Although the “trans memoir” is well-represented in the world of books by trans people, it is unfortunately no surprise that very few memoirs from Black trans people have made it to publication, let alone gained wide attention. Yes, I’m very aware of Redefining Realness and the wave of attention that it’s received since its publication in 2014, but let’s not kid ourselves that Redefining Realness (or Hiding My Candy, the only other memoir from a Black trans writer that I occasionally see on lists) somehow isn’t outnumbered by the stack of memoirs from white trans people (a stack that goes back to the mid-20th century with Christine Jorgenson and continues to the present). Janet Mock lays out a more detailed and eloquent analysis of this numerical discrepancy between white trans memoirs and memoirs from trans people of color on this 2013 post: Not All Memoirs Are Created Equal: The Gatekeeping of Trans Women of Color’s Stories.
I made this list not just to remind us of the books that exist or how few there are, but to also collect together the titles as a reference aid that can hopefully make this information more accessible. This is by no means a list of every memoir from a Black trans writer, but I believe it to be fairly comprehensive. If there are any I’ve missed please share in the comments!
A Finer Specimen of Womanhood: A Transsexual Speaks Out (Sharon Davis, 1986): With the publication of A Finer Specimen of Womanhood, Ms. Davis became the first Black trans person to publish a memoir. This unprecedented work is no longer in print (and is proving to be very hard to get ahold of) but those interested in her life can find a lovely profile in a 1983 issue of Jet available from the magazine’s online archives. I’m heavily indebted to long-time trans activist and writer Monica Roberts (The TransGriot) for her work in preserving and sharing the legacy of Sharon Davis.
Hiding My Candy: The Autobiography of the Grand Empress of Savannah (The Lady Chablis, 1997): Already a fixture of the drag pageant and bar scenes around Savannah, Georgia, The Lady Chablis was introduced to the wider world with her appearances in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and its subsequent film adaptation. Hiding My Candy turned the spotlight on The Lady herself with the sharp-tongued insights that she did oh so well. With its unapologetic telling of her ups-and-downs Hiding My Candy is one of the best books I’ve read this year and one of my absolute favorite books.
From Juliet to Julius (Julius Kaggwa, 1998): Mr. Kaggwa has gained international attention for his dedicated work in Uganda on behalf of intersex, gender non-conforming and LGBTQ people. With his autobiography Kaggwa focuses on his own life as an intersex trans man in Uganda. Amazon lists From Juliet to Julius as out of print it seems to be available from the publisher.
I Rise-The Transformation of Toni Newman (Toni Newman, 2011): The life of Ms. Newman has taken her across United States and through a range of roles, from drag queen to pro-domme to activist. In I Rise she lays it all out with the hope of bringing attention to marginalized people and the violence inflicted upon them.
Cooking in Heels: A Memoir Cookbook (Ceyenne Doroshow, 2012): More than just a guide to delicious dishes that bring together classic Southern dishes and Caribbean flavors, Ms. Doroshow also shares her stories of creating family and the role that food plays in it.
An Unspoken Compromise (Rizi Xavier Timane, PhD, ASW, 2013): Born in a socially and theologically conservative family, Mr. Timane’s story is one of self-discovery as he struggled to reconcile his own understanding of himself and his relationship to God with the words and actions of those around him. In his struggle to find himself, he experiences growing up in a hostile community, moving from Nigeria to the United States, coming out as a lesbian, and more, before being able to live his life on his own terms and with his own relationship to God.
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More (Janet Mock, 2014): The bestselling memoir that made Ms. Mock a household name and established her as a respected writer and commentator. If you’re going to find just one of the books on this list in your local library, this is going to be the one. Redefining Realness covers Ms. Mock’s childhood and early struggles for self-determination, a story that she’ll be continuing in Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me (June 2017).
My Life is No Accident (Tenika Watson, 2014): If the name Tenika Watson is familiar to you, then you’re probably familiar with singer Teddy Pendergrass’ paralyzing car accident in 1982. Although Ms. Watson was just a passenger getting a ride home from her friend, the media coverage put a lens to her life, not just violating her privacy but also opening up room for dark speculation about her supposed involvement and potential blame. This is the first time that Ms. Watson has spoken so publicly and at such length and she uses this slim volume not only to speak out against the accusations but to tell the story of her remarkable life.