Recently, it seems like everyone is giving their two cents about Gender Queer, the LGBTQ graphic novel at the heart of a national political controversy. Parents are shouting about their children’s innocence, politicians are preaching about corruption, and activists are vehemently defending the rights of public libraries to house LGBTQ books. But what about the readers themselves?
Last week, the INDY spoke with two members of the Queer YA Book Club, a virtual club hosted by the LGBTQ Center of Raleigh. Anadys Rodriguez, 18, and Aaron, 21, are both voracious readers and members of the LGBTQ community. Twice a month, they meet with other teens and young adults to discuss books with queer characters and themes.
What do you think about the effort to ban Gender Queer?
Aaron: It’s just kind of heartbreaking, because we’ve made so many strides, not just in terms of books but educationally, politically. To see this go up to board [of education] members and having to do a review, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh, really?’
Rodriguez: It sucks. If you don’t want your kid to read this, your kid doesn’t have to read it. You don’t have to read it. Why do I have to live my life by your standards, you know?
Was it helpful to you to read books with LGBTQ characters and themes when you were younger?
Aaron: I have yet to read a book with a trans character. I’m actually a bit of a writer, so I pretty much wrote myself into books. Still, seeing a lesbian couple being portrayed, like young teenagers in love, that meant a lot to me. Reading means a lot to me so it’s nice to see it actually representing [LGBTQ people].
Rodriguez: Definitely yeah. I just really like seeing characters who are like me in every way. With other straight characters, it’s like, you’re like me most of the way, but with queer young adult books, [the characters are] like me in every single way. I think the author plagiarized my life at some point.
How does it feel to see LGBTQ characters in stories?
Aaron: It almost humanizes us. We’re not just a statistic. I don’t want to be a poster person, but sometimes trans people are seen as some sort of mysterious character. Just to read a book that says, ‘He’s picking up a cup of coffee and he spilled it all over himself,’ that sounds dumb, but to me, it’s like, ‘I do that, too!’
Rodriguez: It’s very comforting. It’s like, finally, someone is actually looking at me as a person and not just all the different minorities I am. Before, when queer novels first started getting made it was like, they’re gay, that’s a big deal. And now it’s like, yeah they’re gay, what about it?
Where did you go for information about your sexual orientation and gender identity?
Aaron: I definitely looked at the internet. One thing I vividly remember was going on Instagram and following a [trans man named Hunter] through his transition. That, to me, was shocking because that was the first person I ever saw who identified as trans. I got almost all my resources through them, because honestly, I was kind of scared to look up exactly what [being trans] meant. So I kind of followed Hunter’s journey.
Realistically, when I was a kid and I didn’t want anybody to find out I was trans, I didn’t go to a library and check out a book. I wouldn’t even attempt to look for the book. I think making books or pamphlets eBooks [available online] would be the best choice. I think people will always have that fear of not being accepted or loved by their immediate family.
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