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6 Must-Read Memoirs by LGBTQ+ Authors

by  | June 1
LGBTQ+ pride flags waving in celebration

June is finally here, signifying the beginning of Pride Month! Traditionally, Pride Month is marked with colorful celebrations, including parades and parties. However, equally important, if not more so, Pride is a time for self-reflection, identity affirmation, and educating oneself about past and present LGBTQ+ struggles, as well as acting toward a more inclusive future.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, many Pride celebrations have been canceled. Although these events are a cornerstone of June, there are still plenty of ways to acknowledge Pride without going out. Namely, listening to music, watching apt television and movies, and reading books produced by LGBTQ+ individuals are excellent ways to celebrate the month.

As a bibliophile and member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have been actively trying to cultivate a bookshelf befitting Pride. I love reading nonfiction books, so naturally I gravitated toward memoirs written by LGBTQ+ authors.

The memoirs recommended here are honest, raw, touching, and humorous accounts that cover not just the LGBTQ+ experience, but themes of race, class, growing up, seeking purpose, finding love, and discovering what it means to be human. These books are an excellent starting point if you are looking for a literary means to celebrate and recognize Pride Month and the LGBTQ+ community.

I Can't Date Jesus

I Can't Date Jesus

by Michael Arceneaux

I can say with certainty that there are a slim number of books that have made me laugh out loud, and I Can’t Date Jesus is one of them. Michael Arceneaux’s first book is an essay collection covering topics such as his status as a “recovering Catholic,” his passion for Beyoncé, his dating experiences, and growing up black in working-class Houston, Texas. Arceneaux delivers equal parts wisdom (“If I was on the road to acceptance of self, I should not have been so eager to chase after a man who was traveling in a completely different direction than I was”) and humor (“If you want to learn how to give up on humanity, ride the bus in LA”). He also fulfills his mission—outlined in the book’s epilogue—to make people laugh and think. Arceneaux’s voice is a standout, and I greatly look forward to reading his newest book, I Don’t Want to Die Poor, which came out on April 7.

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Unbecoming

Unbecoming

by Anuradha Bhagwati

When describing her social justice efforts, former U.S. Marine Captain Anuradha Bhagwati states, “When people tell our stories for us, we often lose control of the narrative, and too often, we never get it back.” Unbecoming is Bhagwati’s reclamation of her narrative, as she chronicles her journey from the Marines to social activism.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, she defies the path they’ve laid out for her by dropping out of graduate school to join the Marines. Her G.I. Jane–inspired dreams are challenged: as a bisexual woman of color, Bhagwati is continually confronted with racism, sexism, misogyny, and injustice. Post-Marines, she depicts how her struggles with PTSD and the VA drive her toward social activism and yoga; forming the organization Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN); and teaching yoga classes to veterans.

Unbecoming is an impassioned account of the individual power that comes from taking control of your personal story, as well as of the historic changes that happen when a group comes together to reclaim their collective narrative.

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Sorted

Sorted

by Jackson Bird

In Sorted, part memoir, part educational guide, YouTuber and LGBTQ+ activist Jackson Bird candidly details his life growing up gender-confused in Texas in the 1990s. Through anecdotes and journal entries, Bird takes us through his life as he protests wearing a dress to the Daddy-Daughter Dance in favor of a suit, attempts to figure out how to have a chest binder delivered to his NYU dorm room, and experiences taking shots of testosterone and undergoing top surgery. Through the book, the author takes the time to explain trans terminology and facts concerning gender and sexuality, as well as makes numerous Harry Potter references. Sorted shines as both an honest (and often humorous) memoir and a bridge-building resource, and, perhaps, just as importantly, Bird recognizes that his is not the definitive narrative about the transgender community, and that there are so many more stories to be written and read.

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Karamo

Karamo

by Karamo Brown

I absolutely love Queer Eye, and I remember, as I watched it, being attracted to the role that Karamo Brown played within the Fab Five. His sage advice and ability to empathetically listen to everyone’s plight made me think “I want to be like him,” and “Gee, I wish Karamo could just follow me around all day and give me advice.” When his book came out, I was ecstatic and not sure if it could live up to my hype. However, it does: which I found out when I read it all one afternoon in four hours. In this memoir, Karamo opens up about his past struggles with abuse, addiction, colorism, and coming to grips with his sexuality. Karamo is about as sincere and open as a memoir can get; not to mention, it provides some excellent words of wisdom. This quote from Karamo’s grandmother is officially my motto for Pride: “If they don’t want to come in my house, I’ll close the door and be happy in my own home.”

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Redefining Realness

Redefining Realness

by Janet Mock

Redefining Realness charts Mock’s experiences growing up multiracial, poor, and trans in Hawaii. Her navigation of her gender identity takes place primarily in her teenage years without parental guidance: she begins transitioning during high school, takes estrogen without doctor supervision, and flies across the world at eighteen for sex reassignment surgery. As Mock makes the move from Honolulu to New York City to attend graduate school and launch her career, she remains secretive about her past, not wanting to be associated with stereotypes surrounding the transgender community. However, she comes to realize that by sharing her story, she can embolden and give hope to her community, which prompts her to come out on the pages of Marie Claire in 2011.

In the book’s introduction, Mock states “We need stories of hope and possibility, stories that reflect the reality of our lived experiences.” Redefining Realness succeeds in this mission, with the author’s voice serving as a necessary beacon of hope for an oftentimes underrepresented and underserved community.

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Over the Top

Over the Top

by Jonathan Van Ness

I couldn’t just include one memoir from the Queer Eye cast! Van Ness has not always been the positive, effervescent ray of sunshine he is today. In Over the Top, he describes his struggles toward self-love and acceptance, from being bullied in childhood for his nonconformity, to his struggles with addiction, abuse, and the stigma he faces as an HIV+ individual. Heartfelt, raw, and humorous, Over the Top is at once an illuminating memoir and candid guide to practicing self-love—a reminder, in the words of JVN, that “you’re a Kelly Clarkson song, you’re strong, and you’ve got this.”

P.S.: If you want to get an extra boost of JVN from this Over the Top experience, I recommend listening to the JVN-narrated audiobook.

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Sharon Van Meter is a Marketing Assistant with Simon & Schuster, and enjoys reading historical nonfiction, "the classics," and dystopian science fiction. She is passionate about history, social justice, and stand-up comedy, and in her free time enjoys writing, baking, and cultivating her Pinterest boards. Sharon also has a large collection of novelty socks.