Reading list

9 brilliant pieces of gender bending fiction

Gender disguises, single-sex societies, transgender stories and role reversals abound in 9 novels that will have you looking anew at our binary world

The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood

Offred only has one function: to breed. In this chilling dystopia, women exist purely for utility. But their human desires can't be quelled by the rigid societal structure, and cracks start to appear in the regimented Republic of Gilead as Offred and the other Handmaids start to look to their pasts.

 

How to be Both

Ali Smith

This structurally ingenious novel from the award-winning Ali Smith combines questions of creativity, gender, grief and time with the stories of George and Francesco. The novel’s timeframe is as fluid as its approach to gender and, in some moments, sexuality. Ali Smith pulls off a brilliant trick: complex writing, but a simple joy to read.

 

Herland and the Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Three explorers accidentally wander into a feminist utopia after they stumble upon a female-only Amazonian tribe in this masterpiece of speculative fiction.

 

Woman on the Edge of Time

Marge Piercy

One for fans of Margaret Atwood, Woman on the Edge of Time imagines the fragility of a world in which many of the sexual, sociological and gender movements of the sixties have been successful. But the delicate balance of the society of Mattapoisett is only ever one move away from a nightmare...

 

Tales of the City

Armistead Maupin

The Tales of the City series is a fun and vivid depiction of San Francisco's gay community, at the center of which sits 28 Barbary Lane. Every resident at this boarding house will encounter the indomitable Anna Madrigal. She's an unassailable wit, and one of literature's most beloved transgender characters.

 

Invisible Monsters Remix

Chuck Palahniuk

A disfigured model befriends a transgender person undergoing gender reassignment as Palahniuk takes us deep into a world of astonishing dishonesty and disloyalty. Invisible Monsters is a deeply uncomfortable read, but a vital one if you want your ideas of indentity ripped apart.

 

The Twyborn Affair

Patrick White

Nobel Laureate Patrick White examines the stark polarity of binary societies as a soul is reincarnated across three time periods, each time with a different gender or class. This is a sensitive, thorough and wonderfully witty novel.

 

Orlando

Virginia Woolf

In this love letter from Virginia Woolf to Vita Sackville-West, we meet Orlando, a timeless chameleon who can change gender at will, played beautifully by Tilda Swinton in the 1992 film adaptation.

 

Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare

There's so much queer wonder in Shakespeare's texts: in Twelfth Night, everyone plays at gender, disguising themselves to get ahead in a deeply binary society.

 

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