The Beat Asia Reads: An LGBTQ+ Book List for Pride Month and Beyond
by: The Beat Asia
June 30, 2023
Pride Month is characterised by its revelry, of rainbow flags and parades, drag performances and live music. But Pride is also a protest; it compels us to resolve to pay attention to the footfalls of those who came before us and honors those who fought the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and justice.
Although LGBTQ+ rights groups existed before 1969, it was the Stonewall Uprising beginning on June 28 of that year at the Stonewall Inn in New York City's Greenwich Village that became the turning point of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. A year after the uprising that saw a series of violent encounters between the police and LGBTQ+ activists, the first Pride marches were staged in the areas of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, where thousands of members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community came together to remember the Stonewall Uprising and to uphold the struggle for equal rights.
The events of Stonewall, though in the west, were felt the world over, its reverberations reaching the LGBTQ+ communities of as far as the Global South. Today, the Pride March is celebrated openly in many Asian countries, although the struggle for inclusivity, diversity, equality, and justice for the community remains the same. We've come so far, yet still have a long way to go. In Asia, specifically in East and Southeast Asia, Taiwan is the only country where same-sex marriage is legal. In Hong Kong, books with LGBTQ+ themes have been pulled out of libraries in 2018. Everywhere else, LGBTQ+ members are still subjected to microaggressions, hate crime, and violence. And in safe spaces where the LGBTQ+ can find support and acceptance in each other, such as drag shows, as one example, these, still, are considered as fringe or marginal spaces.
In this continuous struggle for equality, resistance and its million forms are practiced in the most meaningful and smallest of ways. Reading and writing as at once forms of subversion and liberation, have long been harnessed as tools against injustice. In literature, there is the imagination and reimagination of freedom. Whether it's Pride Month or any other time of the year, we urge our readers to take up and read. Start with this LGBTQ+ book list.
‘Wildfire: Filipina Lesbian Writings’ by Gantala Press
"Wildfire: Filipina Lesbian Writings" surfaces the narratives of Filipina lesbians in this slim collection. Published by the volunteer-run Filipina feminist press, Gantala Press, the collection deserves to be praised for its triumph in presenting various voices of Filipina lesbians, putting as much value on gender identity as intersectionality. It puts forth stories from women hailing from different communities, spotlighting their "struggles, pains, and triumphs" and journey under a feudal-patriarchal and misogynistic system such as the Philippines. You can get a copy of "Wildfire" for only P264 from Gantala Press' Shopee store here.
'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' by Ocean Vuong
American Vietnamese poet and novelist Ocean Vuong's "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous," which was nominated for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, was written as a letter from a son, Little Dog, to his illiterate mother. It explored the themes of race, class, and masculinity, as well as queer love as Little Dog falls in love with a white boy. The epistolary novel was also Vuong's debut as a novelist.
'Bestiary: A Novel' by K-Ming Chang
K-Ming Chang's "Bestiary" traverses the history of one family, beginning in Taiwan and then to United States in Arkansas and California. It centres on three generations of Taiwanese American women and their "queer desires, violent impulses, and buried secrets," melding themes like migration, queerness, and girlhood in one conversation. Chang is known for her works that explore queer desire; her 2022 short story collection, "Gods of Want," had won her the 2023 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.
‘Glass Cathedral’ by Andrew Koh
In a conservative society like Singapore, Andrew Koh's "sensitive depiction" of homosexuality in “Glass Cathedral” became an important literary work for the LGBTQ+ community not just in the city-state but the world over. Published in 1995, the novella is the winner of the Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award and is regarded by many as a classic.
'Busilak: New LGBTQ Poetry from the Philippines' edited by J. Neil Garcia
This book of LGBTQ+ poetry features "postconfessional" poems, presenting their authors subjective, lived experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community. According to its editor, J. Neil C. Garcia, a professor at the College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines-Diliman, the collection can be read as "postconfessionally as queer, despite or precisely because of the stylistic circumvention it performs." "Busilak" was published in 2020. You can buy it for P470 from the University of the Philippines Press' Shopee store here.
'Your Driver Is Waiting' by Priya Guns
If you loved the 1976 film "Taxi Driver" starring Robert De Niro, Priya Guns' satirical "Your Driver Is Waiting" is inspired by it. Published just this February 2023 and named a Most Anticipated Book of the Year by many publications, "Your Driver Is Waiting" follows the story of Damani, who drives for an app for a living and falls in love with one of her passengers, Jolene, a moneyed white woman. When the latter does something horrible, a wild chain of events is triggered. "Your Driver Is Waiting," which brims with social commentary, is Guns' debut novel.
‘Oral Histories of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong: Unspoken but Unforgotten’ by Travis S. K. Kong
This book on gender and cultural studies is at once personal and political, as it spotlights the narratives of older gay men living in Hong Kong and their lived experiences in a colonial and heteronormative society. Written by Travis S. Kong and published by the Hong Kong University Press, "Oral Histories of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong" features photos, letters, and images of what it means to live life in the fringes, spurring conversations not just on identity but also on other pertinent issues like ageing, sexuality, power, and resistance.
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