8 Gender Diverse Novels You Should Read For Women’s History Month

The transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month is always an exciting time for me because it means another month of prioritizing diverse reads around different marginalized communities. Since embarking on my journey into feminism during my time as an undergraduate, I’ve since enjoyed traversing through feminist texts that explore the full scope of gendered issues, whether in fiction or non-fiction books.

It’s helped me learn about the issues affecting my own communities. Feminism has also forced me to realize the many ways I hold privilege over others and how I can use that privilege to center those our society has tried to leave behind. Admittedly, feminism can be intimidating to those who are eager to learn but perhaps aren’t sure where to begin. If this is you, luckily I’ve got you covered!

Here are eight gender-diverse novels that will thoroughly acquaint you with various feminist topics or help you build on any existing scholarship you may already possess:

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler was an award-winning Black science fiction writer. She received the MacArthur “genius” Grant in 1995, won two Hugo and Nebula Awards, and the PEN West Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Butler’s body of work shares themes of Afro-futurism, dystopia, and feminism. Octavia Butler’s 1987 novel Dawn is a thrilling sci-fi that explores constructs such as gender, race, and sexuality.

Given the themes, Dawn could’ve very well been published now. For example, Butler displays people’s unwillingness to respect the authority of Black women as we don’t just get to be The Chosen One without great doubt and much resistance. Butler additionally shows characters struggling to adapt during a pivotal time of crisis and change. And critiques people’s willful ignorance and lack of imagination when it comes to the spectrum of gender and sexuality.

While pointed, Octavia Butler’s necessary examinations and critiques in the novel remained optimistic. The power to fix what is broken still lies in our own hands. Overall, Butler’s insightful words stood the test of time.

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen

Angela Chen is a longtime journalist, writer, and editor with work in The New York Times and The Atlantic. In 2020, she utilized her skills in journalism to compile a series of (reported) essays into book form. Each chapter of Ace examines what asexuality looks like for different marginalized people (Black, trans, disabled, etc.), how it feels, some common misconceptions about the ace community, and ultimately what everyone can learn from asexuality whether they’re identified as asexual or not.

There simply isn’t another book like this one. Angela Chen expertly and thoughtfully built on the existing research and scholarship surrounding asexuality. Therefore, people will undoubtedly use this novel to further expand upon necessary discussions regarding the ace community.

Or this book will be the marker for readers who just want to learn more about asexuality in hopes of becoming an ally. Either way, Angela Chen’s work with Ace will mean a lot to people for a very long time.

Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape edited by Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman

Yes Means Yes! is a book of non-fiction essays by varying authors on the politics of sex, female sexuality and desire, sexuality that defies cis-heteronormativity, and not only on the importance of dismantling rape culture but how we can work together to dismantle rape culture under patriarchy.

Yes Means Yes! was originally published in 2008, but the second edition was (re)published in 2019 with an added foreword written by Margret Cho. In revisiting this book, it’s interesting to see how the aforementioned conversations and pro-sex/anti-rape movements have progressed or regressed 14 years later. Rest assured, the road to liberation of any kind isn’t linear; thus Yes Means Yes! is a necessary insight into how far we've come and how much farther we need to go towards building better worlds for women.

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall is another book of essays. But in this book, Kendall demonstrates how various socio-political issues such as abortion rights, housing inequity and homelessness, and gun violence are in fact feminist topics—and should thus be prioritized by mainstream feminism—for the way such issues affect women, specifically the most marginalized women (Black, trans, lower-income, disabled, etc.).

Hood Feminism is a New York Times bestseller and was named the best book of the year in 2020 by Bustle, BBC, and Time Magazine. Because each chapter covers a different point of feminist discussion, and Kendall’s writing is efficient and approachable and therefore assessable, Hood Feminism is the perfect kind of book to use to embark on your feminist journey.

Animal by Lisa Taddeo

Lisa Taddeo is a seasoned writer and journalist with notable works in Esquire and New York Magazine. In 2019, Taddeo became a debut author when her nonfiction book titled, Three Women was published. Three Women utilizes a decade’s worth of reporting to explore themes of female sexuality. Published two years later, Animal carries that same theme into the world of fiction.

Taddeo describes Animal to be about “sisterhood and female rage.” The novel is intentionally grotesque and gut-wrenching, exploring sensitive themes such as child abuse, sexual assault, suicide, etc. But Lisa Taddeo perfectly captures the harsh reality women must navigate under patriarchy, specifically through the novel’s protagonist, Joan.

I would add caution but would recommend this novel to anyone who has felt bulldozed by people who have wielded power at their expense. And I’d equally recommend this novel to those who are able to have power and privilege because others don’t. Because, ultimately, to be truly effective in its messaging, Animal has to be for all of us.

Know my Name by Chanel Miller

Named one of the top ten books of 2019 by The Washington Post, the New York Times bestseller Know my Name is Chanel Miller’s critically acclaimed memoir wherein she recounts the infamous People vs. Turner rape case of 2015 from her perspective. In publishing her memoir, Miller’s goal was to reappropriate her identity after being known in the media during the height of the trials and thereafter as “Emily Doe” or “unconscious woman.”

Miller recounts how she navigated the aftermath of her assault, both publicly and privately as well as how she fared after the judge’s demoralizing ruling of the case. Ultimately, Know my Name is about enduring, survival, and healing. The book emphasizes the importance of women reclaiming our stories, our voices, and our autonomy under patriarchy.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Roxanne Gay is one of the most notable feminist writers of her generation. Gay is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and is a celebrated fiction and nonfiction author. In 2017, she published her memoir Hunger which rawly examines the way trauma affects the mind and body as well as how navigating internal and societal fatphobia can make healing from one’s trauma more difficult.

Hunger gives readers insight into the complicated relationship between desire, pleasure, and consumption, especially when you navigate society in a larger body that seeks to condemn your indulgences. Gay also explores her past and opens readers up to the violence she endured during childhood. In each chapter, Gay explores how she’s spent a lifetime learning how to care for, love, and save herself from the societal oppressions that urge fat Black women to succumb to self-loathing and silence.

Kink: Stories edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell

Kink is an anthology of fictional short stories that explore desire, consent, communication, and BDSM across the sexual spectrum. Kink contains writings from Kim Fu, Carmen Maria Machado, Larissa Pham, and Roxane Gay, portraying sexual kinks such as bondage, power play, and submissive-dominant relationships in various settings like private estates, theatres, and underground sex clubs. Kink is a great novel to explore BDSM and kinks if you’re new to the topic or community; whether you’re looking to someday participate in BDSM or you’re simply interested in examining the fullness of human (sexual) desire.

All of the novels discussed in this article helped to expand my knowledge of feminist topics and gendered issues; thus, making them perfect to read to kick off this Women’s History Month. However, let’s remember reading from women and other marginalized genders shouldn’t merely be an annual occurrence. Rather, we should be reading from gender-diverse authors all year!

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Ebony Purks is a graduate student at the University of Incarnate Word working toward getting her Master’s degree in communications. She is also a freelance writer, interested in writing about pop culture, social justice, and health; especially examining the many intersections between those subjects.