Alexandra Murphy, Art Historian and one of Ruby City’s Visitor Service Associate has put together an extensive list including Queer Cinema, Literature and Critical Theory. See her recommendations below:
Growing up, I had a lack of explicitly queer role models in the media that I consumed. No one had two moms on the Disney channel yet and no one had told me about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Do not even get me started on how J.K. Rowling failed us all.
By the time I got to high school, at a conservative, football-obsessed, wealthy west Austin public school, if you came out it was often against your will, and people said horrible things about you behind your back. To put things in perspective, a close friend of mine transferred to an arts high school because he was tired of getting called a faggot every day.
Do not feel bad for me. What I am getting at is that I did not know of queerness that actually belonged to queer people until adulthood; my perceptions of queerness were muddied and warped by homophobia. I hear that this is not uncommon; many queer people do not feel secure in their identities until later in life. But, for me, finding my identity largely took the form of immersing myself in Queer Cinema.
***When I say that something is a good romance, that is an important distinction. In my opinion, queer people do not need to constantly be reminded of how difficult it is to a) find a healthy queer relationship and b) simply exist as a queer person. Therefore, Brokeback Mountain (2005) depresses me and Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) is one of the worst films I have ever seen.
***Honestly, my film taste reflects my sexual orientation. I have mostly seen films about females loving females.
The Laramie Project (2002)
This is the first film that I ever saw that deals with queer issues. Sadly, I was 17, not so young. This is an important film, part documentary, part theatrical performance, based on the play of the same name. This film explores Laramie, Wyoming, the small American town where Matthew Shepard was murdered for his sexuality in 1998. Matthew’s story is told, and the actors perform a grieving process in his honor.
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
This is a quintessential lesbian romance film. Our main character doesn’t believe that she is a homosexual because she is a cheerleader, and then her parents send her to a gay conversion camp. I find it relatable how the main character represses her own sexuality for so long, as someone who also grew up in a conservative home. It tends to go: “I can’t be a homosexual! It’s those people, not me!” And it sounds sad, I know, but this is a hilarious film! The praxis of conversion at the camp is centered around extremely traditionalized performances of binary gender. The boys wear blue and work on cars. The girls wear pink and do housework. They are all still a bunch of queers. Campy hijinks ensue!
Mysterious Skin (2004)
Content warning. A young Joseph Gordon Levitt!!! He’s amazing!!! This is a film about how the search for sexual identity is inextricable from one’s own life experiences. Two teenage boys come of age while coming to terms with the sexual abuse that they experienced together as children. This film also deals with the AIDS epidemic, as it takes place in the 1980s.
Liquid Sky (1982)
Content warning. The tagline is: heroin, aliens, and lesbians! This is a wacky sci-fi film that my second cousin starred in. She was a New Wave/Club Kid icon in Manhattan around the time that this film was made. The fun part is that she plays both main characters: a man named Jimmy and a woman named Margaret. This film explores the Club Kid drag scene, which was not as concerned with cross-dressing as it was with creative expressions of gender that troubled the binary. Warning: the film is somewhat biographical, in that Anne Carlisle plays out the sexual abuses that she experienced in the modeling industry in the film.
Paris is Burning (1990)
This documentary takes an inside look at the LGBTQ, Black and Latinx drag community of NYC in the time that is was made. A fun, uplifting film.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
This is such an important documentary for everyone in the queer community. Marsha P. Johnson was a black trans woman and a sex worker, and she was one of the leaders of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Understanding Marsha’s story is vital to keeping the LGBTQ movement intersectional. We would not have the judicial progress that queer people enjoy today without Stonewall—nor would we have Pride Month!
Desert Hearts (1985)
Based on Jane Rule’s novel of the same name. This is my favorite lesbian romance film. Set in Reno, Nevada in 1959, this film has a wonderful country/western aesthetic. The characters are so well-written, and the soundtrack is honky-tonk perfection.
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Based on Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe. This is an interesting text, because it is clear that the two main characters form a queer romantic relationship, even though this is never made explicit to the audience. We never see them kiss, but my god, they raise a child together! Anyway, the women build a life together and run a local diner in a small, Southern-American town in the first half of the 20th century. A truly beautiful story.
Laurence Anyways (2012)
This is my favorite film! Xavier Dolan is an amazing Queer Cinema director! Suzzane Clément is one of the greatest actresses of our time! This film tells the story of an on-and-off ten year-long relationship between a trans woman and her girlfriend. Dolan’s writing is so eloquent. The soundtrack is incredible. The sets and costumes are wonderful. The cinematography alone makes this film. Besides all that, we get to watch our main character explore her gender identity and pursue a successful writing career. And while this is a film about transness, this is also a film about self-discovery, which everyone can relate to.
The Punk Singer (2013)
This is a documentary about Kathleen Hanna and the ‘riot grrrl’ punk movement that she spearheaded. There are queer figures in this film that are so unapologetically themselves, including the bisexual Hanna, and the gender-expansive drummer of Le Tigre, JD Samson.
The Favorite (2018)
Set in Queen Anne’s England. What is funny about this film is that the sexual identities of the characters are never addressed. Queer sex happens, but this is not a romance. Every character is truly a despicable person with their own agenda. Really, this is a film about how power corrupts romantic relations, which I think is a truth.
Based on Virginia Wolfe’s novel of the same name. An eternally youthful Orlando lives as a man and then as a woman. This is a beautiful film about trans perspectives.
The Celluloid Closet (1996)
I have not seen this yet, but it is a landmark documentary about the history of Queer Cinema.
Within the realm of fiction, how a queer character is represented beyond or without their identity is an important matter. For instance, you might think it progressive for its time for Roberto Rosellini’s Roma, citta aperta (1945) to have an openly lesbian character, but this lesbian character is literally a Nazi, swastikas and all. Not a good look.
Therefore, the portrayal of characters must be taken into account. This opens the floor to characters that do not explicitly address their sexuality or gender identity. I lean heavily into this category of queer texts because it is difficult to come across positive representations of openly queer characters.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – great for kids
The first book that I ever read in which I actually felt like I identified with the main character was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. This is because Scout Finch does not perform gendered expectations. She is what one might refer to as a “tomboy.” I never liked that term, but I like Scout. She doesn’t worry either way about muddying her clothes or growing long beautiful hair. And besides, her narrative provides more pressing issues for her to worry about than looking pretty for boys.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – great for fans of Horror –
*spoilers* Bear with me. I read this book when I was twelve y/o and it had an unexpected impact on me. I am not arguing that this is a healthy reaction, but this Gothic narrative was my introduction to the Queer Other, or the metaphor in the monstrosity of abnormality. Bertha Mason, the wife of Edward Rochester, was locked away, like the mythical Minotaur of Crete, in the attic of Thornfield Hall by her husband, supposedly for being dangerously insane. If one rejects this notion, Bertha was merely abnormal in a way that her husband saw unfit. Perhaps she was queer, perhaps she practiced witchcraft, or perhaps she had radical political beliefs that her husband disagreed with. Either way, her husband made her into the monster in the attic. Bertha’s story serves to represent the experience of abnormality. If queer people grew up feeling accepted, they would not feel like monsters or outsiders. Despite how all that might leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, growing up feeling like an outsider made me love the Gothic.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – Horror, feminist –
Jackson is my favorite author. She was supposedly a closeted lesbian with a drinking problem. Anyway, she was a principle Gothic writer. Her text We Have Always Lived in the Castle tells the tale of two sisters who are disinterested in having a nuclear family. Now, I do not want you to read incest in that. The sisters are simply disinterested in living in a traditional, patriarchically structured family, which I view as a queer act.
Let’s leave fiction and talk Critical Theory!
Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault – critical theory –
There were some points that Foucault failed to address in his oeuvre, particularly w/r/t race and gender politics, but Discipline and Punish is a must read.He does not explicitly discuss sexuality in this text, but he does discuss the history of the development of the carceral system and how that system is designed to more effectively control the population subject to its rule. He incorporates the fact that, in tandem with the new carceral system, the brand of psychological practices that we are familiar with today developed in order to code individuals as normal or abnormal, healthy or unhealthy, innocent or guilty. For me this was an eye-opening read, because Foucault laid out the history and reasoning behind my own unhealthy perspective of myself that I had to grow out of: I am of an abnormal sexuality and therefore I am bad. If you like this, you should read his texts The History of Sexuality, Abnormal, On Discourse, The Order of Things, amongst others.
Gender Trouble by Judith Butler – gender and queer theory –
Listen, Butler got a lot of things wrong and she failed to make this text intersectional, but this is still foundational to Queer Theory. Please read it.
Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici – Marxist feminist theory –
I believe that Federici takes feminism where it needs to go. This text outlines the development of capitalism in the 16th and 17th centuries and how this economic system changed the lives of women and their relation to labor. This text drives home how female bodies have historically been terrorized, tortured, and enslaved. Any opposition to hegemony has been met with violence. This of course includes queer female bodies.
Rust Belt Femme by Raechel Anne Jolie – queer autobiography –
Interesting read about growing up queer and working-class in middle-America.
Queer Phenomenology by Sara Ahmed – queer theory -I have not read this text yet, but I have read Ahmed’s excellent essay Feminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects). Queer Phenomenology is an intersectional approach to queerness that addresses the material, phenomenological experiences of queer subjects. She addresses “orientation” and the “oriental.”
anything by Andrea Long Chu
Andrea Long Chu is a trans woman and Critical Theorist. She writes wonderful articles about queer and feminist theory. I recommend “On Liking Women” and “The Pink,” both on n+1. Apparently, she has also come out with a book called Females, which I have not read. Chu is emerging as one of the most influential Queer, Feminist scholars of her time.
This has been my listicle. I am pleased to say that with every passing year I come across more queer media, whether it be something released yesterday, or something made 30 years ago that I just heard about yesterday. This fact brings me joy, because I think it is important that queer people see themselves represented in texts—if anything, we feel less alone.