During every week this Pride Month, we’ll ask one of our contrubutors to compile a list of essential queer works of art. We start with books.
All months have their periods of high emotion, but they are merely rehearsals compared to the chest-punching power ballad of Pride Month. Of course, there are the more-public rituals: the gathering of beloved communities, sweet displays of affection, the heated arguments against the politics of homo-capitalism. We’re sad, we’re angry, we’re joyful. It’s a lot.
On a personal level, this June will also mark both the second anniversary of my queer divorce and my second trip down the aisle, this time with a straight, white man—two things I swore I’d never do again. A genderqueer second wife, I know that my pansexuality is under the purple petticoat I’m wearing to my wedding, but I’m suddenly grappling with the erasure that comes with a straight-passing relationship. I used to turn to memoir when I was figuring out my identity and community, and now I come back when my queer identity needs company.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
My death plan includes being cremated with a copy of this book. I first encountered this graphic novel as an undergrad out in Iowa, and I reread it every January—it’s literature that grows with me, mostly because of Alison Bechdel’s delicate recollection of her late father, who lived his life in the closet, and the hesitant empathy she holds for him.
How to Grow Up: A Memoir by Michelle Tea
Michelle Tea is a goth kid turned punk house-dweller turned outlaw literature hero. Her bald-faced memoir roams through all the dirty nooks and crannies, sweeping her past into a powerful pile of personal history. It’s a guidebook from the older sister you wish you had, offering advice on everything from sobriety to queer babymaking. It’s brave and reassuring, the first book I pull down when I need solace.
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
There is no such thing as love without justice, and we all have to unlearn the oppressive dysfunction—and abuse—that our families teach us. In this book, part memoir, part manifesto, hooks calls for a new love paradigm drawn from activism. I always give my engaged friends a copy, but you definitely don’t have to be in love to pull from this one. Hooks makes a case for the importance of nonromantic love, the kind often felt during Pride Month.
The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy
My mom always says, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” Levy, an accomplished journalist, takes a raw approach to interrogating this idea, recalling her pathway to a solid career and queer marriage followed by the despair of a tragic miscarriage and subsequent divorce—which she famously documented in her essay “Thanksgiving in Mongolia.”
Role Models by John Waters
Everyone needs a chosen grandpa, and I pick John Waters (though he would probably hate that). I listened to this memoir during a lonely car ride across Iowa, and the coziness of Waters’s honesty and descriptions offered an intimacy that isn’t available in his films. I also have mad respect for the work he does in prisons—check this one out if you’re looking for a way to negotiate the personal and the political. v