What struck me at this year's Lambda Awards was the diversity of the award headings, spanning twenty-six categories from lesbian non-fiction through bisexual poetry, LGBTQ anthology, trans literature to gay mystery, and just about everything in between.
Today, as we know, the Lambda Awards gloriously celebrate the best of LGBTQ writing and "affirm that LGBTQ stories are part of the literature of the world."
It wasn't always like that.
When I was growing up, gay and lesbian writers were largely unknown. As far as I knew, LGBTQ publishers didn't exist. Until then, you trusted your nose to guide you to those unspeakable places where queer literature was found.
Everyone knew about Oscar Wilde, and in his flamboyant wit you felt a kindred soul, but everything else was hidden beneath the surface. Tennessee Williams was largely the same.
It was at Cole's bookstore in Dartmouth's Mic Mac Mall, of all places, that I found the first glimmerings of what would become a treasure trove of gay writing. I wasn't looking for sexual exploits or stories of gay romance or even politics. I was looking for myself.
Often, it was the covers that gave those books away: men whose long, soulful glances said they might be like me. Sometimes it was in the write-up itself.
The first "queer" book I encountered, at age fifteen, was John Knowles's A Separate Peace. The cover read, "Gene was a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas was a handsome, taunting daredevil athlete." Nowhere did it say gay, queer or even homosexual, but I knew instinctively that this book was going to be about me. And I knew I would never be alone again.
From soft core to hard, the next book I discovered was Jean Genet's Miracle of the Rose, his anthem to criminality and "sexual inversion" as it was then called, as though we turned ourselves inside out to have sex.
Slowly but surely I found others, one of the most important and self-affirming of which was E.M. Forster's Maurice, completed in 1914 and "Dedicated to a Happier Day." That day took fifty-seven years to see its dawning, as the book would largely have been deemed unacceptable until then.
Today, after twenty-eight years of Lambdas and in the thirty-seven years since Stonewall, we have a full and mature literary presence that is as much a part of world literature as anything else. Publishers like Dundurn take our work seriously, producing prize-winning titles without relegating them to the shadows.
No doubt it all would have come about much sooner, but there was just no one around to publish them.
Jeffrey Round is the author of numerous books, including the Lambda Award–winning Dan Sharp mystery series and the stand-alone mystery Endgame. He lives in Toronto. Learn more here.