When I was a teenager (late 90s in the UK) there were very few books featuring LGBTQ+ people and certainly none in the school library. Section 28 was in place and schools could not publish materials related to or promote homosexuality. Fast-forward and there are now queer books for teens everywhere and in the case of Simon Vs The Homo-sapiens Agenda, one which was adapted in to a blockbuster film. In this blog I'm going to take a look at some recently published books that are essential reading for anyone but especially for young people exploring their sexuality or gender identity.
Queer Heroes – Arabella Sicardi, illustrated by Sarah Tanat-Jones Who are or were you childhood heroes? I would imagine that at least some of them are people you relate to. Love football? Plenty of heroes, love singing? Plenty of heroes? Love boys? Might need to look a little further to find someone. We have moved forward a lot and I hope that young people these days can find their Queer Heroes a little easier. Gay Icons have been celebrated for decades; Cher, Madonna and the number one gay icon in our house, Miss Kylie Minogue. But what about the people who fought for and represented our community across history. LGBTQ+ history is now becoming more celebrated. Alan Turing – responsible for code-breaking in World War II was given a posthumous pardon as have all men historically convicted of crimes relating to their sexuality. This book covers a huge amount of history from Michelangelo to Kristen Stewart via Virginia Wolf, Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King.
Each page features a beautiful illustration of the person alongside a brief summary of their achievements and sexuality/gender and what they mean to the Queer community. My personal Queer Hero Rufus Wainwright is featured, a multi-talented musician I have been a fan for many years and had the opportunity to see him live a handful of times. Never afraid to embrace his sexuality (he wrote a song proclaiming himself the gay messiah) Rufus is married and has a beautiful daughter making him even more of a hero to me. This book is highly recommended for people of all ages and sexualities but will be especially beneficial for young people looking to find out about people who are different in the same way that they are different.
Yay! You're GAY! Now what? - Riyadh Khalaf
This book is 100% for boys who fancy boys, it's also one you might not want to read with your parents! This is a 'How To' guide to being gay or bi and should be available to all teenage boys and young men who are curious about their sexuality because let's face it your teachers are not going to tell you the ins and outs of what you need to know. This book covers everything from first realising you might be gay, coming out and the more intimate details of gay life. Riyadh draws on his own experiences and I really valued that he shared parts of his own life as well as asking others to share their stories. Riyadh's parents have also contributed and offer advice to other parents of children who have come out to them.
There are so many reasons why this book and the information included in it is essential. Mental health issues and death by suicide are significantly higher in LGBTQ+ groups than their straight equivalents. Gay and bi men need to know how to be safe, they need to know how to get the support they may need if they are rejected by their family.
This book is most suitable for those over 15 but may be appropriate for some younger teens who need help thinking about and understanding their sexuality.
The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta
A fiction book aimed at young adults and written in verse. This book highlights some of the reasons why the previous books are so essential. I picked this book up and didn't put it down until I had finished, I tabbed many pages and it is a book I will definitely revisit again and again. We follow the life of Michael, Mike, Mikey from his coming out at high school to his self-acceptance at university in Brighton as The Black Flamingo. I felt so much for Michael and was able to empathise with him. Michael is supported to some extent by those around him, but the people who are closest to him make mistakes, some big, some small. This leaves Michael very much alone at times in his life.
A book about so much more than discovering your sexual identity you will really root for Michael throughout this book. Your heart will break for him and you will cheer as he becomes The Black Flamingo, the closing pages of this book are incredibly powerful.
This book also provides representation for LGBTQ+ people of colour which as literature moves towards being more representative and publishing more own voices stories is hugely refreshing and exciting.
If people choose to come out to you then know this is probably a huge deal for them, support them, listen to them, love them. And, like Michael, if your son wants a Barbie, buy him a Barbie.