Reading books is one important (and enjoyable) way to gain insight into others’ experiences. Because June is Pride month, we’re focusing our reading efforts on books written by LGBTQ+ people. Of course, reading books from a diverse group of authors isn’t (and shouldn’t be) confined to one month of the year—but the occasion is an opportunity to spotlight some great books written by queer authors. This year, we asked booksellers at LGBTQ+ focused bookstores around the country for books that highlight, celebrate, and center trans peoples’ experiences and stories.
In the past several years, state governments and legislators have launched an avalanche of legislative attacks against trans people around the United States. According to the 2023 Anti-Trans Bills Tracker, 556 bills in 49 states have been proposed (89 have been passed, 369 are still active, and 27 of those at the national level). These attacks are wide in scope, and encompass access to gender affirming healthcare, bathrooms that fit with someone’s gender identity, participation in youth sports, and more.
Given all that is happening, it’s more important than ever to spotlight the experiences of trans people. “We have heard a lot of people with zero expertise or knowledge talk about trans people in the last few years, and that talk has almost uniformly been ignorant, alarmist, and wrong,” says Jaime Harker, PhD, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at the University of Mississippi and founder and owner of Violet Valley Bookstore in Water Valley, Mississippi. “Trans writers have been telling their own stories with skill and grace and incredibly bravery for decades (at least), and it is beyond time for the rest of us to listen, learn, and celebrate that writing.”
There are many more books than those listed here that are worth your time. So this Pride month, fill your to-be-read pile some books that are supportive of that goal. Below, find 10 books LGBTQ+ booksellers recommends that center the stories of trans people.
10 books to read that center trans people and their experiences, recommended by LGBTQI+ booksellers
“Hell Followed With Us,” by Andrew Joseph White — $19.00
Recommended by: Jaime Harker, PhD, founder and owner of Violet Valley Bookstore in Water Valley, Mississippi
“The book imagines a takeover of the United States by a fundamentalist Christian group that’s trying to bring on the apocalypse. They release a virus that transforms people into these creatures that are like angels, but they’re more like monsters that kill, and the book imagines a trans person who is in this community and who has been named as this successor to bring about Armageddon, but the group will not accept her identity. She escapes and finds this group of trans and queer youth who have survived and created their own world.
Trans young adult fiction is doing incredible things across all genres, but the speculative stuff is just incredible. I spent so much time on my sabbatical reading queer YA and there is just such a created world of resistance, possibility, and language. It gives you a whole new sense beyond the doom-scrolling of our current moment of backlash. Hell Followed With Us is speculative horror, and it’s just ferociously good.
On one hand it’s this ravaged world that’s been destroyed by hate and intolerance, but it also imagines this resistance of queer and trans youth figuring out how to fight back against it. It’s just one of the most incredible things I’ve read—it’s so fearless. You read this stuff and you see on the one hand that queer youth have seen how we have not figured out how to build a new world and they both recognize it and have imagined a space beyond it.”—Jaime Harker, PhD
“Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl,” by Andrea Lawlor — $19.00
Recommended by: Raquel Espasande, worker/owner of Bluestockings Cooperative Bookstore in New York City
“Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a bildungsroman [coming of age story] that centers on a character who plays with gender and gender expression. It explores pretty much every aspect of queer culture in the ’90s. It’s by such an amazing author, who identifies as non-binary.
This book convinced me to change my pronouns. There are a lot of people who believe that in order to be trans you have to experience dysphoria, and that idea has been weaponized against non-binary people a lot and that’s unfortunate. What this book does such a good job of illustrating is that it’s more about, would being trans give you gender euphoria? For a lot of non-binary people, like myself, I’m not not a woman, and I love playing with femininity and expressing myself, and a lot of people would look at me and assume she/her pronouns. I just also love presenting as masculine, or as neither, and not being stuck in a binary. There’s so much joy in that, and it’s very clear to me that I should be doing this.
In the book, Paul spends six months as a lesbian named Polly with a partner who doesn’t know he’s a shapeshifter for a lot of it. He is fully in love, and clearly finds a lot of joy in that relationship. It really gets at the idea that you can be changing and choosing different ways of being without it being inauthentic. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl illustrates why the idea that that’s not authentically trans is wrong in a really fun story. “—Raquel Espasande
“Pass With Care: Memoirs,” by Cooper Lee Bombardier — $19.00
Recommended by: Nghĩa Nguyễn, board member of Lavender Library in Sacramento, California
“Pass With Care: Memoirs has deep personal meaning and history for me. I’m an artist and writer myself, and I had the luxury and privilege to be under the tutelage of Cooper Lee for my undergrad. He really allowed me to express myself and explore the mountains of my experience and be able to tell those stories.
His memoir is about all of the things that he imparted on me as a student, but also his experience as a trans gender man living in the 1990s and the early 2000s in a working class queer punk scene in New England. His journey isn’t just in New England, it traverses all over the United States. It’s about queer joy, finding freedom, undoing patriarchy through a trans-masculine lens and centering that journey of transition.”—Nghĩa Nguyễn
“Love & Other Disasters,” by Anita Kelly — $16.00
Recommended by: Grace Burke, manager of Little District Books in Washington, D.C.
“Love & Other Disasters is an adult romance book. It is about a woman named Dahlia who dreams of being a chef and goes on a cooking show, where she falls in love with a non-binary character named London. They have an enemies-to-lovers relationship—it’s sexy, it’s cute, it’s hopeful.
I really struggle with finding books that focus on trans joy and that celebrate the beauty of transness, and Love & Other Disasters definitely does.”—Grace Burke
“Transgender History,” by Susan Stryker — $19.00
Recommended by: MerryBeth Burgess , co-owner of Hello Again Books in Cocoa, Fla.
This book traces a chronological timeline of major events and movements in American transgender history. “This book is timely and valuable, especially for anyone who wants to better understand the evolving concepts of gender.”—MerryBeth Burgess
“Faltas: Letters to Everyone in My Hometown Who Isn’t My Rapist,” by Cecilia Gentili — $19.00
Recommended by: Leo K., staff member at Philly AIDS Thrift @Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia
“Faltas is a memoir that’s in a series of letters that Cecilia Gentili writes to important figures in her early life as she was growing up in Argentina. Some of those letters are to: her mother, her oldest friend, the daughter of the man who raped her, the woman her father slept with—these disparate figures from these parts of her childhood, and she carves it into this story about growing up as a young trans girl in this small community and the role she had in this community.
This book is so clever, the way that Gentili creates a memoir by triangulating the relationship between these two readers, the reader the letter is addressed to, and also the literal reader of the book. This allows her to renegotiate her own role in the stories, and create these moments of really intense intimacy with people from her past, and also to explore things about trans childhood that the particular form of the letter allows her to get to in a deeper way.
The other reason why I think this is such a great book for people to read is because it’s such a bitter, bitter book and that’s something I kind of love about it: Gentili has been treated as an outsider in her own hometown, and the book is so much about her trans experience of sexual violence and now that she’s outside of her hometown, she’s kind of taking to task the people who asked her to suppress her pain. There’s so much catharsis there—there is this trans-feminine anger there that’s so valuable. “—Leo K.
“From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea,” Kai Cheng Thom — $19.00
Recommended by: Kaitlyn Mahoney, owner of Under the Umbrella Bookstore in Salt Lake City
“A magical gender variant child brings transformation and change to the world around them thanks to their mother’s enduring love.
This is the book that every trans and gender diverse child deserves. As a non-binary adult, the mother in this story inspires me. She doesn’t always know what to do to help her child, but her unwavering love and support—her consistent reminders that she believes in them and their possibilities—are exactly what her child needs. I dare you to read it without crying.” —Kaitlyn Mahoney
“Horse Barbie: A Memoir,” by Geena Rocero — $28.00
Recommended by: Christina Pasucci Ciampa, owner and founder of All She Wrote Bookstore in Sommerville, Massachusetts
“Geena Rocero was the first person to ever appear on a TED Talk and talk about their trans experience. What I love about Horse Barbie is that it’s pure trans joy. What I mean by that is that it’s a memoir that talks about this trans pageant queen from the Philippines. She was out in the Philippines and was literally on every news outlet and so famous, and then they came to the United States and went back into the closet when they modeled here—they did that for so many years.
The book just talks about that back and forth struggle they had with trying to reconcile, ‘is this the right time to come out, or not?’ What I love about it is that sometimes a lot of LGBTQ+ books are only about the struggle, and not any joy or happiness for that character. This is the opposite—it acknowledges the struggles Geena had throughout her career, her childhood, her relationship with her parents, all of that stuff you’re reading firsthand—but then you’re seeing the joy of her living as her authentic self. It really is a full body of work where you see the ebbs and flows of a person’s life.”—Christina Pasucci Ciampa
“Detransition, Baby: A Novel,” by Torrey Peters — $18.00
Recommended by: Danielle King, general manager of Left Bank Books in St. Louis
“Detransition, Baby is a ferocious novel, both a deeply personal dissection of gender and all its implications, and an excavation of the varying weights of parenthood—essentially a book about family. It centers Reese, a trans woman and Ames, a de-transitioned man post break up. They’re brought back together by an unplanned pregnancy between Ames and his boss, and as expected, messiness ensues.
One of the things that happens when you are part of a group that has been marginalized by society for a really long time, is that the complexity of your experience doesn’t have an opportunity to ever be on display. Because trans folx are underrepresented in media, the topic of detransition doesn’t ever get an opportunity to be displayed or modeled in a way that isn’t weaponized against the trans community. One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Ames, who has detransitioned, explains that even though he can’t “do” trans, he will always be trans.
Our society is very bad at talking about moving through the spectrum of sexuality/gender and this book does it in a way that is considerate and takes care to preserve the humanity of each person in and touched by the experience. Detransitioning isn’t a gimmick and it isn’t a ploy or trick. It is a major life change that affects the person going through it and their close loved ones. All of those perspectives are shown with a lot of care.”—Danielle King
“A Girlhood: Letter to My Transgender Daughter,” by Carolyn Hays — $29.00
Recommended by: Deezy Youngdahl, co-owner of Novelette Booksellers in Nashville, Tennessee
“One day a caseworker from the Department of Children and Families in Texas knocked on the door of Hays’s family home to investigate an anonymous complaint about the upbringing of Hays’s transgender daughter. Hays writes about escaping an area in the US that condemns children like her daughter and the process of raising a young girl who has always known exactly who she is.
This book is part confessional, part memoir, all love-letter to trans children. Hays speaks beautifully about her experience raising her daughter, who has always been vocal about who she is, and reflects on what she could have done better, which she urges other parents and adults to do to honor trans kids. This is a book about fierce family love and acceptance, and not apologizing for letting your trans child be who they are meant to be. In a time when care for trans children is so under fire in this country, this book is as important as it ever will be.”—Deezy Youngdahl
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