The best genre-bending books on queer pasts and futures

G. Samantha Rosenthal Author Of Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City
By G. Samantha Rosenthal

Who am I?

I am a queer transgender woman living in the Appalachian South. When I moved here in 2015 I threw myself into doing community-based LGBTQ history. I co-founded the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, an ongoing queer public history initiative based in Roanoke, Virginia. As a historian and an avid reader, I am fascinated by how queer and trans people think about the past, how we remember and misremember things, and what role historical consciousness plays in informing the present and future. 

I wrote...

Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City

By G. Samantha Rosenthal,

Book cover of Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City

What is my book about?

I wanted to write a book that is not just an LGBTQ history, but explores how we think historically as queer and trans people—how history has the power to shape our sense of place and of ourselves. 

Living Queer History tells the story of an LGBTQ community in Roanoke, Virginia, a small city on the edge of Appalachia. Interweaving historical analysis, theory, and memoir, Samantha Rosenthal tells the story of their own journey—coming out and transitioning as a transgender woman—in the midst of working on a community-based history project that documented a multigenerational southern LGBTQ community. Based on over forty interviews with LGBTQ elders, Living Queer History explores how queer people today think about the past and how history lives on in the present.

The books I picked & why

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Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity

By José Esteban Muñoz,

Book cover of Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity

Why this book?

Queer theory can sometimes be head-scratching, but the first time I read Cruising Utopia (on a camping trip in the mountains), I found myself gazing anew at the trees above me and my lover by my side. The late great theorist pushes us to reconsider how queerness is experienced and remembered in quotidian times and spaces. From sharing a bottle of Coke with a lover to memorializing abandoned toilets in the New York City subway, Muñoz revels in the ecstatic potential of “queer utopian memory” and queer world-building. Cruising Utopia is a marriage of critical theory and thoughtful storytelling, giving readers a much-needed injection of hope in these thoroughly anti-queer times.    

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir

By Jenn Shapland,

Book cover of My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir

Why this book?

Have you ever searched for queer history only to find… yourself? This is Jenn Shapland’s story in her delightful biography-slash-memoir about the writer Carson McCullers. Shapland digs through McCullers’ letters, discovers the late writer’s therapy appointment notes, and even recounts her own experiences living in McCullers’ former home, looking for any shreds of evidence to confirm the famed writer’s queerness. In the process, Shapland discovers her own lesbianism. As a trans lesbian, I relate so vividly to Shapland’s experiences of rethinking her own identity in the process of doing queer history. I love how she interweaves her own life with McCullers’—a kind of transgenerational rejection of the closet and a celebration of queer womanhood.  

Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel

By Julian K. Jarboe,

Book cover of Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel

Why this book?

Trans sci-fi? Yes, please. This delightful collection of short stories—which I have read twice now—consistently wows with its relatable queer and trans body-suffering, body-shifting protagonists. It is not so much a book about queer futures as it is a futurist rendering of the past twenty years, including climate disaster, endless wars, gentrification, digital subcultures, and a bit of high school nostalgia. A trans gay boy enters a portal in the woods; a young menstruating person pulls a screwdriver from their vagina; job opportunities on the moon entice anti-capitalist, ennui-filled teenagers. If Muñoz imagined queerness as a utopian space-time rupture, Jarboe reminds us that our queer dystopia is inescapably here. We wrestle now in our flesh in this fucked-up world. 

Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through

By T. Fleischmann,

Book cover of Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through

Why this book?

Somewhere in their fourteen-page digression on the 18th-century non-binary American prophet Universal Publick Friend did I realize—once again—that I was nearly done with T Fleischmann’s enchanting book-length essay on transness, time, and art. I have read it three times! As a trans person, I love this book for its meditations on the transitioning body and its sexy tales of intimate encounters. It also offers a critical engagement with the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s work, as well as a memoir of discovery that, like Fleischmann themself, bounces from New York City to rural Tennessee and back again, charting a geography of queer friendship and memory. 

Confessions of the Fox

By Jordy Rosenberg,

Book cover of Confessions of the Fox

Why this book?

As a historian, I love well-researched historical fiction. Imagine my surprise when a lover handed me Confessions of the Fox. This book offers a historical reimagining of the life and times of 18th-century English thief Jack Sheppard, who, in Rosenberg’s estimation, was a transgender man. Confessions is also a commentary on queer historical practice. Periodic footnotes offer meta observations by a modern-day trans academic who has apparently “discovered” Sheppard’s lost text. This is a fun and stirring book on many levels—a revisionist work of “what if” history, a page-turning working-class queer love story, and an intervention in transgender historiography.

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