Queer erotica is more than just erotica
It’s also a way of finding your own identity
I have a bone to pick with people who liken the evocative prose of well-written erotica to mindless porn. Sure, porn may rule supreme when it comes to getting people off with maximum efficiency. But why should a completely natural act of self-love be as mundane as speed-peeling a potato? Is there any sense of the erotic left when masturbation is reduced to a screen and the mindless mashing of a couple of buttons?
Cue erotica: a respite from the digital maelstrom that is the world of porn. The thing to get you in the mood, long before pornography came into the picture. Erotica has also played an essential role in determining queer people’s sense of community. Did you know a thread of the queer erotica we know today started emerging as early as the 19th century? When your passions had to be kept a secret from society and family alike, what more could you do than pen it down into a book? And since the genre was already taboo, queer love was just another reason to write it off.
Queer erotica was a way for people to explore their gender identity and sexuality via storytelling, in addition to providing a much-needed refuge from daily life. Whereas queer literature has often been overshadowed by the act of coming out, as well as the violence, loss, and shame that may accompany it, queer erotica portrays an alternate world of pleasure and desire by separating itself from an angst-driven narrative. It’s exempt from the ‘bury your gays’ trope that pervades same-sex romance, which usually ends in Brokeback Mountain-esque tragedy.
While such stories can be heartbreaking, they can also be joyful, and embracing the gamut of human experience in the queer community is key. Vanessa Clark, an erotica author who identifies as intersex and a trans fem, explains how reading queer erotica can be a good way to put oneself within a character’s point of view while examining your own identity, especially if you’re transgender or gender non-conforming. For queer and questioning readers, trauma porn – or indeed, lesbian porn – isn’t good enough, when both are designed for the straight gaze.
However confident you are, exploring your sexual identity requires you to step outside your comfort zone. So for those of you who want to discover yourselves anew, or simply add some spice to your bookshelf, delve into this curated list of queer erotica.
9 queer erotica books that are not only arousing but also informative
Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
In this beautiful LGBTQIA+ retelling, the acclaimed Scottish novelist discreetly examines a blurring of the sexual binary by modernizing the tale of Iphis and Ianthe from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the original Greek myth, a mother disguises her daughter as a male, and the daughter subsequently becomes a man for the woman she loves. Smith’s intimate portrayal of gender and its fluidity pulled me in from the get-go.
Devious, political and intriguing, Girl Meets Boy sets the record straight. It’s a wonderful, wide-awake dream of a novel with themes of love and identity at its core. I really enjoyed how Smith conveys the sense of two people in a bubble that so often characterises the early stages of a new relationship.
Girl Meets Boy is a quick, enjoyable read that is chock-full of pop culture references, serving as a regular reminder that our identity, ethics, and inventiveness are constrained by our social mores rather than our gods – Olympian or otherwise.
Weekend: A Novel by Jane Eaton Hamilton
All queer relationships are based on one fundamental truth: they either implode or explode over a weekend, and that’s precisely what Jane Eaton Hamilton’s new novel explores. Two lesbian couples travel to Ontario, Canada, and discover a new notion of love that may or may not blend into their present relationships and lifestyles.
What Hamilton has done is re-invent a love saga that we’ve all seen before, so we can interpret it in a new light. The sex is passionate, and the characters are charmingly imperfect and real.
Weekend is seductive, delicate, and raw, standing at the confluence of disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, and class, with scorching intimate encounters and private debates that leave emotional bruises.
Close, Too Close: The Tranquebar Book of Queer Erotica by Meenu and Shruti
Close, Too Close is the first of its kind, a collection of queer erotica set in South Asia. Devdutt Patnaik, a literary heavyweight, made a contribution to the collection, while Vikram Doctor, an LGBT rights activist, wrote the preface. Edited by Meena and Shruti, who identify as queer feminists, this anthology delves into the sex lives of India’s colourful queer community.
The short stories are set in metros like Delhi and Mumbai, and smaller towns like Visakhapatnam. The collection depicts a wildly diversified universe of desires in which the only law that is holy is consent.
Close, Too Close is brimming with brilliantly constructed stories of identity, passion, lust, and loss, not simply queer erotica. For a compilation full of pseudonyms, it’s remarkably well-written. It has an unusual flavour to it, yet it isn’t too obscure. Most importantly, when it’s hot, it’s really hot.
Arcade by Drew Nellins Smith
I am eternally intrigued by authors who write about loathsome, unlikeable, morally dubious protagonists. Relatable, am I right? If you appreciate complex characters that wrestle with their self and sexuality, Arcade will hit you right in the feels.
Arcade is about an unnamed character’s impulse to pursue anonymous sexual relationships with men at a XXX arcade on the fringes of a small Texas town. The plot starts with a breakup and builds to the discovery of a peep show that looks to be nothing more than a cruising hotspot on the surface, but is later shown to be an embodiment of desire. Arcade ends up raising as many questions about sexual exploration as it answers.
To Italy, With Love by Nicky Pellegrino
Okay, so let me just start with a warning: this is not a good book to read if you’re hungry, because being hungry and horny at the same time is a recipe for bad decisions. I mean I could practically smell ‘the grilled swordfish coated with crushed sweet dried peppers’.
The book is about a young, heartbroken English girl on a road trip in Italy, and an older, lonely Italian woman. You know immediately that they will both fall in love, but the predictability adds to the comfort-food appeal of this sweet story.
Pellegrino’s latest work has characters you’ll fall in love with right away, a swoon-worthy romance, and a nicely crafted rural Italian setting, To Italy, With Love is the embodiment of feel-good writing. And since we can’t exactly visit Italy in the middle of this shitshow that the world is in, reading this book is the next best thing.
Are You Here What I’m Here For? by Brian Booker
Brian Booker weaves seven intriguing tales together, each telling a distinct tale but all connected by a similar thread: sickness. Each story’s title highlights Booker’s poetic and fantastical voice, which he uses to vividly depict each character and their sometimes-real, sometimes-imagined ailment.
Characters are born and reincarnated in a twisted, uncanny loop while paradoxically living and dying. On the turn of a dime, reality alters. In a narrative about a young virgin and an older lady, the unsexy turns excruciatingly sensuous. I felt like I was experiencing a strip show as foreplay.
To say the least, it’s unsettling, and it’s not for everyone. However, those that step in will discover themselves suddenly submerged in this strange new world, refusing to get out.
Valencia by Michelle Tea
Michelle Tea’s semi-autobiographical novel depicts the lesbian subculture in gritty, drug-addled San Francisco in the early 1990s.
Tea recounts the story of a year spent in a world of women through a sequence of narrative flashbacks: there’s knife-wielding Marta, who exposes her to a different reality of groundbreaking sex; Tea’s troubled poet-girlfriend, Willa; Iris, the gorgeous boy-dyke who ran away from the South in a dust cloud of drama; and Iris’s ex, Magdalena Squalor, to whom Tea turns when Iris breaks her heart.
The sexual encounters are all passionate, but my favourites are the ones between Tea and Iris, who desire each other in an intense and tortured way that can only be experienced when you’re younger; when you want someone so much, your heart feels heavy for it. Tea’s queer erotica may be lacking in narrative, but it is compelling because of the searing honesty with which she has written it. Perfect for those who enjoy a sprinkle of grunge with their steamy scenes.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Yes, the title is a dirty pun, but don’t let it fool you into thinking this is a lowbrow novel. If you’re searching for a lesbian love story primer, Sarah Waters sits at the top of the list. Her stories are not only captivating and well-crafted, but the relationships are among the greatest I’ve ever read.
Waters’ wonderfully descriptive account of lesbian sexuality is a breath of fresh air from the cloying proprieties of Victorian femininity. The ambience is all-enveloping, the narrative is complicated, and the delicate romance that forms between the two brutalised women is a heart-breaker in this Victorian heist thriller with a lesbian romance.
You’ll probably enjoy it, but even if you don’t, you’re unlikely to have read anything like it before. Who could forget Sue and Maud in that scene? The phrase “you pearl” alone is enough to make my insides melt to goo.
Mangos and Mistletoe by Adrianna Herrera
Already missing the warm and cosy feelings of Christmas? Snuggle up with a cup of hot chocolate and light a festive candle, because Adriana Herrera’s Mangoes and Mistletoe is the ideal way to revisit your favourite time of year.
Sully and Kiskeya, the two heroines, are in Scotland to compete in a Great British Bake-off-style competition. It stars the buttoned-up, seasoned pastry chef Kiskeya, who is entirely unravelled by her cooking partner – the self-assured bundle of joy Sully (who I totally have a book crush on now). Mangoes and Mistletoe will provide you all the solace of a warm hug under the blankets that eventually turns into a hot make out session, still under the blankets.
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