reading lists

13 Books to Better Understand Trans and Nonbinary Lives, Recommended by Activists and Authors

Photo: Retailers

Though publishing has traditionally been saturated with stories of straight, white, and cisgender characters, more and more people are looking to diversify their reading lists to include a range of inclusive stories. As Amrou Al-Kadhi, a nonbinary drag queen, actor, and author of Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen (first published as My Life as a Unicorn), tells the Strategist: “So often, our identities are reduced by the media into simple victim or villain narratives, and we so seldom get to tell our own stories in a way that is complicated, humorous, and that allows for contradictions.”

While there’s still a long way to go before publishing becomes completely inclusive of all sexualities, gender identities, and races, there are lots of stories — both fiction and nonfiction — to consume that focus on the realities of the transgender and nonbinary community in a nuanced, positive way. And while we’ve collated all the best LGBTQ+ books, and recommended the best books to read to your kids about LGBTQ+ lives, reading about the trans and nonbinary experience is important for a better understanding of the diverse society we live in — and representation of trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people is integral for those readers who see themselves in the stories. So for this list, we’ve compiled a list of the best books to read to learn more about trans and nonbinary lives, as recommended by trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming actors, activists, comedians, drag queens, and LGBTQ+ organisations.

Photo: retailer

The first in a trilogy, Juno Roche’s 2018 nonfiction book Queer Sex traverses the complexities, joys, and anxieties of sex and intimacy for trans people. Through interviews with members of the trans and nonbinary community, and their own experiences navigating sexuality post-gender affirmation surgery, Roche’s book is not simply a guide, but a celebration and exploration of pleasure and intimacy in the trans community — a subject that is, unfortunately, not written on enough. Queer Sex was long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize, with the second in the trilogy being released in 2019, and the third released this year.

Recommended by: Performer, writer, and drag queen Amrou Al-Kadhi; model, activist, and writer Kenny Ethan Jones.

Photo: retailer

The most recent release in Roche’s trilogy features interviews with young trans people, speaking candidly and refreshingly on their lived experiences, discussing coming out to their parents, their hopes and goals for the future, and more. Written in a similar style to Queer Sex and Trans Power, Roche’s book continues to highlight the voices of trans and nonbinary folk to delve into experiences that we often don’t see represented.

Recommended by: Activist, editor, and author Jamie Windust.

Photo: retailer

With a blurb that boasts stories such as “the one where you shagged a 79-year-old builder and knocked over his sister’s ashes while feeding him a Viagra,” you can expect this memoir of a working-class drag queen from Lancaster to include more than one hilarious anecdote. But more than that, Diary of a Drag Queen provides an insight into a unique, sometimes heartbreaking life, along with a retelling of a year in Crystal’s glamorous and extravagant career. As Al-Kadhi explains, Crystal “does not shy away from the nitty gritty, delving into every little crevice of drag, gender, and its various manifestations”.

Recommended by: Amrou Al-Kadhi; Jamie Windust; comedian, campaigner, and broadcaster Sofie Hagen.

Photo: retailer

Brought up in a devout Muslim Iraqi family, Al-Kadhi’s coming-of-age involved coming out to their family, seeing their faith through new eyes, and discovering their talent as a drag queen. Now a screenwriter, journalist, actor, and performer, Al-Kadhi writes on topics such as identity, intersectionality, activism, and sexuality; as their drag persona Glamrou, they have performed around London and the UK, as a solo act and in drag troupe Denim. In their funny, warm, touching memoir, they explore the various intersections of their identity and the journey they embarked upon to acceptance.

Recommended by: Sofie Hagen, Jamie Windust.

Photo: retailer

CN Lester is a singer-songwriter, LGBTQ+ activist and writer, whose debut book Trans Like Me tackles some of the oft-discussed (but commonly misunderstood) facets of transgender identity. Using personal experience to relate to cultural conversations of recent years regarding the trans community, Lester takes a thoughtful, digestible approach to debates around gender, such as the use of pronouns, today’s feminism, activism, and more. An insightful look into themes of gender, authenticity, and society, this would be a great gift for anyone wanting to learn more about the transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming communities and the experiences of those within them.

Recommended by: Amrou Al-Kadhi; akt, a charity that supports young LGBTQ+ people in the UK facing homelessness or other hostile environments.

Photo: retailer

Gender binarism assumes that not only are there only two genders distinct from one another, but that the sex we were assigned at birth will align with the gender linked to that sex. Those that exist outside of this binary have traditionally been subjected to marginalisation from Western societies. As part of the Pocket Change Collective series, Vaid-Menon’s Beyond the Gender Binary looks past the established, archaic notions of sex and gender, exploring the alternative — understanding that these identities exist on a more nuanced and less black-and-white level. Sharing their experiences as an Indian American gender nonconforming writer and performance artist, Vaid-Menon argues for a more inclusive, complex way of considering gender, sex, sexuality, and all the different ways to express our identity.

Recommended by: Amrou Al-Kadhi.

Photo: retailer

A children’s books writer, actor, and LGBTQ+ activist, Juno Dawson’s first work of nonfiction for adults, The Gender Games, explores her lived experience as a trans woman, alongside discussing how we are all shaped — and disadvantaged — by society’s binary expectations of gender. Dawson documented her journey while transitioning in a column for Glamour magazine, and she now writes young-adult novels such as Meat Market and 2020’s Wonderland, as well as being a School Role Model for LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall.

Recommended by: Kenny Ethan Jones.

Photo: retailer

The history of trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming folks is not generally a part of the traditional canon and curriculum, but the information is out there. Susan Stryker, an American professor of gender and women’s studies, executed in-depth research of trans history in the United States for her seminal nonfiction book, published in 2008. Making complex subjects digestible for a nonacademic reader, Stryker’s work charts historical events such as gender nonconformity being treated as a mental illness between the 1850s–1950s, and the backlash against trans activism, most notably from groups such as radical feminists and ‘LGB’ movements — issues still very much relevant in 2020. Though our terminology in relation to the gender binary has changed and adapted, and the political landscape looks very different today than when this book was published, Transgender History remains an integral text in understanding the layered, little-known history of one of the most marginalised groups in society.
Recommended by: Kenny Ethan Jones.

When someone shouted a transphobic slur whilst throwing a burger at poet, writer, and performance activist Travis Alabanza, they became obsessed with burgers. This play, which they performed in cities from Edinburgh to Berlin, explores the ways in which trans bodies — and especially black trans bodies — survive in a transphobic society, how acts of violence affect us all, and how cisgender people can so often be complicit in the struggles of trans people. The provocative, vital play has been widely celebrated by critics.

Recommended by: Sofie Hagen.

Photo: retailer

Love stories featuring trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming folks are unfortunately not common occurrences onscreen and in literature. Exploring not only romantic love and intimacy but friendship, allyship, and self-love, this anthology focuses on what the word means for trans and nonbinary people, told by trans and nonbinary people themselves. Celebrating love in a way not often granted to those who aren’t straight and cisgender, Benson’s anthology is a heartwarming and important read.

Recommended by: akt.

Photo: retailer

Transgender activist and author Charlie Craggs — who spearheaded a successful campaign for the inclusion of a trans rainbow-flag emoji — collated this sprawling, diverse, and inspirational anthology of letters by trans women, from politicians and actors to models and athletes. Offering advice, insight, and support for those who too often find themselves underrepresented and cast aside by mainstream media, the letters traverse subjects such as transitioning, dealing with transphobia, the world of dating as a trans woman, and more.

Recommended by: akt.

Best books for teens

£6

While the other books we’ve featured on this list are works of nonfiction, nonbinary author Akwaeke Emezi’s debut young-adult novel uses fiction to explores themes of identity, childhood, and family. The novel focuses on transgender protagonist Jam, who attempts to protect those around her from a monster, Pet, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings, mixed with a drop of her blood. When her family and the society around her continue to deny the existence of monsters, though, she must reconsider everything she has been taught. Emezi’s 2018 novel, Freshwater, was nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, making them the first nonbinary transgender author to be nominated.

Recommended by: akt.

Photo: retailer

Owl and Fox Fisher are Icelandic partners whose book, The Trans Survival Guide, aims to answer questions that trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people may have that often go unanswered. Offering advice for coming out to your friends and family, taking medication, and forging your own self — with Owl and Fox discussing their personal experiences throughout — this guide is a must-have for young people navigating gender and identity.

Recommended by: akt.

The Strategist UK is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Read about who we are and what we do here. Our editors update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

13 Books to Better Understand Trans and Nonbinary Lives