Lez Liberty Lit: Traditional Vocabulary Is Defunct

Graphic art of the "Lez," "Liberty," and "Lit" written across three books.

Hi and welcome to this week’s Lez Liberty Lit!

Raven Leilani is your new favorite novelist. Read an excerpt of her new book Luster. At Electric Literature, Leilani discussed “writing about a Black woman who has the freedom to be wanton and hungry. And at The New Republic, Josephine Livingstone calls Luster “the first crashing of a new wave of fiction defined by a world where all the traditional vocabularies for morality have gone defunct.”

Akwaeke Emezi kills their main character in The Death of Vivek Oji on the first page. At Electric Literature they discuss why, as well as the importance of prominent queer characters, death, and more. And at Zora, they discuss their writing process.

At Electric Literature, Jessica Xing wrote about lesbian pulp fiction and how it made her feel normal:

“Many of these books were treated as perverted. Not only in terms of what their content was actually about but how their expression was literally perverted or manipulated by publishers. Yet, this immediate indictment of morality and monstrosity imposed onto some of these books didn’t dishearten me. Instead, I found that there was something strangely heartwarming at the time about seeing how two characters love despite all narrative attempts to keep them apart.

Because as horrible as the ending may seem, there is nothing more exciting and horribly, horribly scary than finally being able to see yourself yearn.”

It’s okay to do less.

Alisson Wood, author of Being Lolita, a memoir about being groomed by a predatory English teacher at age 17, talked to Bitch about memoir as a genre, high school mental health, language and more.

So many queer stories have been burned.

Which 2020 Booker nominee should you read?

Melissa Faliveno’s debut essay collection Tomboyland “is full of gorgeous meditations on queerneess, the Midwest, gender, and everything in-between.” In an interview with No Tokens, Faliveno discusses storms and identifying as a tomboy:

“I was pretty young, so I feel like it was more an acquiescence. That’s an interesting parallel because I feel like that’s kind of what ‘queer’ has become for me too: an acquiescence, more than a claiming. I write about that too; being uneasy about, a specific word that has a ton of different connotations. And as I write about, ‘tomboy’ has these old racist implications and it’s derisive and it has misogynistic implications. I remember resisting it when I was really young, because I knew that the word highlighted my difference from the other girls. But I felt so identified with the boys that I was like, well, this is the closest word that I have to express what I feel. I belonged with the boys, and this word that society had given me had the word ‘boy’ in it. So “tomboy” was as close as I could get without actually calling myself a boy — which I didn’t even think was possible. And I think that has been my experience with a lot of words, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender identity.”

Curious about “tomboy” and its racist implications? At Lit Hub, Lisa Selin Davis explores how “tomboyism in America is firmly rooted in racism.”

Why not reread your favorite books from childhood?

Here’s how to be a woman who loves books, according to every TV show and movie.

Read these queer books out in August. Read these new feminist classics. Read these books that take women’s bodies seriously. Read these books about pandemics. Read these books to feel glad you’re not at the beach. Read these books about coming of age in a small town.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Thank you for the links to Lisa Selin Davis’ article. I don’t know many of the books she writes about but it got me thinking about UK’s Enid Blyton and her books, which I loved when I was young and can’t really imagine enjoying rereading. Plus I’m from Germany and there’s not really an equivalent for the term “tomboy” and, quite probably, the gender representation differs respectively in children’s literature. I wanna think more about it. The closest translation is probably “Wildfang” but it’s outdated now and I’m not sure it was wildly used before.

  2. “Because as horrible as the ending may seem, there is nothing more exciting and horribly, horribly scary than finally being able to see yourself yearn.

    The way that single line just READ me and all my tarot cards, like Jesus Christ. I needed that, thank u. <3

    And I'm def gonna check out this reading list for sure! Tho I am in fact a bisexual and not lesbian, I hope it still counts :p

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!