Our Stories, Our Voices: Queer Women’s Autobiographies & Memoirs by Julie Thompson
“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” – Hamilton: An American Musical
“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Recent acts of violence have prompted me to think about what remains of us once we’re gone. Telling my own story has always been a challenge for me. Whether it was the personal statement for my college applications or speaking about myself from the interviewee chair, I’ve struggled to combine disparate, yet connected, events and tangled thoughts into a coherent narrative.
The Sylvia Plath quote above is posted on the bulletin board behind my desk at work. It encapsulates how I feel about life in general, but also drives to the heart of my desire to read and listen to the seemingly infinite number of stories out there in the world. As a result of my bookworm nature, I live in a world much larger than myself. Each story is another connection made. Memoirs and autobiographies are among my favorite reads. The authors expose their emotional landscapes; transform the pedestrian into the extraordinary; and reveal the commonalities and differences that exist among us. It’s also a sort of sense-making that I find helpful in my own life.
I sorted through my Goodreads account and found a handful of memoirs and autobiographies that illuminate queer women’s lives (though there are many more out there that I have yet to read!).
Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel
Alison dives deep into her complex relationship with her mother (graphic novel).
Naked in the Promised Land by Lillian Faderman
Faderman, one of my favorite lgbt historians, penned an engrossing autobiography of her life.
Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp
I’ve always enjoyed her music, so I was excited to learn that she wrote about her experiences growing up, performing within the Christian music industry, and pursuing her truth.
Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s by Marijane Meaker
As an avid reader of lesbian pulp fiction, I eagerly tore through Meaker’s look back on her relationship with novelist Patricia Highsmith.
Straight Walk: A Supermodel’s Journey to Finding Her Truth by Patricia Velásquez
Velásquez, best known to me as a villainess from the 1999 film “The Mummy” and its 2001 sequel, “The Mummy Returns”, published a memoir about her impoverished childhood in Venezuela, modelling career, and owning her truths.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson
Winterson writes about growing up in a strict religious household and the challenging relationships she had with her adoptive parents. It explores different ideas of family and finding oneself.
Memoirs on Audiobook
Aside from the already personal act of living one’s story and the public decision to share it with others, there is an added level of intimacy when you listen to those stories on audiobook. Most of the performers, politicians, and activists that I have listened to have recorded their stories with their own voices. I selected a handful of titles that I recently listened to on my work commute as examples of compelling personal narrative.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein, narrated by the author
Brownstein takes you on a tour through her musical life, both before Sleater-Kinney and after.
Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn by Catherine Friend, narrated by author
Friend recounts her experiences as a newbie farmer with her wife Melissa, in Minnesota.
A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez, narrated by the author
Hernandez delves into issues of class, race, gender, and sexuality, in her memoir.
Saving Alex by Alex Cooper with Joanna Brooks, narrated by Luci Christian Bell
Cooper shares her ordeal of conversion therapy in Utah. When she comes out as a lesbian to her devout Mormon parents, they send her to a “conversion therapy” center in Utah. Her memoir gives voice to hope in the dark.
One last note…
What about the journals, diaries, and ephemeral texts and emails that we leave behind? Our lives may continue to affect not only our loved ones, but people we’ll never meet. While not a memoir, I wanted to include the I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries, 1791-1840 by Anne Lister, edited by Helena Whitbread. Anne’s diaries were discovered within the walls of Shibden Hall, her home of many years during the early 19th century. The diaries contained an extra layer of privacy via a code she created. The entries reveal much about her life as part of the English landed gentry and about her love for women. In addition to “eavesdropping” on Anne’s life, I recommend watching the 2010 BBC film adaptation, “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister”. Maxine Peake’s performance in the titular role is incredible.
Julie Thompson is a librarian in the luscious Pacific Northwest, but has previously taught English at public schools in South Korea and spent summers in college working at a paper mill. When she’s not devouring books, she enjoys watching Seattle Storm basketball games, tramping through the woods, and marathoning television shows. In addition to reviewing books for her own blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur, she posts monthly book reviews on The Lesbrary.
Social media links:
- blog: Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)
- twitter: Julie Bee @minerva_maid