The queer community is a group that is often underrepresented in many industries. However, the importance of the community in the literary industry should not go unnoticed. Literature, in many ways, has laid the foundation for a world where the queer community is accepted.
Looking at the likes of Oscar Wilde and Patricia Highsmith, representation of the queer community in literature, be it as characters or authors, has been around for decades. Representation of the community in literature dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, as same sex relationships are seen in the likes of Homer’s Iliad and Plato’s famous Symposium. Throughout history, the queer community has played a role in literature, allowing readers to educate and inform themselves about the community even when not identifying as part of it.
Historically, people have used creativity as a way to express themselves and explore different aspects of their lives; this is no different for the queer community. Queer literature allows the queer community to explore their identities and celebrate their community in a safe space. Many authors will agree that the purpose of literature is to explore the life of someone else and to experience things from their perspective. Representation of the queer community in literature allows readers to do exactly that. In a study carried out by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano – two psychologists – it was found that, where the focal point of a character in literary fiction is on their psychology, the reading of such a book has a tendency to produce readers that are able to detect and interpret the emotions of others more effectively. It is therefore hoped that, by increasing the representation of the queer community in literature, there will be a decrease in homophobia and an overall increase in the acceptance of the community.
However, representation of the queer community in the literary industry is still far below where it should be in a society where the community is the most accepted it has ever been. Book bans, writer prosecution, and censorship of books that touch on the queer community, or are written by members of it, continue to occur. Despite this, and as many countries begin to legalise same-sex marriage, literature representing the queer community has become more openly accepted and published. However, this is not to say that there are currently no obstacles that the community faces with regard to recognition and publication. In 2017 alone, the American Library Association reported that five of the top ten most challenged books consisted of queer characters, one of the books being that of a children’s book that depicted same-sex marriages.
Despite this, the representation that does exist, and is celebrated, continues to play a vital role. Representation of the queer community in the literary industry holds many benefits, including providing an escape for people from their normal lives, as well as providing those who are questioning their identities the room to explore and better understand their feelings.
Overall, representation of the queer community in the literary industry has many benefits and continues to play a vital role for those discovering their identities or wanting to learn more about the community. But, as the queer community continues to be celebrated and accepted on a larger scale year after year, it would be expected for such growth to be reflected within the literary industry. However, many countries and publishing houses still have far to go, and representation of the queer community in literature is far from equal to the representation of heteronormative relationships, characters, and authors.
Image: Cletus Mulaudi