Books about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) experience have the power to educate, inspire, and empower readers both inside, and outside, the LGBTQ community.
This LGBTQ reading list is a collection of cornerstone books about the LGBTQ experience. Many of the novels and nonfiction works included come recommended by bloggers within the LGBTQ community who shared their views on their favorite books with us.
While everyone’s LGBTQ journey unfolds differently, these stories bring to life a variety of experiences that are commonly cited by those identifying as LGBTQ.
Books About Coming to Terms With Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Embracing who you are is perhaps the most important milestone for LGBTQ-identifying individuals. Accepting your sexual or gender identity can be a nuanced process, and many who identify as LGBTQ discuss questioning their gender and sexuality from an early age. Though this experience is not universal, some in the community cite feelings of fear and isolation and experiences of rejection, social biases, violence, and discrimination.
These fears may take a toll. LGBTQ-identifying individuals are more likely to report mental health concerns and a lack of social support at home or amongst peers compared to heterosexual people their age, according to a study in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. They are also more likely to report lower rates of satisfaction and happiness and higher rates of depression, stress, and anxiety as well as hate crimes based on gender or sexuality bias.
The best LGBTQ books about recognizing and accepting one’s own identity, provide a vital opportunity for self-reflection by readers. As LGBTQ travel blogger, publisher, and marketer Adam Groffman explains, “There’s no question that my time surrounded by books helped me come to terms with my own identity. I was always drawn to the offbeat characters, the outsiders, those that seemed to overcome whatever adversity or struggle prevented them from being their fullest self.”
The following books have allowed many individuals—LGBTQ or not—to come to loving terms with who they are.
Queer: A Graphic History critically examines concepts of gender and sexual expression in a graphic novel format. Queer explores the reasons why we think and believe the things we do about sex and gender in modern culture. Barker and Scheele utilize a historical and sociological approach to unpacking popular norms of identity politics, inclusion, gender roles, gender expression, and so much more—all through comic panels.
Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel follows the transformation of male English nobleman Orlando, who one day at the age of 30, mysteriously awakens to find he has become a woman. Rather than being alarmed, Orlando is emboldened. As she embraces the change, she sees her new self as who she was meant to be, physically and mentally. Over the course of several centuries, Orlando lives on without aging. Over the course of her long life, Orlando encounters a cast of other gender fluid and nonconforming characters with whom she develops relationships.
In Stand By Me, historian Jim Downs chronicles decades of LGBTQ activism, from the Stonewall riots to the often forgotten figures who launched the gay rights movement. Through this rich historical perspective, Downs illustrates the complexities of being LGBTQ in the United States. Stand by Me acknowledges the nuances of LGBTQ identity while asserting that the community justly desires what many heterosexual individuals take for granted—basic human dignity and the right to be safe and accepted in society.
A Lambda Literary Awards finalist, Born Both is the autobiographical account from intersex and non-binary activist Viloria. Born intersex—meaning born with both male and female sex characteristics—Viloria chronicles life “in the space between genders–to be both and neither.” In Viloria’s own words, Born Both reconciles the sometimes-confusing journey of finding acceptance and love with “a world that insists on categorizing.”
A celebration of what it means to be queer, Sister Outsider is a breath of fresh air amidst the often-difficult personal exploration of sex, gender, and identity. This collection of essays and speeches given by the famed African-American womanist and lesbian writer Audre Lorde is considered a groundbreaking book that defines and celebrates LGBTQ identity amidst its social challenges.
Books That Chronicle the Coming Out Experience
Coming out is one of the most personal and varied experiences for those who identify as LGBTQ. Not everyone’s coming out story will be alike, making this milestone critical to capture in literature. For Meg Cale, writer, social justice activist, and founder of LGBTQ resource Dopes on the Road, reading one of these books showed her she was not alone. “In sixth grade, a librarian slipped me a copy of the book Am I Blue, which is a collection of LGBTQ short stories that I devoured in one night. I remember being shocked that there were other people like me,” she says.
The following books portray the diverse ways coming out experiences unfold—as well as the immense sense of freedom, authenticity, and self-acceptance that follow.
From the same mind that produced the Bechdel Test—a model that rates a film or show based on substantive dialogue between women—Fun Home is Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about her experience growing up and coming out. Raised in rural Pennsylvania by a closeted gay father, Bechdel says Fun House is as much about her journey as it is her father’s. As Bechdel learned to embrace who she was, she says, her father continued to hide, pretend, and deny his identity.
Am I Blue, is Marion Dane Bauer’s compilation of coming out short stories meant for young adult (YA) readers. As the first LGBTQ YA anthology collection, Am I Blue represents a diverse set of coming-out narratives and illuminates the impact that pivotal moments have on characters’ development.
After her parents’ tragic death, teenage protagonist Cameron Post consoles herself by realizing she never has to tell her parents she’s gay. This doesn’t stop others from learning the truth, though, which prompts Cameron’s aunt to send her to a religious-based gay “conversion” camp, where the book’s plot unfolds.
Books About Pursuing and Managing Relationships
Finding and cultivating meaningful relationships is one of the greatest joys in life. That joy can be complicated for LGBTQ individuals, who can face repercussions if they make their relationships public. LGBTQ books offer a place for inclusive romance. This collection of novels and nonfiction books present examples of non-cis and non-heterosexual love, which can serve as guides to helping LGBTQ individuals navigate relationships with partners, family, and friends.
Lindsay King-Miller’s book reads like an advice column that dives deep into all-things queer and dating. Whether you identify as lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, gay, or queer—or something else entirely—you can learn something from Ask a Queer Chick’s debunking of many romantic and sexual stereotypes in female partnerships. This includes demystifying dating and sex faux pas, responding to hook-up culture questions, and unraveling long-term couples’ happiness “secrets.”
David Sedaris has made a career from his comedic autobiographical essays. In his 2018 collection, Calypso, Sedaris reflects on many life benchmarks, including aging, coming out, dating men, and married gay life. Calypso demonstrates Sedaris’ trademark ability to shock and entertain readers with his sometimes subtle, always humorous observations.
André Aciman’s novel Call Me by Your Name takes on young love and wonder, set on the picturesque Italian Rivera. Seventeen-year-old Elio meets and falls in love with Oliver, a graduate student in his mid-twenties traveling for the summer. As their feelings develop, the two learn more about themselves and the power love has on us in our youth, an experience that Aciman told the Washington Blade he set out to capture in his novel.
Judd Winick’s memoir, Pedro and Me, centers on another kind of love—that of his friendship with his gay best friend, Pedro Zamora. The pair met on the third season of MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco, where Zamora was the show’s first openly gay housemate—and one of the first openly gay people on any television series.
Zamora, who was HIV-positive, became an outspoken advocate for AIDS research during his time on MTV’s national platform. It marked the first time many Americans saw someone living with HIV. In Pedro and Me Winick describes the life-changing lessons he learned from his friendship with Zamora, including how to overcome his preconceived biases.
Lynn Harris, who died in 2009, was a popular African-American author, and nearly three decades ago, he was one of the few openly gay black authors. Harris’ first novel, Invisible Life, follows the sexual awakening of Raymond Tyler. As a law school student, Raymond tries to fight his attraction to a male classmate, before eventually breaking up with his girlfriend and acknowledging his true identity.
Books About Transitioning
For many in the LGBTQ community, the ability to be who you are and live freely requires physical transformation. Transgender visibility has seen momentous growth in the past few years, notes The Guardian. Yet, there are still many who feel marginalized in the trans community, facing unique hurdles, fears, and questions. The cost of gender-affirming surgery, hormone therapies, and other medical treatments make them inaccessible for many people.
The number of transgender-inclusive healthcare plans is growing. In a Human Rights Campaign 2018 survey, a record-high 759 major employers in the United States provided transgender-inclusive health insurance benefits, up from 49 in 2009. The following books include gender-affirming plotlines and characters, while also exploring other physical and mental aspects of transitioning.
Middlesex is the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. Following the life and ancestral lineage of intersex Cal—or Calliope—Stephanides, Middlesex is written as a fictional first-person memoir, yet it sprinkles in Greek mythology and even magical realism-like genre elements. Middlesex was a critical and commercial hit, spending weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and becoming an Oprah’s Book Club selection.
A 2004 National Book Award Finalist, Luna features one of YA literature’s first openly transgender characters. The novel follows teenage siblings Regan and Liam. At night, Liam transforms into Luna, his true female identity. By day, Liam must adhere to the conservative mores of the household and hometown, even after Regan learns of Liam’s secret.
In The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin imagines a world without male or female genders. This iconic science fiction novel follows the travels of interstellar envoy Genly Ai, sent for diplomatic purposes to the planet Gethen. He encounters both cultural and political tensions as he tries to navigate Gethenian androgyny. There is no set standard sex or gender on Gethen, challenging Genly’s every thought and behavior.
Gender Outlaws showcases essays, art, interviews, and more from individuals across the trans spectrum—including Kate Bornstein herself, who transitioned in 1986. Gender Outlaws explores the gender binary as well as other concepts like genderqueerness and non-binary expression.
The Importance of Reading Books on LGBTQ Milestones
Books that reflect the experiences of LBGTQ individuals and history can have a profound effect on LGBTQ readers. For those who don’t identify as LGBTQ, these books can provide a means to empathize with, and better understand LGBTQ identity.