In a deviation from the types of posts I have made thus far, I want to talk about something completely different.

I recently started my first library “job,” which is not a job at all, but rather volunteering at a teen center at a local library. There are certain things I’m not allowed to do because of union things surrounding the fact that I’m not an employee, but there is a lot of stuff that I do get to do and I love every minute of it.

One thing I don’t get to do is reference. I do, however, get to observe the real librarian doing reference, and can help kids who ask me questions.

My dream reference question goes a little something like this:

A kid shyly approaches the reference desk and asks for a title that sounds familiar. I search for it and realize it’s a book about trans stuff from the 300’s. We don’t have the book, so I help the kid put a hold on it, and the kid looks a little disappointed but doesn’t ask for help finding other books about trans stuff, but also kind of lingers. I seamlessly walk over and grab the perfect YA trans title for this kid. I respond so quickly yet casually that the kid doesn’t have a chance to wonder if I’m judging them before finding an awesome book in their hands and forgetting about the anxiety they had upon approaching the desk.

This is why I want to be a librarian. I mean, it’s not the only reason, and there are millions of other reference questions I would be almost equally thrilled to get, but this is the one I would love to answer.

The problem is, without going into details, I observed a reference question similar to this, and didn’t even have an extensive enough list in my head of titles to suggest. Some 300’s titles, of course, that would have been appropriate came to mind (anything by Kate Bornstein, for instance, would be good for teens, I think). It was not my reference question, though, and I couldn’t figure out good way to chime in (especially since I wasn’t at the computer) on the fly, as the person handling the reference asked the kid if they wanted her to show them where the book was, and the kid said no and then the reference kind of ended. I did casually say, “Oh, I’ve been wanting to read that,” knowing that if I was that kid and an adult even made reference to the fact that that was the kind of book they would read, I would remember and find an excuse to talk to that adult at a later date.

It irritates me that there are not many good books out there for trans teens. Tons of books that are generally for queer kids (way more than when I first came out as a teen), which feels amazing to see (though I feel a little jealous that I didn’t have those books as a kid) but so far, I have only been able to scrape together about 5:

  1. Luna by Julie Anne Peters
  2. Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
  3. Boy2Girl by Terence Blacker
  4. Please Don’t Kill the Freshman: A Memoir by Zoe Trope
  5. Choir Boy by Charlie Anders (which I have not fully confirmed to be a YA title, though I know the main character is a teen)

I have not read them all (or any of them! Luna has been near the top of my “to read” list for a few years, and I’ve heard of a few others, though), but it’s also a pretty measly list. Especially considering how hard I have had to dig so far to find them.

The idea of writing a book terrifies me, but is something I have thought about a lot over the years. This kind of makes me think that if I write a book, it needs to be a YA book that deals in some way with trans themes. In the meantime, I want to make it a mission of mine to convince the awesome trans folks I am connected to to write books for teens (I think some of them would, too) and help them get them published.

More immediately, though, I’m trying to find more titles (by enlisting help of friends and doing more digging) and I’m going to start making and an annotated book list. So stay tuned for that!

But a question to my readers:  How do you build momentum around a certain subject to get people to write about it?  Contests? Grants?  Not that I have money to start a grant, but maybe trying to earn a grant to use tords something like that or else finding someone who has more power than me to partner on this?  Because I can get the word out to tons of trans people of all ages telling them they should write YA books, but it seems like there has to be a central point to rally people around in order to really make it into a movement of creating content where virtually none exists.

  1. Dee says:

    Hi Jack –

    I like your image of the ideal reference question! 🙂

    As a fellow library school student, I agree with you 100% about books for queer teens. It is better that there are more books on the subject, but I personally have found that most of them involve a great deal of tragedy/unhappy endings. My personal quest right now is similar to your’s in trying to find more positive teen lit for queer youth or else being discouraged and debating writing such a thing myself.

    Regarding Kate Bornstein, I saw the other day that the library where I work has a copy of “Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws,” and was quite pleased.

    Great blog!

    • Jackson says:

      Oh! how exciting to hear from another librarian-type excited about good literature for queer & trans teens. I have yet to read “Hello Cruel World,” but have been meaning to. Would you say it is an appropriate/acceptable/good book to have in a teen collection, or is it more of an 300’s in the “adult” section kinda book? cause from what I’ve heard, it sounds like an awesome book for teens

  2. JC Brown says:

    I believe I might have shared this link via our Academia connection, but I will share it here for others to access… Oakland University has a LGBTIQ collection located in the GLBT Literature and Resource Center at Kresge Library.

  3. S.h. says:

    I did a quick search through the website for my local library. “I am J” by Cris Beam looked the best based on the summaries/reviews out of the three books I found. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and Crossing Lines by Paul Volponi were the other offerings.

    • Jackson says:

      I actually have not heard of Crossing Lines, I will see if my library has it! I have the beginnings of a list of trans YA lit on Goodreads. I don’t vouch for quality on the list, as I have not read them all (I’m actually working on it right now) and have actually heard that some are less than amazing, they are simply books that exist at all. At some point, I intend to create a channel (like an independent press or something) through which I can encourage the creation of more good content like that, but I think that project is on hold for a little bit since it proved to be too much to take on with grad school and two internships at the moment. Feel free to use and add to my list on Goodreads (I mean, that’s the whole point of making a list on there, so maybe that goes without saying)

  4. JC Brown says:

    “Most especially, the X-Men, as mutants, experience bigotry; as such, they have regularly operated as Marvel’s stand-ins for ethnic and sexual minorities. To pick but one of many examples, in one storyline of Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias (2002– 4) – which has no connection with the television show of the same name – the misidentification of a lesbian teenager as mutant helps pinpoint the small-town bigotry from which she feels forced to flee.”

    Kaveney, Roz. Superheroes! : Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films.
    London, , GBR: I.B.Tauris, 2008. p 7.

    • Jackson says:

      interesting. i am pretty horrible at reading/understanding comics, but need to get better at it because the teens are really into them (more Manga than Marvel or DC type comics)

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