Imagine a book about an LGBTQ+ protagonist that isn't about coming out.
When you search for the top LGBTQ+ books on Google, Goodreads, or Amazon, you only get books about high school students with high school problems: they don't like the way they look, they have arguments with their parents, and suddenly their best friend dumped them for someone who showed a slight interest in their clothing choice. I get it; there's a demand for LGBTQ+ high school stories because high school students are looking for voices to explain their fresh feelings.
Meanwhile, college students have figured out who they are and they don't really care about other peoples' arguments on Neutral Milk Hotel, or whatever that band was called in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. While high school was a time to cherish, some of us in the LGBTQ+ community have become adults and Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda has left our content dome.
I'm sorry to break it to you that LGBTQ+ people have other problems than being gay, publishers. We want normal main characters doing everything they need to do in their sexuality-removed A Story and then end up with someone of the same gender in their B Story.
IF WE WERE VILLAINS by M.L. Rio
As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver Marks and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless. But are they?
This book is LGBTQ+ in a way that shocked me and made me warmer than any book has ever been able to do. I won't spoil it any more than I already have.
LESS by Andrew Sean Greer
This satirical comedy is actually not a comedy at all. In fact, it creates a spike of dread and existentialism in every chapter. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 and follows the main character, Arthur Less, so closely that, for the first 25% of the book, I thought it was an autobiography.
After receiving a wedding invitation from his boyfriend of the last nine years, Arthur realizes it would be both awkward to attend and not to attend. His fiftieth birthday is charging forward, a moment he'll be alone for, as is the death of an old lover and more rejection letters from his failed career as a novelist. Using what money he has left in savings, he decides to travel the world in search of himself.
Okay, yes. Technically this story has being gay in the A Story but the story isn't about being gay. It's about love in general. Why is it that, after fifty, it's so hard to find love and to not be so lonely? The main character in Less is confused by aging by being left behind. What is being an adult? What is love? Greer began writing Less as a "very serious novel" but found that "the only way to write about [being gay and aging] is to make it a funny story. And I found that by making fun of myself, I could actually get closer to real emotion—closer to what I wanted in my more serious books."
THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt
This book isn't outright gay but it's definitely gay. I mean, Bunny is introduced as a homophobe and why else would… well, that's a spoiler. Richard doesn't like girls and Henry only ever shows attraction to a female when it's Camilla in men's clothing. Plus, If We Were Villains was based on this book; the gay didn't come from nowhere! This book is about a closeted boy searching for his place in a ground of intellects… and destroying homophobia in an ambiguous fashion.
I don't usually reread but I opened this book again for research and found myself, magically, a hundred pages in. It's whimsical in a way that makes you think you're right in every character's shoes, standing in the corner, or absolutely dead.