Developing Definitions | GLBTQ Family Memoirs

According to a November 25, 2013, article in the New York Times by Natalie Angier, “The Changing American Family,”households are more diverse than ever. A typical family in 2014 could be two male partners and their dogs, two women and their child, a single gay father and his daughter, a male-female straight-identified married couple and their transgender child, or any one of countless other permutations. The term family, therefore, no longer provides us with a simple, one-size-fits-all definition. Given such diversity, GLBTQ family memoir is difficult to define. Growing numbers of GLBTQ people, single or coupled, are pursuing family life and parenthood in any way they can.

Many works listed here are about parents, parenting, marriage, and childhood. Many of the authors write of their experiences in the context of GLBTQ rights. Some of the titles are by GLBTQ parents about their children and relationships, others are coming-of-age memoirs, and then there are those about being raised by GLBTQ parents. GLBTQ authors often write of a family that is independent of biology or marriage, or about subjects that anthropologists call “fictive-kin.” Especially when a person is rejected by their parents or guardians after they come out, these “chosen” family members are often tied to GLBTQ social networks. Relationships formed in this way can be more enduring than other friendships and often become central to one’s identity.

Developing your collection and RA

Thanks to the myriad resources on GLBTQ literature, it is easy to find titles worth purchasing for libraries. Literary awards, bibliographies, and review sites are all valuable resources for collection development and readers’ advisory (RA) staff. The most well-known American awards in all genres of GLBTQ literature are found on the American Library Association’s (ALA) Stonewall Book Awards (, Lambda Literary Awards (, and Publishing Triangle Awards ( sites.

It seems everyone is producing a reading list these days, but helpful recommended-reading lists include ALA’s Over the Rainbow bibliographies ( and the Publishing Triangle’s 100 Best Lesbian and Gay Nonfiction Books ( Good Reads ( is ubiquitous, while the Band of Thebes blog ( features an annual list of the best GLBTQ books chosen by writers.

The most reputable reviewing sources on the web, meanwhile, are ALA’s GLBTRT Newsletter (­newsletter/collection ) and Lambda Literary (

Serving your readers

For readers who may be reluctant to ask for help in locating GLBTQ sources, in-house reading lists come in handy. They should also include subject headings so that patrons can discover resources anonymously. In her enlightening collection development article, “Opening the Fiction Closet” (LJ 8/13,, Ellen Boseman suggests that librarians working with GLBTQ materials and patrons read Ellen Greenblatt’s Serving LGBTIQ Library and Archives Users: Essays on Outreach, Service, Collections and Access (2010). Librarians serving these communities need to be familiar with issues such as challenges to materials; subject headings, or lack thereof; and user ­confidentiality.

In order to appeal to a wide population of readers, the memoirs included here are a mix of new voices as well as writers who are more well known. Celebrity memoirs are omitted, as many academic libraries do not collect them.

Starred titles (redstar) are essential for all collections.


fairyland031414redstarAbbott, Alysia. Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father. Norton. 2013. 272p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9780393082524. pap. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393240528.

Abbott’s moving memoir of growing up with her gay activist-poet father, Steve Abbott, begins with her parents’ unconventional marriage in Atlanta. When Abbott’s mother was killed in the early Seventies, father and daughter moved to San Francisco, where he lived as an out gay man. Referencing his diaries and letters, the author re-creates their lives and presents a history of a vibrant gay community, the AIDS crisis, and her return to the United States at 21 to care for him in his last illness. (LJ 5/15/13)

redstarDew, Robb Forman. The Family Heart: A Memoir of When Our Son Came Out. Ballantine. 1995. 229p. ISBN 9780345394088. pap. $15.

Novelist Dew writes with compassion and humor about her son Stephen’s coming out as gay. Her memoir is not as much about her son as it is about a family’s commitment to one another. (LJ 5/1/94)

Duron, Lori. Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son. Broadway. 2013. 224p. bibliog. ISBN 9780770437725. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780770437718.

When Duron’s son C.J. didn’t outgrow the experimental “phase” many toddlers enjoy, instead announcing he was going to be a girl, she and her husband encouraged “C.J. to be C.J.,” while trying to make his life safe and happy. “Mommy blogger” Duron soon began writing in order to provide support to other parents raising a gender nonconforming child.

Haskell, Molly. My Brother, My Sister: Story of a Transformation. Viking. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780670025527. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101638057.

Feminist film critic Haskell writes candidly about the journey her sixtysomething brother, Chevey, made to change his gender, becoming Ellen. She not only chronicles Ellen’s life during transition, she describes her own journey to acceptance of her sister with wit and, of course, references to film and literature.oddlynormal031414

Schwartz, John. Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle To Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality. Gotham. 2013. 304p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781592407286. $26; pap. ISBN 9781592408405. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101600511.

New York Times correspondent Schwartz’s memoir begins with his son Joe’s suicide attempt after coming out at school. He traces his son’s development as a “different” child and relates how he made sure Joe got the help he needed. A bonus: Joe’s own charmingly illustrated story. (LJ 6/15/12)


redstarBergman, S. Bear. Blood, Marriage, Wine and Glitter: Essays. Arsenal Pulp. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9781551525112. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781551525129.

Activist and storyteller Bergman rearranges the concept of family for the 21st century in his latest collection of essays, in which he lovingly describes his life as one of two polyamorous transgender dads in a family with their son and a large cast of friends and relatives he calls his “glitter family.”

Boylan, Jennifer Finney. Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders. Crown. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780767921763. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780307952844.

Boylan’s insightful memoir chronicles her transition from James (who originally thought the love of the “right woman” would help him remain a man) to Jennifer, comother of two accepting sons. Boylan includes a section containing interviews with other writers about their families called “Time Outs,” which help readers understand the variety of experiences of gender.

Bucatinsky, Dan. Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? Confessions of a Gay Dad. Touchstone. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9781451660739. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451660746.

Bucatinsky, actor and author of a column for The Advocate that chronicles his life as a cofather of two, expands on his columns in this darkly hilarious account of the adoption of his children. shelooksjustlikeyou031414Highlights of the memoir include his reflections on being gay and on being asked where the kids’ mother is. (LJ 7/12)

Miller, Amie Klempnauer. She Looks Just Like You: A Memoir of (Nonbiological Lesbian) Motherhood. Beacon. 2011. 248p. ISBN 9780807001516. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780807004708.

Writer Miller and her longtime partner thought that they were ready for parenthood. But when her partner got pregnant and gave birth, they faced many issues that straight parents do not. How would their daughter distinguish between “Mama” and “Mommy”? Miller humorously describes this and other “simple” ­situations.

Savage, Dan. The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family. Plume. 2006. 304p. ISBN 9780452287631. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101213322.

The popular advice columnist and founder of the It Gets Better Project ( describes his relationships with his now husband and their son while wittily analyzing the histories of the marriages in the Savage family. This collection considers the meaning of marriage in his life and the pros and cons of wedding his partner. (LJ 10/1/05)


Barr, Damian. Maggie & Me: Coming Out and Coming of Age in 1980s Scotland. Bloomsbury. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781620405888. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781620405895.

British journalist Barr’s memoir begins with the news that Margaret Thatcher has survived the 1984 IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton. He is eight years old. From that moment on, Thatcher becomes his role model for survival. He survives his mother’s abusive boyfriend, his homo­phobic classmates, and his mother’s drunken friends in their council house. Told with dark humor, Barr’s book offers vivid descriptions of life in working-class Scotland.

redstarBechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Mariner. 2007. 232p. ISBN funhome0314149780618871711. pap $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780547347004.

Bechdel, author of the award-winning comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, paints her own story in this stunning graphic memoir. Her black-and-white line drawings, brushed with a blue wash, bring to life her childhood with her distant actress mother and her mysterious father, the proprietor of a funeral home. Bechdel’s coming-out process is stifled when her father commits suicide, and she realizes that he, too, was gay. One of the best graphic memoirs to date, this book was the basis of a long-running off-Broadway play. (LJ 7/06)

Delany, Samuel R (text) & Mia Wolff (illus). Bread and Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York. reprint. Fantagraphics. 2013. 80p. ISBN 9781606996324. $14.99.

With this graphic memoir, award-winning sf author and professor Delany tells the story of meeting Dennis, an intelligent homeless man, in New York. Their relationship grows from an erotic encounter to one of devoted life partners. Wolff’s black-and-white drawings are sexually charged and contain art history references. The title includes an introduction by Watchmen dogyears031414author Alan Moore, as well as commentary by Delany and Dennis.

redstarDoty, Mark. Dog Years: A Memoir. HarperCollins. 2007. 224p. ISBN 9780061171000. $23.95; pap. ISBN 9780061171017. $13.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061842436.

Poet and essayist Doty’s memoir combines elegy, prose, and criticism to describe the 16 years shared with the two dogs that completed the family he created with his dying partner. His style is complex, formal, and never sentimental as he compares his dogs’ decline with the concurrent human losses in his life. (LJ 1/07)

González, Rigoberto. Autobiography of My Hungers. Univ. of Wisconsin. (Living Out: Gay & Lesbian Autobiographies). 2013. 128p.ISBN 9780299292508. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9780299292539.

In his second memoir, award-winning Chicano poet González uses poems and stories to illustrate his life through his hungers—for food, love, new clothes, and his culture. A strikingly unconventional memoir that captures González’s sense of isolation as both a gay man and an immigrant. (LJ 6/1/13)

For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough: Coming of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home. Magnus. 2012. 333p. ed. by Keith Boykin. ISBN 9781936833153. pap. $15.95.

Columnist Boykin borrowed the title of Ntozake Shange’s performance-poem and dedicated it to young gay men of color. This stirring collection of poems, reminiscences, and essays by a variety of writers brings to light the struggles they experienced at home as children and out in the world as young men.

Georges, Nicole J. Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir. Mariner. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780547615592. pap. $16.95; ebk. 9780547834566.

Georges ’s family is fraught with secrecy. When a psychic informs her that her father isn’t really dead, as her family has told her, she uncovers more family secrets—and is understandably hesitant to reveal her own secret to her mother. Georges’s quirky drawings bring to life her difficult relationship with her secretive mother, her musician girlfriend, and an amusing gang of dogs.

Hoffert, Melanie. Prairie Silence: A Memoir—a Rural prairiesilence031414Expatriate’s Journey to Reconcile Home, Love, and Faith. Beacon. 2013. 238p. ISBN . $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780807044735.

Hoffert’s graceful story describes both her personal conflict and struggle and their reflections in the prairie communities she calls home. She writes of reconciling her sexuality with her conservative upbringing and accepting herself while mourning the loss of small towns and the farms that sustained and shaped her life.

Lanzillotto, Annie Rachele. L Is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir. Excelsior Eds. 2013. 335p. illus. ISBN 9781438445250. $24.95.

Lanzillotto, a poet, songwriter, and performer, traces her Italian family back to its immigrant roots. She also describes her youth (in the 1970s Bronx, NY) with an abusive, mentally ill father. She escapes to Brown University, survives cancer, comes out, and meets every challenge with aplomb in this rollicking, hopeful memoir.

redstarLorde, Audre. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name—a Biomythography. Crossing Pr. (Feminist Series). 2011. 264p. ISBN 9780895941220. pap. 16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780307780812.

In a title that combines autobiography and fiction, activist, writer, and librarian Lorde describes her life as a daughter of immigrants and as a lesbian in 1950s Harlem. She expresses the loneliness of being an outsider and the discovery of a talent for writing that shaped her life. Zami has been in print since 1982. A GLBTQ classic.

redstarSedaris, David. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Demin. Back Bay. 2005. 257p. ISBN 9780316010795. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780759511217; 5 CDs. unabridged. 6½ hrs. Time Warner Audio. 2004. ISBN 9781586215026. $31.98.

Known for his hilarious vignettes about everyday life, Sedaris is at his best when telling family stories. Here his extended family awaits the arrival of his brother Paul’s first child, Sedaris argues with his partner over movies, and his mother tries to get the family into the will of a rich relative. The best way to appreciate Sedaris’s style as a memoirist is to listen to him read, making this audio version preferable to the original print book. (LJ 5/15/05)

Walsh, Candace. Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity. Seal. 2012. 321p. ISBN 9781580053914. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781580054713.

Food writer Walsh mixes memoir with recipes and blends in the history of her matriarchal family. She leaves no stone unturned in her descriptions of her life with abusive men and the birth of her whybehappywhenyoucanbenormal031414daughter, all while yearning to meet the right woman.

redstarWinterson, Jeanette. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Grove. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780802120878. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780802194756.

An acclaimed British novelist, Winterson deftly writes of a rough childhood with her adoptive fundamentalist parents in a dark, industrial town. It’s England, the 1960s, and the air is full of social change but not in her family. This is a bold, raw coming-of-age story of a girl who escapes and learns to accept herself and become a successful author. (LJ 11/1/11)


LGBT Studies. Alexander Street

Alexander Street, known for its databases of primary sources in humanities and social sciences, debuted LGBT Studies in 2013. It combines a video collection and digitized print materials that explore the history of LGBT people in the 20th and 21st centuries. Partners include Frameline and the Kinsey Institute. The files are also available ­separately.

Lavender Legacies Guide. Society of American Archivists;

The Lavender Legacies Guide is a list of links to all of the GLBTQ archive collections in the United States and Canada. Some collections have significant digital content, others are finding aids. An excellent source of free primary source materials for the study of GLBTQ history.


Frameline Voices. iPhone only. Free

Frameline, a nonprofit media arts company that produces the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, offers a selection of its films on this new app. Currently, it is available for iPhones only.

Quist; Free

This new mobile app displays today’s anniversaries in GLBTQ history worldwide. Searchable by date, keyword, or location, it is a useful, portable way to find background information on events described in some of the family memoirs listed in this article. The app is available for iPad, iPhone, iPod, and Google Play. Users may upgrade to an ad-free version for $4.99.

Lisa N. Johnston is Associate Director, Sweet Briar College Library, VA. She chaired the 2011 American Library Association Stonewall Book Award Committee and serves on the editorial board of Alexander Street Press’s LGBT Thought and Culture. She is also a longtime DVD reviewer for LJ

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