National Coming Out Day is this week, and I have found myself recalling when my own child came out a few years back. Sometimes coming out it is a decisive declaration, but for our gender-questioning kid, coming out looked more like a meandering process of discovery. We are so grateful that our child felt safe to share those conversations and realizations with us along the way.
At first, we just focused on making sure that our child was loved and accepted, and we tried to listen and to understand. But as my husband and I talked alone, we admitted that we felt uninformed and completely out of our depth. We were worried how others would treat them. We weren’t quite sure how to help, didn’t understand the terminology, and were generally clueless.
Maybe today you are that bewildered parent (or grandparent, aunt, uncle, or teacher). Perhaps your teenage son told you that he is gay. Or your college age daughter came home over fall break and came out as bisexual. Or maybe you have a gender-nonconforming 7-year-old and you’re not sure exactly what is going on. You are feeling ALL the emotions, and you definitely have questions.
I have been in your shoes. We knew we needed to learn more to support our precious kid better. We also really wanted to meet other parents of LGBT kids. We discovered a support group for parents, families and friends of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (PFLAG), and we started going. Now that our family is a bit further down that path, I am a board member of our local PFLAG chapter and run an LGBT-themed book club for our group.
I quickly discovered that when new parents come to our meetings, one of the first things they ask is “What books can I read to help me understand my child?” Reading is a great way to educate yourself, support your child, and try to be a good ally to the LGBT community. But where do you start? Hopefully, I can help with that. I have compiled a list of books specifically tailored to parents of LGBT kids—an LGBT 101 for parents new to the journey and wanting to learn more.
The list below contains a range of books that I’ve read myself and with our book club, and other titles were recommended to me by parents of LGBT kids and members of the LGBT community. The memoirs allow you to see through the eyes of someone who has grown up knowing they were queer, and nonfiction is helpful to fill gaps in your knowledge. Reading young adult fiction provides a window into the types of situations and feelings your child may be experiencing. You might even invite your teen to read along with you and discuss the books together. The books for children can be an invaluable resource in introducing younger family members and siblings to LGBT identities.
In making this list, I’ve highlighted as many #ownvoices authors as possible, meaning that most of these books are written by authors who are part of the LGBT community themselves. Since the majority of parents of LGBT kids do not share that identity with their children, it is especially important to hear stories that offer that added level of understanding. While there are certainly many excellent and compassionate books written by straight/cis authors (a few are included here), it is certainly something to look for as you seek to learn more about your child’s experience as a member of the LGBT community.
NOTE: Books marked with an asterisk are #ownvoices
*This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids: A Question & Answer Guide to Everyday Life by Danielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo
This is a great introductory book for parents who are brand new to all things LGBT. It conveys a lot of very basic information in a question and answer format that serves as a good jumping-off point for parents who have recently had a child come out. The book is filled with real-life examples from gay kids and their parents. The authors also have several helpful videos on YouTube if you want to explore more after reading the book.
For any parent, discovering that your child is gay can bring so many different feelings to the surface. But for Christians, this already emotional experience can be even more complex when considering how sexual identity and faith are interconnected. Author Matthew Vines, a gay Christian himself, took a leave of absence from his studies at Harvard back in 2010 to research the Bible and same-sex relationships. His studies led to the writing of this book and the founding of The Reformation Project, which champions LGBT inclusion in the church.
THE SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE’S HANDBOOK: A GUIDE TO GENDER BY SAM KILLERMANN
If terms like nonbinary, intersex, and genderqueer leave you scratching your head, this is the book for you. This handbook is an entertaining, easy-to-follow primer on understanding the complexity of gender. Killermann is straight but is often assumed gay because of his admittedly feminine tendencies in gender expression. He uses his own experiences in the book to help readers understand the important distinctions between gender identity, expression, and attraction. Killerman also has some additional education resources and a link to his TEDx Talk on his website.
*Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
This book contains fifteen essays written between 1976 and 1984 by African American lesbian writer and poet Audre Lorde. While some of the references are dated, her core arguments come through just as powerful and relevant today. She writes about sexuality and gender, recognizing that every woman’s experience is unique to her race, social status, and economic resources. This book helps identify ways in which minorities are marginalized in our American culture and offers insights that foster empathy for identities that are different from your own.
Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Amy Ellis Nutt spent almost four years working with the Maines family to tell the story of a transgender girl and how her transition affected her entire family. Early on, Wyatt was clearly different than his twin brother Jonas, insisting he was a girl even as a toddler. Over the years, as Wyatt transitions to living as Nicole, the girl she knew herself to be, the family also undergoes a series of foundational changes. Nicole’s journey would challenge everything they believed, bring the family closer together, and set them on a course to change the community around them.
Young Adult Fiction
*What if it’s us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Arthur is spending the summer in New York when he briefly meets Ben. When fate intervenes and they meet again later, it seems maybe it is meant to be. This delightful rom-com showcases the awkward amusement of teen dating, an interracial couple, supportive parents, and some awesome Broadway references. It’s just a happy boy-meets-boy story that goes to show you that falling in love is a universal experience.
*Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
Juliet is a Puerto Rican lesbian woman who is just starting out on her own, venturing from the Bronx to take an internship in Portland for the summer. It is a story of a young woman finding her voice, embracing her identity as a lesbian woman of color, and trying to find her way in the broader world. The author paints Juliet in bold, believable strokes, so you will find the language, strong opinions, and feelings of youth. It is a funny and charming look at young adulthood and identity.
*If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Amanda is dealing with all the excitement and anxiety of being the new girl in town. But she is keeping a secret. Amanda is transgender, and she has to decide if and when to share her past with her new friends and boyfriend. The book begins with Amanda’s current life, but flashes back periodically to give glimpses of the path that brought her here. This lovely book gives you some insight into the day-to-day reality of Amanda’s life and thoughts, letting us see what that journey might look like—for Amanda as well as her parents.
Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney C. Stevens
Billie is a preacher’s daughter in a small Kentucky town, but she prefers to dress as a boy. She also has some questions about her sexuality. She might have feelings for both a boy and a girl in her tight-knit group of six teens who called themselves the Hexagon. It’s complicated. Billie is still sorting through what she thinks and feels, but she knows she doesn’t fit the small-town mold that everyone wants to put her in.
*Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante meet at the swimming pool and seem at first to have nothing in common. But as they start to spend time together, a close and enduring friendship develops. The book examines the concepts of identity, friendship, and sexuality. It also illustrates the range of feelings that their parents experience as they come to understand their gay sons better. While there is some heavy subject matter, it is balanced with humor and heart.
Books for Kids
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
Red is a blue crayon but somehow has ended up with a red label. His teacher and friends all try to help him behave like a red crayon, but he just isn’t any good at being red! Finally he discovers that he was blue all along. While not explicitly LGBT related, this imaginative, colorful picture book is a helpful tool to introduce the idea that sometimes people feel differently inside than you might expect, and it is a courageous thing to be yourself. A transgender friend of mine used it to help introduce her identity to a young child in her life.
*George by Alex Gino
George is an elementary school girl that the world sees as a boy. George desperately wants to be cast as the famous spider in the class play, Charlotte’s Web. She is sure that if everyone can see her play Charlotte, they will be able to see her as a girl offstage as well. It is a heartwarming and sensitive portrayal of a younger transgender child. An excellent choice for older elementary and middle grade readers.
Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
This middle grade book revolves around an eighth grade production of Romeo and Juliet. Mattie is thrilled to be chosen to play Romeo alongside the new girl in class, Gemma. Mattie is surprised to discover growing feelings for Gemma, even though she has only liked boys that way before. It is a gentle book that captures the confusion of middle school and the idea of exploring new feelings. The author’s daughter came out at a young age, and that experience informed the writing of this book.
*AND TANGO MAKES THREE BY JUSTIN RICHARDSON, PETER PARNELL, HENRY COLE
This picture book tells the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who became partners, built a nest together, and raised a penguin chick, Tango. It is a lovely book to show children that loving families come in all shapes and sizes.
*I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas
This picture book is based on the real-life feelings and experiences of Jazz Jennings as a transgender child. This engaging book presents a simple and clear telling of one transgender girl’s story in a way that young children can easily understand and relate to.
*Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame by Vicky Beeching
Beeching grew up loving Jesus and writing and performing the beloved worship songs that made her a household name in evangelical circles. But for decades, she also carried the secret that she was gay. At age 35, unable to endure the emotional and physical toll of keeping her secret any longer, she came out publicly, losing her spiritual community and livelihood in the process. In the time since, Beeching has forged a new life, finally experiencing peace and wholeness. She is now a compassionate voice for the LGBT community and a proponent for LGBT inclusion within the church.
*Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir by Kevin Jennings
Kevin Jennings grew up poor, gay, and in the closet. After his father’s death, he was raised by his mother, who was determined to see her son rise out of poverty and get the education she was denied. Kevin won a scholarship to Harvard, became a teacher, and in time, learned how to live as a proud, openly gay man. Finding his passion as an activist, Kevin helped form the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to foster a safer environment for LGBT students in schools. This book explores his journey to self acceptance, and the beautifully transformative relationship he shared with his mother.
*Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More and Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me by Janet Mock
Janet Mock is a transgender advocate and writer. Her first book, Redefining Realness, tells of her childhood and teenage years. She shares invaluable insights into her burgeoning understanding of her female identity and the relentless determination she had in pursuing her full potential despite a lack of parental guidance. Her story also illuminates the dangers and struggles unique to trans women of color and those whose opportunities are limited by poverty. Mock’s second book, Surpassing Certainty, begins with her college years and describes her initial career in publishing. Mock describes the trials, mistakes, and victories of her early adulthood.
*Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
This is the memoir of a disabled, queer, biracial woman that reads like fiction. Leah’s narrative is non-linear, jumping back and forth in time, weaving together stories that piece together her journey to belonging and healing. She shares her history of living through abuse and poverty, addressing multiple issues at the intersection of race, sexuality, and gender. She recounts her story in vivid prose and verse, drawing the reader into her inner thoughts.
*Blue Babies Pink: A Southern Coming Out Story by B.T. Harman
Brett Trapp (B.T.) Harman grew up in a happy family in a small Alabama town, the well-loved son of preacher. In his early teens, he started to notice his attraction to other boys, and later he began to write about his experiences in a secret journal. Then in 2016, he put his story into the world as a series of posts and then a podcast. His moving story has spread entirely by word of mouth and is now available in Kindle format. He shares an assortment of candid, funny, and heartbreaking moments as he grapples with, and finally embraces, both his faith and sexual identity as a gay man.
If you are interested in exploring more books for parents of LGBT kids, try these posts: