Librarians on Meaningful Books in Their LGBTQ Journeys

By NYPL Staff
June 3, 2019
nypl at pride 2018

NYPL staff members and friends at the 2018 New York City Pride March.

For many LGBTQ+ readers, finding the right book means realizing for the first time that you are not alone. A book can act as affirmation of feelings that are difficult to name, and can spark new ways of understanding yourself and the world around you. Below, NYPL staff members tell us about a book that was a transformative part of their LGBTQ experience.

  • Weetzie Bat

    by Francesca Lia Block

    Growing up in a pre-Glee world, I found representation of different types of gay characters my age to be very few and far between. A teacher suggested my high school best friend and I read Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block. Within this slim volume were layers of characters, but none that stood out to me as much as Dirk. He was so different than any of the other gay characters I had encountered in fiction. From there I devoured every single piece of the Weetzie Bat lore that was written and continue to re-read the tales every so often. —Anthony Murisco, Andrew Heiskell Library

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    The ABC's of LGBT+

    by Ashley Mardell

    I read this when I was 24 and at the time just an ally but I had questions. It really helped with answering some questions I had and helped me be more confident in the label I gave myself. —Katie Loucks, Mosholu Library

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    The Price of Salt 

    by Patricia Highsmith

    I first read The Price of Salt when I was 19 years old and coming to terms with my queerness. I was sick of love between women being demonized and objectified, but this novel captured a queer experience I felt rang true: the exhilaration of being in love, the fear of being truly seen as you are, and the desire to pursue acceptance, no matter the costs. Highsmith's commitment to giving Carol and Therese the happy ending they deserved signaled to me that I, too, could have hope. —Estefania Velez, Woodlawn Heights Library

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    The Left Hand of Darkness 

    by Ursula K. Le Guin

    I knew very early in my life that I am bisexual, yet I struggled to find portrayals of my own experience in literature...despite the thousands of books I consumed as a librarian-to-be! It wasn't until college, in a Science-Fiction Lit course, that I was assigned The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. The novel concerns beings who are "fluid" both in their gender identities and sexual orientations; although I am cis-gendered myself (I identify as the gender I was assigned at birth), I was overjoyed to read about characters who actually had romantic and sexual relationships with both men AND women alike, for what was probably the first time in my life. This was a critical moment in my self-acceptance; I hope to someday write a novel of my own that will expand the representation of bisexuality in literature! —Jenny Chisnell, Harry Belafonte 115th Street Library

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    Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

    by Audre Lorde

    In high school, I discovered a lovingly worn copy of Audre Lorde’s Zami on my mother’s bookshelf and fell in love with both her writing and her explicitly lesbian identity. When I came out in college (surrounded by queer lit and queer ladies, thank you Smith), I re-entered Lorde's works through the lens of literary criticism and have been (re)reading her ever since. —Caitlyn Colman-McGaw, YA Programming

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    Luna

    by Julie Anne Peter

    I was given a copy of this book at age 16—not only before I knew I was trans, but before I had ever heard the word. The book felt like a missing piece in a puzzle that I didn't even know I was putting together. Not a year after reading it, I started to research the idea of being transgender, and everything fell into line after that. I don't know how long the realization would have taken if I didn't have this book in my hands. —Atticus Sutcliffe, City Island Library

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    The End of San Francisco

    by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

    I read this book at age 16 after hearing Mattilda read in Olympia, Washington. It's a memoir/autoethnography about queerness, gentrification, sex work, activism, and punk communities in the Bay Area in the early 2000s, and even though I was very young, all the dynamics she spoke about were things I had already watched unfold in my friend groups and hometown. I had already read her anthology Nobody Passes, which was key to helping me develop a sense of self-esteem and history as a gay trans man. At 16, I was irked by the fact Mattilda never claimed to have all the answers. I'm not irked anymore; she believes more in the power of organizing and friendship than anyone I know. —Hal Schrieve, Grand Central Library

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    Written on the Body

     by Jeanette Winterson

    When I came out at 19, a friend gave me a copy of Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body. It was the first time I’d ever read anything by an out lesbian. There’s a moment in the novel when the love interest says to the protagonist, “you were the most beautiful creature male or female I had ever seen.” As a queer teenager, the possibility of attraction beyond gender was a revelation. —Nina Maness, Parkchester Library