All of Samantha Irby’s hilarious and self-deprecating essay collections make for delightful listens. Wow, No Thank You is her most recent collection and chronicles Irby’s life; she recently turned 40 and lives with her wife in a predominantly white, Republican neighborhood. From lamenting the difficulty of finding adult friends to chronicling her bodily angsts and mourning the death of her beloved cat Helen, Irby’s writing is raw, captivating, and so very funny. Her performance on audio is perfection.
This gorgeously written memoir about being a Black gay man in the South is a captivating listen. Jones shows how little space there is for a gay man to explore their sexuality, especially when they're at the intersection of other marginalized identities. It’s also a love letter to the single mother who raised him and to the poetry that gave him hope. The joy he finds in poetry comes across in the lyricism of his writing as he describes emotionally fraught moments of his life and how he came to embrace his identity and survive.
This brilliant and harrowing memoir about Machado’s life with an abusive girlfriend uses elements of literary criticism, history, and the gothic to contextualize her trauma. Machado’s relationship began with hope and love, as they often do, but it took a dramatic, dark turn when the two moved in together. The memoir also describes an earlier abusive relationship Machado experienced with a gay authority figure during her teen years. Through her story, she shows the stereotypes surrounding who is and isn’t considered an abuser, the types of relationships that become abusive, and the hidden history of abusive queer relationships. This genre-bending memoir is a riveting audiobook. I can distinctly remember where I was and what I was doing while listening to certain passages.
In this insightful and dynamic memoir, artist and activist Samra Habib describes her childhood in Pakistan, her family’s move to Canada, and how she’s learned to embrace her identity as a queer woman and an Ahmadi Muslim. As a child in Pakistan, Habib and her family experienced abuse as part of a small religious sect. Moving to Canada as a refugee, she continued to face abuse from bullies at school while she and her family also experienced racism and poverty. When her parents tried to arrange a marriage for her, Habib was forced to break away from the gendered normativity of her family.
This charming and funny memoir-in-essays describes comedian and playwright R. Eric Thomas’s life as a Black gay Christian. From his struggle to situate his sexuality within his religion, to accidentally going viral for a sarcastic college essay taken way too seriously, to falling in love with a gay pastor and becoming an internet sensation, these essays are honest, heartfelt, and show the same wit he brings to social media. The audiobook is delightful, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments.
In this powerful and moving memoir, Broome uses a bus ride watching a Black father and son interact as a jumping-off point for reflecting on his coming-of-age in a small Ohio town as a Black gay man living in poverty. Much like the father on the bus, Broome’s father had tried to instill into him a sense of Black masculinity, something he failed at again and again to the ridicule of everyone around him. A childhood full of trauma leads to dangerous habits when he reaches adulthood. It’s often difficult to listen to the brutal and raw moments in Broome’s life, but this poignant and literary memoir is a powerful and essential look into the harm of perpetuating masculine stereotypes.
This fascinating collection of 15 essays and speeches by Audre Lorde, a renowned queer Black feminist and poet, extrapolates on the intersections between race, gender, and sexuality, using a combination of her own experiences and political and cultural philosophy. The collection opens with a visit to Russia, where Lorde compares social mores between Russia and the US. She also explores the power of poetry in her life, her experiences teaching, and life as a Black lesbian mother. This essay collection is a must-read classic in intersectional feminism.
In this intriguing hybrid memoir, Nelson blends her exploration of life as a queer woman — including falling in love with artist Harry Dodge and becoming a mother — with queer critical theory and philosophy. It’s often a dense, academic look into language and gender, though it's grounded by how these theories play out in real life. This context of her life allows the academic theories to flourish. At just under five hours, this brief audiobook provides a lot of food for thought.
Through a series of intimate and lyrical letters to friends, family, and lovers, Emezi explores their gender, spirituality, writing, and identity as a nonhuman living in a human body. These letters tell of Emezi’s childhood traumas, experiences with rape and sexual assault, suicidal ideation, and the continued trauma of being misgendered. This is a challenging listen, both because of its emotional impact and its sophisticated prose, but it's stunning in its originality, giving a glimpse into one of the most unique writers today.
This accessible and moving memoir focuses on Mock’s memories of coming out as a trans woman and embracing her womanhood. As a biracial child, she experienced racism and sexual abuse and lacked a solid family support system; her parents lived in poverty and had drug addictions. She continued to combat abuse when she came out as a trans woman in high school, but she maintained her sense of self and underwent sex reassignment surgery at 18. As an adult, Mock writes of finding love and success. Mock’s frank writing style, pop culture references, and relatable experiences make this a joy to listen to.
Life as a Unicorn: A Journey From Shame to Pride and Everything in Between by Amrou Al-Kadhi, read by the author
From a devout Muslim child to the exuberant drag queen Glamrou, Amrou Al-Kadhi tells their story of how they came to embrace and celebrate their queer identity. Al-Kadhi was obsessed with their fashion-conscious mother as a child, while their twin was obsessed with their sports-loving father. Despite constantly seeking their approval, Al-Kadhi’s family tried to police their gender. At Eton, they experienced damaging anti-gay hate, anti-Muslim prejudice, and racism. Later, they went on to establish the first drag queen troupe at Cambridge. This memoir manages to be both heartrending and humorous, and Al-Kadhi’s performance on audio is powerful.
In humorous and dramatic monologues, Galloway tells stories of her search for identity as a deaf and queer woman. She began to lose her hearing at age 9 due to an experimental antibiotic her mother took while pregnant. Always one for dramatics and theater, Galloway used performance as a way of interacting with both the world and herself. Whether she’s describing her antics at a camp for children with disabilities or her sexual escapades, this book is a fun and engaging listen.
Two women’s lives unfold in this fascinating memoir by Latina feminist and activist Cherríe Moraga. When Moraga’s mother Elvira is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she decides to uncover her mother’s past as she slowly slips closer to death. From picking cotton in California as a child to working as a cigarette vendor in 1920s Tijuana and becoming entangled in a relationship with an older, wealthy white man, Elvira’s life coincides with Moraga’s research into the US Mexican diaspora. Meanwhile, as Moraga unravels her mother’s narrative, she embraces her sexual identity as a lesbian, becomes an activist, and learns more about her pueblo’s history. This audiobook is a moving look into a mother-daughter relationship connected to the larger picture of Mexican American history.
Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer, read by the author
This hilarious and heartfelt memoir-in-essays chronicles popular LGBTQ advice columnist John Paul Brammer’s life as biracial and queer. Using questions from his readers as prompts for his own story, he describes his childhood growing up in a rural Oklahoma town, from being bullied in middle school to his experiences with sexual assault — something he was only later able to identify as such. He tackles these tough topics with both humor and honesty. Intermixed within the memoir are Brammer’s trademark wisdom and advice.
In 2013, Edie Windsor was the lead plaintiff in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court case that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, setting the stage for marriage equality in the US. Beginning with her childhood in Philadelphia, this insightful memoir describes her queer identity, New York City's gay scene in the 1950s and 1960s, her more than 40-year relationship with her wife, Thea Spyer, becoming a technical leader at IBM, and more. When Windsor died in 2017, before finishing this memoir, author Joshua Lyon completed it.
In this beautiful and evocative coming-of-age memoir, Talusan describes her life as a Filipino trans woman with albinism. Throughout the memoir, Talusan grapples with her multiple gender and sexual identities, beginning with her childhood as a boy in a rural Filipino village, where Talusan’s grandmother played an essential part in her life. She moved to the US with her family at 15 and later began school at Harvard as a gay man, presumed white by her peers due to her albinism. She then became nonbinary and eventually embraced her identity as a trans woman. This complicated and candid memoir of gender identity is wonderfully read by the author.
In writing as gorgeous as the book's cover, journalist and activist George M. Johnson describes their coming-of-age in this YA memoir-in-essays. As a queer Black child, Johnson experienced bullying and racism from elementary school through high school, but they found solace and acceptance in their grandmother’s love. They also describe their first sexual experiences, both the positive and consensual and the predatory and nonconsensual. It’s a poignant, honest, and much-needed read for the young adult audience that’s equally enjoyable for adults. Johnson’s performance on audio is amazing.
This lovely and often funny memoir follows Tobia’s journey with gender, from a childhood where they never could match the “male” label assigned to them at birth to their college years of embracing their gender nonconformity. Tobia unpacks gendered stereotypes they’ve experienced throughout their life and embraces a kaleidoscope of queer identities, calling for a more nuanced look at gender where queer folk need not choose just one identity. Tobia’s performance on audio is engaging and entertaining.
Hari Ziyad combines deeply personal moments from their life with sociopolitical analysis of Black queer life in this lyrical and complex memoir. Ziyad grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, as one of 19 children in a blended family. They were raised by a Hindu Hare Kṛṣṇa mother and a Muslim father and grew up Black and queer with multiple identities. They eventually moved to New York City, where they came to embrace their nuanced identities. Coining terms to describe their experiences, Ziyad pushes the boundaries of societal norms.
This YA memoir describes Jazz Jennings’ early life, from declaring to her parents that she was a girl at 5 years old to fighting for her rights to play soccer as a trans teen girl to having anxiety and depression. While describing her experience as a trans girl, Jennings also shows how normal her life is as a teen. Written when she was 15, the audiobook is conversational and a perfect listen for teens or adults who are learning what it means to be transgender.
Margaret Kingsbury is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in BuzzFeed Books, Book Riot, StarTrek.com, Parents, the Earth Island Institute, and more. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.