Larsen was born into a mixed-race household, so it makes sense that both of Larsen's novellas deal with race, class, sexuality, and gender. Although it's never been confirmed that Larsen was bi, her fiction — some of which is very obviously based on her own life — hints that she was familiar with same-sex attraction. This is super-noticeable in Passing, where there are a lot of pretty hot glances between the female protagonist, Irene, and her long-lost friend, Clare.
You've probably heard of Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours, which was based off of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (and made into a movie). But I love his 1990 novel, A Home at the End of the World, which centers on an alternative family: a gay man and his best friend plan to have a baby together, and end up letting an old college friend join in.
Rubyfruit Jungle is one of the best coming out books I've ever read, partly because the protagonist is all like: Yeah, I like women, what's so weird about that? Rita Mae Brown also wrote a whole bunch of cute mystery books about a cat detective (Brown credits her cat with her own byline, too). They're awesome.
Forster's Howard's End and A Room with a View are classic high school required reading. Both contain plenty of homoerotic undertones — I mean, that scene in the pond in A Room with a View? But Maurice explicitly dealt with a gay relationship, and was only published after Forster died; it's full of feels and highly recommended.
If you still don't know who Alison Bechdel is, it's about time you found out. Besides creating the Bechdel test (super-simple: Is there a scene in a work of fiction where two women talk about something other than a man? Then it passes!), she also wrote two incredible memoirs. Her first, Fun Home, was adapted into a hilariously dark musical. For many years, Bechdel also wrote and illustrated a cartoon strip called Dykes to Watch Out For. Plus, she was recently awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant (WIN FOR TEAM QUEER AUTHORS!).
I don't know if you were forced to read Mrs. Dalloway in school, but I'm going to beg you to pick it up and read it again, this time for pleasure. It's incredible, and there is a very clear subtext regarding the things women who are into women lose when they conform to societal norms and decide to marry men instead. I'm also a fan of Orlando, which Woolf wrote with her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West in mind. In this bizarre book, the gender-fluid main character lives throughout several centuries as both men and women.
We can thank David Levithan for being one of the first authors to introduce gay characters into the YA mainstream. His awesome debut novel Boy Meets Boy is exactly what it sounds like: a twist on the heteronormative boy-meets-girl story. "I guess that the book was seen as pretty daring at the time,” Levithan has said, and indeed it was. But since its release in 2003, dozens of other YA books have addressed queer issues. Levithan also co-wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green, which also includes a gay character.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers' most famous book (which she wrote when she was only 23!), deals with race, gender, sexuality, and class in a brilliant and elegant way. Some of the characters struggle with their understanding of their own genders, seeing themselves as both female and male at times. Carson herself dressed "like a man," and though designated as "she" by most today, there is evidence of McCullers saying that she felt she was born a man, according to Sarah Gleeson-White's paper, "Strange Bodies: Gender and Identity in the Novels of Carson McCullers." While we cannot rightfully claim that McCullers was transsexual, her observations on the fluidity of gender show that her perspective on sexuality was ahead of its time.
Whether Ellis is gay, straight, bi, asexual, or anything else on the rainbow of sexuality, he's not telling. In an interview with Metro Weekly, he said, "I definitely don’t identify as gay. But I wouldn’t identify myself necessarily with straight either ... I’ve played around with my persona in terms of its sexuality, and I’ve made various comments over the years that I’m straight, I’m bi, I’m gay, I’m whatever you want me to be." Ellis is clearly aware of his ability to play with identity in both his work and his private life: his novels are all satirical in one form or another, from the mock memoir Lunar Park to his famous 1987 novel Rules of Attraction.
Hall is considered one of the most groundbreaking lesbian authors in history, especially since she wrote The Well of Loneliness in 1928, before gay rights were considered a basic civil rights issue. She discusses relationships between women more explicitly than was common in her day, which was a brave move on her part. In her real life, Hall played with gender roles by dressing in suits and top hats.
Puerto Rican writer Luis Negrón is best known for his short story collection Mundo Cruel, which was translated into English and published in the U.S. in 2013. The stories showcase a cruel world in clear, tight prose, and deal with Puerto Rican gay culture, a topic unfamiliar to many of us. The characters in Mundo Cruel experience abuse, prejudice, death, and heartbreak, and yet they are resilient. Negrón also edited an anthology of LGBTQ Puerto Rican writers, who are hugely underrepresented.
This brave, out, and proud lesbian writer and editor whipped Mr. Hemingway into shape as his mentor and one of his early readers; though Hemingway popularized the spare style she used in her writing, she was the one who used it first. Stein wrote some beautiful and bizarre books, from the experimental Tender Buttons to the collected novellas Three Lives. She also wrote one of the first explicit coming-out stories, "Q.E.D", which was written in 1903 but wasn't published until 1950 in book form.
Sarah Waters, a contemporary Welsh writer, has written a whole series of historical novels set in the Victorian era that involve lesbian protagonists and their love affairs. Historical romances have been done before, but what Waters brings to the table is her unapologetic acknowledgment that lesbians existed in history. Women have been attracted to women for far longer than we have been accepting them, and Waters's exploration of women's sexuality within genres usually dedicated to heterosexual couples opens the door for other authors to do the same.
It isn't known whether Hughes was gay, straight, bi, or asexual, but he was portrayed as a black gay icon in filmmaker Isaac Julien's 1989 film Looking for Langston. Some scholars have opined that Hughes was asexual. But first and foremost, Hughes was a writer, a poet, an activist, and one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. In other words, he was an artistic force to be reckoned with.
Leslie Feinberg, author of the classic queer novel Stone Butch Blues, identified as an "anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist." Stone Butch Blues is considered essential reading for both the straight and queer communities, as it explores a butch lesbian growing up in a pre-Stonewall Riots era.
Minnie Bruce Pratt was Feinberg's longtime partner, who wrote about their relationship, as well as Pratt's own sense of her sexuality, in her poetic memoir-ish book, s/he. Pratt describes her self-discovery through a series of erotic encounters that make you want to take a cold shower. Her identity crisis, as well as her attempts to keep in touch with her children, will also make you (or me, anyway) cry.
An incredible novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet, Baldwin actually left the U.S. because of the discrimination against blacks and gays that was (and still is in many places) so prevalent; he wrote about his expatriation in his essay "Fifth Avenue, Uptown," published in 1960. His fiction explored black, gay, and/or bisexual men, and Giovanni's Room deals with the complications of the gay/bi dichotomy.
Poppy Z. Brite is transman Billy Martin's pen name. Brite writes mainly gothic horror stories featuring realistic queer characters. He has written: "Ever since I was old enough to know what gay men were, I've considered myself a gay man that happens to have been born in a female body, and that's the perspective I'm coming from." He is an honest and provocative writer, not so much because of his sexuality or gender, but because his work is gruesome and humorous at the same time (which I personally enjoy, but it's not everyone's cup of tea).
Winterson, who was born in 1959, came out when she was 16, which was pretty ballsy for the time. Since then, she's consistently been a staunch feminist (and a weird writer). Sexing the Cherry is one of the best and most unsettling books I've ever read, and her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, is awesome, too. You'll also want to check out Winterson's brilliant reviews and essays.
"Yes, I am gay and/or lesbian. (Does that make me twice as queer?)," YA author Julie Ann Peters writes on her website. Her books often involve characters who identify somewhere along the LGBTQIA spectrum, but what makes her books wonderful is that the characters' sexual orientation is not usually the main point of the books, but just one part of their lives. Peters normalizes the LGBTQIA experience for teens by writing literature in which people like them are not automatically ostracized.
Iconic gay author Christopher Isherwood wrote A Single Man (which was adapted into a movie) and Goodbye to Berlin (which, fun fact, is what Cabaret is based on). He discovered and engaged with his sexuality in Berlin, and his work explores a time in which the city was open to alternative sexuality and social mores (I mean, hello, Cabaret).
Push, which was adapted into the film Precious, is one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of literature you will ever read. Full stop. Sapphire, the pen name that Ramona Lofton uses, is a bisexual woman and a slam poet. Her work explores ideas about race, sexuality, and the incredible depths of human despair as well as resilience.
We all know Maurice Sendak, beloved author of The Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are. He died only a couple of years ago, and was very private about his sexuality — he mentioned he was gay only in a 2008 in a New York Times interview, and that he'd had the same partner for 50+ years. But like many other queer authors, his writing did not deal with sexuality, but with humanity.
Ever heard of Howl? Yup, that's our man, Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg wrote openly about his sexuality, and even listed his partner as his husband in "Who's Who," a biographical index used by some people once upon a time before, you know, Facebook took over. Ginsberg was one of the original beat poets, who have influenced both fashion and literature ever since their heyday in the 1950s (they were, in other words, the original hipsters).
Another LGBTQIA icon, Lorde was a radical feminist, openly lesbian, and a civil rights activist. The poet, essayist, and literary critic pioneered the idea that white feminism was historically used to oppress black women. Lorde has also been honored by having the Audre Lorde Project, an NYC organization dedicated to queer people of color, named for her legacy.