Five nonfiction books about LGBTQIA2S+ themes

It’s Pride Month! In honour of celebrating Pride Month, I’ll be sharing some LGBTQIA2S+ book recommendations. Keep checking in each week for more recommendations.

LGBTQIA2S+ = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, and plus (anyone who doesn’t fit into one specific category)


I believe reading is a great way to learn about the world and understand people better.

There are two key ways to better understand peoples’ experiences through reading. One is to read fiction to experience a similar life through the characters’ eyes and perspectives. The other key way is to read nonfiction about the topic, such as memoirs, for retellings of lived experiences, or a researched deep-dive on a specific topic.

I think memoirs and fiction can provide a similar reading experience by being able to “live a day in their lives”, and to place yourself in their shoes. Memoirs are especially powerful because you know it all really happened, the experiences aren’t part of the character or plot development.

Researched nonfiction is a very different kind of learning experience, but equally important because it’s able to provide context, show the big picture, and provide a better understanding of the depth and breadth of the topic.

I believe reading researched nonfiction together with memoirs/fiction provides the best way of understanding any topic. The combination allows you to understand it at a personal level (through direct story telling), as well as at a communal or societal level by learning about how the systems in place have contributed to the personal experience.

Nothing happens in isolation, and understanding any topic requires seeing how all levels interact.

Even if you have lived experience in any given topic, that doesn’t mean you fully understand how the systems around you worked together to contribute to your experience. It also doesn’t mean you understand how many other people may have experienced the same thing.

Personally, I think everyone should read more nonfiction books. There’s so much we can learn about each other and about the world we live in.

For this week, I wanted to share some nonfiction books around LGBTQIA2S+ themes in honour of Pride Month.

Photo by Jiroe (Matia Rengel) on Unsplash

Tip to read more nonfiction

Here’s a tip! If you struggle to read nonfiction, maybe you find it slow or difficult to get immersed in the book, I would recommend listening to the book as an audiobook. It helps you get through it much faster, so that you can understand the main ideas more quickly.

I know reading a book is a huge time commitment, and sometimes nonfiction books can seem like an even bigger time commitment. An audiobook is a great way to either try out a book or get the key concepts more quickly.

You may not catch every detail, but you can always go back and listen to it again, or even look at the physical book for sections that really interest you. Plus the more you repeat and review the book, the more information you’ll likely remember.

Five nonfiction books about LGBTQIA2S+ themes

Here’s a list of five nonfiction books about LGBTQIA2S+ themes.

  1. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (1987)
  2. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein (1994)
  3. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano (2007)
  4. Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen (2020)
  5. The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye (2021)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1987)

by Randy Shilts

  • Year Published: 1987
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, health, lgbtqia+, politics, emotional, informative, sad, medium-paced
  • An extensive timeline of the discovery and spread of HIV and AIDS
  • Won the Stonewall Book Award

By the time Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 alerted all America to the danger of the AIDS epidemic, the disease had spread across the nation, killing thousands of people and emerging as the greatest health crisis of the 20th century. America faced a troubling question: What happened? How was this epidemic allowed to spread so far before it was taken seriously? In answering these questions, Shilts weaves the disparate threads into a coherent story, pinning down every evasion and contradiction at the highest levels of the medical, political, and media establishments.

Shilts shows that the epidemic spread wildly because the federal government put budget ahead of the nation’s welfare; health authorities placed political expediency before the public health; and scientists were often more concerned with international prestige than saving lives. Against this backdrop, Shilts tells the heroic stories of individuals in science and politics, public health and the gay community, who struggled to alert the nation to the enormity of the danger it faced.

And the Band Played On is both a tribute to these heroic people and a stinging indictment of the institutions that failed the nation so badly.

Links:

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us (1994)

by Kate Bornstein

  • Year Published: 1994
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, gender, lgbtqia+, memoir, challenging, reflective, medium-paced

“I know I’m not a man… and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman, either… The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other.”

With these words, Kate Bornstein ushers readers on a funny, fearless, and wonderfully scenic journey across the terrains of gender and identity. On one level, Gender Outlaw details Bornstein’s transformation from heterosexual male to lesbian woman, from a one-time IBM salesperson to a playwright and performance artist. But this particular coming-of-age story is also a provocative investigation into our notions of male and female, from a self-described nonbinary transfeminine diesel femme dyke who never stops questioning our cultural assumptions.

Gender Outlaw was decades ahead of its time when it was first published in 1994. Now, some twenty-odd years later, this book stands as both a classic and a still-revolutionary work—one that continues to push us gently but profoundly to the furthest borders of the gender frontier.

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Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (2007)

by Julia Serano

  • Year Published: 2007
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, feminism, gender, lgbtqia+, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • An updated second edition was published in 2016

A provocative manifesto, Whipping Girl tells the powerful story of Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist. Serano shares her experiences and observations—both pre- and post-transition—to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole.

Serano’s well-honed arguments stem from her ability to bridge the gap between the often-disparate biological and social perspectives on gender. She exposes how deep-rooted the cultural belief is that femininity is frivolous, weak, and passive, and how this “feminine” weakness exists only to attract and appease male desire.

In addition to debunking popular misconceptions about transsexuality, Serano makes the case that today’s feminists and transgender activist must work to embrace and empower femininity—in all of its wondrous forms.

Links:

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex (2020)

by Angela Chen

  • Year Published: 2020
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, lgbtqia+, sociology, informative, reflective, medium-paced

An engaging exploration of what it means to be asexual in a world that’s obsessed with sexual attraction, and what we can all learn about desire and identity by using an ace lens to see the world

What exactly is sexual attraction and what is it like to go through the world not experiencing it? What does asexuality reveal about consent, about compromise, about the structures of society? This exceedingly accessible guide to asexuality shows that the issues that aces face—confusion around sexual activity, the intersection of sexuality and identity, navigating different needs in relationships—are conflicts that all of us need to address as we move through the world.

Through interviews, cultural criticism, and memoir, ACE invites all readers to consider big-picture issues through the lens of asexuality, because every place that sexuality touches our world, asexuality does too.

Links:

The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice (2021)

by Shon Faye

  • Year Published: 2021
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, gender, lgbtqia+, politics, challenging, informative, reflective, medium-paced

Trans people in Britain today have become a culture war ‘issue’. Despite making up less than 1% of the country’s population, they are the subjects of a toxic and increasingly polarised ‘debate’, which generates reliable controversy for newspapers and talk shows. This media frenzy conceals a simple fact: that we are having the wrong conversation, a conversation in which trans people themselves are reduced to a talking point and denied a meaningful voice.

In this powerful new book, Shon Faye reclaims the idea of the ‘transgender issue’ to uncover the reality of what it means to be trans in a transphobic society. In doing so, she provides a compelling, wide-ranging analysis of trans lives from youth to old age, exploring work, family, housing, healthcare, the prison system, and trans participation in the LGBTQ+ and feminist communities, in contemporary Britain and beyond.

The Transgender Issue is a landmark work that signals the beginning of a new, healthier conversation about trans life. It is a manifesto for change, and a call for justice and solidarity between all marginalised people and minorities. Trans liberation, as Faye sees it, goes to the root of what our society is and what it could be; it offers the possibility of a more just, free and joyful world for all of us.

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Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.