25 Great Memoirs by Lesbian Women
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There are so many great non-fiction books on my list to read, but top of the line is books by Lesbian and Bisexual women. I always find it interesting to read about other people's experiences, to understand their points of view, but it's particularly interesting to read about other members of the LGBT community. There's such a variety of experiences now, as some places become more accepting and some more restrictive. By reading other people's experiences it really helps us to reflect on our own.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was written in 1933 by Gertrude Stein in the guise of an autobiography authored by Alice B. Toklas, who was her lover. It is a fascinating insight into the art scene in Paris as the couple were friends with Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. They begin the war years in England but return to France, volunteering for the American Fund for the French Wounded, driving around France, helping the wounded and homeless. After the war Gertrude has an argument with T. S. Eliot after he finds one of her writings inappropriate. They become friends with Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway. It was written to make money and was indeed a commercial success. However, it attracted criticism, especially from those who appeared in the book and didn't like the way they were depicted.Buy the Book
Unique, moving, and true - this radiant love story is set against the horrific backdrop of World War II Nazi Germany. When Lilly "Aimee" Wust, a gentile mother of four and wife of a Nazi officer, met Felice "Jaguar" Schragenheim, a Jew living underground in Berlin, neither could have guessed that their brief initial encounter would develop into a blazing, devoted love. As the Nazi stranglehold closed in on them, Lilly and Felice found themselves fighting insurmountable odds to stay together. Extraordinarily passionate and heartrending, this is a rare and personal look at the love and strength of two women whose commitment to each other defied the brutality of their time.Buy the Book
The daughter of an unmarried immigrant Jewish garment worker whose family had perished in the Holocaust, Lillian Faderman dreamed of being an actress. Instead she worked her way through college by posing for nude photographs, and by stripping. She slowly discovered that her deepest erotic and emotional connections were to women. After nearly losing herself in a dangerous underworld of addicts, pimps, and prostitutes, she became a brilliant student, eventually earning a Ph.D. And she became a loving partner, a devoted mother, an influential writer, and a groundbreaking scholar of gay and lesbian studies.Buy the Book
I didn't decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude. Being as thin as possible was a way to make the job of being an actress easier . . . Portia de Rossi weighed only 82 pounds when she collapsed on the set of the Hollywood film in which she was playing her first leading role. This should have been the culmination of all her years of hard work--first as a child model in Australia, then as a cast member of one of the hottest shows on American television. On the outside she was thin and blond, glamorous and successful. On the inside, she was literally dying. In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn't enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point. Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder. From her lowest point, Portia began the painful climb back to a life of health and honesty, falling in love with and eventually marrying Ellen DeGeneres, and emerging as an outspoken and articulate advocate for gay rights and women's health issues. In this remarkable and beautifully written work, Portia shines a bright light on a dark subject. A crucial book for all those who might sometimes feel at war with themselves or their bodies, Unbearable Lightness is a story that inspires hope and nourishes the spirit.Buy the Book
Best-known as Glee's sharp-tongued Sue Sylvester, Jane Lynch's on-screen persona is someone that many love to hate. But when she's not prowling the corridors in Sue's shiny tracksuit, who is the real Jane Lynch and how did this Golden Globe and Emmy winner learn to channel such delicious nastiness? This is no typical Hollywood memoir of torment, grief, regret and plastic surgery. It's a simple but candid story of how a girl from Chicago came to Hollywood, overcame her demons, and finally hit the big time. Taking a good, hard look at herself, Lynch reveals that she and Sue Sylvester actually aren't all that different. At times in her life she 'was a real pain in the ass'. 'I was an anxiety-stricken kid with a big, scary secret.' How difficult it is to imagine this funny, bright, intelligent woman hitting rock bottom, but she is frank about her self-loathing during those years and paints a vivid picture of drunken nights, angry tirades and a person with no friends. In short, she was a real-life Sue Sylvester. Yet this very same woman has starred in string of great, fun movies, including Talladega Nights, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Role Models and Julie and Julia, with actors such as Steve Carrell, Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Meryl Streep. With her impeccable comic timing and quick wit, she has transformed what was originally a guest part on Glee into one of the programme's most central and defining characters, and has won several awards for doing so. Lynch relates the story of her comedy career in a voice that is modest, hilarious and endlessly entertaining, even though her own life hasn't always been such a laugh.Buy the Book
Staceyann Chin has appeared on television and radio, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, and PBS, discussing issues of race and sexuality. But it is her extraordinary voice that launched her career as a performer, poet, and activist. Here, she shares her unforgettable story of triumph against all odds in this brave and fiercely candid memoir.. No one knew Staceyann's mother was pregnant until a dangerously small baby was born on the floor of her grandmother's house in Jamaica, on Christmas Day. Staceyann's mother did not want her, and her father was not present. No one, except her grandmother, thought Staceyann would survive. It was her grandmother who nurtured and protected and provided for Staceyann and her older brother in the early years. But when the three were separated, Staceyann was thrust, alone, into an unfamiliar and dysfunctional home in Paradise, Jamaica. . Told with grace, humor, and courage, Chin plumbs tender and unsettling memories as she writes about drifting from one home to the next, coming out as a lesbian, finding the man she believes to be her father, and ultimately, discovering her voice. .Buy the Book
From its beginning to its end, poet, essayist and performer Eileen Myles’ chronicle transmits an energy and vividness that will not soon leave its readers. Her story of a young female writer, discovering both her sexuality and her own creative drive in the meditative and raucous environment that was New York City in its punk and indie heyday, is engrossing, poignant, and funny. This is a voice from the underground that redefines the meaning of the word.Buy the Book
Meredith Baxter is a beloved and iconic television actress, most well-known for her enormously popular role as hippie mom, Elyse Keaton, on Family Ties. Her warmth, humor, and brilliant smile made her one of the most popular women on television, with millions of viewers following her on the small screen each week. Yet her success masked a tumultuous personal story and a harrowing private life. For the first time, Baxter is ready to share her incredible highs, (working with Robert Redford, Doris Day, Lana Turner, and the cast of Family Ties), and lows (a thorny relationship with her mother, a difficult marriage to David Birney, a bout with breast cancer), finally revealing the woman behind the image.Buy the Book
Betty Berzon, renowned psychotherapist and author of the bestselling book Permanent Partners, tells her own incredible story here. Berzon's journey from psychiatric patient on suicide watch - her wrists tethered to the bed rails in a locked hospital ward - to her present role as a groundbreaking therapist and gay pioneer makes for purely compelling reading. Berzon is recognized today as a trailblazing co-founder of a number of important lesbian and gay organizations and as one of the first therapists to focus on means of developing healthy gay relationships and overcoming homophobia. Along her sometimes bumpy road to success she encountered such luminaries as Anais Nin, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Sitwells, Evelyn Hooker, and Paul Monette. It is, however, the intimate story of Berzon's own private passage toward self-discovery - from mental breakdown and suicide attempts, through hospitalization, eventual triumphant recovery, and her own coming out as an open lesbian at the age of forty - that makes this memoir an urgent, insightful, and deeply emotional testament to human survival.Buy the Book
Uncovered is the first memoir to tell of a gay woman leaving the Hasidic fold. Told in understated, crystalline prose, Lax begins her story as a young teen leaving her liberal, secular home to become a Hasidic Jew, then plumbs the nuances of her arranged marriage, fundamentalist faith, and Hasidic motherhood, as her creative, sexual, and spiritual longings shimmer beneath the surface.Buy the Book
Ivan E. Coyote is a master storyteller and performer; their beautiful, funny stories about growing up a lesbian butch in the Canadian north have attracted big audiences whether gay, straight, or otherwise. Missed Her is Ivan's fifth story collection, following 2008's Lambda-nominated The Slow Fix and Bow Grip, their novel that was named a Stonewall Honor Book by the American Library Association. Whether discussing the politics of being a butch with a pet lapdog or berating a gay newspaper for considering butches and trans people as "extreme," Ivan traverses issues of gender and identity with a wistful, perceptive eye.Buy the Book
"Being a girl was something that never really happened for me."—Rae Spoon
Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon are accomplished, award-winning writers, musicians, and performers; they are also both admitted "gender failures." In their first collaborative book, Ivan and Rae explore and expose their failed attempts at fitting into the gender binary, and how ultimately our expectations and assumptions around traditional gender roles fail us all.
Based on their acclaimed 2012 live show that toured across the United States and in Europe, Gender Failure is a poignant collection of autobiographical essays, lyrics, and images documenting Ivan and Rae's personal journeys from gender failure to gender enlightenment. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, it's a book that will touch LGBTQ readers and others, revealing, with candor and insight, that gender comes in more than two sizes.
Ivan E. Coyote is the author of six story collections and the award-winning novel Bow Grip, and is co-editor of Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. Ivan frequently performs at high schools, universities, and festivals across North America.
Rae Spoon is a transgender indie musician whose most recent CD is My Prairie Home, which is also the title of a new National Film Board of Canada documentary about them. Rae's first book, First Spring Grass Fire, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist in 2013.
Women’s music legend Alix Dobkin for the first time chronicles her rise to fame as the first artist to record an openly lesbian album in 1973. Her story, however, opens much earlier in postwar New York City, where, growing up in a Communist family, she watches Jackie Robinson steal home, rubs elbows with radical Left celebrities like Paul Robeson, and comes of age under the watchful eye of the FBI. Dobkin herself joins the party at the height of the McCarthy witch hunts and offers readers a firsthand glimpse of daily life as a young person living under government surveillance. During this time she also matures as a devotee of folk music, having fallen under the spell of renowned performers such as Lead Belly and Pete Seeger. Yet it’s after she arrives on the burgeoning folk music scene of Greenwich Village, where she meets the up-and-coming Bob Dylan, Bill Cosby, John Sebastian, Buffy Ste. Marie, and Flip Wilson, among many other rising luminaries, that she achieves her first acclaim as a singer-songwriter. Her music takes on overt feminist dimensions when she joins a women’s consciousness-raising group and comes out as a lesbian. Rich in period detail, storytelling, and outspoken politics, My Red Blood is essential reading for lovers of music and history.
Singer-songwriter and producer of the groundbreaking 1973 Lavender Jane Loves Women, Alix Dobkin has six additional highly praised albums and a songbook to her credit. She lives in Woodstock, New York.
Brittney Griner, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, is a once-in-a-generation player, possessing a combination of size and athleticism never before seen in women's basketball. But the sport's "most transformative figure" (Sports Illustrated) is equally famous for making headlines off the court, for speaking out on issues of gender, sexuality, body image, and self-esteem.Buy the Book
When she was seven, Rayya Elias and her family fled the political conflict in their native Syria, settling in Detroit. Bullied in school and caught between the world of her traditional family and her tough American classmates, she rebelled early.
Elias moved to New York City to become a musician and kept herself afloat with an uncommon talent for cutting hair. At the height of the punk movement, life on the Lower East Side was full of adventure, creative inspiration, and temptation. Eventually, Elias’s passionate affairs with lovers of both sexes went awry, her (more than) occasional drug use turned to addiction, and she found herself living on the streets—between her visits to jail.
This debut memoir charts four decades of a life lived in the moment, a path from harrowing loss and darkness to a place of peace and redemption. Elias’s wit and lack of self-pity in the face of her extreme highs and lows make Harley Loco a powerful read that’s sure to appeal to fans of Patti Smith, Augusten Burroughs, and Eleanor Henderson.
"Los Angeles Times" Bestseller "Mary Cappello['s] inventive, associative taxonomy of discomfort . . . [is] revelatory indeed." --MARK DOTY, author of "Dog Years: A Memoir" and "Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems" "A wonderful, multi-layered piece of writing, with all the insight of great cultural criticism and all the emotional pull of memoir. A fascinating book." --SARAH WATERS, author of "The Night Watch" and "The Little Stranger" Without awkwardness we would not know grace, stability, or balance. Yet no one before Mary Cappello has turned such a penetrating gaze on this misunderstood condition. Fearlessly exploring the ambiguous borders of identity, she mines her own life journeys--from Russia, to Italy, to the far corners of her heart and the depths of a literary or cinematic text--to decipher the powerful messages that awkwardness can transmit. Mary Cappello is the author of four books of literary nonfiction, including "Awkward: A Detour," which was a "Los Angeles Times" bestseller, "Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life, " which won a "ForeWord Reviews" Book of the Year Award and an Independent Publishers Prize, and "Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them." Professor of English at the University of Rhode Island, she lives in Providence, Rhode Island and Lucerne-in-Maine, Maine.
“Annie Lanzillotto, the bard of Bronx Italian butch, is an American original, a performance artist and cultural anthropologist whose work is unique in theme, sound, affect, and effect. This memoir reveals her to be something more: an astonishing writer possessed of an utterly inimitable voice, a voice at once as richly soulful as her mother’s lasagna and as bracingly unsentimental as her father’s Marine masculinity. Lanzillotto’s stories bounce and stretch with the elasticity of her trusted Spaldeen, keeping us just a step ahead of the flying emotional shrapnel of an intensely lived life as we move from the mean streets of 1970s Bronx to the Ivy League, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer ward, the banks of the Nile, and the Italian mezzogiorno. A landmark of ethnic expressivity, L Is for Lion indelibly portrays the iconic Italian American spaces of kitchen, stoop, sidewalk, and street; the body as a site of humor and tragedy; and, above all, the family war zone as an uncanny intermingle of poignancy and brutality.” — John Gennari, author of Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its CriticsBuy the Book
Let's get one thing straight. I'm not. I'm out and proud. When I'm out and it's raining I carry an umbrella. I used to be in but I hate the smell of mothballs. My closet was huge, complete with a foyer, turnstile, a few dead bolts, and a burglar alarm that had to be deactivated before I could even touch the door handle. And then there was the storm door. It wasn't until I had lived and slept with a woman for a year that it occurred to me to ask, "Do you think we're lesbians?" By the way, never come out to your father in a moving vehicle.
Now I've written a book. It's not as easy as it looks. One night, I was working late on my computer when a little message came up on the screen, "You are almost out of memory." Here are my thoughts and observations on everything from gay marriage (Mad Vow Disease) to my morbid fear of mascots (with the exception of the San Diego Chicken). That's all I'm going to say because I don't want to spoil it for you. That's a job for Jesse Helms.
As an organizer, writer, publisher, scholar-activist, and elected official, Barbara Smith has played key roles in multiple social justice movements, including Civil Rights, feminism, lesbian and gay liberation, anti-racism, and Black feminism. Her four decades of grassroots activism forged collaborations that introduced the idea that oppression must be fought on a variety of fronts simultaneously, including gender, race, class, and sexuality. By combining hard-to-find historical documents with new unpublished interviews with fellow activists, this book uncovers the deep roots of today's identity politics and intersectionality and serves as an essential primer for practicing solidarity and resistance.Buy the Book
Abby Wambach has always pushed the limits of what is possible. At age seven she was put on the boys soccer team. At age thirty-five she would become the highest goal scorer male or female in the history of soccer, capturing the nation s heart with her team s 2015 World Cup Championship. Called an inspiration and badass by President Obama, Abby has become a fierce advocate for women s rights and equal opportunity, pushing to translate the success of her team to the real world.As she reveals in this searching memoir, Abby s professional success often masked her inner struggle to reconcile the various parts of herself: ferocious competitor, daughter, leader, wife. With stunning candor, Abby shares her inspiring and often brutal journey from girl in Rochester, New York, to world-class athlete. Far more than a sports memoir, Forward is gripping tale of resilience and redemption and a reminder that heroism is, above all, about embracing life s challenges with fearlessness and heart. Buy the Book
A compelling, harrowing, but ultimately uplifting story of resilience and self-discovery. A Two-Spirit Journey is Ma-Nee Chacaby's extraordinary account of her life as an Ojibwa-Cree lesbian. From her early, often harrowing memories of life and abuse in a remote Ojibwa community riven by poverty and alcoholism, Chacaby's story is one of enduring and ultimately overcoming the social, economic, and health legacies of colonialism. As a child, Chacaby learned spiritual and cultural traditions from her Cree grandmother and trapping, hunting, and bush survival skills from her Ojibwa stepfather. She also suffered physical and sexual abuse by different adults, and in her teen years became alcoholic herself. At twenty, Chacaby moved to Thunder Bay with her children to escape an abusive marriage. Abuse, compounded by racism, continued, but Chacaby found supports to help herself and others. Over the following decades, she achieved sobriety; trained and worked as an alcoholism counsellor; raised her children and fostered many others; learned to live with visual impairment; and came out as a lesbian. In 2013, Chacaby led the first gay pride parade in Thunder Bay.Ma-Nee Chacaby has emerged from hardship grounded in faith, compassion, humour, and resilience. Her memoir provides unprecedented insights into the challenges still faced by many Indigenous people.Buy the Book
Course Correction recounts the physical and psychological barriers Gilder overcame as she transformed into an elite athlete who reached the highest echelon of her sport. Set against the backdrop of unprecedented cultural change, Gilder’s story personalizes the impact of Title IX, illustrating the life-changing lessons learned in sports but felt far beyond the athletic arena. Heartfelt and candid, Gilder recounts lessons learned from her journey as it wends its way from her first glimpse of an oar to the Olympic podium in 1984, carries her through family tragedy, strengthens her to accept her true sexual identity, and ultimately frees her to live her life on her terms.Buy the Book
This well-crafted family memoir is about the stories that are told and the ones that are not told, and about the ways the meanings of the stories change down the generations. It is about memory and the spaces between memories, and about alienation and reconciliation. All of Amy Hoffman's grandparents came to the United States during the early twentieth century from areas in Poland and Russia that are now Belarus and Ukraine. Like millions of immigrants, they left their homes because of hopeless poverty, looking for better lives or at the least a chance of survival. Because of the luck, hard work, and resourcefulness of the earlier generations, Hoffman and her five siblings grew up in a middle-class home, healthy, well fed, and well educated. An American success story? Not quite - or at least not quite the standard version. Hoffman's research in the Ellis Island archives along with interviews with family members reveal that the real lives of these relatives were far more complicated and interesting than their documents might suggest. Hoffman and her siblings grew up as observant Jews in a heavily Catholic New Jersey suburb, as political progressives in a town full of Republicans, as readers in a school full of football players and their fans. As a young lesbian, she distanced herself from her parents, who didn't understand her choice, and from the Jewish community, with its organization around family and unquestioning Zionism. However, both she and her parents changed and evolved, and by the end of this engaging narrative, they have come to new understandings, of themselves and one another.
In the span of four months in 2012, Tig Notaro was hospitalized for a debilitating intestinal disease called C. diff, her mother unexpectedly died, she went through a breakup, and then she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. Hit with this devastating barrage, Tig took her grief onstage. Days after receiving her cancer diagnosis, she broke new comedic ground, opening an unvarnished set with the words: 'Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Hi, how are you? Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer.' The set instantly went viral, and was ultimately released as Tig's sophomore album, Live, which sold one hundred thousand units in just six weeks and was later nominated for a Grammy. Now, the wildly popular star takes stock of that no good, very bad year - a difficult yet astonishing period in which tragedy turned into absurdity and despair transformed into joy. An inspired combination of the deadpan silliness of her comedy and the open-hearted vulnerability that has emerged in the wake of that dire time, I'm Just a Person is a moving and often hilarious look at this very brave, very funny woman's journey into the darkness and her thrilling return from it.Buy the Book
When Alex Cooper was fifteen years old, life was pretty ordinary in her sleepy suburban town and nice Mormon family. At church and at home, Alex was taught that God had a plan for everyone. But something was gnawing at her that made her feel different. These feelings exploded when she met Yvette, a girl who made Alex feel alive in a new way, and with whom Alex would quickly fall in love. Alex knew she was holding a secret that could shatter her family, her church community, and her life. Yet when this secret couldn't be hidden any longer, she told her parents that she was gay, and the nightmare began. She was driven from her home in Southern California to Utah, where, against her will, her parents handed her over to fellow Mormons who promised to save Alex from her homosexuality. For eight harrowing months, Alex was held captive in an unlicensed "residential treatment program" modeled on the many "therapeutic" boot camps scattered across Utah. Alex was physically and verbally abused, and many days she was forced to stand facing a wall wearing a heavy backpack full of rocks. Her captors used faith to punish and terrorize her. With the help of a dedicated legal team in Salt Lake City, Alex eventually escaped and made legal history in Utah by winning the right to live under the law's protection as an openly gay teenager. Alex is not alone; the headlines continue to splash stories about gay conversion therapy and rehabilitation centers that promise to "save" teenagers from their sexuality. Saving Alex is a courageous memoir that tells Alex's story in the hopes that it will bring awareness and justice to this important issue. A bold, inspiring story of one girl's fight for freedom, acceptance, and truth.Buy the Book