There are many ways LGBTQ+ persons have advocated for themselves throughout history, whether it be with friends or family, in the workplace, or on the political stage. One of the most personal forms of activism in and of itself has been “coming out”–revealing to the world through an act of self-disclosure that one identifies as LGBTQ+. While coming out is lauded as an act of bravery (and indeed it takes an incredible amount of courage), not every queer person is able to be open about their identity. Due to concerns for personal safety, discrimination from peers or employers, and due to multiple intersectional identities that put them at even greater risk of being targets for hate speech or crime, the act of coming out is also an act of privilege that not everyone shares.
“National Coming Out Day” (NCOD) has historically been held on either October 11 or 12, depending on the country. Today, the Human Rights Campaign still sponsors NCOD day by running media promotions to help bring attention to the LGBTQ+ community and celebrities.
This year, while celebrating the many who have chosen to reveal themselves loudly and proudly, I’d like to send an additional shout-out to all of those celebrating in the proverbial closet — you are an important part of the community, and we need you as much as we need the outspoken advocates. There’s something to be said about being a quiet confidant or supportive presence in someone’s life without wearing your rainbow gear front and center.
The following is a selection of titles that focus on intersectional LGBTQ+ voices and their stories:
Bite Hard by Justin Chin
The first collection by award-winning performance artist/poet Justin Chin. In Bite Hard, Chin explores his identity as an Asian, a gay man, an artist, and a lover. He rails against both his own life experiences and society’s limitations and stereotypes with scathing humor, bare-bones honesty, and unblinking detail. Whether addressing “what really goes on in the kitchen of Chinese restaurants” or a series of ex-boyfriends, all named Michael, Chin displays his remarkable emotional range and voice as a poet.
Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man by Chike Frankie Edozien
From Victoria Island, Lagos to Brooklyn, U.S.A. to Accra, Ghana to Paris, France; from across the Diaspora to the heart of the African continent, in this memoir Nigerian journalist Chike Frankie Edozien offers a highly personal series of contemporary snapshots of same gender loving Africans, unsung Great Men living their lives, triumphing and finding joy in the face of great adversity.
Mean Little Deaf Queer: A Memoir by Terry Galloway
In 1959, the year Terry Galloway turned nine, the voices of everyone she loved began to disappear. No one yet knew that an experimental antibiotic given to her mother had wreaked havoc on her fetal nervous system, eventually causing her to go deaf. As a self-proclaimed “child freak,” she acted out her fury with her boxy hearing aids and Coke-bottle glasses by faking her own drowning at a camp for crippled children. Ever since that first real-life performance, Galloway has used theater, whether onstage or off, to defy and transcend her reality. With disarming candor, she writes about her mental breakdowns, her queer identity, and living in a silent, quirky world populated by unforgettable characters.
Girl in Need of a Tourniquet: Memoir of a Borderline Personality by Merri Lisa Johnson
An honest and compelling memoir, Girl in Need of a Tourniquet is Merri Lisa Johnson’s account of her borderline personality disorder and how it has affected her life and relationships. Johnson describes the feeling of “bleeding out” — unable to tell where she stopped and where her partner began.
Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
In 1996, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha ran away from America with two backpacks and ended up in Canada, where she discovered queer anarcho punk love and revolution, yet remained haunted by the reasons she left home in the first place. This passionate and riveting memoir is a mixtape of dreams and nightmares, of immigration court lineups and queer South Asian dance nights; it reveals how a disabled queer woman of color and abuse survivor navigates the dirty river of the past and, as the subtitle suggests, “dreams her way home.”
Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall
From the time she was born, Michelle Theall knew she was different. Coming of age in the Texas Bible Belt, a place where it was unacceptable to be gay, Theall found herself at odds with her strict Roman Catholic parents, bullied by her classmates, abandoned by her evangelical best friend whose mother spoke in tongues, and kicked out of Christian organizations that claimed to embrace her—all before she’d ever held a girl’s hand.
Sisters in the Life: A History of Out African American Lesbian Media-Making by editors Yvonne Welbon and Alexandra Juhasz
From experimental shorts and web series to Hollywood blockbusters and feminist porn, the work of African American lesbian filmmakers has made a powerful contribution to film history. But despite its importance, this work has gone largely unacknowledged by cinema historians and cultural critics. Assembling a range of interviews, essays, and conversations, Sisters in the Life tells a full story of African American lesbian media-making spanning three decades.
Book summaries via Amazon.