The Chief Executive of lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality charity Stonewall on how books have influenced the course of her life
Literature can make, support and save the lives of so many lesbian, gay, bi and trans folk, in particular, those who are coming of age or are making a journey in some way, shape or form.
This couldn’t be truer for me. Literature saved me in all sorts of ways, and acted as the only medium in which I could really see myself and the person who I wanted to become.
When I was growing up, lesbian representation in literature was limited, and still is to an extent. But in the absence of any other cultural medium it’s where I explored what it is to be me.
All of this exploring was taking place in in the 90s, where lesbian, gay, bi and trans people were invisible in practically all forms of media. In literature, representation was thin on the ground and oblique.
Jeanette Winterson stood out as an anomaly in this, and her books Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Written On The Body allowed me to consider and explore ideas of love, passion and identity. In fact all of her books did, in a way that I couldn’t do with other writers.
Winterson led me to Virginia Woolf, where I read works like Orlando and To the Lighthouse. Reading these enabled me to find ways not just to be a woman, but a thinker, and an individual who could challenge the status quo around me.
Fast forward, and we’re now at a time where lesbian, gay, bi and trans authors are represented throughout literature. Today, the likes of Stella Duffy and Sarah Waters show lesbian identity and culture in the most profound way, alongside Carol Ann Duffy of course, whose book Rapture reflects far too many of my own relationships.
Stonewall works with so many young lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, and despite the range of mediums available to them today, we still hear from so many that the most powerful is literature.
Young Adult (YA) fiction continues to be a huge phenomenon for younger people, and it’s fantastic to hear that so much of this literary world includes diverse and intersectional themes. I wish this had been the case when I was of that age.
Whether it’s to know that it really does get better, be inspired to stand up for what they believe in or be encouraged to be who they really are, literature is truly such an encapsulating and emotionally impactful medium for younger folk. And that’s wonderful.
That kind of magic can’t be captured in 140 characters or moving image CGI.
There’s something truly special about a physical book, and being able to hold on to something and treasure it, either as a keepsake, something to pass onto a loved one, or to have at home to re-read and re-read until the pages become worn out.
At 36, I still devour any novel that possibly reflects my identity and my existence, no matter how dubious it may be.
And I don’t plan on changing that any time soon.
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