Six of the most iconic queer heroes from literature
Which queer heroes (or anti-heroes) have stayed with you long past the last page? For LGBTQIA+ History Month, James Hodge – English lecturer and outstanding advocate for improved LGBTQIA+ education in classrooms – reveals his most iconic queer heroes from literature.
Growing up gay, representation in literature mattered. When I first came out, literature allowed me – a smalltown boy – to explore the many colours of that rainbow world beyond the white picket fences of my childhood. I was soon to befriend many a character who was ‘just like me’ – Maupin’s Michael Tolliver danced with me in the nightclubs of San Francisco; Aciman’s Elio Perlman lazed beside me by the swimming pool in Italy, and Hollinghurst’s Nick Guest took me on a wander through the cruising grounds of Hampstead Heath. Literature was my key to navigating the future – it gave me role models to look up to; an understanding of gay culture and community; and warned me of the challenges I might face growing up different.
‘Literature was my key to navigating the future – it gave me role models to look up to; an understanding of gay culture and community; and warned me of the challenges I might face growing up different.’
However, with LGBT now expanded to include a Q-I-A and a '+', society’s understanding of gender and sexuality is more open and dynamic than ever. Queer, once a beating stick used to attack gay and bisexual men and women, has become a tool of power wielded by us to break the limitations of identities. It is a new way of looking – breaking down binaries and shattering stereotypes in order to allow us to live more freely and authentically beyond the norm. This queer lens has changed the way we read, allowing us to look beyond the immediately gay protagonists of past literature, and to discover all shapes and sizes of queer characters lurking in the shadows.
‘When I picked up A Little Life, I had no idea that I was reading a queer novel. It wasn’t marketed with a rainbow-colored cover; it wasn’t hidden in the LGBTQ+ section of the bookshop.’