In America and across the UK, there’s unfortunately no shortage of agenda-driven bigots who think a tender coming-of-age romance is some kind of danger to society. Conservative moms and corrupt school systems create campaigns, build legislation, and organize against their libraries to prevent queer and trans stories from being told with increased effort. And each year, new data reveals that at least a third of those under attack contain LGBTQ+ themes or characters.
But queer books are here to stay. 70% of parents are against book bans, and you should be too. Fight censorship by supporting independent writers and storytellers. Let’s sell out their titles in time for the holiday season and get a copy for every chosen family member. Whether you buy it vintage or new, support independent book shops, please!
1. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin – Since its pre-Civil Rights Era debut in 1956, the prophetic prose of Baldwin has always been met with opposition, protest, and even threats to burn stockpiles of the book because his words are too powerful. Giovanni’s Room has come to define many generations of queer thinkers with a timeless meditation on love, intimacy, homophobia, and anti-Blackness.
2. Nevada by Imogen Binnie – One of the foremost books in the trans canon, Nevada follows the story of a crust-punk trans girl who, in the wake of breakup drama, steals her exes car and buys some heroin before trekking on a journey of self-discovery to the American West.
3. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde – If you know someone who hasn’t yet brushed up on the essential feminist writings of Audre Lorde, this book has her best essays and speeches with a wide offering of sleek editions and covers. This retrospective collection ranges in topics; her foundational teachings on self-care, anti-police advocacy, and coalition-building are required reading for any budding activist.
4. Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston – Between you and me, don’t believe the hype around the Bezos-adaptation of this whimsical gay rom com. If you thought the film was lackluster, we will still defend the integrity of the endlessly hilarious original story following the bisexual son of the President of the United States as he secretly falls in love with the Queen’s eldest grandson. One of the best romance novels we’ve ever read, period.
5. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera – This semi autobiographical coming-of-age novel follows a butch, gay Puerto Rican in the Bronx, written by the Marvel comics author Gabby Rivera who helped create the MCU’s integral character America Chavez (as debuted in the latest Doctor Strange movie). There’s also a graphic novel version, which is just as delicious.
6. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe – One of the most fiercely banned books of the last several years, this graphic memoir deserves some love as it tackles gender dysphoria and asexuality in a form that’s truly never been seen before.
7. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – You can alway count on Graywolf Press to put out the next gay classic. The fabulist Carmen Maria Machado pens a stunning memoir about the nuances and pain of queer relationships as it pertains to intimate partner violence.
8. Flamer by Mark Curato – We can’t stop reading graphic novels, especially ones with the nostalgic backdrop of a Boy Scouts summer camp like this one following a closeted teen in 1995.
9. The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions by Larry Mitchell – Now with new forwards by activist Morgan Bassichis and groundbreaking artist Tourmaline, this dazzling fable (or “fairtale cum manifesto” as they call it) lays out a gorgeous, allegorical fantasy where the imperialism of men is at odds with the collective, revolutionary, historic power of Faggots — and as Tourmaline points out in the intro, “faggot” is its own gender, containing the multitudes of trans movement work today. Since its publication in the 70s, it’s scary how relevant this lesson of assimilation and power remains relevant decades later.
10 & 11. The Joy of Gay Sex or The Joy of Lesbian Sex – Since it emerged in the queer, sexual renaissance of the late 70s, there have been many attempts to suppress The Joy of Gay Sex. It has been removed from the shelves of university libraries and medical resource centers. Canadian shipping routes halted copies and brought the books to trial in Toronto. Police raided a Winnipeg bookstore after a woman accidentally picked up a copy mistaking it for the Joy of Cooking (but as to why someone would call the cops instead of learning how to read is beyond us). This delightfully graphic book illustrates the ABCs of gay sex, and the illustrations specifically are part of its controversy. Though many of the things found within are now available to us in greater detail on the internet, this retro addition to any bookshelf serves as a nostalgic conversation piece for queer history enthusiasts. Its newer edition has more content and updated language on the AIDS crisis, and its companion The Joy of Lesbian Sex is just as delightful if you can get your hands on a vintage copy.
12. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel – Take a peek into the the past of lesbian culture with this thoughtful, hilarious examination of feminism and queer romance for a generation of queer women and trans guys that used to read this comic strip week to week. The Fun Home author got her start writing this “half op-ed, half serialized Victorian novel” winding together an intracommunal, omnipresent web of dyke drama.
This article is part of the GT Holiday Guide. We’re curating 50 (ish) gift ideas across a range of curated lists for all kinds of queer and trans people. These recommendations are not sponsored and are entirely editorially-led. Our range of gift options and price points ensure you can give a genuinely unique gift, no matter how you celebrate.