i had tea with a couple of friends this afternoon, and one of them asked me if i could recommend any books for queer teens. this friend has been mentoring of young person in need of some guidance, and has been having a hard time coming up with appropriate reading material. in response i immediately went off into an enthusiastic description of the presentation of sexuality and gender in laurie j. marks‘ elemental logic novels (fire logic, earth logic, and water logic). i’d recommend them to anyone, at all, ever, because they are such incredible books; however, they’re also exactly the sort of thing i wish i’d read when i was in high school because they normalize queer relationships and show them as equally loving, committed, and complex as straight partnerships.
i wasn’t so lucky back then.
however! i was luckier than the queer teens that came before me and for this i am very grateful. i can’t imagine only having queer YA novels such as annie on my mind (1982), which is queer-positive but still pretty fucking depressing. at the second high school i attended, the head librarian was a wonderful (though stern as hell) queer man who made sure that our bookshelves had at least some glbtq titles. it was there that i picked up working parts (1997), which still amazes me because not only is the protagonist unapologetically queer, she’s also a bike mechanic. yay, bikes!
going to a public high school in downtown toronto had other perks: diversity was valued enough that in my grade 13 writing course, i did a group project with the-first-girl-i-was-in-love-with on the topic of queer YA fiction. sadly, i can’t remember what books we read, except the aforementioned annie on my mind, and this terribly sensational book called the crush which involved a boarding school and unrequited love. we had to do a presentation for the class, and the basic gist of ours was that it was difficult for a queer teen to find literary characters to whom they could relate.
the really cool thing about this assignment was that we got to select a short story for the whole class to read and then discuss. there were some real assholes in that course, and i remember being so glad to have this opportunity to make them uncomfortable. i wish i could find the story we chose, because it was sweet and romantic; i can’t even remember what anthology we took it from. at any rate, the story title is new york in june. i’ll keep looking through my files… i want to read it again myself.
what else did i read? i found rubyfruit jungle on my mom’s bookshelf and loved it, not even realizing that it was a classic. i’d still recommend it now, actually.
another book that i suggested to my friend during our conversation this afternoon was audre lorde’s zami. her descriptions of her first romantic and sexual experiences are tender and funny, and they express a great deal about how peoples’ perceptions of one another’s roles affect the way we treat one another… both in bed and out.
i’ve been thinking about this all evening now, and the idea that i keep coming back to is that even with a supportive teacher/librarian, it still wasn’t okay to be queer in high school. all the books in the world couldn’t change the way that everything was focused on heterosexuality (why am i using the past tense? everything is focused on heterosexuality). i wasn’t out enough to be persecuted for my queerness, and the safety of that position kept me from developing a community of other queer teens. i dated boys and had amazing friends whom i still love to pieces, but we never talked about sex or gender or identity. a couple of them were queer, but mostly as silent as i was on the topic. how would my life have been different if i’d had peers to talk to about these things?
as an additional recommendation, i suggest interested folks check out Gaydar: ScarletTeen’s Virtual GBLTQ Oasis. i went to a workshop last year presented by scarleteen’s founder, heather corinna, and she has the right idea about healthy sexuality for all… including queer teens.
so, dear readers who used to be queer teenagers, what did you read at that point in your life? have you any recommendations, books you wish you’d had back then?