During the month of June, we talk a lot about how to be a good ally. Sometimes, the best way to be a good ally is to just be quiet and allow the queer community to take the lead. Support from beneath. Allow them to lead the fight and just be there to facilitate whatever they need. One thing that I think becomes a burden for the LGBTQ+ community is the constant need to educate the allies surrounding them. Give them a break, put in the work to learn the information on your own! A great way to do that is through reading! Here’s thirteen LGBTQ+ memoirs that you should read to educate yourself!
I would like to acknowledge that I know these memoirs are not meant to be educational tools. However, sometimes the best way to learn something is through reading about it from someone who has experienced what you’re wanting to learn. While it’s always good to ask your queer friends questions about these things, there are boundaries that they may not be comfortable with you crossing. That being said, enjoy these thirteen memoir recommendations and I hope that they move you to a place of greater understanding!
Laura Kate Dale
Gender Euphoria is an anthology from nineteen different authors, all varying on the spectrum that is sexuality. Euphoria came out in April of this year and it focuses on one side of the gender euphoria die that is rarely discussed. From my understanding (as a cis-fem woman), the trans community is vastly underrepresented, as well as many, many others such as those of the BIPOC community. To see a book that is comprised entirely of these voices is awe-inspiring. The synopsis of Gender Euphoria has a word that I think describes the entire concept of the book, which is “groundbreaking.”
I Was Better Last Night is from the influential Harvey Fierstein. This is a tell-all of Harvey’s life, cataloging different personal struggles and conflicts that he fought through during his life. I Was Better Last Night bares the inner life of this nonconforming child from his roots in 1952 Brooklyn to the experimental worlds of Andy Warhol and the Theatre of the Ridiculous. It also dives into Harvey’s involvement for gay rights movements of the seventies and the AIDS crisis during the eighties. Harvey’s story is one that is incredibly influential and a look at what it was like to be in the spotlight during a time when being gay wasn’t as accepted as now.
Burning Butch details the life of R/B Mertz as they limit themselves to the Catholic Church while they “stave off the inevitable.” R/B proudly identifies as trans and non-binary, and Burning Butch is their way of documenting their quest to survive with their authenticity intact. The memoir starts at their beginning, after their parents divorce and when their Catholic homeschooling became all encompassing. R/B tosses themselves into a coming-of-age story with all the dips and highs that trouble everyone faces at one point in their lives. Burning Butch is relatable in the sense that readers are likely to find a common thread with R/B, and if readers don’t, then it’s still a great read.
Burn the Page comes from Danica Roem, who (get this) is a transgender former front woman of a metal band and current political figure in the state of Virginia. Can you get more exciting? Now a common tactic when in a political running against a notoriously anti-LGBTQ state delegate, there’s going to be some things thrown about your name. In Burn the Page, Danica completely dismantles the narrative that her opponent (unsuccessfully) tried to mount against her. For Danica, this is the manifesto of her life. She’s setting the stage, showing that you can rewrite your own future. Don’t get it twisted though, Danica took every story that her opponent tried to use against her and did a deep dive on them like a three hour YouTube video would.
Punch Me Up To The Gods is Brian Broome’s debut in which he talks his early years in Ohio as a “dark-skinned Black boy harboring crushes on other boys.” Brian pulls no punches when talking about his past, all the cringe, all the laughs, and all the heartbreak is bared in Punch Me Up To The Gods. This particular memoir is framed around a poem, but it does nothing but propel the story forward through Brian’s years with his no-nonsense mom and broken father. A lot of the time there’s a further breakdown of representation in the LGBTQ+ community for BIPOC, so Brian’s story is one that shows that everyone’s story is valid.
Carmen Maria Machado
In the Dream House deals with the heavy topic of psychological abuse that many people face in relationships gone bad. Carmen Maria Machado casts a critical eye over the particular relationship in question and examines it from all angles. There is some graphic discussions of abuse so please be aware of that before taking on Carmen’s work. However, it’s not like me to give you list of book recs that would include no happy endings, so In the Dream House does have a happy ending for Carmen. Readers are definitely in for a rollercoaster with this LGBTQ+ read, but it’s definitely worth the heartache.
How We Fight for Our Lives comes from Saeed Jones who is an award-winning poet with a powerful and influential voice. He represents yet another BIPOC link to the LGBTQ+ community that needs to be uplifted and celebrated. Saeed takes readers through his life as a young, black, gay man from the South (which we all know is a bit unforgiving). He charts a course across the American landscape as he carves out a place for himself, within his family, his country, and within his own hopes, desires, and fears. How We Fight for Our Lives builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief.
Sissy: A Coming-of-Age Gender Story tells Jacob Tobia’s story as they came into their own feminine self. Jacob wanted everything as a young kid in North Carolina: playing with Barbies and bugs and getting muddy while wearing princess dresses. They were “a boy,” so they were told they could only have masculine things, only be the masculine side of themselves. Acting feminine in small town North Carolina got you labelled as “a sissy” and encouraged social isolation. Soon though, Jacob was able to find a sense of pride in being “a sissy” because it isn’t something to be ashamed of. Jacob takes readers through their trauma and healing, a story that many allies could benefit from hearing.
We Have Always Been Here comes from Samra Habib, writer, photographer, and activist. Samra spent most of their life searching for the safety to be themselves. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, they face regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. Samra internalized the lesson that revealing their identity could put them in grave danger, a lesson hammered from home and their parents. In We Have Always Been Here, Samra remembers that the men wanted to police them, the women only showed pious obedience and both claimed that Samra’s body was a problem to be solved. Samra takes readers on an exportation of faith, art, love and queer sexuality, keeping forgiveness and family as an overarching theme that they found comfort in.
Naturally Tan features the story of the first open gay South Asian man on television and English fashion icon who was raised in a traditionally religious home. Tan France is very open on the Netflix reboot of Queer Eye. However, in Naturally Tan readers get to see another side of Tan that they weren’t privy to. He reveals what it was like growing up gay in a traditional South Asian family, while also being one of the only POC in South Yorkshire. The tale winds all the way to his marriage to the love of his life, a Mormon cowboy from Salt Lake City, Utah (there’s a romance novel in there somewhere). In Tan’s own words, “The book is meant to spread joy, personal acceptance, and most of all understanding. Each of us is living our own private journey, and the more we know about each other, the healthier and happier the world will be.”
The Prince of los Cocuyos explores the coming-of-age of Richard Blanco, the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet. Richard takes readers through his life as a Cuban immigrant and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities. Once again, this is another side of the BIPOC die that is horrifically understated, and Richard does an amazing job navigating the worlds he found himself in. The Prince of los Cocuyos recounts Richard’s first days as the 2013 inaugural poet, his American coming-of-age, and the people who influenced him as a young child. And this is of course set against the gorgeous Miami beaches, what more could you ask for than truth and beauty?
Redefining Realness introduces Janet Mock as an inspirational voice for the transgender community, and anyone fighting to define themselves on their own terms. Janet takes readers on her journey as she grew up poor, multiracial and trans in America. She does an amazing job of making the message accessible for her readers. Janet pushes readers towards greater acceptance of one another (and ourselves) showing that you can be unapologetic and real in every kind of situation. Janet reveals the raw and personal in Redefining Realness and it’s something that every member and supporter of the LGBTQ+ community should read.
Jennifer Finney Boylan
While She’s Not There is the oldest memoir on my list today, it is still incredibly applicable to the conversation. Jennifer Finney Boylan first published this back in 2003, so this was a bit of a revolutionary subject for that time. Though great strides had been made, there was still a stigma surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. She’s Not There soared after publishing and eventually became the first bestselling work by a transgender American. “Love will prevail,” said Jennifer’s conservative mother, as she learned about her daughter’s identity.
I sure hope that allies add a few of these to their TBR lists! And I hope that I’ve done the LGBTQ+ community justice with this list of LGBTQ+ memoirs. Education and advocacy are one of the best ways that we can support the LGBTQ+ community.
For more prideful bookish content this June, click here!