It’s been a month of empowerment and solidarity for the LGBTQ+ community, with calendars marked full of Pride events that celebrate love and diversity in all their beautiful facets. The month of June might be coming to an end, but queer voices still deserve a place to be heard—perhaps even more so after the rainbow logos disappear and ally-ship grows quieter.
To bring Pride month to a close, Vogue Singapore rounds up a selection of books that capture the distinct nuances of the queer Asian experience. Penned by authors all across the Asian diaspora, these titles shed light on the joys, fears and struggles of Asian individuals in the LGBTQ+ community—serving as a reflection on how our shared culture inevitably and intrinsically shapes the experiences the queer Asian community live through.
From fiction and poetry to poignant memoirs, each book offers a unique perspective. Putsata Reang’s powerful book Ma and Me details her experience as a refugee caught between her identity as a gay woman and the life debt she owes her mother, while trans artist Vivek Shraya writes, with sobering vulnerability, about how masculinity was imposed on her as a child. Singaporean authors celebrate the indomitable spirit of our local LGBTQ+ community, as a diverse mix of genres prove that representation is never limiting or one-dimensional. Below, find our full list of queer Asian books worth adding to your reading list this month and beyond.
1 / 9
‘Exhale: An Anthology of Queer Singapore Voices’
A monumental literary project that brings together the works of 79 LGBTQ+ writers in Singapore, Exhale features texts in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil that range from experimental poetry and creative non-fiction to queer sci-fi and songs of worship. Through varied tales of coming out, gender dysphoria and religion—a trans woman discovers of her gifts, while an activist makes the case for aromanticism—the indomitable spirit of Singapore’s queer community is revealed.
2 / 9
‘She is a Haunting’ by Trang Thanh Tran
Gothic horror meets coming-of-age in this chilling, atmospheric debut novel by Trang Thanh Tran. On a five-week visit to her estranged father in Vietnam, closeted Vietnamese-American teenager Jade Nguyen has one goal: survive the holiday pretending to be a happy family, in order to leave with the college money he promised. The house they are staying in, however, has other plans. The ghost of a beautiful bride haunts the halls, remnants of ancestors long gone reappear, and night after night, Jade wakes up paralysed. With help from a delinquent girl, she has to prove the house’s sinister intentions before it destroys them.
3 / 9
‘Ma and Me’ by Putsata Reang
Putsata Reang’s story begins at the age of 11 months, when her family spent 23 days at sea on an overcrowded navy vessel fleeing war-torn Cambodia. With a lifeless baby in her arms, her mother had refused the captain’s orders to throw the child overboard. Upon arriving, she rushed the baby to the military medics, who miraculously managed to save the child’s life. A deeply moving memoir of a refugee caught between her identity as a gay woman and the life debt she owes her mother, award-winning journalist Putsata Reang’s Ma and Me delves into the weight of inherited trauma, cultural obligation and filial duty.
4 / 9
‘Ghost Town’ by Kevin Chen
Awarded the Grand Prize at the 2020 Taiwan Literature Award, Kevin Chen’s Ghost Town follows Keith, the sole—and desperately yearned for—son in a traditional Taiwanese family with seven daughters. Chasing the hope of acceptance as a young gay man, he escapes to Berlin. The novel begins a decade later, with Keith being recently released from prison for the murder of his boyfriend. As he returns to his family village, the truth comes to light—revealed through a myriad of voices both living and dead.
5 / 9
‘Inheritance’ by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Set in Singapore between the 1970s and 1990s, Inheritance is a reflection of the nation’s coming-of-age, seen through the eyes of a traditional Punjabi family as it crumbles. Youngest daughter Amrit’s promiscuity results in her being deemed unfit for marriage. Middle son Narain is gay in a culture unaccepting of homosexuality. Even eldest son Gurdev, who has, by traditional standards, made a good life for himself, is a disappointment because he is not progressing fast enough in his career. As modernity and tradition clash, Inheritance examines the way we confront that which we inherit.
6 / 9
‘Concerning My Daughter’ by Kim Hye-jin
Born of author Kim Hye-jin’s reflection on what the world might look like from her mother’s viewpoint, Concerning My Daughter takes on the perspective of a Korean woman in her seventies who allows her 30-something-year-old daughter Green to move back into her apartment. But when Green turns up with her girlfriend Lane, she is unwilling to welcome Lane into her home. Her daughter’s definition of family is not one that she can accept—yet when the care home she works for demands that a patient who did not conform to society’s expectations receives a lower standard of care, she is faced with the question: why should living a non-traditional life mean that you are worth any less?
7 / 9
‘I’m Afraid of Men’ by Vivek Shraya
With vulnerable honesty, trans artist, musician and author Vivek Shraya paints a powerful portrait of how masculinity was imposed on her as a child—and the ways in which it continues to haunt her as a woman. Her lived experiences form a sobering examination of gender, urging us to pave a way towards a better, more accepting society with a fresh perception of gender for the modern age. Against the immense weight of transphobia, homophobia and misogyny, I’m Afraid of Men is a call for us to embrace what makes us different and overcome the things that make us afraid.
8 / 9
‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ by Ocean Vuong
Written as a letter from a 28-year-old Vietnamese-American son to his illiterate mother, acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong’s emotional first novel untangles the intricacies of queerness, class, race and intergenerational trauma with poignant lyricism. As the narrator—known only as Little Dog, the nickname given to him by his grandmother—examines his own identity through his fractured relationships with his mother and grandmother, he also begins a queer, interracial relationship with a boy he met while working on a tobacco farm.
9 / 9
‘Notes of a Crocodile’ by Qiu Miaojin
A cult classic in contemporary Chinese literature, Notes of a Crocodile follows a band of queer misfits studying at Taiwan’s most prestigious university as they discover love, art and friendship. With tender poeticism, Qiu Miaojin captures the joys, melancholy, beauty and nihilism of the queer community in post-martial-law 1980s Taipei. Told through the voice of an anonymous lesbian narrator nicknamed Lazi, the novel is a patchwork of vignettes, letters, flashbacks and moments of satire that come together to form a powerful work of defiance.