Lately it seems like so many books about queer lives are being published, and this summer is a grand ol’ time to catch up on reading LGBTQ+ memoirs. It’s easy to forget how long many of us waited for this Pride publishing boom, and while there’s still a way to go, we are starting to get there and these nine profoundly brilliant memoirs from LGBTQ+ authors are a wonderful example of our progress.
When contemplating the previous dearth of LGBTQ and minority representations in pop culture, I often remember a quote from The Celluloid Closet, the documentary based on Vito Russell’s groundbreaking book of the same name. Actor/writer/gaytastic icon Harvey Fierstein says, “All the reading I was given to do in school was always heterosexual, every movie I saw was heterosexual, and I had to do the translation. I had to translate it to my life rather than seeing my life. Which is why when people say to me, ‘Your work is not really gay work, it’s universal.’ And I say, ‘Up yours. It’s gay. And that you can take it and translate it to your own life is very nice, but, at last, I don’t have to do the translating. You do.’” So, we search for visible representations that are relatable, allowing us to see ourselves as part of the broader world.
Ultimately, a lot of queer people grow up without any actual role models. And, while corporations might plaster their June window displays with a cute gay couple in matching rainbow T-shirts, many still grow up without knowing another out person until adulthood. These nine LGBTQ+ memoirs, all recently published, capture the good, bad, fun, and heartbreaking aspects of their author’s experiences. And you can find another recent list of LGBTQ+ memoirs here, which features many excellent options including ¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in A Walmart Parking Lot by John Paul Brammer. I read Brammer’s book earlier this summer and cannot recommend it enough.
We need these stories. And, well, cheers to us not having to do all the translating anymore.
Fairest by Meredith Talusan
Talusan’s autobiography was a 2021 Lambda Literary Award finalist for Transgender Fiction, as well as a top pick by numerous respected magazines, blogs, and literary journals. She’s had a fascinating life — as a child sitcom star in the Philippines, a Harvard graduate, and as an award-winning writer and journalist. While this book scrutinizes issues of privilege, love, and gender while detailing an extraordinary coming-of-age story about someone who spent much of their young life as an “outcast among the outcasts”. I won’t soon forget this nuanced, gorgeous book anytime soon.
Black Boy Out of Time by Hari Ziyad
Hari Ziyad grew up Black and queer in Cleveland, one of 19 children. Ziyad’s mother was Hindu Hare Kṛṣṇa, and their father Muslim. Melding autobiography with psychological discourse, Ziyad works on unpacking concepts of race, gender, class, and survival; specifically, exploring how the broader culture of our society is violent toward African American children and how that affects the ways that those kids grow up.
The 2000s Made Me Gay: Essays on Pop Culture by Grace Perry
While her references aren’t entirely my own — I’d be more likely to write a book called The 1990s Made Me Gay, and it would heavily feature BtVS’s Willow and Tara, But I’m A Cheerleader, and Leisha Hailey — it’s still relatable content for queer women of all ages. Perry takes a familiar queer story; in this case, the search for representation, meaning, and finding yourself in a generally indifferent world. She has created witty essays on topics like The Real World’s early gay characters, Mean Girls, Blair Waldorf, Glee, and other pop culture that moulded her as an out, gay woman.
Practicing for Love by Nina Kennedy
This eye-opening autobiography has a lot to say. Nina was a piano prodigy as a child, forced to code-switch between school and home. She debuted as a piano soloist with the Nashville Symphony at 13, was later admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music, and eventually studied at the Juilliard School. In addition, she shares openly about her romantic relationships and calls out how racism and sexism regularly affect people’s careers in music — with women and men both regularly victimized.
A Dutiful Boy: A Memoir of a Gay Muslim’s Journey to Acceptance by Mohsin Zaidi
Winner of the Lambda 2021 Literary Award for Best Gay Memoir/Biography, Zaidi recounts his experiences as a gay British Muslim. Raised in a religious community, he eventually moved to London, hoping to find acceptance and love in the local gay scene. But, disappointed by the discrimination he experienced there, he had to find real liberation through self-discovery. Zaidi’s book has been praised for how movingly it describes his journey to self-acceptance, and he’s currently an icon for the community as a successful lawyer and LGBT activist.
A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt
These are poetic vignettes examining topics like family, culture, self-love, romantic love, and colonialism. Belcourt’s genre-defying memoir mixes lyricism with analysis: one essay is a letter to his kokum, dwelling on the complex memories and experiences of his upbringing as a member of the Driftpile Cree Nation; others focus on his romances and their cultural complexities. The prose in this unconventionally formatted book is alternatively tender and furious as Belcourt muses on who he is and what forces helped form him.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
Irby’s latest collection of essays won the 2021 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction and was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Must Read Books of 2020, and it isn’t hard to see why it’s been so lauded. For one, her writing is charmingly grumpy and deliciously relatable. Doesn’t want to go out at night but still longing to find new friends? Check. Hiding bills to avoid thinking about them? Yep. For another thing, she writes about life’s foibles with a deadpan humor and vulnerability. Something we could all use right now, I believe.
The Change: My Great American, Postindustrial, Midlife Crisis Tour by Lori Soderlind
I love road trips, regardless of whether I’m on one myself or experiencing someone else’s through the magic of film, books, or TV. The open road has the most freeing sense of possibility and adventure — a perfect summer distraction. Soderlind writes about the trailer “tour” she embarks on during a sabbatical from her job as a journalism professor, during which she traveled across postindustrial America with her dog. The journey is full of self-reflection, yearning, and eccentric locals a-plenty.
The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend Is My Girlfriend Edited by Maddy Court and Illustrated by Kelsey Wroten
Best book title of all time. This isn’t exactly an LGBTQ+ memoir, but a vibrant and adorably illustrated book of advice from celesbians to real people. Chock full of relatable anecdotes, this delightful guide (adapted from a zine of the same name) almost got me teary a few times — the memories of being a young, hopeful baby gay! The guest advice columnists (Kalyn Rose Heffernan, Mey Rude, Samantha Irby, Tyler Ford, Lola Pellegrino, JD Samson, and Ellen Kempner) come from diverse backgrounds and offer sympathetic if blunt advice. It really does feel heartening to see such a strong community coming together to support each other and pass on hard-won knowledge.
These newly released LGBTQ+ memoirs will have you laughing and crying, sometimes even on the same page. So I, for one, can’t wait to see what other writers these nine will inspire to share their stories.