Introduction to a Queer Personal Anthology

This anthology is certainly personal. I’ve picked stories that have helped me to understand my own queerness — a process which occurred relatively slowly and late for me. They’re not my favourite stories of all time (though some might be) but they all explore queerness from a female or nonbinary perspective, though this often involves troubling form as much as it does sexuality and gender. I would possibly argue that the short story is an inherently queer form in its ability to resist formal categorisation and absorb all manner of experimentation — hence some of these entries are ‘officially’ poems or essays.

What have I left out? I’m sure I’ve left out many great queer stories by women — both Julia Armfeld’s Salt Slow and Kirsty Logan’s Things We Say in The Dark are on my TBR— so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

‘Something That Needs Nothing’ by Miranda July

I read this story for the first time when I was about nineteen and it really did make me wonder whether I did, in fact, belong here. (Though it took me another decade to understand that I was queer). What drew me to this story, and to the collection from which it is drawn, is the (quite comical) seriousness with which she charts her characters’ fantasies, no matter how ridiculous or outlandish, and how they function almost as a third partner in intimate relationships. 

First published in The New Yorker, September 2006, and available online here. Collected in Nobody Belongs Here More Than You, Scribner/Canongate, 2007, as well as in My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro, ed. Jeffrey Eugenides, HarperPress/HarperCollins, 2008

‘Stephanie’ by Caroline Bird

OK, this is technically a poem. Yet it is also short and a story. It is a short story about what happens when a sex addict and a lesbian recovering from a bout of ‘goodbye world’ share a room in rehab. It is about love and hope and repair. It is delicate and raw and ends with a bracing, beautiful reversal that would be the envy of many prose writers.

In In These Days of Prohibition, 2018, Carcanet, and available online on the Poetry Society website

‘Here We Are’ by Lucy Caldwell

This is a longer short story that retrospectively charts a queer relationship between two teenage girls in a homophobic environment. The prose is taut and concise, capturing all the same adolescent intensity, confusion and heartache as Call Me by Your Name, within a short space. Without giving any spoilers, I’ll just add that it’s a powerful study in how queer love stories are silenced and suppressed. 

First published in Granta 135: New Irish Writing, April 2016, and available online to subscribers here. Collected in Multitudes, Faber, 2016

‘Toys R Us’ by Eileen Myles

As Myles points out in the book’s preface, no one is sure whether it is a novel, an essay collection or a short story collection. This, for me, is one of its strengths; it revels in its formal resistance to categorisation just as it revels in describing relationships, lifestyles and temporalities that do not quite fit. ‘Toys R Us’ dramatises much of this brilliantly and hilariously when Eileen and her girlfriend attend a child’s birthday party only to find themselves the only adults present who have arrived expecting to be fed. 

In Chelsea Girls, Black Sparrow, 1994/Serpent’s Tail, 2016

‘Drinking Coffee Elsewhere’ by ZZ Packer

This is one of the short story collections I go back to when I forget how to write. The title story is also a story I love to teach — it is at once an exemplary example of the contemporary realist short story genre and completely Packer’s own. It also charts a cringingly awkward and ambiguous queer relationship. 

First published in The New Yorker, June 2000. Collected in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, Riverhead, 2003/Canongate, 2004

‘Pussy Hounds’ by Sarah Gerard

This is a story about four women who hate each other and want to fuck each other and do terrible farts whilst on a road trip to a writing retreat at which they do absolutely no writing. Gets straight to the heart of the double-edged nature of many female friendships and relationships. It is as sharp as one of those very posh knives I will probably never be adult enough to buy. 

First published on Electric Literature, 2019, and available online here

‘Smote’ by Eley Williams

If you haven’t read Eley Williams yet, what are you waiting for? She makes stories out of second-long slivers of time, swooping completely away from everything you think a story should be and landing you somewhere completely new and strange. This story, a telescopic exploration of one genderless narrator’s inability to kiss their lover (also a genderless ‘you’) by a Brigit Riley painting, is a great place to start.

First published on The White Review website, April 2015. Collected in Attrib., Influx Press, 2017

‘The Female Gays’ by Ali Smith

Here, Smith brings all her verbal dexterity to bear on the distinction between ‘the female gaze’ and ‘the female gays,’ writing from a perspective that simultaneously shows us the perspective of a child who is intrigued by her lesbian neighbours, the child’s disapproving mother, and the ‘female gays’ themselves.

First published in Five Dials 44: The Female Gaze, March 2017