Are you in a place where you want to learn about LGBTQ+ people, but you’re not quite sure where to start? If you’re an ally, just discovering yourself, or simply trying to better understand a diverse group of people, there are tons of books out there that will make your life easier and better – so let’s check them out!
There are both fiction and non-fiction books that will make it easier to learn about LGBTQ+ people. Non-fiction titles include things like The Stonewall Reader (a collection edited by the New York Public Library); The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson; and How We Fight For Our Lives, by Saeed Jones. Fiction books include things like Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman, and Luna, by Anne Peters.
These books cover many different LGBTQ+ themes with grace, thoughtfulness, and curiosity – so let’s jump in and learn more about them!
The Stonewall Reader (Edited By New York Public Library; Non-Fiction)
Almost everybody will remember or at least be familiar with The Stonewall Riots, which occurred in 1969, and were the result of a police raid on a New York bar. The raid was followed by three nights of defiance from LGBTQ+ individuals who were tired of being oppressed by society and brutalized by the police.
These riots were an amazing show of bravery and pride, and yet many historical accounts have erased them and eroded the crucial roles of certain members in the fight, especially lesbians and trans women of color. This book seeks to undo that, and to bring to life some of those who might otherwise be forgotten.
It combines diaries, drawings, and first-hand accounts, and invites readers to recognize everybody in the LGBTQ+ world. Anybody who is looking to understand the depth, beauty, and vibrancy of LGBTQ+ people can benefit from reading these accounts and hearing the voices of those previously ignored.
The Argonauts (By Maggie Nelson; Non-Fiction)
A captivating memoir by Maggie Nelson, this covers her marriage and relationship with Harry Dodge, a gender-fluid individual who was highly engaged in the world of art. It’s only short, and yet it covers so much ground, and mulls over the meanings of many different concepts that are important to humans everywhere.
It covers love, sex, pregnancy, and the meaning of family, and invites you to think in more fluid, flexible terms, going beyond the binary lines that we draw arbitrarily in everyday life, and plunging into a world of possibilities. It’s a beautiful account that has given many people stronger and deeper insights into the world of LGBTQ+ individuals.
Queer: A Graphic History (By Dr. Meg Barker And Julia Scheele; Non-Fiction)
This book deals with some very serious and challenging concepts through an unusual format: comic panels. It is a unique and fascinating take on learning, and offers some incredible insights into the world of both gender and sexual expression.
The book covers a wealth of different subjects, including gender roles, identity politics, gender expression, and more, and it looks at both the history and the issues of today. It seeks to understand human thinking patterns and to explore why we treat these things the way that we do.
If you’re interested in unpacking some truly deep understanding of the world behind the concepts and you want to do so in an unusual format, this is a unique offering that is insightful, knowledgeable, and accessible.
How We Fight For Our Lives (By Saeed Jones; Non-Fiction)
A beautiful coming of age memoir, this again looks at those on the edge of the LGBTQ+ community, those who are “less acceptable” than more mainstream white, lesbian couples. It covers the story of Saeed Jones, who grew up in Texas in the late 1990s, as a gay, black Southerner.
He understands the challenges faced by people like him, and explores the dangers of racism and homophobia, and the way these two intersect to create something much harder to deal with. His account is emotionally raw and very beautiful, and allows the reader a glimpse into a private, personal world.
If you want to form a strong connection with those in the LGBTQ+ community, this book gives you the opportunity to do so, letting you relate deeply to someone’s personal experiences in a difficult and hostile world.
We Have Always Been Here (By Samra Habib; Non-Fiction)
Religion and queerness do not always make an easy mix, and this is what Samra Habib has chosen to explore in her book. She has created a harrowing, haunting memoir that recognizes how LGBTQ+ people have existed throughout history, and explores the challenges that they face in today’s world.
Her account spans two countries; she was raised in Pakistan, but she and her family sought refuge in Canada after threats from Islamic extremists. Even there, however, they faced many challenges, including poverty and racism – and she also looks at the strong familiar pressure she felt to conform.
Anybody grappling with the challenges of faith and gender identity will find this book a compelling read, exploring the hope of reconciliation, the beauty of love, and the contradictions within the self. It’s very much a must-read on the list of books that will teach you about some of the struggles faced by LGBTQ+ individuals.
Orlando (By Virginia Woolf; Fiction)
Moving into fiction, we have Orlando, by the famous Virginia Woolf. Written in 1928, it stands out for its time, exploring gender roles and relationships in extraordinary ways. Explained briefly, the plot follows Orlando, an English nobleman who suddenly discovers that he is now a woman – and feels very comfortable and at home with the idea.
The narrative follows Orlando’s journey through time; she soon finds that she does not age, and walks through several centuries over the course of the book. These centuries are populated by other characters who are genderfluid and non-conforming, and the book explores Orlando’s relationships with these individuals.
A curious tale, especially for its time, Orlando is high on the list of must-reads if you want to consider how gender norms affect us, and to think about this in a historical context as well as a modern one. There are not many books handling such themes from Woolf’s era, making this a rare gem that must be given its due attention.
Call Me By Your Name (By André Aciman; Fiction)
You have almost certainly heard of this thanks to the film, but the book is very worthy of your time and attention too. A story full of youthful love, this is an opportunity for the reader to trace a path of romance, as young Elio falls in love with Oliver, and the two begin to understand themselves and each other.
The book spans 20 years following their relationship, and it also explores themes of familial support, heartbreak, reunion, jealousy, loss, and what could have been. It’s a romance that has been praised for its beauty and for the sorrow it captures.
If you want a deeper understanding of the barriers that are often placed in the way of LGBTQ+ love and the challenges that must be overcome, both now and historically, this book offers a gentle and extremely poignant insight, which has charmed readers everywhere.
Luna (By Anne Peters; Fiction)
Transgender characters are often overlooked even today, but Luna (a 2004 novel) has sought to change that and bring them to the forefront. It’s a young adult novel, but don’t dismiss it based on that; it provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about and understand the challenges faced by transgender individuals.
The novel explores the relationship and trust formed between two siblings, Liam and Regan. Liam is transgender and at night, becomes Luna. Eventually, she decides that she wants to be female full-time, and Regan agrees to help her, although she is afraid for her sister and struggles to understand her.
The book allows the reader to explore supportive relationships and the value of letting somebody be what they feel, even if it seems strange and hard to understand at first. Other characters within the novel also invite readers to consider the different reactions transgender individuals face, and the challenges they must cope with.
Luna is a beautiful story that explores family relationships, trust, secrecy, support, sibling love, and what it means to be one’s true self. It’s unquestionably an incredible book that has brought great value to LGBTQ+ literature, and given many who struggle to understand transgender individuals insight and methods for being supportive.
Giovanni’s Room (By James Baldwin; Fiction)
An incredibly moving novel set in 1950s Paris, this book explores bisexuality and homosexuality, as well as themes of isolation, masculinity, gender identity crises, and more. It looks at the complexities of love and human desire, as well as covering darker themes, such as execution and deep-running, lasting guilt.
The book is a tough read for many, but it is deeply moving and passionate, and provides a look at some of the realities of the world that gay and bisexual individuals face. A question of what a “real man” is stalks the book like a plague, creating deep insecurities and an inability to reconcile with the self.
Though challenging, Giovanni’s Room is undoubtedly a beautiful, moving read that leaves a lasting impression and provides a look at the harmful implications of homophobia.
The Left Hand Of Darkness (By Ursula Le Guin; Fiction)
Set in a fictional world where there is no concept of male or female, this book is an exceptionally clever way of making us question the binary lines we have drawn upon our world, and the realities that exist beneath those lines. It invites us to recognize that gender is far more fluid than our language and our norms suggest.
It’s an iconic sci-fi that has captivated thousands of readers, and it beautifully challenges both the main character (Genly) and the readers to reconsider their thoughts and behavior on very fundamental levels. It’s hard for us to do this while operating in the context of our world, where gender norms permeate everything, so Le Guin has removed that backdrop to let us see more clearly.
An extraordinary tale, this invites readers to consider many different aspects of gender norms, sexual attraction, sexuality, and the tension that our categorizations create. Gethen is far from a perfect planet, but it creates a space where we can explore our expectations surrounding gender identity in completely new ways.
There are so many books that can teach us about different LGBTQ+ themes. Following narratives by queer characters (whether fictionalized or taken from reality) is an enormously effective way to enhance your understanding, and increase your ability to be supportive, both of others and of yourself.
The world of LGBTQ+ can sometimes seem confusing and daunting to outsiders, but these books invite us in and give us the blueprints with which to start exploring, understanding, and accepting.