Lez Liberty Lit #22: Reading As Performing

Books! They are really great. You just won’t believe how great they are. You may think that the Internet’s great, but that’s just peanuts compared to books. Welcome to Lez Liberty Lit, our column about literary shit that’s happening that you should probably care about.

The name “Liberty Lit” was inspired by the short-lived literary journal produced by Angela Chase at Liberty High School in 1994.

Header by Rory Midhani


Lit Links

How do you locate queer books? At Hyperallergic, Alexis Clements asked queer writers and readers including Sarah Schulman, Roz Kaveny, Mia McKenzie and Tom Léger how they find new stuff to read, whether it’s easier now than a few decades ago, the place of queer publishers and bookstores and more:

“Ironically, I think there’s less visibility for queer writers today than 20–25 years ago. A few queer writers — generally men, for the same tired reasons — may be getting more mainstream press than they could have then. But 25 years ago we had our own distribution system. New lesbian books would show up on the New Arrivals tables of 100-120 women’s bookstores and maybe 40-60 gay stores. Which is to say that lesbian readers in 140-180 communities walked into their bookstores and had a feast of new books to see and choose from. Today there might be a dozen communities where this is true. I live in San Francisco, and there’s no place I can go and be sure to see all the new lesbian and other queer books that I want to know about. If I already know the names of the books I want, I might be able to root them out of their scattered places in a good bookstore, but that defeats the purpose. It’s the books that I don’t know about that I miss.”

Reading books is one way of performing identity, which is why one grad student covered a pair of heels in romance novel covers: “Often when people find out that I read romance novels they tell me I “don’t seem the type” by which they mean I seem too smart/cynical/young/anti-cats to be a romance reader. Apparently reading choice is just as much a performance as any other aspect of identity.”

Basil Papademos, winner of the award for bisexual erotic fiction at last weekend’s bisexual Book Awards, was detained at the Canadian border because his work could “possibly be considered obscene according to Canadian law.”

Feminist author Chris Kraus interviewed Ann Rower about fiction writing, setting, her book Lee and Elaine and more at Emily Books.

Queer Women of Color Media Wire has the best sources romance novels featuring queer women of color.

If you feel guilty when you start books and don’t finish them, it may have to do with your personality type.

A first edition of George Orwell’s 1984 sold for $3,000 this week. Sales of all editions are up following the NSA surveillance scandal. (Rebecca J. Rosen argues that we should be reading Kafka instead.)

Kelli Dunham writes about a week in her life as a queer author and comedian in this month’s The Banal and the Profane.

S.E. Smith writes about writing under a gender-neutral byline and how readers relate to authors according to their perceived gender.

Malinda Lo writes about feminist media criticism and the problem with binary thinking and oversimplification.

In Japan, book stacking has gone avant garde.

In an interview with The Rumpus, Eve Ensler discusses hysteria, activism, cancer, vaginas, art, her new book and more:

“So many young women have been coming on this tour across the country, and it’s been so moving to me to hear how many girls perform The Vagina Monologues and are reporting that they came into their bodies doing that show. That performance was the performance where they entered their bodies. It turns out that they didn’t need sixty years! Either they didn’t have those experiences [of abuse], or they got it younger, or there was consciousness around them. What I would say is this—and maybe this is too monolithic, and I don’t want to universalize to that point—I think we’re all, each one of us, after something. And I don’t know if it has to do with an initial wound, or just being human. But there’s some search that we’re on, some quest that we’re on. And I think that what we don’t do is heed that search. We get off track. Capitalism takes us off track. You get off the “real” and get on the “wheel.” The “wheel” becomes the winning and losing, the succeeding and failing, the “I will achieve.” All that stuff becomes so preoccupying, particularly if you’re born with low self-esteem, or no sense of yourself, or even if you’re just born in the consumer culture. It’s very powerful.

What I would say to young women is: Pay attention to the real. Pay attention to what you’re really thirsting for. What do you really want? And I think that’s much harder to decipher in a culture that has no interest in it. What interests me is, are we going to wake in time? Are human beings going to wake up to ourselves, to the incredible poverty that’s on this planet, to what we’re doing to the earth, to what we’re doing to women, to what we’re doing to boys? That’s what’s important.”

Sistahs on the Shelf reviewed It’s Complicated: Misconceptions, a romance novel about a lesbian break up by Erika Renee Land; Pit Crew, by Renair Amin; and Broken in Soft Places, by Fiona Zedde.

At the Lesbrary, Danika reviewed Freak of Nature, a collection of essays and memoir by Kelli Dunham. Anna reviewed The Blue Hour, by Beatrice Donahue. Casey reviewed Silhouette of a Sparrow, a young adult novel by Molly Beth Griffin.

At Lambda Literary, Anna Furtado reviewed The Pyramid Waltz, speculative fiction by Barbara Ann Wright. Marcie Bianco reviewed Acts of Gaiety: LGBT Performance and the Politics of Pleasure by Sara Warner. Rita Salner reviewed Best Lesbian Romance 2013, edited by Radclyffe. Plus, there are tons of new LGBT books coming out this month.

Don’t forget to check out all the awesome book-related things we published recently: JuliaOA reviewed Sontag: Reborn. Carolyn wrote about the Lambda Literary Awards.

Events To Watch Out For:

June 13, New York: Queer cartoonists will discuss their work, influences, and impacts at Bluestockings’ Queer Comix (172 Allen St.), 7 p.m.

June 14, Philadelphia: The Leeway Foundation’s Trans Literary Salon will feature Tomothy Colman, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Red Durkin and Rachel K. Zall (Leeway office, 1315 Walnut St., suite 832), 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

June 15, New York: Kristin Lieb, author of Pop Tarts and Body Parts: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars will discuss the findings from her book as well as gender, branding and the modern music industry at Bluestockings (172 Allen St.), 7 p.m.

June 17, New York: A Queer Ladies Pride Reading at Housing Works will feature Melissa Febos, Jennifer Baumgardner, Robin Carson Cloud, Suzanne Gardinier, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Shelly Oria and Sarah Schulman (126 Crosby St.), 7 p.m.

June 20, New York: Artist, author and professor Kay Turner will discuss queer fairy tales at Bluestockings (172 Allen St.), 7 p.m.

June 21, Philadelphia: Leeway’s Visibility Project, directed by Mia Nakono, features visual representation by and of queer Asians and Asian Americans. Nakono will speak at the opening reception (1315 Walnut St., suite 832), 6 to 8 p.m.

June 23, Toronto: The queer family brunch at the Gladstone Hotel will feature a reading by S. Bear Bergman, as well as music by The Monkey Bunch (Melody Bar), 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

June 23, Toronto: Queer crafts and zine making with Glad Day Bookshop (598 Yonge St.), 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

June 26, New York: Queer Ladies Literary Speed Dating with CoverSpy will be at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe (126 Crosby St.), 7 p.m. $15, includes one drink. Register at housingworksbookstore.org.

June 26, New York: Annie Lanzillotto will read from her memoir L is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir at Bluestockings (172 Allen St.), 7 p.m.

June 27, New York: Housing Works is holding a Pride Week reading featuring Gil Cole, Annie Lanzillotto and Charlie Vasquez (126 Crosby St.), 7 p.m.

July 1, New York: Samantha Meier will lead a discussion on gender politics in underground comics as part of the 50th New York Comics and Picture-Story Symposium. Bluestockings (172 Allen St.), 7 p.m., free.

July 7, New York: Bluestockings’ feminist book club is meeting to discuss The Feminist Porn Book. Bluestockings (172 Allen St.), 7 p.m., free.

September 1: Natural Selection, a companion novel to Malinda Lo’s Adaptation, will be released.

Know of a queer event with literary merit? Send it to us!

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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. So basically what you’re saying is Basil Papademos’s life is the subplot of “Better than Chocolate”?

  2. It is sad that we generally can’t just walk into queer bookstores to find things to read now. But I’ve discovered soo many books thanks to the internet!

  3. books!

    i just finished ali smith’s “girl meets boy” and it was great! “girl meets boi” would have been a more appropriate title, it’s pretty much a modern-day queer version of the myth of iphis from ovid’s metamorphosis.
    “she was as graceful as a boy. she was as brave and handsome and rough as a girl. she was as pretty and delicate and dainty as a boy”
    i recommend this, the prose is great, and especially the sex scene is pretty amazing.

    i also read aimee bender’s “willful creatures”, which is a pretty fantastical short story collection. it’s different from what i usually read – in one story a boy has keys in place of his fingers and spends his life searching for the doors that they open – but overall i enjoyed it

    i also read dorothy allison’s “two or three things i know for sure” which was good/raw. it’s a memoir describing her family’s history, mostly the women in her life. i guess i should finally read “bastard out of carolina” now

    • Ali Smith is wonderful, I like how casually she blends the everyday and the fantastical.

    • I bookmarked that quote from Boy Meets Girl too, it was gorgeous. I keep picking up books that don’t even mention queerness and being happily surprised when I find queer characters in them, which is great! I also found The Well of Loneliness in a charity shop and I’ve never heard about it before but on the front there was a quote from the Irish Times calling it ‘The Bible of lesbianism’ so I figured I should own it! :p
      I’m really on a read ALL the queer lit bender. But mostly stuff with QPOC because there isn’t enough out there.

  4. Thank you for featuring Sistahs on the Shelf on Autostraddle. Much appreciated. I’m glad black lesbian books can have a platform on your tremendous site. :-)

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