Establishing an LGBTQA+ Literary Canon

Written by Shae Carey.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.

In her essay “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf says, “for my belief is that if we live another century or so—I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals—and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think… [then a women’s literary canon will be established]”. When this quote was published, women were just gaining the ability to write and be taken seriously; however, Woolf understood that it would be a long time before a true women’s literary canon would be established.

As a member of the LGBTQA+ community, this statement has resonated with me as well. I have realized that in my time as an English major, I haven’t been exposed to LGBTQA+ writers, let alone women LGBTQA+ writers.

I began to wonder if there was even an LGBTQA+ literary canon?

My research began at the UT course directory, where I checked to see if there were any LGBTQA+ literature classes. I soon learned that the last one was taught in 2017. Looking at the syllabus, I noticed that it was composed of essays and a few literary works, hardly enough to be considered a canon, although maybe the tip of an iceberg of one. The closest I could find after immense research were these books focused on gay and lesbian literature that cost a small fortune on Amazon and this database that was archived in 2015. The second book had authors from as early as the 1500s, but it was published in 1995 and generally inaccessible. I carried my investigation to Google, where I typed “LGBTQA+ literary canon and queer literary canon.” Unsourced Wikipedia lists with works only from gay men with a few lesbian women sprinkled in is all I could find.

So, there was somewhat of a canon, but what about other identities, I wondered? I started by searching for a trans literary canon to see if I could find anything. As I scrolled through the webpage, I found a few articles that listed ten to twelve books. This was a start but not enough to do detailed scholarly research. My exploration soon led me to research the nonbinary literary canon. Another list from Wikipedia came up with a broad range of nonbinary creators. I recognized Rebecca Sugar, the creator of the cartoon Steven Universe, but no others and most individuals listed were not contributors to the literature community. Of those that did appear, however, were from the last ten years—but gender non-conforming identities have been around for centuries. There had to be nonbinary authors from the pre-contemporary periods.

Why is it so hard to find LGBTQA+ writers? Perhaps it is because the authors had to hide their identity in order to be safe. The highly publicized trial of Oscar Wilde for homosexuality eventually led to his imprisonment, exile, and eventual death. The labels we use today also only came into existence recently. The word “gay” only meant happy for some time and did not represent same-sex attraction. References to same-sex love were purposefully vague in order to prevent the arousal of suspicion.

As the LGBTQA+ community continues to gain acceptance, we must work as a community to create a cultural canon that is both centralized and accessible. LGBTQA+ writers have existed for a long time, and by working to improve access to this information, we can enable more research and cultural context for future LGBTQA+ writers. We can provide a platform for LGBTAQ+ writers to share their experiences—a platform for them to be heard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: