Posts Tagged ‘lgbtq youth’

A few months late, but I wanted to share:
My booklist of trans young adult and children’s literature from the 2013 ISACS conference

In November, I presented at the ISACS (Independent Schools Association of the Central States) conference in St. Louis about trans young adult literature.

ISACS is an association of midwestern independent schools (which is sort of a fancy way of saying private schools, but there is a bit of a distinction), and I was invited to speak at their annual conference this past November about trans young adult literature as well as ways of teaching trans literature in the classroom.

My presentation was a bit different from other presentations I have given on this subject, because I talked about some ideas for teaching trans literature in a middle school or high school setting, not just about young adult literature, which is typically my focus.

We read an excerpt from “A Roman Incident” by Red Durkin from The Collection: short fiction from the transgender vanguard during the workshop, and talked about some ways it could be used in a high school or middle school English class. Some of the teachers (and librarians) had some great ideas about how to use it! I think one of the most interesting ideas was talking about outsider identity–specifically, the fact that the girl in this story is a competitive eater is very clearly the distinct feature that makes her an outsider in this story, while her being trans is probably the least interesting (but nonetheless important) feature about her, and the teachers had some interesting ideas about ways that could lead into classroom discussion. As far as I’ve heard, a few of the teachers were considering or planning on using the story in their classrooms, although I have not gotten any reports back yet.

Anyway, it was interesting to talk to teachers, who are dealing with teens in a much different capacity than librarians, about this, and I think we had some great conversations. I had meant to post about this sooner, but better late than never, right?

[Please note that if you are a middle or high school teacher reading this, I do recommend A Roman Incident for classroom instruction. While that particular story is appropriate for middle and high school (and even younger, although younger kids might not get it) students, not every story in The Collection is, so please be sure, as with anything you give to your students, to read any stories you plan to recommend to your students.]

I was just quoted about trans YA fiction in an article on Buzzfeed!

There’s not much to say about it. It’s a review of a book that I have not read, so I can’t vouch for the book, but any press about any kind of trans YA lit is always exciting.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog, as I’ve been really busy.

One current project keeping me busy that I have not shared about on here is that I am collaborating as editor with an author (Kyle Lukoff, the other person quoted in the Buzzfeed article) who is also a trans librarian on a new trans YA novel! We have a long way to go before we will be looking for beta readers or anything like that, but we’re aiming to have a manuscript we can start sending to agents/publishers this summer. The novel is funny and quirky and poignant. It also is about a trans kid who transitioned a few years ago, so his transition is old news and his life and his totally cute and fun group of friends who decide to start a GSA in their high school are the real story. It also focuses heavily on a couple of “allies” who are sometimes hilariously (and sometimes devastatingly) misguided and totally turn the trope of trans YA fiction that gives too much airtime to cis “allies” (think Luna and Almost Perfect) on it’s head. Very exciting and I am loving working with such a talented author as Kyle on this project. I can’t wait until it’s a little further along so I can start giving more specifics and promoting it!

A little over a year ago, I read this book that was so awful, it turned me off of reading for a couple months. The book was called Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and I had been looking forward to reading it for several months.

I have an ongoing project involving young adult literature featuring transgender characters (or lack thereof), keeping track of what is out there, creating resources for librarians and encouraging the creation of new & better resources, particularly fiction. I’d been really excited about this book because so few of the books I’d read featured trans girl characters (most had trans boys instead) and also because the book has won the Stonewall Book Award, awarded by the ALA GLBT Roundtable for teen fiction, so it must be good.

The book was actively horrible and I was pretty sure it would do a good job of terrifying any young trans girl into thinking that no one would ever love her and that she sort of deserved to experience violence. It felt like the whole point of the book was to make readers sympathize with homophobic & transphobic dudes who can’t help being violent towards trans women–not explicitly condoning the violence but explaining it as an unavoidable learning moment.

Reading the book made me feel horribly depressed and uninspired to read anything at all for several months (normally I read a few books a month or sometimes as much as a book a week).

Flash forward to a month or so ago when I read With or Without You by Brian Farrey.  It won the same book award as Almost Perfect and I had similarly been looking forward to reading it for months. It dealt with HIV/AIDS, gay teens in a small town & the loneliness & isolation that sometimes brings teens that age to a point of engaging in risky behavior in an attempt to simply belong. It sounded great and like the kind of book that needs to exist much more in the world.

Again, though, the book was actively horrible. It painted poz (HIV-positive) characters out to be anywhere from a jovially irresponsible older man to a young almost-cult-leader type kid who (spoiler alert) literally stabs someone. It paints the kid who is lonely & looking for somewhere to belong as a hopeless case. And, in the one moment where the book had an obvious window of opportunity to at least provide some useful information by informing readers about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis, kind of like a morning after pill for HIV exposure that they most certainly don’t tell you about in sex ed and about which most adults don’t even know), the author totally drops the ball & sweeps it under the rug, arguably giving inaccurate information about how to deal with an actual HIV exposure. The book was bad. Awful.

Once again, a book which had received this award that is supposed to give librarians access to a few books that are safe to recommend to LGBTQ teens without really closely reviewing them or being knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues has succeeded in being actively bad in a way that I actually fear will hurt teenagers. At this point, I’m not just mad at the authors and their publishers, I’m fuming at the ALA’s GLBT Roundtable, which is probably made up of a bunch of well-meaning librarians who are actually not very knowledgable of LGBTQ issues but who, by virtue of being on this committee, position themselves as experts in the field and put their seal of approval on books that actually hurt the LGBTQ youth who really need them.  I decided to set my sights on becoming a member of the book selection committee within the next few years and also wrote a letter to the chair of the committee expressing my concern.

But as a reader, I was left feeling really disillusioned. Much like happened a year ago after reading Almost Perfect, I have been going through a bit of a period of reluctance to being a reader at all since finishing With or Without You. I just feel frustrated with the publishing industry that it’s set up in a way that the kinds of books that need to be out there (like the books I was hoping for when I cracked the spine of Almost Perfect and With or Without You) don’t get published (because we all know they are being written–the people whose life experiences would lead them to write these kinds of books are vibrant and creative people who are writing amazing books that the world will never see! This is why independent publishers such as Topside Press are so important!) and I figure that if the media I consume is being censored even when it comes in the form of literature, I might as well sit around watching bad reality television instead.  At least “Dance Moms” has never tried to trick me into thinking it provides important or useful information.

I’m sure it will pass soon, I will find a book that’s completely outside of the realm of things I normally read and reaffirm my love as a reader, but for now, I am feeling let down by not only the publishing industry, but by members of my own profession who actually have the power to give a voice to lesser known books that do something great for LGBTQ youth and instead choose to honor books that are sure to make life a little harder for those LGBTQ teens who could really have used the friend they seek to find between the pages of a book the most.

I just read this article about attempted erasure of LGBTQ characters, as well as characters of color and characters with disabilities, in YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels and I think you should read it too.

As a reader and a lover of sci-fi and fantasy (though I’m certain this happens in other genres too), this makes me really sad and frustrated.  The characters I want to read about exist, but I have no way to access them because they are being watered down into straight, white characters with no disabilities to please, well, straight, white readers with no disabilities.

It was so frustrating as a teen to have to go to a special section whenever I wanted to read about a character who was different.  I fully appreciate the fact that LGBtQ YA fiction (we’re working on doing something about the “t,” at least I am) is now becoming it’s own genre, don’t get me wrong, it’s an important genre and I am thankful it exists.  But as a teen, I always wanted to read a regular book that was not about the struggles of being queer, but where a queer character experiences something other than simply coming out, coming to terms with being queer, being bullied for being queer, etc.  Couldn’t a character deal with the reality of being queer while solving mysteries, playing sports, traveling through time or slaying dragons?  The message is, that if you are queer, the only story you have to tell is about being queer, and that’s all you’re worth–all you could possibly want in life is to come to terms with being queer and then go on to live a normal, peaceful, boring life.  That’s all queer people are, that’s all queer people are worth, queer people do not strive for excellence, we strive for the mundane.

As a library student interested in working with teens, this frustrates me too.  I want to develop collections and recommend books to teens that represent a diverse range of characters.  Having a strong collection of books that deal with LGBTQ issues and other issues which face diverse populations is really important to me, and when I have my own collections, this is something that will take priority and will represent small but substantial neighborhoods of my collection that I offer some level of priority which overrides simple market-based factors like circulation stats because, well, every time those books circulate is likely a million times more important and life-changing to the reader than other books.

But at the same time, that really sucks, to think that it’s okay to have diverse characters in books that, though intended for everyone, will probably only circulate well amongst people who are like the characters they describe (ie, books about queer teens will circulate with queer teens, books about teens with disabilities will circulate amongst teens with disabilities, etc).  Why would I want to give straight teens only books about straight teens, or teens without disabilities only books about teens without disabilities or white teens only books about white teens?  What kind of message does that send about what equals quality literature?  And I don’t really think it’s the teens who even care about this, it’s their parents!