Discussion: what makes a book queer?

Last week I posted my 2022 reading wrap up. I talked a bit about the statistics, and one of the things I mentioned was the number of queer books I read last year. Since I started more diligently tracking my reading 2 years ago, I have also started tracking different details about the books I read, and one of those things is whether it is a queer book. But what does it actually mean for a book to be queer? Let’s discuss.

This was obviously one of the first questions I had to ask myself when I decided to track the queer books I was reading. I came up with a definition for my own personal use pretty easily. I consider a book to be queer if it was written by a queer author, or if the main character is canonically queer. If the book has an ensemble cast rather than one main character, I require at least half of the main cast to be queer.

So for example, Six of Crows counts since there are six main characters, and three of them are canonically queer. Kate in Waiting also counts, because even though the only queer characters are side characters, Becky Albertalli is queer. Beach Read does not count, because even though there is a queer couple in the book, Pete and Maggie are side characters, definitely not the focus of the book. That doesn’t mean I am not happy to see the representation, just that I don’t consider it to be a queer book.

Of course, this isn’t always clear cut. How do you decide exactly which characters make up an ensemble cast? Thankfully, it is usually pretty easy to tell. (I also have the benefit of the fact that I rarely read books with ensemble casts). Still, there are times where I have to stop and think about it, a good example being Portrait of a Thief.

The most difficult one usually tends to be figuring out whether or not the author is queer. Sometimes their social media profiles have a rainbow flag in them, but I can’t find any explicit mentions on their account. I don’t believe anyone owes the internet that information, but I usually do not mark those books as queer since I don’t know for sure. That means my final count might end up being lower than the actual number, but I am okay with that! However, I do acknowledge it could potentially be seen as a weakness to my system.

Of course, the main weakness is the fact that I have a set of criteria. After all, queerness is all about rejecting boundaries and criteria. I don’t think it is necessarily true that if a book doesn’t fit into any of these criteria, then “sorry, that means it can’t be considered queer.” There could very well be such a book out there! If I did come upon such a book that did not fall into the categories I listed, but I thought should be considered queer, I don’t think I would feel any hesitation in saying it was queer.

What do you think constitutes a queer book? I would love to continue this conversation in the comments and hear your thoughts on the topic! To me, it is a really interesting and important discussion, so I would really like to hear what others think.

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