Out of The Closet, Onto the Shelves

Great beach reads written by queer authors.

After coming out as a lesbian during her freshman year of college, Casey Parks seemingly lost access to the life in the South she once knew. Her mother is convinced she’s going to Hell, and her pastor goes so far as to ask God to strike her dead. When her grandmother reveals a lifelong secret—that she grew up across the street from a man who would now be considered transgender—Parks sees that not all the ties to her Southern roots have been severed. Sparked by her grandmother’s insistence that the writer find out what happened to the neighbor, Roy Hudgins, Parks embarks on a decade-long journey to find out who exactly this man was, leading to an examination of the ancestry of outcasts and queers as well as biological determinism. Parks recounts this journey in Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir and a Mystery (Knopf). A rare combination of searing memoir and investigative journalism, this is a must-read story about how finding others helps us begin to truly find ourselves.

While many of us believe we know what it takes to make or be a family, Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance by Professor Francesca Royster asks us to consider how creating a family isn’t as simple as many would claim it is. Choosing Family (Abrams) explores Royster’s journey into motherhood, and the ways it is enriched and complicated by things like transracial adoption, aging, interracial relationships, and the inherent queerness of historical Black family configurations (especially set against the white heteronormative experience).

From cultural critic Clarkisha Kent comes Fat Off Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto. The book explores how to find love and respect for your body in a world full of homophobia, anti-Blackness, and anti-fatness. Fat Off Fat On (Feminist Press) names these devils early and clearly, which allows Kent to express the frustration, difficulty, and joy in fighting—and perhaps even winning—the fight against them. An unflinching assessment of the way that anti-fatness colors intersections of life, Fat Off Fat On is as open and charming as memoirs come.

Multihyphenate rock star, writer, and singer-songwriter Adele Bertei takes on the avatar of Maddie Twist to bring to life her thinly-veiled childhood memoir, Twist: An American Girl (ZE Books). Bertei chronicles growing up queer in the 1960s and ‘70s, and all that came along with it for the author: poverty, violence, misogyny, absent father, mentally ill mother, Vietnam, and of course, rock music. It’s sort of like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” if Billy Joel had been the founder of the first out, queer, all-women rock band, The Bloods (as Bertei was). The author and musician deliver unto the wannabe rock star in all of us a memoir that is, more than anything, about resilience, queerness, and the transformative power of love.

In Lesbian Death: Desire and Danger Between Lesbian and Queer (University of Minnesota Press), Mairead Sullivan seeks to examine the past, present, and future value of lesbianism, in part by evaluating the lesbian concept in terms of its relationship and proximity to death (imagine the sex wars, lesbian bed death, TERF wars, even Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer). This academic book looks, too, at the worth of lesbian culture and identity to both queer and feminist ideologies. Lesbian Death is for college educated audiences, but it infuses new life into a converstion that has, for some, been reduced to one woman’s identity is another’s dying concept. “Mairead Sullivan’s refreshing book delves deeply into the decades-long dynamic in which the lesbian—as figure, identity, and political project—is somehow always already dying even as younger and older generations infuse the lesbian with new and vital promise. Analyzing fears of lesbian death registered in narratives of loss, aggression, murderousness, bed death, and so many wars (sex wars, theory wars, butch-fem border wars, intersectionality wars, and TERF wars), this engaging work trenchantly illuminates the disruptive potential and undeniable persistence of the lesbian at the heart of the often-tense relations among feminist, queer, and trans articulations of community,” wrote Finn Enke, author of Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism.

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