The Watermelon Woman (1996, dir. Cheryl Dunye)
The Watermelon Woman follows aspiring filmmaker, Cheryl (also played by Dunye) as she sets out to make a documentary about Faith Richardson, a Black actress from the 1930s who had played stereotypical mammy characters. This wry romantic comedy was the first feature film directed by an ‘out’ Black lesbian and has become a seminal piece of queer cinema.
But I’m A Cheerleader (2000, dir. Jamie Babbit)
This comedy centres around a naïve teen – you guessed it – cheerleader who is sent to a conversion camp after her friends and family suspect she is a lesbian. The film skewers what could be extremely dark subject matter into a slightly surreal, satirical portrayal of discovering your sexuality and pokes fun at just how ridiculous homophobic attempts to control people’s desires are. Definitively camp, But I’m A Cheerleader has become a cult classic, particularly for the LGBTQ+ community.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, dir. Stephen Frears)
My Beautiful Laundrette highlights a number of social issues pertaining both the LGBTQ+ community, racial divides and politics in 80s Britain. The story focuses on Omar, a young British-Pakistani man who reunites, and then develops a romantic relationship with an old friend, Johnny who is white. This film portrays a tender relationship between the two men whilst also being an important reflection of 1980s British society.
Hedwig and The Angry Inch (2001, John Cameron Mitchell)
Another camp, cult classic; Hedwig and The Angry Inch was adapted from the off-Broadway musical of the same name. It tells the story of ‘internationally-ignored’, genderqueer rockstar Hedwig, and her search for fame and adoration. We personally love a musical and this has plenty of rock & roll bangers within it!
A Fantastic Woman (2017, dir. Sebastián Lelio)
Marina is a waitress, who moonlights as a singer. We meet her just before her partner dies suddenly. However, rather than being able to grieve for him with a loving support system, her partner’s family instead shun her because she is transgender. It won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Academy Awards and although deeply sad, it is also hopeful and ultimately depicts a moving story of a woman moving through grief.
Rina Sawayama – Cherry
Rina is a Culture Sift fave, and Cherry is her proud proclamation of her pansexuality. In this song- as with the subject matter of many of her songs simialarly challenge stereotypes – Rina challenges the heteronormative narrative on display in many pop songs. The video, above, is similarly a celebration of queer expression.
Janelle Monae – Make Me Feel
A sexy, confident, Prince-esque song. Lyrics like “It’s like I’m powerful with a little bit of tender / An emotional, sexual bender…” come across as even more of a statement knowing how wonderfully open Janelle is about her sexuality and this song is the definition of owning your desires.
SOPHIE – It’s Okay to Cry
Sophie was a visionary, and they are so missed. We adore the fragility of this song, and it feels even more poignant now they’re gone. After much speculation over who Sophie was, this music video was the first time they stepped out from behind anonymity and showed who they were on their own terms.
Sylvester – You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)
We had to include a disco track on this list, and who better to represent the genre than the gender-fluid singer Sylvester and their JOYOUS, iconic track You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real). Can’t help but dance and grin when you listen to this. Need we say any more?
Perfume Genius – Jason
Perfume Genius is another Culture Sift fave. This whole album is exquisite, but there’s something so special and tender about this track which tells the story of the protagonist sleeping with a closeted man.
Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde (1984)
The collection of essential essays by the Black, lesbian poet and feminist writer, Audre Lorde. This is a brilliant entry point in if you have never read Lorde before, as it shows off the breadth of writing as she explores race, gender, sexuality, politics, friendship and the erotic. Audre Lorde’s writing is as necessary now as it was when she was writing in the 1970s and 80s.
Rainbow Milk – Paul Mendez (2020)
We are a little bias to this tale as we love anything shining a light on stories from the West Midlands, but Paul Mendez’ novel Rainbow Milk is a bona-fide brilliant debut. This coming-of-age book tells the story of a young Black man, Jesse, as he grapples with his racial and sexual identities against the backdrop of his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing in Wolverhampton and the legacies of the Windrush generation. He escapes home and moves to London where he works as a sex worker and finds new notions of love.
Detransition, Baby – Torrey Peters (2021)
Long-listed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction, Detransition Baby deals with both taboos and notions of motherhood, family and gender. It focuses on Reese, a transgender woman who wants to be a mother, whose ex Ames gets his boss, Katrina, a cis woman, pregnant. Ames also used to be a trans woman but de-transitioned and together, the three attempt to raise a family. This is perhaps one of the most exciting books of the past year which not only highlights the variety of trans experiences, but the bonds of feminine solidarity and explores the complexities within womanhood.
Paul Takes the Form of a Modern Girl – Andrea Lawlor (2017)
One of our favourite books that we read last year; in fact, the descriptions of nightclubs and bars and music were so vivid and visceral that we had to take breaks because having to read such scenes in lockdown felt torturous. Lines like “the whole room sweated in unison” would only serve to make you ache.
But the book is much more than its descriptions of clubs. It is coming-of-age story set in 1993 and Paul is our protagonist – a university student who bartends at the only gay-bar in town. But Paul has a secret: he can shift between genders. We highly recommend this for its urgency, depictions of intimacy and Lawlor’s ability to bend genres in their portrayal of a character who can transcend gender.
All The Things She Said: Everything I Know About Modern Lesbian and Bi Culture – Daisy Jones (2021)
This book was only released this month and is written by Vice journalist Daisy Jones. It is a exploration of the culture of queer women in the 21st century, looking at how over the past few years, the style and shared language of queer women has slowly infiltrated the mainstream. A must-read for anyone interested in internet culture and its intersections with the LGBTQ+ community.
Zanele Muholi, Miss Lesbian, 2009
Zanele Muholi is a photographer who captures the essence of Black lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex and bisexual life in South Africa. Their stunning portraits construct a queer visual history of people whose existences have too often been marginalised. They often describe their work as ‘visual activism’. This paticular piece however is a self-portrait of the artist in 2009.
Hadrian Pigott, Boy, ?, Girl, 1994
In this piece, Pigott questions gender and identity. He is well-known for his sculptures made out of soap (such as shown above), however his reason for doing so was to reference consumer culture. We like the simplicity of the statement within this artwork.
Salman Toor, Bar Boy, 2019
Salman Toor is a Pakistani-born, New York-based artist who paints images of young gay men in nighclubs, bars and just hanging out. There are often portraits referencing modern dating and modern life, such as men taking selfies or looking at their phones. We really love the beautiful green and blue hues Toor uses in his palette to allude to a sense of precarity.
Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1988
This self-portait of the iconic artist Robert Mapplethorpe was taken in 1988, a year before he died of an AIDS-related illness. Mapplethorpe was known for his portraiture, of both himself and others. In contrast to his other self-portraits, here Mapplethorpe displays a more fragile version of himself, presented without ego or costume. The focus on the skull within the photo also reflects the artist’s increasingly dark and macabre work towards the end of his life.
Jeanne Mammen, Two Women, Dancing, c.1928
Jeanne Mammen was known for her watercolours and sketches depicting life in Berlin, paticularly the life of the ‘bachelor girls’ and butch-femme couples within the city’s clubs and bars. Here, we see a sensitive portrayal of two women as they dance together at a party, their faces slighty forlorn.
Call Me Mother
Journalist Shon Faye hosts conversations with elders from the LGBTQ+ community. We don’t often get to see older LGBTQ living and thriving in the media, so it feels so necessary to hear these stories and experiences and understand both the strides that have been made in terms of representation and rights, but also the changes that still need to be made.
Broccoli Productions have a whole host of podcasts that we highly recommend you checking out, but Anthems is definitely a great place to start. Described as a collection of “original manifestos, speeches, stories, poems and rallying cries written by exceptional people, that celebrate and contemplate what it means to be human” and Anthems delivers just that.
Hosted by Chris Sweeney and Alan Cummings, this is a podcast where “queer people talk about life. It features in-depth conversations with celebrities such as including Paris Lees, Debbie Harry, Russel T. Davis and Munroe Bergdorf, as well as discussions of subjects ranging from queer friendships, being LGBTQ+ in the workplace to body image.
The Log Books
We mentioned this show in our Monthly Round-Up in February for LGBT History Month, and want to shine a light on it again. Utilising Switchboard’s archives, the show explores an untold history of queer people’s lives in Britain throughout the 70s and onwards. Spanning from stories of sex and nightlife to loneliness, homelessness and police brutality, The Log Books’ well-researched episodes are divided into themes which still resonate within the queer community today.
Making Gay History
Another history podcast for you all. Much of the series is from Eric Marcus’ archive from the 80s and 90s, however the show always features interviews with LGBTQ+ people, allies and activists. The result is a detailed oral history of queer life over the past 30 years.