LGBTQ2IA+ history is native to every month, and there are countless stories that still need to be told. These changemaking campaigns are making a difference.
For this week’s Bookspot, we were fortunate enough to talk with four indie bookstores who serve as community and advocacy spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community. These shops are separated by hundreds and thousands of miles (and even an ocean), but their work undeniably stems from the same goal: incite change through literature.
How is your store celebrating LGBTQIA+ History Month?
Gay’s the Word: Well here in the UK LGBTQIA+ History Month is in February, and October is Black History Month. It’s fantastic to see a greater range of representation in black queer narratives and voices being published and celebrated in the UK (although there is a long way to go). I’m thinking of books like The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta and Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez. I recently did an in-conversation digital book event with the extraordinary Bryan Washington (author of Lot and Memorial) for the Cheltenham Literature Festival which was a real honour.
BookWoman: We acknowledge ourselves as part of LGBTQIA+ history every day we are open in Austin. We are the only feminist bookstore in Texas and the one of the few literary queer spaces in Austin as well. We fly rainbow flags in our window year round and Susan provides a wonderful oral history of the store and its connection to the past and ongoing feminist and LGBTQ+ communities.
Bluestockings: Primarily by promoting our amazing range of LGBTQIA+ titles for online sale and fundraising to keep our queer and trans run space afloat!
Dog Eared Books Castro: Here at Dog Eared Castro we promote our extensive collection of LGBTQIA+ history books all year long, so really EVERY month is LGBTQIA+ history month.
Gay’s the word Storefront and team: IMage via gay’s the word
With in-person opportunities limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, how have you continued to foster community for LGBTQIA+ folks?
Gay’s the Word: Well all our community groups moved online for virtual meetings during lockdown and while, no, it’s not the same, crucially the people in these groups are all still connecting. What’s more it has now been possible for writers to zoom into our book group meetings and take questions from members in a way that wasn’t possible before. This happened with Andrea Lawlor dialing in for the Q&A element when the group discussed Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, and it was amazing. Since we reopened the physical bookshop on July 1st after three months of lockdown, it has been genuinely joyful to welcome people venturing through the front door again; to sense the smiles beneath their face masks, to ask them how they are and help deliver some amazing books into their lives. The simple beauty of bookselling hasn’t diminished due to Covid, if anything it has intensified.
BookWoman: Since the pandemic, we have actually noticed an uptick in demand for stories focusing on LGBTQIA+ characters! We have customers request that we personal shop for them and create mystery boxes of some of our favorite queer books, we try to do deep pulls to make sure that we help bridge the generational gap.
Bluestockings: We are in the midst of a relocation (after 21 years) and since our physical space been closed, we’ve prioritized online events centering queer and trans community and also have been involved in neighborhood outreach and mutual aid efforts.
Dog Eared Books Castro: Our store is open for business, so people can meet up or hang out here (keeping 6 feet of distance, of course). We’ve also done some virtual readings with LGBTQIA+ authors.
Pandemic reads: image via bookwoman
What is your favorite thing about your job?
Gay’s the Word: Everything. I love everything about my job: the books, the people, my colleagues. Having the deep, deep honour of getting to work in and curate a truly magical space. I am enriched by connection with Gay’s the Word in a way I can hardly describe.
BookWoman: Audrey: One of the weird quirks about working in a feminist, queer bookstore is when you go to “big box” stores, you’re shocked at how many straight white men are writing bad books! I love being in my little bubble where the literary world is overtaken by marginalized voices.
Susan: Getting the perfect book into someone’s hands at the perfect time! And providing a safe place or “oasis” for women, queer folks, and queer youth in Texas. For example, as I was writing this, a customer told me we are the only place she feels comfortable buying erotica.
Bluestockings: Questions about “jobs” are complicated for us because our project is powered by collective, volunteer efforts currently! Our work is largely labor donated and work that is horizontally facilitated i.e. not negotiated between employer and employees, but rather work that’s distributed based on capacity between comrades. So the favorite thing (besides holding space for radical imagination, organizing and personal political education) is likely not having bosses!
Dog Eared Books Castro: We love seeing the looks of surprise, delight, and wonder on the faces of people visiting from less tolerant places when they behold our seven giant cases (and counting!) of LGBTQIA+ books.
Bluestockings storefront: Image via Bluestockings
What types of books get you most excited to share?
Gay’s the Word: The right book for the right person. That’s the purpose. And something that offers someone a new perspective or a new avenue of discovery.
BookWoman: Audrey: I get very excited when a young queer person comes into the store and I get to hand them a young adult book focused on queer characters. Their faces always light up when they realize there’s an entire section dedicated to them and a dearth of titles for them to explore!
Susan: I love recommending books that celebrate our awesome history and books that tackle the hard things: racism, sexism, misogyny, and transphobia. Teaching people about oppression opens the door for them to be better allies!
Bluestockings: We get most excited when our favorite trans and/or sex working authors drop a new title from one of the indie presses we trust most. These sometimes look like wild fiction or unapologetic memoir.
Dog Eared Books Castro: We order *everything* LGBTQIA+, take suggestions from customers, and read extensively in order to educate ourselves to ensure we catch books that might otherwise fly in under the radar due to a lack of mainstream support.
LGBTQIA+ wall: Image Via Dog Eared Books Castro
How do you ensure that you’re mindful of providing books that represent multiple identities within the LGBTQIA+ community?
Gay’s the Word: I just listen to the person in front of me and aim to connect them with the right book. And there is a duty to curate as wide a range as possible, especially for identities and experiences which are often invisibilized, like bisexual, ace and non-binary. It’s so heartening to see publishing houses widening their offering in these areas. It’s a move in the right direction.
BookWoman: One of the most important resources when making sure we have titles that cover the rainbow spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ community is LAMBDA Literary Foundation and the long list of titles honored by the “Lammys.” We “watch” certain authors and publishers to find the newest releases. We love when a customer introduces us to a new book! There’s more out there than two people can possibly know which is the best problem to have.
Bluestockings: Being that all of us and our comrades who help make Bluestockings what it is are queer, trans and radical accomplices– that means our lived experiences, political commitments toward liberation and expansive imaginations lead us in curating our space and its book offerings!
Dog Eared Books Castro: We order *everything* LGBTQIA+, take suggestions from customers, and read extensively in order to educate ourselves to ensure we catch books that might otherwise fly in under the radar due to a lack of mainstream support.
What does uplifting LGBTQIA+ voices mean to you?
Gay’s the Word: I’ve just read Bluestockings’ answer and it’s impossible to say it any better than that. What we’ve seen in the UK is a real flourishing of queer narratives in YA. To witness young people coming in to Gay’s the Word, teeming with discovery and self-possession, seeing the aliveness and boundlessness of the emerging queer generation of today, well it is extraordinary. If anything they uplift us.
BookWoman: BookWoman has been a frequent community sponsor for AGLIFF each year and this August, which is Austin’s Pride month, we worked with Qwell to give out pride flags to the local community. When you walked through our neighborhood there were flags flying on many houses! We have hosted a Transfeminisms Reading Group for the past two years in conjunction with UT’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies in their LGBTQ department. We still meet over zoom every month/ You can find the programming here.
Bluestockings: It means more than rainbow flags and bestselling titles. For us, it has meant creating safer spaces for our trans houseless neighbors to feel welcome in our shop, for queer youth to come and grow in their politics, and hosting events that champion LGBTQIA+ authors and organizers to help build the world we all deserve.
Dog Eared Books Castro: Selling and promoting books by and about LGBTQIA+ people.
Deputy manager uli lenart: Image Via Gay’s the word
Do you have a favorite author that you’ve worked with or read?
Gay’s the Word: Each author or reading you host touches your soul in a different way. One of my favourite coming out novels is Blackbird by Larry Duplechan. I am also a huge fan of the English writer Neil Bartlett.
BookWoman: Over the past two years we have held many exciting queer events in the store! Some of note are in September 2019, hosted Matthew Riemer (1/2 of the creators of LGBT_History on Instagram with Leighton Brown) in discussion of their new book We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation. In February of this year, we co-hosted Blair Imani in discussion of her new book Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the Black American Dream with an emphasis on how the Black Migration was de-queered in most historical tellings with ALLGO (who is celebrating 35 years!)
We are hosting an event with Karma Chavez to celebrate the national release of Queer and Trans Migrations: Dynamics of Illegalization, Detention, and Deportation in November over zoom! We would be remiss to not mention a friend of the store and local bisexual author, Amy Gentry, who has been an extraordinary supporter of the store since the beginning of the pandemic!
Bluestockings: There are SO MANY! We’d have to say though, Janet Mock has consistently showed up for our space time and time again. Her brilliance and love for community is truly felt, and we adore doing this work alongside her!
Dog Eared Books Castro: We have sooooo many favorite authors we can’t choose!
Bookwoman storefront: image via bookwoman
What advice would you give to allies who want to better support the community?
Gay’s the Word: When it is safe for you to do so, challenge prejudice as you encounter it. Call your family and friends out when they say something shady. Question your gay friends if they say something biphobic. Ask them why they said that. Choose your battles if you need to, but honour that instinct you have to challenge ignorance when you sense it. One truly beautiful initiative that’s happened here into and post-lockdown was a ‘pay-it-forward’ scheme where people with some surplus cash donate the funds for an extra book for someone on low or limited income, so they can still access the book they need. This happened via Twitter for an amazing book called Gender Explorers by Juno Roche, a book that will be a lifeline of understanding to countless young trans and NB people. That’s allyship.
BookWoman: An essential part of being an ally is having knowledge to back up your stances. You must read and explore outside of your bubble and learn about LGBT history, theory, and literature. It helps humanize people the more you read and learn about them. The more knowledge you have, the easier it will be to put yourself on the frontlines and support your LGBT siblings.
Bluestockings: Keep showing up, in whatever ways you can! If you have money to spare, give it. If you have time to donate, find your lane and put in the work to get our people free. If you have resources beyond money, find ways to distribute and resource queer, trans and folx of color directly. Stop amplifying giant LGBTQIA+ non-profits and find your local grassroots efforts and demonstrate your solidarity where it’s most felt.
Dog Eared Books Castro: Buy and read books by and about LGBTQIA+ people.
zines and art display: Image Via Bluestockings
Why is it important for people to be able to see themselves in what they read?
Gay’s the Word: Because understanding anchors us to self-realisation.
BookWoman: Audrey: Representation helps with recognition of self. Towards the beginning of the pandemic we got lots of calls asking for recommendations since customers couldn’t come in to browse. A particular customer started talking about some of their favorite books and they all seemed to be interested in queer focused-books so I recommended one of my favorite reads this year, We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan.
We got a phone call many months later from this same customer thanking me for my recommendation. It turns out they had begun their transition and started HRT while reading about Lou Sullivan doing the same thing! It brought them great comfort to have someone in history taking the same journey.
Bluestockings: Representation allows for us to vision limitless possibilities, and realize our full potential! It can’t stop there however, we need access, resources and collective struggle to bring about these better ways of being with one another that we dream up!
Dog Eared Books Castro: It’s interesting to see into the minds and lives of people who share one’s orientation and/or identity. And sometimes, one doesn’t know what’s “out there” until one reads about it in a book. Authors can open up previously undreamt of possibilities.
Dog Eared Books Castro Storefront: Image Via Dog Eared Castro
What would you say to someone who is still searching for their community or the book that represents them?
Gay’s the Word: Don’t stop searching, and if you don’t find one, create one!
BookWoman: Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I think that is true for finding a community too, it’s tough but you can create your own community and find your own family. Since its inception 45 years ago, BookWoman created has created a space for women and has since grown into being a safe, intersectional space and home to queer people of all ages.
Bluestockings: Don’t give up! Don’t be afraid to ask questions! And if we can help, reach out to us on our social media platforms and connect with us! We can help you find that book, that online/virtual reading or support group and hopefully by extension your community!
Dog Eared Books Castro: There are books for almost every identity and orientation. If, however, it looks like there isn’t one for yours, maybe you could be the person to write one. We’ll be sure and stock it!
Feature image via freepik
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month beginning today, it only seemed to right to share a wonderfully written YA novel by the Puerto Rican, queer, Bronx-born icon Gabby Rivera. She is the first Latina to ever write for Marvel and the mastermind behind the America comics series, starring America Chavez. Juliet Takes a Breath is Rivera’s first fiction work—and an utterly smashing one at that.
The story opens with Juliet Milagros Palante, a queer, Puerto Rican college student with a whole lot of questions. And, a whole lot of hope. At only nineteen years old, Bronx-born Juliet is still trying to figure out how all the aspects of her identity come together. Her first year of college brought her her first girlfriend, Lanie. Amongst all the excitement and puppy eyes that come with your first love, Juliet can’t ignore two unsettling facts: Lanie refuses to introduce her to her parents, and Juliet has yet to come out to her own family. Juliet also has to battle anxiety-induced asthma and growing insecurities around her chubby brown body. It’s at this crossroads that she finds the book that will change her life: Harlowe Brisbane’s Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering your Mind.
Author gabby rivera | via nbc news
Excited by her first exposure to queer-centric, radical feminism, Juliet emails Harlowe to ask if she can spend the summer interning with the acclaimed feminist in Portland, Oregon. To Juliet’s surprise, and delight, Harlowe emails her back. It’s a yes.
That’s how Juliet ends up in the middle of quirky, weird, and very white Portland. If being dropped in a city that feels like another planet weren’t disorienting enough, Juliet’s head is still reeling from coming out to her family the night before she left. It didn’t go well. Nevertheless, she persists and launches herself into Portland life. The vibrant people she meets not only help her begin to make sense of her identity, but also realize that it’s okay to not have the answer to every single question.
She learns what preferred gender pronouns are and what it means to not conform to gender entirely. She meets expecting queer parents and a writing circle comprised entirely of Black female authors. She faces the reality of hegemonic whiteness and its enduring detrimental effects on feminism. She meets an adorably cute, motorcycle-riding librarian who actually makes her feel appreciated for who she is—something she can’t say about Lanie. Juliet’s relationship with her family, though strained at times, evolves in ways that both break your heart and put it back together. Through it all, Juliet remains curious with the world. She allows herself to feel her pain and emotions with full force and learns from them. Most importantly, she refuses to be deterred from living and loving with beautiful conviction. When Juliet embraces her identity as a queer, Puerto Rican, Bronx-born, and burgeoning intersectional feminist, you can’t help but feel proud.
Juliet in comic form | Via los angeles times
That’s one of the most special things about Juliet. She’s fiercely independent and entirely vulnerable at the same time, demonstrating that the two qualities aren’t mutually exclusive. They make her, and every single one of us, all the more human. Rivera writes with unmistakable authenticity. Every interaction, every train of thought, and every depiction feels real. You can’t help but knowingly laugh when Juliet is a sweaty disaster over talking to a pretty girl. Your chest aches during Juliet’s tense phone calls with her mother. And, you know the excitement, nerves, and relief that all come when she walks into the middle of a huge, gay party because she’s finally found her people. Rivera confronts the monolithic white, cis stereotype of the queer woman with grace and uses her platform to highlight the actual diversity of the queer female community. That’s why Juliet Takes a Breath is so important. It’s rare that queer women are given a narrative written with so much care in representing all of the unique identities that exist within our community and lived experience. As a queer woman who’s in her early 20s and also still trying to figure everything out, reading Rivera’s words really is like taking a breath. She makes you feel understood, and she makes you feel like you’re not alone.
Feature image via purewow
A recent diversity survey by Lee & Low Books reveals racial disparities within the publishing industry.
On October 19th, the Boston Book Festival commenced in Copley Square. Rows of tents housing local authors, publishers, and bookstores lined the square, bringing book lovers together on the beautiful Saturday afternoon. Right next door, at the Boston Public Library, several panels from authors and publishers were held all day. In one panel in particular, which they called Warrior Girls, held in the Teen Central section of the library, several authors tackled topics such as what makes their characters warriors, and the challenges they faced in regard to diversity in their books and making sure those stories are told. The panelists were Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, authors of Once and Future; Charlotte Nicole Davis, author of Good Luck Girls; Rory Power, author of Wilder Girls; and Brittney Morris, author of Slay. The moderator was Monique Harris, a local special education teacher.
The main aspect of the characters that the authors gave to describe them as warriors was the fact that they are, indeed, fighting for something. Whether it be for survival, or to overcome racism in their respective worlds, there is something at stake for all the characters that they have to fight for. In Davis’ debut novel Good Luck Girls, which is inspired by the old west, her two main characters are on the run after one of them accidentally kills a man.
“I guess they’re warrior girls in that this is a world that doesn’t really want them to be free but they’re fighting for that freedom anyway,” Davis said.
The concept of “warrior girls” is one that has grown in popularity in young adult fiction over recent years, seen in titles such as Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and Sarah J. Maas’ two series A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass. However, the inspiration for these authors began way before these titles were even a thought.
“I feel like when I was growing up when YA was blowing up for the first time Harry Potter was just coming to a close, Twilight was right at its peak, and The Hunger Games had just come out, and it’s very interesting to me how those are three very different female protagonists,” Davis said. “Katniss really is a strong, female protagonist in the very literal sense in that she’s a fighter, and you’ve got Hermione who’s really brainy and clever.”
“Ella Enchanted was the very first time I read a book in which the protagonist saves herself and that wasn’t even a concept until I read that,” Morris said. “It was really empowering and I was wanting that in whatever else I read.”
With the concept of “warrior girls” and feminism in these authors’ books comes diversity, not only in terms of race but of sexuality as well. Even though diverse representation is getting better in the publishing world, authors are still faced with some challenges, even within themselves.
“When I was trying to find a book about people who looked like me they were always very heavy suffering books, and those are important, I kind of describe it as eating your vegetables, but it didn’t feel fair that I never had any cake,” Davis said. “So, in writing [Good Luck Girls], I want the characters who don’t usually get to have fun, I want them to have the most fun possible.”
“When I was seventeen, my feeling was ‘I don’t know, not straight, though.’ So, I put that in the book and I realized as I was writing it that queer readers knew exactly what I was talking about, but straight readers did not,” Power said. “I had to learn how to put in these big, neon arrows for the straight reader who was like ‘help me understand’ without feeling like I was pausing the book to give a PowerPoint presentation.”
At the end of the day, young adult fiction is a genre that has a lot of impact on the minds of the readers, especially since they are young and malleable. In addition to writing entertaining, diverse books about warrior girls, these authors also wanted to leave their readers with a newfound message at the end of it all.
“Slay is actually dedicated to everyone who has ever had to minimize who you are to be acknowledgeable to those who aren’t like you. And I chose that dedication very deliberately,” Morris said. “I hope that by the time you get to the end of the book you are sure of who you are, or at least confident in taking the time to decide what that is.”
“If a book is a story about a character it’s for everybody. A book about queer people is for every reader, a book about girls is for every reader,” Capetta said. “I think there’s still that message that is not spoken out loud anymore but is reinforced in a lot of subtle ways that a book about a girl or about a marginalized person is only for that reader, and that’s the person that needs that book.”
In writing these books about warrior girls, it seems that these authors are embodying warriors themselves, combatting racism and genderism through their characters. They have hope for these types of books in the coming years and will continue to write their own stories in order to contribute to the changing dynamics of the young adult genre.