On Intersectionality, Allyship, Reading, and Rainbows

A guest blog by Denver Public Library staff member Richard, who serves on the library’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee.

I’ve been reading a lot lately. That in itself won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, but the subject matter might: I’ve been reading autobiographies, memoirs, and essay collections written by LGBTQIA+ people of color. Now that June is here, rainbow flags will be flying and many of us will celebrate Pride, though perhaps not all in the same way: LGBTQIA+ identity means different things to different people.

The word intersectionality was first used to describe the unique experience of black women, who face both racism and sexism, and it provided an important critique of prevailing social justice efforts. The term is now applied to any combination of different forms of oppression, and more broadly, it is a useful reminder that we all have multiple aspects of identity that interact in complex ways. For nearly everyone, some of those aspects confer privilege, and others result in oppression. I benefit from privilege as a cisgender, white man, and want to be an ally to those who do not share those privileges. I experience homophobia as a gay man, and I hope that others will ally themselves with LGBTQIA+ people.

I have found my recent reading rewarding, in several ways: it validates my own experiences as a gay man; it provides me with insight into the lives of queer people of color; it gives me a clearer perspective on my own privilege; and it reminds me that identities are complex and varied. Like the stripes on the rainbow flag, our intersectional identities combine to form a beautiful whole. When we confront, understand, and take responsibility for those aspects, that’s something to celebrate.

Before I get to my list of books, a few comments and caveats are in order.

  • It is important to read with an open mind and remember that one person’s experience is not the collective experience of an entire group. One story about a gay man who enjoyed wearing makeup as a boy does not mean that makeup is a universal part of the gay male experience.  
  • Educating ourselves is not the endpoint of allyship, it is the starting point. Allyship involves action; it happens when we interact with others.  
  • Part of being more educated about a topic is being humble about what we don’t know. Reading one book (or thirteen) does not make us experts.   
  • Another important element of allyship is respecting each individual’s identity, including their preferred identity labels. In my brief descriptions below, I use the words the authors use to describe themselves.

Here are the books that I have particularly enjoyed. To keep to a manageable number, I have limited myself to books available at DPL that I found particularly moving or inspiring, written by living people of color who identify as LGBTQIA+, who have lived in the US or Canada. I would encourage everyone to check out one or more of these books, or come up with your own list, and if you have a favorite book about queer people of color, please share it.  

Born Both: An Intersex Life by Hida Viloria. A fascinating, informative, and thought-provoking memoir by a queer intersex Latinx.

Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency by Willy Wilkinson. A memoir and rallying cry by an Asian-American transman.

Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra. An informative, engaging account of an Indian-American woman creating a family with her white wife and Black, gender-nonconforming son.

Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. An often disturbing, but riveting, account of a queer, disabled, South Asian-American’s life.

Exiled for Love: The Journey of an Iranian Queer Activist by Arsham Parsi. A moving account by a gay male Iranian refugee who settles in Canada.

Forty-Three Septembers: Essays by Jewelle Gomez. Personal and heartfelt essays and reminiscences by a Black/Native American (Ioway, Wampanoag) lesbian woman.

House Built on Ashes: A Memoir by José Antonio Rodríguez. A gay male Mexican immigrant reminisces about growing up in Mexico and in a Texas border town.

An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex by Siddarth Dube. A gay Indian man describes his path to becoming an international activist for HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy.

Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir by Cherríe Moraga. An engrossing and moving account of the lives of a Chicana lesbian and her mother.

Nîtisânak by Lindsay Nixon. A very exciting and challenging memoir by a queer, genderfluid Cree-Saulteaux-Métis feminist raised by white adoptive parents, written in a cyclical (non-linear) style.

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America by Darnell L Moore. A fascinating and inspiring memoir by a Black gay man.

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More by Janet Mock. A Black/Hawaiian transwoman tells her story.

A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby with Mary Louisa Plummer. A fascinating account of the life of an Anishinaabe Canadian woman: often heartbreaking and tragic, but ultimately uplifting.

Here's to a Pride month inclusive to all!

Written by Becker on June 12, 2019

Comments

sylvia montero on June 22, 2019

Comment

What a beautiful body of books your have listed. My son just came out and I have no concerns. He is dating a trans-Asian
American and I see how they suffer in a manner of speaking.
I am going to forward your list to give to them as I read some also to better understand with love. Sylvia M

Comment

I'm so glad that you have found my list helpful, Sylvia. I wish your son well too.
Thanks,
Richard

Jose A Rodriguez on July 2, 2019

Comment

Hi Richard,

I stumbled upon this reference to my book, House Built on Ashes, and I just wanted to say thank you for your kind words. And thank you for your useful recommendations.

Best,
Jose

Comment

Hi Jose;
I'm glad to know that you ran across my blogpost, and that you appreciated my comments. I'm thankful to you and all of the authors I mentioned for enriching the world with your books.
Thanks,
Richard