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💖 Sparkling Queer Content 🌈: Books
A delightful series of posts uplifting queer media & creators
Reading time: About 8 minutes
It’s June! The month officially adopted by the queermos and gender rebels as a time to celebrate the glorious four-dimensional-hyper-cube of gender and sexuality!
When I realised I was queer at the age of fourteen, books were basically the only easy-to-access media where I could find community representation.1 I checked out every queer book the library had. Like with queer television in the mid-oughts, the bar for queer YA in the 90s was low. I am talking very, very low. The worst most basic writing you can imagine, flat characters, and often a straight-lens perspective of queerness that was obsessed with “what makes someone queer.” There was also definitely no trans or gender non-conforming representation.
Not so these days!
Thanks to queer liberation work, gatekeeping in publication has been challenged.2 Queer authors have fought to get our stories out in the world, crashing gates put up by cis het culture! Publishers have twigged onto the fact that queer and trans people are, in fact, a customer base who will spend money on books about us! And of course, we can also thank the indie publishing houses actually run by trans and queer folk, who simply opted out of the status quo gatekeeping system and built ways of telling our stories by bypassing straight approval.
So the bar has been raised for queer representation in books and we go onward with *sparkling queer content* in written form!
Sparkling Queer Books
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews
This book will very likely be featured in my annual book review blog for 2023, but I felt the need to uplift it this Pride. All This Could Be Different is such a time capsule; it’s an intersectional elder queer coming of age story. It’s proof that the novel I finished re-writing/revising a full first draft of last year will not be alone. While I’m not a college grad or a first gen immigrant like the protagonist, her experience was uncannily familiar because I too am a queer elder millenial. In fact, I did the math and I’m pretty sure the protagonist and I are the same age.
Opening during the 2008 recession, Mathews captures the strange reality of having done everything according to the previous generation and having little to show for it. It’s also a chosen family story, capturing what it’s like to navigate intimacy in friendships, build community, and learn to accept support from the kin you choose as a queer person in your twenties.
Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour
Nina LaCour has written an achingly beautiful story that captures human complexity perfectly. This is a solidly character-driven narrative with sumptuous, tangible descriptions. The prose of food and drink made me miss gathering in a group for brunch and fancy beverages. Yerba Buena is the sort of book that, when I finished it, made me sad because I missed the characters. I wanted to keep following their lives and watch their thriving.
Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
What a celebration of Indigiqueerness and femme vitality! Sometimes I struggle to explain why I love a book so much and this is one of those times—it’s a real heart and gut thing. The character of Jonny felt viscerally real the entire time I was reading this book. Whitehead has done a brilliant job of giving his protagonist depth and dimension, capturing what it is to be a person choosing to break the cycles of familial, cultural, and societal trauma.
Like with the characters in Yerba Buena, I wanted to be friends with Jonny, to hang out with him, to give him the care, love, and compassion he gives to everyone around him and so rarely is offered, particularly by the men in his world.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Malinda Lo has written a sweet, slow paced historical fiction romance set in San Francisco during the time of underground queer clubs.
I’ve long been aware of police raids on queer spaces but until this book I’d never read any fiction on the topic. I love a book that tells something of the human experience of oppression. This book takes the statistics and figures about police brutality against QILT2BAG people and gives us a window into the fear of simply trying to exist and find a place to belong.3 It is also a book about thriving in the face of unjust laws and the people who enforce them.
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
Some authors have a real talent for capturing the hot mess experience of being a teenager. Reyes is one such author. I have never read a more accurate description of a teenager getting drunk. I also super appreciate that her queer characters emphasise again and again that coming out is hard because cisheteropatriarchy and bigotry make it hard, not because being queer is hard.4
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School is a romp that made me laugh out loud and also brought tears to my eyes. Heartwarming and hilarious, this is the kind of YA I yearned for as a queer teen and OMG, now it exists!
Camp by L. C. Rosen
I did not expect to love Camp as much as I did. It’s relatively standard YA and romance stuff at first, almost formulaic, but two things about this book pushed it into five stars for me:
1. This book unapologetically makes a point that it is not enough for queer folks to come out as long as we live in a heterosexist, cisnormative society. As in, the responsibility for social change can’t be on queer visibility because visibility without protection and respect just makes people into targets. Specifically, this book illustrates that coming out can be particularly dangerous for minors given the number of parents who think it’s perfectly acceptable to kick their child out for not being the person they expected them to be.
2. There is a detailed (basically instructive) gay sex scene in which the characters laugh and are silly together and communicate well, actually have foreplay(!), and use lube and condoms.
Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H.
This incredible memoir landed on my to read list when Roxane Gay featured it in her bookclub list for 2023. Like All This Could Be Different, this is another book likely to be on my annual book review wrap-up. Lamya has created an introspective and yet universal memoir of the queer coming out experience. She weaves her experience with stories from the Quran in a way that was educational and also deeply relatable, given the spiritual sense of self I get as a queer person.
Yes, the title is an ode to Leslie Feinburg’s 1993 novel Stone Butch Blues.5 Like Stone Butch Blues, this memoir gets into the nuance and complexity of queer identity, as well as the intersectional experiences of race, gender, religion, class, education and immigration status.
If you are considering writing or actively working on a memoir, this is one you should read. It is a masterclass in memoir structure and how to take what is intimately personal and relate it to something universal within human identity and experience.
nîtisânak by Jas. M. Morgan
A two-spirit queer punk memoir that shows how we live at the intersections of how we identify and how we are identified. I read this book when I was living away from the prairie-foothills of where I grew up and a lot of what I loved about it was the familiarity of home. It’s also a story unlike my own lived experience and was mind-opening and empathetically compelling. I felt simultaneously pulled into an unfamiliar world and nostalgic for my queer youth when hanging out with punks was one of the few spaces of sanctuary free of the hostile bigotry of many of my peers.
Recommendations online are to find later editions when it’s published under the author’s current name, Jas M. Morgan, as they took on board some critiques of the original text being appropriative of African American Vernacular English and edited accordingly.
Girls Can Kiss Now: Essays by Jill Gutowitz
This book isn’t strictly memoir since it is more media and pop culture essay pieces, but they are essays very much framed by Gutowitz’s life experience and coming out. They are generational in a way I couldn’t help noticing because Gutowitz is younger than me—I didn’t know half the pop culture references in this book. That being said, this collection of essays is a delightful way to look at how the media landscape has changed so much in such a short span of time when it comes to lesbian representation. It’s very funny in parts and wasn’t entirely unrelatable to my elder millennial experience—the chapter about wanting older women celebrities to step on her, for example. Only mine would be titled Step on Me, Hannah Waddingham.
So tell me, what are some books with *sparkling queer content* that you enjoy?
This is why conservatives are trying to censor books and unfortunately succeeding in defunding libraries. The playbook is the same and it’s a dangerous one that prevents kids from seeing the fullness of humanity in an attempt to force them into limiting boxes about who they are or should be. Pro tip: Grooming kids for straightness doesn’t work.
We must remember, it was not so long ago that simply being a gay person was a criminal act and bigots continue to criminalize certain embodiments and pass unjust laws that cops will follow to the letter.
I cannot emphasise this enough: Being queer is THE BEST. I love it. Wouldn’t want to not be queer for anything.
Not the greatest prose in the world but a book more people ought to read for the historical capsule that it is.