As a queer reader, there’s nothing I like more than sinking my teeth into a good LGBTQ+ book. Though I like a lot of different types of writing, I’m always drawn to ones that reflect issues relevant to my diverse and varied community.
Over the years, queer-focused writing has challenged me to confront my biases, come to terms with my identity, and extend empathy to groups outside my own lived experience. In a way, it’s taught me how to be queer, or at least how to interrogate and define what that means for me. So, I thought it’d be nice to round-up some fantastic LGBTQ+ reads for your own perusal. This is by no means an exhaustive list but includes a nice mix of memoir, history, fiction, and graphic texts.
Gay New York by George Chauncey
A beast of a non-fiction tome, Gay New York tells the story of the burgeoning queer scene in 20th-century New York. Though it can read a bit dry in some places, the history is rich with details, names, major figures, stories, and scintillating gossip. It’s a must-read for folks looking to learn about the forebears of modern LGBTQ+ culture.
Christopher and His Kind by Christopher Isherwood
Christopher and His Kind is a tender and funny memoir from writer Christopher Isherwood. The book focuses on the decade between 1929 and 1939 in which Isherwood ditched his staunch British upbringing for the decadent world of Weimar Berlin (first characterized in Goodbye to Berlin and, later, Cabaret). For those familiar with the writer’s other works, this memoir feels fresh and unapologetically queer in ways his earlier novels weren’t.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
I hate to describe a novel as cute, but gosh darn it, Red, White & Royal Blue is capital-C “Cute.” And weirdly, I feel like that’s kind of a big deal for an LGBTQ+ novel, as so many of them end in tragedy. Here, you’ll find a sweet love story between the first son of the United States and his princely counterpart in the United Kingdom. If it sounds cheesy … OK, it kind of is, but it’s also a deeply moving read.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
If graphic novels are more your speed, you’ve gotta check out Fun Home. This memoir always ends up on lists like these, but for good reason — it’s hilarious, tragic, infectious, and absolutely beautifully rendered. Though the setting (the family funeral home) and main relationship (that between a queer daughter and her closeted father) is highly specific, the messages of acceptance, love, and inherited trauma are about as universal as it gets.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Though Under the Udala Trees is certainly a devastating read (centering as it does on the Nigerian Civil War), it is also a beautiful one, especially as we watch protagonist Ijeoma fall in love with her best friend, Amina. Circumstances may rip the young lovers apart, but not before providing us with a series of strikingly intimate scenes between the pair.
Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran
Dancer from the Dance is a slightly pulpy, slightly dated novel about a group of queer folks in 1970s New York. It’s lush, evocative, and exuberant, perfectly encapsulating a very specific time and a very specific cast of city dwellers. If you like colorful characters, boozy party scenes, and finely detailed sex scenes, this is the book for you.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
You’ve likely heard of Giovanni’s Room, possibly even read it, but its inclusion on this list is a must. Personally, there is a lot I don’t love about this novel (specifically in how it kind-of-sort-of demonizes femme and older queer folks), but there’s no denying that it opened up a world to me as a young, closeted reader. Worth it for Baldwin’s gorgeous, heartbreaking prose.
We Are Everywhere by Matthew Riemer
Adapted from the uber-popular @lgbt_history Instagram account (which you should follow immediately), We Are Everywhere offers a sweeping photographic history of the Queer Liberation Movement. In a word, it’s stunning and could make for a fantastic coffee table book. I especially like that it highlights and uplifts the trans and POC (people of color) voices that have been leading the movement since day one.
Stung with Love by Sappho
Ah, mesmerizing and prolific Sappho. The foremother of an entire literary tradition, this ancient poet wrote exquisite (and oftentimes explicit) verse about her many queer love affairs. Though her poems survive today mostly in fragments, Stung with Love does a fantastic job of bringing together the disparate pieces to form a cohesive portrait of the Greek writer.
Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
In a collection of interviews with genderqueer and trans teens, author Susan Kuklin paints a compelling portrait of what it means to live outside the binary. The resultant Beyond Magenta is a fabulous read for folks looking to learn more about the T and + communities of the rainbow, as well as what it’s like to exist all over the gender spectrum.
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