This month in Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Lesbrarian we’re answering an email question that’s a little different: non-fiction! Specifically, non-fiction / self-help books about relationships between queer women:
Hi there, Casey!
My name is Maureen, and as a fan of Autostraddle, I’ve been reading your lists of books featuring queer characters for some time. I was hoping you might have something to suggest pertaining to non-fiction relationship/self-help books for queer partnerships! Ironically, my partner and I both work at Barnes & Noble, but I haven’t been able to find much of anything on queer marriages/relationships/etc through our ordering system, nor online. I’d just love to read something without his & her pronouns, you know? Anywho, thanks for any suggestions you might be able to give! And by the way, thank you so incredibly much for creating your lists; they’ve helped me give so many suggestions to so many families and individuals!
I think you’re likely not alone in your quest for queer relationship self-help books, Maureen! And it is very reasonable to want to some relationship self-help without having to go through mentally changing the pronouns and lamenting that issues specific to relationships between women aren’t addressed. I definitely had a tough time as well finding these, but here are the fruits of my labor: eight non-fiction books about lesbian/queer women relationships, partnerships, marriage, and dating!
Ask a Queer Chick: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life for Girls who Dig Girl by Lindsay King-Miller
You might be familiar with Lindsay King-Miller’s advice column of the same name as the book that ran in The Hairpin for years. Even if you’ve already gobbled up all that advice, though, you’ve gotta read this book: it’s based on the column but has entirely new content! The self-help in Ask a Queer Chick isn’t all about relationships — King-Miller also discuses other key queer life stuff like getting your first alternative lifestyle haircut and coming out — but she does spend a significant amount of time on relationships and dating, from the very beginnings of finding girls to go on dates with to getting married. Her tone throughout is refreshingly down-to-earth and funny. Bisexual and trans women readers will also appreciate sections that addresses issues specific to them!
Conscious Lesbian Dating and Love by Ruth Schwartz and Michelle Murrain
This guidebook, subtitled “A Roadmap to Finding the Right Partner and Creating the Relationship of Your Dreams,” is unique. The main focus for Schwartz and Murrain is mindfulness and conscious decision making in all stages of your relationship, from looking for a partner to creating the kind of relationship that works for both of you as you grow together. They emphasis that building a great relationship is work: work that you can do through being thoughtful and deliberate about the choices you make and the actions you take. Drawing insights from multiple fields — neuroscience, spirituality, and psychology —Schwartz and Murrain also add their own personal experiences. Check out their website, which has additional resources like videos.
Lesbian Couples: A Guide to Healthy Relationships by D. Merilee Clunis and G. Dorsey Green
As far as non-fiction books about lesbian relationships go, Lesbian Couples is a classic: it was first published in 1988, and then reissued in 2004. Although many things have changed, you will probably be surprised at how much is still relevant. Clunis and Green are two lesbian therapists with decades of experience, which they put to use in the book covering an impressively broad array of topics. It makes an effort to highlight intersecting identities that are likely to affect your relationship like race, class, age, and ability. It also addresses how recovery from alcohol and/or drug abuse and sexual assault can play a role, as well as other topics such as butch-femme dynamics, trans identity, bisexuality, (non)monogamy, BDSM, elder care, and raising children. The wide range, however, means that no one issue is explored in extensive detail.
Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same-Sex Couples by Glenda Corwin
For advice on sexual intimacy in long-term lesbian relationships, this book by sex therapist Glenda Corwin is exactly what you want. But to avoid any confusion: this isn’t a book of sexy times tips and tricks to impress your girlfriend or wife. Instead, it’s distinctly focused on the emotional, physical, and psychological aspects of lesbian relationships with the goal of increasing sexual intimacy. Corwin addresses issues like orgasm, body image, identity, aging, and parenthood and their connections to (sexual) intimacy. Of course, the dreaded LBD — lesbian bed death — is discussed in detail. A few caveats: there is some language in Sexual Intimacy for Women that invalidates asexuality and the section on sexual abuse/assault would be more helpful if it were expanded.
Lipstick and Dipstick’s Essential Guide to Lesbian Relationships by Gina Daggett and Kathy Belge
You might know this butch-femme couple from their long-running relationship advice column for Curve Magazine. Anyone wanting relationship self-help with a heavy dose of humor, Lipstick and Dipstick certainly deliver plenty of that, as well as insights from their own long-term relationship. They cover the full lifespan of relationships, including finding a date, U-hauling, dealing with exes (and other emotional baggage), breaking up, and more. For sure, Lipstick and Dipstick don’t provide the expertise of counselors/therapists or writers with backgrounds in psychology. But for a book that seems to have been written with the intent of being as entertaining as it is informative, it certainly succeeds. The authors’ personal experiences on different sides of the gender spectrum are especially a nice touch.
Lesbian Marriage: A Love and Sex Forever Kit by Kim Chernin and Ruth Stendhal
Finally, a relationship book specifically for all the lesbians who’ve tied the knot! This tool kit by two experienced counselors who are also a couple is a quick, short reference guide. There are handy lists of do’s and don’t’s as well as some activities and exercises to share with your partner. They focus on 12 major challenges that all lesbian couples face, like “You always, I never—Grudges and Bed Death” and “The Ravenous Beast—Sex after Menopause?” Their advice is frank and funny. And parts of the book are designed like a comic strip, which gives it a wonderful Dykes to Watch Out For feel. If the idea of picking up a 400-page tome on lesbian relationships is off-putting, try this playful guide that really cuts to the chase.
Working It Out: A Lesbian Relationship Primer by Frances S. Fuchs
Working It Out is the most interactive book on this list. Written by an experienced lesbian counselor, it’s a workbook full of exercises to do on your own, with a partner, or even in a group of couples. Fuchs covers topics including communication skills, challenges of coming and being out, arguments, and more. The book moves chronologically through a relationship, with the first chapters dedicated to early relationship stages and personal skills that are necessary in those initial phases to make relationships strong. Later chapters focus on cycles of long-term relationships, providing a map so you can see where you and your partner may be in these patterns. Fuchs’s advice is above all else practical, focusing on concrete steps to take to work on specific issues.
True Secrets of Lesbian Desire: Keeping Sex Alive in Long-Term Relationships by Renate Stendhal
Another easy-to-read, short book on relationships by Renate Stendhal, except this focuses on sex. If you’re really concerned about lesbian bed death — either that it’s currently happening to you and your partner or you’re worried it’s going to in the future — Stendhal provides the most comprehensive look at it. In particular, Stendhal challenges those myths that women are “too close” to maintain sexual desire in long-term relationships. Her overall argument, in fact, is that making yourself vulnerable and being open and honest with your partner is the best way to keep that sexual spark aflame. She accomplishes this using many examples from real-life couples she’s counseled as well examples from her personal life and plenty of insights from queer women writers like Jewelle Gomez, who writes the book’s foreword.
Can’t get enough of lesbian relationship / self-help books? Check out this list on Goodreads of Lesbian Self-Help Books. If nothing else, you’ll probably have a good laugh at some of the hilariously bad 90s book covers. Have any recommendations for books about queer partnerships? Add them in the comments! And keep your lesbrarian questions coming to stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com!
YAAAAAAY!!! This answers a question I had left on the backburner!
Also gonna say in case anyone is wondering whether gottman institute books (a popular mainstream series of relationship self help books) are worth the trouble, that I have found a couple of them genuinely so helpful. They are actually based on research by a team with a lot of (presumably straight) women involved although bc patriarchy they are associated with a man’s name. More recent books do better on keeping pronouns neutral. If you can sift thru the heteronormativity and monogamy assumptions and lack of discussion of race/class [a lot to ask!], there are gems of questions, exercises, simple but effective rules of thumb, and concepts (e.g. solvable vs unsolvable conflicts, what is each person’s story and dream behind an unsolvable conflict?) in there. Integrating these with race and class and feminism and queer stuff from other sources has been awesome.
Gottman has helped me too
I absolutely recommend Ask A Queer Chick. This book helped me SO much when I first came out a couple years ago.