The best LGBTQ+ books that are sexy and subversive

Who am I?

I grew up attending Catholic school in conservative Indiana. Sex—especially if it was of the homosexual varietywas the ultimate taboo. I can’t overstate how damaging it is to believe that one of your natural urges is proof of your depravity. Books that depict queer sexual relations, be they fleeting or romantic, gave me my first glimpse of a wider world where my sexual identity could be expressed. These books liberated me. Even now, I find that sexy and subversive novels help me understand parts of myself that can still be difficult to discuss in polite company. We all need our boundaries pushed. 


I wrote...

My Government Means to Kill Me

By Rasheed Newson,

Book cover of My Government Means to Kill Me

What is my book about?

Vibrant, humorous, sexy, and fraught with entanglements, My Government Means to Kill Me is an exhilarating, fast-paced coming-of-age story that lends itself to a larger discussion about what it means for a young gay Black man in the mid-1980s to come to terms with his role in the midst of a political and social reckoning.

The books I picked & why

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Numbers

By John Rechy,

Book cover of Numbers

Why this book?

I was a freshman in college and still closeted about my homosexuality when I found Numbers in an LGBTQ+ bookstore. The description on the dust jacket got my blood racing: in an effort to reclaim his youth, a handsome gay man strikes out to see how many sexual conquests he can rack up during a ten-day stay in L.A. I bought the book and read it in my dorm room when my roommate wasn’t around.

I got more than I bargained for. Along with descriptions of sexual encounters, the novel opened my eyes to the ramifications of internalized homophobia and explored the value of sex among an oppressed people who are persecuted for their carnal desires. This novel written in 1967 spoke to me across the decades. It still can.


Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography

By Audre Lorde,

Book cover of Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography

Why this book?

Known primarily for her poems and essays, Audre Lorde’s long-form works didn’t attract my attention until I was nearly 30. Zami intrigued me because Lorde called the book a “biomythography”—a mix of biography, history, and myth. The result is a hypnotic mosaic about the lives of women, many of them Black and/or lesbians, who face down hostile political realities, yet often create space to love and support one another.

There is an intimacy to Lorde’s writing, and it doesn’t hesitate to turn sensual. While reading Zami, I realized how underexposed I was to sapphic love stories. I considered myself an ally to my queer sisters, but truth be told, I didn’t read many books that emersed me into their perspectives. Zami led me to expand my reading horizons.


Faggots

By Larry Kramer,

Book cover of Faggots

Why this book?

Faggots pissed off a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community when it was published in 1978, and Larry Kramer was accused of vilifying gay men for indulging in anonymous sex and recreational drugs. Unfortunately, the subsequent AIDS crisis, linked to unprotected sex and intravenous drug use, made the novel look like a prescient warning.

But the initial uproar and the retroactive clairvoyance attached to Faggots had no bearing on me when I read the novel in the 2000s. To me, there was a doomed innocence to these gay men. I didn’t begrudge them the joys of hot sex and exhilarating drugs. They didn’t know what was coming; they didn’t deserve what was coming. Books can take on new meaning across generations, and Faggots became a time capsule I cherish.


The Price of Salt: Or Carol

By Patricia Highsmith,

Book cover of The Price of Salt: Or Carol

Why this book?

Follow this daisy chain of literary and movie connections: The Price of Salt, published in 1952, was adapted into the 2015 film Carol, but I discovered the novel after seeing the 1999 movie adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was based on another Patricia Highsmith book. I tore through the Ripley series, and I was hooked on Highsmith.

I read The Price of Salt fully aware of its tortured history: Highsmith used the pseudonym “Claire Morgan” and for nearly 40 years didn’t publicly acknowledge authorship; the novel fell out of print in the 1970s. Mark those troubles up to The Price of Salt being ahead of its time. The inner lives and sexual yearning of Carol and Therese were too complex and steamy for their day. Now they are contemporary. 


100 Boyfriends

By Brontez Purnell,

Book cover of 100 Boyfriends

Why this book?

I’m a gay Black man, and I’ve worked as a television writer (The Chi, Bel-Air) for more than a decade, so I know from experience the burdens of representation. There is tremendous pressure to make sure we craft Black and/or gay characters that remain relatable or sympathetic. Otherwise, we risk losing the general audience.

That’s why it brought revolutionary joy to my heart when I read 100 Boyfriends in 2021. With this story collection, Brontez Purnell lays our collective burdens down and gives us Black queer men with messy lives. The result is characters that can be infuriating, endearing, disturbing, and hilarious. The book challenges readers to recognize the facets of humanitycommendable, questionable, and despicablein Black queer men. It feels like the dawn of a new age.


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