By Zinnia Sengupta:
As South African queer activist and artist, Zanele Muholi said: “If I wait for someone else to validate my existence, it will mean that I’m shortchanging myself.” Memoirs are an intimately powerful means of claiming and reclaiming our truths and our stories, especially when they have been denied, sidelined and demonized by society at large.
The June prompt of our #2021DiversityReadingChallenge is to read a memoir by a writer from the LGBTQIA community and we have a list of incredible, poignant accounts of queer lives that have been unflinchingly lived across the globe, in the face of unending odds. The fact that queer literature lacks narratives from the intersections of several oppressed identities is a marker of how much work we have left if we are to truly create communities where queer writers can tell their own stories.
1. How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir
Author: Saeed Jones
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Haunted and haunting, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir about a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his family, into passing flings with lovers, friends, and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.
2. Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir
Author: Cherry Moraga
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir is, at its core, a mother-daughter story. The mother, Elvira, was hired out as a child, along with her siblings, by their own father to pick cotton in California’s Imperial Valley. The daughter, Cherríe Moraga, is a brilliant, pioneering, queer Latina feminist. The story of these two women, and of their people, is woven together in an intimate memoir of critical reflection and deep personal revelation. Poetically wrought and filled with insight into intergenerational trauma, Native Country of the Heart is a reckoning with white American history and a piercing love letter from a fearless daughter to the mother she will never lose.
3. The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story
Author: A. Revathi
Publisher: Penguin India
In telling her life story, Revathi evokes marvelously the deep unease of being in the wrong body that plagued her from childhood. To be true to herself, to escape the constant violence visited upon her by her family and community, the village-born Revathi ran away to Delhi to join a house of hijras. Her life became an incredible series of dangerous physical and emotional journeys to become a woman and to find love. The Truth About Me is the unflinchingly courageous and moving autobiography of a hijra who fought ridicule, persecution and violence both within her home and outside to find a life of dignity.
4. How to Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing up Asexual
Author: Rebecca Burgess
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
In this brave, hilarious and empowering graphic memoir, we follow Rebecca as they navigate a culture obsessed with sex – from being bullied at school and trying to fit in with friends, to forcing themselves into relationships and experiencing anxiety and OCD – before coming to understand and embrace their asexual identity. Giving unparalleled insight into asexuality and asexual relationships, How To Be Ace shows the importance of learning to be happy and proud of who you are.
5. Angry Queer Somali Boy
Author: Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali
Publisher: University of Regina Press
Kidnapped by his father on the eve of Somalia’s societal implosion, Mohamed Ali was taken first to the Netherlands by his stepmother, and then later on to Canada . Unmoored from his birth family and caught between twin alienating forces of Somali tradition and Western culture, Mohamed must forge his own queer coming of age. What follows in this fierce and unrelenting account is a story of one young man’s nascent sexuality fused with the violence wrought by displacement.
6. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More
Author: Janet Mock
Publisher: Atria Books
With unflinching honesty and moving prose, Janet Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, offering readers accessible language while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population. Though undoubtedly an account of one woman’s quest for self at all costs, Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another—and of ourselves—showing as never before how to be unapologetic and real.
7. We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir
Author: Samra Habib
Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. So begins an exploration of faith, art, love, and queer sexuality, a journey that takes her to the far reaches of the globe to uncover a truth that was within her all along. A triumphant memoir of forgiveness and family, both chosen and not, We Have Always Been Here is a rallying cry for anyone who has ever felt out of place and a testament to the power of fearlessly inhabiting one’s truest self.
8. Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home
Author: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
In 1996, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha ran away from America with two backpacks and ended up in Canada, where she discovered queer anarchopunk love and revolution, yet remained haunted by the reasons she left home in the first place. This passionate and riveting memoir is a mixtape of dreams and nightmares, of immigration court lineups and queer South Asian dance nights; it reveals how a disabled queer woman of color and abuse survivor navigates the dirty river of the past and, as the subtitle suggests, “dreams her way home.”
9. If I Had Two Lives
Author: Abbigail Rosewood
Publisher: Blackstone Pub
This luminous debut novel follows a young woman from her childhood in Vietnam to her life as an immigrant in the United States and her necessary return to her homeland. An inspiring meditation on love, loss, and the presence of a past that never dies, If I Had Two Lives explores the ancient question: Do we value the people in our lives because of who they are, or because of what we need them to be?
10. My Story
Author: Kamala Das
When it was first published in 1973, Kamala Das’s sensational autobiography shocked readers with its total disregard for convention and its fearless articulation of subjects still considered taboo. Narrating the author’s intensely personal experiences in her passage to womanhood and shedding light on the hypocrisies that informed traditional society, My Story was far ahead of its time and is today considered a masterpiece.
Let us know your suggestions and thoughts! Thank you for joining us on this journey of diversifying our bookshelves and minds!
Note: All images have been sourced from their respective publishing portals/digital marketplaces.