Memoirs of LGBTQIA+ Icons
By Alexandra Constable and Hayley Cadel
For our pride issue, the trends team looks at memoirs by LGBTQIA+ icons and their significance in the queer community. We will look closely at memoirs by icons such as Bimini Bon Boulash, Jill Nalder and AJ Clementine, that don’t just help educate readers, but also offer relatable and honest stories to their readers. In writing memoirs, these icons aim to inspire and support readers and create visibility and awareness of their experiences in the LGBTQIA+ community.
With shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race making LGBTQIA+ visibility more mainstream, publishers have been keen to translate the success in popularity culture into book deals. One example is A Drag Queen’s Guide to Life by Bimini Bon Boulash published by Penguin Random House in October 2021 in which they champion the importance of knowing queer history. In their memoir, Bimini credits drag as allowing them to fully embrace their individuality. Similarly, (Drag) Queen of Scots by Lawrence Cheney uses memoir to depict their journey from low self-esteem to better mental health. In both instances, both relate feelings of not belonging and how drag led them to acceptance. In publishing true icons which exude confidence, a message of hope can be relayed to readers.
There had also been a significant rise in memoirs looking at queer history and the struggle for LGBTQIA+ people to be accepted into society. A huge moment in LGBTQIA+ history was the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s with an estimated 36.3 million people dying from the disease. It is imperative that people know the history of the epidemic and look at the stigma and discrimination that prevented members of the queer community from accessing healthcare. There are so many writers who have dedicated their books to looking at the experience of being gay during the 80s and the affects of HIV/AIDS. However, most recent publications have amplified voices and experiences of the epidemic that we have not heard before. Youngman: The Diaries of Lou Sullivan, published in 2021 contained the real life diary entries of trans-man Lou Sullivan who sadly died of an AIDS-related illness and his reflections on the epidemic. Set for release in July this year, Jill Nalder will release Love from the Pink Palace: Memories of Loss, Love and Cabaret through the AIDS Crisis. Nalder, a cis-woman who moved to London to become an actress, played a huge role in caring for her friends and other young men who contracted the disease as well as campaigning for AIDS awareness and research. If this all sounds a bit familiar, this is because the character of Jill Baxter in It’s a Sin, is based on the life of Nalder. With a foreword written by Russell T Davies, this book is one to read to educate yourself on the devastating impact AIDS had on the world and to remember the lives lost.
Many memoirs written by the LGBTQIA+ community also aim to inspire readers who have gone through similar struggles to embrace and love themselves for who they are. For example, model and TikTok sensation AJ Clemetine rose to popularity on social media after posting openly about her experience as a transgender woman and sharing positive and inspiring videos regarding her journey. In February 2022, her memoir Girl, Transcending: Becoming the Woman I was Born to Be was released. The book traverses her journey into becoming her most honest and truest self and is a site of inspiration to all of her readers. Many readers have commented on how her book is extremely hopeful and optimistic and helps educates its readers on how to be a better ally to the transgender community. Another example is Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and so much more. Her memoir offers an honest account of growing up as a Black and indigenous transgender woman and the steps she took to enable her to embrace her true identity. Many readers have recommended this book to those who are looking to further educate themselves on transgender issues, given Mock’s careful and meticulous explanations of concepts and vocabulary the reader may not be initially familiar with.
We expect the rise of these memoirs within the publishing industry to only grow from here given their huge popularity, and we hope this article has inspired you to read some of our recommendations. Whilst we believe the texts we have focused on to be incredibly important, this article only offers a mere glimpse into the breadth of LGBTQIA+ memoirs that are similarly sensational and inspiring. To name a few, we also recommend Fairest by Meredith Talusan, Practising for Love by Nina Kennedy, and A Dutiful Boy: A Memoir of a Gay Muslims Journey to Acceptance by Mohsin Zaidi.