As someone fairly new to the genre of memoirs—which has quickly become one of my favorite genres to read—you truly could not have convinced me to pick one up a few years ago. I think it’s because my idea of memoirs was something that felt more like a history textbook versus something that made you feel alive and seen in all your queerness, which could help you reflect on your own lived experiences. Growing up, I personally had so little access to other queer folks—let alone a chance to read our stories. These memoirs below not only show the power of queer memoirs, but also the versatility of the genre, from advice column prompt-like essays to illustrative conversations.
Girlhood by Melissa Febos
In Girlhood, Melissa Febos tackles themes of coming of age and what girlhood looks like, as well as how experiences that stem from girlhood can flow directly into adulthood. Many of the experiences she describes relates to how the world views a girl and her body. Every single essay in this collection is extraordinary—but my favorite that I still think about is the one that covers Fabos learning about the power of consent/boundaries at a cuddle party, and the necessity of unlearning the discomfort that comes with establishing boundaries.
íHola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer
You might be familiar with the column now substack íHola Papi! or you might not. Either way, you need John Paul Brammer in your life and íHola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons will tell you exactly why. Through short essays prompted from questions asking for advice, you learn more about John Paul Brammer and how he got through tough periods of his life as a queer mixed-race guy—like bullying in middle school, dealing with imposter syndrome, or coming out in, you guessed it, a Walmart parking lot! This memoir-in-essays is one of my favorite books ever. Hot tip: you can totally use the chapter prompt questions for your own journaling and to tap into your own story.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
This is a must-read memoir of a Black girl growing up in Indiana, and is one of the most deeply layered memoirs I’ve read in a very long time. It touches on Ashley C. Ford’s complicated and sometimes emotionally unstable relationship with her mother, while reflecting on a childhood without her father, who was incarcerated. The writing in this felt so tender to Ashley C. Ford’s inner child, which I saw as a reminder to allow myself my own childhood memories without questioning them or trying to pick them apart as an adult now.
In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
This memoir told in short vignettes unveils the impact and effect of domestic violence in a queer relationship. The ways it can show up as emotional abuse, mentally tearing down a person and leaving a lasting imprint. Machado folds in the little history and representation of domestic violence in literature she she spent time researching, while telling her own story of identifying a toxic relationship and her attempts to leave it. I find this book to be so fundamental to queer relationships.
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Diaz
In this memoir, Jaquira Diaz details her life growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach with a mother struggling with schizophrenia, domestic violence and addiction. Diaz weaves in her own struggles of her sexuality and mental health as she also writes about the ways the friendships in her life save her. This memoir is such a powerful testament to families of choice and a version of Miami I haven’t read about before.
Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by Jacob Tobia
Tobias voice in this memoir feels like a good friend telling you their story over drinks. It recounts Tobias’ life growing up in North Carolina as they come to terms with what gender means to them and society. It truly made me interrogate my own ideas of gender and how I developed them, as well as what continues to inform those ideas.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
A vividly compelling story about loss, grief, sisterhood and family. My 80s/90s queer inner child loved this memoir so very much and felt so seen by Madden’s reflections on her queer desires growing up. This memoir for me also felt like a love letter to anyone that has remotely felt lonely or like an outcast in a room full of people. I found so many moments in which I actually cringed, because it reminded me of something I’d experienced, like the middle school dance scene. And this is what makes Madden’s memoir a must read. You can come with all your experiences and see yourself reflected in her words and in her experiences.
Native Country of the Heart by Cherríe Moraga
In Native Country of the Heart, Moraga carefully unfolds and dissects the rich and complicated history of her mother alongside her own story. Peeling back the layers of her own mother’s humanity—not to try and understand her, but to honor her as she begins to lose her to Alzheimer’s disease. This memoir perfectly captures the fine line between accepting a mother as someone who is like every other human that has made mistakes without dismissing her own experiences as a daughter.
Wow, No Thank You: Essays by Samatha Irby
If you haven’t read anything by Samatha Irby yet, I am envious! I wish I could read her work for the first time—in fact I often go back and reread it. In short essay format, Irby covers essays ranging from owning a house with her wife, to understanding her role as the girlfriend of her wife’s kids, to all the aches and pains a 40-year-old body can feel. There truly is no greater writer in my book that will have me laughing out loud so hard like Samantha Irby. The way Irby is able to turn essays (which for me growing up felt like the most boring assignments to get, let alone read) into relatable, fun and unapologetic takes on her life is truly so much magic!
How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
Spanning Jones’s life as a gay Black boy growing up in the South, he examines race within queer relationships/encounters, grief and vunerablity in such unique ways. So much of this memoir felt possible and written for Jones’s mother, who he tragically loses. Beautifully poetic, you’ll be drawn in by each passage that renders a depth of emotions like no other.
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
I have written about this memoir more times than I can count and yet I still never feel like I can’t capture its beauty. Mira Jacob, an Indian-American queer woman, details conversations she’s had with son, spouse, friends, family and strangers through illustrations. These conversations veer from innocent questions related to race that her mixed son asks, to harder conversations she has with her white mother-in-law about being mistaken for the help at a party. This emotion-packed memoir is truly one of the most unique memoirs I have ever read, and I’ll continue to recommend it as long as I can.