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Allies Assemble: 11 Books on the LGBTQIA+ Experience

Whether you want explore your own identity or just be a better ally, here are a selection of books that speak to LGBTQIA+ experiences.
by Jennifer Duffy | Jun 19 2020

One of the most powerful functions of a book is its ability to illuminate our own lives and to open our minds to the experiences lived by others. Even if someone’s struggle has no resonance with our own, it’s an important and empowering part of our humanity when we try to grow our empathy. Books can also be an important way of finding commonality and knowing you are not alone. In my own experience, books have strengthened my own identity as a lesbian and have helped me explore LGBTQIA+ history and activism.

books about lgbtqia+

This is a non-exhaustive list of books that explore and illuminate the LGBTQIA+ experience. Whether you want to learn more about your own identity, or work to become a better ally, there is a lot to learn from these titles.

American Savage by Dan Savage

Fans will be familiar with Dan Savage from his advice column and podcast of the same name, Savage Love, or from his appearances on This American Life. An experienced activist, he founded the It Gets Better project in 2010 with his husband, Terry Miller, which aims to show LGBTQIA+ teens that a more hopeful, happier future awaits them. In American Savage, the author tackles contentious issues such as the anti-gay stance of the Catholic church, the liberating power of Pride marches and BDSM culture, and cites studies showing that children of same-sex parents are just as likely to be happy and well-adjusted as children of opposite-sex parents.

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley

In New York Times bestseller, Boy Erased, Garrard Conley shows the negative impact fundamentalist Christian ideology has on LGBTQIA+ people and their families. He reflects on his experiences with conversion therapy at the Love in Action course, a programme that saw homosexuality as a curable sin, and sexual orientation as an addiction. Many of the young people on the course had been threatened with homelessness, excommunication from the church and exile from their communities. This harrowing memoir is a meditation on family, faith and identity.

She/He/They/Me by Robyn Ryle

She/He/They/Me weaves together anthropology, global history, empirical evidence and theory to explore the concept of gender. How we feel about gender, and how fixed or fluid we perceive it to be, is influenced not only by our time, place, and society, but also by how these things interact with our social class, sexual orientation, and race. Ryle opens readers eyes to the many different gender identities that can exist and shows the possibilities of a genderless society. Though just beginning to be spoken about seriously in the mainstream, transgender, agender, nonbinary, and intersex people have always existed. Even now in the gender conversation, intersex people are often overlooked, despite the fact that they account for 1.7% of the world’s population – the same percentage as people with red hair. Ultimately, Ryle proves that the traditional binary view of gender is damaging and reductive.

The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker

The Invisible Orientation explores asexuality and how asexual people face discrimination and erasure. Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction, and where some asexual people are repulsed by sex, others may be indifferent or willing to engage in sex for their partner. For asexuals, a loving relationship is not based on sex, but rather on other types of intimacy. Some asexual people may be heteroromantic, homoromantic or biromantic, but other asexual people are aromantic – meaning they don’t experience romantic feelings or feel a partner is key to their happiness. Decker tackles the many misconceptions about asexuality, showing that it is not something to be ‘fixed.’

The Glass Closet by John Browne

In The Glass Closet, John Browne shares his experience as a gay executive to discuss coming out in the workplace. He writes that many LGBTQIA+ people do not feel comfortable coming out at work. They fear it will hinder their career development, which is compounded by the lack of gay, bisexual or transgender executives to look to for inspiration and solidarity. Browne shows that it is the responsibility of companies to improve conditions for LGBTQIA+ employees, and should also actively work to diversify their staff and show their support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

This story of unexpected love reveals how loving authentically gives you the freedom to be yourself. Doyle was a popular Christian writer and blogger, promoting a book about healing her marriage with her husband after his multiple affairs when she fell in love with a woman for the first time. At that point, she decided to prioritize her own happiness and take a chance. Untamed shows how by putting her own needs first, Doyle became a better mother and role model. She learned to question the script she had been following to forge a happier marriage and a new blended family.

Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee

LGBTQIA+ Christian advocate Justin Lee has sought to bridge gaps between political and theological divides. In this book, he teaches us how to use strategic dialogue when speaking with someone who has a different outlook. In these polarizing times, he gives readers tools to listen, communicate effectively and counter misinformation. Talking Across the Divide will help you have meaningful, productive conversations and encourage people to take a step in the right direction.

Engines of Liberty by David Cole

Engines of Liberty demonstrates the power of activism to bring about change, and explores the legalization of gay marriage in America in 2015. Cole demonstrates how activists led the drive for marriage equality and looks at how the movement began with lobbying in Vermont. This led to legislation in 1999 stating that civil unions between same-sex couples must be treated equally in that state, and ten years later, to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Cole also takes California as a case study on the journey to marriage equality. This empowering book shows how activism can set a larger movement in motion. In this case, the individual actions in different states led to the country-wide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015.

Gods of the Upper Air by Charles King

Gods of the Upper Air focuses on a selection of researchers who revolutionized cultural anthropology. They demonstrated new ways of thinking about gender, sex and race. Of particular interest for this article is Margaret Mead. Her research on social roles in different cultures saw her develop a theory of sex as a social category—or, as we would call it today, gender— and advocated for more fluid gender roles. Her own life also challenged convention as she maintained a passionate connection with her lifelong lover, fellow anthropologist Ruth Fulton Benedict. This relationship continued alongside Mead’s three marriages to men. Her polyamorous life reflected a new understanding of love and relationships.

Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein

Orenstein wants to change the way we talk about sex and improve sex education. Her aim is to empower young women through open dialogues and more inclusive teaching. She notes the need for education around consent, and the fact that female pleasure is often overlooked. Girls & Sex also touches on LGBTQIA+ issues – she states that the average age for young people coming out is now 14-16. These young people are looking to the internet for education they have not received from school or at home. LGBTQIA+ teens are also at much higher risk of suicide than their straight peers. It is essential that parents educate themselves on LGBTQIA+ issues to provide much-needed support.

Boys & Sex by Peggy Orenstein

Drawing on two years of interviews with young men, academics, psychologists and sex educators, Boys & Sex offers a comprehensive and unfiltered look into the relationship young men have with sex. Orenstein’s interviews revealed that gay adolescent boys in rural, conservative areas feel afraid to explore their sexuality. They turn to Grindr as a ‘safe space’ for exploration, often putting themselves in risky situations. Transgender teens face a lot of uncertainty about sex with potential partners. Orenstein proves there is a need for more inclusive sex education, that focuses on more than reproduction and penetrative sex.

These books are just a small selection of the titles out there that can help better understanding of, and engagement with, LGBTQIA+ lives and history. Keep reading, and keep seeking out LGBTQIA+ voices to learn about what still needs to be done.

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