Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York (GLYS-WNY) recently asked me to contribute to their ‘Book Corner’ at their website.
GLYS-WNY is a great organization in my hometown of Buffalo. While they have a long history of providing services and a safe haven to LGBT kids, I was much too chicken as a teen to walk through their doors. I was actually stunned to learn that they have been around since 1983, which was before I even realized I was gay.
I have worked professionally with the organization’s amazingly committed Executive Director Marvin Henchbarger for many years, and she has been very generous with spreading the word about my authorly pursuits in Buffalo. Many thanks Marvin, and I’m looking forward to bringing information about LGBT literature to the members of GLYS-WNY. We’re hoping to do an event for teens in the near future.
I’m re-running my article here with hyperlinks for your convenience. Meanwhile, if you’re inspired by what you see over at GLYS-WNY, consider making a donation to them through their PayPal account.
Some Tips on Finding LGBT Books for Teens
By Andrew J. Peters
Happily, there are more LGBT books for young adults being released each year than ever before. The trick is: how do you find them?
You can peruse the shelves of libraries and bookstores, and the virtual ‘shelves’ of on-line retailers. But unless the cover is emblazoned with rainbows or some obvious girl-girl or boy-boy combination, books about LGBTs are as indistinguishable as many of us LGBTs ourselves.
Another challenge is that doing a search for “transgender,” or “gay,” or “lesbian,” or “bisexual” at a big retailer like Amazon will turn up first and foremost romance novels, and many of them will be a tad risqué. Nothing wrong with those kind of books, but you’ll have to scroll through many pages if you’re trying to find something different, like a story about lesbian shifters or gay superheroes or transitioning genders in a religiously conservative family.
As an LGBT young adult author, I have some suggestions. Consider these tips as departure points for discovering LGBT books out there in the universe. They do not constitute a comprehensive guide.
Tip #1: Talk to a Young Adult Librarian
This may not be an option for everyone, if the thought of strolling up to the reference desk at your local library and uttering the word “lesbian” or “gay” makes you want to crawl under your bed and not come out for six weeks, for instance. But I have to tell you, in my experience, librarians are pretty cool and knowledgeable about diversity.
An advantage of this tip is that librarians are information-gatherers. Your questions might prompt her/him to consider the number and the breadth of the library’s collection of LGBT titles. He/she might order more of those books so that future readers will benefit.
Tip #2: Browse ‘LGBT YA’ Sites
As LGBT young adult literature has grown, many educators, authors and fans have created resources on the web. It’s really become a movement, sometimes under the abbreviated banner #YesGayYA on Twitter (YA=young adult). There are a ton of sites, and I will just highlight a few that I check out frequently.
“I’m Here, I’m Queer, What the Hell Do I Read?”: Run by blogger and educator Lee Wind, this site profiles recent releases and has a sidebar that lists some books by interest area, including transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay and questioning.
Diversity in YA: Scaling a bit broader, DiYA is on the web and Tumblr with a mission: “to celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity…and to bring attention to books and authors that might fall outside the mainstream, and to bring the margin to the center.” It is moderated by young adult authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, and includes some great lists like: “YA books about LGBT characters of color.”
True Colorz: True Colorz’ tagline is “your web source for all things YA in the LGBT community,” and it hosts a wide variety of new release announcements, an archive of titles that run the gamut in terms of genre, as well as “featured author” pieces to get to know the writers, as well as book giveaways.
Tip #3: Take a Look at LGBT Publishers
A quick lesson about the publishing business: the “Big Five” publishing companies (Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Harper/Collins, MacMillan, and Penguin/Random House) produce the bulk of young adult books. There was once a “Big Six” and before that a “Big Seven” and so on. Some experts predict that there will be a “Big One” in ten years or less.
That consolidation of publishers has implications for LGBT literature. As companies wanting to profit from the biggest share of the reader market, mainstream publishers produce a pittance of books for us ‘10-percenters.’ That pittance is about fifteen books each year, according to advocate Malinda Lo. There’s not a lot to choose from, especially if you’re looking for LGBT books outside of contemporary, realistic stories.
Small, LGBT-owned presses have always led the way to making LGBT books of every possible genre available to readers, and notwithstanding the impact of self-publishing, I believe that trend is not likely to change. Thus, it’s worth checking out those publisher’s websites to see their current and upcoming titles. It’s also a nice way to support our community.
Here are a few suggestions.
Bella Books: A leader in lesbian fiction, Bella Books has a list of titles specific to teens and children.
Bold Strokes Books: BSB is one of the biggest publishers of LGBT literature, and its Soliloquy line is geared to young adults.
Harmony Ink Press: A publisher of LGBT stories that feature characters who show “significant personal growth through the course of the story.”
Prizm Books: With a list of primarily female authors, Prizm is an offshoot of Torquere Press, which publishes romance books and stories.
Tip #4: Get a Recommendation from Good Reads
If you’re ready to take the plunge into reader geekdom, which I say with full respect and approval, Good Reads has a lot to offer. You can create a user profile, add books to your ‘shelves,’ connect with ‘friends,’ and ‘follow’ the reviews of readers with similar interests.
Good Reads is an interactive platform with reader-suggested lists as specific as “YA fantasy/sci fi novels with major LGBTQ characters” in which people vote on their favorite titles. You can also join interest ‘groups’ like “YA LGBT Books.” Some of those groups function like an on-line book club (‘Group Reads’), and members can suggest a book to read together and discuss.
Also, check out the ‘Book Giveaways’ section of the site. You might score free books in exchange for posting a review.
Finally, another tip: in Good Reads-speak and elsewhere in the LGBT YA community, LGBT is often called ‘QuILTBAG’ as an umbrella covering Questioning, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Asexual and Gay.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have a specific question, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Post Update: Huge thanks to everyone who stopped by during the week! I had a great time myself hopping around to the 100+ author blogs to read inspiring stories. My contest ended May 25th and the winner is: Marc! I will be in touch very soon.
There were lots of things I could have written about for this year’s HAHaT, which is a social media effort by authors to promote the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. This year, the Hop coincides with a really special event in my life. So I decided to write something personal about that.
Many nice things have happened since The Seventh Pleiade came out last November. The most rewarding experience so far was being invited back to my high school to speak to students.
Being a high school student was a fragmented experience for me as I suppose it is for many teenagers. On the surface, I was a generally well-liked honors student. I wasn’t part of the cool, popular crowd. That required earning at least one Varsity letter on one of the sports teams. But I eked out a group of friends, and there were a lot of good times both in and out of school.
I wrote for the high school newspaper. I competed in French and Latin and piano competitions. On weekends, there were house parties and sneaking into dive bars where local rock bands were playing. Sometimes, we just drove around in someone’s car with seven or eight people piled in. I even had an occasional girlfriend like a “normal” teenage boy.
Meanwhile, there was a phantom chasing me. That phantom made its appearance when I was thirteen or fourteen. I liked boys. Really, really liked boys. I knew right away this was not a good thing. This was back in the 1980s and in suburban Western New York. There were no gay people in that world, just a few individuals who were assumed to be gay because of the way they dressed or their mannerisms.
There was a history teacher who got made fun of a lot. There was a boy in drama club who got shoved into lockers by the jocks. Strangely, the gender-bending characteristics of the rock stars whose music we all loved at the time (Robert Smith, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie), seemed to go above people’s heads. They were cool, but not really understood in my neck of the woods.
In any event, I wasn’t headed to a career as a British rock star. Being gay was not an option. I made a solemn pact: I would never speak about my attraction. I thought, hopefully, that ignoring that phantom would make it go away.
Around the time that gay phantom reared its head, I made a suicide attempt that no one knew about. Thank god I was able to pull myself together. After that, I was so successful denying my feelings and “playing straight” that I didn’t really suffer from depression or bullying in high school. It was in college when I confronted things and felt a lot of anxiety and despair. Fortunately, I sought out counseling and emerged empowered. I decided to live my life openly. Further, I was determined to pursue a career making things better for LGBT youth.
I used to regret having waited so long to come out. I’ve come around to realize that I made the best choices that I could at the time. If I had come out at Amherst High School, I think I would have been psychically and possibly physically trampled. My friends and my family were more enlightened than most. But I can’t imagine that I would have had the support I needed to declare myself and stand against the ignorance and cruelty of my teen world.
Today, Amherst High School has a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) club and the faculty advisor tells me that the school is a welcoming place for LGBT students and teachers. That’s incredibly gratifying to hear. Having worked with schools and communities to address homophobia, I know the challenges. I also know that many schools have come a long, long way. In most schools around New York State, it’s the norm, not the exception to have a GSA.
It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to relive my life as a gay teenager at Amherst High School today. There is something enticing about that idea. I would be free to live without the constant worry about people discovering the “defect” in me. I would be able to start dating people I really liked many years before I actually did. I would turn out to be a very different person.
On the other hand, I like the person I’ve become. I like the friendships I made while I was a closeted kid in high school. Some of those people turned out to be lifelong friends. I like the career I undertook that grew out of my struggle, and all of that journey that led me to my husband and the life we are making together.
So no regrets, Amherst High School. My experience in high school had a big influence on who I am today. Thanks for welcoming me back.
Now for the HAHAT giveaway! Just drop a comment below with your e-mail address, and I will pick a winner on May 25th 12:00am EST through random.org. The giveaway will be a copy of The Seventh Pleiade, and the winner’s choice of an autographed paperback or an e-book in her/his preferred format.
Atlantis is besieged by violent storms, tremors, and a barbarian army. For sixteen-year old Aerander, it’s a calamitous backdrop to his Panegyris, where boys are feted for their passage to manhood.
Amid a secret web of romances among the celebrants, Aerander’s cousin Dam goes missing with two boys. With the kingdom in crisis, no one suspects the High Priest Zazamoukh though Aerander uncovers a conspiracy to barter boys for dark spiritual power. Aerander’s proof — an underground vault that disappears in the morning — brings shame on his family and suspicions of lunacy. The only way to regain his honor is to prove what really happened to the missing boys.
Tracking Dam leads Aerander on a terrifying and fantastical journey. He spots a star that hasn’t been seen for centuries. He uncovers a legend about an ancient race of men who hid below the earth. And traveling to an underground world, he learns about matters even more urgent than the missing boys. The world aboveground is changing, and he will have to clear a path for the kingdom’s survival.
This will be my first time at a ‘con’ of any type, and I’m incredibly excited. While cons are known for comics and superhero fanaticism, this LGBT event will also feature authors and film-makers in the varied genres of fantasy, sci-fi and romance. And I’m told there’s a pool party with real, live, actual Mermen.
If you will be passing through, please stop by Bold Strokes Books’ exhibition booth. I’ll be signing copies of The Seventh Pleiade and giving away swag.
The September 19th Boundless Tales event was an amazing experience!
I was in a line up with four tremendously talented writers and/or poets. The vibe was enthusiastic and supportive. Many thanks to the fabulous co-hosts Aida Zilelian and Audrey Dimola. One of the nicest parts of the event was milling around during intermission and after the show with people from the audience and the other writers. What a great feeling of community!
Here’s a group shot of all the readers.