13 Books To Read Before Telling Your Family You're Queer
Preparing to come out as queer to your family? First, congratulations! This is an awesome step, and you deserve rainbow-colored unicorns throwing confetti as you take that crucial deep breath. (Note: This will likely not happen.)
Next, this is likely a time of strategizing. You may need to construct psychological armor, or arrange a set of arguments, or steel yourself for a wash of grief. You may just decide to sidle it into a conversation sideways and then casually ask somebody to pass the peas. Whatever your position, this list is here to help. Coming out as queer/bisexual/lesbian/trans/gay to your family is one of the toughest parts of being an LGBT youth. If you're contemplating stepping out of the closet, these books offer all kinds of potential aid, from coming-out stories to validation to courage-boosting monologues.
An important note: Not all the endings on this list are happy, and some of the content is harrowing or upsetting. There are a few reasons for that. One is that unambiguously positive fiction about coming-out situations is, alas, rare. Another is that there's value in confronting the darker sides of coming out, and the difficulties of accepting your own identity. If you're feeling isolated or terrified of rejection, it can be powerful to see others navigating that territory — and if family members question your feelings, even lovingly, it's good to know that queerness is real, even when it's hard. You may just be curious to read about the experiences of a queer life — so this list is all in the name of good old-fashioned research, too.
Here's the list, plus one extra resource, so you can feel as good as possible. We're behind you!
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Winterson's seminal, autobiographical book about a young girl coming out in an intensely Christian community is a must-read for many reasons. It's a searing depiction of how it feels to discover that your sexual identity is separating you from your family, and how terrifying and exciting that can be.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel's award-winning graphic novel parallels her own coming out as a lesbian with her father's closeted homosexuality, which may have led to his suicide. Sounds grim, but it's actually very powerful: watching father and daughter gradually come out to each other is a unique way to cast light on the fragile process of accepting yourself.
Tipping The Velvet by Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters has written many books beloved of queer ladies, like Fingersmith, but Tipping The Velvet remains a coming-out classic because it's such a clear depiction of how it feels to discover and embrace your own queerness. It also (SPOILER) has a happy ending!
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
If you want to gather your courage before coming out, read the furious rant of George, a closeted gay professor in the '60s who can't even go to his partner's funeral. His rage to his college class about how it feels to live "in a world of hate," and how a minority can terrify a majority, will speak to any anger and sadness you might have, and help you break the news.
It Gets Better edited by Dan Savage
The It Gets Better project seems to have fallen by the Internet wayside in favor of other pursuits, but this book collects personal essays from LGBT people of all walks of life to help inspire suffering LGBT youth. It's straightforward — an earnestly empowering read.
Blue Is The Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
The furor over the 2013 film release of this graphic novel — sweeping bans! A sadistic director! — distracted from its excellent source material. It's tragic (sorry) but also a beautiful story of two teen girls in love, and their relationships with their families underpin it strongly.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This book is justifiably famous for many things, including groundbreaking depictions of racism and sexism, but its lesbian storyline puts it on this list. Nightclub singer Shug and heroine Celie have a rocky but startlingly real relationship, and it's good reading for ladies of color.
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
This is the ultimate novel for those who want their coming out to be either defiant or triumphant. Molly Bolt's romp through life, capturing the hearts of heiresses and being unrepentantly thrown out of boarding school for "moral turpitude," is all about embracing difference without apologizing or hiding.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
"I was born twice," says the protagonist of Middlesex, "first as a baby girl ... and then again, as a teenage boy", and this seminal novel about gender, family, and what it means to be different is a classic for readers without an easy gender identity. It's sprawling and epic, but its focus on Cal's search for identity and acceptance will strike a chord.
This runaway bestseller from 2013 is a young adult novel with a difference — it's about the coming-out journey of Cameron Post, whose adventures result in being sent to a gay conversion therapy centre entitled God's Promise. It's funny, miserable, and excellent.
Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy
There's something special about reading a collection of non-straight love poems when you're not feeling so straight yourself. Carol Ann Duffy's Rapture, a collection of poetry for a head-over-heels lesbian love affair, is as queer as it gets. This is what it's like, this little book whispers, and it's both wonderful and sad, but most of all it's real.
Audre Lorde's "biomythography" about her life in New York, published in 1982, is a classic retelling of queer experience, but it has at its heart Lorde's stormy relationship with her strong-willed mother. If you're dealing with a proud matriarch yourself, this may be worth a read.
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Orlando, who transitions from male to female in a life spanning several centuries, is one of Woolf's most famous queer creations, though she had several. Written for Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West, who was famously bisexual and strikingly androgynous, this beautiful novel explores the nature of gender and love as a fantastical journey.
One more useful resource: PFLAG's most popular pamphlet, Read This Before Coming Out To Your Parents.