You won’t find any of these books in the top search hits for “queer books” (believe me, I checked). But I swear to you on my little queer heart, they are worth reading. Yes, there are classics like The Color Purple and Stone Butch Blues that deserve every ounce of praise they get (and I still recommend them to everyone who asks). But if you’ve already read all those, or if you’re looking for lesser-known voices, I present to you ten of my favorites pulled from all corners of the library, from poetry collections to picture books.
Like Joshua Whitehead and Arielle Twist, Billy-Ray Belcourt makes a home among talented Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer writers who are well-known within their communities but not yet duly recognized on the world stage. Although This Wound is a World is Belcourt’s first book, it sounds like a masterpiece that’s been building for generations, culminating in a work that is decidedly present. Despite (perhaps or because of) White settlers’ insistence on historicizing indigenous lives, Belcourt refuses to be stuck in the past. Readers are gifted with heart-wrenching passages like “he’s a little bit country / I’m a little bit barbed-wire fence,” and gems as radically joyful as “there is a heaven / and it is a place called gay.” If you find that this collection connects with you, be sure to check out Belcourt’s newest book, A History of My Brief Body.
Bang! is a true gift for anyone who has a body and wants to feel good in it.
By Vic Liu
It’s no surprise that Vic Liu’s activism is inspired by Audre Lorde, adrienne maree brown, and Sonya Renee Taylor. Her work to normalize masturbation, tear down stigma, and improve access to pleasure among diverse bodies echoes many of their foundational principles. Inside, you’ll find practical instructions as well as intensely human moments like: “Sure, masturbation is about all the fun physical and emotional feels your body can give you, but it’s also about being alone with yourself, mental and physical, that no one else can make you love.” And while Liu’s writing is refreshingly down-to-earth, one of her greatest strengths is her purposeful inclusion of a diverse range of authors to write from their own experience, from getting off in a wheelchair to masturbating while trans. Bang! is a true gift for anyone who has a body and wants to feel good in it.
Now, this is fiction worth pausing your life for. It’s Francesca Ekwuyasi’s debut novel, but this queer writer can expertly weave a tale of three Nigerian women, told in alternating chapters and set in multiple continents, without ever losing our rapt attention. There’s Kambirinachi, who is torn between a life of suffering on Earth and rejoining her kin in another world. And then there are her two estranged twin daughters: Kehinde, who attempts to rebuild her life after “the bad thing”, and Taiye, who drowns in vices to numb her guilt. Taiye is the queer one of the bunch, but the entire novel is saturated in queer-adjacent themes like exclusion, shame, loneliness, trauma, and belonging. The content is heavy, but the lyrical prose feels light as air.
It’s incredible that Charlene Carruthers is first and foremost a political strategist. Not because her political work is lacking—it’s outstanding. It’s because her writing is so clear and concise, she outstrips a great majority of people who call themselves “writers” but fail to reach their audience. Carruthers, on the other hand, manages to gather centuries of Black radical tradition and create a simple framework for contemporary social justice movements to struggle effectively toward liberation. Relatively slim and powerfully written, Unapologetic is both easy to follow and challenging to digest. This is black queer feminism in all its power.
If you’ve already read Jeanette Winterson, forgive me. Perhaps it’s because it’s the first queer book I ever read before I even knew I was queer, but this oldie is too good to pass up. Winterson is one of those queer writers who craft such sensual, lyrical prose that it almost reads like poetry. Written on the Body is no exception, but what makes this novel exceptional is its use of a first-person narrator whose name and gender are never revealed. While the narrator engages in a tryst with a married woman, the reader is given space to imagine their own protagonist, while simultaneously being pulled deep into the emotional landscape of complex relationships. If you like Winterson’s style, you’re in luck, because she’s written dozens more.
...her story is not only captivating but surprisingly relatable and inspiring in its essential truths.
By Samra Habib
Raised as a persecuted religious minority in Pakistan, Samra Habib fled across the world with her family as a refugee, only to feel ostracized once again一by her country for being a Muslim woman of color, by her faith for being queer, and by her family for refusing an arranged marriage. Still, she shows us the capacity to embody multiple identities simultaneously, and how this is not a fallacious contradiction, but a powerful triumph. Her work as a queer Muslim activist, photographer, and journalist stands as a testament to this power. In the end, her story is not only captivating but surprisingly relatable and inspiring in its essential truths.
You might know Owl (Ugla Stefanía) and Fox Fisher from the film project My Genderation, their trans activism in Iceland and the UK, or Fox’s colorful illustrations on Instagram. Both partners identify as trans and non-binary, but their “gender expression is very different,” as Fox points out. Together, they are a team made in gender heaven to write and illustrate the aptly named Trans Teen Survival Guide. The guide is dedicated to the late Chrissi L. Bentley, and inspired by Bentley’s invaluable blog of the same name that has served trans youth for years. Inside, you’ll find both Fishers and a host of other voices offering general tips like using meditation as a self-care practice, as well as answering nitty-gritty questions like “Why did you choose meta over phallo?” I may not be a trans teen myself, but this is definitely one book I feel confident sharing with those who are, and those who want to better understand and support the trans teens in their own lives.
Skim is the graphic novel I wish I had in high school. While I was escaping real-life trauma with fantasy series, I could have been reading Skim and discovered that there are others out there who felt the same way I do. Cousins Mariko & Jillian Tamaki don’t shy away from topics like homophobia, depression, and suicide in order to fabricate a false, G-rated world for their teen characters to inhabit. (Their other graphic novel, This One Summer, was the most challenged book of 2016.) In fact, the protagonist’s struggles at home, estrangement from her best friend, and infatuation with her same-gender teacher are so convincingly realistic, it’s hard to call it fiction. I can’t wait to read their next graphic novel that’s currently in the works.
Although its vagueness means that it’s often missed on queer book collections, it will always have a spot in mine.
You may have already heard of Maya Christina Gonzalez, a queer Chicana artist who has dozens of books under her belt. She even started her own publishing company, Reflection Press, which highlights queerness and gender identity. Unlike many of her other books, Call Me Tree is unique in its ability to explore these themes without ever addressing them directly. Like a true artist, Gonzalez allows the audience to draw their own connections from the subtle text and vivid imagery. Written in both English and Spanish, the story follows an ungendered protagonist who grows from a seed and discovers their own identity and their relation to those around them. In a heartwarming declaration akin to sharing one’s pronouns, they request to be called “tree” and revel in their freedom to be themself. Although its vagueness means that it’s often missed on queer book collections, it will always have a spot in mine.
For non-readers or those who read too much, I offer you a book of inclusive illustrations that will lift your queer spirit as you color it in. I discovered Hilde Atalanta’s work through The Vulva Gallery, which showcases their watercolor paintings of real vulvas in an effort to challenge misinformation and normalize diverse vulvas. With You’re Welcome Club, Atalanta expands this mission to all bodies, creating illustrations that celebrate diversity across gender, sexuality, size, age, race, ability, and more. Let’s Celebrate is a collection of these illustrations, rendered in black-and-white line drawings for your coloring pleasure, interspersed with positive affirmations of beauty and belonging.
Books seem to have a magical way of healing the heart and expanding the mind.
Books seem to have a magical way of healing the heart and expanding the mind. Even before coming out to myself as queer and nonbinary, delving into others’ stories gave me the language to explore my own past experiences and dreams for the future. Whether you are reading for pleasure, learning, connection, or something else entirely, I hope at least one of these books can serve you the way they have served me and many others. And if you have more lesser-known, life-consuming queer stories to recommend, please reach out. From one bookworm to another: happy reading!