26 LGBTQ+ books to read for Pride Month
Educate yourself this summer!
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Whether you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community, an ally, or an awkward bystander trying to understand what that acronym even stands for, you can only learn by reading more. I love reading queer novels, whether they’re theory-based books, queer history retelling stories that you definitely didn’t learn growing up, memoirs of someone’s own experiences, or any of the many others out there.
It’s amazing how much you can learn from reading about someone else’s experiences, even if they don’t match your own. Not really sure you understand they/them pronouns? There’s a book on that. Don’t know that much about bisexuality or the biphobia people experience? There’s a great book on that. Did you know during the Cold War, queer people were seen as a “threat to national security,” or that Stonewall was a riot that lasted for five days? There’s books on all of these topics and so much more.
Here are 26 LGBTQ+ books that I’ve hand selected from personal experience, online reviews, general book topics, peers’ testimonials, and importance of the material listed. Even if you pick up just one of these books through Amazon or even your local library, chances are, you’ll learn more about the community.
1. How to Understand Your Gender: A Practical Guide for Exploring Who You Are
How to Understand Your Gender: A Practical Guide for Exploring Who You Are is the perfect beginner’s guide to gender for anyone who’s questioning their gender identity, or anyone who knows someone who’s transgender or non-binary and wants to be more informed. It’s friendly for all ages, breaks things down in very straightforward terms, and explains the concept that gender isn’t just what’s in your pants.
2. A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
With 4.8 stars from 358 happy reviewers, A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns is an easy yet educational guide to pronouns. Written by Archie Bongiovanni, a genderqueer artist who was tired of people not understanding gender-neutral pronouns, and a cisgender man, Tristan Jimerson, looking for a way to introduce gender-neutral pronouns to his increasingly diverse workplace, this book is great for friends, family, coworkers, and anyone else who could stand to learn more about gender neutral pronouns.
There are many more pronouns than just they/them, like ze/zir, fae/faer, etc. This book explains what pronouns are, why they matter, and how to properly use them—essential skills to learn so you don’t come off as rude or offensive to your friends or colleagues when really, you’re just uninformed. So read this book, pass it on to another friend, and help make the world a more inclusive place.
3. Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community
Many people assume transgender people need to “look the part.” But what does that even mean? This line of thinking plays into stereotypes about men and women. A trans woman doesn’t have to have long hair or wear dresses, just like a cis woman can have short hair and wear button-down shirts. Trans women and trans men can look however they want, and their gender is still valid.
This book not only delves into this misconception, but it also explores other issues transgender and gender non-conforming people face. Every chapter covers important topics for trans people, such as race, religion, employment, medical and surgical transition, mental health, relationships, sexuality, parenthood, arts and culture, and much more.
4. Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities
This book covers a variety of stories from non-binary people, explaining their experiences and struggles living in this binary society. Non-binary individuals often experience subtle oppression every day, from people assuming their gender when first meeting them or by being mis-gendered in conversation.
Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities is a book not for just non-binary people, but for friends, family, and colleagues of non-binary people who can help make their lives just a little bit better by understanding their troubles and standing side by side with them.
5. Life Isn't Binary
Black and white, right and wrong, good and bad—this is what we like to think of as “all or nothing” thinking. We live in a world where things are either one thing or the other, but rarely outside the binary. But what about people who like men and women? Or people who don’t identify as a man or as a woman, or feel as though they identify with both simultaneously?
Life Isn’t Binary explores the spaces between black-and-white choices. Binary thinking isn’t healthy (binary is for computers, not people) and this book allows you to reflect on how we view and understand the world we live in. It explores the concept of biphobia and the way it affects how people ultimately perceive themselves.
6. Queer: A Graphic History
Through the beautiful harmony of Meg John Barker’s words and Julia Scheele’s drawings, Queer: A Graphic History was born. This book illustrates (literally) the histories of queer theory and LGBTQ+ events. The graphic novel explores how we as a society came to view sex, gender, and sexuality as we do today and how these views are being challenged each and every day.
One reviewer wrote, “I love contemplating the idea of when we use labels, what does this open up (identifying with others, support groups, sense of belonging) and what does it shut down (can I change? is this me now: am I stuck with it? Do I have to come out again?).” It’s a very thought-provoking and mind-opening book, teaching you about queer history while also making you think about the motivations behind these major historical events.
7. A Queer History of the United States
This is one of those books that’s kind of required reading if you’re queer—sorry, not sorry. But chances are you didn’t learn about these famous figures and events in your high school history class, so you might as well now.
This book radically challenges how we understand and view American history, as it doesn’t necessarily shine a light on the best parts of it. Gathering information from primary-source documents, literature, and more, author Michael Bronski explores the history of the LGBTQ+ community from 1492 to the 1990s—one of the longest year ranges in LGBTQ+ history books out there.
Plus, for added accessibility, there’s a version for “young people''—i.e. teens and young adults. Be warned though, reviewers have claimed the book has instances of “deadnaming and misgendering of trans historical figures” and “[using] outdated terms and slurs used freely without a warning or note of their nature, and several instances of non-binary erasure, even when speaking about gender fluidity.” So might be worth fact-checking some things as you go through it. Either way, it’s important to know your history.
- Get A Queer History of the United States For Young People at Amazon for $16.15
- Get A Queer History of the United States at Amazon for $18.09
8. How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS
So this is a long one, but it’s worth it—especially during the pandemic we’re living in. The AIDS epidemic was catastrophic, but due to homophobia (along with many other reasons), research into effective medical treatment was delayed.
How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS tells the story of the grassroots movement of activists who seized scientific research to help develop the drugs (i.e. PrEP) that inevitably saved millions. The book covers the founding of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (Treatment Action Group), groups that worked to increase research and develop treatments for HIV/AIDS. It also delves into the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the (then) insanely expensive and controversial medication used to treat HIV/AIDS. Author David France reveals the experiences of the extraordinary figures from this movement in a story that you won’t hear anywhere else.
9. David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music
In today’s mainstream music, it’s not uncommon to find out that a celebrity is queer. Look at Demi Lovato, Hayley Kiyoko, Lil Nas X, Sam Smith, and so many others. We’re almost at a point in time where it’s normal to hear a song where a woman sings about loving another woman and other queer topics.
But how exactly did we get here? In David Bowie Made Me Gay, author Darryl W. Bullock examines more than 100 years of LGBTQ+ music, ranging from Leonard Bernstein and Benjamin Britten, to David Bowie himself, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and many others. This book explores how gay, lesbian, and bisexual performers influenced jazz and blues, as well as the 1980s rise of “genderbending” in the music industry through androdyny and many “gay” icons who weren’t actually gay themselves, but whose music was co-opted by the queer community. This is an essential book for anyone who likes music and is curious about the queer influence on the industry.
10. Transgender History: The Roots of Today's Revolution
As with many of the other books in this section, Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution is important because you should know about because it reveals more about the struggles the queer community endured for younger generations to enjoy greater freedoms today. Trans people have long experienced transphobia and this book explains the progression of the trans liberation movement.
Covering American transgender history from the mid-20th century to 2017, this book does use a lot of outdated terminology, so be warned about that. Some reviewers have also claimed that the first chapter is “incredibly odd and off-putting,” but once you get past it, things get better. So hang in there and give this book a shot, as there aren’t many historical texts about specifically transgender history.
11. To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done For America
As the iconic Billy Eichner once said, “Let’s go, lesbians!” Lesbians have done a lot throughout history, as well as suffered a lot (especially in silence). Author Lillian Faderman put a ton of research into To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America, which is a pretty easy read. With a 4.9-star rating, this comprehensive history of lesbians in America is an essential for any queer or ally’s bookshelf.
12. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940
Some people might be under the impression that before Stonewall, queer people just didn’t exist in New York. That’s extremely false. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World tells the stories of gay men in New York before the 1960s, where according to the book, many struggled with identity and mental health issues. Author George Chauncey pulls information from diaries, legal records, and other unpublished documents from that era to show us an underground gay community in New York that history has forgotten.
13. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government
During The Cold War, a lot of sketchy stuff went on. I’m not gonna go too into it (that’s what this book is for), but during the McCarthy era, queer people were considered “as dangerous a threat to national security as Communists.” This became known as the Lavender Scare, much less known than the Red Scare, but just as detrimental.
This book draws from newly declassified documents, records of the National Archives and the FBI, and interviews with former civil servants to show a part of American history that may have been previously unknown. Historian David K. Johnson recalls “homosexual purges” which ended careers, ruined lives, and pushed many to suicide. Winner of the Randy Shilts Award, Herbert Hoover Book Award, and Gustavus Myers Book Award, this tragic history, which is now an award-winning documentary, is essential to understand the history of the queer community.
14. The Stonewall Reader
Ah yes, Stonewall. I can’t not include Stonewall in a list of LGBTQ+ historical books, as the 1969 Stonewall uprising was a monumental event for the queer community. There’s a lot more to the Stonewall uprising than many in the general public may know.
If you know that it was a riot and not a “parade,” then you’re already doing better than most—but there’s so much more than that. We know of the event but what of the historical figures who helped spearhead it? This text highlights the actions and lives of activists who were essential to the movement, like Sylvia Rivera, co-founder of Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR), and Ernestine Eckstein, one of the few out Black lesbian activists in the 1960s. This reader focuses on the events of 1969 itself, as well as the five years leading up to it.
15. Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States
Samantha Allen, a GLAAD award-winning trans journalist and happily married lesbian, decided to go on a cross-country road-trip to explore the deepest regions of the South and connect with local gay communities in well-known right-wing towns.
Her motto for the trip was “Something gay every day,” and she made stops at local drag shows, political rallies, and queer hotspots across the Bible Belt and below. In so doing, Allen opens our eyes to incredible LGBTQ+ individuals living their lives even in areas that haven’t historically been inclusive toward queer people. Although you might think it’d be depressing and scary, Real Queer America tells the stories of queer individuals being their true authentic selves despite it all and gives us all hope for the future.
16. The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health Care
Think about the last time you went to your doctor—did they ask for your preferred pronouns, or did they just call you by the name that’s on your insurance? How do you think that makes trans and non-binary people feel? Did you know trans men are often ineligible for top surgery if they are above a certain weight? What about trans women who have to go for prostate exams, or trans men who get pregnant and need to go to a gynecologist?
The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health Care encourages readers to imagine what we as a society need to do in order to create healthy and safe spaces for queer people to feel comfortable pursuing medical concerns. This collection tells real-life stories from queer people, from gay men living with HIV, to trans people struggling to find doctors who will treat them with respect, to a lesbian couple dealing with cancer, and more. Additionally, there are essays in this book by healthcare providers, activists, and others that could make you think twice about taking your doctor’s office experience for granted. This is an essential resource for anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, but especially for anyone involved in healthcare or passionate about equality in the medical field.
17. First Year Out: A Transition Story
This graphic novel helps to contextualize and normalize a trans woman’s “first year out” as she transitions and goes through many doctors appointments, relationships, hormones, thoughts and questions she and her friends have, and many more.
Rated at 4.6 stars, many reviewers found this to be extremely relatable to their experiences transitioning, not necessarily situationally but the thoughts and concerns the main character was having. Based on Sabrina Symington’s own experiences as a trans woman, this is an honest and mighty book that celebrates being your true self and embracing who you really are.
18. Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity
Non-binary doesn’t mean “third-gender.” Rather, it’s a broad term that means what it suggests: not within the binary. People who identify as “non-binary” don’t necessarily identify as strictly male or female, but maybe somewhere in between, somewhere totally different, and so forth. But the key is that they aren’t restricted to binary labels society has ingrained in all of us.
Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity is a collection of first-person narratives, explaining each person’s gender and experience, including their struggles, their successes, their lives overall. What does it mean to be a man or a woman, and why do we care so much? Or more so, why do we care so much when someone doesn’t fit into one of these two categories? This book helps you to question your own ideas about “man” and “woman” and what would happen if those terms were to disappear, or even just loosen a little bit.
19. Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex
This book is the book on asexuality. Asexuality, for those who aren’t familiar, is a spectrum, like gender, and some who identify as “ace” can have little or no sexual attraction or desire, while many ace people can still feel romantic feelings and fall in love. Being ace can go hand-in-hand with other parts of the LGBTQ+ spectrum—as, for example, you can be bi and ace, but just because you’re ace doesn’t mean you’re also bi—so it’s definitely a tricky region. Released in just fall 2020, this book has 4.7 stars on Amazon and has been praised as an “essential read” by many reviewers. Since this seems to be the main book out there on the topic, if you’re interested in learning more about what it is, what it means to be asexual, and what the discourse is all about, you could try giving this book a shot.
20. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
This is slightly different from the others in that it’s more of a novel, but Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is an essential LGBTQ+ book and I couldn’t not add it to this list.
Written by legendary American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, this book has 2,195 positive reviews on Amazon, is the winner of the Stonewall Book award, was Time Magazine’s “#1 Book of the Year” for 2006, and was even turned into a Broadway musical. It tells the story of Alison growing up with her father, and when she finally came out as a lesbian in college, she discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this discovery, he was dead, leaving behind a lot of mystery, heartbreak, trauma, and unresolved questions, which many other queer people can relate to.
21. The Gender Games: The Problem With Men and Women, From Someone Who Has Been Both
Winner of the UK Black Pride literary prize, The Gender Games: The Problem with Men and Women, From Someone Who Has Been Both examines how assigning gender to babies at birth is messing up everyone, not just trans and non-binary people. From little boys who think they can’t like the color pink to feminists at “Women’s Marches” who wear “Pussy Hats” because “all women have vaginas.” There are so many instances of stereotyping in our world between “man” and “woman” and this book strives to show how toxic it can be to everyone.
As a trans woman, author Juno Dawson understands these stereotypes all too well, from both sides of the spectrum. One reviewer of this book wrote, “Not only is Juno's book well-written, well-reasoned and well-researched, but it was also incredibly personal. The pain of some of her experiences came through exceptionally well without stooping to depressing levels. Beyond that, I found an incredible sense of pathos and camaraderie with Juno that I simply did not expect.” If you have trouble understanding gender and why it’s a social construct, Dawson’s personal take might be just what you need.
22. Gay Bar: Why We Went Out
Loud music, flashing lights, lots of sweat—gay bars have always been safe spaces for sexual expression and queer freedom. However, they’re becoming less and less popular in recent decades, which led author Jeremy Atherton Lin to question their function, their purpose, and how they even came to be.
In Gay Bar: Why We Went Out, Lin takes readers on an adventure from club to pub to dive bar and across time and continents, revealing how gay bars have developed and grown over the decades. From cruising tunnels under London in the 1770s to bars in the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic, the book examines the liberation that holds all of these venues together across centuries. Additionally, readers can discover more about police raids, riots, protests, and how the queer community evolved from underground secret societies to loud and proud queer bars with rainbow flags waving openly on the street.
Just be warned, there’s a lot of talk about sex in this book, so maybe not the best choice for your teenager. Also several reviewers say there are more tales about the author’s personal experiences than historical events, but hey, why not see the world through someone else’s words, right?
23. Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States
As the revolutionary Angela Davis once said, “Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings.” That’s exactly the argument made in Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States.
Through years of research, the authors of this book reveal that there are a lot of queer people who have been put into American prisons because they fit into certain “queer criminal archetypes.”. You’ll be amazed at some of the things that go through the judicial system that you’ve never heard of before, but that’ll definitely make you mad. One reviewer agrees saying, “[Eye-opening] and at times jarring, [the book’s... ] authors educate the reader on the history of both queer justice and injustice within the court system.” If you’re interested at all in the current climate of politics in the USA, this book is relevant and easily accessible for those of us not familiar with legal jargon.
24. Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger
Author Kelly Cogswell is an ex-Southern Baptist from Kentucky, who moved to New York’s East Village in 1992 when she had just come out as a lesbian. A few months after she moved to New York, she joined the Lesbian Avengers (a group dedicated to amplifying lesbian voices and issues), participated in direct action campaigns to fight homophobia, protested police, organized 20,000 other lesbians for a 1993 march on the country’s capital, and literally ate fire in front of the White House.
Sounds like someone I wanna be friends with. This witty yet crucial coming-of-age memoir spans two decades, from the early 1990s to the War on Terror, and in it, Cogswell reveals facets of her life and adventures as a lesbian and activist, and all the essentials you need to know if you are also interested in “eating fire” in front of the White House someday.
25. The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World
With nearly 2,000 incredible reviews, The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World is a story written by psychologist Alan Downs about his own struggles as a gay man growing up in a straight world. I personally love anything written through a psychological lens because you know it’s really analytical and takes a deep look at everything, including thoughts, feelings, emotions, and more.
This book takes you through the steps and stages of basically coming out to yourself—the shame you might feel and why, the anger, the confusion, and so much more. Downs offers practical tips that he shares with his patients to help stop the cycle of self-deprecating behavior and help readers embrace their identity and sexuality. If you are at all interested in the psychology of homosexuality, why it makes people feel the way they do, and how to deal with these emotions, this book could be for you.
26. Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution
I love this book. There are not a lot of books out there on bisexuality, and the ones I’ve found are usually just small essays of individual people’s experiences and thoughts, but not many critical thinking pieces. Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution takes a good, long look at bisexual politics, the issues around biphobia (both within the queer community and outside of it) and stereotypes that bisexual people face (like sleeping around, always being polyamorous, not being “bisexual enough,” etc.). It also covers the oft-overlooked concept of “passing” (being in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, so people might think you’re straight). Just because you’re in a relationship with someone of a different gender doesn’t invalidate your sexuality! You can be a cis woman married to a cis man and still be bisexual if you are attracted to multiple genders.
This book also talks about other aspects of bisexuality, like pansexuality (which means a person is attracted to people regardless of gender, focusing on the person’s personality rather than gender) and where trans/non-binary people fall into the mix. Spoiler alert: Bisexual people are all different, and it’s a spectrum hello, Kinsey scale. If you're unfamiliar with the Kinsey scale, it's one of the oldest scales used to describe sexual preference, and although it's somewhat outdated, it still has a lot of value when discussing sexual orientation. A scale from 0-6—or as I like to think of it from “super straight” to “super gay”—can help express a person’s sexual orientation in more specific terms that just “bi,” “gay,” or “straight."
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