18 Must-Read LGBT Books We Missed Last Year
If there’s one myth bantered about in the gay community the most, it has to be that bisexual men don’t exist; great authors, artists, and agitators have said as much in print. Which is why the earnest, bittersweet, and occasionally profound essays in Recognize are such winners. Thanks to some careful curation by editors Robyn Ochs (probably the most renowned bisexual speaker right now) and Dr. Herukhuti (billed here as H. Sharif Williams — a clinical sociologist, cultural studies scholar, sexologist, and author), the pieces in Recognize really let you feel as though you’re walking in the lives of these bi men, as diverse a bunch as one could find, and it helps us understand what’s probably the most misunderstood portion of LGBT. Moreover, Recognize is never clinical, never removed from the writer’s life; each essay further humanizes people who are too often caricatured.
As the author of a memoir about falling in love with a woman and ending up with a man who happened to be the same person, I devoured Sunshine Mugrabi’s memoir. A bisexual woman who has dated both men and women, the author focuses on meeting and falling in love with Leor, a transgender man just beginning his transition journey. It follows their love affair, including the ups and downs that come with loving someone who is just growing into themselves for the first time, creating a casual but highly readable memoir. Best part: no sad endings.
This is a great compilation of essays from 27 transgender men, among the first books to tread modern territory in the years since Max Wolf Valerio’s very smart memoir, The Testosterone Files. A rather diverse collection (in age, race, class, and sexuality as well as cultural and ethnic background), Manning Up is fascinating and plain-spoken. Nobody here is trying to overreach as a literary wunderkind; every single essay reads more like a letter from an old friend than a literary treatise from a powerhouse, and in this case, that’s a damn good thing. That isn’t to say they aren’t powerful; indeed, Aaron Devor (author of FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society) takes on fatherhood and personhood in a way that childless women will find themselves moved by. Equally affecting is Trystan Cotten’s essay about discovering that the little “privilege” he had as a black lesbian is now gone, as he finds new terror and danger as he enters “black/brown manhood.” Jack Sito, on the other hand, recognizes and yet struggles with the new found privilege he’s gained after transitioning. Their stories both illuminate the paradox of male privilege that trans men struggle with; it is not the male privilege that cisgender men grow up with. Thought-provoking, illuminating, and smart, Manning Up is a must-read.
I fell in love with musician Jamie Anderson when she embarked on her first national tour in 1987 because she needed to earn gas money to get to a women’s music festival (back then such festivals weren’t mired in antitrans controversy). She was witty and irreverent but also so damn nice, you had to like her. In 1993 she cemented her place in the lesbian pantheon with a song that became a pre-marriage equality anthem about having to attend straight weddings when we couldn’t marry, “The Wedding Song” (whose choice lyrics include “Sure I’ll come to your wedding, but I’ll dance with the bride”). In this new book, fans and newcomers get to hear about those nearly 30 years as a working lesbian musician, touring festivals and concert halls, sharing horror stories from the road that’ll crack you up, name-checking some of our favorites that she played with (like the Indigo Girls), dishing on skeevy producers, and more. It’s as funny as the woman herself and a great glimpse at the pre-Sister Spit women’s music festival era of lesbian musical wonders.
This award-winning book is a must for history and crime buffs, though it’s a sometimes tough read about the 1973 arson fire that killed 32 people in a New Orleans gay bar, still the largest mass killing of LGBT people in U.S. history. Delery-Edwards, a Louisiana native, reviewed hundreds of accounts and interviewed survivors and those behind the criminal investigations to come up with The Up Stairs Lounge Arson. Most telling: why an arrest was never made and what impact the fire had on the city, the queer rights movement, and even public policy.
Anyone who has grown up in a once-booming town will understand the city of author Amy Jo Burns’s childhood: Mercury, Pa., an industrial town beset by the steel collapse of the 1980s, where vacant lots butt up against boarded-up houses and old strip mines. It’s here that, when Burns was 10 years old, her beloved piano teacher was accused of sexually assaulting his female students. Seven girls came forward with allegations, and she watched as the town turned against them. Burns herself did not come forward. She lied and said it didn't happen, but later found lying has a lifetime of consequences. Burns, an LGBT ally, offers a really redemptive story about the consequences of growing up in a culture that doesn’t trust girls. Best yet, though she's not queer, the book is a wonderful nod to the power of coming out and breaking your silence that anyone can understand.
Coyote: Seeking the Hunter in Our Midst was a brilliant collection of essays from a lesbian author who follows it up with this equally powerful memoir about the importance and disconcerting nature of place and time and geography and family. When author Catherine Reid writes, “It’s not easy to love a person and a place in equal measure,” I understand exactly what she means. I married someone from Idaho, like me; if I hadn’t, I fear this would constantly be my concern. The push and pull of land and home and the outsider status of being a queer person means that the gap between love, acceptance, and geography may never be bridged. But Reid pontificates more eloquently on the rhythms of nature and why we call a place home in a way that anyone can understand.
When Liza Monroy’s best (gay) friend, Emir, is about to be deported back to the Middle East, after exhausting all legal attempts to get a green card, Liza does what she needs to in order to keep Emir safely in the U.S. and away from the harm that often befalls queer men in his homeland. So she proposes marriage. One quickie Vegas wedding later, the duo are off on an adventure that is sometimes unexpectedly harrowing (dodging the INS, a mother who works for the State Depeartment preventing immigration fraud!) but always sounds every bit the “real” marriage — even if sex wasn’t part of the bargain. It’s a nice way to look at what the author calls “gender neutral marriage” and the bonds we create.
A Catholic lesbian who has struggled to balance her own needs with those of her parents, Michelle Theall knew she was queer growing up in Texas, “bullied by her classmates, abandoned by her evangelical best friend whose mother spoke in tongues, and kicked out of Christian organizations that claimed to embrace her — all before she’d ever held a girl’s hand.” Eventually she does come out officially into a quiet life with her partner; then at 43 she and her partner try to have their son baptized into the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Boulder, Colo. Then the real battles begin — between her and her mother, her and the church — and the author realizes that to really parent her own child she has to stop trying to please her mother.
The former editor of ColorLines has penned a pitch-perfect coming-of-age memoir, about growing up in her Cuban-Colombian family and coming to create her own new, queer life. All the lessons she gets in childhood about migration, colonization, love, faith, race, and class are fodder for her life, but she goes outside the rules set up by the women in her life by coming out as bisexual, dating women and transgender men, and finding her own identity without losing the one she grew up with. Simply beautiful.
Brightly analytic, Alissa Quart offers a fascinating look at the impact of cultural outsiders — those who have created new ways to keep themselves happy, fulfilled, and even paid in the process. Republic takes on the wonderfully disruptive nature of technology that lets us crowdsource our work, create alternatives to long-held financial structures (alternative banking, anyone?), and innovate our own identities. Republic also offers a very smart look at how some folks (including trans, bi, and queer folks) are turning amateurism into a strength rather than a weakness.