“A better place” follow-up.

Just wanted to post a quick follow-up to my last post about the wonderful teacher I met on Tuesday. That teacher came back into my store today to tell me she absolutely loved George by Alex Gino and she thanked me for making the recommendation. She said she can’t wait to share the book with her students.

I was nearly moved to tears. It was so heartwarming, not only to hear how much she enjoyed my recommendation, but how excited she is about sharing this amazing story with her students.

Needless to say, I’m pretty over the moon right now!

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Making the world a better place, one classroom at a time.

georgeYesterday at work I had a teacher ask for book recommendations for her grade five and six students.

I immediately thought of Alex Gino’s George.

Here’s some info on George:

When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

GEORGE is a candid, genuine, and heartwarming middle grade about a transgender girl who is, to use Charlotte’s word, R-A-D-I-A-N-T!

(Source: Alex Gino)

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when the teacher came up to the register a few minutes later, and George was one of the books in her hands. I won’t lie, I wanted to both cry, and hug the teacher.

Not only is this teacher to be praised for buying books to keep in her classroom for students to read, but the fact that she bought a story with a transgender character just warms my heart.

George is such a wonderful, powerful and impactful story, that I believe has the power to change lives. We need to see more LGBTQ+ books being made easily and freely available to those who want access to them, especially a children’s novel like George.

I’ve recently been working on a proposal for my major research essay for my Master of Arts in Communication, where I’m proposing to examine identity formation in young adult novels. Part of my proposal involved looking into the impacts LGBTQ+ YA books have on the youth who read them.

Here’s some of what I found:

YA literature is an influential source of information on identity development for teens, and that it deserves further study to explore efferent readings of the literature. “The young adult novel is quickly becoming one of the best complementary sources of information related to sex, tolerance, navigating queer life, and sexual diversity—both for queer teens who wish to find books they can relate to and for nonqueer teens who wish to read depictions of what their peers experience in life” (Bittner, 2012, p. 370-371).

“Examining texts for different conceptualizations of sexual and gender identities might invite students and teachers to interrogate assumed notions of identities as essential or even developmental. This might free a student who has been tagged as a fag or a dyke, even for years, of the burden of homophobia, even if only in his or her English language arts class. It might also liberate a student who has always understood himself or herself, and has always been understood by others, as straight, but who is struggling with a confusing attraction to a same-gender peer. In other words, exploring possibilities of sexual and gender identities that are multiple, variable, and fluid might alleviate some of the pressure of being or becoming someone who is socially acceptable and soothe the anxieties associated with being or becoming someone who is not” (Blackburn, Clark & Nemeth, 2015, p. 34).

“While literature may not eliminate homophobia nor alleviate the risks stemming from it, well-written books may help subvert the culture of silence still current in many school environments and offer a supportive framework for self-understanding by gay and lesbian teens. Moreover, books such as the ones discussed here may help heterosexual students who are homophobic question their traditional assumptions in order to lead lives not bound and threatened by prejudices and fears” (Norton & Vare, 2004, p. 69).

YA authors understand the powerful socializing forces of children’s and YA fiction, which Wickens (2011) argues is a reason they should be studied. “Authors of contemporary LGBTQ novels appear to be as equally aware of the potential impact of their books on their audiences. As a result, studying these texts for the ways they enact and engage with ongoing discourses around sexuality and gender helps effectively trace these cultural shifts and their impact on future generations” (Wickens, 2011, p. 162).

(References below.)

As the studies referenced above show, LGBTQ+ literature for children and young adults has the power to shape minds and its impacts are possible, not only to help queer and trans youth to understand themselves, but to also help straight and cis youth to understand what their peers are going through. This can help to reduce homophobia and transphobia, and I think that introducing books like George to children a young age will help to make these impacts happen sooner.

If there’s one thing we need, it’s more love, acceptance and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s people like the teacher I met today that will help make this possible. And ultimately, I think more people like that will make this world a better place. One classroom and one student at a time.


References:

Bittner, R. (2012). Queering sex education: Young adult literature with LGBT content as complementary sources of sex and sexuality education. Journal of LGBT Youth, 9(4), 357-372.

Blackburn, M., Clark, C., & Nemeth, E. (2015). Examining queer elements and ideologies in LGBT-themed literature: What queer literature can offer young adult readers. Journal of Literacy Research, 47(1), 11-48.

Norton, T. L., & Vare, J. W. (2004). Literature for today’s gay and lesbian teens: Subverting the culture of silence. The English Journal, 94(2), 65-69.

Wickens, C. M. (2011). Codes, silences, and homophobia: Challenging normative assumptions about gender and sexuality in contemporary LGBTQ young adult literature. Children’s Literature in Education, 42(2), 148-164.

Secondary LGBT characters matter too!

This post is kind of inspired by an exchange I had with the lovely Becky Albertalli on Twitter. I had posted a Tweet sharing my excitement for some new LGBT YA novels coming in 2017, namely Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me, Bill Konigsberg’s Honestly Ben and Becky’s The Upside of Unrequited.

Becky, the lovely human that she is, said she was honoured to be included, but unsure if her book counts as LGBT YA since it’s mainly secondary characters that are LGBT–the main character’s sister has a girlfriend, and they have two moms. And while Becky is right, and the book is not primarily LGBT YA, I decided I wanted to write something nonetheless about why secondary LGBT characters are just as important as LGBT main characters.

In my opinion, it is super important that more and more books, TV shows, movies, etc. include more queer and trans characters, even if they are only secondary. I would argue that the more and more LGBT characters we see and read about, the more and more our world will become more embracing of the LGBT community.

After all, this blog is called Queering the Mainstream for a reason: the more queer and trans characters that exist, the less heteronormative our society becomes.

But not only that. The LGBT community deserves to see itself recognized everywhere, and not just in stories where the main character is LGBT. This is important because LGBT people are everywhere and it’s only realistic to show that. And in my opinion, you do an injustice to a whole group of people by pretending they don’t exist.

For example, I have always loved the Harry Potter series. It’s been my favourite since I was a kid. Yet, one major issue I have with the series is the lack of LGBT representation. I mean, sure, J.K. Rowling said after-the-fact that Dumbledore was gay. She also once told a fan on Twitter that, of course, there were LGBT people at Hogwarts. To which, I wonder: why couldn’t she have shown us that?! Why do we need to learn these things after the fact?

A recent article on Hypable by Tariq Kyle (warning: Minor Spoilers!) raises this point excellently:

“Dumbledore being gay? That’s not a big deal. The big deal here is the fact that there apparently wasn’t a natural way to input that into the novels, to make it truly canon. I know that generally speaking anything J.K. Rowling says is canon, but it would have had so much more meaning if Dumbledore being gay was just a natural part of the story, like Peeves being annoying or Hermione being smart.”

Kyle goes on to say that J.K. Rowling, “missed an opportunity to change the way stories for LGBTQ characters are told”. He adds she missed an even bigger opportunity to do this with the new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I won’t go into detail here, because spoilers, but feel free to check out Kyle’s article (here’s the link again) if you want to further understand. But here’s one more excellent point that Kyle raises:

“Telling your readers and/or audience a few years later that a character has been gay this entire time doesn’t equal representation, because you weren’t representing that community when you wrote it.”

My point is this: even if the main characters in the story (in this case, Harry, Ron and Hermione) are totally straight, why not include some secondary characters who are LGBT?

I’ve said several times in recent years that I wish I had known about LGBT YA when I was a teenager and trying to accept my sexuality. But you know what? I think seeing a gay character in my favourite book series may have helped too–even a secondary character. Why not make Seamus or Neville gay? Why not have Hannah Abbott, a minor Hufflepuff character, be a lesbian?

In summary, secondary LGBT characters matter too! Any and all LGBT representation is important. LGBT people exist in all aspects of life, and we deserve to see ourselves represented in all aspects of fiction too.

What could be more powerful than having LGBT characters that exist simply as they are and a big deal is not made of it? Maybe more of this would eventually lead to a world where being queer or trans is not a big deal. But right now, we’re not in that world yet.

When J.K. Rowling announced Dumbledore was gay, it was a big deal. When it was announced that the character Sulu in would have a husband in the new Star Trek, it was a big deal. We need more secondary LGBT characters to show that it’s really not that much of a big deal!

So, thank you to authors like Becky Albertalli, who show us that secondary LGBT characters matter too. And to authors like J.K. Rowling, (a woman I absolutely adore and think of as my idol, so please don’t think I am trying to attack her here), please consider representing me and others like me more in the future.

Who knows, seeing a gay Gryffindor character could have made this Ravenclaw brave enough to come out sooner than I did.

Review: Of Fire and Stars

offireandstarsI recently had the privilege of reading an Advance Reader’s Copy of Audrey Coulthurst’s upcoming YA novel, Of Fire and Stars. And wow, was I ever blown away by this book!

Here’s what Audrey’s website says about Of Fire and Stars:

Two princesses fall in love with the wrong people—each other.

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. Soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

So, I usually much prefer contemporary YA, but every now and then I enjoy a good fantasy, and this is a GREAT fantasy. Of Fire and Stars sunk its teeth into me and didn’t let me go! Part forbidden love story, part intense and suspenseful mystery, Of Fire and Stars is definitely one you’ll want to add to your wish list! It’s got just about everything you could ask for—castles, magic, horses, princesses, romance, action! I absolutely loved this book. It’s definitely one that I’ll be revisiting again! Mare and Denna’s story will have you feeling like you’re right there with them, and you’ll be cheering them on from start to finish, and beyond!

Plus, as Audrey told me via Twitter, if enough people buy Of Fire and Stars, there just might be a sequel!

Of Fire and Stars releases November 22nd. You can pre-order it now from Indigo by clicking here.

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Indigo Books & Music Inc. in exchange for an honest review. I am an Indigo employee.

Outing people is NOT okay.

If there is one thing that is never okay, it’s outing someone who has not come out on their own yet. Never. Don’t do it. I’ve already written about why coming out still matters. But coming out is not always possible.

For some people, it’s illegal and could get them killed. There are over 75 countries in the world where it is actually illegal to be queer, trans, etc., many of which carry a death sentence for those who are caught.

Now, as many people will know, the summer olympics are currently taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is where our story today begins. Last week, a straight, white journalist named Nico Hines from The Daily Beast decided to write an article called “The Other Olympic Sport in Rio: Swiping”.

I can’t share the link to the article, as it has been removed and replaced with an editorial comment. But here’s the gist of what happened:

Hines went on Grindr and other dating sites/apps and wrote his article about the olympic athletes he met on there and arranged dates with. Let me repeat: a straight man decided to write an article about how he used gay apps to find olympic athletes.

But here’s where it gets worse, as Curtis M. Wong at The Huffington Post writes:

“Much of the outrage stemmed from the fact that Hines, who identifies as straight, included telling details such as the heights, weights and other physical features of the Olympic athletes with whom he arranged dates.”

Now, Hines swears he didn’t lie about the fact that he was a journalist. But really, shouldn’t a straight man trolling gay apps to find athletes and write articles that could potentially out them be considered lying? I’m pretty sure if you open your nearest dictionary and look up the word “lie”, the definition will say something along those lines.

And while Hines didn’t actually name any of the athletes he described, that didn’t mean it wasn’t possible for them to be discovered. As Mark Joseph Stern at Slate writes:

“With his dubious premise established, Hines proceeds to out athlete after athlete, providing enough information about each Olympian he encounters for anyone with basic Google skills to uncover their identities. (After several minutes of Googling, I surmised the identities of five of the gay athletes Hines described.) I’m not going to repeat his descriptions, because—as Hines himself acknowledges!—some of them live in ‘notoriously homophobic’ countries and remain closeted at home.”

I’ll repeat again: Stern found five of the athletes Hines described using Google in minutes, some of whom live in notoriously homophobic countries, like possibly some of the countries on the list linked above.

UGH. Outing people is never okay. Outing people is never okay. Outing people is never okay. I’d keep repeating this until people actually got the message, but it appears that I’d be here for a billion years. While Hines may think that his article may have been just for fun, his idea of fun could potentially damage someone’s life, or put them in danger, or worse, get them killed.

I sincerely hope nothing happens to those athletes Hines wrote about. It’s never okay to take someone’s coming out away from them. But it’s even worse to out people who could get killed by their own governments just for being born the way they are.

PM Pride.

Canada. Our home and native land, the true north strong and free. My home.

I love my country, and am damn proud to live here. I am proud to live in a country where same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide for over a decade; a country where our government promises to do more to protect trans rights, not limit them; and a country where our Prime Minister loves to make history.

I’ve posted already about how Canada is not perfect, but I have to say, our country is doing a lot of things right. It was announced back in February that Justin Trudeau would be the first sitting Prime Minister to march in Toronto’s pride parade. He has since also become the first sitting PM to march in pride parades in Vancouver and Montreal as well.

And you know what the absolute best part is? He just looks so happy doing so! And it warms my heart.

Here are a few pics of our badass PM at various pride parades:

(Chris Young/Canadian Press)

(Chris Young/Canadian Press)

(John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

(John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

(Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Like, seriously? Could this be any more awesome?

And I know, some people will argue that a straight white man marching in a pride parade shouldn’t be a symbol of acceptance of the LGBT+ community. But you know what, I disagree.

To me, the fact that our Prime Minister (AKA THE FREAKING LEADER OF OUR COUNTRY) not only accepts but also embraces the LGBT+ community and is proud and happy to make history to show us this means the world to me. It shows that we have come a long way.

You go, Justin. Keep making us proud. And thank you.

My love for Simon.

simonhardcoverToday, I’m here to talk (really, gush) about my love for Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (also to be referred to as Simon vs. or just Simon).

Simon is one of the best books I have read in recent memory. I love it so much that I’ve read it four times since I bought it and I sometimes need to force myself to not read it and instead focus on books I own that I haven’t read yet (I have LOTS of those).

However, this book is one of my favourites for several reasons, especially because of the realness of some of what happens/excellent points that Becky raises that I think literally everyone should be talking about.

simonstaffpick

I made Simon one of my Staff Picks at work because I love this book so much and want everyone to enjoy it like I do.

But before I get into why I love Simon too much, here’s a little blurb on what the book is about, for anyone who hasn’t read it (yet… because everyone should):

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Ok, so first, this book is like, SO CUTE. I mean it. Like, I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m quote3going to gush over this book because the story that Becky Albertalli has blessed us with is just all kinds of adorable. Simon is probably one of my favourite characters that I’ve read about in recent memory. His emails to Blue actually kinda make me squeeeeeee. He’s not perfect, but no one is, and that’s ok. But seriously, the book says things like this.
<——

And if that doesn’t melt your heart, than I don’t know what else will.

But also, this book is so real and touches on some mega-important issues, especially for young LGBTQ+ people who aren’t out yet. As the blurb above says, Simon is being blackmailed by Martin, a boy who saw his emails to the mysterious Blue. Martin threatens to out Simon if he doesn’t do his bidding and play wingman to set Martin up with Simon’s friend Abby.

I don’t want to get too spoiler-y here, so I won’t say much other than things get resolved in the end. However, I have to praise Becky for including this because I believe it’s so important. No doubt, we’ve all heard stories about what can happen when someone who is still closeted gets outed by someone else. LGBTQ+ youth have some of the highest suicide rates and I think it’s important for stories to touch on the reality that sometimes people are shitty and out others and there are ways to handle it that don’t involve taking your life. There are wonderful resources out there, like The Trevor Project in the U.S., and Kids Help Phone in Canada.

quote1Another excellent point that gets raised in Simon vs. is why is straight and white always assumed to be the default? Like, seriously?! We now live in 2016, and if there’s one thing that my previous posts on coming out and the reasons I started this blog have shown, it’s that LGBTQ+ people still have a long, long way to go before we are fully embraced in society, and I think that one thing that needs to happen in order for us to get there is for people to stop assuming that straight is the default. Or, as Simon says, “There shouldn’t even be a default!”.

All seriousness aside, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is an adorably cute, sometimes awkward love story that touches on real issues. I cannot thank Becky enough for writing this incredible story (and believe me, I’ve thanked her several times… we Tweet a fair bit). I think that Simon should be required reading for everyone, and I try to tell as many people as possible to read this book.

simonsignedI love this book so much that I even used some of my birthday money to order a signed/personalized copy. Becky kindly included a wonderful message that made my day… week… month… year… life. I’m so excited to see what she comes up with next! Becky’s second book, The Upside of Unrequited, comes out in Spring 2017. She recently signed on to do two more books, including a Simon spin-off told from the perspective of his friend Leah.

If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s beautiful souls like Becky Albertalli, and wonderful stories like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, that go a long way to making this world a more loving, open, and embracing place. As long as stories like Simon’s exist, I want to read them, love them, and stand on the mountains to yell to the world about them.

If you haven’t read this story yet, please do. Go buy a copy or borrow it from a local library. Or, if you know me personally, you can borrow one of mine (I now have two).