Cultural centers

Coping with Cultural Illiteracy: LGBTQ Books 2022

The recent spate of challenges to books with LGBTQ content has been met with equally vocal resistance from booksellers, librarians, parents and other advocates. Caught in the middle are the people who create the books.

George M. Johnson Not all boys are blue, a collection of essays for young adults dealing with the themes of identity and family, was, according to the ALA, the third most contested book of 2021; it was cited for LGBTQ content, profanity, and because it was considered sexually explicit. “It’s never easy to wake up to Google alerts misrepresenting your work as something it’s not or seeing it used as a pawn for political partisanship,” Johnson says. “It just makes me want to create more stories in the world – to find newer, cooler mediums to tell my stories.”

Another author, Jarrett Dapier, had a virtual presentation of his picture book Mr. Watson’s Chickens canceled when the school librarian told the principal that the story featured a gay couple. The director then suggested offering the parents the choice to opt out of the event, which Dapier found unacceptable. The presentation was postponed, the author says, after the school agreed to his terms: he insisted that the principal not send the opt-out letter, and that “teachers would not change their approach of the book or wouldn’t emphasize the characters’ relationship in anything but a positive, normal light, if they did at all.

TP spoke with Johnson, Dapier and other authors and illustrators about their contested titles, the importance of writing books on LGBTQ themes, and how they and other members of the publishing ecosystem can better serve readers.

mike curat was inspired by his experiences grqueer and filipino homework for the 2020graphic novel Flame (Holt, 14+).

“It’s hard to decide how much time I will devote to expressing myself and how much time I will devote to my work. I’ve erred on the side of continuing to create, and that’s my medicine for those destructive prohibitions and challenges. A child needs to see himself in a book and he needs others to see him in this book. What makes my blood boil is to think of young people who are deprived of their rights by people who are supposed to look out for their well-being. It’s reliving the trauma and hatred that I experienced in my childhood. I want to do something more immediate for these kids and I feel helpless, but I know the best thing I can do for them is just get back to work.

George M. Johnsonthe 2020 essay collection, Not all boys are blue (FSG, 14 years and over), is presented as a “memory-manifesto”.

“When you say my story has no merit, you are really saying the lives of young gay men have no merit. When you say my book shouldn’t be accessible to teens, you’re saying non-heterosexual teens should keep their truth secret and away from societal structures. But I’m glad we can see who these people are – it’s a lot easier to fight the devil you can see than the one who’s always been working behind the scenes to do this kind of damage. When publishers see certain books banned, they should be even more eager to make ten more books available on the subject – providing more offerings to black authors, queer authors and other groups who rarely have the opportunity to tell diverse and intersectional stories. .”

Meredith Russofirst novel of 2016 If I was your girl (Flatiron, 13+), was partly inspired by the author’s experience as a trans teenager.

“These white supremacists, homophobes, transphobes, anti-Semites, etc. have an idea of ​​what a person is supposed to look like and be, and they are very scared. Young LGBTQ and disabled people are particularly vulnerable. We are not born into a community of people who share the same oppression as us; there is no guarantee that queer culture will be transmitted. This makes it all the more important for us to use art to project what we feel now into the future and to say to future generations of young queers: “We were here, and we felt this way, and we Been through these things, and we’ve been through it. Not all of us, but some of us have been through it, and so are you.”

Juno Dawson is the author of 2015 This book is gay (Sourcebooks Fire, ages 14-17) and the next What is the T (Sourcebooks Fire, June, 14-17), documentary titles about sexuality and gender identity.

“Books are wonderful tools of compassion. people said that This book is gay and What is the T? [first published in the U.K. in 2021] made them better allies. But we are in a culture war and LGBTQ people are an easy target. At the same time as we are fighting this wave of censorship, several states are trying to impose regulations concerning young trans people: participation in sports, access to facilities. When all the books have been banned, what happens next? You can’t ban a trans kid, but it looks like they’re trying. You can remove every copy of my books from every library, and there will still be LGBTQ kids, but with less support. That’s what I would say to those people, ‘Why don’t you want to help those kids?’ ”

Jarrett Dapier and Andrea Tsurumi are respectively the author and illustrator of the picture book 2021 Mr. Watson’s Chickens (Chronicle, ages 3-5), an animated read-aloud featuring Mr. Watson and his partner, Mr. Nelson.

Paper: “I dream of living in a world where no one asks me why I created a same-sex loving couple because it’s so normalized in literature. Although there are some great titles out there with content LGBTQ in the world of picture books, the number is woefully low. Kids see things in terms of story, character and plot and whether it’s good or fun; adults do a lot of projection. When they project onto something that is aimed at very young children, panic ensues.The people doing the projection have to do some soul-searching to find out where the problem is, because it’s not in the books .

Tsurumi: “Racism, homophobia, transphobia – all sorts of structural oppressions – attempt to redefine who can be openly human and who should be hidden. Mr. Watson’s Chickens is the story of a couple in love who have a huge chicken problem. Gay men love, go to work and have 456 chickens, just like all of us, right? Challenging this book sends a chilling message to everyone in this community, and it’s happening as we talk about other kinds of structural oppression. There is a connection between the movement to ban LGBTQ+ voices in schools and the white supremacist effort to ban books by and about BIPOC people who are simply trying to teach the truth about history and culture. ‘human experience. They are all fingers on the same fist.

Jonathan Evison2018 novel lawn boy (Algonquin), for adults, was ALA’s second most contested book of 2021.

“The Conservatives are trying to agitate their base with this idea that schools are trying to silence the voices of parents. Any 13-year-old can access all the pornography online, but they’re going after school libraries because it hits that nerve. lawn boy challenges racial assumptions and the perils of capitalism and economic inequality. It’s ironic that the book is singled out because of innocent preteen sexual experimentation by a non-binary, non-white character – that’s really their problem. The book did its job in many ways. People go to this book because they are looking for blowjob scenes. What they take away are all the things that were my intentions for the novel, a look at the state of the American dream and how difficult it is to reach.

Adam Silverain the 2015 YA novel happier than not (Soho Teen, 14+), follows a 16-year-old who unexpectedly falls in love with another boy.

“I have no intention of writing books that don’t deal with queer characters, because no one needs my queer voice to write a direct story. I’ve had a lot of commercial success, but I always think that every time I write a book, some libraries will never publish it. I was lucky to feel really supported by my editor. I don’t understand the nuances of why some editors don’t talk about these bigger issues, but it seems like an unfair burden on authors. I’m trying to find the energy to rally, because my tapping on this doesn’t help young gay men to get these books. I can write them, but if they can’t reach teenagers, then what’s the point? »

Maia Kobabegraphic dissertation 2019 from Gender Queer (Oni) received the ALA Alex Award, given to books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults. According to the ALA, it was the most contested book of 2021.

“The attacks on my work do not seem personal to me; it’s clear that a lot of people who are crazy about my book haven’t even read it. This is a widespread attack on LGBTQ material, particularly on transgender or non-binary identities, alongside attacks on books by authors of color – black authors and any book dealing with racism or history racism in America. It is a broad attempt to erase these types of subjects from school curricula. But authors, publishers, booksellers, teachers and librarians cannot be silenced for fear of challenges. We must stick to what we know, which is that diverse stories matter to readers of all kinds, and we must continue to create them, publish them, carry them, and celebrate them.

Pooja Makhijani is a writer and editor in New Jersey.

Learn more about our LGBTQ Books feature:

Brevity and Breadth: LGBTQ Books 2022
Queer fiction collections convey a wealth of experiences.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 11/04/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Confronting cultural illiteracy