I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had access to Black queer coming of age stories when I was younger. I didn’t come out as queer until my late-thirties. Would that have changed if I had been able to see myself in stories about Black queer people? There’s no way to know. What I do know is that these stories are still incredibly important to me as a Black queer adult. Reading these stories make me feel connected because of the ways my own coming of age is similar. Reading these stories also makes me feel comforted in my uniqueness, as no two stories are ever exactly alike. Black queer people are not a monolith, and how we got from there to here might overlap in some ways and might be very, very different in other ways. Each of our stories has the potential to be powerful to whoever happens to read it.
The books in this list have ample opportunities for readers to identify with or be inspired by the protagonists. Some of the stories are difficult to read and content warnings abound. Most offer the chance to share in the joy of someone finally discovering who they are.
All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
Johnson wishes that when they were a young adult, they had stories to turn to such as this, so they’re hoping that their story can help some readers today. They write about the unconditional, active love of their grandmother and the complicated relationships they have with other family members. They share not only the traumas that can occur as a queer person or a Black person but at the intersection of being Black and queer.
Black Girl, Call Home: Poems by Jasmine Mans
We each get to choose how we share our stories, and for this writer, it is through poetry. This collection is full of pain, joy, passion, memory, generational trauma, community, and so much more. She pays homage to the Black people who came before us, many of whom died far too soon. Being Black and queer can be so incredibly hard and the author doesn’t shy away from that while also embracing the beauty of being Black and queer as well.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
So many of us are required to make life-altering decisions when we are young adults, well before we come to know ourselves, our dreams, and our place. This book captures that in stories that move bi-directionally in time: how a mother’s forced choices in the past affect her daughter’s life in the present. It’s an examination of all the things that put pressure on us as we navigate life from class to education, from desire to identity to ambition, and more.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
This novel follows Jesse McCarthy as he searches for freedom from his deeply flawed family, dismal hometown, and the restrictive Jehovah’s Witness community he was raised in. The only direction he could think of is “out,” and once he is out, he settles in London, searching for himself through art and music and sex work. He defines his own masculinity, his own sexuality, and his own faith. This book explores many forms of identity, including sexual, racial, and religious.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Felix is in a fiercely competitive arts program over the summer in the hopes of getting a full scholarship to Brown University. On top of that stress, he has never been in love and he fears that being Black, transgender, and queer have narrowed his options too much. An anonymous transphobe deadnames Felix and posts pre-transition photos of him then continues to send transphobic messages. Felix hatches a plan for revenge which ends up leading him to the love he deserves.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
This Booker Prize-winning novel revolves around 12 main characters who are women or nonbinary and all Black and British. They all share identities in some way, whether it’s class, race, sexuality, age, or more. The stories explore contemporary Britain and its dark, complicated history of colonialism in the Caribbean and Africa. This novel is fast-paced and as deep as it is diverse, from a Black lesbian playwright to a nonbinary social media influencer to an investment banker.
I’m A Wild Seed by Sharon Lee De La Cruz
In this full-color collection of autobiographical comics, the author shares the story of her arriving at her queerness later in life. This involves undoing all of the programming forced on her by patriarchy and colonialism and discovering who she is outside of all that from her identity and sexuality to her own definitions of freedom and what it means for her to be queer. We also meet the people who helped to shape her into the person she has come to be.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Liz Lighty is a Black, awkward, over-achieving, adorkable senior in high school in Campbell, Indiana, a small midwestern town that is pretty white and affluent and obsessed with prom. Liz is desperate to get out of this small town and go to Pennington college. To get there, she’s going to have to do something she swore she would never do: join the competition to be crowned prom queen. Mack, the new girl in town, gives Liz butterflies and this complicates things because Mack is also running for prom queen.
I want to reiterate: we are not a monolith. Each Black queer coming of age story is special in its own way. I hope that this list inspires you to dive into these books and perhaps, seek out even more. We’re out here, ready to be heard.
You might also be interested in 13 Queer Black Romances That Will Give You All The Feels.