Catholic priests bless same-sex couples in defiance of a German archbishop

Same-sex couples take part in a public blessing ceremony in front of Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany.


Several Catholic priests held a ceremony blessing same-sex couples outside Cologne Cathedral on Wednesday night in a protest against the city’s conservative archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki.

Their protest was triggered by Cologne church officials’ criticism of a priest from Mettmann, a town near Duesseldorf, who in March had held a “blessing ceremony for lovers” — including same-sex couples.

Officials from the Cologne archdiocese, which Mettmann belongs to, had reprimanded the priest afterward and stressed that the Vatican doesn’t allow blessings of same-sex couples, German news agency dpa reported.

The blessing of same-sex couples on Wednesday was the latest sign of rebellion of progressive believers in Germany’s most populous diocese with about 1.8 million members.

Several hundred people showed up for the outdoor blessing service for same-sex and also heterosexual couples. Waving rainbow flags, they sang the Beatles hit “All You Need Is Love,” dpa reported. A total of about 30 couples were blessed.

The German government’s LGBTQ+ commissioner called the service an important symbol for the demand to recognize and accept same-sex couples in the Roman Catholic Church.

“It is mainly thanks to the church’s grassroots that the church is opening up more and more,” Sven Lehmann said, according to dpa. “Archbishop Woelki and the Vatican, on the other hand, are light years behind social reality.”

Catholic believers in the Cologne archdiocese have long protested their deeply divisive archbishop and have been leaving in droves over allegations that he may have covered up clergy sexual abuse reports.

The crisis of confidence began in 2020, when Woelki, citing legal concerns, kept under wraps a report he commissioned on how local church officials reacted when priests were accused of sexual abuse. That infuriated many Cologne Catholics. A second report, published in March 2021, found 75 cases in which high-ranking officials neglected their duties.

The report absolved Woelki of any neglect of his legal duty with respect to abuse victims. He subsequently said he made mistakes in past cases involving sexual abuse allegations, but insisted he had no intention of resigning.

Two papal envoys were dispatched to Cologne a few months later to investigate possible mistakes by senior officials in handling cases. Their report led Pope Francis to give Woelki a “ spiritual timeout ” of several months for making major communication errors.

In March 2022, after his return from the timeout, the cardinal submitted an offer to resign, but so far Francis hasn’t acted on it.

Germany’s many progressive Catholics have also been at odds with the Vatican for a long time.

Several years ago, Germany’s Catholic Church launched a reform process with the country’s influential lay group to respond to the clergy sexual abuse scandals, after a report in 2018 found at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014. The report found that the crimes were systematically covered up by church leaders and that there were structural problems in the way power was exercised that “favored sexual abuse of minors or made preventing it more difficult.”

The Vatican, however, has tried to put the brakes on the German church’s controversial reform process, fearing proposals concerning gay people, women and sexual morals will split the church.

On Wednesday night, just across from the hundreds of believers celebrating the blessings of same-sex couples, there were also about a dozen Catholics who demonstrated against the outdoor service, dpa reported. They held up a banner that said “Let’s stay Catholic.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis meets to discuss Strickland resignation

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler.

By The Pillar

At a meeting Saturday, Pope Francis discussed with Vatican officials the prospect of requesting the resignation of Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, The Pillar has learned.

The pope met Sept. 9 with Archbishop Robert Prevost, OSA, head of the Dicastery for Bishops, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States – both cardinals-elect.

Several sources close to the dicastery told The Pillar ahead of the meeting that the prelates would present the pope with the results of an apostolic visitation of Stickland’s diocese, conducted earlier this year, as well as subsequent public actions by the bishop, who has emerged as an outspoken critic of the Holy Father.

“The situation of Bishop Strickland is the agenda,” one senior official close to the dicastery told The Pillar, “and the expectation is that the Holy Father will be requesting his resignation — that will certainly be the recommendation put to him.”

While noting that the papal audience did not exclusively concern the Bishop of Tyler, who has previously accused the pope of having a “program [for] undermining the Deposit of Faith,” the official said that Strickland’s case was set to be the “primary point of discussion.”

“There are two aspects,” the official said, “there is the matter of the public scandal from all these comments about the pope and the synod, but there are also real problems in the diocese. Those were the focus of the visitation; there are concerns in the diocese about governance, about financial matters, about basic prudence.”

The official predicted that the pope was unlikely to decide to depose Strickland as bishop of his diocese, a canonically rare act, but told The Pillar that Pope Francis would be advised to encourage the bishop to resign.

“The consensus in the dicastery is that he will be asked to consider resigning,” the official said. “That has been the substance of discussion among the members.”

“Depending on how the bishop responds, the strength of that encouragement could be increased,” the official said, and cited the case of Bishop Richard Stika who announced his resignation as Bishop of Knoxville, Tenn., earlier this year after being informed he no longer had the confidence of either the Holy See or his own clergy.

Prevost, who has been prefect of the Vatican dicastery since April, leads the department responsible for recommending candidates for episcopal appointments to the pope.

The department also oversees disciplinary investigations and processes concerning bishops’ acts of governance under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi and Come una madre amorevole, laws brought in by Pope Francis to enhance accountability among the episcopate.

Prevost, a member of the Augustinian order and a Chicago native, is one of three American members of the dicastery, the others being Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark.

If Strickland is encouraged to resign, it is not clear how he would respond to such an invitation.

In July, Stickland addressed the Vatican ordered visitation of his diocese, comparing it to being sent to “the principal’s office.”

“I think that I went through this because I’ve been bold enough, and loved the Lord enough and his Church, simply preaching the truth,” Strickland said in July.

The Vatican probe was confirmed by The Pillar June 24, after rumors surfaced on social media, and the visitation was reported on the Church Militant website. The apostolic visitation, an official review of diocesan leadership and governance, was conducted by Bishop Gerald Kicanas, emeritus of Tucson, and Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, who filed a report with the Dicastery for Bishops.

The visitation included questions about the governance of a diocesan high school, considerable staff turnover in the diocesan curia, the bishop’s welcome of a controversial former religious sister as a high school employee, and the bishop’s support for “Veritatis Splendor” — a planned Catholic residential community in the diocese, which has struggled with controversy involving its leadership’s financial administration and personal conduct.

Sources familiar with the investigation have previously told The Pillar that diocesan officials and clergy interviewed as part of the process were asked about the possibility of Bishop Strickland stepping down and canvassed for their views about suitable possible successors.

Strickland, 64, has been Bishop of Tyler since 2012; he was before that a priest of the same diocese.

The bishop has long been celebrated by many leaders in the pro-life movement, for his outspoken defense of human life, and opposition to abortion. The bishop is a frequent user of Twitter, with more than 135,000 followers.

In recent years, Strickland has been critical of Pope Francis, and was outspoken in his criticism of the Holy See’s approach to vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic, urging a more stringent position than the Vatican’s on ethical questions surrounding vaccine testing and embryonic cell lines.

In May, Strickland tweeted that he “rejects” Pope Francis’ “program undermining the Deposit of Faith” and he has built an increasingly national profile and following on a number of issues.

In June, Strickland left the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting in Orlando, FL., to lead a rally outside the stadium of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball club, part of a wider public pushback against the team’s decision to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an LGBT activist group specializing in Catholic-themed drag acts.

Although both the USCCB and the Los Angeles archdiocese called for prayers and acts of spiritual reparation for the baseball event, the archdiocese also told Catholics that it had not given its “backing or approval” to a prayer rally organized by conservative groups, some of which have a controversial place in the American Catholic landscape.

USCCB president Archbishop Timothy Broglio also distanced himself from the prayer rally headlined by Strickland, telling The Pillar in June that he questioned such a demonstration’s effectiveness and said it posed a risk of potential physical confrontation. 

In July, following the apostolic visitation, Strickland released a pastoral letter to his diocese in August in which he warned Catholics about “the evil and false message that has invaded the Church, Christ’s Bride.”

“In this time of great turmoil in the Church and in the world, I must speak to you from a father’s heart in order to warn you of the evils that threaten us, and to assure you of the joy and hope that we have always in our Lord Jesus Christ,” Strickland wrote, before enumerating several points of Church teaching which he said would be debated at the upcoming session of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

Senior sources close to the Tyler diocese told The Pillar that the tone of the letter had surprised many senior clergy of the diocese. Several figures in the diocese confronted Strickland over the tone of the letter, The Pillar was told, and warned the bishop his position was becoming untenable.

“People were deeply alarmed” by the letter, one senior source close to the diocese told The Pillar, “but the bishop was having none of it. He was absolutely firm that he was saying what needs to be said and that he wouldn’t be silenced by anyone.”

Some sources in the diocese have told The Pillar that Strickland claims he has been directed by the Blessed Virgin Mary to continue his outspoken engagement on global Church affairs.

However, despite Strickland’s reportedly bullish response to concerns within the diocese, he released on Sept. 5 a second letter, which he called “a more in depth consideration of point number one as expressed in the Pastoral Letter I issued on August 22,” and in which he treated several of the same points but in less emphatic terms.

Since the apostolic visitation in Tyler, there has been considerable debate and commentary on the subject among U.S. Catholics.

Some Catholics — among them both Strickland’s supporters and detractors — have said the bishop’s outspoken commentary on Church issues has likely put him in the spotlight of Vatican officials. Some of Strickland’s supporters have said the visitation in Tyler seems to them like a political move.

Addressing the possibility that the visitation could lead to his being asked to resign, Strickland vowed in July that no matter the outcome, he expects to continue his public role in the Church’s life.

“They won’t stop me,” Strickland said. “When we’re speaking the truth of Jesus Christ, there is no politically correct. And the world can try to shut us down, but it won’t work.”

Complete Article HERE!

McAleese calls on Pope to speak out against anti-gay laws

Former Irish president Mary McAleese, pictured here with Liz O’Donnell at a conference at Queen’s University Belfast to mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

By Sarah Mac Donald

The Church’s teaching in relation to homosexuality is a source for anti-gay laws in places such as Uganda, Professor Mary McAleese has said.

Speaking about human rights and the Church, she said the Church “practises, embeds and teaches things which promote hatred, contempt, exclusion, bigotry, bias, discrimination, victim-shaming, cover-up”.

The former president of Ireland is one of the keynote speakers at the October lay-led synodal assembly organised by the international reform network, Spirit Unbounded. The assembly, on the theme of human rights in the Catholic Church, will take place in Rome, Bristol and online 8-14 October and is open to everyone.

Another speaker who will address the assembly, Marianne Duddy-Burke, director of DignityUSA, called on Pope Francis and the Vatican to be more vocal and speak out against Uganda’s anti-gay laws.

She told The Tablet that members of the LGBTQI+ community in Uganda are living in fear for their lives. She referred to Pope Francis’ comment last January when he said, “Being homosexual isn’t a crime” and criticised laws that criminalise homosexuality as “unjust”, Duddy-Burke said the Pope must follow this up “with clear directives to bishops and catholics about our moral duty to honour the dignity and human rights of LGBTIQ+ people. The lives of many are at stake, in Africa and elsewhere.”

She said that through her work as co-chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics and DignityUSA she was “hearing horrific stories of intensified targeting” since the law increasing penalties for being gay came into effect in Uganda.

“There are so many places in Africa, where the situation for LGBTQI people has become dire,” she said.

Mary McAleese said Pope Francis has said a number of “vaguely useful things” on the issue such as his “Who am I to judge” remark. “That was interesting and useful except he does judge and his Church judges and regrettably the CDF document on same-sex blessings which [Francis] signed off on, used this terrible expression that gay married catholics could not or receive God’s grace.”

She added, “Francis tries to have it both ways in relation to anti-gay legislation. It was useful that he did ask his fellow bishops, particularly the African countries, not to support legislation which outlawed homosexuality but rather to decriminalise. But with the greatest respect to Pope Francis that is the kind of thing we were saying 40 and 50 years ago. It is at the very least four decades behind the curve of where the people of God are at in relation to homosexuality.

“For me the most pressing issue is what does the magisterium do internally; how does it change the teaching for example in relation to gay people within the Church; how does it change Church teaching and practice in relation to the inclusion or exclusion of women. The truth is, in terms of those issues, he [Francis] has done pretty much nothing that is credible.”

The issue of where human rights fit internally in the Church is “crucial” she said because “it sets the agenda for how we meet and what we meet as. Do we meet as equals? Is the synod going to be a discipleship of equals? And the answer seems to be no, the magisterium is still in control. The magisterium will still set the agenda, it will decide what can be discussed and it will decide what the outcomes will be.”

Whistleblower and former priest, Brian Devlin, who is one of the organisers of the Spirit Unbounded assembly, told The Tablet, “There is a real problem with human rights in the Catholic Church that needs to be addressed. We are an assembly of Christian people who are trying to make the Church a better place, a kinder place and a safer place for each of us to live in and to embrace.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Pope urges journalists to tell the Synod as it truly is

— “Leave behind the logic of slogans and pre-packaged stories,” the Pope said, emphasizing how the Synod on Synodality is “truly important for the Church.”

By Isabella H. de Carvalho

“I dare to ask you, the experts of journalism, for help: Help me to narrate this process for what it really is,” Pope Francis told a delegation of Italian journalists on August 26, 2023, regarding the Synod on Synodality. The journalists had come to the Vatican to award the Pontiff the “It’s Journalism” prize for his efforts to promote truth and justice. While certain voices are concerned about where the Synod may lead, Francis took this meeting as an opportunity to urge journalists to depict “reality” when reporting on this process, which he sees as important for the Church and the world.

The Synod on Synodality on the future of the Church was initiated by Pope Francis in 2021. It has featured a diocesan and continental phase where Catholic faithful all over the world were able to share and discern on how they see the Church today and in the future.

The next phase is coming soon, in October 2023 with a General Assembly in Rome, and then another meeting in 2024.

An “urgency of constructive communication”

Pope Francis started his speech to the journalists by highlighting that he does not usually accept awards, and did not do so even before becoming Pontiff. However, he accepted this one because of the “urgency of constructive communication” needed in society, “which fosters the culture of encounter and not of confrontation.”

He thus told the journalists he had a “request for help.”

“But I am not asking you for money, rest assured!” he joked. The Pontiff called on journalists to help him “narrate” the Synod on Synodality “for what it really is, leaving behind the logic of slogans and pre-packaged stories.”

“Someone said: ‘The only truth is reality.’ Yes, reality. We will all benefit from this, and I am sure that this too ‘is journalism,’” he said, echoing the title of the prize he received.

“Precisely at this time, when there is much talk and little listening, and when the sense of the common good is in danger of weakening, the Church as a whole has embarked on a journey to rediscover the word together,” the Pope said, explaining how in October bishops and lay people will come together for the Synod. “Listening together, discerning together, praying together. The word together is very important.”


No one is excluded

The Pontiff acknowledged not everyone may be enthusiastic about the Synod, but emphasized why he believes this process is fundamental for the Church’s future and has roots dating back to the end of the Second Vatican Council.

“I am well aware that speaking of a ‘Synod on Synodality‘ may seem something abstruse, self-referential, excessively technical, of little interest to the general public. But what has happened over the past year, which will continue with the assembly next October and then with the second stage of Synod 2024, is something truly important for the Church,” he said.

“Please, let us get used to listening to each other, to talking, not cutting our heads off for a word. To listen, to discuss in a mature way. This is a grace we all need in order to move forward,” he added.

“And it is something the Church today offers the world, a world so often so incapable of making decisions, even when our very survival is at stake. We are trying to learn a new way of living relationships, listening to one another to hear and follow the voice of the Spirit. […] That word of the Gospel that is so important: everyone.”


The four sins of journalism

The Pope also underlined that journalists play a crucial role in a society where “everyone seems to comment on everything, even regardless of the facts and often even before being informed.”

He encouraged them to “cultivate more the principle of reality – reality is superior to the idea, always.”

He identified four “sins of journalism” that reporters need to be aware of : “disinformation, when journalism does not inform or informs badly; slander (sometimes this is used); defamation, which is different from slander but destroys; and the fourth is coprophilia, that is, the love of scandal, of filth; scandal sells. Disinformation is the first of the sins, the mistakes – let’s say – of journalism.”

“I am concerned, for example, about the manipulations of those who interestingly propagate fake news to steer public opinion,” he said. “Please, let us not give in to the logic of opposition, let us not be influenced by the language of hatred.”

Complete Article HERE!

The new LGBTQ+ lit list, chosen by writers

— From sensational memoirs to sublime poetry, Douglas Stuart, Ali Smith, Colm Tóibín and others share lesser-known books about queer life that deserve to be classics, introduced by playwright Mark Ravenhill

Clockwise from left: Joe Brainard, Violet LeDuc, Neil Bartlett, Quentin Crisp.

It was a mention in a David Bowie interview when I was 15 that led me to William Burroughs’s 1971 novel The Wild Boys, bought in a secondhand bookshop in Brighton with money from my paper round. I was confused by Burroughs’s cut-up style and his jagged apocalyptic vision, entirely different from the Dickens and Shakespeare that we’d been introduced to in school. Here was a world of dissident queer teenagers, of lurid sex. I was puzzled, embarrassed, titillated. I carried the book in my school bag – a concealed weapon – and, when I was sure that I couldn’t be seen, read a few pages at a time.

Growing up a young queer in the early 1980s, I was a sleeper agent in an enemy territory: identity concealed beneath a carefully constructed alias, cautiously speaking an alien language, waiting for a sign from the mother country, unsure if the war would ever end. The only place to find a coded signal of resistance was in the pages of a book.

Homosexuality was partly decriminalised in 1967. Outside of a few big cities it made little difference to most young queers. No “out” politicians, sports people, entertainers. No visibly queer teachers, neighbours, family members. Queer existence remained stubbornly and, it seemed, eternally taboo.

Films and plays were watched with an audience: the possibility of giving yourself away with a response that was too great or too contained was terrifying. And the television – placed in the living room, watched with the family – more frightening still. A book – concealed in the bottom of a bag, hidden underneath the mattress – was the only place to find companionship: with the author, the characters. But also with another reader, who I imagined I might one day meet. And surely one day all we queers would meet: there couldn’t – could there? – be more than a few hundred of us in all the world. Any book that whispered of queer lives was greedily consumed.

William S Burroughs in Chicago, 1981.
William S Burroughs in Chicago, 1981.

Arriving in London in the last few months of the 1980s, I discovered that there were more than a few hundred of us and that books still had a potent force. Shared among gay friends, we could celebrate our growing confidence and visibility with new work from Alan Hollinghurst and Jeanette Winterson, develop a camp sensibility by quoting to each other lines from EF Benson and Ronald Firbank, imagine that London could become the queer Arcadia depicted in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

As we moved towards assimilation in the 1990s, Dennis Cooper’s George Miles novel cycle was a reminder that sexuality was still transgressive, that desire remained a dark and disruptive force. Cooper’s world of teenage erotic brutality, summoned by a spare, blank prose, was not something to be seen reading on a tube train or in the work canteen.

In 1993, my partner spent the last few months of his life in an Aids hospice, the Lighthouse in Ladbroke Grove. (A few years later, and just before the arrival of new life-saving medication, I spent several weeks there myself.) Tim was very weak, leaning on a stick, his face concealed beneath purple lesions, his eyesight dimmed. We gathered with 20 other patients to hear a poetry reading. I hadn’t heard of Thom Gunn before but as he read to us from his collection The Man With Night Sweats I discovered a voice that expressed the pain and the dignity of our lives, that gave a classical weight to our contemporary experience, that acknowledged our shared history and imagined our uncertain futures, and explored the body’s potential for joy and suffering. The lonely reader had found their community.

Douglas Stuart
Douglas Stuart

Debut novel Shuggie Bain won the 2020 Booker prize; its follow-up, Young Mungo, was published last year

The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp (Flamingo)

Naked Civil Servant cover<

This is a book that has fallen out of our consciousness and I think it could help many people today. It is best known for its sharp humour as Crisp charts his emancipation from a dull suburban childhood and begins his journey to become his authentic queer self. But it’s what lies underneath the humour that stays with you. He is incredibly composed about the everyday humiliation and hostility he faced from the “decent” folk who, feeling threatened by him, would kick him on the street and feel morally justified in doing so. In this time of continued hostility towards trans people, I really appreciate the enormous bravery it took for Crisp to be himself. What enormous courage to be gender nonconforming in 1930s Britain in the face of such mockery and loathing. There is a wonderful scene (look away if you don’t want me to spoil it!) where Crisp is sitting on an empty bus and, when an Australian soldier boards and sits directly behind him, he expects more public humiliation. Instead, the soldier takes out a comb and begins to gently brush Crisp’s lavender coif. It’s a such a tender moment and a reminder of the kindness and connection that is possible between all of us.

Paul Mendez
Paul Mendez

Author of Rainbow Milk

Ceremonies by Essex Hemphill (Penguin)

Ceremonies by Essex Hemphill

The hugely influential gay African American poet Essex Hemphill died of Aids-related complications in 1995, aged 38, just one month before the launch of protease inhibitors – early antiretrovirals – which might have saved or at least prolonged his life. Simply, Hemphill is the bridge between James Baldwin and today’s celebrated Black queer writers and theorists. In the writings and radical cinema he left behind – including collaborations with Marlon Riggs in Tongues Untied (1989) and Isaac Julien in Looking for Langston (1989) – he provided subsequent generations with evidence that we lived and loved, and of our fight against the effects of intersecting white supremacy, racism, homophobia and heterosexism. Gay American men had barely one decade’s grace between the liberation movement and the beginning of the Aids crisis, which Hemphill wrote about as vitally as anyone. Ceremonies (1992), an anthology of poetry and essays, captures Hemphill as sensual, mournful and brilliant but is out of print, with paperbacks currently exchanging online for well over £100. It maddens me that such landmark Black works languish in the archives, available only to a select few and distant from the public consciousness.

Torrey Peters
Torrey Peters

Author of Detransition, Baby, which was nominated for the Women’s prize for fiction in 2021

Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through by T Fleischmann (Coffee House Press)

Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through cover

In this book-length essay on the art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, dotted with portraits of the author’s friends and lovers in New York, Chicago and rural Tennessee, Fleischmann records an era in queer life (the Obama years) – but is unconcerned with rehashing the normal cliches and battles of that time. Fleischmann is non-binary, and their gender is a major subtext of this book, yet, to my recollection, the word “trans” appears nowhere in the text. This omission is typical of the book’s sly approach – both political and stylistic. Rather than seeking to name or identify themselves in any reducible way, Fleischmann – through incident, thought and character – reveals how it feels to inhabit their gender, how to look for love or beauty or humour with other people of indeterminate or unnamed genders, and how to do so with the same fine clarity with which Fleischmann themself might describe a work of art.

Val McDermid
Val McDermid

Crime writer whose books include The Wire in the Blood, The Distant Echo and 1989

Sisters of the Road by Barbara Wilson (Avalon)

Sisters of the Road by Barbara Wilson

Barbara Wilson translated her love of mysteries, her work as an activist and her experience as a member of a print collective into a trilogy of lesbian mysteries notable for their wit, intelligence and the quality of her prose. She was part of the so-called “feminist new wave” of crime fiction that brought us writers such as Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton. But Wilson was committed to showing a spectrum of queer lives and the bonds between those who live them, and in Sisters of the Road, the second of these, she tackles head on the issue of violence against women. Its ending shocked me when I first read it, but I understand why she made those choices and, rereading it, I remember all the reasons I loved it. Wilson went on to found Seal Press, a feminist publishing house in the US, and has written another series of engaging and smart mysteries featuring translator Cassandra Reilly.

Charlotte Mendelson
Charlotte Mendelson

Novels include Daughters of Jerusalem, which won the Somerset Maugham award, and most recently The Exhibitionist

Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara (Random House)

Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara

You don’t have to love poetry to love Frank O’Hara. Because, although his poems are brilliant, cultured and beautiful, reading them can also feel like messaging your funniest, busiest yet most joy-inducing friend, with whom you’re a tiny bit platonically in love. Celebrities, sandwiches, Manhattan, buses, cocktails, music, kangaroos, sex, anxiety, death and the joy of life: the intimacy and freshness of his direct, seemingly casual poems can win your heart with even a swift first reading. And, with every rereading, you discover more subtlety, more beauty. This is exemplified by my favourite of my many favourites of his poems, Having a Coke With You. It’s not only its narrator’s passion for art, the colour orange and yoghurt that delight me, although that’s obviously a full house. It’s also that O’Hara encapsulates, better than almost anyone, the thrill of intimacy when in public with your beloved, and how you feel sorry for everyone who doesn’t love them too. And if that isn’t the definitive gay experience, what is?

Colm Tóibín
Colm Tóibín

Novelist, playwright, poet and critic whose books include Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary and The Magician

The Trial of Father Dillingham by John Broderick (Abacus)

The Trial of Father Dillingham by John Broderick

John Broderick was born in the Irish midlands in 1924 and died in 1989. In his novel The Trial of Father Dillingham, published in 1981, Broderick sought to dramatise the love between two middle-aged men, Eddie and Maurice, in contemporary Dublin, where they create a sort of family with two others – an ex-priest and an ex-opera singer. The value of the novel is the way it normalises the gay relationship. Broderick is determined not to make his characters alarming, or damaged by their sexuality. Nor are they angels. There is an element of dullness and ordinariness about them that is unusual in a novel of that time that has homosexuality at the forefront. Although homosexuality was illegal in Ireland then, the cops tended to leave gay people alone. All you needed to do was to remain invisible. Broderick’s novel is an important document that dramatises hidden gay lives in the Dublin of 40 years ago.

Tom Crewe
Tom Crewe

Debut novel The New Life was published this year

Frank Sargeson’s Collected Stories, 1935-1963 (Penguin)

Frank Sargeson’s Collected Stories, 1935-1963

Frank Sargeson’s short stories are conversational. Chatty, even. We are buttonholed by first-person narrators, or we listen to the back and forth of others. The prose has the plain informality of vernacular speech, more particularly the speech of the ordinary, working-class, usually male New Zealanders Sargeson liked to write about. Or so it seems: there is in fact a subtle modernist magic being worked, with rhythm, repetition, redundancy. And this superficially meandering conversational prose is what creates the deceptive logic of these stories, whose meanings and (sometimes shocking) denouements emerge from the effort, sometimes painful and always inadequate, to communicate. In 1929 Sargeson had been convicted of committing homosexual acts, and he wrote under an assumed name (he was born Norris Davey in 1903) to avoid being connected with his past. Occasionally, though, we get the unmistakeable sense that it is the author, and not just his character, who is trying to convey a reality resistant to capture by words. “What I want to tell,” the narrator of one story begins, “is about how I sat on a hillside one evening and talked with a man. That’s all, just a summer evening and a talk with a man on a hillside. Maybe there’s nothing in it and maybe there is.”

Neil Bartlett
Neil Bartlett

Theatre director, playwright and author of novels including Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall and Address Book

Nocturnes for the King of Naples by Edmund White (Picador)

Nocturnes for the King of Naples cover

In 1980, when I was living in a bedsit and “gay” was a word still largely spoken between contemptuous inverted commas, a chanced-upon newspaper review alerted me to the existence of an unknown American writer whose third book had just made it to the UK. I can still remember the amount of nerve it took me to walk into the nearest bookshop and order it; I can still remember how, when it arrived two weeks later, this slim volume looked and felt like a missive from another world. That copy’s dark red covers are faded now, and its pages are badly yellowed, but I still find every one of them astonishing.

In just eight short and shimmering chapters the story weaves eight discrete episodes from a young man’s history of love and lust into a pattern that is by turns filthy, elegiac and intense. Simply, it had never occurred to me that gay life could be this beautiful, or this real. Two years later, Ed’s bestseller A Boy’s Own Story changed everything, and kicked in the doors for the rest of us – but this is the one that kicked in the doors of my heart.

Naoise Dolan
Naoise Dolan

Her debut novel, Exciting Times, was published in 2020; The Happy Couple is out in May

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (Penguin)

Giovanni’s Room cover

Every few years, I revisit James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room. Depending on what I’ve been up to, it’s seemed to me like a continental expat novel, a Paris-specific novel, a sexual/existential-crisis novel, or just a book that makes me feel things. (Which is a feat; thank you, Irish repression.)

I sense that Baldwin wrote with an awareness of how his sentences both looked and sounded. I rarely subvocalise when I read as I’m quite a visual person, so I enjoy Baldwin’s prose in the shape-based way that I sometimes lose myself in poetry – but when I do say his words to myself, they’ve got musical value, too. Also, it’s impossible to dislike messy gays. Well, some people find that very possible indeed – but Baldwin’s not writing for them. So intimate is Giovanni’s Room that despite Baldwin’s momentous reputation, a small, frightened part of you still feels like his very first reader.

Hera Lindsay Bird
Hera Lindsay Bird

Author of poetry collections Hera Lindsay Bird and Pamper Me to Hell and Back

I Remember by Joe Brainard (Notting Hill Editions)

I Remember cover

I remember reading I Remember. I’d just fallen in love with a woman for the first time and was thoroughly intimidated by all the super-serious lesbian poets, with their vague mythical allusions and female griefs. But reading Joe Brainard was like coming home, albeit to 1940s Oklahoma. Brainard, an artist and writer (who died of Aids-related pneumonia in 1994) was one of the lesser-known New York School poets, described by almost everyone as “magnetically nice”. This magnetism is evident in every line of his groundbreaking autobiography, a book-length prose poem composed of statements beginning “I remember”. The power of the memories is cumulative. They’re associative rather than chronological, veering wildly between the sentimental, the transgressive, and the hilariously banal (“I remember reading once about a lady who choked to death eating a piece of steak”). The book is a fascinating account of growing up queer in 1950s Tulsa (Liberace loafers, cinema handjobs, “playing bridge with Frank O’Hara. (Mostly talk.)”) but it’s also full of the texture of life, the pointless, intimate, half-remembered details that never usually achieve biographical status. I Remember is one of the most genuinely delightful and moving reading experiences I’ve ever had, rich with kitsch, generosity and deadpan wit.

Ali smith
Ali Smith

Author, playwright and academic whose novels include How to Be Both, the award-winning Seasonal Quartet and Companion Piece

The Evolution of Darkness by Rebecca Brown (Small Press)

The Evolution of Darkness by Rebecca Brown

Back in the mid 1980s, sitting on a train, I read a book of stories called The Evolution of Darkness by the way-too-undersung US writer Rebecca Brown. It was her first book, and so good, strange, heady, visceral, unlike anything else, that when the train pulled into King’s Cross I didn’t realise it had stopped. I hardly even registered people around me getting off.

Brown’s first novel, The Haunted House, was also very powerful, and these books, in a decade when things were politically very pressurising and dark for LGBTQ+ people, gave me a sense that it was possible to challenge that dark, meet it head on and write anything and everything.

Fiona Mozley
Fiona Mozley

Author of Elmet, which was Booker-shortlisted, and Hot Stew

HERmione by HD (New Directions)

HERmione cover

It is strange how a book can appear at just the right moment. I hadn’t read HERmione until a copy landed on my doormat last year, sent by its latest publisher, New Directions, with an introduction by Francesca Wade. It was as if, nearly 100 years ago, HD (whose full name was Hilda Doolittle) had given voice to my own reflections and adorned them with the sylvan aspect to which my own writing is frequently drawn. “Her Gart went round in circles” runs the opening line, and Her (short for Hermione) does indeed perform pirouettes – emotional; psychological – in this autobiographical novel. Her mind turns to the woodlands of her native Pennsylvania, which contain circles, too: tree rings, fairy rings. Circular thinking, dislocation, entrapment: these are the themes of a novel detailing HD’s own early adult life, her poetic and queer awakening, and her struggles to be heard over the cacophony of her volatile fiance, Ezra Pound, and her enigmatic lover, Frances Gregg. Written in 1927, by which time HD was living in Europe with her female partner, Bryher, HERmione remained unpublished throughout the author’s life and was found among the papers she bequeathed to Yale University in 1960.

Munroe Bergdorf
Munroe Bergdorf

Model whose memoir Transitional was published this year

Venus As a Boy by Luke Sutherland (Bloomsbury)

Venus As a Boy by Luke Sutherland

My all-time favourite book. I’ve read it cover to cover so many times I’ve lost count. It’s a beautifully immersive and twisted fairytale about a mysterious queer sex worker who is gradually turning into gold in a Soho flat and who can give people orgasms where they see heaven. It opened me up with respect to gender and sexual orientation.

I spent a lot of my childhood living in a dream world because I didn’t feel as though I fitted in. The way Sutherland writes about themes of gender, queerness and desire, wondrously expansive and otherworldly, was exactly what I needed in my late teens. It’s taught me to remember the effect we can have on others and made me believe in magic.

Andrew McMillan
Andrew McMillan

Author of poetry collections Physical, Pandemonium and Playtime

Say, Spirit by Alex/Rose Cocker (Girasol Press)

Say, Spirit by Alex/Rose Cocker

Recently I’ve been working on a programme for BBC Radio 4 about Michelangelo’s poetry; it wasn’t something I was much aware of before. As part of that process I chatted with Alex/Rose Cocker about their inventive translations of Michelangelo’s sonnets. Say, Spirit, published by Girasol Press, interrogates notions of voice and translation – three invented personas rework the hard stone of the originals, revealing new layers, carving out new ways of looking at love and the body and the self. When Michelangelo’s poetry was first published, the same-sex love of the sonnets was edited out, which makes a project like this feel even more vital, and it deserves lots of readers. “Remind me, friend; why I wake; / why this world, though it troubles us, / is worth our trouble still”, ends one poem. Discovering a book like this is worth waking for. It’s a reminder to keep digging into, and conversing with, our history, so we continue to move forward.

Juno Dawson
Juno Dawson

Journalist, screenwriter and author of Clean, Meat Market and Wonderland

Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt (Cipher)

Tell Me I’m Worthless

A gleefully twisted little oddity from a small indie press, Tell Me I’m Worthless follows two young women, Alice and Ila, who are both dealing with considerable trauma following an encounter in Albion, a haunted house, some years earlier. Rumfitt, an emerging talent from Brighton, uses Albion as an allegory for fascism; the house a worsening tumour at the heart of society. Once friends, Alice and Ila, scarred by their night in Albion, find themselves on opposing sides of the “trans debate” – both convinced they were raped by the other. The only way to know what happened for sure is to return to the house of horrors. Let me be clear, this won’t appeal to everyone. Tell Me I’m Worthless revels in its own nastiness, but Rumfitt is first and foremost a horror writer. There are loving nods to Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier, but Rumfitt is altogether more rebellious. I very much look forward to her follow-up Brainwyrms later in the year.

Jackie Kay
Jackie Kay

Award-winning Makar (National Poet for Scotland) and author of fiction and nonfiction including Red Dust Road, Trumpet and Bessie Smith

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde (Penguin Classics)

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches cover

In an interview in Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson’s 1995 documentary about her life, A Litany for Survival (the name of one of Lorde’s seminal poems), Audre Lorde said presciently: “What I leave behind has a life of its own.” Yet even she, pioneer that she was, would not perhaps have foreseen how much her ideas about poetry (“poetry is not a luxury”); about politics, about race (“the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”); and about sexuality have entered the public consciousness. Lorde, who would have been 89, has had to wait nearly 30 years for her work to be made widely available in this country through the beautifully produced Penguin Classics series. But she had first been published here by Sheba Feminist Press, back in 1983, and among black and white feminists she had a huge and admiring following. The wisdom of her words and her essays, collected in Sister Outsider – and in Silver Press’s Your Silence Will Not Protect You – have acquired even more weight over the years.

Her poetry, in particular The Black Unicorn, is still as fresh and vital as it was when it first appeared. “See me now / your severed daughter / laughing our name into echo / all the world shall remember.” Lorde’s work can be read as a unified whole. The poems, the essays, her “biomythography” Zami, all in active conversation with each other. Lorde believed in naming herself, and in living a life that led by example. When she had a mastectomy, she refused a prosthesis. To complement her newfound lopsidedness, she wore one stud and one dangling earring. The Cancer Journals, another extraordinary book, was way ahead of its time. For every challenge, Lorde chose a different path. She said: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” Her work still sizzles. She’s still got the spark.

Philip Hensher
Philip Hensher

Novelist and critic whose books include The Friendly Ones, The Northern Clemency and To Battersea Park

The Last Enchantments by Robert Liddell (Appleton Century)

The Last Enchantments by Robert Liddell

Nobody who reads one of Robert Liddell’s entrancing, elegant, observant and deeply painful novels can understand why he’s now so little read. He was much rated by his contemporaries, an intimate of Ivy Compton-Burnett, a giant of the time, and also of Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym, whose reputations have grown steadily. He was the epitome of the upright, public-spirited, homosexual expat, conducting a distinguished career from Alexandria and Athens – two of his best novels are about life in Alexandria, with illicit passion throbbing under the restrained surface. The Last Enchantments ought to be a classic – it’s been called the best novel ever written about Oxford. It celebrates ordinary social irresponsibility, giving in to comfort and kindness, and deplores the cruelty carried out when people want to save face or impress their community. It’s about a celebrated scandal of the time, when a woman who had married extremely well consigned her elderly mother to the workhouse out of parsimony. It proceeds from delicious light comedy to terrible tragedy with a sure step. I think only a gay man would have had the patience to observe all these character types, and render them with such unforgettable, catty clarity.

Jeremy Atherton Lin
Jeremy Atherton Lin

Essayist and author of Gay Bar: Why We Went Out, which won the National Book Critics Circle award for autobiography

Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall by Neil Bartlett (Serpent’s Tail, available on worldofrarebooks)

Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall by Neil Bartlett

So often, boy-meets-boy narratives take place in some remote manor or tent, as if romance only occurs far from the madding gay crowd. In Neil Bartlett’s Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall, love is a group activity. In the nocturnal underground of 1980s London, Boy, raven-haired and ravenous, finds the handsome video store clerk known as O (for “older”). Their courtship seems to involve every punter at the unmarked bar they frequent. The proprietress constructs elaborate wedding rituals, making believe before legal same-sex marriage. The social circle extends to proto-gay ghosts, well-wishers and voyeurs from across history who gather around the matrimonial bed. Bartlett conjures ageless sensibilities while unblinkingly depicting a moment of relentless assault on gay men. I am spellbound by this novel’s heady mix. The characters anchor in a saturnine yet sparkling city, learning to trust in the frisson, discovering intimate surrender as an act of defiance.

Lauren John Joseph
Lauren John Joseph

Debut novel At Certain Points We Touch was published last year

My Tender Matador by Pedro Lemebel (Grove Press)

My Tender Matador By Pedro Lemebel and Katherine Silver

The Chilean artist and writer Pedro Lemebel was, to say the least, expansive: amorphous across both gender and genre, making live performance, writing crónicas and reading on the radio, talking about himself, herself, in terms that might make a contemporary (white) readership squirm. And rightly so – Lemebel’s critique of the western colonisation of sexual identity was almost as vicious as it was of the Pinochet dictatorship.

Despite a 2020 movie adaptation directed by Rodrigo Sepúlveda, Matador remains horrifyingly under-read, which really is too bad because it is a superb novel: astute, grimy, raucous and tender. It’s a love story, a political memoir, a defiant act of speculative fiction. Much like the author, it’s sui generis.

Mark Gevisser
Mark Gevisser

South African author whose most recent book was The Pink Line: The World’s Queer Frontiers

The Quiet Violence of Dreams by K Sello Duiker (Kwela Books)

The Quiet Violence of Dreams cover

When K Sello Duiker took his own life in 2005 at the age of 30, he was the brightest young star in South African literature. If his prize-winning debut, Thirteen Cents, is a taut picaresque about street kids, then his second novel, The Quiet Violence of Dreams, is a sprawling bildungsroman. Set in Cape Town in the first years of democracy and told through a multiplicity of voices, Quiet Violence has come to define queer black South African identity for an entire generation, and has inspired other works, from art exhibitions to theatre. Duiker’s Cape Town holds both the optimism of a new society and the dangers of a white supremacist order that refuses to die. Negotiating this, and the demons of a violent apartheid past, is Tshepo, an ingenuous cosmopolitan, who loses himself in a mental asylum and then finds himself working as a rent boy in a (very idealised) massage parlour. Quiet Violence is messy but filled with unforgettable characters and language. It lives with me, as it does with so many South African readers. It deserves a wider global readership.

K Patrick
K Patrick

Debut novel Mrs S will be published in June

La Bâtarde by Violette Leduc (Dalkey Archive)

La Bâtarde by Violette Leduc

In her preface to La Bâtarde, Simone de Beauvoir references a line from a letter once sent to her by Violette Leduc: “I am a desert talking to myself.” This is a beautiful summation of Leduc’s narrative style, in which she is always the desirer, her love so huge that a novel is the only place it has left to go.

Described at its release in 1964 as an “autobiography”, I doubt it would fall under the same category now. Everything is extracted from her world and then amplified – her childhood, her work, her affairs, her crushes. La Bâtarde is pure gay sensation. Her writing showed me it was possible to bring text close to the body. Almost every sentence is immediate, devastating and nonstop. Each time I read it I learn something new.

Complete Article HERE!