The best books about homosexuality

Many authors have picked their favorite books about homosexuality and why they recommend each book.

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How to Be Gay

By David M. Halperin,

Book cover of How to Be Gay

As befitting the cheeky title, this book – about what it means to be, and to become, a gay man – is incisive, erudite, and a lot of fun to read. A pioneer of queer theory (and with this intervention, I suspect, a renegade from it), David Halperin is an unapologetic camp. He challenges received wisdom about how gay sensibility supposedly is misogynist, passé, irrelevant or dead, and his reflections on everything from Joan Crawford’s pizazz, to the current state of gay marriage, vacillate between being capacious and withering. “Sometimes I think homosexuality is wasted on gay people” he sniffs at one point, dispensing a delightful, and typically barbed, aperçu.


Who am I?

I am an anthropologist who has written or edited more than a dozen books on topics that range from the lives of trans sex workers, to the anthropology of fat. I have conducted extensive fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, Brazil, and Scandinavia. I work at Uppsala University in Sweden, where I am a Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology, and where I direct a research program titled Engaging Vulnerability.


I wrote...

A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea

By Don Kulick,

Book cover of A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea

What is my book about?

As a young anthropologist thirty years ago, I traveled to a remote village in Papua New Guinea to try to understand why a language dies. I went to Papua New Guinea because, with over 800 different languages, that little country is the most linguistically diverse place on the planet. The people in the village I ended up living in spoke a language unrelated to any other; one that had only ever been spoken by about 100 people.

This is the story of my life in that village, called Gapun. It is a story of how I kept returning, and over the years became inextricably implicated in the villagers’ destiny. It is the story of the impact that Western culture has had on the farthest reaches of the globe, and how I came to realize that the death of a language is about a great deal more than language.

The Straight State

By Margot Canaday,

Book cover of The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America

Men, did you know that too little body hair or too much talkativeness could keep you from being admitted to the United States in the early 1900s? The Straight State will have readers shaking their heads at the outrageous presumptions that immigration inspectors applied to keep “degenerates” out of the country. This was the first time that federal officials had both the interest and power to create policies against homosexuality, and they were crassly influenced by the eugenics movement and hostility to the poor. Canaday also shows how early welfare policies perpetuated gender stereotypes and discrimination against sexual “deviants,” favoring the married over the single. I learned so much! 


Who am I?

Based on my experiences as a single parent and worker in traditionally male fields (journalism and law, back when newsrooms and law firms resembled men's clubs), I believe that each person contains both “feminine” and “masculine” behaviors and feelings. Yet socially constructed gender norms discourage people from exhibiting this full range of being. Ben Koehler’s troubling and tragic story presented a way to explore the origins of 20th-century American gender norms while trying to solve the mystery of Ben’s guilt or innocence. A bonus was the opportunity to write about Plum Island, an environmental treasure with a fascinating history that many people, including myself, are seeking to preserve and open to the public.


I wrote...

Scandal on Plum Island: A Commander Becomes the Accused

By Marian E. Lindberg,

Book cover of Scandal on Plum Island: A Commander Becomes the Accused

What is my book about?

Sophia and Ben Koehler expected an adventure when they moved to remote Plum Island, NY, but not the adventure they got. Ben took charge of 700 men at the Army’s Fort Terry, and his sister came along to help her unmarried brother with social duties. All seemed to be going well until a junior officer began portraying Ben as a “homosexualist,” a new worry of the federal government in 1913. Scandal on Plum Island is both a true account of a sensational case that reads like a legal thriller and a thought-provoking examination of gender politics in America.

Katy Has Two Grampas

By Julie Schanke Lyford, Robert A. Schanke, Mariia Luzina (illustrator)

Book cover of Katy Has Two Grampas

This is the first book to feature gay grandfathers, an overlooked and under-represented population in the literature. It is based on the author’s actual family experience, which allows the reader to experience the real emotions experienced by the characters. The author carefully takes the reader on a journey that will be relatable to anyone with an LGBTQ+ family member. This is a story that needs to be told and Schanke and Schanke do it beautifully.


Who am I?

As a gay father of two transracially adopted daughters, I am constantly searching for books that feature families like mine. It is important for children to see families that look like theirs represented in their storybooks. Unfortunately, there is a limited number of children’s books spotlighting adoption and even less featuring LGBTQ+ families. I am happy to share this list of some of my favorites that represent diverse/LGBTQ+ families.   


I wrote...

Scoochie & Skiddles: Scoochie's Adoption Story

By Tom Tracy,

Book cover of Scoochie & Skiddles: Scoochie's Adoption Story

What is my book about?

Scoochie’s Adoption Story is a Firebird Book Awards multi-category winner – 1st place in Adoption, 1st place in LGBTQ+ Families, and 2nd place in Parenting & Family

Scoochie was adopted by her two daddies through an open adoption. In Scoochie's Adoption StoryScoochie takes you on the journey of her and her daddies’ adoption experience. Narrated by the book's main character, Scoochie's Adoption Story is told in child-friendly language with adoption concepts presented in a manner that is easy for children to understand. It is a celebration of family, regardless of family composition or how a family has been created. Through text and illustration, the story represents a wide variety of families and sends a strong message of diversity and inclusion. 

A Queer History of the United States for Young People

By Michael Bronski,

Book cover of A Queer History of the United States for Young People

After reading all that historical fiction, you might be ready to learn more about the time periods and events that you’ve been introduced to. This non-fiction book is based on the author’s 2012 Stonewall Award-winning A Queer History of the United States and is adapted for teen readers. It includes some well-known figures, alongside profiles of many people that readers may never have heard of. Engaging and easy to read, this is a fascinating and richly detailed telling of queer American history, particularly in the years before the Stonewall Riots.


Who am I?

I love reading about queer history: It’s the story of a diverse, courageous, and creative community, and it’s filled with inspiring actions and fascinating people. It’s also a history I had to seek out for myself because it was never taught at school—and although there has been progress since I came out as queer three decades ago, this is still true for most teens today. Over the last few years, I have written LGBTQIA+ books for all ages, and spoken to thousands of students. The books on this list explore queer history in ways that I think many teens will find highly enjoyable as well as informative.


I wrote...

When You Get the Chance

By Robin Stevenson, Tom Ryan,

Book cover of When You Get the Chance

What is my book about?

When You Get the Chance is a YA novel that explores friendship, family, and queer community through the eyes of two teens. Living on opposite coasts, Mark and Talia haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, they find themselves reunited at the cottage, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it. The cousins are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common—well, that and the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto for Pride Weekend. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin. Mark is just looking for some fun.

So, with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow, they decide to hit the road. With a bit of luck and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.

Harry the Poisonous Centipede

By Lynne Reid Banks,

Book cover of Harry the Poisonous Centipede

I love bugs, and there just aren’t enough books out there about them. Harry the Poisonous Centipede is one my kids asked for over and over when they were little, and that I happily read them again and again. 

When Harry and his best friend George go up the Up Pipe, they find themselves in the dangerous world of the hoo-mans. My kids loved seeing the world through a centipede’s eyes, not to mention their unique centipedish way of speaking, and the scrapes Harry and George get themselves into (and out of) are incredibly entertaining. 


Who am I?

There are so many ways to make friends—and to be friends. As a painfully shy person for most of my life, I’ve learned that words aren’t always necessary, and that shared interests and non-verbal (or differently-verbal) communication can take you a long way. It’s probably why so many of my books focus on unconventional friendships, like that between a boy and a funny-talking fruit bat (in Megabat), a boy and his emotional support duck (in Quack), or even a bee and a flea (in Bee and Flea and the Compost Caper). Not surprisingly, I also love reading books that celebrate unlikely friends. These are just a few of my favorites. 


I wrote...

Megabat

By Anna Humphrey, Kass Reich (illustrator),

Book cover of Megabat

What is my book about?

Daniel Misumi has just moved to a new house. It's big and old and far away from his friends and his life before. And it's haunted . . . or is it? Megabat was just napping on a papaya one day when he was stuffed in a box and shipped halfway across the world. Now he's living in an old house far from home, feeling sorry for himself and accidentally scaring the people who live there.

Daniel realizes it's not a ghost in his new house. It's a bat. And he can talk. And he's actually kind of cute. Megabat realizes that not every human wants to whack him with a broom. This one shares his smooshfruit. Add some buttermelon, juice boxes, a lightsaber, and a common enemy and you've got a new friendship in the making!

Beautiful Shadow

By Andrew Wilson,

Book cover of Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith

This book about the ultimate rebel woman Patricia Highsmith explores in depth the many ways Highsmith rejected social expectations of her time in terms of her gender, sexuality, and writing material. The biography does not shy away from presenting Highsmith in all her glorious complexity – equal parts humorous, wry, loathsome, disturbing. This was one of the first biographies that I read where I realized the power of archives, what they can reveal, and how enlightening they can be when used so brilliantly, as Andrew Wilson does here. 


Who am I?

I am a writer who loves writing about women. All sorts of women. Strong, witty, complicated, unlikeable, and intelligent. It is important for me to understand the lived experience of women both inside and outside my own time and cultural context. So many women live with intersecting social characteristics, norms, expectations, nearly all of which hinder or harm. Yet so many women resist and rebel to change life for others. It is this sense of solidarity through history, one group of women paving the way for others, that I find especially fascinating and hopeful. And it is why rebellious women are so crucial. They cannot, and will not, be ignored.   


I wrote...

Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton

By Gail Crowther,

Book cover of Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton

What is my book about?

Introduced at a workshop in Boston University led by the acclaimed and famous poet Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton formed a friendship that would soon evolve into a fierce rivalry, colored by jealousy and respect in equal terms. In the years that followed, these two women would not only become iconic literary figures, but also lead curiously parallel lives haunted by mental illness, suicide attempts, self-doubt, and difficult personal relationships. With weekly martini meetings at the Ritz to discuss everything from sex to suicide, theirs was a relationship as complex and subversive as their poetry.

Based on in-depth research and unprecedented archival access, Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz is a remarkable and unforgettable look at two legendary poets and how their work has turned them into beloved cultural figures.

Death in Venice

By Thomas Mann, Stanley Appelbaum (translator),

Book cover of Death in Venice

There are so many amazing books set in Venice, but no list is complete without Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. It’s a literary classic from 1912 that not only stands the test of time, it exceeds the hype. Death in Venice follows Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous author who travels to Venice in search of inspiration. Instead, he finds obsession. Death in Venice is erotic and dark, but what I love most about this book is how it captures the city’s bewitching personality. 


Who am I?

As an author of a dual-timeline thriller series set in Venice in the present-day and 16th century, I’ve spent countless hours researching the world’s most mesmerizing city. I’ve been there three times, including on a research trip. I’ve worked with historians and experts on various aspects and have explored the ancient streets and buildings first-hand. I’ve also read dozens of books set in Venice.


I wrote...

The Prisoner of Paradise

By Rob Samborn,

Book cover of The Prisoner of Paradise

What is my book about?

The Prisoner of Paradise is a dual-timeline thriller about Nick & Julia O'Connor, an American couple who travel to Venice, Italy on vacation. After a head injury, Nick comes to believe he can hear a woman speaking to him from Tintoretto's 'Paradise,' located in the Doge's Palace. Though Julia thinks he's suffering from delusions, Nick is adamant the voice was real. He believes it belongs to Isabella Scalfini, a woman who was murdered in 1589. 

On a quest to learn the truth, Nick discovers an ancient religious order that has developed a method of extracting people's souls from their bodies. They imprison those souls in Paradise--the world's largest oil painting--and claim that the thousands of people in it are all evil.

Between Ghosts

By Garrett Leigh,

Book cover of Between Ghosts

I stumbled over this book and soon found myself hooked. It’s a romance, yes, but the research into conflict and its effects put it up there on my list of thrillers. It’s not strictly speaking a thriller, it’s more of a military action story and romance, but the characters are wonderful. The way they react to the war zone conflict, the effect it has on the unit and the reporter embedded with them, it has a wonderful ring of truth. And that’s what I’m always looking for in a good romance, the ring of truth. You have to really feel the RPGs coming in, and Garrett does an amazing job of making you really feel it.


Who am I?

This is a list for those who love a tough guy with a soft heart. If you crave a story with passion, heat, and that zing of a good thriller, then this is the list for you. I love a romance wrapped around a strong plot. I need a book to stimulate my mind and give my old heart its “Aw, shucks,” moment. I’ve been fascinated by those who serve and the long-term effects it has on mental health. These books tackle the effects of PTSD, trauma, and its consequences. I believe the romance genre, when done well, is one of the best for examining this darkness.


I wrote...

Fortune's Soldier: Shadow Ops Alpha

By Sarah Luddington,

Book cover of Fortune's Soldier: Shadow Ops Alpha

What is my book about?

Luke Sinclair, a Special Forces Operative, is finished with his career in an elite British black ops department. As tough as it had been, Luke loved his job and his partner, Sam Locke, who had once been a US Navy SEAL. Then their world fell apart.

Until their old commanding officer, Elizabeth Brant, recalls them to London. Forced together again to transport the one person able to finish breaking them. A terrorist who destroyed their lives and their love. From the deserts of Syria, the men chase a nuclear bomb and a weaponised virus through Armenia and into Russia, finding so much more than revenge on the way.

Wave Goodbye to Charlie

By Eric Arvin,

Book cover of Wave Goodbye to Charlie

Charlie is homeless and lives in an abandoned carnival, just one of the places full of wonder and mystery in this novel. He is sometimes fed by a mature-aged gay couple and has an unrequited love. But he dies and we continue reading his story in a surreal version of the world he inhabited while alive. Yes, Charlie is a ghost. The carnival he still lives in has a life of its own, and he needs to protect the living who showed him kindness. A truly beautiful tale.


Who am I?

I usually write queer fiction with an urban fantasy or magic realism bent, although I’ve dabbled in dystopian novels and a couple of romance novellas. I have an interest in bringing to light modern queer works that aren’t rooted in erotica or romance because I know firsthand the misconceptions that are placed on writers of gay fiction. And too often I’ve had to find tactful ways to explain what I write when people assume I’m limited by genre.


I wrote...

Winter Masquerade

By Kevin Klehr,

Book cover of Winter Masquerade

What is my book about?

Winter Masquerade is a novella where Ferris finds a safe haven, away from his abusive partner. He wakes aboard an enchanted ocean liner where the eccentric inhabitants are gearing up for a masquerade ball. He has no idea how he got here, but he desperately wants to go home to his boyfriend.

The alchemist is the only person who can help Ferris, but he’s been kidnapped. The ransom is high tea with scones and jam. Meanwhile, the passengers are gearing up for the Winter Masquerade, a ball where love and magic reign.With a murderous musician, an absent boyfriend, and a mystical party, Ferris soon learns that Wednesday is not the day to fall in love.

Simple Justice

By John Morgan Wilson,

Book cover of Simple Justice

Benjamin Justice is a broken man—a former prize-winning journalist whose career (and life) has been shattered by the death of his lover and a scandal surrounding his best-known writing. Recruited by his former boss to assist an up-and-coming journalist, Ben finds himself investigating a murder that occurred outside a gay bar. The series is tightly written and casts a dark glamor across gay life in ’90s California.


Who am I?

As a writer of gay mystery, I try to read as widely as I can—both to learn from writers who have gone before me and for the pleasure of the books themselves. I’m always thrilled when I find writers like the ones I’ve shared in this list: people who think deeply and carefully about the complexities (and, occasionally, the agonies) of being a gay man, while, at the same time, weaving in the suspense and puzzles inherent in mysteries.


I wrote...

The Same Breath

By Gregory Ashe,

Book cover of The Same Breath

What is my book about?

Teancum Leon, who goes by Tean, is a wildlife veterinarian. His life has settled into a holding pattern: he loves his job, he hates first dates, and he only occasionally has to deal with his neighbor Mrs. Wish’s cat-related disasters. All of that changes when a man asks for help to find his brother. Jem is convinced that something bad has happened to Benny. Tean isn’t sure, but he’s willing to try. After all, Jem is charming and sweet, and surprisingly vulnerable. Oh. And hot.

Then things get strange: phone calls with no one on the other end; surveillance footage that shows what might be an abduction; a truck that tries to run Tean and Jem off the road. As Tean and Jem investigate, they realize that Benny might have stumbled onto a conspiracy and that someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out.

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