I love essay collections, and I love queer books, so obviously I love queer essay collections. An essay collection can be so many things. It can be an opportunity to examine one particular subject in depth. Or it can be a wonderful messy mix of dozens of themes and ideas. The books on this list are a mix of both. Some hone in on an author’s own life, while others look outward, examining current events, history, and pop culture. Some are funny, some are very serious, and some are decidedly both.
In making this list, I used two criteria: 1) queer authors and 2) queer content. There are, of course, plenty of wonderful essay collections out there by queer authors that aren’t about queerness. But this list focuses on essays that explore queerness in all its messy glory. You’ll also find essays here about many other things: tornadoes, step-parenthood, the internet, tarot, activism, online dating, to name just a few. But taken together, the essays in each of these books add up to a queer whole.
I limited myself to living authors, and even so, there were so many amazing queer essay collections I wanted to include but couldn’t. This is just a drop in the bucket, but it’s a great place to start if you need more queer essays in your life — and who doesn’t?
Personal Queer Essay Collections
How to Write An Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
It’s hard for me to put my finger on the thing that elevates an essay collection from a handful of individual pieces to a cohesive book. But Chee obviously knows what that thing is, because this book builds on itself. He writes about growing roses and working odd jobs and AIDS activism and drag and writing a novel, and each of these essays is singularly moving. But as a whole they paint a complex portrait of a slice of the writer’s life. They inform and converse with each other, and the result is a book you can revisit again and again, always finding something new.
I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom
In this collection of beautiful and thought-provoking essays, Kai Cheng Thom explores the messy, far-from-perfect realties of queer and trans communities and community movements. She writes about what many community organizers, activists, and artists don’t want to talk about: the hard stuff, the painful stuff, the bad times. It’s not all grim, but it’s very real. Thom addresses transphobia, racism, and exclusion, but she also writes about the particular joys she’s found in creating community and family with other queer and trans people of color. This is a must-read for anyone involved in social justice work, or immersed in queer community.
Here For It by R. Eric Thomas
If you enjoy books that blend humor and heartfelt wisdom, you’ll love this collection. R. Eric Thomas writes about coming of age as a writer on the internet, his changing relationship to Christianity, the messy intersections of his queer Black identity. It’s a lovey mix of grappling and quips. It’s full of pop culture references and witty asides, as well as moving, vulnerable personal stories.
The Rib Joint by Julia Koets
This slim memoir-in-essays is entirely personal. Although Koets does weave some history, pop culture, and religion into the work — everything from the history of organs to Sally Ride — her gaze is mostly focused inward. The essays are short and beautifully written; she often leaves the analysis to the reader, simply letting distinct and sometimes contradictory ideas and images sit next to each other on the page. She writes about her childhood in the South, the hidden and often invisible queer relationships she had as a teenager and young adult, secrets and closets, and the tensions and overlaps between religion and queerness.
I Can’t Date Jesus by Michael Arceneaux
This is another fantastic humorous essay collection. Arceneaux somehow manages to be laugh-out-loud funny while also delivering nuanced cultural critique and telling vulnerable stories from his life. He writes about growing up in Houston, family relationships, coming out, and so much more. The whole book wrestles with how to be a young Black queer person striving to make meaning in the world. His second collection, I Don’t Want to Die Poor, is equally wonderful.
Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno
If you’re wondering, this is the book that contains an essay about tornadoes. It also contains a gorgeous essay about pantry moths (among other things). Those are just two of the many subjects Faliveno plumbs the depths of in this remarkable book. She writes about gender expression and how her relationship with gender has changed throughout her life, about queer desire and family, about Midwestern culture, about place and home, about bisexuality and bi erasure. Her far-ranging essays challenge mainstream ideas about what queer lives do and do not look like. She asks more questions than she answers, delving into the murky terrain of desire and identity.
Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery
Is this book even an essay collection? It is, and it isn’t. Some of these pieces are deeply personal stories about Lavery’s experience with transition. Others are trans retellings of mythology, literature, and film. All of it is weird and smart and impossibly to classify. Lavery examines the idea of transition from every angle, creating new stories about trans history, trans identity, and transformation itself.
Brown White Black by Nishta J. Mehra
If there’s one thing I love most in an essay collection, it’s when an author allows contradictions and messy, fraught truths to live next to each other on the page. I love when an essayist asks more questions than they answer. That’s what Mehra does in this book. An Indian American woman married to a white woman and raising a Black son, she writes with openness and curiosity about her particular family. She explores how race, sexuality, gender, class, and religion impact her life and most intimate relationships, as well as American culture more broadly.
Blood, Marriage, Wine, & Glitter by S. Bear Bergman
This essay collection is an embodiment of queer joy, of what it means to become part of a queer family. Every essay captures some aspect of the complexity and joy that is queer family-making. Bergman writes about being a trans parent, about beloved friends, about the challenges of partnership, about intimacy in myriad forms. His tone is warm and open-hearted and joyful and celebratory.
Forty-Three Septembers by Jewelle Gómez
In these contemplative essays, Jewell Gómez explores the various pieces of her life as a Black lesbian, writing about family, aging, and her own history. Into these personal stories she weaves an analysis of history and current events. She writes about racism and homophobia, both within and outside of queer and Black communities, and about her life as an artist and poet, and how those identities, too, have shaped the way she sees the world.
Pass With Care by Cooper Lee Bombardier
Set mostly against the backdrop of queer culture in 1990s San Francisco, this memoir in essays is about trans identity, being an artist, masculinity, queer activism, and so much more. Bombardier brings particular places and times to life (San Francisco in the 1990s, but other places as well), but he also connects those times and experiences to the present in really interesting ways. He recognizes the importance of queer and trans history, while also exploring the possibilities of queer and trans futures.
Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
This is a beautiful, rigorous collection of essays about disability justice centering disabled queer and trans people of color. From an exploration of the radical care collectives Piepzna-Samarasinha and other queer and trans BIPOC have organized to an essay where examines the problems with the “survivor industrial complex,” every one of these pieces is full of wisdom, anger, transformation, radical celebration. It challenged me on so many levels, in the best possible way. It’s a must read for anyone engaged in any kind of activist work.
I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
I’m cheating a little bit here, because technically I’d classify this book as one essay, singular, rather than a collection of essays. But I’m including it anyway, because it is brilliant, and because I think it exemplifies just what a good essay can do, what a powerful form of writing it can be. By reflection on various experiences Shraya has had with men over the course of her life, she examines the connections and intersections between sexism, transmisogyny, toxic masculinity, and sexual violence. It’s a heavy read, but Shraya’s writing is anything but. It’s agile and graceful, flowing and jumping between disparate thoughts and ideas. This is a book-length essay you can read in one sitting, but it’ll leave you with enough to think about for many days afterward.
Gender Failure by Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon
In this collaborative essay collection, trans writers and performers Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon play with both gender and form. The book is a combination of personal essays, short vignettes, song lyrics, and images. Using these various kinds of storytelling, they both recount their own particular journeys around gender — how their genders have changed throughout their lives, the ways the gender binary has continually harmed them both, and the many communities, people, and experiences that have contributed to joyful self-expression and gender freedom.
The Groom Will Keep His Name by Matt Ortile
Matt Ortile uses his experiences as a gay Filipino immigrant as a lens in these witty, insightful, and moving essays. By telling his own stories — of dating, falling in love, struggling to “fit in” — he illuminates the intersections among so many issues facing America right now (and always). He writes about the model minority myth and many other myths he told himself about assimilation, sex, power, what it means to be an American. It’s a heartfelt collection of personal essays that engage meaningfully, and critically, with the wider world.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
I’m not a big fan of humorous essays in this vein, heavy on pop culture references I do not understand and full of snark. But I absolutely love Irby’s books, which is about the highest praise I can give. I honestly think there is something in here for everyone. Irby is just so very much herself: she writes about whatever the hell she wants to, whether that’s aging or the weirdness of small town America or snacks (there is a lot to say about snacks). And whatever the subject, she’s always got something funny or insightful or new or just super relatable to say.
Queer Essay Anthologies
She Called Me Woman Edited by Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan, and Aisha Salau
This anthology collects 30 first-person narratives by queer Nigerian women. The essays reflect a range of experiences, capturing the challenges that queer Nigerian women face, as well as the joyful lives and communities they’ve built. The essays explore sexuality, spirituality, relationships, money, love, societal expectations, gender expression, and so much more.
Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity by Carter Sickels
When gay marriage was legalized, I felt pretty ambivalent about it, even though I knew I was supposed to be excited. But I have never wanted or cared about marriage. Reading this book made me feel so seen. That’s not to say it’s anti-marriage — it isn’t! It’s a collection of personal essays from a diverse range of queer people about the families they’ve made. Some are traditional. Some are not. The essays are about marriages and friendships, parenthood and siblinghood, polyamorous relationships and monogamous ones. It’s a book that celebrates the different forms queer families take, never valuing any one kind of family or relationship over another.
Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity Edited by Micah Rajunov and Scott Duane
This book collects essays from 30 nonbinary writers, and trans and gender-nonconforming writers whose genders fall outside the binary. The writers inhabit a diverse range of identity and experience in terms of race, age, class, sexuality. Some of the essays are explicitly about gender identity, others are about family and relationships, and still others are about activism and politics. As a whole, the book celebrates the expansiveness of trans experiences, and the many ways there are to inhabit a body.
Moving Truth(s): Queer and Transgender Desi Writings on Family Edited by Aparajeeta ‘Sasha’ Duttchoudhury and Rukie Hartman
This anthology brings together a collection of diverse essays by queer and trans Desi writers. The pieces explore family in all its shapes and iterations. Contributors write about community, friendship, culture, trauma, healing. It’s a wonderfully nuanced collection. Though there is a thread that runs through the whole book — queer and trans Desi identity — the range of viewpoints, styles and experiences represented makes it clear how expansive identity is.
Looking for more queer books? I made a list of 40 of my favorites. If you’re looking for more essay collections to add to your list, check out 10 Must-Read Essay Collections by Women, and The Best Essays from 2019. And if you’re not in the mood for a whole book right now, why not try one of these free essays available online (including some great queer ones)?