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24 LGBTQ+ books for 2024.
STARRED REVIEW

June 1, 2024

Your Pride reading list for 2024

Call your queer bookclub—we’ve rounded up the 24 best LGBTQ+ books of 2024 so far!
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Review by

The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin—dubbed the “Nazi Olympics” for providing an international platform to the genocidal regime—produced lasting memories, including the triumphs of Black American track and field star Jesse Owens and the “Boys in the Boat” rowing team that beat Germany in a dramatic upset. Less remembered is the wide speculation at the games that Helen Stephens, a U.S. runner who won two golds, might actually be a man.

She wasn’t. But the phony controversy was symptomatic of a panic in the Olympics establishment. Not long before the 1936 games, two top track and field athletes who had competed in international competitions as women said publicly that they were men (we would say now that they had come out as trans). A handful of Olympic leaders, including Nazi sympathizers, immediately drew the wrong conclusions and called for mandatory medical exams to determine sex prior to sports competitions.

In The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports, author Michael Waters sensitively tells this forgotten history and reveals its modern resonances. The book connects the struggles of those two athletes, Zdenek Koubek of Czechoslovakia and Mark Weston of Britain, with the relatively open attitude toward queerness in pre-Nazi Central Europe, the resistance within the early Olympics movement to women’s sports, and the failed effort to boycott the Berlin games.

The Other Olympians is full of surprises for contemporary readers. For example, anyone who mistakenly thinks Christine Jorgensen was the first person to have gender affirming surgery will learn very much otherwise. But Waters’ detailed description of the outspoken Koubek’s life before and during his transition is the heart of the book. He emerges as an overlooked pioneer.

Koubek, Weston and other trans and queer people profiled here never wanted to compete against women after their transitions. Yet an entire regimen of sex testing was built on the unfounded belief that men were somehow masquerading as women to participate in sports contests. Decisions made in the late 1930s created sports competition rules that still exist today, as debate over trans athletes rages in school board meetings, courtrooms and legislative sessions. Waters doggedly chronicles where the debate originated and calls for what he believes is overdue change.

The Other Olympians doggedly chronicles the lives of pioneering trans athletes and the historically fraught 1936 Olympic Games.
Review by

Mike De Socio loves the Boy Scouts. In Morally Straight: How the Fight for LGBTQ+ Inclusion Changed the Boy Scouts—and America, De Socio, an Eagle Scout, details how Boy Scouts gave him, a nerdy misfit, the space to thrive. He is also queer, coming out while in college in 2015, the same year that the Scouts lifted its ban on gay leaders and two years after it had lifted the ban on gay Scouts. De Socio learned he was not alone: Boy Scouts had provided a safe haven for many other queer Scouts, a haven that was repeatedly taken away because of a policy that they had no idea even existed.

Taking its title from the Boy Scout Oath, Morally Straight weaves detailed journalism and De Socio’s deeply personal memories in its recounting of the effort to lift bans on LGBTQ+ Boy Scouts and their leaders. It starts with the story behind Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, the 2000 Supreme Court case that allowed the Scouts to discriminate against queer boys and men.

At the heart of De Socio’s book is the work of Scouts for Equality (SFE), an activist group formed in 2012 after the Scouts expelled lesbian den leader Jennifer Tyrrell. Headed by Zach Wahls and Jonathan Hillis, two straight Eagle Scouts, SFE evolved into a broad-based alliance of LGBTQ+ and straight Scouts, parents and supporters that eventually persuaded the Scouts to rescind their policies.

Under Wahls and Hillis’ leadership, the SFE became a juggernaut. In their early 20s, both men  were uniquely qualified to take on the BSA. The son of two lesbian mothers, Wahls was already a LGBTQ+ activist and the author of My Two Moms. Hillis was a prominent youth leader at the BSA’s national level. Ironically, both credit the Boy Scouts with developing the moral courage and leadership skills that made SFE possible.

Morally Straight is both clear-eyed and optimistic. BSA is now a broader tent, accepting gay, trans and even female Scouts. But, as De Socio’s own experiences show, it still grapples with how to give its members the space and tools to remain true to who they are.

Morally Straight weaves detailed journalism and author Mike De Socio’s deeply personal memories in its recounting of the effort to lift bans on LGBTQ+ Boy Scouts and their leaders.

As the Texas legislature attempts to ban books; dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion; and threaten LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, poet and author KB Brookins’ debut memoir, Pretty, arrives when we need it most. Brookins is a Black, queer and trans writer and cultural worker whose previous work includes two poetry collections, Freedom House and How to Identify Yourself With a Wound. Pretty details their experience navigating gender and Black masculinity while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, exploring how they have moved through a world of cisgender Black and non-Black people, from their biological parents to their adopted family, from classmates to lovers, and from their gender transition through adulthood.

Brookins spent their youth challenging binary spaces and expectations. From early childhood to the present, they have desired to be seen as pretty, and this book is the search to find out what that means for them: “Though not gendered, we often associate prettiness with womanhood, femininity, and objects we see as dainty,” they write. “I’ve never been interested in womanhood, but I’ve always wanted to be treated softly, like a fat pleasantry to the eyes.” Through often striking prose and imagery, Brookins questions the restrictions involved in those associations: “When I was femme, my prettiness was canceled out by Blackness. When I was butch, my prettiness was seen as invalidating my masculinity. Who taught us that masculinity can’t be pretty? Who taught us that Blackness was devoid of prettiness and delicacy?”

While Brookins searches for answers to these questions, they continuously remind us of how hostile the U.S. is to Black and trans people: “As the perception of me changes before my eyes, I realize that it is a specific sadness—embodying patriarchal masculinity in a country that wants your blood more than it wants you to breathe.” We need words and stories like this. By describing their movement through the world, Brookins simultaneously critiques the conditions that oppress Black and racialized people who seek radical self-acceptance, and refuses the state’s malicious attempts to criminalize gender and sexuality.

Pretty offers far more than just pretty words—Brookins tells their side of the story as an act of resistance against those who would silence them. This book is as much a story of self-discovery and survival as it is a love letter to their younger and current self.

As Texas threatens LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, KB Brookins’ memoir, Pretty, is an act of resistance against those who would silence trans writers.
Review by

A romance is all about the final payoff: After pages of will-they-won’t-they teasing, readers anticipate the moment when everything falls ecstatically into place and our lovers end up together. Kate Young’s Experienced takes this model and twists it, leading readers on a wholehearted, fun exploration of dating and love in the 21st century. After her girlfriend Mei suggests they take a break so the newly-out Bette can casually date and get the full single experience, Bette goes on an awkward odyssey of first dates. Her journey is silly and relatable, and stays away from romance cliches—although that isn’t to say that the book doesn’t end happily.

Bette tries to be chill about the break. After a bit of confusion and hurt, she decides the best course of action is to actually get some dating experience. With her roommate Ash and Ash’s token straight-guy boyfriend Tim, Bette begins crafting her dating app profiles. They choose the best pictures—though Ash and Tim have to convince Bette that she really does look hot in some of them—and write cool, ironic responses to the prompts. Soon after, Bette starts dating a lineup of strange, sexy characters running the gamut of British lesbian baddies. The most memorable is Bette’s first date, Ruth, a PhD student and experienced casual dater who gives Bette the recipe for success and, in a twist of fate, helps her realize what she really wants from a relationship.

Chapter titles that count down to the date when Bette and Mei are supposed to get back together lend Experienced a sense of anxiety and longing that will be all too familiar to 21st century daters. Young’s charming British English pairs with a young millennial’s quirky, anxious interiority for a fun, surprisingly profound read. Romantics, if you’re lonely or even if you’re happily in love, this novel will be a treat. 

Kate Young’s charming British English paired with her young millennial protagonist’s quirky, anxious interiority makes Experienced a fun, surprisingly profound read.
Review by

Chukwuebuka Ibeh’s debut novel is a quiet but profoundly moving coming-of-age story about a young gay man in mid-2000s Nigeria. It’s an at first straightforward novel that deepens as it progresses, building toward an ending befitting its protagonist—a young man continually moving through different versions of himself.

Blessings opens in 2006 in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. When Obiefuna’s father catches him in a moment of tenderness with another boy, he immediately sends him away to boarding school. Life at school is strictly regulated and often violent. Older boys abuse and terrorize the younger boys without consequence. Obiefuna, fearing that his sexuality may be discovered at any moment, does what he thinks he has to in order to survive.

Though the novel continues to follow Obiefuna through his early years at university, his time at the boarding school takes up the most space and carries a hefty emotional weight. At times it may feel as if the story drags, but the beautiful and complicated third act reveals that Ibeh knew exactly where he was going all along. He captures the uneven importance of memory and experience, the way certain events can haunt a life without our knowledge. Obiefuna’s relationships to himself, his family, his lovers and his country change dramatically over time, a shift that Ibeh weaves almost invisibly into the prose.

Interspersed between chapters from Obiefuna’s point of view are ones told from his mother Uzoamaka’s perspective. These feel less immediate and vivid, but do add a poignant narrative layer, giving readers a glimpse into what goes unspoken between mother and son.

Blessings is an excellent work of queer fiction, full of characters who are neither good nor bad, but simply human beings in constant flux. Ibeh writes cruelty onto the page alongside tenderness, crafting scenes of domestic gay love with the same attention and detail he gives to scenes of emotional and physical violence. He offers us a precious glimpse of the world as it truly is for so many queer people: not tragic, not perfect, not all suffering or all joy—but worth living in and telling stories about.

Blessings offers a precious glimpse of the world as it truly is for so many queer people: not tragic, not perfect, not all suffering or all joy, but worth living in.
Review by

The Safekeep, Yael van der Wouden’s debut novel, is set in 1961 rural Holland. At 30, Isabel is living in the house where she was raised after the death of her father forced the family’s move from the city and into a furnished house their uncle Karel found for them. Isabel lives a circumscribed and watchful life, guarding her dead mother’s things, suspecting the maid of theft and fending off the attentions of a flirtatious neighbor. Of her brothers, Louis and Hendrik, she is closer to Hendrik, although she disapproves of his friend Sebastian, suspecting a deeper connection. Of Louis and the steady stream of girlfriends he introduces to her, she thinks even less. Until Eva.

The siblings meet Eva at a dinner out. With her clumsy manners and brassy dyed hair, she hardly impresses, and Isabel is shocked when Louis brings her to the house, telling Isabel that Eva must stay there while he goes away on business and showing Eva to their mother’s room. Even under Isabel’s watchful eye, things begin to disappear—a spoon, a bowl, a thimble. More alarming to Isabel is the overwhelming attraction she feels to Eva, an attraction that spills into an obsessive, intensely depicted sexual relationship.

Van der Wouden may be familiar as the author of the 2017 essay “On (Not) Reading Anne Frank,” which explored what it means to be a Dutch Jewish writer and her complicated relationship to Frank’s legacy. As Isabel and Eva’s connection unfolds, Van der Wouden’s true subject comes into view: how ordinary people were implicated in the ethnic cleansing that took place during World War II. Even in peacetime, Isabel and her peers are quick to notice people who appear different, with a fierce disgust that Isabel risks turning on herself as she comes to terms with her sexuality. A novel of redemption as much as revenge, The Safekeep has the pacing and twists of a thriller, while delving into the deeper issues laid bare by the Holocaust.

In Yael van der Wouden’s mesmerizing debut, The Safekeep, Isabel lives a circumscribed life in her dead mother’s house until her brother’s girlfriend comes to stay, alarming Isabel when an obsessive attraction develops between the two.

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Recent Features

Call your queer bookclub—we've rounded up the 24 best LGBTQ+ books of 2024 so far!
STARRED REVIEW

3 memoirs to provoke reflection

Chelsea Devantez, Cory Leadbeater and KB Brookins share powerful personal experiences that are sure to inspire this summer.
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Book jacket image for The Uptown Local by Cory Leadbeater
Memoir

In The Uptown Local, Joan Didion’s assistant recounts his relationship with the iconic author, as well as his complex family history and obsession with death.

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Book jacket image for I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This by Chelsea Devantez
Memoir

Comedy writer Chelsea Devantez romps through personal embarrassments, traumas and triumphs in her memoir, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This.

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Book jacket image for Pretty by KB Brookins
LGBTQ+

As Texas threatens LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, KB Brookins’ memoir, Pretty, is an act of resistance against those who would silence trans writers.

Read More »

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Recent Features

Recent Reviews

Chelsea Devantez, Cory Leadbeater and KB Brookins share powerful personal experiences that are sure to inspire this summer.
Review by

The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin—dubbed the “Nazi Olympics” for providing an international platform to the genocidal regime—produced lasting memories, including the triumphs of Black American track and field star Jesse Owens and the “Boys in the Boat” rowing team that beat Germany in a dramatic upset. Less remembered is the wide speculation at the games that Helen Stephens, a U.S. runner who won two golds, might actually be a man.

She wasn’t. But the phony controversy was symptomatic of a panic in the Olympics establishment. Not long before the 1936 games, two top track and field athletes who had competed in international competitions as women said publicly that they were men (we would say now that they had come out as trans). A handful of Olympic leaders, including Nazi sympathizers, immediately drew the wrong conclusions and called for mandatory medical exams to determine sex prior to sports competitions.

In The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports, author Michael Waters sensitively tells this forgotten history and reveals its modern resonances. The book connects the struggles of those two athletes, Zdenek Koubek of Czechoslovakia and Mark Weston of Britain, with the relatively open attitude toward queerness in pre-Nazi Central Europe, the resistance within the early Olympics movement to women’s sports, and the failed effort to boycott the Berlin games.

The Other Olympians is full of surprises for contemporary readers. For example, anyone who mistakenly thinks Christine Jorgensen was the first person to have gender affirming surgery will learn very much otherwise. But Waters’ detailed description of the outspoken Koubek’s life before and during his transition is the heart of the book. He emerges as an overlooked pioneer.

Koubek, Weston and other trans and queer people profiled here never wanted to compete against women after their transitions. Yet an entire regimen of sex testing was built on the unfounded belief that men were somehow masquerading as women to participate in sports contests. Decisions made in the late 1930s created sports competition rules that still exist today, as debate over trans athletes rages in school board meetings, courtrooms and legislative sessions. Waters doggedly chronicles where the debate originated and calls for what he believes is overdue change.

The Other Olympians doggedly chronicles the lives of pioneering trans athletes and the historically fraught 1936 Olympic Games.

As the Texas legislature attempts to ban books; dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion; and threaten LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, poet and author KB Brookins’ debut memoir, Pretty, arrives when we need it most. Brookins is a Black, queer and trans writer and cultural worker whose previous work includes two poetry collections, Freedom House and How to Identify Yourself With a Wound. Pretty details their experience navigating gender and Black masculinity while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, exploring how they have moved through a world of cisgender Black and non-Black people, from their biological parents to their adopted family, from classmates to lovers, and from their gender transition through adulthood.

Brookins spent their youth challenging binary spaces and expectations. From early childhood to the present, they have desired to be seen as pretty, and this book is the search to find out what that means for them: “Though not gendered, we often associate prettiness with womanhood, femininity, and objects we see as dainty,” they write. “I’ve never been interested in womanhood, but I’ve always wanted to be treated softly, like a fat pleasantry to the eyes.” Through often striking prose and imagery, Brookins questions the restrictions involved in those associations: “When I was femme, my prettiness was canceled out by Blackness. When I was butch, my prettiness was seen as invalidating my masculinity. Who taught us that masculinity can’t be pretty? Who taught us that Blackness was devoid of prettiness and delicacy?”

While Brookins searches for answers to these questions, they continuously remind us of how hostile the U.S. is to Black and trans people: “As the perception of me changes before my eyes, I realize that it is a specific sadness—embodying patriarchal masculinity in a country that wants your blood more than it wants you to breathe.” We need words and stories like this. By describing their movement through the world, Brookins simultaneously critiques the conditions that oppress Black and racialized people who seek radical self-acceptance, and refuses the state’s malicious attempts to criminalize gender and sexuality.

Pretty offers far more than just pretty words—Brookins tells their side of the story as an act of resistance against those who would silence them. This book is as much a story of self-discovery and survival as it is a love letter to their younger and current self.

As Texas threatens LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, KB Brookins’ memoir, Pretty, is an act of resistance against those who would silence trans writers.
Review by

Summer vacation has arrived, and with it the euphoric urge to pack a bag and hit the road (or skies. Or sea). But what is a well-traveled LGBTQIA+ person (or ally!) to do when the same old vacation spots have gotten a bit too-well trodden? Let Out in the World: An LGBTQIA+ (and Friends!) Travel Guide to More Than 120 Destinations Around the World guide the way!

Card-carrying, globe-trotting gays Amy B. Scher and Mark Jason Williams have assembled an impressive guide on where to go when and what to do when you get there, whether you’re a rugged hiker, a small town sightseer or are simply looking to relax at as many vineyards as possible before returning to real life. Even better, they’ve done it with an eye especially for the queer traveler, compiling lists of LGBTQIA+ owned eateries, tour companies, shops and bed and breakfasts. (They even note which hotels are dog-friendly, in the event of a furry plus one). Divided into chapters with headings such as “Where No One Gets Hangry,” “Nature and Nurture” and “Our Favorite Small Towns With Big Pride,” Out in the World is packed with unexpected and delightful new places to explore while unabashedly being exactly who you are.

Out in the World is an LGBTQ+ travel guide packed with unexpected and delightful new places to explore while unabashedly being exactly who you are.
Review by

Mike De Socio loves the Boy Scouts. In Morally Straight: How the Fight for LGBTQ+ Inclusion Changed the Boy Scouts—and America, De Socio, an Eagle Scout, details how Boy Scouts gave him, a nerdy misfit, the space to thrive. He is also queer, coming out while in college in 2015, the same year that the Scouts lifted its ban on gay leaders and two years after it had lifted the ban on gay Scouts. De Socio learned he was not alone: Boy Scouts had provided a safe haven for many other queer Scouts, a haven that was repeatedly taken away because of a policy that they had no idea even existed.

Taking its title from the Boy Scout Oath, Morally Straight weaves detailed journalism and De Socio’s deeply personal memories in its recounting of the effort to lift bans on LGBTQ+ Boy Scouts and their leaders. It starts with the story behind Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, the 2000 Supreme Court case that allowed the Scouts to discriminate against queer boys and men.

At the heart of De Socio’s book is the work of Scouts for Equality (SFE), an activist group formed in 2012 after the Scouts expelled lesbian den leader Jennifer Tyrrell. Headed by Zach Wahls and Jonathan Hillis, two straight Eagle Scouts, SFE evolved into a broad-based alliance of LGBTQ+ and straight Scouts, parents and supporters that eventually persuaded the Scouts to rescind their policies.

Under Wahls and Hillis’ leadership, the SFE became a juggernaut. In their early 20s, both men  were uniquely qualified to take on the BSA. The son of two lesbian mothers, Wahls was already a LGBTQ+ activist and the author of My Two Moms. Hillis was a prominent youth leader at the BSA’s national level. Ironically, both credit the Boy Scouts with developing the moral courage and leadership skills that made SFE possible.

Morally Straight is both clear-eyed and optimistic. BSA is now a broader tent, accepting gay, trans and even female Scouts. But, as De Socio’s own experiences show, it still grapples with how to give its members the space and tools to remain true to who they are.

Morally Straight weaves detailed journalism and author Mike De Socio’s deeply personal memories in its recounting of the effort to lift bans on LGBTQ+ Boy Scouts and their leaders.
Review by

As an immigrant from a “rich Arab country,” Lamya H was often asked by acquaintances in the American LGBTQ+ community how she could possibly remain a practicing Muslim, given Islam’s reputation for oppressing women and queer people. Hijab Butch Blues, Lamya’s memoir, is a generous, probing and candid response to that query.

Through its 10 chapters, the memoir generally follows the arc of Lamya’s life, beginning when she was a young girl in an international Islamic school, discovering her attraction to women and sometimes feeling suicidal. She moved to New York City at 17 to attend university, feeling unsure of her sexuality and of America’s gay culture. Now in her mid-30s, she has found love, her people and a life she could not have imagined as a teenager.

What is beautiful and brilliant about Hijab Butch Blues is that in each chapter, Lamya evokes a formative moment in her life through emotional and intellectual dialogue with a story from the Quran. The first chapter, “Maryam,” centers on a narrative that Christians will recognize as a version of the story of the Virgin Mary. As a young teenager, Lamya was transfixed by it because of how a despairing Maryam considers committing suicide, just as Lamya herself had. Thoughtful and questing, Lamya continued reading and found in Maryam’s story a way forward. The year she discovered this story, she writes, is “the year I choose not to die. The year I choose to live.”

Lamya H reflects on what was gained and what was lost by writing her debut memoir under a pseudonym.

In a chapter on Allah, Lamya recounts her questions about the nature of God, which she began asking as a 6-year-old. Is God a woman? A man? A pious religious teacher told her that Allah is not a man or a woman. This was a mystery and a revelation, and it helped her in later years as her family attempted to mold her in traditionally gendered ways. She learned how important it was “for me to use the pronoun they for God,” she writes, “my God, whom I refuse to define as a man or a woman, my God who transcends gender.”

Chapter by chapter, readers will feel a growing appreciation for Lamya’s intelligence, eloquence and courage. Along the way, we learn vivid details about her life and outlook—that, for example, she was a diligent, bright student with a disruptive sense of humor; that her parents immigrated to an Arab nation from a South Asian country for better opportunities and, as a result, that she and her brother experienced bias because of their brown skin; that she was immediately uncomfortable in New York’s gay bar scene and struggled to feel “authentically gay”; that she is ambivalent about America; that she loves her parents and feels OK not coming out to them.

Lamya H is a pseudonym, and her reasons for using one make sense. But even without using her real name, in Hijab Butch Blues she is observant, passionate and anything but voiceless.

Lamya H’s memoir is a generous, probing and brilliant response to the question of how she could be both a queer person and a practicing Muslim.
Behind the Book by

My friend writes a book. It’s a utopian work of speculative fiction, clever and imaginative and hopeful—a brilliant blend of art and activism. I bring flowers to her book launch and find a seat near the back of the cozy community garden where we’re gathered. Even before the reading starts, the space is abuzz with conversations about the worlds in her book and the limitations and radical possibilities of our current world. The evening feels magical. Fairy lights twinkle and apartment buildings tower above. 

As the event planners set up the stage, I turn to the person sitting next to me—one of the few people I don’t know here—and introduce myself, excited to talk to someone new during the social scarcity of the COVID-19 pandemic. This person is easy to converse with: They tell me about their recent move to the city to start an MFA program and the angry activist nonfiction they write. I am intrigued; I love angry activist nonfiction. I promise to introduce them to some of my activist-writer friends, give them suggestions of bookstores to check out and places to write. I want to know so much more about the project they’re working on, and I’ve gotten through only a tenth of my questions when they say, “What about you, Lamya? You seem like a writer. What do you write?” 

I freeze. 

I, too, wrote a book. A memoir: a retelling of stories from the Quran as queer, brown, immigrant narratives, interspersed with stories from my queer, brown, immigrant life—a book I hope is both art and activism. But I don’t know how to answer my new friend’s question because I wrote under a pseudonym. 

Read our starred review of ‘Hijab Butch Blues’ by Lamya H.

I wrote anonymously for many reasons, most of which are predictable and boring. Privacy. Safety. That I’m not out to my family. That my writing—in which I talk about God as nonbinary, the queerness of Musa’s (Moses’) miracles, Maryam (the Virgin Mary) as not liking men—could be considered controversial. That I’m complicating prophetic figures who are important in a lot of religions, writing about them as flawed, as making mistakes. I’m speculating about their sexualities, not for the sake of provocation but because these prophets feel like my friends—beautiful and messy and real—and their journeys have helped me figure out how to live. That it’s scary to anger people with power; it’s scary to be Googleable. That I want to write in complicated ways about Islam and still keep going to my mosque. That I want to write in complicated ways about the Islamophobia of queer communities and still be invited to potlucks and spoken word readings. 

I wrote a book so open and honest that it was only possible for me to write under a pseudonym, but what I didn’t anticipate was the grief I would feel, even though I don’t regret my decision. Grief like in this moment at the book launch, unable to speak about my book with my new friend. Grief in a broader sense, too: the limitations my anonymity places on my ability to use the book as a starting point to create intentional spaces and communities. After opening night for a play called Coming Out Muslim 10 years ago, I joined a space created by the artists for queer Muslims to connect, which led me to find the chosen family and organizing community that I still participate in and am infinitely grateful for. My book won’t be able to do that for others in the same way. 

“It’s scary to anger people with power; it’s scary to be Googleable.”

And there are smaller pangs of grief, too: the loss of specificity in my book when critiquing certain spaces for homophobia or racism, which inadvertently ends up protecting these spaces; not being able to share my book with the myriad folks who helped me learn how to write at writing retreats and workshops; not being able to thank my friends by name in the acknowledgments. 

But my choice to write anonymously hasn’t stopped me from experiencing the joys of my book starting to go out into the world. A few weeks ago, someone whose name sounded familiar commented on my Instagram. It turns out she had written a beautiful essay some years ago that was foundational in teaching me to use stories and vignettes to talk about bigger concepts such as racism and homophobia, an essay that I had annotated and read over and over. I sent her an advanced copy of my book in gratitude, and it felt exciting to connect virtually, despite the anonymity. Another person emailed me about doing an event about racism against South Asians in the Arab country I grew up in, and they said I can present with my camera turned off, that her organization will do whatever needs to be done to protect my privacy. It’s a reminder that I don’t owe using my real name to anyone. I don’t owe my face being on the jacket cover. I’m allowed to write on my own terms. It’s possible to stay safe while still using my book as a tool for connection and conversation. 

“What I didn’t anticipate was the grief I would feel, even though I don’t regret my decision.”

At my friend’s book launch, in the moment before I respond to my neighbor’s question about my own writing, I think of that joy, that sense of connection. I think about how I can selectively choose to invite people in, that my writing anonymously is also an act—however small—of wanting to make the world a better place. My new friend is waiting for my answer. I take a deep breath. 

“I do write,” I say. “We should get coffee sometime. I’d love to tell you about my work.”

Headshot of Lamya H by Lia Clay for the Queer Art Community Portrait Project

Lamya H, the author of Hijab Butch Blues, reflects on what was gained and what was lost by writing her debut memoir under a pseudonym.
Review by

In a society that elevates white people and heteronormative relationships, the word family has come to suggest a white dad, a white mom and their two white children living in the suburbs. In Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance, however, DePaul University professor Francesca Royster provides a look at what family really means. It’s an expansive word that encapsulates what folks from all backgrounds have always done, especially within systems that can separate biological family members: blending both blood relatives and those chosen through adoption, marriage or simple affection. 

Royster brings readers along for her journey into motherhood as a queer woman fashioning a family. This includes not only the story of adopting a daughter with her wife, Annie, but also research about and with Black and queer chosen families. By artfully interweaving her own story with the work of scholars of African American and queer studies, Royster adds weight to her lived experience without distracting from the narrative. This approach also provides fuller context about the history of these marginalized identities for readers who do not share them.

Having a child inspires many parents to reflect on their own ancestral histories and families of origin, and this is certainly true for Royster. Throughout Choosing Family, she introduces the many mothers who came before her in her family line: her great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mother and stepmother, each of whom formed families from both blood and choice. For example, when her parents divorced, Royster’s mother created a family from deep friendships with strong, nurturing women. These relationships set the foundation for Royster to one day create the family she wanted, one that didn’t necessarily match the traditional image of family.

Parenthood is complex, and readers will feel Royster’s anticipation, joy and deep love, along with her fear. Her writing style has a smooth cadence and makes you feel like you’re with her every step of the way as she raises her daughter in a family that is Black, queer and chosen.

In her artful memoir, Francesca T. Royster brings readers along for her journey into motherhood as a queer woman fashioning a family.

Leg

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When Greg Marshall and his childhood friend, Gretchen, ran for president and vice president of their high school class, they were something of an unconventional pair. Both were non-Mormons, making them a minority in Salt Lake City, Utah. Marshall had a pronounced limp and had yet to tell anyone he was gay, while Gretchen had a pacemaker “and a bone spur hanging off one foot like a sixth toe.” Marshall writes that their winning campaign strategy “was simple, and that was to make fun of ourselves.” Marshall takes that same winning approach in his stunning debut, Leg: The Story of a Limb and the Boy Who Grew From It

Marshall’s limp in his right leg caused weakness and spasms throughout his life and required surgeries from time to time. He had actually been diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months—but his parents never disclosed this fact, telling him instead that he had “tight tendons” and encouraging their son and other four children to simply rely on the mantra, “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP.” Marshall didn’t discover the true origin of his mobility limitations until 2014, by accident, when applying for health insurance. “Every day growing up was like an ABC Afterschool Special in which no lessons were learned, no wisdom gleaned,” he writes.

In different hands, this memoir might have become a tragic family story, overshadowed by a mother who was diagnosed with cancer and required decades of treatment for that and other conditions, and a kindhearted, dad-joking father who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease when Marshall was 22. Instead, Marshall has written a riotously funny book that will grab your attention and steal your heart from the very first page. His writing brings to mind early David Sedaris, with its bitingly funny caricatures and descriptions, bathed in blistering commentary, deep-seated opinions, wit, intellect and, above all else, fierce family love. Additionally, Marshall details several of his sexual experiences—not to be salacious but to illuminate his ongoing quest for identity and relationships, despite his long-standing fear of contracting HIV. “As a gay man and a person with a disability, I come out every day,” he writes.

The Marshalls’ lives are full of twists, turns and surprises that will leave readers yearning for more, and this memoir serves as a love letter to all of them, especially Marshall’s late father. Rare is the book that makes me both laugh out loud and shed actual tears, but Leg made me do both.

Bitingly funny and full of blistering commentary and fierce familial love, Greg Marshall's memoir is a winning debut.
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New York City-based book publicist-turned-writer Amelia Possanza dedicates her book “to all the queers, ordinary and extraordinary, whose names have been destroyed by history, and to the rosy-fingered custodians of the queer archive.” Possanza is one such rosy-fingered custodian, a queer person attracted to the archives not just to understand history but also to understand her own story. “I was certain that if I uncovered enough lesbians in history, they would reveal a message or a lesson, a blueprint of how I might build my own life,” she writes.

Possanza’s debut book, Lesbian Love Story, is part archival research and part memoir. It includes seven chapters, each of which historicizes a lesbian love story. While the chapter on Sappho harkens back to antiquity, the other six span the 1890s through the 1990s, offering a lively lesbian mix: golf star Babe Didrikson Zaharias, groundbreaking memoirist Mary Casal, Chicana activist and writer Gloria Anzaldua and others. Possanza digs into the details of their lives with passionate engagement, frequently turning the narrative from the archival subject back to herself and exploring personal topics vis-a-vis these historical women: gender identity, the vagaries and politics of cross-dressing, the insidious narrowness of second-wave feminism, friendship, power dynamics in relationships and, most of all, obsessive love.

“In case it isn’t obvious yet,” Possanza writes in a late chapter, “I am an unforgivable romantic. I love love. Not as a means to an end, a steppingstone on the path to marriage and children, but as a surrender to passion, even when it’s surely doomed. Obsessive, selfish love that feasts on its own ruin.” As she unearths these romantic stories, Possanza also identifies the gaps within them, the moments when she wants to know more. To fill these silences, she imagines the scenes she longs to see, engaging with history not as a disembodied historian but as a young lesbian who wants answers, who wants to find her people. Though a blueprint does not, and cannot, neatly emerge from this sea of stories, Possanza does find the space, movement and complexity provided by a multifaceted past to buoy her ongoing becoming.

Amelia Possanza weaves her own memories through seven moving lesbian love stories from the archives in her debut book.

Are lesbian bars endangered places? Down from a high of 206 bars recorded in 1987, there are currently only 20+ of these beloved, sticky, red-painted bars left in the U.S. Moby Dyke, the chronicle of Krista Burton’s obsessive quest to visit each of these remaining bars, offers readers a hilarious and affectionate investigation into the past and future of queer gathering spots.

Traveling from San Francisco to New York City, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Mobile, Alabama, Burton visits both historic neighborhood bars and newer nightclubs, talking to owners and patrons about why they love these bars and who is welcome there. Virtually every bar Burton visited is lesbian-owned but welcomes everyone, including the full range of queer identities: trans men and women, nonbinary folks and the emerging generation of gender-diverse young queers. Burton also asks why so many gay bars for cisgender men continue to thrive as exclusive spaces, while lesbian bars thrive on inclusion.

An accomplished and very funny journalist, Burton is able to track serious issues around queer belonging in a fresh and lively voice. The personal narrative underlying her pursuit of lesbian bars—including her marriage to Davin, a trans man, and coming out to her conservative Mormon family—is as topical and good-humored as the interviews and reportage contained here. 

Burton’s road trip was also shaped by COVID-19, and her experiences reveal how the isolation of the pandemic stoked a real hunger for the joy of being with others in crowded, sweaty rooms, singing karaoke, partaking in dildo races and people-watching (after showing a vaccination card, of course). Even the details about the economics of Burton’s quest (such as how to fund a road trip on a book advance while still working a day job) offer a fascinating glimpse into the reality of a writer’s life. 

Burton’s portrait of the evolution of lesbian bars into communal spaces offers a timely and engaging snapshot of queer life in America.

Krista Burton’s obsessive quest to visit each lesbian bar in the U.S. offers a hilarious and affectionate investigation into the past and future of queer gathering spots.
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Before Geena Rocero was a successful model, she was a child in the Philippines who was interested in feminine clothes. The country’s popular transgender beauty pageants drew her in first as a viewer and then as a competitor. It was in those pageants that she picked up the nickname “Horse Barbie”—a reference to both her stupendous manelike wig and her tall stature. Rocero dominated pageants throughout the late 1990s alongside a sisterhood of supportive trans beauty queens; she also began to take off-label estrogen to DIY her own medical transition. A move as a teenager to San Francisco enabled a social transition and subsequently a medical transition under a doctor’s care. 

The discrimination Rocero experienced as an Asian and Pacific Islander woman with a dark complexion made life in America difficult. But soon the long-legged beauty caught the attention of a fashion photographer in New York City, and her international modeling career took off, landing her on billboards, in music videos and even in a 2005 Complex magazine feature called “The 10 Most Beautiful Women in the World.” Yet Rocero remained closeted—and constantly afraid of being outed and potentially losing her career—for nearly a decade.    

Rocero’s life story is a completely engrossing whirlwind. Readers don’t need to have previous knowledge of the colonialist history of the Philippines, gender-affirming care for transgender people or the modeling industry to enjoy Horse Barbie. She explains everything in accessible language, imparted like a trusted friend. 

Rocero’s outsider-to-insider perspective as a Filipina immigrant underscores America’s mixed acceptance of transgender people, who, Rocero explains, are “legally recognized here but culturally misunderstood.” In the Philippines, the presence of trans folks in pageants is mainstream, but she found that many Americans only see transgender people depicted negatively or offensively on talk shows such as “Jerry Springer.” Despite her accomplishments, Rocero remained in fear of becoming a statistic of another murdered trans woman. “I had crossed an ocean for recognition,” she writes. “But what good was that recognition without safety?”

Horse Barbie is an emotionally engaging read. Rocero’s pride in her success as both a fashion model and a highly visible trans woman of color is hard won, and having the chance to read about it feels like a privilege.

Geena Rocero was a trans pageant queen in the Philippines who became a successful model in the United States. As you'd expect, her life story is a completely engrossing whirlwind.

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