Books That Made Me: YA Fiction

I’ve never cared much about getting older, and I try not to regret things from the past, but do I wish YA fiction had been available when I was a teenager, hell yeah!

There are many reasons that I read, write, and love YA: it pushes boundaries and explores topics other fiction is scared to go near, it gives a voice to teenagers who are frequently pushed to the side and their opinions dismissed. One of the things I love most about YA is the amount of LGBTQ+ that can be found among the pages, which makes it relevant to me, and speaks to me in a way that a lot of “adult” fiction never did.

I don’t think YA fiction is perfect or has it sorted in terms of representation. There is still a lot of trans characters being written by cis writers, there is a lot of gay and lesbian teenage characters being brought to life by straight writers, and there is still an under-representation of colour, bisexual, intersex, genderqueer, asexual YA characters. What YA does have is a passion for is pushing this forward and for getting better, and that seems something to be optimistic about.

Below are a few of my recommendations of YA books I think everyone should read:

33961524Simon James Green – Noah Can’t Even
I won’t go on and on and on about how much I love this book (you can read my review here) but my first recommendation is the very British, utterly cringe-inducing, hilarious life of Noah Grimes. I’ve read reviewers describe Noah as gay, I read him as probably bisexual, when my girlfriend read the book she wondered if he was asexual. I think this book is a brilliantly written exploration of a young man who is confused about his sexuality, wondering what it says about him and obsessed with what other people think.

 

ifiwasyourgirl
Meredith Russo – If I Was Your Girl

One of the few novels I’ve read with a trans character written by a trans writer, and it shows. A story of a trans girl growing up in America and trying to navigate the line between honesty, being yourself, and protecting yourself from the prejudice still so prevalent for all trans people.

 

 

Book Cover

David Levithan – Two Boys Kissing
This novel is about more than just two boys trying to break the world record for the longest kiss, there are four stories interwoven into the novel, all related to boys coming to terms with coming out and the reactions of the people around them. The overall narrator is the voice of an older generation of gay men who have lost their lives to AIDS. It is these narrators that really start to pull the emotional punches as they lament the glorious possibilities the lives of young men have now, possibilities that were so cruelly denied to them.

 

You Know Me Well book cover

Nina LaCour & David Levithan – You Know Me Well
I couldn’t write a blog post to coincide with Pride month without including this fantastic novel. Told in alternating view points it follows the story of Kate and Mark who become best friends after one moment of bonding in a gay bar. It shows LGBTQ+ young people comfortable with their sexuality and receiving support from the people around them. We need more novels that explore LGBTQ+ friendships and that explore the importance of having friends.

 

What I want to read more of is books that feature more genderqueer teens, more bisexual teens, more non-white characters – and if these could be British that would be amazing. Give me your recommendations of the best YA you’ve read recently.

This post is part three of my Books That Made Me series. You can read part one here.

Books That Made Me: Trans voices

I often wonder what decisions I would make if I were a young adult now and had available to me the amount of information, in the form of blog posts, youtube videos, and books, that trans people are putting out into the world. So much of what we read about being trans comes from cisgender voices attempting to understand or diminish the lives of trans people.

In the last 12 months I have read some amazing articles and books that have helped me come to a better understanding of all the ways in which gender can be present and represented in a person and I want to share some of these with you.

Mark Gevisser’s 2014 article Self-Made Man is one of the more respectful articles I’ve found looking at the lives of trans young people. I’ve recommended it to many cisgender people who find the topics of gender-identity, and the terminology that comes with it, hard to get their head around. As a genderqueer person I found it a well written sympathetic piece that, at the very least, is a good start.

 

 

graysonperryThe Descent of Man – Grayson Perry
A fascinating insight exploring masculinity in the world today. Grayson Perry offers his own view on the damage that ideas of masculinity do to boys, men, and the rest of society. He offers, with intelligence and sensitivity, a vision of a different way that men can be. A thought provoking book that raises more questions than it answers.

 

 

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C N Lester – Trans Like Me
An engagingly written book that deftly combines memoir, opinion, and academic research. It presents the journey for trans people from history (distant and recent) to current challenges, on to future hopes. Exploring the full spectrum of gender identity, this book offers the best explanation of trans I have ever read, challenging what we think we know and seeking a better way to live.

 

gendergamesJuno Dawson – The Gender Games
In this no holds barred memoir Juno Dawson lays bare her life, thoughts, and hopes for the future as a trans woman. This is a personal story of Juno’s experiences and is told with humor, passion, and a clear love for all people to understand one another and support our journeys as we stand up against the ever-present forces of Gender.

This book is a fascinating look into the life of one trans woman, who is quick to point out she is not speaking for every trans person, and can only speak for her own experiences. It’s worth reading to understand how our experiences differ from each other, and the ways in which they’re similar. If you’re not a trans man or woman then I would urge you to read this book, it is definitely for you! It will make you look again at what you thought you knew about gender and reassess the bullshit way it affects all our lives.

 

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Thomas Page McBee – Man Alive

A deeply personal memoir describing one man’s journey to discover what it means to be a man. Thomas Page McBee is a trans man who has written an honest, emotional, and oftentimes necessarily uncomfortable account. Through memories of child abuse and adult violence, Thomas talks with empathy and compassion about how he faced the journey for the truth of who he was and where he fitted into his family and the world. This memoir is beautifully written, with even the most harrowing events told with a light touch that makes the reader unable to do anything but sympathise with the circumstances that lead people to make the decisions.

Writing this article I was struck by how all these books are from white writers. These books aren’t difficult to find and are widely publicised by their publishers, so I wonder where the voices are from trans people of colour, are they being written? Are they being published? Please recommend me some if you’ve read any.

This post is the second of my BooksThatMadeMe series. You can find post three here.

The Books That Made Me

Coming of age and coming out in the 1980s & 90s, the books that I had access to consisted of the very small village library, and even smaller library in my Catholic high school – not so much queerness there. We didn’t have the money to buy books, and there was no internet, so I relied on librarians to provide me with a queer education.

I relished the opportunity to read anything that hinted at gender non-conformity, homosexuality, women’s sexuality (not for the male gaze), but my options were limited.

downloadI don’t remember how I knew about Oscar Wilde and his history, but I was definitely already aware of his sexaulity when I found a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray tucked away in a corner of my school library.  I checked it out and remember reading it on the school bus, copying down into my notebook the lines that moved me deeply, even though I had no idea why. I don’t think I understood the book at all when I first read it aged 13, but I read it every year after that until it finally hit me just what story Oscar was telling.

 

1495662When I was 15 I spent £1 on a book of short stories that, I’m not gonna lie, I totally bought just because it had a naked woman on the cover. I hadn’t heard of Anais Nin, had no idea what the book would be like, and oh my was I in for an education. Never before had I read stories from the perspective of a strong woman in charge of her own sexuality and desires. It completely changed my life and I realised that it was possible to be a woman and to be powerful when it came to sex.

A move to a bigger town when I was 16 meant I finally had access to a larger public library, but it was still hard to find books by LGBTQ authors or about LGBTQ characters. I spent hours scouring the shelves reading blurbs, desperate to find anything even vaguely not-heterosexual. My rescue came in the form of an amazing English teacher, and an introduction to Jeanette Winterson.

I remember watching Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit on TV, so when my A’Level English teacher gave us the book to read, I knew what to expect. I finished it in a day, and took great enjoyment from watching my fellow classmates uncomfortably try to discuss it without actually saying the L word. At the end of one class my teacher said to me, a throw-away comment as I exited the room, “the college library has a few other Winterson books”. I don’t think I’ve ever run towards a library so quickly.

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Jeanette Winterson
was my first literary love. I’d never read books that I knew were written by a lesbian author, books that blurred the lines of sexuality, gender, feminism, and history. Every time I re-read one of the books I first devoured as a teenager, I find something new that I didn’t appreciate the first time.

 

I grew up at a time when it was illegal to talk about being gay in school, when the only LGBTQ representaions on TV or film were gay men or lesbian women, who usually ended up alone, miserable, or dead. Trans representations were restricted to men who wear women’s clothing and are the punchline of jokes. AIDS was a terrifying spectre used to demonise an entire community and keep us in our place.

One of the things that lead me to become a librarian was a passionate belief in the importance of libraries. If it wasn’t for my public and school libraries, I would never have been able to read these tiny glimpses into queer life.

There are so many more great works of LGBTQ literature and non-fiction that I could have read growing up, but many were deemed inappropriate, banned, or hidden away from the teenagers like me who desperately needed them.

I’m trying to make up for this now by reading as many LGBTQ books as I can, from those published in previous centuries, to not yet published future classics. I’ll be posting a lot more blog posts about these in the days and weeks to come and discussing some of the more recent additions to the #BooksThatMadeMe

This is the first post in my Books That Made Me series. You can read post two on trans voices now