been fighting all their lives, but as the bodies start dropping they’re going to have to start to work together.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow: Harrow weaves a story of the power of collective organising and resistance out of witchcraft and suffragist history. Three sisters are reunited after betrayal and heartbreak and begrudgingly set out to dismantle the patriarchy, drawing in allies wherever they can find them. I loved the power of this book, how articulate Harrow is in pointing out wrongs, and how to right them – and the nods to how feminism is not a single issue struggle, but one linked with race and queerness and workers rights.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: Filled with complex, powerful female characters and a gorgeous slow-burn romance, Priory is high fantasy as it should be. There is magic, there are dragons, there are myths and mysteries and a world to be saved. Spanning several continents and many cultures and a few too many restrictive moral codes to be broken out of, Shannon has created a rich world that leaves you wanting more.
The Autostraddle Best Queer Books of 2021 list has so many awesome and very current books for everyone on it. Some that I have loved or feel very passionate about include Crip Kinship by Shayda Kafai, The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcom Belc, Our Work Is Everywhere by Syan Rose, Zena Sharman's The Care We Dream Of (check out our interview with Zena here!), and A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus. It also includes the first queer and nonbinary authored and very intersectionally inclusive perimenopause book (by yours truly), should you have someone in your life in or near that transition!
Heartstopper: The Netflix adaption of Alice Osman’s webcomic & graphic novel series Heartstopper has received a lot of attention this year, with good reason. It is a gorgeously delivered and heartfelt adaption with a diverse cast of
characters, and whilst there are moments that deal with tough themes, there are many moments of queer joy and friendship that makes this series a joy to watch. If you don’t have Netflix (or even if you do), Osman’s original webcomic is available to view for free online and are definitely worth reading, and many local libraries carry the books, which are available as ebooks on various platforms.
Our Flag Means Death: I initially avoided this show because there is type of cringe-based comedy I don't enjoy. When I got wind there might actually be gay representation, I decided to give it a try and promptly finished it in a weekend. The show takes inspiration from real-life pirates Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard and spins off into ten episodes of fanfiction from the fact that Blackbeard once kept Bonnent as a "guest" on his ship. It's not just a gay pirate show; it's a queer pirate show. We get gay kisses, a non-binary character, found family, pining, implied polyamory, a diverse cast, several moments that made me nearly spit my drink out laughing and one that made me yell at the screen. I can't wait for season two.
Pose: So good. So freaking good. Oh my goodness, this show is just so good, I barely know what else to say! Not only does this series have some of the most transfeminine representation, if not the most, of any series out there, it also is full of so much queer and trans realness, including about living with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and chosen family. Plus, dance! Fashion! New York! Billy Porter, for crying out loud. You just have to see it.
Queer Eye: You must know already how beautiful, supportive and affirming this show is. If you don't, it is all of those things and so much more. Plus, what Bobby Burk does in the same time period as everyone else is always amazing.
Work in Progress: I remain in mourning for the loss of this amazing, hilarious, often quite literally painfully real series by queer comic genius Abby McEnany and the Wachowski sibs. Even though it wasn't renewed for a third season -- ridiculous! -- the first two (2019-2021) are there for your love and enjoyment.
Gentleman Jack: A newer historical BBC series centering Anne Lister, a lesbian, a landowner, and the first woman in England to openly marry another woman in the early 1880s. Anne Lister's extensive diaries are the basis for this delicious, visually gorgeous (oh my word, the clothes!), and also tender, smart, and thoughtful series from Sally Wainwright. If youdon't have at least a tiny crush on actor Suranne Jones' Lister, are you even breathing?
Stepping in to add some movies to the list here! This is a mix of (I think, anyway) great LGBTQ movies both from the past and in the present.
The Birdcage: A late 90s remake of the queer classic La Cage aux Folles from the 1970s, The Birdcage is sheer joy and silliness. You also get Nathan Lane, Robin Williams and Hank Azaria, all in one place.
Lianna: From director John Sayles, one of the first films (1978) about someone already in an established stright life and marriage realizing her orientation isn't what she thought it was. A beautiful, real film, and an excellent reminder for folks feeling like they are late bloomers that orientation is fluid and people of all ages can discover they are queer later in life.
Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink): I will never stop loving this movie from the 90s, also ahead of its time. This Belgian film about a gender nonconforming child is both poignant and whimsical. It feels especially important right now.
Kajillionaire: To say much about this most recent Miranda July film would give it away. It's both real and surreal, heartbreaking and heartwarming, and incredibly unique. If you find yourself in a rough spot with family and need some hope and connection, this might be your BFF movie.
Barb and Star Go To Vista del Mar: Are Barb and Star bisexual? Maybe? Probably? This is one of my favorite movies of tha last few years no matter what, and is a romp and a balm for queer hearts and dusty funny bones.
My Name is Pauli Murray: Pauli Murray was a groundbreaking nonbinary Black lawyer, activist and poet who influenced some of the best and most nation-changing legal minds in the world, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall. They were particularly influential with the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment. This documentary film is a remarkable tribute to all of the often under-recognized Murray, their life and their achievements.
Single All the Way: Sure, it's June, and you, like me, may not even celebrate Christmas, but this Netflix movie is so freaking funny, adorable and sweet, I can't imagine who wouldn't love it any time of year. It's extra, extra awesome thanks to the comic talents of Jennifer Coolidge and Jennifer Robertson (of Schitt's Creek, which you shiould also OF COURSE watch if you haven't seen it enough times already).
Cloudburst: This is not only one of the most beautiful, charming, and just plain perfect queer films I have ever seen, it's even about the life of an elderly queer couple, a part of everyone's queer future if we live a long life. For a documentary, rather than dramatic, address of queer aging, Before You Know It is also a wonderful film.
I love dramatic movies that help you feel nourished and like you can face more of the harsh world after journeying with the characters. Here's a few choice ones:
Princess Cyd (2017): A lovely and thoughtful film where the glow of summer in Chicago follows 16 year-old and sexually curious Cyd as she moves to the city and in with her intellectual and perhaps shy aunt Miranda. Cyd basks in the sun, begins a fling with a visibly queer local barista Katie, and presents herself as already wise to sexuality. Where their relationship might break, Miranda's experience and their shared familial warmth helps them face an immediate crisis, pull together and bridge the gap accross the loss of their sister/mother when when Cyd was a child. I love how the film shows that queer coming of age can be about more people than just a queer teen and does it in such a calm and loving way, glazed in sunlight, that it just becomes more gorgeous on every viewing.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019): A sumptuous lesbian period drama where portraitist Marianne arrives on a windy french island to create the 18th century version of a thirst trap of the rebelious and beguiling Héloïse at the behest of The Countess, Héloïse's mother, so that she can marry off her daughter to some nobleman from Milan. However the lush process of art making, hours of gazing windswept at eachother and their dabbling in the local ritual creates a space for their queer love to flourish and burn up. I love how it presents queer love affairs as precious time capsules, we preserve with every loving brushstroke. I can still smell the seabreeze, oil paint and flying ointment.
Penda's Fen (1974): An initially pompous english schoolboy, whose conservatism is actually more of a way for him to hide from the queerness bubbling beneath the surface, experiences the mounting pressure of traditional white british masculinity, represented by schoolmasters and the other boys. He tries to understand what is happening by philosophising but instead has a sort of breakdown leading to visions of demons, dead composers, gay fantasies and local pagan history. These visions open him up to huge leaps in questioning his assumptions, and acceptance of who he really is. I really love how seriously the film takes his, at times hilarious, at times terrifying journey and the heightened ways we often need to think through our identities in adolescence. You might need to order or borrow a physical copy, but it's well worth it!