It’s easy to feel adrift and cut off from everyone else when you’re considered a deviation from the norm. Even now, with so many online communities that make it easy to find those like you. Even within the queer community, with our proclivity to group together (even before we come out the first time). Right now, lines are being drawn across identities, saying who does and doesn’t belong under a label. Experiences are being filed and sorted like a card catalog. The most vulnerable among us are being targeted and threatened via legislation. When it’s not safe out in the physical world for you and online it doesn’t feel very welcoming, it’s not uncommon to feel lost and alone. Add in a global pandemic where you’ve done your part for over a year and kept yourself separated from everyone and hoo boy.
That’s where these queer memoirs come in. It’s nice to hear that you are not alone, echoing through the years and across pages. And let me say that again: you are not alone. Someone has had experiences like yours, someone has felt the same way as you. These books confirm that. When the loneliness starts to get a little heavy, when you start to see women in your yellow wallpaper, when your experiences are starting to feel like they’re being cookie cuttered, pick one of these up: queer memoirs from individuals from multiple parts of the queer identity and various backgrounds. Remind yourself that no one person is an island. Remind yourself that no matter how it seems, you are not alone.
I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom
I’ve talked about this book before, and it’s one I have to recommend again. With the content warnings of suicide mentions and transphobia, this collection of essays and poems by Kai Cheng Thom is heartfelt and honest and a book we need right now with anti-trans laws on the rise and being passed left and right. It asks, how do we move from here, how do we build in a community that hates us, how do you find nuance in a world that refuses to see in greys? If you’re queer or not, this is a necessary book to read for a bit of hope at the end of the world.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Yes, that Alison Bechdel. The Bechdel-Wallace Test Bechdel. I know of very few lesbians where if I say “ring of keys moment” they won’t know what I’m talking about. A lot of them want to be that moment for someone else. That comes from this book, as does the Tony award winning musical by the same name. In this graphic memoir, Bechdel talks about growing up with her father, who — not long after she came out as a lesbian — was discovered to be gay and died by suicide not long after.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
This is a book I’m sure a lot of baby queers and eggs need. In it, Maia Kobabe writes eir story of growing up, dealing with crushes, one’s self-identity, and how to come out to those close to you, not to mention the trauma of dealing with medical tests that are for a gender that you don’t feel like. And what it’s like to not feel like any gender. If this book was around when I was younger, I know I may have figured some stuff out sooner. Despite being a personal memoir, it’s still one that will resonate with a lot of queer readers, especially trans ones.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Janet Mock came forward as a trans woman in 2011 via a profile in Marie Claire magazine. This book is a little about that. But it’s also about the lead up, growing up young and poor and multicultural and transgender in America. It’s an affirmative text to read, about one woman’s journey into becoming who she knew she could be, from a kid growing up in Honolulu to being the editor for People.com and every struggle and slur she faced along the way.
Mean Little Deaf Queer by Terry Galloway
Terry Galloway started to go deaf at age 9, caused by an experimental antibiotic her mother took while pregnant. Life changed for her almost immediately, as well as how others treated her. She started going to camps for “special” kids like her, which inadvertently sparked her love for theatre and her eventual career in it. Galloway lays her struggles growing up deaf and queer in the South in the mid to late 20th century. She lived a life that could be seen as tragic, but with her classic performative way she makes it funny without missing any of the emotional beats.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
Growing up queer in the south is a challenge. Being Black and queer in the south is so much harder. Saeed Jones’s book is a coming-of-age queer memoir told through vignettes. He tells the story of how he carved a place for himself in the world through various relationships — the strained ones with his single mother and grandmother, the flings, and the friendships, all of them affected in some way by his race and identity. It’s a gorgeous book full of beautiful prose and poetry about fighting for a place in the world and the right to be ourselves.
Native Country of the Heart by Cherríe Moraga
This queer memoir is more than just Cherríe Moraga’s story, it’s also the story of her mother, their experiences woven together. Moraga charts her mother’s story from being a child worker hired out to pick cotton in California to working in 1920s Tijuana as a cigarette girl to an old woman bearing the weight of Alzheimer’s while mapping her own path of self-discovery of her lesbianism and gender-queer body, along with her passion for Latina activism and Pueblo history.
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
Garrard came out as gay to his parents — which included his Baptist priest father — at age 19 after growing up in small town Arkansas. They gave him a choice: either go to church-sanctioned conversion therapy to cure him of his “sin,” or he can lose every relationship he’s built, including his relationship with God. He went through a Bible heavy 12 Step program that was supposed to turn him heterosexual. Instead he learned how to step away and figure out who he was, without the expectations of the community he grew up in. This is definitely more on the difficult side to read, and may be triggering to some, as it goes into detail some of the trauma he faced at conversion therapy, something that still threatens the queer community today, and the religious trauma he had to deal with as well.
¡Hola Papi! by John Paul Brammer
I’ve been reading JP’s ¡Hola Papi! posts since it was published by Grindr (now on Substack) and let me tell you they are a delight. The essay answers to queer “Dear Abby” write-ins are equal parts hysterical and deeply, heart-wrenchingly emotional. His queer memoir technically isn’t out yet (it comes out on June 8) but I can’t wait to read it as I’m sure it’ll be much of the same, telling the story of growing up closeted and biracial in Oklahoma and answering tough questions we’ve all had in the queer community. You may want to have a box of tissues next to you while reading this one: John Paul is very good at mixing life altering wisdom in-between jokes.
We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib
Samra Habib grew up hearing that she had to keep her identity hidden, otherwise she would be in danger. After growing up Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan and fleeing as refugees to Canada with her family, that wasn’t a difficult lesson to internalize. Canada held different issues however, from racism to the threat of poverty to a potential arranged marriage. So she started a journey of self-exploration, looking for other queer Muslims like herself, and a place where she can be truly herself and not have to give little pieces up in order to be accepted: not her faith, not her creativity, not her femininity, and not her sexuality.
A Wild And Precious Life by Edie Windsor
Edie Windsor is one of the people we have to thank for helping to set the stage for the legalization of same-sex marriage. In 2013, she sued the Supreme Court to have the federal government recognize her over four decade long marriage to her partner Thea Spyer. But this book is more than that. It starts with her childhood, moving to the gay underground scene in Greenwich Village in the ’50s, to meeting Thea in the ’60s, climbing the ladder at IBM, achieving the highest technical ranking there, and finding love again in 2016 after Thea dies in 2009. The book was, sadly, finished and published posthumously after Edie died in 2017, but is nonetheless a beautiful illustration of an iconic life against the backdrop of queer activism through the late 20th century.
A Rainbow Thread by Noam Sienna
Reaching all the way back to the 1st century, this anthology collects queer Jewish texts, showing that being queer has always run alongside being Jewish. Collecting poetry, drama, literature, law, midrash, and memoir, all about being queer and Jewish. There are 120 (a significant number in Judaism) pieces translated from various languages dedicated to showing that queer people, queer Jewish people, have been here since the beginning and isn’t antithetical to the religion or human existence. You don’t have to be Jewish to read it either, for even though it isn’t a beginner text, it kindly breaks down Jewish terms for any non-Jewish reader that picks it up.
If you’re looking for more queer reads to pick up, I recommend checking out some of the best queer books out there, and if audiobooks are more your speed, you can read our piece on audiobooks of queer memoirs written and read by queer women.
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