Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Where is all the queer historical fiction? A plea by Mackenzi Lee.

I remember the first time I read somewhere that Abraham Lincoln was probably gay, my reaction was “Well that can’t be true because gay people didn’t exist back then.”

*Travels back in time, slaps past Mackenzi across the face*

Thankfully, past Mackenzi, we’ve come a long way since then.

But also, it's hard to blame past Mackenzi for this gap in her education. She grew up in a hyper religious, conservative community where being anything other than aggressively heterosexual wasn't an option. And she wasn’t reading contemporary YA romance books, which is where all the queer characters seem to be congregating these days. She was reading a lot of historical fiction. Preferably with a fantasy element. And none of those characters were anything other than cisgender and straight.

Young me could have really used some QILTBAG spectrum repped in the books she was reading. Might have made some formative questions during my formative years a little easier to understand.  And might have opened my eyes to the fact that as long as we’ve had people, we’ve had queer people.

So in an attempt to educate past me, satisfy current me (who recently went through a phase where she was only interested in books with not straight or not cis characters), and inspire my current WIP (LGBTQ historical fiction--holla!), I recently decided to read as much YA historical fiction with a main character that falls on the QILTBAG spectrum as I could find.

I exhausted them in about four days.

Kids, there aren’t too many.

"SOMETHING MUST BE DONE," shouted current Mackenzi.

"YES!" echoed past Mackenzi, in hopes of not getting slapped again.

So if you, like me, are to read some books set in the past with QILTBAG characters, let me provide for you a master list.

Okay, this is far from a master, but it is a list, and it is the start of a master list. If you have any recs of books I am missing from this list, please let me know! I will keep updating! Because this can’t be all there is!

(Also, I have not read all of these, so I cannot vouch for all--I am taking the word of the good people on the internet!)  

But first, some qualifiers. Here’s what I am NOT looking for for this list:

  • Historical fiction with LGBTQIA secondary characters
  • Adult historical fiction with LGBTQIA characters (though also go read these books because there are some great ones)
  • Fiction that was contemporary when it was written but is now considered historical because time passes (think Annie On My Mind)
  • Queer MCs in genres other than historical fiction or historical fantasy (but please go read these books too)
  • Self published historical fiction books with LGBTQIA main characters (sorry self pub authors, you are awesome and I am glad you are writing great things (including queer YA historical fiction!) but I’m limiting my search to traditionally published books. MOSTLY TO PROVE MY POINT.)

And so, here you are. A timeline of YA historical fiction with QILTBAG main characters.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis

Honey Girl by Lisa Freeman
Leap by Z. Egloff
Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Secret City by Julia Watts

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

The Elementals by Saundra Mitchell
Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

Liberty’s Fire by Lydia Syson

Wildthorn by Jane England


Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins

Your turn to help--what did I miss? I'd like to keep this list ever expanding and ever growing, so please help me make that happen!

Mackenzi Lee is reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults. Her young adult historical fantasy novel, THIS MONSTROUS THING will be published on September 22 by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home. Visit her online at her websiteblog, or Twitter.


  1. So, according to Amazon none of my recs are young adult, so you probably wouldn't want to put them on your list, but they all have young main characters and while they do have sex, they are not nearly as risqué as Sarah Waters' books and they are not romance novels.

    The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder
    Setting: Elizabethan era, Scotland, main character hangs out with Mary, Queen of Scots.
    Main Character: Bi and gender non-conforming. The novel spans from when she is a teen to her early twenties.

    Miss Timmins' School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy
    Setting: 1970's, India. Main character teaches at a boarding school
    Main Character: Bi, and in her early 20s.

    Hild, Nicola Griffith
    Setting: 7th Century England
    Main Character novel spans her life from age 3 to her late teens. She is bi.

    She Rises
    Setting: 18th Century England
    Main Character: Gender non-conforming and gay. The novel spans her life from a teen to early twenties.

  2. Okay, here we go. Note: so far I've only written about gay teens in my books. Not a comprehensive list as I'm still writing and publishing historical and historical fantasy books.

    1840s England
    Victorian ghost fiction

    The Glass Minstrel
    1850s Bavaria (Germany)
    Story takes place during the Christmas season

    The Twilight Gods
    1850s England (during the Great Exhibition)
    A historical fantasy retelling of a Native American folktale touching on the coming out process

    Desmond and Garrick (Books 1 and 2)
    1815 England (Regency)
    Paranormal romantic comedy (vampires)

    The Book of Lost Princes (novella anthology)
    Victorian England, unspecified years
    Original fairy tales about gay teens coming out

    The Winter Garden and Other Stories (short story anthology)
    Medieval, Victorian, and one contemporary (settings: England, France, Germany, the US)
    Original and reworked fairy tales about gay teens touching on different experiences and issues

    Renfred's Masquerade
    1800s AU Venice
    Historical fantasy about a gay teen with a physical disability