The Love That Dares: Letters of LGBTQ+Love and Friendship Through History by Rachel Smith and Barbara Vesey.

A good love letter can speak across centuries, and reassure us that the agony and the ecstasy one might feel today have been shared by lovers long gone. In The Love That Dares, queer love speaks its name through a wonderful selection of surviving letters between lovers and friends, confidants and companions.

Alongside the more famous names coexist beautifully written letters by lesser-known lovers. Together, they weave a narrative of queer love through the centuries, through the romantic, often funny, and always poignant words of those who lived it.

Including letters written by:
John Cage
Audre Lorde
Benjamin Britten
Lorraine Hansberry
Walt Whitman
Vita Sackville-West
Radclyffe Hall
Allen Ginsberg


Stories are powerful tools, especially letters, as they speak straight from the world and experiences of the people who wrote them. For many it is rare to see themselves and their community reflected in books, especially LGBTQ+ people, children and adults, who are often made to feel that they have no history they can identify with. The Love That Dares seeks to correct that and give them a link with those that came before them, such as Benjamin Britten, Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde.

It is a wonderful collection of love letters from the past, that speaks to the present generation, shouting loud and clear that love is definitely love, no matter your sexuality. What I found fascinating was how Rachel Smith and Barbara Vesey didn’t just include letters from famous people many of us are familiar with, but have given a voice to the historical diversity of the LGBTQ+ community; such as the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who is said to have had male and female lovers and whose poetry talks about her passionate love of women.

Sing the song while I, in the arms of Atthis,

Seal her lips to mine with a lover’s fervour,

Anacreon’s Song: The Love That Dares: Letters of LGBTQ+ Love & Friendship Through History – Rachel Smith & Barbara Vesey

Not only is it and emotional and powerful read, it is informative as well, each section is given an introduction, giving us the background to the letters and the people that wrote them. I was fascinated to learn of not just the love felt by the writers, but the context in which they poured out their feelings within. Men such Bayard Rustin, who was not just an openly gay man during a time of civil unrest, he was an influential adviser to leaders such as Dr Martin Luther King. Despite facing discrimination and attacks simply for being gay, he continued to work for issues he felt passionate about and poured out in his correspondence the agonies of the love he felt as a gay man, when his very existence was deemed illegal and an act of gross perversion. The authors giving a voice to his experiences and the anguish he and others felt, because society ostracized them. They have brought to life in the best way possible way within The Love That Dares, his thoughts and the love he and others felt, through their own words. They have allowed men and women to call across the generations to modern readers and say, we understand how you feel, we felt that way to, we see you and you are not alone because we walked before you.

Many still live with shame and in isolation and need to see themselves reflected in written word, just as any community does. This delightful collection of letters shows them that not only are they not alone, but that LGBTQ+ love, has existed throughout history.

It is an excellent and highly emotive read, that brings the history and the written word of the LGBTQ+ community to modern readers. It does so with a great deal of sensitivity, allowing the writers to speak for themselves and shows that queer love has existed throughout history.

It is time now to stop homophobia in in tracks and this book gives the lie to their arguments against equality. Love is what connects us to the people that pour out their feelings in The Love That Dares, not what separates us!

You can purchase this book from Amazon and Waterstones or from one of the fabulous Independent bookshops we have in this country.

About the writers who compiled this book.

Rachel Smith was born in Providence, raised in Hope, Rhode Island, and currently resides in London, where she is an archivist at Bishopsgate Institute. She is also an award-winning screenwriter. The Love That Dares is her first work of non-fiction, after releasing a collection of her poetry and photography, Words & Pictures, in 2016. In her free time, Rachel enjoys coffee, travel,
knitting, her dog and her wife.

Barbara Vesey was raised in New York but, having seen Mary Poppins at an impressionable age, eventually moved to London. Once accused of being a ‘rampant feminist’ – an epithet she was delighted to receive – after 25 years as a writer, editor and proofreader she retrained as an archivist. She is proud to work at the archives of both the Bishopsgate Institute and the Society of the Sacred Heart. Through sheer luck she has two amazing children and a world-class collection of art postcards.

4 thoughts on “The Love That Dares: Letters of LGBTQ+Love and Friendship Through History by Rachel Smith and Barbara Vesey.

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