Winter is undoubtedly the best time of year to abandon the constant ding of emails, step away from the old year habits (thank you, next, 2018), and crack open a book. There are a lot of quality books on the market. But alas, in my humble opinion, nothing goes with a chunky sweater, chai latte, and a snowstorm quite like (my favorite genre) LGBTQ+ and queer lit.
To that end, I provided and asked gender and sexuality experts to nominate the best queer texts of all time that they think everyone should read. Yes, everyone — because cisgender, heterosexual folks can benefit from queuing up their Kindles with these iconic novels, too.
“LGBTQ lit and queer books can give folks a peek into what its like to live in the liminal spaces of society, to be part of the gender or sexual minority,” says Rebecca E. Blanton Ph.D (also known as Auntie Vice), author of The Big Workbook for Submissives and Eat Good, Drink Good, Live Good. “Many people have questions about queer, trans, non-binary folks. While some of us are happy to be educators, we all appreciate it when people have done some of the work themselves to educate themselves before asking questions. These books are a great start.”
So whether you’re queer and looking for a new book to come to, or you want to read a book about moving through the world without quite fitting into others’ gendered expectations — which Lee Airton, PhD, author of the recently released book, Gender: Your Guide: A Gender-Friendly Primer on What to Know, What to Say, and What to Do in the New Gender Culture calls, “incredibly generative and insightful” — this expert-backed list has you covered.
From the Experts
Stone Butch Blues
by Leslie Feinberg (1993)
“If non-binary and trans folks had a literary canon, Stone Butch Blues would be at the top of the list. This work does a wonderful job of drawing readers into the world of working-class lesbians from the 1950s to 1980s. Feinberg powerfully captures what it was to grow up and into being a butch dyke isolated from one’s body and searching for community.”— Blanton
Whipping Girl: A Transexual Woman on Sexism and Scapegoating Femininity
by Julia Serano (2016)
“Serano has become one of the few trans public intellectuals in America. In Whipping Girl she addresses how gender expression and gender identity are impacted by culture and how these concepts are used to shape the lives of trans women. This is a well-thought-out and insightful look at how transness and culture constantly work to shape our lives.”— Blanton
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More
by Janet Mock (2014)
“Mock’s autobiography provides a powerful insight into how various identities (trans, multiracial, poor) shaped her life and how she came into her own power. This book definitely earned all its accolades.”— Blanton
Macho Sluts: Erotic Fiction
by Pat Califia (1994)
“I add Macho Sluts to the list because this book was revolutionary for me. Califia is a brilliant writer and the sex in the book is so hot! As a young, non-binary queer looking for “my people” I found them in this book. I also like it because Califia captures a wide range of sexuality and connection for folks of all genders.”— Blanton
Before I Had the Words: On Being a Transgender Young Adult
by Skylar Kergil (2017)
“I’d describe this book as honest, vulnerable, and intimate. Kergil takes readers through various coming-of-age experiences everyone can relate to, but through the perspective of a trans person before and after transitioning.” —Marissa LaRocca, author of Starving In Search of Me .and the forthcoming book Everyone Is a Freak: Intimate Confessions About Sexuality, Gender, and Desire (February 2019).
Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us
by Kate Bornstein (2016)
“Bornstein is a transgender female with a reputation for being a bit of a ‘rule-breaker,’ though she is a sincere one. Bornstein has written several books on gender and sexuality and I’d recommend them all (other books include: Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws and Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation). In this book, in particular, she reveals portions of her life story and asks readers to challenge preconceived notions around gender and sexual orientation, offering that the gender binary and any concept of “normal” has been socially constructed.”— LaRocca
I Am Jazz
by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings (2014)
“Whether you’re queer or not, if you’re looking for an option to help kids and adults understand what it means for someone to be transgender, your best bet is I Am Jazz. Written by the star of TLC’s “I Am Jazz,” it is intended to help readers of all ages to better understand transgender children and to help kids to understand that trans kids are no different than any other kids in almost every way! (This book also comes in other languages).”— Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW, LGBTQ+ Expert
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen
by Jazz Jennings (2017)
“If you’re looking for an option for teenagers and adults, Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen is an awesome choice. Also, written by the star of TLC’s show “I Am Jazz”, this book provides insights into the daily life of a teenager in today’s America in addition to providing a look into the ways in which being a transgender youth impacts the adolescence process. This can help readers to better understand growing up in today’s America and/or all of the ways in which being transgender results in some differences but in many similarities to non-transgender (cisgender) teens.”— Shane
Artistic Expressions of Transgender Youth
by Tony Ferraiolo (2015)
“Another option for something quite different is Artistic Expressions of Transgender Youth. This is a visual collection of images created by transgender children and teens. There are two volumes of this, allowing readers to see in images the impact of how identifying as transgender and either being accepted/supported or being ignored and rejected by family alters the way a young person’s psyche and identity is expressed.”—Shane
Healthy Bodies, Safer Sex
by Beth Thompson & Anna Benbrook (2016)
“In addition to fictional stories for entertainment and autobiographies or memoirs for inspiration and awareness, as a clinician I also want people of all genders to be thinking about their bodies from a sexual health lens. This guide is a really comprehensive place to start.” — Shadeen Francis, MFT, a sex, marriage, and family therapist.
Just Add Hormones: An Insiders Guide To The Transexual Experience
by Matt Kailey (2006)
by Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon (2014)
“My favorite book by a trans person comes from the incredible archive of writings by Coyote, a Vancouver-based writer originally from the Yukon. For decades Ivan has been writing personal, accessible and beautiful stories about their experiences moving around in a world with a gender that most people don’t see coming and can’t really understand. I know I have learned from their work as a person and as an educator, beginning before I was 20 years old. Ivan recently wrote a book with Rae Spoon called Gender Failure which shares stories of times when Ivan and Rae have tried and failed to do gender according to other peoples’ expectations for them, and the varieties impact this has had.”— Airton
Tomboy Survival Guide
by Ivan Coyote (2016)
If you love Spoon and Coyote’s Gender Failure, you’ll love Tomboy Survival Guide, too. The text is full of Coyotes trademark tenderness and generosity. This book is like coming home. If home is a beautiful written place that makes you weep about your own humanness. If home is a poem, but even if it’s not. (And for tomboys in training, there are even directions for building your own unicorn trap).
Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man
by Thomas Page McBee (2018)
McBee explores the intersections of queerness and fitness and the troublesome relationship between masculinity and violence. With language that is intentional and profoundly personal, subtle yet deeply insightful, Amateur is nuanced and smart. Here, McBee asks the tough questions and on his quest for answers, he maps a path forward for a new kind of masculinity, for a new kind of life.
by Maggie Nelson (2016)
Visceral, fresh, daring. This cannot be overstated: this genre-bending memoir changed my life. The books queers form to provide a fierce and original lens for thinking about desires, identity, and all the limitations and joy of language and love.
Unbound: Transgender Men And The Remaking Of Identity
by Arlene Stein (2018)
In a powerful, timely, and eye-opening account, Unbound documents the varied ways younger trans men see themselves and how they are changing our understanding of what it means to be male and female to prove that gender does not have one look. Here, Stein draws from dozens of interviews with transgender people (and their friends and families), as well as with activists and medical and psychological experts to create a sensitive primer for those who are puzzled by contemporary discussions about gender.
Feature image via Stocksy