Holigay Gift Guide 2016: (More) Books for the Queer Academic

December is the month when academics and graduate students everywhere rejoice: no school! No grading, no cramming three books into one week, and no more crying at 4am while trying to put together a paper that you would’ve spent more time on if you didn’t have to spend all your time doing administrative tasks so you can keep your assistantships!

Perhaps you’ve got an academic-type person in your life and are struggling with gift ideas. I know, it’s hard: what do you get for the person who is perpetually tired, underpaid, and overworked? Probably some tea, maybe a new blanket or a more comfortable pillow for their back might also be nice. But the thing about grad students and other folks working in academia is this: we chose this life. We want it.

Now’s the perfect time to get that nerdy babe in your life all the books that they would never have time to read during the normal school semester! I’m typically in class or doing work for a class for almost 60 hours a week. But during the month of December, and a lot of January, I do nothing. I watch entire shows in 3 days or wander around parks being amazed at sunlight for hours. What I really love to be able to do, though, is to read. I spend most of my semester getting introduced to scholars doing work similar to the work I’m trying to do and never have time to read more than 20-30 pages of their work. The winter holidays are the time when I actually have time to read entire books for pleasure, and really get something from them. And there are so many good books being written! Buying books as gifts can be tricky, but the thing is, just like if you give a mouse a cookie they will eat it, if you give a queer academic a book, they will read it.

I’ve split up book suggestions by topic so that you can tailor your gift to your specific academic cutie. Any one of these fine pieces of scholarship is soon to put you in their good graces.

Let’s talk about race…

Thinking about race critically feels more important now than ever. So much of the theory written in the past five years or so about race has really applicable resonance now that we’re living in the era of Trump. These writers, many of whom are queer people of color ask important questions about sound and identity, bodies of color and death, surveillance, Black aesthetics, and space. Send one of these to an academic cutie over the holiday break to keep their brain whirring with ideas about how to bring social justice into their own research.

Feminism is for everybody!

You can never learn too much feminist theory, and the best part about feminist theory is that it doesn’t all have to be Michel Foucault! Send one of these books, all of which talk about feminism in nuanced and accessible ways to the academic in your life who gets drunk at the holiday party and starts talking about French theorists. While that has its place, these books may lead to a more inclusive and exciting dinner conversation.

Queering the Academy

I’m obsessed with queer theory. Like, I barely understand a lot of what I read the first time, but after about six or seven reads, things click and I get really excited about all of the possibilities the discipline offers. All of these books, some classic and some newer, are looking at communities that, even within the discipline, have not had as much attention paid to them. Gift one of these to someone who wants nothing more than to snuggle up with a hot toddy and read about butches, trans women, and queer brown voices. They’ll devour the books and then devour you with thanks for adding more to their bookshelf that they actually want to read again!

Hopefully at least one of these books will align with the personal or research interests of someone navigating academia that you know. If all else fails, you can always buy them a 30 oz coffee travel mug because coffee is the fuel of choice for grad students everywhere. Or you could just offer to clean their apartment and play with their pets while they take a 10-day-long nap. Because the only thing I want more than more books I don’t have time to read is sleep. Days and days of sleep.

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Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 330 articles for us.


  1. Awesome list. I just imagined an autostraddle library? Where we can all meet up and have book club and do our homework….

    Which reminds me: has anyone read queer: a graphic history yet?

    • I’ve read it! It’s so so good, taught me so many things, and is beautiful too! I’m a languages student, and as much as I would love it to be, queer theory is not my field. But Queer: A Graphic History was definitely accessible, and even had references to linguistics in it! (It also features a professor from my uni, Peter Hegarty, who I don’t see academically, but I get to sit on the uni LGBTQI+ equality group with. It’s pretty cool.)

      I’ve also just started reading a book (it’s a textbook, really) called Language and Sexuality, by Cameron and Kulick, in an attempt to link my love of queer academia to my actual degree. It’s super interesting!

  2. Ha ha, reading some of that reminds me of why I was so glad to graduate. School was just not my cup of tea, and I only did it as much as I had to. :p

  3. I can’t agree with the suggesting of Judith/Jack’s book as he has a mixed history with trans women, and the t-slur. If I remember correctly trans women told him to stop using the world, and has in lectures told or implied it’s okay to use the t-slur. Found an article about it here. http://feministing.com/2014/07/07/jack-halberstams-flying-circus-on-postmodernism-and-the-scapegoating-of-trans-women/
    And one written from another problematic fave on this list Julia. http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2014/07/regarding-generation-wars-some.html

    • How is Julia Serano a problematic fav? I haven’t heard anything negative about her so I’m curious. I started one of her books but never finished it. It was good but really academically dense.

      • She made a very ignorant statment about race: “As a white person, I never have to think about race, except on those rare occasions when I am in a non-white majority space… .But gender is different. Everybody has a gender.” Obviously, everyone has a race as well, and white people should be thinking about race, given the enormous amount of racial injustice in our society.

        I haven’t read Excluded, but I did read her earlier book, Whipping Girl, and I thought it was really good. That said, she clearly doesn’t have a great grasp of intersectional feminism (or at least she didn’t at the time she made that statement), and that’s something to keep in mind. I think her work has value, but it should certiantly be read in conjunction with other writers, especially writers of color, that can offer an analysis of the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality that her work lacks.

    • _Female Masculinity_ isn’t perfect, but I haven’t found another book that talks as clearly about queer female-assigned people’s masculine identities and situates them in historical context without automatically folding them into “lesbian history”. As someone who was a bi masculine woman searching for a way to make all of that make sense, it was an amazing read and opened up new ways of thinking and new spaces to understand myself. I reread it recently and it’s definitely of its time (mid-90s)–queer and trans movements have moved on and the butch/FtM chapter is probably most useful as an example of where those discussions were then–but a lot of it holds up.

      I really don’t agree with some of Jack’s more recent writings and I agree with a lot of the criticisms, but the book itself is excellent and I recommend it regardless.

  4. I’m so with you on the reading 20-30 pages of books that I want to devour. I accidentally admitting to only reading some of Laura Brigg’s “Somebody’s Children” (on race and international adoption), and she dressed me down for half an hour. It’s the elephant in the room, I guess. Someday I will read every word, I told her. But not this winter break. I’m going to Disneyland.

  5. Yay!!!! So many of these are so freaking good! And some I’ve never read/heard about, so thank you for this awesome list!

    One note: oh how I hated Excluded. I struggled so much to finish it; I wanted to drop it (or throw it) constantly. I’m not gonna bash her work publicly, but I’d be happy to explain my objections to those that are interested.

  6. Yes! I’m so tired but my first semester of grad school is over tomorrow and I can finally read for pleasure!

    I just took a feminist theory class as an elective this semester so my recs are all intersectionality-related: Grace Hong, Death Beyond Disavowal, and Eithne Lubhéid, Pregnant on Arrival. We also read Dark Matters. I just ordered a bunch of Audre Lorde to snack on over break too.

  7. Funk the Erotic is such a satisfying read, even if I do have to go back and read whole paragraphs a couple times

  8. Even amongst the generally very relatable writing on Autostraddle, this one was especially relevant since I’ve just started grad school. Now I know what to put on my wish list, thanks for writing this!!

    • Ooh and those convertible mitten-tipless glove hybrids so that the choice between reading that book or having warm hands does not have to be a choice, but can still hold the book good and proper.

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