A Cozy Queer Comic of Community: Matchmaker by Cam Marshall

the cover of Matchmaker

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

This was a surprise, last-minute entry in my list of favourite reads of 2023!

I stumbled on this while researching new releases for Our Queerest Shelves, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was by a local British Columbia author/artist! I requested it from the library knowing pretty much nothing else about it except that it was queer and looked cute. I ended up devouring it in a couple days, and I’m now mourning that it’s over.

This follows Kimmy and Mason, best friends and roommates trying to survive the early 2020s in their early twenties. Kimmy is a nonbinary/genderfluid transfem lesbian, and Mason is cis and gay. As the title suggests, Kimmy is determined to set Mason up with his first boyfriend, which is made a lot more complicated during a pandemic when Mason is high risk.

This was originally a webcomic, which is obvious from how each page is set up to be somewhat complete in itself, but there is a narrative. We follow Kimmy and Mason through dating, breakups, and accumulating a growing group of queer friends. I loved these characters so much, and I was laughing out loud at several pages. It’s just such a cute, funny, and relatable read.

Kimmy is an unforgettable character. They’re over-the-top bubbly and silly, and they radiate confidence. I really appreciated reading about a fat transfem character who is so secure in themselves. They usually use they/them pronouns, but they also experience gender fluidity and change pronouns some days.

About halfway through the book, we find out Kimmy has depression, and they have to taper off their medication to start a new kind. As they go off their depression medication, they become an almost unrecognizable numb, closed-off version of themself Mason calls “Normal Kimmy.” Their friends support them through the weeks of this until they’ve adjusted to the new medication and begin to feel like themself again, including being able to better take in what’s happening around them.

This community of queer friends was the strength of this story. Not only have Mason and Kimmy been best friends since high school, but they also make connections with other queer people, quickly growing a supportive friend group. Despite the struggles they’re dealing with in terms of employment, the pandemic, dating, capitalism, and more, that rock solid foundation made this a comforting and cozy read.

This is not a short comic: it’s 280 pages. But by the time I finished it, I was already missing spending time with these characters.

I do have one complaint, though, and I hope it’s changed in later editions, because it doesn’t fit with the range of queer identities represented positively in this story: Kimmy refers to their lack of libido from being off their medication as being asexual, including triumphantly declaring, “I’m not ace anymore!” when their sex drive returned, which isn’t great, especially because I believe that’s the only mention of asexuality in the book.

That unfortunate inclusion aside, I really enjoyed this book. You can also still read it as a webcomic!

An Anxious Nonbinary Lesbian Sheep Solves a Murder: Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything by Justine Pucella Winans

the cover of Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

Bianca has overwhelming anxiety, especially social anxiety, to the point that trying to have an everyday conversation is a monumental struggle. They keep a numbered list of fears, like “Fear #6: Initiating Conversation,” “#13 Beautiful People,” and “#11 Parents Discovering They’re a Raging Lesbian.” So they’re definitely not going to ask out the cute girl in their birdwatching group. Or even speak to her at all. Bianca compares themself to lesbian sheep, standing beside each other perfectly still, hoping the other makes a move.

The only person other than family she feels comfortable around is Anderson. They bonded over anime, though Anderson is too cool to admit to liking manga and anime at school.

If it was up to Bianca, they would stayed in that safe bubble forever, but while people watching with their birdwatching telescope, they witness a murder in building across the street by someone wearing a plague doctor mask. Getting up the courage to tell the police is hard enough, but when the cops dismiss them and rule the case a suicide, Bianca is now the only one who can get justice for the neighbour who used to put bird drawings on his window for them to enjoy. (The cops are useless at best in this book, and I appreciated that: it is a murder investigation that doesn’t glorify the police at all.)

This is a satirical mystery perfect for fans of Only Murders In the Building. It’s whacky and over-the-top when it comes to the murder case, but the interpersonal and self-discovery elements feel grounded. Bianca ends up convincing Anderson and Elaine (from the birding group) to help investigate, changing their dynamic and bringing them closer together.

Meanwhile, Bianca is having Gender Feelings. At first, it’s not conscious, like feeling uncomfortable in their body and enjoying being compared to a male character. As they reluctantly explore these feelings, though, they begin to experience gender euphoria by changing their gender expression, coming out to some people as nonbinary, finding nonbinary friends and community, and using they/them pronouns. This is one of the few books I’ve read with a character who identifies as a nonbinary lesbian!

This was a lot of fun, and I appreciated both the satirical murder mystery plot and the well-rounded characters.

“Perhaps the real murder investigation is the friends we make along the way.”

A Painfully Realistic Teen Romance: Cupid’s Revenge by Wibke Brueggemann

the cover of Cupid's Revenge

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

I will admit that the cover really influenced me in picking this one up. I think it’s stunning. But I’m glad I did!

Tilly is only non-artist in a house of passionate artists, and she’s always felt left out. Her parents don’t really understand her, and they also have never seemed very enthusiastic about being parents. (I had to put the book down for a moment because I was so overcome with anger at them.) What’s worse, though, is that they’ve let her know that her Grandad with Alzheimer’s is coming to stay with them. In theory, it’s so they can take care of him, but Tilly knows they’re completely unreliable and that it’s going to become her responsibility to look after him.

She’s also terrified that he’s going to die in their house. She already experienced loss in her life and struggles with the grief. Tilly used to be part of a trio of friends, along with Grace and Teddy. They grew up together and were inseparable. Then Grace was hit by car and died when she was thirteen, and Teddy confessed to Tilly that he was in love with Grace and never told her. Grace’s death looms large in both their lives, and Tilly sometimes imagines her in the room with her, commenting on her decisions.

That’s already complicated enough, but then Teddy asks her for a favour. He has a crush on a girl named Katherine, but is hopeless about acting on it. He wants Tilly to help him. Katherine is an actor, and Teddy auditions for the same play as an excuse to spend time with her. Tilly is roped into being assistant to the director. Unfortunately, she also instantly and overwhelmingly falls for Katherine herself.

This is the most painfully realistic book I’ve read about being a teenager. At some points Tilly “wonder[s] if I’d have to spend the rest of my life feeling both aroused and miserable,” and that really is what she’s like through the whole book: confused, horny, and sad. I don’t know about your teenage experience, but that felt uncomfortably true to being flooded with adolescent hormones. It’s both the biggest positive and negative of the book.

Also realistic is that this is an instalove story. Tilly is immediately attracted to Katherine at first sight, which I think is pretty typical of teen relationships in real life versus fiction. Both Tilly and Katherine are flawed, which I thought made it more compelling and convincing, but I know not all readers enjoy.

I do want to give some warnings for this, not so much in terms of content but tone. I found this a stressful read, both because of Tilly having to shoulder far more of her grandfather’s care than she should have had to, and because of her stress and guilt about lying to Teddy. I also want to give a content warning for outing. There’s some religious talk, though that’s not a big focus. The pandemic is mentioned, but it’s also not a focus, and it’s talked about past tense. And one more thing, if it wasn’t obvious: there is a lot of sex talk. Including researching sex techniques through reading fanfiction.

On another note, there’s a side character who’s a Polish immigrant, and I found it strange how much he was distilled down to just “the Polish immigrant.” Like this line, where Tilly watches him have a completely normal interaction and thinks, “I wished so much that I was an immigrant who knew no one and hadn’t done anything wrong in this place that was now home.”

If you want to be transported to the awkward, stressful, and often miserable time of being a teenager, this book does it perfectly. I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read it as a teen, I’m sure.

A Holiday Romance with Depth: Season of Love by Helena Greer

the cover of Season of Love

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

Every year, I intend to read a bunch of queer holiday romances in December, but I don’t usually follow through with it. The holiday romances that I have read were often flops, which doesn’t help. This year, I gathered together my collection of sapphic holiday romance novels and sampled each one. I ended up picking Season of Love because I clicked with the first few pages the most, and I’m so glad I did.

When I think of holiday romances, I think fluff. So I was a little trepidatious about diving into this one, because it is not the lightest of romance reads: it’s fundamentally a story about grief, trauma, and the damage that comes with it. Even the romance starts with a lot of tension: despite being immediately attracted to each other, Miriam and Noelle immediately bump heads, to the point where Miriam thinks Noelle hates her—which isn’t entirely inaccurate, at first.

Even when they are able to get past that initial tension, Miriam and Noelle do run into (believable) road blocks in their relationship. Their trauma has resulted in them having clashing instincts, like Miriam wanting to run at the first sign of danger, and Noelle fearing abandonment. They have to work to overcome that—but they are also compatible and have a lot of chemistry, so it felt worth it.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this tension and darkness just added depth to this holiday love story, though. Maybe that’s why I was having such bad luck picking up Christmas romances: I actually don’t need it to be all fluff to enjoy it.

Season of Love also has an interesting contrast in its setting: the Christmas tree farm that Miriam, Noelle, and Miriam’s cousins inherit is a Christmas wonderland of over-the-top decorations, just outside the town of Advent. It’s dripping in Christmas charm. But it’s run by a Jewish family (Miriam is Jewish), which adds more depth to the setting and doesn’t let it become too cloyingly Christmas.

Another aspect I loved about this story is right there on the front cover: Noelle is a fat butch woman who Miriam is incredibly attracted to. Despite reading a lot of lesbian and sapphic books, I still don’t see fat butch women celebrated as love interests very often.

That leads me to my only, very minor, complaint: this is a closed door romance, which normally I don’t mind, but we spent so long hearing about the sexual tension between them that I was a little disappointed to have it resolve in a fade to black scene, especially because fat butches have so little representation in romance and erotica.

I’m really glad I read this over the holidays, and as long as you’re up for a holiday romance that isn’t pure fluff, I highly recommend it.

Colonialism and Revolution in Fantasy France: The Faithless by C. L. Clark

the cover of The Faithless

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

When I finished The Unbroken by C. L. Clark, I wasn’t sure I was going to continue with the series. It was brilliant, yes: thought-provoking and gut-wrenching, with commentary on colonialism and a passionate, doomed F/F romantic subplot. The strengths of the book, though—the bleakness that reflects the real-life horrors of living through war, occupation, and revolution; the fallible characters making mistakes with devastating consequences; the complexity of the depiction of colonialism—were exactly what made it difficult to read. I wasn’t sure I would be able to read another thousand pages of that between the next two books of the trilogy. By the time The Faithless came out, though, I felt ready to dive in again. And I was surprised to find that book two had everything I loved in book one, but with a lot more fun.

To be clear, this is still a story about empire and power struggles, with deaths and high stakes. But while book one took place mostly on the battlefield, book two is more about court politics in a country reminiscent of France. The power difference between Luca and Touraine is still there, but Touraine has more leverage.

It’s also interesting to see Touraine struggle with trying to figure out where she belongs: the country she was raised in as a child soldier, or the country she was born in and is trying to fight for? She feels outside of both, and is developing her own sense of identity now that she has more space to make her own decisions.

The relationship between Luca and Touraine is more of a focus, and the pining here is unmatched! It also feels more fun to read because there isn’t such a huge power disparity between them. I’m still not sure if they’re good together, but of course I was rooting for them to sleep together anyway. Also, Sabine—who has a friends-with-benefits situation with Luca—really steals the show. Her flirting with both of them and calling out their sexual tension is always fun to read.

This is still the Magic of the Lost series, so there’s a dark undercurrent underneath. Touraine is dealing with PTSD after her near death experience—something I rarely see in fantasy, even though of course you would be traumatized after something like that. The peace between Balladaire and Qazal is tenuous, and the conditions of their agreement are being bitterly fought over, which threatens to throw them back into combat at any moment. Violent revolution looms. Luca is looking for any sort of advantage to seize the throne—and finds that power comes with a price she isn’t sure she’s willing to pay.

I’m so glad I continued with this series. I appreciated the writing, plot, and characterization just as much as the first book, but I found it a much easier read—it probably helps that I’m now familiar with this world and these characters. It’s a rare second book in a trilogy that I like even better than the first. I’m excited to read the final book in the series when it comes out!

Sliding Doors, But Make It Bisexual: Going Bicoastal by Dahlia Adler

the cover of Going Bicoastal

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

I watched Sliding Doors as a kid and was enthralled by the idea of watching a life play out in two different ways based on branching out from a single event. I suppose it was my introduction to the concept of parallel universes. So when I heard about the premise of Going Bicoastal, I had to pick it up: a Sliding Doors-style story with a bisexual main character, written by the one and only Dahlia Adler?? What a gift.

And, of course, in Dahlia Adler’s hands, this was a joy to read. It follows Natalya as she has to choose between spending the summer with her father in NYC as usual, or trying to reconnect with her mother in LA. In each chapter, we alternate between her life if she chose NYC and if she chose LA. It sounds like it could be jarring or awkward, but the structure is not only a fun hook, but actually strengthens the story—it feels like it couldn’t have been told any other way.

In my The Best Sapphic Books of 2023 (So Far), I said this was the “most bisexually structured book I’ve ever read.” It is fun to have a bisexual book refuse to make a binary choice. But it also unexpectedly soothed my anxious overthinker brain. This choice does change Natalya’s life, but neither option is wrong. Whichever decision she makes, she’ll be okay in the end. Both these stories are romances, so they both are going to have a happy ending.

The romances play out pretty differently: in NYC, she gets to know a girl she’s had a crush on from afar for a long time, and they connect over music. They click instantly. In LA, she initially clashes with a guy she interning with, but he slowly opens up, and they begin to fall for each other over tacos—and worry about what happens when the summer ends and she goes back to New York. This story is just as much about Natalya figuring herself out, though, and while the settings and love interests diverge, there are parallels in how these different experience help her to uncover her talents and plan a future for herself, further underscoring that there are multiple paths leading to a positive future for her.

I love how this story feels so seamless, though it must have taken a ton of work to make a concept like this feel effortless. This is one of my favourite reads of the year.

A Cozy Queer Bookstore Fantasy: Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

the cover of Bookshops & Bonedust

Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

This is a prequel to Legends & Lattes, which I adored. It’s a cozy fantasy novel with low stakes and impeccable vibes. Let me skip the conclusion of this review: if you liked the first book, I can’t imagine you won’t also like this one. And if you didn’t like Legends & Lattes, why would you be picking this one up?

There are a lot of the same beats as the first book. While in that one, Viv retired from adventuring, in this one she’s temporarily laid up with an injury. Until her leg heals, she has to wait it out in a village. She’s only been with her adventuring group a couple of months, so she’s antsy to return and nervous of being left behind. Still, she has no choice: for the next few weeks, she has to take it easy.

In book one, we saw Viv build and run a coffee shop with the help of some new friends. In this one, she continues the theme of accidentally collecting friends despite her gruffness, but this time, she’s helping to fix up a bookstore! Viv isn’t a reader, but being barred from strenuous exercise drives her to visiting a rundown bookstore looking for escape. Fern, the rattkin bookseller, manages to make her a reluctant bibliophile. Along the way, Viv helps her to try to save her failing business, starting with a redesign.

One fun difference in the format of this volume is that we get excerpts from the book she’s reading! Fern sensibly starts her with an adventure novel, and then convinces her to try a romance. The excerpted books have their own writing styles, and most of them are sapphic, too.

Speaking of sapphic, I was curious about how the romance element in this prequel would go. I was invested in the romance I knew unfolded later in Viv’s life, so how much could I enjoy a doomed relationship in years prior? That turned out not to be an issue. Both Viv and her love interest know she’s only in town for a few weeks, and they’re both going into this knowing it’s temporary. That doesn’t necessarily make it easy, but there are no hard feelings. Also, I really liked the love interest, who I won’t name because I had fun trying to figure out who it would be. I’ll just say I can see why Viv was interested.

At a glance, this can look like just a retread of the first book: a ragtag group of new friends help to renovate a small fantasy business in a cozy, low-stakes setting. Just swap the coffee shop for a bookstore. In some ways, that’s true—this might have a little more plot and one higher-stakes chapter, but it’s still very cozy and has many of the same elements as the first book. I don’t know what to say other than that it works. Like a cozy mystery series, the repeating elements are a feature, not a drawback. It had exactly the cozy, comforting feeling I was looking for, and I’d honestly read ten more books in the series just like it.

Besides, Bookshops & Bonedust has a big advantage over Legends & Lattes: Potroast the gryphet. (He’s the pug/owl little guy on the cover.) Also, I love that Fern and Viv end up accidentally adopting an animated skeleton.

If you’re a cozy fantasy fan, you have to pick up this series. I think you can read them in either order. In fact, I’m not sure I know which one would be better to start with. Either way, I will be eagerly awaiting the next book set in this world, and I’ll keep these two ready for whenever I need a comforting reread.

A Fantasy of Community: Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

the cover of Legends and Lattes

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

Legends & Lattes has been reviewed at the Lesbrary before, and it’s certainly gotten a lot of praise online in general, so why do I feel the need to add my own positive review to the mix? I think it’s because the reason I loved it isn’t one I’ve seen touched on much, and it’s also why I think cozy fantasy has a particular appeal to queer readers—I adored it when I first encountered it in The Tea Dragon Society, and this series has only cemented that love.

I’m here to argue that queer cozy fantasy isn’t just about low stakes. It’s about building community, and that’s why it—like the found family trope—is so popular with queer readers.

To be clear, this series is cozy on several levels. The chapters are short and easy to read. It’s fairly low-stakes, it has a cozy setting—a coffee shop—and even the plot mirrors the home renovation TV shows so many people put on for something comforting. The romance is a gentle slow burn built on establishing trust and mutual respect. There’s a ratkin baker who invents cinnamon rolls. There’s a lot of coziness to go around.

But what I found the most cozy, comforting, and heartwarming about this book was the building of community. Viv sets out to start a coffee shop, and that’s inherently something you can’t do alone. She needs help to build and design the physical space as well as to staff it when it’s done. Because she’s starting this in a new town, she needs to build relationships in order to complete this goal.

Viv isn’t exactly the poster child for extroversion and teambuilding. She’s an orc, and that means many people are intimidated by her and associate her with violence. It doesn’t help that she was a fighter, and this is her attempt to retire from the adventuring life. She can be a little gruff, but she’s also kind. She reaches out to people, and almost despite herself, she build a community around the shop, allowing space for everyone’s talents and interests.

This is a story about finding your people. It’s found family, sure, but it’s also not just that. This is a community. Even if they’re not over for dinner every night, they have each other’s back when needed. Family is important, but I think focusing on found family can ignore the many ways we form connections with each other. A handful of essential relationships—family—in our lives is necessary, but so are the network of connections we make in other types of community. The friends who you only see a few times a year, but will always show up in an emergency. The ex-coworker who lets you know when a job possibility perfect for you opens up. The coffee shop owner who lets you host open mic nights there.

This community also allows for reinvention. Almost everyone associated with the coffee shop is exploring a role outside of what’s been assigned to them by society. Can an orc leave violence behind? Can a succubus be respected for her people skills without being reduced to “seductress”? Can a ratkin be a baker? Of course they can. Together, they’re able to support each other as they defy the expectations that have restrained them for so long.

It’s also a story about resilience and hope. The kind of hope that can have you build a business from the ground up, (spoilers, highlight to read) and run into the flames of it burning down to rescue the cappuccino machine so you can do it all over again. That hope blooms from the reciprocal generosity of true community. Being part of a network of people, all supporting each other in their own ways, allows you to have the confidence to begin again.

Human beings are meant to live in community with each other. We’re a social species. We depend on each other to survive. But consciously building these connections is something queer people are more likely to do, because we know that the family we’re born with could very well be conditional. Coming out tests all the relationships in our lives, and even if they survive, it’s hard not to be aware of how precarious they can be. I think that’s why cozy fantasy like this speaks to us so much: it reminds us that we can find family and community by reaching out to other people seeking connection. It can be messy and unconventional, but beautiful both in spite and because of that.

I did not think this cute fantasy book would have me thinking about the nature of human connection as it relates to queerness, but here we are! Whether you’re looking for a comforting read or inspiration to build community in your own life, pick this one up.

A Kind Voice from the Unkind Days of Early 2020: Care of by Ivan Coyote

the cover of Care of by Ivan Coyote

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

Ivan Coyote is one of my all-time favourite authors; I love their short stories and their essay collections. I’ve gotten to see them perform several times, and it’s always an amazing experience. Which is why I was thrown when I listened to the audiobook of Rebent Sinner when it came out and… didn’t love it? I didn’t know what to think. Was it me? Or had their writing changed? So, while I went out and bought a new, still-in-hardcover copy of Care of—something I very rarely do—it sat unread on my shelves for months, because I was nervous that I wouldn’t like it, either. Luckily, I was completely wrong.

I ended up listening to the audiobook of this one, too, and as soon as I hit play, I wanted to be listening to it all the time. Ivan Coyote has such a comforting, kitchen table storyteller way of speaking. It’s soothing to listen to, while the subject matter addresses issues like transphobia.

This is a collection of letters. During the early months of the pandemic, their shows had to come to a halt, and they used that newfound time to answer emails and letters that they had been saving until they had the time to give them the attention they deserved—some had been waiting years for that response. I’ve realized lately that I love these sort of collections in audiobook: Dear Sugar and Dear Prudence are two other audiobooks I couldn’t stop listening to.

As always, Coyote is a compassionate, thoughtful voice no matter whose letter they are answering. I actually feel like I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to listen to it even when I was too distracted to pay as much attention as it deserves, so I plan on rereading/relistening to this again very soon.

Even though it’s written during the early days of the pandemic, it doesn’t feel dated. The topics being addressed are just as relevant now as they were then, and I think having a little bit of distance from 2020 helped me appreciate that aspect more; I’m not sure I could have listened to/read it during 2020, if it had been released then.

Despite my comparisons to Dear Sugar and Dear Prudence, these aren’t really letters with advice. They’re more responses with commiserations, with stories that the original letter reminded them of, and sometimes with questions or pleas for the letter writer. They’re personal, considered, and empathetic responses to all kinds of different people who have reached out to them.

If you haven’t read Ivan Coyote’s books before, this is a good place to start. And if you have, you won’t be disappointed by picking this one up, especially as an audiobook.

Moby Dyke: An Obsessive Quest To Track Down The Last Remaining Lesbian Bars In America by Krista Burton

the cover of Moby Dyke

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

This book really just had to live up to the title for me to love it, and it did.

Krista Burton used to run a blog called Effing Dykes that I followed and enjoyed, so I knew I was already a fan of her writing. In Moby Dyke, she weaves together a travelogue of lesbian bars, personal writing about her own life, and discussions about why lesbian bars keep closing.

In the introduction, Krista paints a picture of her journey to writing this book. She’s married to a trans man named Davin, and they’re about both middle-aged, living in rural Minnesota. When COVID hit and they were sheltering in place, Krista found that what she missed most was the “feeling of being in a packed, sweaty dyke bar, surrounded on all sides by queers so close they’re touching me, and then to feel someone with a drink in one hand try to inch past me.” But those kinds of bars kept closing. Where there was about 200 in the 1980s, it was down to 20 across the whole country. Pandemic or not, when was she going to experience that again?

And that’s how Moby Dyke was born. Krista made a plan to visit all 20 of the remaining lesbian bars in the United States. Each would be visited twice. She’d talk to at least two people at each bar. (Approaching strangers! In a lesbian bar!) And half of the time, she’d come with her husband, while half of the time, she’d go alone.

This is, of course, an exploration and celebration of these lesbian bars, each lovingly described, but that ended up not being the main draw for me. It was interesting to get a glimpse into these bars, but I’m unlikely to go to any of them, being neither a bar/club person nor from the U.S. Instead, I was pulled in by Krista’s personal writing as well as the discussion around lesbian bars.

This book has a charming, personal voice—it feels like a friend telling you a story. There are brief detours into the rest of Krista’s exploration of a city, and some glimpses into her personal life. It makes for a very readable book that somehow didn’t feel repetitive, even though each chapter is essentially the same thing: describing a new bar and recounting how patrons/owners answered her questions.

It’s interesting to get a broad look at how lesbian bars operate and how they describe themselves. Krista quickly found out that while these bars were usually owned by lesbians and were in some way lesbian bars, each of them said they “welcome everyone.” She discusses this push and pull between wanting be inclusive and wanting to have a space for queer people:

“Queers want dedicated spaces where they can go and have everyone around them be queer. That’s because that shit is fun. And it’s such a relief, not to mention so much safer, for us all to be able to be together. But most of us also want each and every version of queerness to be welcomed in those spaces, and who gets to decide who’s queer and who’s not?”

As one bar owner put it, “Sometimes [lesbian patrons] will look around and want to know why there’s ‘”so many men here,” and—she threw up her hands—’I don’t know what to tell you! How am I supposed to have a woman-centric space that’s a lesbian bar but also be fully inclusive? How?’”

I also found it interesting the many reasons people had, especially bar owners, for why lesbian bars keep closing: because queer women are more accepted into greater society now. Because lesbians have less money to spend than gay men. Because of infighting. Gentrification and rent price. Trump. The instability of time investment of running a bar. Lesbians don’t go out.

These discussions about queer spaces were fascinating to me, and I also liked seeing the many different ways that these spaces are designed. Each has its own feel, its own events, its own kind of community. I’m not about to go out and start a lesbian bar now, but I did find it inspirational. Queer groups and communities, especially between queer women, have a reputation of breaking down and dissolving in conflict. These many different bars, whether it’s a Black-owned queer cocktail bar or a rural lesbian bar covered in novelty signs, show that it’s worth trying to build something, and that they can survive—and even thrive.

I wasn’t sure if this would end up being a eulogy for lesbian bars, a document to preserve them before they all disappear forever, or whether it would be a celebration. Thankfully, it’s much more of the latter—spoiler alert: the number of lesbian bars has grown since she started writing the book!

If the title piqued your interest, definitely pick up Moby Dyke. It’s part travelogue, part memoir, and 100% queer.