Memoirs offer a window into the most personal aspects of a person’s life.
In their 2019 memoir “Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story,” for example, Jacob Tobia lays bare their journey, from coping with bullying to becoming a prominent nonbinary LGBTQ rights activist — a story that Showtime is developing into a series, Variety reported today.
Whether they’re written by the successful celebrities we already admire or ordinary people who’ve encountered and overcome extraordinary circumstances, memoirs remind us we are not isolated in our hopes, desires, dreams and struggles, but rather, connected. This National Memoir Writing Month, here’s a primer on some of the most notable queer memoirs from the last few years.
1. "In the Dream House: A Memoir" by Carmen Maria Machado
Intimate partner violence, which can include physical, emotional and psychological abuse, affects more than 12 million people each year, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Yet despite the prevalence of this serious issue, such violence remains a taboo topic. Carmen Maria Machado tackles this stigma in “In the Dream House,” a harrowing memoir about the abuse she endured at the hands of a partner in graduate school. While the work is technically a memoir, it also incorporates elements of romance, science fiction, westerns, etc. But the memoir’s genre-bending form is only one way in which Machado — who also penned “Her Body and Other Parts” — unsettles the reader in this story when it comes to reclaiming the parts of yourself that have grown most alien.
2. "Over The Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love" by Jonathan Van Ness
Jonathan Van Ness rose to fame as the optimistic grooming expert on Netflix’s “Queer Eye” in 2018. Now, he’s taking readers on a journey through the triumphs and trials of his life in his vulnerable “Over the Top.” In it, Van Ness shares the difficulties he’s overcome and still grapples with, including childhood sexual abuse, depression, drug use and an HIV-positive diagnosis. Van Ness told NBC’s TODAY Show he hopes he can make others feel less alone with his memoir. “I think it is really important for me to speak about things I talk about in this book, so I think it was the right thing to do,” he said.
3. “A Year Without a Name: A Memoir” by Cyrus Grace Dunham
Cyrus Grace Dunham, Lena Dunham’s younger sibling, provides an intimate portrait of gender, queerness and desire in “A Year Without a Name.” Dunham writes about his gender transition and the uncertainty that accompanied it. Dunham told Them that he wanted to provide an alternative story — to those often seen in “more palatable” trans narratives distributed to the public — by expressing the doubt he still grapples with post-transition.
“It felt important to me to try to communicate my ambivalence and hesitations around those themes,” Cyrus told Them. “Any time I reached a point in writing where I felt like I was better, I would just go back to a place of extreme doubt again. I think that’s something that a lot of trans people deal with.”
4. “How We Fight for Our Lives” by Saeed Jones
In, “How We Fight for Our Lives,” award-winning poet Saeed Jones writes about growing up in the South as a black, gay man and grappling with the complexities of his identity. The memoir, which was released in October, unfolds through a series of vignettes following Jones as he navigates the relationships in his life and ultimately claims ownership and autonomy of himself.
5. “Mama’s Boy” by Dustin Lance Black
Activist and Oscar-winning gay filmmaker Dustin Lance Black chronicles how he and his deeply conservative Mormon mother found common ground in the midst of great idealogical conflict. Black, who wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Milk,” came out to his mother when he was 21. His mother responded that being gay was a sinful choice, but through the course of the memoir — which stretches from the steps of the Supreme Court to San Antonio, Texas — Black and his mother manage to heal their fractured relationship.
6. "Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman" by Abby Stein
Abby Stein is thought to be the first openly transgender woman raised in a Hasidic community. Stein chronicles her experience her memoir “Becoming Eve,” which was released Nov. 12. Stein said she always felt different but concurrently faced pressures to keep her identity secret and to follow the more traditional path: living as a man, getting married and becoming a rabbi. In her memoir, she shares the experience of sneaking onto the internet for the very first time in 2011 in a mall bathroom. There, she discovered what the word transgender meant. In her memoir, Stein also lays out the journey of coming out to her religious family.
“At the end of the day, I am who I am today, of which I am very proud and happy and comfortable, because of the sum total of my experiences,” Stein told TODAY.
7. “A Wild and Precious Life: A Memoir” by Edie Windsor
Edie Windsor gained international acclaim after she sued the U.S. government in an attempt to achieve federal recognition for her marriage to Thea Spyer, her partner for more than 40 years. The Supreme Court ruled in Windsor’s favor in the landmark case that paved the way for marriage equality in the U.S.
In the posthumously released “A Wild and Precious Life,” which Windsor began writing before she died in 2017 and which was completed by Joshua Lyon, Windsor chronicles how she became a gay icon. From participating in Greenwich Village’s underground gay scene during the 1950s to becoming a trailblazing leader at IBM, Windsor’s story fighting for what she believed in is one that will leave readers inspired.
8. “Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story” by Jacob Tobia
As a child, Jacob Tobia was often called a “sissy” because of their penchant for glitter and Barbies. Now, the gender nonconfirming artist has reclaimed the term in their book “Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story.” In this candid guidebook, Tobia offers their story of transforming from a shy, closeted gender noncomforming child to a proud genderqueer activist, and, in doing so, reflects on the limitations of the gender binary. And today, Variety reported that Showtime is developing a dramedy of the same name based on the memoir.
9. "Boy Erased: A Memoir" by Garrard Conley
In “Boy Erased,” Garrad Conley tells a haunting account about his childhood in a fundamentalist Arkansas family that forced him to undertake conversion therapy. After Conley was outed as gay in college, he was given a choice: be disowned or go through complete conversion therapy — a practice widely discredited as ineffective and harmful by medical practioners. Conley recounts his participation in the months-long program in this 2016 memoir, with the hope of spreading awareness about the psychological warfare inflicted on those subjected to the practice. “Boy Erased” was adapted into a 2018 film, starring Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman.
10. “Forward” by Abby Wambach
While you wait for Megan Rapinoe to release her book, settle in with the memoir of retired U.S. soccer icon Abby Wambach. Called an inspiration and “badass” by President Obama, Wambach is not only a world-class athlete, but an activist for equal rights. In “Forward,” Wambach records how she went from joining an all-boy’s soccer team at age seven, to becoming the highest goal scorer — male or female — in the history of soccer by age 35.
Looking for more books to read?
- 16 must-read books for LGBTQ History Month 2019
- New children's book tells story of the 1969 Stonewall uprising
- The rise of young adult books with LGBTQ characters — and what's next