How to Deal with Your Queerphobic Family: One Queer Book at a Time

The holidays can be really hard, especially when your family doesn’t accept you for who you are. Many of us get misgendered, ignored, or suffer from a barrage of micro-aggressions that make this season a rollercoaster of trying just to exist between the peaks of fights and loneliness and the valleys of doubting your own validity. So, how do you deal with queerphobia from family members and others?

Spoiler: it’s queer books. Yes, I’m predictable like that, but hear me out.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: books open worlds. They might be how many of us first saw themselves represented and were first given the words to know and describe ourselves. But they also make perspectives accessible to those that maybe don’t share them, possibly because they have never come across anything that confronted them with diverse characters and experiences outside of their own bubble. If nothing else, books open discourse unlike any other form of media, so here’s a list of queer books to challenge your queerphobic family, to support queer creators, or maybe just because the holidays are hard and you deserve a great, happy queer read to make it through.

For Kids of All Ages:

PRINCE & KNIGHT by Daniel Haack and Stevie Lewis

This picture book is probably one of the most adorable things I’ve read all year (thanks to the lovely Mason Deaver, who recommended this on Twitter). As the title may hint at, this book is about a prince who falls in love with a knight after they both deal with the dragon who is attacking their kingdom. The art and storyline in this conveys just so many happy, on-the-page, queer feels without a lick of homophobia. I’m 31 and I bought this book for myself and several others both with and without children. Everyone needs to read a picture book like this.


THIS BOOK, YOU ALL!

Okay, a little backstory first: somehow this had completely flown under my radar (probably because I didn’t realize that it was a graphic novel at first), but then my awesome friend Ren sent this to me for my classroom as part of a super awesome car package after I’d talked about really struggling with mental health this year (did I mention how I have the best of friends?) and this book just owned my heart in the happiest of ways. It’s about Prince Sebastian who hires a dressmaker to create the most gorgeous dresses for him to wear at night when he becomes Lady Chrystallia, one of Paris’ most fashionable socialites.

This is another one of those stories that is literally for kids of all ages. It’s been the most checked-out book in my classroom and pretty much my go-to for anyone in need of a happy read that subtly explores themes of queerness and identity in a ver accessible way. Get this for EVERYONE in your life!


The lovely David R. Slayton gave me this entire series for my birthday this year and I couldn’t recommend it more: This is the queer lady pirate comic series full of badass queer women of color that my heart has always wanted. Also, note that while this is a spinoff of the Princeless series, you don’t need to have read it to love this series. I highly recommend Raven the Pirate Princess to anyone in your family who loves comics and may need to be hit over the head with the unique brand of happy intersectional queer feminism that is integral to this series. What’s more, this series has been struggling in sales, so in buying and reviewing it, you help get more queer comics out into the world.

There are probably many more queer comics I could recommend, but this one is particularly close to my heart because of its all-female cast and excellent pirating adventures, so go get this one!


For your Disney-obsessed Family Members:

THE SEAFARER’S KISS by Julia Ember

I’ll admit that it took me some warming-up to retellings. Blame me having grown up with the original fairytales by the Brothers Grimm and still not being over Struwelpeter (nightmares, you all) but I’m all here for darker, much queerer spins on fairytales, thanks to books like Julia Ember’s The Seafarer’s Kiss (while you’re here, check out its sequel, The Navigator’s Touch as well for enby-rep and general Nose shield maiden badassery).

What I loved so much about The Seafarer’s Kiss was how much it spoke to that part of myself who always wanted to be a mermaid when I grew up, but also still maintains that Ursula is the best ever Disney villain, because she’s both badass and fabulous (fight me on this). This story wraps up both The Little Mermaid and Ursula’s origin story into one, while giving it a delightfully queer spin, with a giant heaping of Norse mythology (and enby Loki!) on top. I wanted to read this book for its fat, bi mermaid rep, but I love it for how much more it is.


When I first heard of this book, it was described to me as a trans Peter Pan and to say that I’m SO here for it would be a massive understatement. Also, note that this is actually an adult retelling of Peter Pan, though not super explicit sex, so if that’s a concern in your gift-giving choices, fear not. I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone in your family who has never come across trans characters in fiction, because this is a great place to get started. It should also be noted that while Peter’s transness is part of the plot, it’s not the plot itself, but rather woven into the story in a way that adds to it, rather than problematizing it. This is a great gift for anyone who loves enemies to lovers tropes and for all of us who secretly or not so secretly harbor a massive Peter Pan complex ourselves (because really, who of us doesn’t want to visit Neverland one day)? Pick this up for a different spin on a familiar tale, a lovely slow-burning romance, and a story that won’t leave your head anytime soon.


It may not have been until Yuri on Ice that my love for queer sports romances was ignited, but now it’s burning with full force and Julian Winters’ debut, Running with Lions is the perfect blend of cozy summer read and queer YA sports romance. This is a book both fans of soccer and fans of cozy reads, will adore. Plus, its super diverse cast with characters who identify across the queer spectrum, will allow many to see themselves on the page. My favorite thing about this book was that this opened up the issue of queerness in sports and treated it with a lot of nuance, compassion, and ultimately lots of happy endings. I personally want to hand this book to any coach of school sports who still feel that queerness is an “issue” when it comes to gendered teams (really, can we shake that up in general?) Running with Lions definitely adds a level of inclusion that I wish existed on all teams so that homophobia in sports just won’t be a thing anymore.


For that Family Member whose fantasy shelf consists of Cis-Het White Guys Only:

THE BLACK TIDES OF HEAVEN by JY Yang

Honestly, get the entirety of JY Yang’s Tensorate Series while you’re at it, because you will want to read all three novellas after reading The Black Tides of Heaven. The world building in this series is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and I’m personally sorry I didn’t listen to all of my friends who told me to read these books sooner (I highly recommend the audiobook, which has all three novellas in one).

In the world of the Tensorate, everyone starts out non-binary, which honestly was a really cool way to subvert gender roles, along with family dynamics. Many of the characters in JY Yang’s work will eventually choose a gender, but not all of them are binary, which was a truly refreshing take on fantasy world building and something that I hope will inspire many. Beyond that, the characters and plot in this series are wonderfully morally complex, which is just about my favorite thing in lush fantasy worlds. So, definitely check this series out, both for that family member who only ever seems to name cis-hit white male authors, and for yourself.


For the Sci-Fi Geeks or Those Who Keep Telling You They Don’t Do Politics:

THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET by Becky Chambers

Okay, let’s be fair, by now you really should have read this book, but chances are your family hasn’t yet, and hey, if you’re looking for a great book to get your family invested into world building and characters that make them question traditional family and relationship dynamics as well as gender roles: ta-da! This is your book. Plus, it’s just SO MUCH FUN! Seriously, this is how I got my wife, the self-professed “Non-Reader” to come around to the Dark Side that is audiobooks (also, she lies, she reads a ton, but this got her into novels, because “Hello, queerness in space!”)

This book is perfect for fans of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Firefly—and another one that I would also highly recommend in audiobook format, especially if you have “non-reader” family members. This one might just cure them of that particular affliction—and hey, maybe this actually opens up some nonthreatening discourse about how this word is vast and so are genders and relationships.


For That Person Who Might Need a Nudge into the Right Direction:

HOW TO BE YOU by Jeffrey Marsh

This book is truly for anyone: whether it’s That Person Who Just Doesn’t Read Fiction or the family member who has Questions but is afraid to ask them. How to Be You is part autobiography, part self-help, and part interactive workbook and it only makes a great gift for anyone who might have slipped your list—or really, really needs this book to work through their questions, biases, and other issues that might make life more complicated for them, for you, for…everyone.

While How to Be You is written with a teen audience in mind, its content honestly works for anyone, from teen to adult to your grandparent who might think they’re too old for all that newfangled gender and sexuality stuff. Really, they aren’t. No one is too old or too young to question and to discover themselves and get the courage to be themselves bravely and unapologetically. This is another one of those books that might open up some discussions—and hopefully help people to finally “get” it.


For the Person Who Constantly Asks You To Be Their Personal Google:

THE ABCs OF LGBT+ by Ash Mardell

We all have those people: “What does asexual mean?” “How is someone nonbinary?” “Wait, there are more than two genders?” “How do you pronounce Mx?” Ash Mardell’s The ABC’s of LGBT+ is perfect for those of your family and loved ones that just need a solid foundation of terminology that solidly gets them into the 21st century. Plus, this book is adorably illustrated, which is always a plus. It even has a cheatsheet for those who still can’t remember current terminology and need that extra shove outside of traditional binary thinking.

One thing I love about this book is that it makes everything really accessible, going over basic, as well as more advanced terms, and ultimately making people think about their own biases and preconceived notions. From providing a great overview of spectrums, gender, and going into sexual and romantic identities, this lovely book should serve as a comprehensive and insightful guide for those family members who seem unfamiliar with trustworthy search engines or honestly just want to learn. Yes, please learn. Here you go!


I hope you found something new and fitting for yourself and those who might just need a nudge to widen their perspectives. Frankly, giving happy queer books is probably my favorite thing ever because my hope is the more queer books find readers, the more people will finally get it.

So, what are your go-to queer books that everyone should read? Please share them in the comments!

Happy reading and take care of yourselves!

Alex

How I Got My Agent: Never Give Up. Never Surrender.

Yes, this post is going to be long, but so was my journey to get to this point. The short summary is this: 2rfsodk

When I started writing EMPIRE OF LIGHT, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I wanted to write the books that I could never find on bookshelves in stores. I wanted to see queer characters as protagonists of more than their coming out stories and tragedies. I wanted to see LGBTQ+ action heroes rock science fiction and fantasy.

I honestly wasn't sure if anyone would ever want to read this, but I knew I owed it to myself and to this book to at least try.

EMPIRE OF LIGHT is my first novel and it taught me so much, including writing fluently in English of all things (though I guess I have fan fiction and online RPGs to thank for that--Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl basically sums up my college life).

Writing EMPIRE OF LIGHT taught me that writing is rewriting, because yes, it's my first novel, but at this point it is absolutely unrecognizable from the scraps I first started with. It also taught me that I can't do this on my own. Community is a HUGE factor in writing and I have been fortunate to make friends with some incredibly amazing people who have become my critique partners, best friends, and all around support system.

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It also told me that writing is a crazy balancing act between working nights full time while being a full-time student, and eventually graduating and becoming a teacher. At times writing had to give and it honestly felt like I had to leave a part of myself behind while I kept on keeping on, but I always came back to it. I had to.

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Thanks to my fantastic CPs I also finally realized that I had to get this manuscript out the door and actually *gasp!* query the bloody thing. To say I was worried about that stage of the process would be the understatement of the century.

It wasn't until I had attended some writing conferences where I shared my query and first page with agents and received great comments and full requests that I felt more confident in my ability to actually shove this book out into the world.

And so my journey began. I was excited and scared, and mostly just tried to tell myself to expect nothing to avoid crushing disappointment.

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I sent out the first batch of queries (along with those full requests that I had been too much of a scaredy cat to send before) and waited. And waited.

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While I waited for responses, I did what so many of my CPs and other writers encouraged me to do: I started the next book, an alternative history fantasy with the working title MENTAL NOTE which I loosely pitch as lesbian Agent Carter with monsters. While I was working on MENTAL NOTE, I received partial requests that turned to fulls, full requests, and of course, rejections. Buckets and buckets of them, or so it seemed.

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I'm terrible at waiting and since obviously writing a new book, while teaching full time, and getting into grad school to start my master's degree obviously wasn't enough to do, I also decided to keep getting my work out there and continue pitching at local conferences. If anything, in-person pitching is even more nerve-wracking than writing queries, but I felt that I had to do it. So I wrote out my pitch and practiced it with my CPs, with my wife, with random strangers, with my cats... I also went to conferences to learn more about craft and to pitch to agents and publishers directly. After the initial flutter of nerves, I learned a ton about talking to editors and agents in person, namely that it's okay to ask questions and that maybe, just maybe I should widen my net.

So I kept on querying and eventually, 11 months, 60 queries, 10 requests for fulls, 10 for partials, and 32 rejections later, the first offer came in. Someone actually wanted to make EMPIRE OF LIGHT a real book!

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Agent calls followed along with emails to everyone else letting them know I had received an offer and to get back with me within the next two weeks.

All of this was right at the beginning of a long holiday weekend, so I didn't really expect anything, but oh, was I wrong. The next days basically were a whirlwind of waking up to emails offering representation and asking for a call.

In the end, three agents loved my book enough to offer representation and I even garnered interest from small presses. I honestly couldn't quite handle life for a bit there, I was flailing so hard.

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It's probably good for my sanity that I didn't have to wait out the full two weeks for all agents to get back to me and for me to reach a decision.

Again, let's talk about a surreal moment. I actually had to choose one out of three amazing agents who all loved my book and shared my vision of where I wanted to go with this book.

That's why I am doubly thrilled to announce that I have signed with Michelle Johnson at Inklings Literary Agency and I am beyond thrilled to have her as a champion for me and my work.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 4.28.23 PM.pngSo, yes. That's happening. The moral of the story: Never give up, never surrender, and try lots of things, because you never know what's going to work out in the end.

Cheers and don't let any power in the 'Verse stop you.

Happy writing.

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