Queer communities can find healing through the sharing of stories, creating a web of common experiences that remind us that we are not alone.
These four books contain narratives of triumph, loss, trauma and healing, with optimism toward liberation and new understandings of gender, desire, sexuality, love and family. These stories are accessible and relatable even as they reveal how identity is far more complicated than what social rules or cultural expectations determine it to be. Encompassing a range of emotions and experiences, they declare that queer stories don’t have to end in tragedy, but can reign triumphant despite struggle. Pain and trauma are not glossed over, but also within these tales are the joys and love that are so often threaded into queer experiences.
Acclaimed essayist and editor-in-chief of the literary journal No Tokens T Kira Madden shares a story of incredible resilience in Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. In her debut memoir, Madden beautifully chronicles her journey to find herself while reckoning with the trauma, abuse and addiction that have surrounded her and emering with a deeper understanding of her experiences. Madden captures the complexities of loving those who wound you deeply, as well as the healing that is possible within those relationships. Through Madden’s achingly raw and honest prose, the extreme privilege she experienced in Boca Raton, Florida, the deep and complex bonds she finds in her adolescent friendships, the transformation of her relationships with her parents in addiction recovery and her queer awakening all become relatable, regardless of how far removed they are from the reader’s own experience. Within this necessary book, Madden weaves together an utterly human paean to belonging, to healing, and to loving and being loved.
Trans activist, writer and performer Jacob Tobia’s debut memoir, Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, refreshingly defies the typical trans narrative (“I was born in the wrong body, did these things to transition and now live as a boy/girl/etc.”). In their fabulous, fierce voice, Tobia tells their story of coming out as genderqueer. In adolescence, they found themselves falling into society’s familiar and static categories of what is assigned at birth or assumed (“gay” or “male”), but as Tobia came of age, they looked past the binary and began a fluid, exciting exploration of gender. Tobia’s story unfolds in the South, and they contend with their relationships with both family and religion. In particular, Tobia’s relationship with their father and with their childhood church evolve throughout the book, and these growing pains are detailed honestly but hopefully. Tobia is strong and confident (even calling themselves out as arrogant), and as a result of their strength, drive and overachieving nature, they have established themselves as a highly visible trans activist. What many may realize after reading Sissy is that expectations of gender affect not only those who identify outside the binary but also everyone who ascribes to it. There are creative and imaginative possibilities available to everyone through liberation from strict, patriarchal expectations.
By the end of the prologue of The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation, I was already in tears, overwhelmed by entrepreneur, social activist and former magazine ad executive Jodie Patterson’s empathy, acceptance and willingness to listen to her child, Penelope, when he reveals to her at 3 years old, “Mama, I’m not a girl. I’m a boy.” Patterson travels to Georgia to take a break, to heal, to figure out where to go from there, but even in her exhaustion, she wholly accepts Penelope as her son. Patterson begins the story in her own youth, as a quiet young black girl growing up in a wealthy family on New York’s Upper West Side, coming into her own strength and power as a black woman—in her words, becoming a “badass.” Patterson’s memoir is highly recommended for any parent raising a transgender or gender-nonconforming child. Her struggle is not with her transgender child but rather with a world that may not accept him as readily as she does.
Robyn Ryle’s She/He/They/Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters is a choose-your-own-adventure-style book that explores the intersections of identities and how gender impacts every aspect of our lives. There are over 100 ways you can read this book, with paths that lead readers into different societies throughout history. The journey, and the myriad options in how to move through it, reveal how gender affects every aspect of our culture and our experiences in love, sex, careers and more. Ryle empathetically explores the complications and intersections of gender, hopefully illuminating otherwise invisible structures in pursuit of new conceptions of power and being. She/He/They/Me is a recommended read for anyone living in a body in this world.