John Clark with my thoughts on Pride Month. I grew up in a small Maine town where the only minority group I knew about was my classmate Nancy Simmons…She was Catholic. That’s how isolated and unaware we were in the 1950s. The only time we saw Blacks was when the rides came to the Union Fair. Then there were those strange people, you know the ones who were whispered about while everyone laughed nervously. I’m talking about Queers.
I was luckier than many of the people I grew up with. I went far away to college, had gay fraternity brothers, one of my two best friends in college was gay, and over time, I watched as he went from agonizing over his sexuality to being OUTrageous and then becoming comfortable in his skin. During my mental health and library career, I made a lot of friends in both professions. As a result of becoming active nationally in the Medical Library Association (MLA), I became a straight member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Librarians Special Interest Group. As chair of the Mental Health Library Special Interest Group, we had similar interests and during the years I was part of MLA, we did several joint program presentations at the annual conferences, notably in Kansas City and Seattle. I learned a lot over coffee about what their growing up experiences were like.
When I got sober and had some time in recovery, I sponsored both gays and lesbians in recovery. Listening to them talk about their greater sense of loneliness and isolation (and I thought mine was bad), gave me even more insight into how the world viewed and treated people whose sexuality and gender orientation didn’t fit the cookie cutter mentality so prevalent in rural America.
Fast forward a few years to when I was the librarian in Hartland and was reading mostly young adult fiction. I realized that the genre was riding ahead of the wave of awareness in terms of issues facing teens, and by doing so, many titles were throwing a literary lifeline to LBGTQ kids in areas where many felt like they were the only ones who were different. I added a lot of YA fiction that addressed LBGTQ topics and blogged about the collection on the Maine library listserv as well as sharing reviews of the better titles.
While we’ve come a long way in terms of respecting gender variability and how important caring and respect for others is, we still live in a mean and unsafe world, particularly when you don’t fit any mold deemed ‘appropriate’ by the religious and conservative elements running rampant through our nation. That’s why I was proud as hell that our daughter Sara took Piper to the drag queen reading event in Waterville last week. I want my granddaughter (and her on the way sibling) to grow up feeling good about themselves and sharing that goodness with everyone they meet. That’s how we’ll get to the world most of us want to live in.
Four new books illustrate how the literary curve is moving even further in YA literature. I’ve finished two of them, am reading the third and ordered the fourth as soon as I heard about it two days ago. Below are short descriptions of each.
I Wish You The Best by Mason Deaver is the story of Ben De Becker and what happens when they attempt to tell their parents they’re nonbinary. Instead of any remote form of acceptance, they’re ordered to leave and find themselves shivering and barefoot outside a Walgreens, calling the sister they haven’t seen in ten years. What follows, involves a new school for senior year, PTSD, a renewed fear of coming out to anyone besides their sister and brother-in-law, and a painful, but successful discovery of who they really are.
Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins is the story of what happens after Millie Hawkins romance with her best friend Jude, who is bisexual, is derailed when Jude’s boyfriend returns after being absent for months. Millie had been accepted at an elite private school in Scotland, a member of the first female class to attend, but she had put that plan on hold while her romance was alive. Desperate to distance herself from the pain of Jude’s rejection, she busts tail to fill out scholarship forms and soon finds herself in the misty highlands of Scotland, determined to focus on studying and avoiding any romantic entanglements.
However, she never expected to be paired as roommates with Flora, a Scottish princess whose reputation and outrageous behavior are frequent fodder for the British tabloids. What starts out as war between them ends up as a quirky friendship, then romance. What makes this so satisfying is the matter of fact way their gender orientation is treated by nearly everyone in the story.
These Witches Won’t Burn by Isabel Sterling revolves around two teen witches living in Salem, Massachusetts. Hannah and Veronica had been best friends forever, then became girlfriends, but something horrible happened between them while on a class trip to NYC and Hannah can’t let go of her hurt and anger. Details of that event are revealed in just the right manner as more frightening things start happening in Salem. Both girls are in training to reach their full magic ability by their eighteenth birthday, but are forbidden to use any magic where Regs (normal mortals) might see it. Add in the fact that a new girl, Morgan, seems interested in becoming more than Hanna’s friend, a detective assigned to investigate the scary events in town seems determined to nail Hannah for them, not to mention the ramping up of tension, as the book nears its end and you have the first in what I hope is a two or three book series. Once again, the sexual orientation of four girls in the story, the way their parents accept them as well as the inclusion of a transgender fellow employee at the shop where Hannah works, all will help teens feel good about their sexuality. It’s also one heck of a good mystery.
Finally, the book I’m waiting for is The Stonewall Riots: Coming out in the streets by Gayle E. Pitman. Here is the description from Amazon “This book is about the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous, often violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBTQ+) community in reaction to a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The Riots are attributed as the spark that ignited the LGBTQ+ movement. The author describes American gay history leading up to the Riots, the Riots themselves, and the aftermath, and includes her interviews of people involved or witnesses, including a woman who was ten at the time. Profusely illustrated, the book includes contemporary photos, newspaper clippings, and other period objects. A timely and necessary read, The Stonewall Riots helps readers to understand the history and legacy of the LGBTQ+ movement.”