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The Best Queer Books Featuring Mommy Issues

I’m here with a very important book list that could have easily been co-authored by everyone in my main group chat: queer books featuring mommy issues! Gays really are out here having complicated relationships with our mothers and then writing whole books about it. For the purposes of this list, I’m working off of an expansive definition of “mommy issues,” not limiting us to only the Oedipal understanding of the term or only featuring books with age gap relationships (that could be its whole own list!). There are many ways to have mommy issues, and what the books on this list ultimately have in common is a complicated, often conflict-laden mother-child dynamic. The titles include nonfiction as well as fiction, and the mommy issues range in scope and intensity.

Fellow fan of mommy issues art Drew Burnett Gregory has been tapped for some of the brief blurbs below. Many of the books on this list also have full Autostraddle reviews, because apparently our team loves books with mommy issues which surely says nothing at all about our own relationships with our mothers.

Don’t worry — I’ll do a queer books featuring daddy issues list, too. And hell, some of the books below might appear on both.


Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Between Fun Home and Are You My Mother?, Bechdel’s oeuvre is the pinnacle of filial investigation. In this graphic memoir, she zeroes in on her mother and her mother’s artistic ambitions, yielding a poignant and humorous work of mother-daughter storytelling.


Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

If it seems like we include Zami on a lot of lists here at Autostraddle, it’s because it really is such an important fixture of lesbian literary canon. In it, Lorde traces the lineage of women who have shaped her life, including her mother, who appears throughout the genre-defying work of personal writing. The end in particular provides a striking portrait of her mother’s strength.


Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Dí­az

Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Dí­az

Dí­az’s memoir is a gorgeously lyrical exploration of Puerto Rican history, the author’s personal struggles with mental health and depression, and a complicated and often violent relationship between Díaz and her mother, who has schizophrenia. In an interview with LA Times, Díaz said the following about these parts of the book: “My story wasn’t unique — somewhere there is a teenage girl with a mother who suffers from mental illness and addiction, just trying to get through the day. Maybe seeing herself in this book will make life a little bit easier.”


Diary of a Misfit by Casey Parks

Diary of a Misfit by Casey Parks

Casey Parks simultaneously digs into her own family history as well as the lost history of a trans stranger named Roy in Diary of a Misfit, a stunning work of nonfiction on queer life. She digs into her fraught relationship with her mother, who initially shuns her for being gay.


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong’s lyrical debut novel is structured as a letter from a first generation Vietnamese American son to his single mother who cannot read. The letter digs into his mother’s history and his memories, painting an intimate and breathtaking portrait of mother and son against the backdrops of the Vietnam War and its lasting impact, the American opioid crisis, and more.


City of Laughter by Temim Fruchter

City of Laughter by Temim Fruchter

City of Laughter concerns four generations of women, so there are multiple combinations of fraught mother-daughter relationships in this book about the silences and secrets kept within families.


Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

I am biased here as I’m married to the author, but my wife Kristen Arnett’s debut novel brims with both daddy issues and mommy issues. It’s about Jessa Lynn, a lesbian who takes over her father’s taxidermy shop after he commits suicide. Shortly after his death, her mother Libby starts making pornographic taxidermy art. Her second novel, With Teeth, also is arguably a mommy issues book in that it’s about bad gay moms. Also, here’s a little plug and teaser: Kristen’s upcoming third novel (out spring 2025!) might be her most mommy issues book to date.


Ma and Me by Putsata Reang

Ma and Me by Putsata Reang

In her searing memoir Ma and Me, Reang wrestles with her desires to be a good Cambodian daughter and her queerness, constantly at odds with her mother’s expectations.


Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

A true classic in the lesbian mommy issues literary canon!


Memorial by Bryan Washington

Memorial by Bryan Washington

While I’ve focused mainly on mother-daughter dynamics on this list, gay men of course have their fair share of mommy issues, too, and one of the protagonists of Memorial, Benson, finds himself in a strange living situation when his boyfriend Mike leaves the country and his boyfriend’s mother Mitsuko moves in.


Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

Like all of Broder’s work, this is a freaky little book with sentences that’ll make you laugh til you choke. Milk Fed is about Rachel, who inherits a calorie counting obsession from her mother, from whom her therapist encourages a detox from. Rachel becomes obsessed with Miriam, who works the counter at the froyo shop Rachel frequents. For Autostraddle, Kate Gorton writes: “This book has everything: lesbian sex, mommy issues, eating disorders, frozen yogurt, plus-size golems, Jewish mysticism, weirdly specific fantasies about coworkers, a fat chick as the love interest, and a whole lot more.”


We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart

We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart

Not every age gap lesbian relationship is a product of mommy issues, but in Michelle Hart’s beautifully layered We Do What We Do in the Dark, that’s at least part of the genesis. Ostensibly a book about an affair, the novel finds its greatest moments in flashbacks between the protagonist and both her own mom and the mom of her best friend. – Drew Burnett Gregory


Native Country of the Heart by Cherríe Moraga

Native Country of the Heart by Cherríe Moraga

This memoir touches on so many threads of Moraga’s life and Mexican American diaspora and is ultimately at its heart a mother-daughter story. By telling her mother Elvira’s story, Moraga excavates so many layered histories.


Exalted by Anna Dorn

Middle-aged lesbian and bad mom Dawn, one of the two chaotic and unreliable protagonists of Exalted, likes sleeping with younger women and self-sabotaging in spectacular ways. Here is a mommy issues novel from the perspective of the mother.


You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

I am truly obsessed with this novel about a Palestinian American queer woman navigating love addiction and her queerness. The title actually comes from something the mother in the novel says to the daughter. The protagonist often engages in affairs that scream mommy issues.


A Good Happy Girl by Marissa Higgins

A Good Happy Girl by Marissa Higgins

A Good Happy Girl is more overtly a daddy issues novel, the protagonist’s distant relationship with her mother rumbles underneath the surface of every moment. After all, some gays simply have parent issues, and this gay deals with that by entering a complicated throuple with an older woman and her wife. – Drew Burnett Gregory


Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Here’s another classic in the literary canon of fraught mother-daughter dynamics, Allison’s beloved novel and portrait of the American South centers young girl Bone, who has an abusive stepfather and complicated relationship with her mother Anney, who had her out of wedlock as a young teen.


Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Dennis-Benn’s debut novel tells the stories of two sisters and their mothers, three Jamaican women. Delores is a complicated mother to both sisters but especially to queer protagonist Margot. A case could also be made for Dennis-Benn’s Patsy making this list, too.


Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?

Winterson is the only author with the distinguished honor of being on this list twice, and that feels right. Her memoir details her journey to find her biological mother.


Matricide by Carla Tomaso

Matricide by Carla Tomaso

The title says it all. Many queer books may dabble in mommy issues, but Carla Tomaso’s underread Matricide makes them its primary subject. Read it to laugh, read it to cry, read it to get turned on, and read it to think hmm I guess my mom isn’t that bad. – Drew Burnett Gregory


And what a note to end on! Literal matricide!

This is far from an exhaustive list, so feel free to shout out your favorite queer mommy issues books in the comments!

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 844 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. really cannot recommend a good happy girl enough. it’s been a long time since I blushed reading something, and this book made me squirm. it’s also wonderfully narrated if you’re more into audio books!

  2. My favorite book genre, some of my favorite books of all time are on this list (Milk Fed, Exalted, Zami, You Exist Too Much). I’ve put library holds on the rest of the list!! I would also include as a B list to this genre:

    Your Love is Not Good by Johanna Hedva
    Alice Sadie Celine by Sarah Blakeley-Cartwright
    Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn (when the mother and daughter meet again I cried for hours)

  3. Love this list and many of the books on it! Jeanette Winterson’s memoir is one of my all time favourite books and I am always flabbergasted to remember the title is something her (adoptive) mother said to her when she told her that living with a woman made her happy.

  4. My To Read list just quadrupled! Fantastic.

    It’s good to see Zami here! I love that book.

    I’d like to recommend Detransition, Baby! by Torrey Peters, a novel about three people – a trans woman, her ex who detransitioned, and his cis girlfriend – who are considering whether to become parents. It’s absolutely brilliant in the way it explores these characters’ very different perspectives on motherhood.

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