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19 books about LGBTQ+ history and identity

From the triumphs of Stonewall to the importance of intersectionality moving forward.

To help spark conversations with readers young and old, I rounded up children’s books, novels, poetry and more to illustrate the many ways the mosaic of queer life is represented on the page.

The breadth of the books featured meant calling on a variety of resources — from my own bookshelves and personal experiences within queer spaces to guidance from friends on topics I wasn’t as familiar with.

One of the joys of curating this collection is that it served as a learning experience — one I hope you get to share as well.

While it’s clear no single list could cover the entirety of queer experience, this collection serves as a way to ground yourself in queer history and a jumping-off point for your own library.

Books about gender, love and identity

Ideas of gender and identity often have a degree of fluidity when it comes to queer life. The books here address this idea, exploring the variety of ways queer people live and love in the world — from celebrations of changing bodies to the intimacy of male desire.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

Through fragments of autobiography, theory and criticism, Maggie Nelson delves into the fluidity of gender and desire, and what it means to have a queer family. Exploring the narratives of her partner’s gender identity and her own pregnancy, Nelson illustrates that our identities and ourselves are constantly in flux in wonderful ways.

Buy The Argonauts on Amazon

Physical by Andrew McMillan

The poems in Physical are spare and intimate, delving into the vulnerability that can come with exploring queer love — the line breaks and indents coming as easily as breathing. Andrew McMillan’s work deconstructs the idea of masculinity. Refusing to let a single definition dominate the ways in which gay men are able to consider themselves, he offers a helping hand through narratives of coming out, toxic masculinity and more.

Buy Physical on Amazon

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

As visibility for gay men in culture continues to increase, lesbian narratives are often harder to find. Leslie Feinberg’s 1993 novel, Stone Butch Blues, explores butch lesbian identity in a way that remains vital even today. It’s crucial reading for the ways it examines facets of LGBTQ+ identity that can still be pushed to one side.

Buy Stone Butch Blues on Amazon

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham

Although The Hours is Michael Cunningham’s most famous book, this (criminally) lesser-known novel presents an idea of family that’s rarely seen, telling the ebb-and-flow story of four characters over the course of 20 years who come together to create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World explores bisexuality, chosen family and the many paths that can be walked when it comes to queer desire.

Buy A Home at the End of the World on Amazon

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel’s hybrid graphic novel–memoir, and also a wonderful Broadway musical, is a different kind of queer story — a parallel between Alison leaping out of the closet and the trauma and repression her father had to deal with until the end of his life. It’s a testament to not only the importance of self-love and acceptance, but the repercussions of a queerphobic past that’s felt in the present.

Buy Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic on Amazon

Books about queer history and Stonewall

The history of the modern LGBTQ+ movement is one that began at Stonewall and is moving forward today. These books highlight the triumphs and tragedies that have come in its wake.

The Stonewall Reader by the New York Public Library

While Stonewall was the catalyst for the modern queer rights movement, there’s still a rich history of LGBTQ+ life, love and activism that came before. This collection, which coincided with Stonewall’s 50th anniversary in 2019, is a way to learn from the past as we move forward to the future.

Buy The Stonewall Reader on Amazon

Homosexuality: Power and Politics by the Gay Left Collective

Even before it became one of the key terms in contemporary activism, this collection of writing by the UK-based Gay Left Collective explores the idea of intersectionality. It delves into how queer people need to fight alongside other marginalized groups for not only individual rights, but more radical change as well.

Buy Homosexuality: Power and Politics on Amazon

Reports From the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist by Larry Kramer

It would be impossible to write a list on queer history without including the work of the late, great Larry Kramer, who wrote with fury and eloquence about the inaction of the US government during the AIDS crisis.

Buy Reports From the Holocaust on Amazon

Don’t Tell Me To Wait: How the Fight For Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama’s Presidency by Kerry Eleveld

Advocate reporter Kerry Eleveld examines a more contemporary moment in the story of queer liberation: the fight for equal marriage in the United States. Drawing on more than 15 years in the journalism field, she chronicles the hard-fighting activists who spurred then President Barack Obama to push for marriage equality. The book illustrates the importance of activism and the results it can have — a lesson that’s more important now than ever before.

Buy Don't Tell Me To Wait on Amazon

Books for talking to children about LGBTQ+ issues

The idea of talking to children about LGBTQ+ issues can seem more fraught than it needs to be. To help, I selected books for children of all ages to spark conversation and promote tolerance and understanding early on.

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman

Designed for tykes as young as preschool, This Day in June takes children on a journey through a Pride parade. On top of offering examples of different identities that fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, it gives advice to parents and caregivers on ways to begin having discussions on these topics with their kids.

Buy This Day in June on Amazon

Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? by Sarah Savage and Fox Fisher

The question of gender identity is often more difficult to broach, and as this book suggests, isn’t always as simple as boy or girl. The best part? The book’s gender-neutral protagonist. This still feels all too rare in books for adults, so seeing it in a children’s book is a step in the right direction.

Buy Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? on Amazon

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders and Steven Salerno

Pride offers a different approach to LGBTQ+ issues for younger readers, rooting ideas around queerness in a real-world context through the undertold story of social activist Harvey Milk’s collaboration with designer Gilbert Baker. What many hail as a beautiful ode to the gay pride flag, Pride helps kids understand that these aren’t just stories that we tell, but real-life events that inspired a movement.

Buy Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag on Amazon

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher changes the way people think of “normal” families. The eponymous family of six is just like any other — it just happens to be led by two dads. Rather than placing an emphasis on the same-sex parents, the story focuses on the school-year shenanigans of the Fletcher family’s four kids. In doing so, it turns a family dynamic that might seem strange at first glance into one that’s perfectly normal.

Buy The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher on Amazon

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Young adult fiction often takes the next step when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, which is why The Miseducation of Cameron Post fits so nicely here. Through the story of Cameron Post, a lesbian teen who’s sent to a gay conversion therapy center to be “fixed,” the novel begins to explore ideas of queer identity in more depth — and with more of an edge. It not only portrays the solidarity and hope in queer communities, but also the discrimination that we’re fighting against today.

Buy The Miseducation of Cameron Post on Amazon

Self-help books

Self-help is more than just positivity as a way of moving forward. It’s also a way to look inward to change yourself and the world along the way.

The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World by Alan Downs

Shame so often defines queer narratives — time and again people treat coming out as a way to banish the problem. Alan Downs’ book isn’t so simple. It explores the wider cultural ideas and offers a way out of a potentially dangerous spiral of shame and self-defeat.

Buy The Velvet Rage on Amazon

Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family by Garrard Conley

Faith and queerness don’t always see eye to eye, and Garrrarrd Conley’s memoir goes into detail about this. By confronting his past, he explores a way out of trauma and into self-acceptance when everyone else tells him he’s broken.

Buy Boy Erased on Amazon

Books about intersectionality

As LGBTQ+ rights have moved forward, they’ve become more inclusive and aware of how different systems of marginalization interact with one another. These books offer a first step into understanding the fact that not all queer experiences are universal.

Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde

It would be impossible to talk about intersectionality without including Audre Lorde, the self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Her collection of essays, poems and speeches is an excellent starting point for people just beginning to explore the importance of intersectional queer liberaton. As the title suggests, Lorde’s writing offers insight into the need for activism and speaking out.

Buy Your Silence Will Not Protect You on Amazon

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

The poetry of Ocean Vuong exists at a crossroads between America and Vietnam — between stoic fathers and the articulation of queer desire. Drawing on autobiographical experiences with everything from Thanksgiving to American pop standards, Vuong’s poetry excavates the past for a way to the future.

Buy Night Sky with Exit Wounds on Amazon

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton

It’s easy for certain narratives and identities to fall through the cracks of history — even now, when there are debates around the queer erasure of public figures. Black on Both Sides brings together strands of racial and gender identity, reminding us of the identities that have been among us for centuries and refuse to be erased any longer.

Buy Black on Both Sides on Amazon

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