Happy Pride Month, fellow readers! The genesis of LGBTQIA+ Pride is a long story that begins before the 1969 Stonewall riots and still continues today. Notably, in 1970 a bisexual woman named Brenda Howard first proposed a Pride march to celebrate and take joy in queer identities and the rest is history. I’m not going to give a whole lesson here (and I don’t know if I could), but if you really don’t know what Pride is, check out the video below for a quick primer.
While I myself am straight and cisgendered, I’ve been welcomed into LGBTQIA+ spaces as an ally (and like the typical annoying ally, made mistakes, offended people by staying stupid stuff, and gotten way more out of the experience than I’ve given. Sorry y’all. Next step; becoming an accomplice and helping dismantle structures of oppression. Can’t promise I’ll stop saying stupid stuff entirely, but I’m trying hard.) Despite that, I’ve read alarmingly few works by authors in the community. I first realized this back in November, when I made an Instagram post for Trans Awareness Week and was embarrassed to realize that the only book by an openly transgender author I’d ever read was Eddie Izzard’s memoir. Yikes. A quick perusal of my Goodreads revealed that while I’ve read a lot of books about the community by people outside of it, I hadn’t really read much by actual queer authors, and I wanted to change that. I started by reading work by queer and trans authors a bit more actively this year, and during Pride Month read LGBTQIA+ authors exclusively (with one exception.)
In case you’re in the same boat as me–you haven’t read a lot of books by writers in the LGBTQIA+ community but would like to–I’ve decided to do a quick roundup of recommendations. My list is by no means exhaustive or expert, but it is a few books that I’ve read and personally found illuminating or just plain interesting.
I also strongly recommend that you read this month’s guest post from my friend Rogene, where he reviews the memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue penned by gay author George M Johnson. Also check out his carefully curated Pride Month booklist which comes from a place of considerably more expertise and refined taste than my own.
So…on to the list!
Recommendations(in no particular order…)
Samantha Irby has been a favorite writer of mine since I stumbled across her hilarious blog bitches gotta eat years ago. In her second collection of humorous essays, We Are Never Meeting In Real Life, she opens up publicly for the first time about her “casual bisexuality”. In her 4th, Wow, No Thank You, she takes us deeper down the rabbit hole (ha ha) and includes bits about what it’s like to be married to another woman for a long time. I’ve always loved how accepting Irby is of herself in her work, and appreciate that her sexuality is a fact and never a focal point of her self-deprecating humor.
Becoming Him by Landa Mabenge
This memoir by a transgender South African man is captivating, inspirational and very deeply grounded in family and culture, all good ingredients for a memoir. While I’m sure there were a LOT of things I missed due to my own unfamiliarity with the nuances of South African culture or being transgender, after reading this I still walked away feeling privy to a truly exceptional life and person.
Plus, Mabenge himself DM’ed me after I posted my review on Instagram and he is SUPER nice. He even posted my review in his IG stories (despite the fact that it wasn’t entirely flattering)!
Let’s Talk About Love, by Claire Kann
Speaking of unfamiliarity–who knew asexual YA romance novels were a thing? At least one exists, anyway. This very sweet story about a biromantic asexual woman is deeply relational and manages to explain things without going too Very Special Episode on its readers.
Asexuality is a part of the LGBTQIA+ (it’s what the “A” stands for) but it seems to be kind of the red-headed stepchild of the community. A lot of people don’t know what it is or understand it, but this book bridges the gap quite neatly, I think.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong
This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s emotionally messy and flawed but Vuong keeps you deeply engaged with his amazing prose.
Often not a lot of thought is given to the sexuality of young immigrants or poor people unless it’s from an exploitative angle. It’s notable that this book centers a relationship between two teenage boys with a shifting power dynamic and does so in a way that is sometimes charming, sometimes heart-rending but never cruel. In other words–I cried a lot over the ending and you probably will too.
Slave Play, by Jeremy O. Harris
I’m including Slave Play here because even though I’m ultimately ambivalent about it, it does something that writers are often hesitant to do–examine the (often negative) ramifications of racial power dynamics in inter-racial relationships. Slave Play looks at two straight couples, one gay couple and a lesbian couple, and while one of the straight couples ultimately takes center stage, there are some hard thoughts broached by the gay and lesbian couples that are really worth paying attention to. The intersections of race and sexuality are complex and not as egalitarian as they’re often presented. Slave Play is worth a read because it takes a hard unflinching look at that reality.
Odd One Out, by Nic Stone
I didn’t really like this book (it has issues that have nothing to do with the sexuality of its characters or author) but I’m including it here for one reason. It’s the only book I’ve personally read that presents the possibility of sexuality being a mutable, evolving thing rather than a flag planted in the sand. LGBTQIA+ themed books often project and explore very binary emotions and decisions with very set end points–but this book contains a lot of questioning and a lot of indefinite answers, which is very true to life and should be normalized as well. I didn’t like the book much, but I’m glad it was written just the same.
I don’t have as much to say about these, but think they should be mentioned briefly.
Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire is so deep in the culture that I read the whole book and had no idea that it features non-binary, asexual and biromantic representation until it was explained to me later. It resonates deeply with people, and while I may not have gotten it at all, I’ve had enough conversations with people who did to include it here. Plus, it’s a quirky contemporary fantasy with a lot of fairy tale elements. What else could you ask for?
I Can’t Date Jesus… by Michael Arceneaux is included here because the writer’s essays contain a lot of face-to-face reckoning with religion and the role it can play in repressing and oppressing gay people. His thoughts on how religion and sexuality reconcile within himself–or don’t, sometimes–are thought provoking.
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal is one of my new favorite books and I can’t recommend it enough. While sexuality is not the focus, it is a theme and several of the characters are gay and Hindu. I think we’re very used to the idea of gay people emerging from Abrahamic religions but have no idea how other faith paths intersect with sexuality, and this offers a glimpse.
Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris is hokey and dated now, but I think it deserves a little shine for being the OG Black gay bestseller back in the 90s. Plus, this is the book that teenage me, raised in a very religious, conservative, repressed home, happened upon in the library, read and began to develop empathy that put me on the path of unlearning homophobia (Honest moment: it still took a while). I understand that it may not be for everyone, but the book had a deep impact on my own development as a person, and so I include it here.
Sometime in the next 6 months, I want to get into these, which have LGBTQIA+ representation or themes:
The Stars and The Blackness Between Them, by Junauda Petrus – lesbian, romance
A Taste Of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson – gay, fantasy
Gracefully Grayson, Ami Polonsky – transgender, YA
The Chiffon Trenches, Andre Leon Talley – gay, memoir
The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism Within US Slave Culture, Vincent Woodard – LGBTQ studies, non-fiction
The Gilda Stories, Jewelle Gomez – lesbian, horror fantasy
(I’m not promising I’ll review all of these, I’m just saying I’d like to read them.)
Happy Pride to all who celebrate and here’s to continuing to read diverse writers! If you have any links, suggestions or criticisms, feel free to leave them in the comments!
(Thanks for reading, beautiful people! This blog is an affliate of Bookshop, and if you click through and purchase from any of the links within, I earn a commission. Just thought you should know. Peace!)