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LGBTQ+ Memoirs

LGBTQ Memoirs

Celebrate Pride and hear from members of the LGBTQ+ community and their family and friends about their experiences in their own words. Our Book Chat team has put together this list of memoirs that will make you laugh and cry while being both entertaining and insightful.

The Bold World

'The Bold World,' by Jodie Patterson

Inspired by her transgender son, activist Jodie Patterson explores identity, gender, race, and authenticity to tell the real-life story of a family's history and transformation.
 
In 2009, Jodie Patterson, mother of five and beauty entrepreneur, has her world turned upside down when her determined toddler, Penelope, reveals, "Mama, I'm not a girl. I am a boy." The Pattersons are a tribe of unapologetic Black matriarchs, scholars, financiers, Southern activists, artists, musicians, and disruptors, but with Penelope's revelation, Jodie realizes her existing definition of family isn't wide enough for her child's needs.
 
In The Bold World, we witness Patterson reshaping her own attitudes, beliefs, and biases, learning from her children, and a whole new community, how to meet the needs of her transgender son. In doing so, she opens the minds of those who raised and fortified her, all the while challenging cultural norms and gender expectations. Patterson finds that the fight for racial equality in which her ancestors were so prominent helped pave the way for the current gender revolution.
 
From Georgia to South Carolina, Ghana to Brooklyn, Patterson learns to remove the division between me and you, us and them, straight and queer--and she reminds us to celebrate her uncle Gil Scott Heron's prophecy that the revolution will not be televised. It will happen deeply, unequivocally, inside each and every one of us. Transition, we learn, doesn't just belong to the transgender person. Transition, for the sake of knowing more and becoming more, is the responsibility of and gift to all.
 
The Bold World is the result, an intimate and exquisite story of authenticity, courage, and love.
 

In the Dream House

'In the Dream House,' by Carmen Maria Machado

A revolutionary memoir about domestic abuse by the award-winning author of Her Body and Other Parties

In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado's engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.

And it's that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope--the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman--through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.

Machado's dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.

I Have Something to Tell You

'I Have Something to Tell You,' by Chasten Buttigieg

A moving, hopeful, and refreshingly candid memoir by the husband of Pete Buttigieg about growing up gay in his small Midwestern town, his relationship with Pete, and his hope for America's future.

Throughout the past year, teacher Chasten Glezman Buttigieg has emerged on the national stage, having left his classroom in South Bend, Indiana, to travel cross-country in support of his husband, former mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Pete's groundbreaking presidential campaign. Through Chasten's joyful, witty social media posts, the public gained a behind-the-scenes look at his life with Pete on the trail--moments that might have ranged from the mundane to the surprising, but that were always heartfelt.

Chasten has overcome a multitude of obstacles to get here. In this moving, uplifting memoir, he recounts his journey to finding acceptance as a gay man. He recalls his upbringing in rural Michigan, where he knew he was different, where indeed he felt different from his father and brothers. He recounts his coming out and how he's healed from revealing his secret to his family, friends, community, and the world. And he tells the story of meeting his boyfriend, whom he would marry and who would eventually become a major Democratic leader.

With unflinching honesty, unflappable courage, and great warmth, Chasten Buttigieg relays his experience of growing up in America and embracing his true self, while inspiring others to do the same.

Gender Queer

'Gender Queer,' by Maia Kobabe

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia's intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears.

Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity--what it means and how to think about it--for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.
 

How We Fight for Our Lives

'How We Fight for Our Lives,' by Saeed Jones

"People don't just happen," writes Saeed Jones. "We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The 'I' it seems doesn't exist until we are able to say, 'I am no longer yours.'"

Haunted and haunting, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir about a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence--into tumultuous relationships with his family, into passing flings with lovers, friends, and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another--and to one another--as we fight to become ourselves.

An award-winning poet, Jones has developed a style that's as beautiful as it is powerful--a voice that's by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one-of-a-kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

Here For It

'Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America: Essays,' by R. Eric Thomas

R. Eric Thomas didn't know he was different until the world told him so. Everywhere he went--whether it was his rich, mostly white, suburban high school, his conservative black church, or his Ivy League college in a big city--he found himself on the outside looking in.

In essays by turns hysterical and heartfelt, Thomas reexamines what it means to be an "other" through the lens of his own life experience. He explores the two worlds of his childhood: the barren urban landscape where his parents' house was an anomalous bright spot, and the Eden-like school they sent him to in white suburbia. He writes about struggling to reconcile his Christian identity with his sexuality, the exhaustion of code-switching in college, accidentally getting famous on the internet (for the wrong reason), and the surreal experience of covering the 2016 election for Elle online, and the seismic changes that came thereafter. Ultimately, Thomas seeks the answer to these ever more relevant questions: Is the future worth it? Why do we bother when everything seems to be getting worse? As the world continues to shift in unpredictable ways, Thomas finds the answers to these questions by reenvisioning what "normal" means and in the powerful alchemy that occurs when you at last place yourself at the center of your own story.

Here for It will resonate deeply and joyfully with everyone who has ever felt pushed to the margins, struggled with self-acceptance, or wished to shine more brightly in a dark world. Stay here for it--the future may surprise you.

Over the Top

'Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love,' by Jonathan Van Ness

A laugh-and-cry-out-loud memoir from the beloved star of Netflix's Queer Eye, Jonathan Van Ness, sharing never before told, deeply personal stories of growing up gay, transforming pain into positivity, and embracing what makes you gorgeously different.

Who gave Jonathan Van Ness permission to be the radiant human he is today? No one, honey.

The truth is, it hasn't always been gorgeous for this beacon of positivity and joy.

Before he stole our hearts as the grooming and self-care expert on Netflix's hit show Queer Eye, Jonathan was growing up in a small Midwestern town that didn't understand why he was so . . . over the top. From choreographed carpet figure skating routines to the unavoidable fact that he was Just. So. Gay., Jonathan was an easy target and endured years of judgement, ridicule and trauma--yet none of it crushed his uniquely effervescent spirit.

Over the Top uncovers the pain and passion it took to end up becoming the model of self-love and acceptance that Jonathan is today. In this revelatory, raw, and rambunctious memoir, Jonathan shares never-before-told secrets and reveals sides of himself that the public has never seen. JVN fans may think they know the man behind the stiletto heels, the crop tops, and the iconic sayings, but there's much more to him than meets the Queer Eye.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll come away knowing that no matter how broken or lost you may be, you're a Kelly Clarkson song, you're strong, and you've got this.

Kimiko Does Cancer

'Kimiko Does Cancer,' by Kimiko Tobimatsu

A moving and honest graphic memoir about the unexpected cancer journey of a young, queer, mixed-race woman.

At the age of twenty-five, Kimiko Tobimatsu was a young, queer, mixed-race woman with no history of health problems whose world was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In an instant, she became immersed in a new and complicated life of endless appointments, evaluations, and treatments, and difficult conversations with her partner and parents. Kimiko knew that this wasn't what being twenty-five was supposed to be like ... but then, she didn't have a choice.

With tender illustrations by Keet Geniza, Kimiko Does Cancer is a graphic memoir that upends the traditional cancer narrative from a young woman's perspective, confronting issues such as dating while in menopause, navigating work and treatment, and talking to well-meaning friends, health care professionals, and other cancer survivors with viewpoints different from her own. Not one for pink ribbons or runs for the cure, Kimiko seeks connection within the cancer community while also critiquing the mainstream cancer experience.

Honest and poignant, Kimiko Does Cancer is about finding one's own way out of a health crisis.

We Have Always Been Here

'We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir,' by Samra Habib

How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don't exist?

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.

When her family came to Canada as refugees, Samra encountered a whole new host of challenges- bullies, racism, the threat of poverty, and an arranged marriage. Backed into a corner, her need for a safe space-in which to grow and nurture her creative, feminist spirit-became dire. The men in her life wanted to police her, the women in her life had only shown her the example of pious obedience, and her body was a problem to be solved.

So begins an exploration of faith, art, love, and queer sexuality, a journey that takes her to the far reaches of the globe to uncover a truth that was within her all along. A triumphant memoir of forgiveness and family, both chosen and not, We Have Always Been Here is a rallying cry for anyone who has ever felt out of place and a testament to the power of fearlessly inhabiting one's truest self.

Forward

'Forward: A Memoir,' by Abby Wambach

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.

Officer Clemmons

'Officer Clemmons: A Memoir,' by Francios Clemmons

When he created the role of Officer Clemmons on the award-winning television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, François Clemmons made history as the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children's program. A new, wide world opened for Clemmons--but one that also required him to make painful personal choices and sacrifices. Officer Clemmons details Clemmons's incredible life story, beginning with his early years in Alabama and Ohio, marked by family trauma and loss, through his studies as a music major at Oberlin College, where Clemmons began to investigate and embrace his homosexuality, to a chance encounter with Fred Rogers that changed the whole course of both men's lives, leading to a deep, spiritual friendship and mentorship spanning nearly forty years.

From New York to Russia, Berlin to California, Grammy Award-winner Clemmons has performed for audiences around the world and remains a beloved figure. Evocative and intimate, and buoyed by its author's own vivacious, inimitable energy, Officer Clemmons chronicles a historical and enlightening life and career of a man who has brought joy to millions of adults and children, across generations and borders.

My Sister

'My Sister: How One Sibling's Transition Changed Us Both,' by Selenis Leyva

When Orange Is the New Black and Diary of a Future President star Selenis Leyva was young, her hardworking parents brought a new foster child into their warm, loving family in the Bronx. Selenis was immediately smitten; she doted on the baby, who in turn looked up to Selenis and followed her everywhere. The little boy became part of the family. But later, the siblings realized that the child was struggling with their identity. As Marizol transitioned and fought to define herself, Selenis and the family wanted to help, but didn't always have the language to describe what Marizol was going through or the knowledge to help her thrive.

In My Sister, Selenis and Marizol narrate, in alternating chapters, their shared journey, challenges, and triumphs. They write honestly about the issues of violence, abuse, and discrimination that transgender people and women of color--and especially trans women of color--experience daily. And they are open about the messiness and confusion of fully realizing oneself and being properly affirmed by others, even those who love you.

Profoundly moving and instructive, My Sister offers insight into the lives of two siblings learning to be their authentic selves. Ultimately, theirs is a story of hope, one that will resonate with and affirm those in the process of transitioning, watching a loved one transition, and anyone taking control of their gender or sexual identities.

Published on June 16, 2021
Last Modified July 27, 2021