In January, I began a queer youth book club, in partnership with King’s Books (the best independent book store in the South Sound). It’s something the owner, Sweet Pea, and I have talked about doing for a couple years. The book club is geared towards queer and trans youth, aged 10-18, but is open to all. We read fiction (mostly Middle Reader to Teen), nonfiction on queer and trans issues, and coming-of-age narratives, all with a social justice focus.
In the last six years, the number of books about queer and trans narratives have drastically increased. It’s exciting to have a tough time choosing one book a month because of the number of quality queer stories available now.
As a parent, and youth advocate, I am learning how acutely aware these kids are of injustice, racism, resilience, and compassion. We just read ‘Not Your Sidekick’ by C.B. Lee. A super-hero story whose main character, Jess, is a teenage bisexual Asian girl with a heartwarming love story that touches on the insecurities and exhilaration of first love. Another primary character is trans who’s gender identity is presented beautifully. (No spoilers!) The characters in this book offers a wonderful spectrum of the intersections individual identities, while not in an overt way.
What impressed me the most was how each of the kids noticed and commented on the racist moments throughout the book. They were incensed and outraged. One of our youth referenced their own mixed-race ethnicity and how, at eleven, has been told they are not Asian enough. They could relate their own life experiences with those of the characters. This book also allowed them to see themselves as super heroes, inventers, scientists and athletes. Representation not seen in mainstream culture.
The magic of a book opens a world of possibilities and offers exploration of topics often avoided in everyday conversation. This generation of queer youth are more visible than any generation before them. They are demanding to be seen and included. Their friends and allies are standing up and speaking out. What these youths are teaching us is what inclusion looks like by modeling it.
I am also learning what topics parents and teachers are avoiding out of fear. Making a mistake is the most common fear I coach people through. Adults talk about protecting the innocence of children, a lot. But at what price, though? Being uncomfortable talking about racism for white parents and educators is a luxury. Not exposing our kids to LGBTQ issues and the fight for human rights is also a privilege. Kids are far more equipped to have complex conversations that we give them credit. They are also having lived experiences of oppression, whether targeted or as a bystander. Unless we supply the tools to understand and act nothing changes. Avoidance removes agency and empowerment, further perpetuating cycles of oppression.
Books are a fantastic tool to initiate and guide conversations on the history and impact of racism, oppression, violence, and poverty through human connection. A character in a book can become a long-lost friend or mentor. If you are a parent or educator looking for book recommendations check out the list of books we’re read so far. If you live locally, join us for the next book club!