On my loftiest days, I can be heard espousing, in seminar rooms (or sometimes just muttering to myself on the bus into the city), that poetry is important because it’s the creation of a literature by which our epoch will be judged by future historians. Like all things that sounds vaguely impressive, that’s not strictly true.
Representation is important; as a young queer lad growing up in South Yorkshire at the end of the last millennium, before wifi internet would have given me access to a whole new world and before there were more than a handful of gay representations on TV, I turned to books to help me make sense of who I was and how it was, perhaps, that I should be framing my life. . . .
Fashion, at its most couture and artful, is about imagining a future self, and a brave new world-suggesting, albeit with seasonal regularity, how we might potentially dress ourselves and present ourselves to whatever the world has coming for us.
Literature, like fashion, does exist in the time it comes out of (obvious statement klaxon!). Even sci-fi novels, or even the most extravagant and far-reaching designs, are born from the crucible of the now; some work speaks to its time, some work moves its time forward.
The novels in this timeline are of their time and also timeless (that great paradox that we ask all great art to inhabit). Some of them are born from times of subterfuge and illegality, .
some are born of freedom. All are worth your time in reading them, and in their timeline they chart a shift of sexual politics and persecution, from openness, into years of darkness and back out the other side. I can’t remember who it was that once said that the gay movement, in very crude terms, could perhaps be boiled down to moving from ‘I Am What I Am’ to ‘I am what you are’, though after Orlando and in the current political climate, there is a new and welcome radicalisation of queer politics again.
Read these books, and love them. Your specific story won’t be in any of them. That’s why you have to write your own; it needn’t be a novel, the way you style your hair or put on that jumper tomorrow morning, that’s your own tale of yourself for the world. .