Here’s the thing. Every June, lists of “books to read this Pride” flood the bookish corners of the internet. These lists are usually pretty similar and feature the latest queer must-read books, but there are books out there that are much more foundational to queer history and culture. That’s what this list is, a look at the books that detail the stories and histories of queerness in America.
When you’re queer, it can be difficult to learn our history. Queer history isn’t often taught to us or passed down generationally. Instead, we have to go out and learn on our own. It can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially with the current uptick in banning queer-centered books.
It’s also important to note that the books on this list are centered on queer history in the United States. But, of course, queer history is human history and it isn’t only in the United States.
So, this June when looking for books to read this Pride, add a few classics to your TBR alongside the brand new queer books. And, if you haven’t read any queer books, this is the perfect place to start.
Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton
Black on Both Sides is a wonderful history of Black trans folks in the postwar era and into today. This discusses the erasure of people like Lucy Hicks Anderson, James McHarris, and others lost to time. It’s a deep dive into the historical reconstruction of voices often left out of the queer experience in the United States. C. Riley Snorton has created a stunning look at an often forgotten part of queer history, pulling from well-known stories, narratives of enslaved peoples, Afro-modernist literature, and so much more.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
In his second work, James Baldwin writes about a young man who moved to France and is wrestling with his sexuality. Even as he proposes to a young woman, he finds himself in an affair with an Italian butcher. As he tries to fight his impulses to do what is expected of him, he finds himself questioning himself more and more. Giovanni’s Room is a wonderful story that examines death, desire, sexuality, and love. It is one of the most quintessential works of queer fiction and one of the best books to read this Pride.
How To Survive a Plague by David France
Centered around the AIDS epidemic, How To Survive A Plague tells the story of the activists and organizations that fought to turn AIDS from a deadly infection to a manageable disease. This is a story of loss and triumph that looks at the lives lost to HIV and those who are still fighting today. This is a wonderful history of queer activism, even in the midst of devastation, that looks specifically at the organizations ACT UP and TAG.
Real Queer America by Samantha Allen
Real Queer America is a nonfiction work from the perspective of a trans lesbian traveling through rural America. Samantha Allen writes about the flourishing queer communities in the most unexpected parts of the country. She also talks about her experience as a queer ex-Mormon and how that influences her reporting and storytelling. This story is fantastic for those who are new to the community or perhaps feel isolated by their location. It’s a warm reminder that queer folks and queer community are everywhere.
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde, one of the most prolific queer Black writers of the 20th century, tells her story in Sister Outsider. Each of the 15 essays focuses on her philosophy, paying special attention to the intersection of race, sex, gender, and economic status. This is a great collection for those who are looking to learn more about intersectionality and its place in relation to queerness.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is a breathtaking look at the intersection of Blackness and queerness in 20th century Georgia, and it is a classic and staple of queer fiction. It’s also one of the most banned books in the world. The story tells of how Nettie and Celie — sisters separated as young girls — discover themselves and try to find their way back to one another. The Color Purple is one of the most well-recognized queer works and a story that won’t soon be forgotten.
The Stonewall Reader by The New York Public Library
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, The New York Public Library collected an anthology reflecting on the momentous occasion. The Stone Wall Reader is full of essays, articles, poems, short stories, and first-person accounts. Though the pieces differ in style, each one rings with stories of triumph, loss, dedication, and resilience. It’s a beautiful collection of history.
Transgender History by Susan Stryker
This is a sprawling account of transgender history in the United States beginning in the mid-20th century. Throughout the book, we follow a timeline of trans history, focusing on well-known points in history like World War II. Transgender History is a seminal work covering everything from history to identity politics, to musings on the future. It’s a true must-read for those within and outside of the community.
When We Rise by Cleve Jones
When We Rise is a story spanning years and one of the most well-known memoirs about the fight for equal rights in America. We follow Cleve Jones as he recounts his life as a gay man during the assassination of Harvey Milk, The AIDS epidemic, and the Washington Memorial Quilt. This is a heart-wrenching account of a life well-lived in the purist of life and equality. It’s also been adapted into an Amazon Prime show.
Queer: A Graphic History by Dr. Meg John Barker and Jules Scheele
This collection is full of queer history and theory that takes a critical look at intersectionality within the queer community. It breaks down huge concepts into manageable pieces and explores how we define ourselves. The pages are laid out beautifully and the art only adds to the experience of reading. This is perfect for beginners to queer theory, or for those looking for a solid overview of queer history in the United States.
If you can only read one book this month, I hope you’ll pick at least one of these books to read this Pride. But remember, while this list is a great start, there’s still so much to learn. I encourage you to look for more queer history in other regions of the world.
If you’re looking for a variety of queer reads other than history, we’ve got you covered. I hope we can all learn together. Happy reading, and happy Pride.