LGBTQIA+ Nonfiction | Recent Reviews in LJ

To celebrate Pride Month, here are 12 nonfiction titles, along with additional resources, to expand your library's LGBTQIA+ collection.

To celebrate Pride Month, here are 12 nonfiction titles, along with additional resources, to expand your library's LGBTQIA+ collection.

Queer Country by Shana Goldin-Perschbacher Univ. of Illinois. (Music in American Life). Mar. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9780252044267. $110; pap. ISBN 9780252086335. $24.95. MUSIC

In this study of gay, trans, and nonbinary musicians working within and across the lines of country music, Goldin-Perschbacher (music studies, Boyer Coll. of Music and Dance, Temple Univ.) argues that whether a song is seen as part of the country genre is often just as much about who is playing it as the music itself, at least as far as industry sanction is concerned. Lil Nas X, a Black gay artist whose “Old Town Road” was removed from the Billboard chart listing despite its explosive popularity, is only one of many examples; others include well-known stars and tireless road warriors whose fanbases are obscured. Goldin-Perschbacher’s scholarly analysis is bolstered by ethnographic research, including numerous interviews. Her book begins with the early 1970s and Patrick Haggerty, whose collaborative Lavender Country is recognized as the first country album to treat gay sexuality openly. Unsurprisingly, notions of authenticity and sincerity come in for considerable discussion, as these concepts have been used to both include and exclude artists from communities of genre. This book makes an excellent companion to Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music, by Nadine Hubbs, with whom Golden-Perschbacher studied. VERDICT An empathetic and illuminating study, sure to expand country playlists. For scholars interested in queer studies and fans of country music.—Reviewed by Genevieve Williams

Queer Conception: The Complete Fertility Guide for Queer and Trans Parents-to-Be by Kristin L. Kali. Sasquatch. May 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781632173980. pap. $24.95. HEALTH

Strides have been made in recent years to recognize the spectrum of families that exist outside the assumed “normal” cis-hetero amalgamation. Based on Kali’s decades of experience as a licensed fertility midwife for LGBTQ+ families, this extensive book aims to walk a range of parents (couples; single parents by choice; poly families; coparents) through the process of pregnancy in the most affirming way possible. This book is important not just for the information it presents, but also for the way it avoids the binarism of almost all other pregnancy-related material. Queer conception is a series of purposeful decisions, and Kali offers lots of options and food for thought—for instance, with sections about deciding whether you’re ready to begin the parenthood journey and weighing the pros and cons of lactation following birth. There are also long discussions about pregnancy for people in gender-affirming therapy and about the hegemonic biases of medical institutions. Kali’s writing radiates with thoroughness, carefulness, and respect and is accompanied by easy-to-follow charts, legal resources, and dedicated information on care providers. VERDICT An important addition to any pregnancy collection because Kali ensures that a broad audience will be validated and benefit from their book’s content.—Reviewed by Halie Kerns

Same-Sex Marriage: Exploring the Issues by Scot Merriman. ABC-CLIO. Jan. 2022. 161p. ISBN 9781440875236. $40. REF

In this work exploring the intersection of marriage, LGBTQ+ civil rights, religion, society, and politics in the United States, Merriman (history, Troy Univ.; When Religious and Secular Interests Collide) shows how religion has determined law and social mores, in 49 well-written, alphabetically arranged, three-to-four-page entries on subjects relating to religion, marriage, same-sex marriage, and marriage equality. The preface and overview provide a historical account of American LGBTQ+ civil rights movements and the push for marriage equality in the U.S.; there’s also a chronology (1000 BCE–2020) of international events. There are entries about issues (adoption; restaurants; surrogacy; church schools; sacraments), court cases (Burwell v. Hobby LobbyObergefell v. Hodges), people (Pete Buttigieg; Kim Davis), religious denominations (Presbyterianism; Evangelical Christianity; Islam; Judaism), history (the civil rights movement; the 2000s), and government (religious law and practice; religion and interracial marriage)—each with cross-references and an up-to-date bibliography. Despite its ground-breaking approach, Merriman’s work has some weaknesses. For example, the article on adoption mentions that Michigan requires adoption agencies to allow same-sex couples to adopt without bias; here Merriman states that adoption policies are covered in another of the book’s articles but he fails to clearly cross-reference it. See also the entry on Buttigieg, which doesn’t discuss his appointment as U.S. Transportation Secretary or his children. However, the book’s detailed index and topical list aid access. Reference works on same-sex marriage tend to focus on legal, political, and social themes or specific religions, so Merriman’s book stands out for its coverage. VERDICT This accessible work is informative and appropriate for a wide variety of readers, from high school and seminary students through politicians, religious leaders, and think tanks.—Reviewed by Laurie Selwyn

LGBTQ Life in America: Examining the Facts by Melissa R. Michelson & Brian F. Harrison. ABC-CLIO. Dec. 2021. 221p. ISBN 9781440875052. $65. REF

Michelson (political science, Menlo Coll., CA) and Harrison (Humphrey Sch. of Public Affairs, Univ. of Minnesota)—the co-authors of 2020’s Transforming Prejudice: Identity, Fear, and Transgender Rights—ask and answer 49 questions across seven chapters on the myths, misconceptions, and misinformation about LGBTQ people in the United States. They explain and describe what it means to be LGBTQ, what the different segments of the LGBTQ community have in common and how they differ, how societal and cultural expectations place an undue burden on LGTBQ people, and the ways in which the movement for LGBTQ rights continues. Each chapter begins with a question, followed by a brief response, several pages of in-depth discussion explaining the answer, and a concluding further reading section. The topics are thought-provoking and wide-ranging, addressing everything from the changing meaning of the word queer to the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity, origins of the LGBTQ movement, types of discrimination against LGBTQ people, and the intersection of race and sexuality. The authors are exceedingly knowledgeable, and their answers are detailed, quantifiable, and evidence based. Equally important, they write in an evenhanded and inviting tone, expertly providing their core audience of high school and undergraduate students and general readers a much deeper understanding of the topic. VERDICT Accurately describes the diversity, challenges, and needs of LGBTQ Americans while at the same time dispelling false, misleading, and long-held misperceptions in an unbiased, fact-based, and engaging style.—Reviewed by Rob Tench

Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise by Jack Parlett. Hanover Square: Harlequin. Jun. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781335475183. $27.99. SOC SCI

Parlett’s (literary theory, Oxford Univ.; The Poetics of Cruising) literary history of Fire Island also uses memoir and social history to document gay and lesbian life and arts in the beach community on New York’s Long Island. The literary side of Fire Island goes back to Walt Whitman, with an overwhelming cast of more recent luminaries (W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Patricia Highsmith, Larry Kramer, Frank O’Hara). For some writers and artists, Fire Island was a place of respite and creativity; others just used it a quick getaway, and queer people discovered it to be a place of freedom. Long before Stonewall, Fire Island became a refuge from the threats to queer New Yorkers; its house parties, discos, and beach cruising made for a uniquely liberating experience. Parlett also notes the AIDS crisis’s effect on Fire Island’s culture. Among the most poetic and moving parts of this beautifully written book are Parlett’s own memories of New York City, Fire Island, and his growth as a gay man. VERDICT Readers of all stripes will appreciate this fast-paced general interest title.—Reviewed by David Azzolina

How You Get Famous: Ten Years of Drag Madness in Brooklyn by Nicole Pasulka. S. & S. Jun. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9781982115791. $27.99. ARTS

Thanks in part to RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag has become mainstream, but before it was a household term, it was an underground culture that offered young, broke, queer boys and men a chance at money and fame by dressing up in outrageous outfits, dancing, and lip-synching to the songs of the day. Journalist Pasulka has put together a lively and intricate history of drag: the repressive 1940s and 1950s; the Drag Race competition series and RuPaul, who she says almost single-handedly made drag palatable to the masses; and the hip Brooklyn drag scene, which Pasulka asserts “serves as a microcosm of the art form.” She highlights drag queens Aja, Thorgy Thor, and Sasha Velour, all of whom appeared on Drag Race. There’s also 28-year-old Jason Daniels, who moved to New York City to be somebody but ended up a nobody; then Daniels discovered drag, became “Merrie Cherry,” and started hosting drag shows and pageants in the burgeoning Brooklyn drag scene. Pasulka follows the lives of these queens and others as they seek community and fame and compete on Drag Race and in drag pageants. VERDICT An entertaining, absorbing behind-the-scenes look at drag that will especially appeal to fans of Drag Race and the TV drama Pose.—Reviewed by Rosellen “Rosy” Brewer

Prelude: Poems, by Brynne Rebele-Henry. Univ. of Pittsburgh. (Pitt Poetry). Mar. 2022. 72p. ISBN 9780822966883. pap. $18. POETRY

In her third poetry collection (after Autobiography of a Wound), Rebele-Henry explores the gay female experience by reimagining the girlhood and adolescence of Saint Catherine of Siena. The result captures the erasure of gay women’s lives in hauntingly powerful ways, with poems about sexual experiences often interwoven with a sense of guilt and inadequacy and the constant need to hide. As Rebele-Henry says in “Orchadiae,” “All we would ever be was in the darkness” and “My desire was a thing I swallowed until my teeth corroded.” As these themes are repeated again and again, they give new perspective to the constant pain and alienation experienced by many LGBTQ+ people. There are also meditations on St. Catherine’s grief after the death of her twin, as well as St. Catherine’s startling passage into sainthood. The 14th-century Italian setting is subtle yet immersive, with imagery of flowers, earth, mud, and the darkness of the night sky throughout. VERDICT Built on a fascinating history while creating a fresh and heartbreaking perspective, Rebele-Henry’s poetry brings to life an LGBTQ+ experience. Highly recommended.—Reviewed by Sarah Michaelis

Burn the Page: A True Story of Torching Doubts, Blazing Trails, and Igniting Change by Danica Roem. Viking. Apr. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780593296554. $27. MEMOIR

Roem’s memoir—part–history of heavy metal, part-travelogue, part–campaign handbook, part–coming out story—depicts one politician’s fascinating climb to authenticity. In 2017, Roem became the first out transgender state legislator in U.S. history when she was elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates. Besides being trans, Roem was the most unlikely of politicians—her run for office followed a career in journalism, as a late-night college radio DJ, and as frontwoman of a heavy metal band; she wasn’t out as trans until she was nearly 30. Still, the Democrat became a voice of change by flipping a red seat in right-wing district. Roem writes that her career is proof that nothing—not alcohol abuse; a 1.1 GPA; being broke without health insurance—can stop someone from chasing their passion. Roem’s completely one-of-a-kind memoir draws from the opposition research dredged up by her political opponents (and by the opposition researchers she hired to investigate her own past, as part of her campaign prep). Roem has penned a memoir that’s a toolkit and a positive manifesto, in which seeing obstacles as opportunities, being unapologetically oneself, and trying for impractical dreams are the foundations of success. VERDICT A must-read for fans of unlikely heroes, LGBTQ memoirs, humor, and, of course, heavy metal.—Reviewed by Alana R. Quarles

Magic Season: A Son’s Story by Wade Rouse. Hanover Square. May 2022. 288p. ISBN 9781335475176. $27.99. MEMOIR

Parents and children often disagree, but occasionally that rift becomes an unsurpassable ravine. Rouse (It’s All Relative) and his father found it hard to connect about anything and were driven apart by differences and an unwillingness to meet in the middle. Luckily, Rouse and his father Ted have one thing in common—a deep-seated love of the St. Louis Cardinals. Rouse’s new memoir is a poignant and heartfelt story about a father and son reestablishing a connection. Their shared love of baseball provides them a vocabulary to reconnect at the end of Ted’s life and provides the tools to rebuild their relationship. This memoir is equal parts heart-rending and humorous, and at all points filled with love. It is a story that’s more than just about a conservative father and his gay son, it’s about the power of family and shared experience. VERDICT Libraries looking to increase their LGBTQ+ memoir collections will not want to miss this worthy entry.—Reviewed by Ahliah Bratzler

The Women’s House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison by Hugh Ryan. Bold Type. May 2022. 368p. ISBN 9781645036661. $30. SOC SCI

While this book is ostensibly about the New York City Women’s House of Detention, Greenwich Village’s forgotten queer landmark, it is also about so much more. Historian Ryan (When Brooklyn Was Queer) contextualizes the notorious prison, which stood from 1929 to 1974, in the realms of criminology, queer theory, women’s history, geography, and many other disciplines. Ryan’s book relies on extensive archival research, especially with the Women’s Prison Association, and engagement with other primary sources; the oral histories, historical and contemporary, that he cites particularly stand out. Ryan describes the Women’s House of Detention as a grueling place—overcrowded and neglected—whose residents (cisgender women, transgender men, and gender-nonconforming people) were denigrated by nearly all elements of society; the fact that many were held or convicted on sexual offenses only led to further opprobrium. Many of these people were queer; some were famous. Organized chronologically, Ryan’s book integrates interesting academic studies and provokes readers to view the prison in its larger sociocultural context. His lucid writing takes the book out of the academic realm of prison history and opens it to a wider readership that will find many insights relevant to contemporary incarceration. VERDICT This blend of queer history and social history is highly recommended for all interested in learning about an often-overlooked landmark.—Reviewed by David Azzolina

From Gay to Z: A Queer Compendium by Justin Elizabeth Sayre. Chronicle. May 2022. 240p. ISBN 9781452178028. $24.95. REF

Humorist and writer Sayre isn’t a historian or social scientist—as they readily admit in the introduction to this compendium of artists and activists within or with influence on LGBTQ+ culture. Instead of creating a scholarly text, Sayre intends to “throw a little shade and to make a little joy.” Brief, alphabetically organized entries profile icons (Doris Day; Prince), films (MoonlightA Fantastic Woman), organizations (ACT UP; Daughters of Bilitis), drag queens (Divine; Merrie Cherrie), actors (Laverne Cox; Neil Patrick Harris), and poets (Audre Lorde; Gabriela Mistral). Each entry discusses the subject’s historical and cultural context, contributions and impact on queer culture, and importance to LGBTQ+ communities, sometimes paired with line drawings by Fredy Ralda. VERDICT Many readers will enjoy this breezy, wide-ranging, and at times opinionated look at LGBTQIA+ figures, trends, and influencers.—Reviewed by Maggie Knapp

The Love That Dares: Letters of LGBTQ+ Love & Friendship Through History by Rachel Smith & Barbara Vesey. Ilex. May 2022. 288p. ISBN 9781781578292. $19.99. LIT

Archivists Vesey and Smith (both of Bishopsgate Inst., London) compiled letters, notes, and poems spanning 620 BCE to 2021 for this collection of correspondences written by queer people throughout history. Vesey and Smith meet their readers with transparency as to the book’s contents; in the introduction, they write that this collection is “eclectic,” but not comprehensive, particularly as gathering historical materials from marginalized people can be difficult when those voices have been continuously erased and silenced. Despite this, the letters in this collection push the envelope and uncover hidden histories of queer people from Sappho to Audre Lorde. Not all of the letter writers were well known, but each letter is preceded by a blurb that gives historical context. There’s an excellent range of subject matter, as the letters explore love in many forms—familial, romantic, platonic, and communal. Some letters are deliciously sensual, while others are brief and discuss mundane life; some express raw grief, and others exuberant joy. As for editing, Vesey and Smith masterfully balance readability and historical accuracy; their edits to the letters do not sway the originals’ historical integrity or change their tone but provide necessary clarification. VERDICT This illuminating and important collection of hidden LGBTQ+ histories is also a joy to read.—Reviewed by Grace Caternolo

Additional Resources

Inclusive Family Planning: Eight Resources To Build Collections.

Inclusive I-Do’s: 15 Resources to Build a Collection.

From Infodocket:

$750,000 Awarded by California State Library for Preservation and Digital Accessibility of California’s LGBTQ+ History. Filed by Gary Price on March 14, 2022. From California State Library.

Digital Collections: More Than 60,000 Digitized Items From LGBTQ Pioneers Launch Online. Filed by Gary Price on February 24, 2022. From the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Princeton University: New Scholarly Database Documents the Rise in Publicly Identifying LGBTQI+ Elected Officials Across the Globe. Filed by Gary Price on April 25, 2022. From Princeton University.

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