The Publishing Post
Noteworthy LGBTQIA+ Memoirs
By Becca Binnie, Carly Bennett and Rhys Wright
Valuable education and understanding comes from listening to people’s own stories and experiences. We have listed merely a few of the powerful, inspiring and moving LGBTQIA+ memoirs that readers can learn from and engage with. In listening to someone’s personal voice, we can hope to grow, empathise and celebrate all communities, including the LGBTQIA+.
Yours Cruelly, Elvira by Cassandra Peterson
The much-loved queer icon has made a decades-spanning career out of satirising the male gaze, but the character of Elvira does little to scratch the surface of Peterson’s fascinating, turbulent life.
Born in rural Kansas in the 1950s, Peterson grew up a long way from the glitz of Las Vegas and LA, the former of which she began performing in when she was only seventeen, crossing paths with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. From travelling through Europe as the lead singer of a pop group to working as an improv comedian in LA, readers would not be remiss to think Peterson really might have seen and done it all.
Of course, Yours Cruelly, Elvira charts the exciting career trajectory that led to the creation of Elvira, who we all know and love. But Peterson also details her memories of the AIDS crisis and the friends she lost throughout the epidemic, the sexual harassment and assault she faced as a young actress in Hollywood, and her later-in-life coming out journey. Frank, witty and queer on every level, Yours Cruelly, Elvira tells the story not only of a queer woman’s vibrant life but of an instantly recognisable character who is truly an icon of the queer community.
README.txt by Chelsea Manning
Having risked her own freedom to expose classified documents detailing American military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chelsea Manning continues her fight for transparency and freedom of information by writing her own story in her memoir, README.txt.
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2022, README.txt chronicles Manning’s life from her difficult childhood in rural Oklahoma until her release from military prison in 2017. Manning’s life story is a searing indictment of the American military and government, as well as the hostility faced by trans people interacting with these institutions. Covering everything from her experience as a closeted trans woman in the military during the time of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to the constant obstacles she faced in attempting to transition in military prison, Manning holds nothing back.
During her initial time in jail, Manning was prevented from speaking publicly on her trial, becoming “a symbol, a silent film actor onto whom people projected their love and their hate, their politics and their fear.” README.txt sees her officially put her own story on the record, in her own words.
Girls Can Kiss Now by Jill Gutowitz
Jill Gutowitz’s memoir was published last March and named one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2022 by Vogue, BuzzFeed, Bustle, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Electric Lit, Thrillist, Glamour, CNN and Shondaland.
The sharp-witted collection of personal essays discusses the evolution of lesbian culture, queer relationships and the online sphere. Gutowitz writes on the impact pop culture has always had on her life, from her pivotal Orange Is The New Black inspired exploration of sexuality, to her run in with the FBI after a Game of Thrones fuelled tweet. This memoir highlights the vital mainstreaming of lesbian culture and evaluates how pop culture distracts, informs and disappoints us. Gutowitz examines her own experiences with self-worth, relationships and her path to constructing identity.
This set of personal, funny and thought-provoking essays encapsulates and helps readers understand a refreshing and upwards shift in pop culture towards an optimistic and queer future.
Sissy: A Coming-Of-Gender Story by Jacob Tobia
Jacob Tobia’s 2019 release shares the story of their life and exploration of gender, from their Methodist upbringing and struggles to fit into the stereotypical “masculine” path that had been laid out for them, to their time at Duke University and eventual journey to reclaim the label of “Sissy.” Throughout Sissy, Tobia reflects on their childhood spent in North Carolina, the college essay that gained them acceptance to multiple Ivy League schools, years of activism and an invitation to the White House to meet with Obama (one of my favourite passages of the book!).
Delving into gender stereotypes and urging the reader to leave everything they thought they knew about gender at the door, Sissy is a bold, touching and at times hilarious story of self-acceptance and breaking down gender binaries. Trans joy is something we always need more of in literature and the latter half of Tobia’s memoir has it in spades.
Timely and full of shrewd observations, Sissy: A Coming-Of-Gender Story shies away from functioning as a “Trans 101” guide and keeps the focus on Tobia’s personal experiences as a non-binary person in today’s America.