A Syllabus for the Uprising

7 books that center the stories of queer and trans BIPOC

Mural showing Black woman standing in front of rainbow flag
Photo by Lynn Friedman

I have always found revolution in queerness and Blackness, in people who dare to exist authentically on the margins of a world that prohibits it. As society grapples with its sins, I am reading of heavens and hells constructed by queer voices. Lately, I have been learning how to dream beyond what exists. Ain’t no better teachers on dreaming and living fearlessly than queer and trans BIPOC. Our stories, particularly those included below, tell humanity about ourselves and hold no punches. They dare me to cross lines, destroy boxes, and learn to love myself in the best ways through words. When I want to dream about liberation, my roadmap is always the voices of BIPOC LGBTQ+ writers. Centering their words in my dreaming and activism helps me understand the intricacies, layers, and connections between identities, communities, and resistance movements. Centering BIPOC in my queerness and queerness in my reading of BIPOC narratives allow me to reclaim space for the most important stories—stories that make us question the structures that affect our communities both from without and within. 

Like the existence of queer and trans BIPOC bodies in this world, reading for revolution is in itself, a revolutionary act. In it, we honor the complexities and resilience of queer and trans BIPOC who built this movement, those that came before it, and those still to come. Sometimes reading is just as powerful as yelling. As we dream and read for revolution, these seven books honor the fire, joy, truth, queerness, Blackness, and dopeness that is a revolution all on its own.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Instagram is full of quotes from Lorde’s foundational feminist text, but cute captions and hashtags are such a reduction of the beautiful brilliance and wisdom she offers us in this collection. In this text, she is unabashedly queer, black, and woman. These essays and speeches demand we recognize not only the author’s complex wholeness but also our own. Authentic and affirming, Sister Outsider forces us to grapple with ourselves and our communities as an act of radical love. 


Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene A. Carruthers

Antiracism is the new black and these days everyone is reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be An Antiracist. Too often we forget that the folks on the front line are who they’ve always been: Black and Latinx queer and trans women. Charlene A. Carruthers’s 2018 Unapologetic is an essential read for anyone wanting to engage in this rebellion through a queer, feminist lens. Carruthers’s narrative challenges readers’ notions of organizing and community-building within the Black radical tradition. “Are we ready to win?” Carruthers asks us. As a complicated community of readers turned activists, it is a question we must answer as we continue to fight. What does it mean for LGBTQ+ people to win in this movement? Are we ready for it?

Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin by John D’Emilio

In more recent years, civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin has received his due for his monumental role in the civil rights movement, particularly in the execution of the famous March on Washington. Rustin, a gay Black Quaker who “refused to honor the lines that marked and separated individuals and that stratified American ideals” is an OG badass in organizing. D’Emilio’s extensive biography details the intersections of Rustin’s sexuality, Blackness, religious identity, and leadership. Rustin lived righteously as a gay Black leader in the Civil Rights Movement and paid for it in jail time, silencing, and a legacy that is just now being rightfully honored. D’Emilio’s biography does Rustin’s complex legacy justice and provides a blueprint for what it means to be a sex-positive queer organizer in today’s movement. 

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

What does it mean to breathe while your world is on fire? A heartwarming, beautiful coming-out/of-age narrative, Juliet Takes a Breath is a journey of a Boricua teenager unpacking identity in all of the ways possible. Through Juliet’s summer internship under a white feminist author, Harlowe, Rivera explores the complexities of interracial coalition building and love. A manifesto of joy, self-love, and community, Rivera’s vivid and brash realness reminds us to “question everything,” “be proud,” and to “love everything that brushes past [our] skin and lives inside [our] soul.” Reading this book is meeting like joy and truth at a street fair; it is like seeing your best friend for the first time in years; like breathing as the world burns and a great reminder to take care of ourselves and our community as we fight. 

i shimmer sometimes, too by Porsha Olayiwola, Paperback | Barnes ...

i shimmer sometimes, too by Porsha Olayiwola 

Released in 2019 by International World Slam champion Porsha Olayiwola, i shimmer sometimes, too is an ode to the pieces that make her whole—her beautiful Blackness, queerness, Chicago upbringing, family, community, lover, and her whole continuum of being, past, present, and future. A self-proclaimed Afrofuturist, Olaywiola uses language and form to split our hearts and stitch them back together over and over again. Olayiwola’s writing demands our elasticity in emotions—joy meets sorrow, anger meets excellence, optimism smacks readers with exhaustion without warning. More than anything, her poems offer us everything and nothing at all—they leave us yearning for answers, not only for her but also for ourselves.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

An exploration of the in-betweenness of queerness and mixed-race identity, Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo is 400 pages of acceptance and love in verse. Atta’s debut novel follows the journey of Michael, a gay Brit with Jamaican and Greek Cypriot roots. Michael’s journey of self-acceptance and coming-out shines a light on the nuance of gender, sexuality, race, and family dynamics. More than a book, Atta’s book is a reclamation of self, a proclamation of being, and a call to action for our community to honor the beautifully nonlinear journeys of one another in this movement. In a world where outness is privileged, Atta’s “How to Come Out as Gay” leaves us with a reminder to own our stories: “Come out for yourself. / Come out to yourself. / Shout, sing it. / Softly stutter.” In his verse, we are reminded that pride is not limited to the parades and protests and is perhaps best celebrated as our own inner revolution. 

Image result for adrienne maree brown pleasure activism

Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown

In this six-section compilation of essays, conversations, and art, adrienne maree brown explores the act of making social justice the “most pleasurable human experience.” In the book, she tackles self-love, community care, and activism. From her essays like “A Conversation with a Sex Toy” and “A Timeline/Tutorial on Squirting” to conversations with others on sex work, drug use, and the politics of healing, there is no question about where brown stands on embracing the complexities of sex, love, and pleasure as an act of radical revolution. In a time where we are fighting for humanity on so many fronts, brown reminds us that “prioritizing ourselves in love is political strategy; it is survival.” A book about activism with a directive to masturbate as homework in between chapters sounds like a pretty good way to celebrate pride and love yourself all year round. 

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