If you want to learn something about life, you've got to go live it. But if you want to learn something about Life with a big "L," you've got to spend time listening to other people's stories. Queer memoirs are vital pieces of literature because they provide firsthand accounts of what it means to grow up othered; these also grapple with issues like racism, sexism, politics, addiction, and faith, because queer memoirs often have an inherent intersectionality.
From trans to femme boy memoirs, the following 10 stories from the past five years capture a generation of queer voices, all of different ages, coming to terms with their place in the world. No two stories are the same, but there's common ground to be found between them all. Growing up is hard, but the following journeys prove it's worth it. Read on.
Teaching the Cat to Sit: A Memoir by Michelle Theall (2014) It's not often we hear about a queer female's experience growing up in a strict Catholic family. Theall holds nothing back, recounting everything from the hatred and ultimate self-acceptance she experienced coming of age in the Bible Belt to what it's been like raising a son with her partner in the church. It is a portrait of the sheer strength of faith.
Teaching the Cat to Sit: A Memoir is available at Amazon.
Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2015)Part poetry, part prose, Piepzna-Samarasinha documents her life as a queer femme following early years of abuse and finding a balance between her mother's white heritage and father's Tamil roots. It's gritty, shocking, and, as The Globe and Mail writes, "explodes the myth of LGBT sameness." Piepzna-Samarasinha's a punk at heart, holding nothing back in her quest to reclaim her myriad identities.
Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home is available at Amazon.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow (2014)There aren't enough stories about growing up gay and black in the South. Blow takes the reader into a history of abuse and the psychological turmoil fraternity hazing can have on the fragility of masculinity. It's a redemptive coming-of-age story that radiates with a hunger for freedom.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones is available at Amazon.
The Gilded Razor by Sam Lansky (2016)Ah, to be young, gay, white, and privileged going to a fancy-pants high school in New York City. Sounds like the makings of a CW show, right? Add in an addiction to almost every drug under the sun, though, and you have a recipe for a memoir you can't believe someone could have survived to write. But Lansky did and did so with elegance. The perseverance he shows following his devastating spiral to rock bottom will leave you gutted.
The Gilded Razor is available at Amazon.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock (2014)What does it mean to grow up trans, multiracial, and poor in America? Janet Mock will tell you in her award-winning memoir Redefining Realness. Her path to self-discovery is an education in the transgender experience.
Redefining Realness is available at Amazon.
Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart (2016)YouTube sensation Hannah Hart's life before fame remained pretty much a mystery until she released Buffering. Now, however, her journey towards self-discovery, embracing her queerness, and better understanding her mental illness is available for all to read in cheeky prose that's genuinely optimistic. No fuss, just realness.
Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded is available at Amazon.
Note to self by Connor Franta (2017)Part memoir, part bona fide diary printed on fancy paper, Connor Franta's sophomore book is a thoughtful look at what it means to be young, in love, and queer in America today. Through personal photographs, poems, memories, and letters to a future self, Franta shines a light on a different gay experience projected within mainstream media. It's both bitingly clever and melancholy. Above all else, Franta's latest is a reminder to keep your chin up no matter what the world throws in your way.
note to self is available at Amazon.
Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrad Conley (2016)Conley's recollection of his experience in conversion therapy is haunting, to say the least. In a time when the vice president of the United States believes this type of treatment can "cure" homosexuality, Conley's firsthand account is timely and necessary. Not only that, he treats it with tenderness and without disdain. His capacity for empathy, even after the most traumatic of experiences, is contagious.
Boy Erased: A Memoir is available at Amazon.
Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace (2016)All hail Laura Jane Grace. Her journaling from a young age helps paint an in-depth portrait of transgender life. It's an emphatically outspoken, rock 'n' roll journey through self-doubt, self-acceptance, intolerance, and empathy.
Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout is available at Amazon.
How to Grow Up: A Memoir by Michelle Tea (2015)Change is the one thing we can count on. It's not easy, but it's a necessary hardship we must all work through. In writer and poet Michelle Tea's case, that involves making mistakes after becoming financially stable and navigating her queer identity and search for romance in San Francisco. How to Grow Up is a testament to human perseverance in the face of the inevitable changes that make up our lives.
How to Grow Up: A Memoir is available at Amazon.