The best LGBTQ memoirs of trauma and transformation

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a storyteller, a radio producer, and a psychotherapist. My thirty years as a therapist enabled me to witness the healing that comes from exploring our stories and family history. My clients’ courage inspired me to write my own story. My mother-daughter story explores the interplay of the personal with social movements. In the 1950s, my family was devastated by homophobia and conversion therapy. I am profoundly grateful for the women’s and gay liberation movements of the 1970s, which transformed our lives. Both my mother and I were able to recover from trauma and come to joy, connection, and activism.

I wrote...

Riding Fury Home

By Chana Wilson,

Book cover of Riding Fury Home

What is my book about?

When I was seven, my mother attempted suicide and was taken away to a mental hospital for electroshock treatments. Riding Fury Home tells the story of the intense, complicated bond between my mother and myself, from growing up in the 1950s as her caretaker, to discovering in adulthood that she had been a closeted lesbian given psychiatric treatment to “cure her,” to our shared exhilaration in the 1970s when we both come out as lesbians.

The memoir traces the profound ways in which our two lives were impacted by the social landscape of our time. Riding Fury Home is a shattering account of our family’s struggle against homophobia and mental illness, and a powerful story of healing, forgiveness, and redemption.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Chana Wilson Why did I love this book?

I had loved Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Winterson’s powerful, fictionalized version of her childhood as a queer child adopted into a Pentecostal family. For me, the intense potency of Winterson’s memoir grew as I read. She stoically copes in childhood with her adopted mother’s ongoing abuse and rejection, locking her for hours in the coal bin or out on the doorstep. At sixteen, Winterson is forced to leave home because of being in love with a woman. In adulthood, her childhood trauma catches up with her as she sinks into profound depression and a kind of madness. Her journey, both to find her birth mother and to heal into mental health, make this memoir unforgettable.

By Jeanette Winterson,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The shocking, heart-breaking - and often very funny - true story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

In 1985 Jeanette Winterson's first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published. It was Jeanette's version of the story of a terraced house in Accrington, an adopted child, and the thwarted giantess Mrs Winterson. It was a cover story, a painful past written over and repainted. It was a story of survival.

This book is that story's the silent twin. It is full of hurt and humour and a fierce love of life. It is about the pursuit of happiness,…

Book cover of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Chana Wilson Why did I love this book?

I was drawn to this graphic memoir because, like me, Bechel grew up with a closeted parent in a heterosexual marriage while being a queer child herself. Like my memoir, Fun Home is also a coming-out story. Her art beautifully details the complexities of family life with both humor and gravitas. Some of the humor involves dead bodies, as her family runs a funeral home. Yet Bechdel must also grapple with profound loss: just after she comes out to her father, he dies by suicide, walking in front of a truck. She wonders if she can infer that he was a tragic victim of homophobia, but tells herself that’s too simplified an answer. This memoir is rich, complex, and riveting.

By Alison Bechdel,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Fun Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

DISCOVER the BESTSELLING GRAPHIC MEMOIR behind the Olivier Award nominated musical.

'A sapphic graphic treat' The Times

A moving and darkly humorous family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Alison Bechdel's gothic drawings. If you liked Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis you'll love this.

Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high-school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and the family babysitter. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is…

Book cover of Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography

Chana Wilson Why did I love this book?

This stunning memoir by the poet Audre Lorde chronicles her childhood in Harlem in the 1930s and 40s, the daughter of black West Indian immigrants, and her young adulthood. I was intrigued to learn about Lorde’s life as an out lesbian in the 1950s, curious to know what that life was like in the generation before mine. So little about the life of gay forbears has been available, creating an acute longing in me to know more. Zami’s narrative weaves through the women in Lorde’s life: her mother, sisters, high school friends, and many lovers, creating a web of who and what sustained as well as challenged her. Lorde invented a new form she dubbed “biomythography” that combines history, biography, and myth. That combination is gripping and poetic.

By Audre Lorde,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Zami as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the BBC's '100 Novels That Shaped Our World'

If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive

A little black girl opens her eyes in 1930s Harlem, weak and half-blind. On she stumbles - through teenage pain and loneliness, but then to happiness in friendship, work and sex, from Washington Heights to Mexico, always changing, always strong. This is Audre Lorde's story. A rapturous, life-affirming autobiographical novel by the 'Black, lesbian, mother, warrior poet', it changed the literary landscape.

'Her work shows us new ways to imagine…

Book cover of Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir

Chana Wilson Why did I love this book?

Native Country of the Heart is, like my memoir, a mother-daughter story. Queer Chicana feminist Cherríe Moraga intertwines her own story with her mother Elvira from childhood onward. Her resilient mother had a rough life, starting with being hired out as a child by her dad to pick cotton in the California fields. I learned so much about Chicano culture and the Mexican diaspora that we never get in school. One stunning fact: when Dust Bowl survivors came to California, two million Mexicans were repatriated to Mexico to let the white immigrants work the same fields. Moraga beautifully layers her personal story with cultural insights and reflection. I was very moved by Moraga’s grief during the slow loss of Elvira to dementia and her death from Alzheimer's.

By Cherrie Moraga,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Native Country of the Heart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Native Country of the Heart: A Mexican American Geography is, at its core, a mother-daughter story. The mother, Elvira, was hired out as a child by her own father to pick cotton in California's Imperial Valley. The daughter, Cherrie L. Moraga, is a brilliant, pioneering, queer Latina feminist. The story of these two women, and of their people, is woven together in an intimate memoir of critical reflection and deep personal revelation.

As a young woman, Elvira left California to work as a cigarette girl in glamorous late-1920s Tijuana, where an ambiguous relationship with a wealthy white man taught her…

Book cover of Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

Chana Wilson Why did I love this book?

This story interested me because I was curious about what it was like to grow up with an out gay parent. When Alysia was two, her mom died, and her father moved with her to San Francisco. For better and worse, she was raised amidst San Francisco’s vibrant gay male scene of the 1970s and 80s. I related to her struggles as a child with the need to fit in. At the same time, her dad introduced her to the creative world of writers and artists, enriching her life. In the 80s, tragedy struck, as gay men in their community died of AIDS in epidemic numbers. After she left home, her father called her to come back when he was dying of AIDS. Her writing is honest and doesn’t simplify.

By Alysia Abbott,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fairyland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this vibrant memoir, Alysia Abbott recounts growing up in 1970s San Francisco with Steve Abbott, a gay, single father during an era when that was rare. Reconstructing their time together from a remarkable cache of Steve's writings, Alysia gives us an unforgettable portrait of a tumultuous, historic period in San Francisco as well as an exquisitely moving account of a father's legacy and a daughter's love.

You might also like...

Return to Hope Creek

By Alyssa J. Montgomery,

Book cover of Return to Hope Creek

Alyssa J. Montgomery Author Of A Spanish Seduction

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Australian USA Today bestselling romance author who writes contemporary romance and uses the pen name Alyssa James to write medieval romance. I think the makeover trope resonates with me because although I’m no beauty queen now, I was definitely an ugly duckling in my teens. For reasons best known to him, my father insisted on close-cropped hair, and financial circumstances dictated out-of-style hand-me-down clothing. After university, I found my own style, but it wasn’t until I was accepted as an international flight attendant that I believed that I couldn’t be all that ugly if Qantas employed me!

Alyssa's book list on makeover romances

What is my book about?

Return to Hope Creek is a second-chance rural romance set in Australia.

Stella Simpson's career and engagement are over. She returns to the rural community of Hope Creek to heal, unaware her high school and college sweetheart, Mitchell Scott, has also moved back to town to do some healing of his own.

Mitchell, a former NFL quarterback, doesn't need the complication of encountering Stella again so long after the messy end to their relationship, but as each tries to build a new life, they are drawn together and find their chemistry is just as strong as ever.

Will their love be stronger the second time around?

Return to Hope Creek

By Alyssa J. Montgomery,

What is this book about?

When two old flames come back to their home town, sparks are bound to ignite. A rural romance from USA Today bestselling author Alyssa J. Montgomery.

A horrific car accident ended former world number-one Stella Simpson’s tennis career, and a betrayal ended her relationship with her fiancé/coach. When a family friend offers to sell her half of a property in the rural community where she grew up, it seems like the perfect place to escape, heal and begin the next phase of her life. Until she discovers that the man who broke her heart ten years ago has bought the…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in gay men, feminism, and country music?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about gay men, feminism, and country music.

Gay Men Explore 120 books about gay men
Feminism Explore 339 books about feminism
Country Music Explore 97 books about country music