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Reading Queer Memoirs Helped Connect Me to the LGBTQ+ Community — Here Are 11 I Recommend

And why reading LGBTQ+ books is beneficial for queer folks, those who are questioning their gender or sexuality, and allies alike.
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Since I came out at 16, the majority of my friends have been queer. (Going to a historical women's college, playing rugby, and heading my high school and colleges Gay Straight Alliance played a huge part in this.) As both a person for whom being queer is a huge part of my identity and a person whose career centers around LGBTQ issues, this has been hugely beneficial not just for my dating life, but also for establishing friendships and working relationships, too.

But in the spring of 2020, with the simultaneous implementation of social distancing rules and move from the urban (New York City) to the suburban, I lost in-person access to these friends. This was, in one word, devastating. Hungry for the connection I found in the queer community, I sought out the queer community virtually. I became more vocal on social media, attended more gay Zoom events than I actually had time for, and began listening to LGBTQ+ podcasts (and even started one myself!). But it wasn't until I started reading LGBTQ+ books — specifically, queer memoirs — that I felt a level of connection that felt as fulfilling as seeing my people in person.

Queer psychotherapist and sex and relationship expert Rachel Wright, L.M.F.T. isn't surprised to hear this. While following queer people on social media and reading their posts can help some people feel connected to the queer community, "because books are longer, you're able to go deeper into the life of the writer and therefore may be more likely to be connected to them," she says.

Actually, that's exactly why she recommends people exploring their sexualities as well as those hungry for queer communities seek out these kinds of texts. "Not only can these books make you feel seen, but they can also remind you that you are part of — and loved by — a larger queer community," she says. My experience certainly confirms this! (Also read: Read This If You've Ever Worried That You're "Not Queer Enough")

And, of course, these books can lend a greater understanding and a new perspective even if you aren't queer yourself — so allies can benefit from reading these LGBTQ+ books as well. (More here: LGBTQ+ Glossary of Gender and Sexuality Definitions Allies Should Know)

If you're hungry for queer community the way I was during the heart of the pandemic—or are simply a long-time lover of queer texts, check out the 11 memoirs by LGBTQ+ authors below.

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Credit: Amazon

1. Sissy by Jacob Tobia

Buy It, $15

Dubbed a coming-of-gender story, Sissy uses humor and humility to document Jacob Tobia, an LGBTQ+ rights activist, as they travel from North Carolina and their Methodist church community there to Duke University, and then to New York City. Through their journey, Tobia invites readers to ask themselves questions like "What does it mean to be a woman? A man?" "What value-add is there in labeling things 'for boy' and 'for girl?'" and "How do my own preconceived notions about what it means to be a girl limit my personal growth?"

Personally, I recommend listening to this one as an audiobook if it's accessible to you. Listening to Tobia's voice as they read their story is nothing short of joy-sparking.

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Credit: Amazon

2. Real Queer America: LGBT Stories From Red States by Samantha Allen

Buy It, $17

If you've ever responded with an apology upon learning a queer person grew up in the south, opted out of a cross-country road trip out of fear of middle-America, or internally (or externally) rolled your eyes in response to hearing that someone is Mormon, read (!) this (!) book (!). In Real Queer America, GLAAD award-winning journalist Samantha Allen takes you on a cross-country road trip through the Deep South, inviting you to witness her as she bops by everything from drag shows to political rallies to library stacks to other hubs of queer life. (Yes, you also get to watch as she falls heads-over-Converse in love with a woman she met in the Kinsey Institute elevator.)

Through her journey, she introduces readers to the hidden queer communities in red states, proving that not only do queer people indeed live in these areas but also that's where some folks prefer to be queer.

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Credit: Amazon

3. Darling Days by iO Tillet Wright

Buy It, $17

If you've ever responded with an apology upon learning a queer person grew up in the south, opted out of a cross-country road trip out of fear of middle-America, or internally (or externally) rolled your eyes in response to hearing that someone is Mormon, read Darling Days. In Real Queer America, GLAAD award-winning journalist Samantha Allen takes you on a cross-country road trip through the Deep South, inviting you to witness her as she bops by everything from drag shows to political rallies to library stacks to other hubs of queer life. (Yes, you also get to watch as she falls heads-over-Converse in love with a woman she met in the Kinsey Institute elevator.)

Through her journey, she introduces readers to the hidden queer communities in red states, proving that not only do queer people indeed live in these areas but also that's where some folks prefer to be queer.

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Credit: Amazon

4. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

Buy It, $12

Written by author and Twitter must-follow Saeed Jones, How We Fight For Our Lives is a blunt, haunting, and courageous coming-of-age novel about a Black, gay man from the South. In this book's pages, readers are invited to travel with Jones through boyhood and adolescence, flings and fucks, and familial woes and wins. Ultimately, the memoir forces you to confront just how hard you, especially as someone who's queer, have to fight to become yourself. (Related: Peloton's Jess King On Coming Out and the Importance of Proudly Repping the LGBTQ+ Community)

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Credit: Amazon

5. The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin

Buy It, $15

In her 2009 memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, iconic poet and performance artist Staceyann Chin recounts being born too small and abandoned, hopping house-to-house, coming out as lesbian, finding the man she believes to be her father, and ultimately discovering the voice that's made her famous. From the start, you'll be riveted. And by the end, you'll have chills. (See: How Coming Out Improved My Health and Happiness)

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Credit: Amazon

6. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Buy It, $11

Ever heard the phrase "ring of keys" to refer to the exact moment in a young queer person's life when they see who/what they can become? That reference was popularized by tragicomic Fun Home and the musical by the same name. In this graphic memoir, comic Alison Bechdel (the artist behind the iconic Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip), depicts her relationship with her father through her own coming out, his death (by suicide), and learning he was gay. With detailed drawings and every-word-matters captions, Bechdel allows us to explore the idea of biological and queer families. 10/10 would recommend.

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Credit: Amazon

7. Hunger by Roxanne Gay

Buy It, $12

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Bad Feminist comes this raw recollection of sexual assault, food, (lack of) protection, shame, and desire. With a kind of self-awareness and intimacy that can come only after years of therapy, Roxanne Gay explores how a childhood trauma haunted her life, influencing her relationship with her body, sexual self, and family. A snapshot of denied girlhood and the aftermath, Hunger is a must-read for anyone who's ever felt betrayed by their body.

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Credit: Amazon

8. In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Buy It, $14

If you read Carmen Maria Machado's first book, Her Body and Other Parties (Buy It, $14, amazon.com), you know her ability to craft devastating, desirous, visceral prose is unparalleled. And In The Dream House does NOT disappoint — it exceeds all expectations. In it, Machado re-invents the memoir genre, infusing it with poetry to give readers an intimate look into her abusive relationship(s).

Not for the faint of heart, this text carries readers through a relationship gone wrong — really wrong — forcing readers to watch hurt people hurt people. As you flip the pages, you'll be asking yourself, "How did it come to this? Who let this happen? What does walking away really mean?" as she asks herself those same questions.

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Credit: Amazon

9. Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote

Buy It, $18

Hands down, this is my favorite memoir on this list — it's the one I return to year after year, lover after lover, through my own identity exploration. A moving memoir told in story, poem, song, and sketch, Tomboy Survival Guide traces Ivan Coyote as they try on different labels (tomboy, butch, trans, queer) and navigate the world as a gender-defying person (or more accurately: force to be reckoned with). 

To give you a sense of the kind of heart-pounding poetry you can expect from this book, here's an excerpt: "I made me. The world made me. Struggle and fear and work and words made me. Did any of it come too late? I don't think so. Here I am, and I think everything happened when it happened nearly exactly how it needed to go down and now I am here, and I feel handsome and strong, and that, well, that is a beautiful thing."

Side note: After reading this gem, please do yourself a favor and pick up two other LGBTQ+ books: a copy of Gender Failure (Buy It, $15, amazon.com), which Coyote wrote in collaboration with Rae Spoon, and Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (Buy It, $16, amazon.com), which Coyote wrote with Zena Sharman.

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Credit: Amazon

10. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

Buy It, $6

Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts is the book the queer community loves to hate and hates to love. But one-of-a-kind, horny, poetic, and academic, this 2015 genre-bending text belongs on the list. Using the creative lingo Nelson has become known for, she explores heart combustion and corruption, queer pregnancy and parenting, and self-annihilation. An exploration of what makes and breaks a queer family, The Argonauts is for anyone who's ever felt alone, loved, or unlovable.

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Credit: Amazon

11. Mean Little Deaf Queer by Terry Galloway

Buy It, $20

This copy in this coming-of-self memoir is as blunt and brutal as its title. And it's nothing short of stunning. Written by writer, director, and performer Terry Galloway, Mean Little Deaf Queer tracks Galloway — a self-proclaimed "child freak" — through her childhood as she loses her hearing, has mental breakdowns, and begins to explore her queerness, as well as the way it intersects with these other facets of herself. While the contents alone make the book sound sad, know that it's somehow also quite hilarious.