Once upon a time, you would have been hard-pressed to find any memoir that openly explored sexual identity or the lived experiences of sexual and gender minorities. Today we’re grateful to see bookshelves lined with autobiographical gems by LGBTQ+ authors. Indeed, there are so many stirring accounts out there, we found it almost impossible to choose just a few! But these 11 LGBTQ+ memoirs are a good place to start.
11 Must-Read LGBTQ+ Memoirs
Powerful narratives of love, life, and community to read during Pride Month and beyond.
By Brandon Miller
By Jennifer Finney Boylan
Famed writer and transgender activist Jennifer Finney Boylan is the author of multiple memoirs, including the bestselling She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. Her latest, Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs, is a moving account focused on “the transformative power of loving dogs.” Many will relate to Boylan’s passion for animals, yet it’s how she measures her relationship with each pet that’s truly remarkable. Good Boy chronicles seven dogs she’s had over the course of her life, beginning with when she was a young assigned-male child and ending with her current existence as a married, middle-aged woman. Part love letter to her pets, part memoir, Good Boy illustrates the power of canine companionships and the invaluable role our animal friends play in love, identity, and growth.
By Janet Mock
Before her outstanding work on Pose and groundbreaking deal with Netflix, Janet Mock was well-known for her activism and writing. We’ve included her first memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and so Much More, on our list. (Mock’s second memoir, Surpassing Certainty, is great too.) In her debut, Mock traces a difficult upbringing and young adult life, which includes abuse, poverty, and bouncing between homes. She also discusses the importance of role models during her formative years as a young multiracial transgender girl living in Hawaii, the sex work she engaged in to fund her transition, and her path to graduate school and a glamorous position at People magazine. Mock doesn’t sugarcoat anything in this New York Times bestseller, and her raw vulnerability will hit you at the most basic human level.
By Edmund White
Edmund White’s City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and ’70s, focuses on a specific time and place, yet the themes explored within are universal: hedonism, self-doubt, reinvention, and liberation. White bounces between discussions of his highbrow pursuits and his exploration of the seedier side of New York City, detailing erotic encounters with truckers on the side of the road and while cruising warehouses. Throughout, White offers an unflinching look at what it was like to live as a gay man in New York City in the 1960s and ’70s — pre–equality laws, pre–gay marriage, and pre-AIDS. Iconic locales and famous faces make this memoir doubly exciting from a cultural standpoint. White’s preceding work of nonfiction, My Lives: An Autobiography, is also worth checking out.
By Elton John
Fortunately Elton John’s autobiography falls into the former camp. John’s life has been astonishing, and he hides nothing in this No. 1 New York Times bestseller. Naturally he offers readers a backstage pass to his music career, but he also discusses his struggles with family, his quest to fit in, and his partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin. With raw honesty, John tackles his drug abuse, his sexuality, and his romantic affairs, including his relationship with first lover (and manager) John Reid, his marriage to Renate Blauel, and the courtship of his current husband, David Furnish. There’s plenty of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll in this memoir. There’s also a tremendous amount of heart.
Punch Me Up to the Gods
By Brian Broome
In this captivating debut, author Brian Broome discusses being Black, poor, and gay with a zest and frankness that has garnered universal praise. Beginning with his upbringing in rural Ohio in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Broome’s life story is rife with racism, homophobia, and classism. His memoir also dives into issues such as toxic masculinity, addiction, and poverty. While there are devastating moments in this memoir, there are also flashes of joy and triumph that will have you raising your fist in unity. Broome’s book is heartbreaking, angering, uproarious, and graceful, with a deep focus on finding your true personhood in life. As he told Amazon, this is a story “for anyone who’s ever carried the burden of shame just from living and feeling like they were born wrong.”
By Portia de Rossi
Portia de Rossi is much more than simply Ellen DeGeneres’s other half, and Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain will show you the now former actress in a new light. In this New York Times bestseller, de Rossi candidly discusses her sexuality, including what it was like to go from being a closeted lesbian in Hollywood (beard and all) to being half of one of the world’s most well-known lesbian couples. She also delves into her eating disorder, the early experiences that set her on the road to illness, and her obsessive relationship with food and working out. As de Rossi discusses sex scenes from Ally McBeal or the loneliness of living in the closet while in the public eye, it’s easy to see how her profession impacted her body image and identity, revealed with a level of honesty and openness that we rarely see in celebrity memoirs.
The Other Side of Paradise
By Staceyann Chin
In The Other Side of Paradise, Staceyann Chin — an actor, performance artist, poet, and activist — harnesses her voice to present a story of survival and resilience. Chin was born on the floor of her grandmother’s house in Lottery, Jamaica, to a mother who did not know she was pregnant and who did not want her. She was raised by her grandmother for much of her childhood, until they were eventually separated. Her memoir examines what life was like for her growing up in Jamaica, moving from home to home and searching for acceptance, stability, and love. It also delves into her experience coming out as a lesbian in a less-than-tolerant culture, her search for her biological father, and her path to finding her own voice. If you enjoy this memoir, check out Crossfire, Chin’s book of social justice-focused poetry, published in 2019.
By Abby Chava Stein
Written by Abby Chava Stein, Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman is not your typical coming-out story. And yet, Stein’s memoir draws on themes to which all of us can relate: It’s largely about breaking free from the expectations that are set for us by our families, communities, and religions. For Stein — who grew up in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community, alienated from secular culture and speaking only Yiddish and Hebrew — this meant leaving her Orthodox community behind to live the life she truly wanted, one where she could present as the woman she always knew herself to be.
A Dutiful Boy
By Mohsin Zaidi
Another gorgeous memoir that explores the intersection of religion and LGBTQ+ identity, Mohsin Zaidi’s A Dutiful Boy is a must-read coming-of-age story. Zaidi’s upbringing in a strict Muslim household in a religious Islamic community near London was marked by hardship and heartbreak. Zaidi’s father even tried to have a witch doctor “cure” him of his homosexuality. But the book is not all about adversity; it’s also about hope and the fight for a better life. Despite the struggles of growing up as a closeted gay Muslim, without social support and in a school marred by gang violence, Zaidi became the first person from his school to attend Oxford University. He’s now a noted lawyer, LGBTQ+ activist, and governor of his former high school. (For another fantastic book about growing up as a queer Muslim, check out Samra Habib’s We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir.)
By Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel is well-known for the Bechdel Test, a three-step assessment used to measure the representation of women in film and other media. The test first appeared in Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Equally impactful is Bechdel’s 2006 graphic novel memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a national bestseller that topped Time’s best book list and scooped up multiple awards and nominations. In Fun Home, Bechdel explores her tense relationship with her late father, a director of the town’s funeral parlor. She pours raw honesty and hilarity into each page, detailing how after coming out as a lesbian in college, she discovered her father’s own homosexuality. Fans of poignant, witty memoirs who have an affinity for graphic novels will be smitten with this literary delight.
When We Rise
By Cleve Jones
If you’ve seen the film Milk or the miniseries When We Rise (which is partially based upon this book), or simply know anything about queer history, then you know Cleve Jones. Jones is a social justice pioneer who championed the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and visibility alongside Harvey Milk and other revolutionaries in the early days of the movement. In When We Rise, Jones vividly captures 1970s and ’80s San Francisco, offering a journey back in time that queer folks and allies alike should take. And while Jones’s memoir delivers a powerful lesson in LGBTQ+ history, it also serves as a love letter to San Francisco, a tragic chronicle of the ways AIDS devastated queer life, and a valuable guide to finding family, support, and community.
There are so many more outstanding LGBTQ+ memoirs that may not have made our list but still deserve your attention. These include Chasten Buttigieg’s I Have Something to Tell You, Precious Brady-Davis’s I Have Always Been Me, Edie Windsor’s A Wild and Precious Life, Augusten Burroughs’s Lust and Wonder, and Rainbow Warrior, a memoir by Gilbert Baker, who created the Pride flag. Dive into one today!