June is almost over, but we encourage you to keep celebrating with these books about LGBTQ experiences and the importance of equal rights. From New York to Buenos Aires, to Paris, to Chicago; from the 1910s to the Cold War, to the present; from friendships to journeys of identity, to struggles with past trauma and grief over those gone too soon; from heartbreaking fiction to laugh-out-loud memoirs, these books will expose you to a diverse and rich—though by no means exhaustive—array of perspectives. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself, or maybe you’ll gain a better understanding of someone else’s life; either way, we hope you enjoy this reading list and keep the celebration and conversation going.
“A memoir of an enduring mother-son bond that transcends even the deepest ideological divides. . . . [A] heartfelt tribute.” —USA Today
Dustin Lance Black wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Milk and helped overturn California’s anti–gay marriage Proposition 8, but as an LGBTQ activist he has unlikely origins—a conservative Mormon household outside San Antonio, Texas.
When Lance came out to his mother at age twenty-one, she initially derided his sexuality as a sinful choice. It may seem like theirs was a house destined to be divided—and at times it was. But in the end, they did not let their differences define them or the relationship that had inspired two remarkable lives. This heartfelt, deeply personal memoir explores how a mother and son built bridges across great cultural divides—and how our stories hold the power to heal.
“Mixes pop culture, gender theory, and smut, but [Lawlor’s] greatest achievement is that Paul is no mere symbol but a vibrantly yearning being.” —The New Yorker
It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flaneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Paul transforms his body and his gender at will as he crossed the country—a journey and adventure through the deep queer archives of struggle and pleasure.
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a riotous, razor-sharp bildungsroman whose hero/ine wends his/her way through a world gutted by loss, pulsing with music, and opening into an array of intimacy and connections.
“Gorgeous. . . . To read an Alan Hollinghurst novel is to encounter beauty in its many forms.” —San Francisco Chronicle
In 1940, the handsome, athletic, and charismatic David Sparsholt arrives at Oxford University to study engineering, unaware of his effect on others—especially on Evert Dax, the lonely son of a celebrated novelist who is destined to become a writer himself. Spanning three generations, The Sparsholt Affair plumbs the ways the friendship between these two men will influence their lives—and the lives of others’—for decades to come.
“Spellbinding. . . . An exquisitely written, complex triumph.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
A Little Life follows four college classmates—broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition—as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.
“[De Robertis] is a natural storyteller. . . . The book’s relentlessly propulsive story of gender-switching in a perilous time . . . keep us rapt, turning the pages.” —The Washington Post
Arriving in Buenos Aires in 1913, with only a suitcase and her father’s cherished violin to her name, seventeen-year-old Leda is shocked to find that the husband she has traveled across an ocean to reach is dead. Unable to return home, alone, and on the brink of destitution, she finds herself seduced by the tango, the dance that underscores every aspect of life in her new city. Knowing that she can never play in public as a woman, Leda disguises herself as a young man to join a troupe of musicians. In the illicit, scandalous world of brothels and cabarets, the line between Leda and her disguise begins to blur, and forbidden desires that she has long kept suppressed are realized for the first time. Powerfully sensual, The Gods of Tango is an erotically charged story of music, passion, and the quest for an authentic life against the odds.
“In an age of often hostilely expressed gender politics, Kate Bornstein . . . is sweet, sincere, lucid, and sometimes as corny as Kansas in August.” —The New York Times
“I know I’m not a man . . . and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman, either. . . . The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other.” With these words, Kate Bornstein ushers readers on a funny, fearless, and wonderfully scenic journey across the terrains of gender and identity. On one level, Gender Outlaw details Bornstein’s transformation from heterosexual male to lesbian woman, from a one-time IBM salesperson to a playwright and performance artist. But this particular coming-of-age story is also a provocative investigation into our notions of male and female, from a self-described nonbinary transfeminine diesel femme dyke who never stops questioning our cultural assumptions.
Gender Outlaw was decades ahead of its time when it was first published in 1994. Now, some twenty-odd years later, this book stands as both a classic and a still-revolutionary work—one that continues to push us gently but profoundly to the furthest borders of the gender frontier.
“The second book of essays from this frank and madly funny blogger. . . . A sidesplitting polemicist for the most awful situations.” —The New York Times
With We Are Never Meeting in Real Life., “bitches gotta eat” blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making “adult” budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette—she’s “35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something”—detailing a disastrous pilgrimage/romantic vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, sharing the awkward sexual encounter of when she first had sex with her now-wife, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms—hang in there for the Costco loot—she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.
“A buoyant, smart, irrepressibly sexy book . . . that has the heft and resonance of a classic modernist novel, the sprawl and surprise of an intimate memoir.” —The Village Voice Literary Supplement
An enthralling, darkly erotic novel of homosexuality before the scourge of AIDS; an elegy, possessed of chilling clarity, for ways of life that can no longer be lived with impunity. The Swimming-Pool Library focuses on the friendship of two men: William Beckwith, a young, gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and Lord Nantwich, an elderly man searching for someone to write his biography and inherit his traditions.
“This first novel treats family ties, erotic longing, small children and prolonged deaths from AIDS and cancer with a subtlety that grows from scrupulous unsentimentality.” —Newsday
In June of 1989 Paul McLeod, a newspaper publisher and recent widower, travels to Greece, where he falls for a young American artist and reflects on the complicated truth about his marriage. . . . Six years later, again in June, Paul’s death draws his three grown sons and their families back to their ancestral home. Fenno, the eldest, a wry, introspective gay man, narrates the events of this unforeseen reunion. Far from his straitlaced expatriate life as a bookseller in Greenwich Village, Fenno is stunned by a series of revelations that threaten his carefully crafted defenses. . . . Four years farther on, in yet another June, a chance meeting on the Long Island shore brings Fenno together with Fern Olitsky, the artist who once captivated his father. Now pregnant, Fern must weigh her guilt about the past against her wishes for the future and decide what family means to her. In prose rich with compassion and wit, Three Junes paints a haunting portrait of love’s redemptive powers.
“Baldwin writes . . . with unusual candor and yet with such dignity and intensity.” —The New York Times
David is a young American expatriate who has just proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Hella. While she is away on a trip, David meets a bartender named Giovanni to whom he is drawn in spite of himself. Soon the two are spending the night in Giovanni’s curtainless room, which he keeps dark to protect their privacy. But Hella’s return to Paris brings the affair to a crisis, one that rapidly spirals into tragedy. Caught between his repressed desires and conventional morality, David struggles for self-knowledge during one long, dark night—“the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.” With sharp, probing insight, Giovanni’s Room tells an impassioned, deeply moving story that lays bare the unspoken complexities of the human heart.
“Trans-Sister Radio challenges readers’ most dearly held notions of biological reality.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
When Allison Banks develops a crush on Dana Stevens, she knows that he will give her what she needs most: attention, gentleness, kindness, passion. Her daughter, Carly, enthusiastically witnesses the change in her mother. But then a few months into their relationship, Dana tells Allison his secret: he has always been certain that he is a woman born into the wrong skin, and soon he will have a sex-change operation. Allison, overwhelmed by the depth of her passion, finds herself unable to leave Dana. By deciding to stay, she finds she must confront questions most people never even consider. Not only will her own life and Carly’s be irrevocably changed, she will have to contend with the outrage of a small Vermont community and come to terms with her lover’s new body—hoping against hope that her love will transcend the physical.
“Wojnarowicz explores all of his painful life experiences as a plea for all of us to become more compassionate and caring human beings. This isn’t just David’s story, it’s our story, our nation’s story.” —Karen Finley
In Close to the Knives, David Wojnarowicz gives us an important and timely document: a collection of creative essays—a scathing, sexy, sublimely humorous and honest personal testimony to the “Fear of Diversity in America.” From the author’s violent childhood in suburbia to eventual homelessness on the streets and piers of New York City, to recognition as one of the most provocative artists of his generation—Close to the Knives is his powerful and iconoclastic memoir. Street life, drugs, art and nature, family, AIDS, politics, friendship and acceptance: Wojnarowicz challenges us to examine our lives—politically, socially, emotionally, and aesthetically.
“A rare look at one of the most inspiring events in the history of music. It is the story of artists’ struggle and their victory over political intrigues and conspiracies and political hate.” —The Washington Book Review
April 1958: The Soviets were leading the space race, the Iron Curtain was at its heaviest, and the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow seemed certain to crown a hometown champion. But as the world’s finest young pianists descended on the Russian capital, an unlikely favorite emerged: Van Cliburn, a polite, lanky, closeted gay Texan whose passionate virtuosity captured the hearts of the Russian people—and thawed Cold War tensions in a way no one would have thought possible.
This is the story of what unfolded that spring—for Cliburn and the other competitors, for jurors and party officials, and for the citizens of the world. It is a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most remarkable events in musical history, filled with political intrigue and personal struggle as artists strove for self-expression and governments jockeyed for prestige. At the core of it all is the value of artistic achievement, the supremacy of the heart, and the transcendent freedom that can be found, through music, even in the darkest moments of human history.