Thursday, June 1, 2023

LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

"Hail royal June, sun-bright with poppies crowned" said John Cowper Powys, the English philosopher, lecturer, novelist, critic and poet. But I echo that hail today for another reason in addition to joyous Summer. It is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, and with it let me continue to offer my undying support for the LGBTQIA+ community and reiterate the role Fantasy literature plays in supporting them by, to start, inviting people to read my LGBTQIA+ in Fantasy page, and listen to what happened to me today. As I state on the just mentioned page, I personally am not LGBTQIA+. However, I have students who are and today I told them – quite truthfully, by the way – that I am writing a Fantasy book in which one of the key characters is lesbian. Their eyes lit and they were on their feet in less time than it takes to say it. But it is the moment when I told them that the character is a Queen that I shall forever remember, for the glow on their faces out-shown the lights on the ceiling by a leap and a bound. They began questioning me about the character, wanting to know her name, what she looked like, all about the land she ruled and, most importantly, when the book was coming out. To this last I gave them a disappointing answer, for an unfinished rough draft of a 500+ page book is naturally years away from publication, and they asked me how they were supposed to wait that long for a book with a gay Queen. They want to see the rough draft as it stands and one who has some artistic skill began drawing this Queen based on my description. The moral of the story? Representation matters, people. Seeing yourself in literature matters in a huge way. Indeed, when I found these students they were eagerly pursuing the school library's LGBTQIA+ Pride Month book display.

Moving on, permit me to quote in full this article from The Hill titled In an era of book bans, sci-fi and fantasy offer an LGBTQ refuge for young readers:

Science fiction and fantasy are providing an oasis for young readers craving LGBTQ characters they can relate to as activists and wary parents increasingly clamp down on material they find offensive. Books featuring LGBTQ content are disproportionately targeted for bans in U.S. schools and libraries, with the most challenged titles regularly including “Gender Queer,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” But while those memoirs and realistic coming-of-age stories take the hits, superheroes, space travel and dragons often escape mainstream notice — and the heat that comes with it. Author TJ Klune told The Hill he knows some schools have at least a few of his magical, queer-themed works, including “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” “Under the Whispering Door” and the young adult “Extraordinaries” trilogy. Klune said the “Extraordinaries” series, which centers on a gay high schooler in a world where superheroes are real, has been mentioned in book-banning conversations before, but he hasn’t seen the full onslaught faced by other writers.

“It’s strange: Those young adult books are very sex-positive, in that it has discussions on consent and boundaries and protection and best practices for younger queer people. Why those have slipped under the radar, I have no idea,” he said. “I believe, at least in part, that it has to do with privilege. I am a cis, white, queer man. Many of the book challenges are from queer/trans authors of color. If you don’t think the color of my skin is playing a role in this, you’d be mistaken.”

The American Library Association says last year saw the highest number of books banned since it started keeping track of the issue 20 years ago. There were 2,571 unique titles censored in 2022, compared to 1,858 the year before. There is no clear formula for certain books getting banned over others, but reasons behind challenges can include genre, prior media attention and even the directness of a title, said Kathy M. Newman, a professor of English literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University who pointed to Maia Kobabe’s memoir “Gender Queer.” 

“It’s very explicitly about nonbinary identity in a way that some of these fantasy young adult novels are about a lot of different issues,” Newman said. Fantasy works can require significantly more effort to sift for LGBTQ content. “The House in the Cerulean Sea” could be about nearly anything based on its title; it just so happens to be about a found family of magical creatures with a gay romance at its center. Newman said activists go through public records and news articles to get ideas for what books they should target, regularly hitting ones they’ve seen censored elsewhere. She also pointed out that sci-fi and fantasy books for younger readers are often not “taught explicitly in the classroom.” “It might be under the radar,” she said. Lisa Jenn Bigelow, an award-winning author who writes children’s books with queer themes, hasn’t heard of her works — which include “Hazel’s Theory of Evolution” and “This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us” — specifically getting banned but said it is important to note the concept of “soft censorship” in the library world.

“That’s when gatekeepers might decline to purchase or include a book in classrooms and libraries because, sometimes, they disagree with the content themselves, but more often, even they’re worried that the content could provoke a book challenge from the community. And so rather than take that risk, they just say, ‘Well, we’re not even gonna bother. We’re not gonna go there,’” said Bigelow, who also works as a librarian. David Geiger, a gay middle school English teacher in Virginia, said too many people treat anything queer-themed as inherently sexual in nature.

“Some parents think that because a book has LGBTQ characters or is by an LGBTQ author, they’re automatically inappropriate. I disagree with that,” he said. Geiger said his school has LGBTQ offerings in its book club, and he offers some in his classroom reading, specifically praising, among others, Bigelow’s “Drum Roll, Please.” He said he gives parents a list of books students are allowed to read in his class, and if they object to any, he gives the student an alternate reading assignment.

“I know not to pick books that get into sexually explicit content,” he said. Geiger said he hasn’t had any problems with angry parents, emphasizing that LGBTQ representation is particularly important for young readers. “I try and make sure that as many students can see themselves in the literature as possible,” he said.

While authors and schools have been forced to the frontlines of the book ban issue, some are not concerned about the pushback they could receive. Bigelow said she expects her titles will come under the microscope sooner or later, “especially since the book-banning movement is getting more aggressive and is targeting more and more books.”

On that note, let me also reiterate that I utterly condemn such book banners, and they feel the full force of my contempt so hard it ought to frost their windows. So if you are anti-LGBTQIA+ and are reading this, do not even THINK of commenting on this or any other Stars Uncounted page or post spouting your intolerant drivel, because I will take one look and delete it. It will never appear, and I will lose no sleep over it. Rather, I will be laughing at how you are so insecure that you feel the need to rant on a Fantasy blog while reflecting on the truth of another Mercedes Lackey quote: "Make someone a devout, fanatical anything, and his brain turns to mulch." Then I will stop laughing and forget all about you, because I categorically deem anti-LGBTQIA+ people as a class of idiot so utterly unworthy of respect that I will not waste any more minutes thinking about you. You are a mosquito whose comment was a bite on this blog, and I will flick your comment away with as little thought or care as I would an actual mosquito misguided enough to try to get at my blood. Less care, actually, since, unlike true mosquito bites, deleted comments do not itch after the fact.

"The young must grow old,
Whilst old ones grow older,
And cowards will shrink,
As the bold grow bolder.
Courage may blossom in quiet hearts,
For who can tell where bravery starts?
Truth is a song, oft lying unsung,
Some mother bird, protecting her young,
Those who lay down their lives for friends,
The echo rolls onward, it seldom ends.
Who never turned and ran, but stayed?
This is a warrior born, not made!
Living in peace, aye many a season,
Calm in life and sound in reason,
'Til evil arrives, a wicked horde,
Driving a warrior to pick up his sword,
The challenger rings then, straight and fair,
Justice is with us, beware. Beware!"

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