Recently, fellow bloggers Sixpence Notthewiser of (LO) IMPRESCINDIBLE and Old Lurker of Old Lurker each did excellent posts about their favourite LGBTQ+ books which they have read over the years. They have inspired me to do something similar. I'm going to tell you about the very first books I ever read about (1) lesbians and (2) gay men.
Now, you have to understand the setting in which I found and read these books. Picture it -- the early-to-mid 1970s in a small, conservative prairie town in rural Manitoba. I was in high school and had no inkling that I was a lesbian. But I did know perfectly well that I was very different from everyone else for some mysterious reason. "Gay liberation," as it used to be called then, was just starting to filter into mainstream consciousness. Everyone I knew condemned it. The only two attitudes I ever heard expressed about gay people were disgust and/or relentless mockery. But as a left-leaning teenager, I was interested in supporting gay rights. A small voice inside me said "it's important that you understand this issue."
(1) My First Lesbian Book
This lesbian classic, published in 1973, is the autobiographical coming out story of Rita Mae Brown, who at that time was a radical lesbian-feminist and emerging author and poet. I found this paperback on a metal rotating rack of miscellaneous paperbacks in (of all places) Woolworth's. I bought it, read it and then threw it away so no one would find it in my possession. The book did not help me recognize anything about myself. My unconscious, self-protective denial was deep, very deep. I don't actually remember much about the book now, except for thinking that "rubyfruit jungle" was a silly metaphor for a vulva. I still think that, actually.
(2) My First Gay Male Book
This is a gay classic too -- a romantic bodice-ripper of a novel featuring young, handsome, virile, closeted men who ultimately realize that honesty and self-acceptance are the only way to live a fulfilled life. Published in 1970, it promoted a positive, still very new at that time, good message about being gay. And it had explicit sex scenes, one of which I still remember nearly 50 years later. Yowza!
I came across this book quite by accident while browsing in the public library of the nearby "big (little) city." There was nothing on the dust cover's illustration or blurb to particularly indicate the book's controversial contents. Yet there it was. The only gay book in the entire library. I wonder if a sympathetic librarian ordered it specially as a little outreach to isolated gay people. Or perhaps a naive librarian ordered it under the mistaken impression that its title indicated a religiously-themed book. In that time and place, either theory is entirely plausible.