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

Queering Up Your Bookshelf: Jeffrey Marsh

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

QUEERING UP YOUR BOOKSHELF

Happy Wednesday!

I'm super stoked to kick off Queering Up Your Bookshelf, an interview series in which I'll chat with LGBTQ+ authors about the queer stories they write. Follow this for new posts every Wednesday.

To start us off, I'm excited to welcome Jeffrey Marsh on this blog to chat about their book How To Be You, inspiration, and finding yourself. Welcome, Jeffrey!

Jeffrey Marsh

Jeffrey Marsh

Jeffrey Marsh has over 350 million views on social media. Jeffrey is the first nonbinary author with a "Big 5" publisher, Penguin Random House. Jeffrey created the best-selling self-esteem classic ‘How To Be You,’ which topped O Magazine's Gratitude Meter and was named an Excellent Book of 2017 by TED-Ed. ‘How to Be You’ revolutionized publishing categorization as the first book to seamlessly combine three genres: memoir, workbook, and spiritual self-help. Jeffrey is a precepted facilitator in the Soto Zen tradition of Buddhism.

Find Jeffrey Marsh online: WEBSITE TWITTER INSTAGRAM


1. What is your writing origin story?

I wanted to write a book for fun. I wanted to write for expression and to help myself heal. I know it sounds selfish! But it was honestly the least selfish thing, because it seems to have helped other people. ‘How To Be You’ is a love letter to me — to my eleven-year-old self. I have wished many times to be able to reach back in time and tell little Jeffrey that they are worthy and that they are valued. It’s lucky because it turns out that a lot of readers were waiting for a love letter like that and people have really enjoyed reading it for themselves. Because, after all, it is a love letter to everyone in the world. My friend was writing a book a couple years ago, and we did a tv spot together and then HER literary agent said “do you think Jeffrey has a book in them?” And there was no other book I wanted to write.

2. What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?

As I said in the answer to question one, I’m really inspired by myself. Just kidding! I’m actually inspired by the LGBTQ youth who don’t have the same hang-ups I was taught to carry around. I just gave a speech at an LGBTQ youth event in Utah, and the kids (they don’t like to be called kids but I’m doing it anyway) are so far ahead. They get being nonbinary; they understand trans identity. But more than that, the youngest among us understand how hate works. I grew up thinking that because people couldn’t handle who I am it was my fault somehow, and it is very inspiring to see younger folks not taking haters so seriously. I pour all of that inspiration into my writing.

3. What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?

Honestly, I’ve always kind of thought of “representation” as something that happens in fiction — and this question has opened my mind! Obviously memoir is a kind of representation, and ‘How To Be You’ is partly memoir. I would hope that I represent how to be human and how similar we all are. I was asked in a TV interview about whether readers would “find out about people like you” from the book, meaning find out about nonbinary people. I answered that readers will find out about themselves from reading my book, and I designed it to be that way. Representation is so much about how we have the same feelings and desires and we all deserve the same respect. One more thing to note I guess is that I never really intended to “represent nonbinary people” but I was the first out nonbinary author with a major publisher, so it all just happened. I remember what we might call “internal representation” too: Penguin Random House didn’t really know what nonbinary was or what to do with me. The copy editor returned my manuscript with the “they’s” changed to “he’s” for example, so there was a lot of representing I was doing behind the scenes and not just in public.

4. How are writing and activism linked for you?

I feel that they are the same thing! Just me being me is activism at this pint in history, so in a weird way I don’t actually have to give it much thought. Me doing normal career stuff and writing and being interviewed and all that happens to be my activism. I intended ‘How To Be You’ to be universal, and I hope I succeeded, and it just might open hearts and minds toward nonbinary folks too — fingers crossed!

5. What is your best piece of writing advice?

I’m very predictable and I give the same advice for everything: there is nothing wrong with you. I’ve seen too many people come up with an idea of what writing is and how it’s supposed to look and then use that idea to feel bad because they can’t do it. In other words, admit that you don’t know what writing is “supposed to look like.” Give yourself some space. Do you start with an outline? Or a phrase? Or a color? Do you write in the morning? Only on Tuesdays? Do you want it to be fun? Cathartic? What do you want? To me, writing is a wide open space, and let’s not fill that space up with judgement and self-hate. Stay open to weird ideas.

6. What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?

My hardest lesson was that writing is an imperfect medium. With written words there is no inflection, no verbal context clues, so your words can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Usually people get what I’m trying to say, but I’m a very expressive (and entertaining?) speaker and something is a little lost in the written word. Clearly there are brilliant-er writers than me. The only thing I can hope for is that a bit of my spirit and the thrust of my self-love attitude come through in the printed/digitized words.

7. What do you hope readers will take away from your work?

A deep knowledge that there is nothing wrong with them.

8. What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

Book number two! I’m currently writing sample chapters for a second book and working on getting the proposal together. It is early days, but it’s nice to have a focus point on the horizon of writing — it keeps me on track.

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Too short. Too weird. Too quiet. Not true. Let Internet superstar Jeffrey Marsh help you end those negative thoughts and discover how wonderful you are. 

An interactive experience, How to Be You invites you to make the book your own through activities such as coloring in charts, answering questions about how you do the things you do, and discovering patterns in your lives that may be holding you back. Through Jeffrey’s own story of “growing up fabulous in a small farming town”–along with the stories of hero/ines who have transcended the stereotypes of race, age, and gender–you will discover that you are not alone.

Buy your copy here:

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