Sometimes the current political climate, with its right wing leaders promoting a roll back of women's and LGBT rights, can seem overwhelming. Perhaps hiding away from it all in a good book can be just the restorative 'me time' which is needed. We asked Beth to reveal the books that have kept her sane.
By Beth Kennedy
I don’t know about you, but reading about people who are “just like me” quite possibly saved my sanity throughout my childhood and teenage years, right to the present day! Here are the books and plays that have made the biggest impact on me...
Rhona Cameron’s autobiography, 1979: A Big Year in a Small Town, is a snapshot of the comedian’s life in the titular year. What’s so special about 1979? It was two years since Elvis died and Rhona, the ultimate Elvis fangirl, discovered her burgeoning lesbianism (not exclusively in the year 1979, but I digress). I find this one of the most relatable autobiographies in terms of the way she talks about girls, music and just generally being a bit of an outsider. What’s more, it’s set in Rhona’s hometown of Musselburgh in Scotland, so it’s a must-read for all of us small town lesbians out there. I strongly believe this book should be on the curriculum at school - it’ll make you realise all your little quirks are perfectly normal for an LGBTQ+ teenager. Thank you, Rhona, for publishing a masterpiece
I see Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as my introduction to drag kings and lesbians - even if it is scraping the barrel a little! I’ll now attempt to summarise the basic plot of the play without any spoilers. One of the main characters, Viola, disguises herself as her brother, calls herself Cesario and works as a messenger for Duke Orsino. Orsino’s love interest, Olivia (almost an anagram of Viola!), falls in love with Cesario and mayhem ensues. I can safely say this was one of my first introductions to anything that remotely resembled lesbianism or gender fluidity. I came from a small town, so I didn’t have access to a lot of LGBTQ+ media. It must have stuck with me, especially the 1996 Trevor Nunn movie version we watched in English lessons. I wanted to be Imogen Stubbs’ Cesario for a long time - I thought that cool, floppy blonde hair would attract all the girls (spoiler - it didn’t). Several years ago I wrote a short modern adaptation of Twelfth Night for stage where Viola/Cesario and Olivia had a long and happy lesbian relationship (where no one dies!). Looking back, it was clear this play served as a sort of real-life fanfiction.net thing for me.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit author Jeanette Winterson released her memoir in 2011 and I devoured it as soon as it hit the shelves. It’s definitely one of the bleaker looks at growing up a teenage lesbian in 1970s Lancashire with a devout Pentecostal Evangelist for a mother...by the way I am being sarcastic. Not only does it explore gender and sexuality, the memoir dives right into mother-daughter relationships, especially adoption matters. Jeanette’s experiences are especially harrowing as it seems her mother, only referred to as Mrs Winterson, acts as a martyr throughout Jeanette’s life (even before she came out…). It just makes me feel relieved that my family didn’t see my sexuality as an issue at all! Where Oranges was semi-autobiographical, Why Be Happy is a full-on account of Winterson’s life. After all, this quote from Why Be Happy sums it all up: “My parents believed that God had led them to me, but when I did something wrong, my mother would say, ‘The devil led us to the wrong crib'.”
I first received this collection from a zany English teacher as a present for being in the debate team at school. I was very surprised to receive a present, because me and some of the other teammates spent most of the debating competition hiding behind some bookshelves drinking miniature bottles of vodka from Christmas gift sets we received from liberal aunties from far-flung places (Mrs Edwards - you must have known what we were up to). Anyway, this collection of poems has stayed with me. The collection, in a nutshell, is the voices of the wives of famous men (fictional and otherwise) such as Charles Darwin, Midas, Aesop and Sigumnd Freud. I don’t think I’ll be able to do the collection justice by describing it. So here’s one of my favourite poems from The World’s Wife:
“7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him—
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.”
I got this book as a present from a good friend of mine. It’s packed full of incredible information such as the most popular queer culture festivals, classic and modern LGBTQ+ media and a comphrehesive timelines of LGBTQ+ world history! Again, this book should be on the curriculum at school - for history or anything else related to LGBTQ+ culture. The book covers a lot of stuff that history misses out. LGBTQ+ history has largely been erased, but the Queeriodic Table is doing its best to make up for that!
Dungeness by Chris Thompson
Dungeness is a play, but it is available in published form so it kind of counts in my rundown of inspirational LGBTQ+ books. The play is centred around a safe house for LGBTQ+ teens and celebrates people from all walks of life, with a focus on youths. I was lucky enough to catch this in my local theatre, directed by the talented Terasa Newton-Harris and performed by the wonderful Boaty Theatre Company. I saw the play on a night where the teenage cast’s friends were in the audience, which added to the incredible positive atmosphere. This play will not only teach you how you should be proud of your sexuality and gender, it’ll show you how all generations should work together to push for progression. The play is full of hope, love and togetherness. If you’re ever feeling down about the current political climate, just read this play.
What are your most inspirational LGBTQ+ books and plays? Please feel very welcome to comment below!