Happy Pride Month! This past year, one of my favorite genres to read has been memoirs and essays. In honor of June being Pride Month, I’ve put together a list of memoirs and essays by LGBTQ+ writers!
Before moving on to the list though, I want to highlight some numbers from the Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health and emphasize the importance of implementing systemic programs that improve conditions for LGBTQ+ youth. Note that this survey contains responses from nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13-24 across the United States.
Content warning: Please be aware the following paragraphs contain statistics regarding suicide attempts.
Among LGBTQ respondents, 12% of white youth attempted suicide compared to 31% of Native/Indigenous youth, 21% of Black youth, 21% of multiracial youth, 18% of Latinx youth, and 12% of Asian/Pacific Islander youth.
Transgender and nonbinary youth attempt suicide less when respect is given to their pronouns and they are allowed to officially change their legal documents.Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health
Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all of the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived. However, more than 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth under the age of 18 said that none of the people they lived with respected their pronouns.Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health
While I highly encourage reading narratives and non-fiction by LGBTQ+ authors, I also encourage actively cultivating LGBTQ+ supportive environments and keeping “in the know” about government policies relating to LGBTQ+ issues in order to contact representatives with our stance.
To all the lawmakers considering anti-transgender bills across the county — we urge you to take a hard look at this evidence and take time out of your day to actually meet with the transgender and nonbinary youth who would be harmed by your misguided proposals. Affirming a young person in their gender identity is strongly associated with lower suicide risk. That’s why we should be expanding systems of support and implementing more inclusive policies, not denying trans youth access to affirming spaces and care.Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project (source)
It’s not just enough to support the LGBTQ+ community in June.
Now–onto the books!
Please leave a comment if you have any LGBTQIA-authored memoirs or essays you recommend!
Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi
This is the only book on this list I haven’t read yet, but it’s my most anticipated summer book release. Non-binary author Akwaeke Emezi, who has also published Freshwater and The Death of Vivek Oji, releases their memoir on June 8, 2021. This “Black spirit memoir” promises to be a powerful and poignant collection of letters by the ever-exemplary Emezi.
Summary from StoryGraph:
I want to write as if I am free. This book is a story of an unfolding, of navigating embodiment as a nonhuman through the start of a literary career, through heartbreak, chronic pain, and an intimacy with death, of becoming a beast. Maybe this can be summarized as a spirit first literary memoir… It’s what I look like when I’m not translating myself to become accessible, legible, because here, I am already these things.
In DEAR SENTHURAN, Akwaeke Emezi writes to the formative people in their life about their ongoing struggles around the idea of the self, and the core concepts of love, family, gender, home, faith, and success. The result is a powerful, raw exploration of identity-how to transcend the boundaries and expectations imposed by traditional belief systems, and how to share the resulting self with the world, to allow it space even while it struggles to survive.
Here for It by R. Eric Thomas
I love this one!! These personal essays are hilarious, touching, honest, and hopeful. R. Eric Thomas is an incredible writer and I highly recommend this book!
Summary from StoryGraph:
R. Eric Thomas didn’t know he was different until the world told him so. Everywhere he went–whether it was his rich, mostly white, suburban high school, his conservative black church, or his Ivy League college in a big city–he found himself on the outside looking in.
In essays by turns hysterical and heartfelt, Thomas reexamines what it means to be an “other” through the lens of his own life experience. He explores the two worlds of his childhood: the barren urban landscape where his parents’ house was an anomalous bright spot, and the Eden-like school they sent him to in white suburbia. He writes about struggling to reconcile his Christian identity with his sexuality, the exhaustion of code-switching in college, accidentally getting famous on the internet (for the wrong reason), and the surreal experience of covering the 2016 election for Elle online, and the seismic changes that came thereafter. Ultimately, Thomas seeks the answer to these ever more relevant questions: Is the future worth it? Why do we bother when everything seems to be getting worse? As the world continues to shift in unpredictable ways, Thomas finds the answers to these questions by re-envisioning what “normal” means and in the powerful alchemy that occurs when you at last place yourself at the center of your own story.
Here for It will resonate deeply and joyfully with everyone who has ever felt pushed to the margins, struggled with self-acceptance, or wished to shine more brightly in a dark world. Stay here for it–the future may surprise you.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life and Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
One time, Samantha Irby responded to my Instagram comment with a heart emoji, and it was AWESOME.
Samantha Irby has a few essay collections published, and I recommend starting with We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, after which you must read Wow, No Thank You. In the former, Irby writes about her dating life, growing up, loving food, and not wanting to do much of anything; the latter is written after her marriage to her wife, living in a suburban neighborhood, and the struggle of being perceived as, like, skilled. Her candid humor and blunt attitude always charm me and leave me laughing for more.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life summary from StoryGraph:
Whether Samantha Irby is talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making “adult” budgets; explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette (she’s 35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something); detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes; sharing awkward sexual encounters; or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms (hang in there for the Costco loot ); she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.
Wow, No Thank You Summary from StoryGraph:
Beloved writer Samantha Irby returns to the printed page for her much-anticipated, sidesplitting third book following Meaty and New York Times bestselling We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.
Irby is turning forty, and increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin. She has left her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, has published successful books and is courted by Hollywood, left Chicago, and moved into a house with a garden that requires repairs and know-how with her wife and two step-children in a small white, Republican town in Michigan where she now hosts book clubs. This is the bourgeois life of dreams. She goes on bad dates with new friends, spends weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “skinny, luminous peoples” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” and hides Entenmann’s cookies under her bed and unopened bills under her pillow.
The essays in this collection draw on the raw, hilarious particulars of Irby’s new life. Wow, No Thank You is Irby at her most unflinching, riotous, and relatable.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
In the Dream House was the first memoir I read in 2021, and I was thoroughly impressed. Machado’s writing style is exquisite and literary, and I loved how her passages often pulled from past literature, such as allusions to Bluebeard’s fairy tale and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the introduction, Machado discusses how a dearth of abusive sapphic relationships exist in the archive, and how while this memoir doesn’t speak for all abusive lesbian relationships, she is writing her truth as she knows it.
Summary from StoryGraph:
In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.
And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope–the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman–through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.
Machado’s dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.
Black Boy Out of Time by Hari Ziyad
Recently released in February 2021, non-binary Hari Ziyad’s memoir is a thoughtful manifesto of self-evolution, complicated family relationships, and navigating their way through a systemically prejudiced society. Ziyad combines anecdotes from their childhood with discourse about the carceral state of the United States, and includes intermittent letters to their inner child. This is an incredible intelligent body of work which transcends the typical memoir framework.
Summary from StoryGraph:
One of nineteen children in a blended family, Hari Ziyad was raised by a Hindu Hare Kṛṣṇa mother and a Muslim father. Through reframing their own coming-of-age story, Ziyad takes readers on a powerful journey of growing up queer and Black in Cleveland, Ohio, and of navigating the equally complex path toward finding their true self in New York City. Exploring childhood, gender, race, and the trust that is built, broken, and repaired through generations, Ziyad investigates what it means to live beyond the limited narratives Black children are given and challenges the irreconcilable binaries that restrict them.
Heartwarming and heart-wrenching, radical and reflective, Hari Ziyad’s vital memoir is for the outcast, the unheard, the unborn, and the dead. It offers us a new way to think about survival and the necessary disruption of social norms. It looks back in tenderness as well as justified rage, forces us to address where we are now, and, born out of hope, illuminates the possibilities for the future.
Fun Home and Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel is a well-known lesbian and cartoonist. Her graphic memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother? have been well-known for decades now, Fun Home having even been produced as a musical on Broadway. I read both of these graphic memoirs in college and I still recommend them to others. In both, Bechdel reflects on her relationship with her father and mother respectively, and meditates on subjects such as her father’s sexuality, her mother’s reserved nature, while pulling from the literary archive and scholarly essays. If you haven’t yet read these, then I highly recommend these.
Fun Home Summary from StoryGraph:
In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.
Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.
Are You My Mother? Summary from StoryGraph:
A graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel becoming the artist her mother wanted to be.
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel’s childhood . . . and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf. It’s a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Mother—to a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
Poetic, emotional, reflective, Saeed Jones’ memoir is a concise yet vivid look into his younger life as he navigated his Black and queer identity as a Buddhist in the southern U.S. A portrait of sexuality, grief, and acceptance.
Summary from StoryGraph:
“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’ ”
Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.
Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Essays and speeches ranging from a variety of topics–such as lesbian motherhood, the erotic, sexism in white feminism, a trip to Russia, a conversation with Adrienne Rich, and more–this collection by Black lesbian feminist and poet Audre Lorde is a must-read. Her words still speak an essential truth, even in 2021. In addition to this, Lorde also published a biomythography entitled Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, which I haven’t read yet, but very much plan to.
Summary from StoryGraph:
A collection of fifteen essays written between 1976 and 1984 gives clear voice to Audre Lorde’s literary and philosophical personae. These essays explore and illuminate the roots of Lorde’s intellectual development and her deep-seated and longstanding concerns about ways of increasing empowerment among minority women writers and the absolute necessity to explicate the concept of difference—difference according to sex, race, and economic status. The title Sister Outsider finds its source in her poetry collection The Black Unicorn (1978). These poems and the essays in Sister Outsider stress Lorde’s oft-stated theme of continuity, particularly of the geographical and intellectual link between Dahomey, Africa, and her emerging self.
Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen
Disclaimer: This one’s not really a memoir, but it is arguably a series of essays. Journalist and author Angela Chen pulls from her own experience and the stories of several other asexual-identifying individuals to illustrate the complexities of the asexual spectrum. The voices represent a wide variety of individuals yet focus primarily on western culture. I plan to write a book report about this later in June, but I wanted to include it here because this may be the first book I’ve ever read about asexuality or by an asexual writer, and many people neglect to consider aces in the LGBTQ+ community. After all, aces are the + in LGBTQ+ and the A in LGBTQIA.
Summary from StoryGraph:
What exactly is sexual attraction and what is it like to go through the world not experiencing it? What does asexuality reveal about consent, about compromise, about the structures of society? This exceedingly accessible guide to asexuality shows that the issues that aces face—confusion around sexual activity, the intersection of sexuality and identity, navigating different needs in relationships—are conflicts that all of us need to address as we move through the world.
Through interviews, cultural criticism, and memoir, ACE invites all readers to consider big-picture issues through the lens of asexuality, because every place that sexuality touches our world, asexuality does too.
Journalist Angela Chen uses her own journey of self-discovery as an asexual person to unpretentiously educate and vulnerably connect with readers, effortlessly weaving analysis of sexuality and societally imposed norms with interviews of ace people. Among those included are the woman who had blood tests done because she was convinced that “not wanting sex” was a sign of serious illness, and the man who grew up in an evangelical household and did everything “right,” only to realize after marriage that his experience of sexuality had never been the same as that of others. Also represented are disabled aces, aces of color, non-gender-conforming aces questioning whether their asexuality is a reaction against stereotypes, and aces who don’t want romantic relationships asking how our society can make room for them.