Today marks the day of London Pride and so, to recognise and celebrate LGBT characters in literature, I have read several short stories and novels and would like to share them with you.
The first is Zoraida by Tanya Ray. Set in Communist Cuba, Zoraida tells the story of two young girls, Zoraida and Marilu, their lust and affection for each other, and how they are ultimately ripped apart by the conventions of society, led by Zoraida’s mother.
Zoraida’s mother, Farola, is a bitter and miserable woman, not content with the humdrum of her life but unable to escape it. She has a beautiful daughter in Zoraida, and is more than a little jealous of her. They have a fiery relationship, brawling when their disagreements get particularly heated.
Zoraida and Marilu eventually get caught together and flee to a family member’s house, where they are unfortunately discovered and forcibly separated. Farola decides that the only course of action is electric shock ‘therapy’, and this ultimately destroys Zoraida. She has no real recollection of herself, her personality or her memories. She thinks and acts quite impersonally and detached, which only emphasises the change in her, as she was fiery and passionate before her ‘treatment’:
“She catalogued her collection of Life Experiences…”
She becomes a mirror of whoever she meets, not knowing how to act or respond. I find this to be a reflection of their society; she has been made to copy them, no longer free or able to act on her own accord:
“this is how she’d deal with things, by becoming a mirror” (p. 8)
She is no longer herself, instead a product of the prejudice and influence of both Farola and the community they live in. Farola is concerned about what people think, clear in the lies she tells to cover Zoraida’s absence. Zoraida’s change is recognised by Marilu and is repeated by her twice, possibly in anguish and loss:
“No, this was not Zoraida” (p8)
Marilu whispers to her of their past, and Zoraida can only recognise it as a memory, a time past, not a conscious thought. No other response is given, no emotion or impassioned recollection, instead the reader is left only with sadness at a broken girl and her former lover.
There is some quite violent imagery throughout the story, echoing the destruction caused to Zoraida and her relationship with Marilu. There is mention of a “fire-cracker”, and “head-on collision”, and “stabbing”, all giving the reader an increasingly unsettled feeling as the story continues.
The story is riveting, gripping yet so sad. I believe it is important to portray these gritty experiences as they are, rather than sugar coat them or mislead readers into thinking that all stories have a happy ending. Zoraida was destroyed by the ‘therapy’ she endured, and became a new person, one with far less control and will than she previously had, and with muted emotions. It is also important to highlight the behaviour of the community: the servers who refused the girls ice-cream, Farola who subjects her daughter to torture because of who she had a relationship with and the doctors who administer brutal and barbaric methods of ‘treatments’ which does nothing except damage the person being ‘treated’.
Read this story, it will open your eyes.
The second short story I’d like to mention is Love in the Graveyards of Industry but Jeremy Seabrook. Although this is considerably short, it definitely packs a punch.
This tells of a young man who has becoming immovably attached to his mother, and she has great control over him. He believes that without her he would perish, that he was unable to be loved, and was an ugly person. Her love becomes almost godlike, and that he should be honoured that such a lowly specimen as himself could receive such love.
This love however, is warped. It is not affectionate love, but entrapment, as “everything was sanctioned, as long as it did not thwart her will…” It ran so deep that it affected his ability to bond with others, or form any sort of attachments or relationships other than what he had with his mother. He expresses self-loathing, calling himself “repellent”, “ugly”, “unworthy of love” and “unfit for human company”, which is quite sad to read.
The man does come to realise the extent of his mother’s “emotional tyranny” as he calls it, and although he is somewhat forgiving, he is not happy that he was faced with such control without his “consent or understanding”.
I read his entrapment as a reflection of his feeling trapped by his sexuality, as he is unsure of how to communicate his intentions or desires to others, instead just watching people from afar. He was not free whilst with his mother, emotionally or physically.
There are also some short novels from the young adult genre that make for great reads concerning the LGBT+ community, one stand-out book for me though was Starring Kitty, by Keris Stainton. I really enjoyed this book, and warmed to the characters almost immediately.
Kitty is relatable in her hesitance to combine her love for Dylan and affection for her friends. The love story which develops between Kitty and Dylan is very sweet, shown when Kitty says she lives in an entirely different part of town, just so she can walk with Dylan that little bit longer. She also immediately hangs up on Dylan when she finally calls her, showing a human vulnerability that I am sure many teenagers can relate to, no matter what their orientation. You find yourself rooting for her all the way through the story.
The secondary characters are just as endearing and full of depth, with Sunny being from a Muslim family with a super positive personality and a drive to succeed that is charming. Dylan was so cool, just like any other crush you would have at school, no matter what the gender. Quirky, confident and cute, but with a vulnerability that makes you like her even more.
I think the charm of this book lies in its ability to engage all readers. I believe any youngster with a crush could relate to Kitty, and any person being kept as a secret crush would relate to Dylan.
This is a very easy read, as even though the characters are aged 14-15, younger children could read this and appreciate it. I believe it is a remarkable story for young children and teenagers to learn about relationships, as this lesbian relationship is portrayed like any other. It is approachable, warm and cute, and I would recommend it.
I hope you enjoyed my take on some examples of LGBT+ Literature, and find some others to enjoy!