It’s time to get personal! We’re halfway through Pride month and so I thought I’d celebrate by writing pretty much the most difficult post I’ve ever written (and also the longest….by like a lot). Today’s post is going to be very different to anything I’ve written on my blog before. It’s a lot more personal, about my own queer identity and journey, the importance of queer books to my exploration, and some of the books that have helped me! There’s also a bit (bit might be an understatement) of a rant at certain transphobic billionaires who have caused so much harm to those most at risk. And oh look the rant’s already starting… But do be warned that I will be discussing That Author and the hate and disgust I feel and how that has affected my queer identity.
Before I start, I thought I’d introduce myself a little for those unaware of how I identify: I’m pansexual (although I do also use the term bisexual, and throughout this post I will refer to biphobia and bisexuality as that is how I identified as a teen). I also have what I like to call “gender feels” i.e. I really don’t know what the fuck gender I am, but I’m currently using the term genderfluid as that feels most me – I like the way it highlights change and fluidity and movement. That’s a very new part of my identity (this year kinda new) and given this post is talking about my journey, I will be talking a lot more about my sexuality rather than gender.
So I wanted to start with talking about why queer books are so important. I grew up in a strict Christian household. I wasn’t allowed to watch witches on TV kinda strict (though why the fuck I was allowed to read Harry Potter, I’ll never understand). So growing up, I really didn’t have much opportunity to learn about LGBTQIA+ identities as even an option for me. But after reading some of my favourite series as a teen, I wanted more of those universes. I wanted to see more of those characters. And thus I ended up in fanfiction.
Fanfiction was the place I first really saw queer identities. I read fanfiction as a way to spend more time with my favourite worlds and characters, and discovered a whole new world of possibility. Suddenly, queer identities were everywhere! I could read and write queer stories, see queer joy, and explore who I was in this community. I ended up meeting my then girlfriend through the fanfiction community. So by the time I went to university, I knew I was bi.
But as soon as I knew that queer identity, I started a relationship with my current partner (cishet male), and never really had an opportunity to explore my queer identity during the university years where the time for exploration happens. Because we all know about the awful biphobia queer people in cishet appearing relationships face. So even though I knew I was bi, I still didn’t really feel like part of the queer community. I was in what looks to everyone like a cishet relationship. So how could I be part of the queer community? And so during my five years at uni, the only real time I felt I could explore my queer identity, was through my fanfic reading. Other than it, I looked like any other cishet woman.
It was only after I left uni, moved to Australia and really got into the online book sphere that I really faced the question of who I was again. And that’s because I came back to literature, after a pretty big break during uni, to all these amazing queer books. I no longer had to hide on the internet, there were books front and centre in every bookshop, everyone was talking about them. I missed the period of time when queer books became more mainstrain. But most importantly, when I began to read these books, some of them featured characters who went through things I went through, who questioned themselves how I question myself. So it began to feel like maybe I was queer after all? And now, I feel like reading these books, and writing my own books, is my way of exploring my queer identity. It helps me feel part of the community in a way I don’t experience in the real world. Even in just the past few years, having more faith in my identity as a queer person and being able to accept that yes, I am queer too, even if that’s a different queer than you are, has given me so much more confidence and happiness.
And that’s why it’s so completely fucked up when transphobic asshats ruin the worlds that saved you.
Enter the rant part of this essay.
I was the stereotypical Harry Potter teen. I grew up with the books, alongside Harry. I had all the books the second they released. I had all the merch. I went to the midnight showings. I did the Harry Potter film marathon. I got the Deathly Hallows tattoo. I sobbed at the last film premiere at the words “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”. And those books saved me. Because Hogwarts was my home. It was where I felt saved and loved and hopeful. I poured so much of my energy and lifeblood into these books and the world. I immersed myself in hundreds and hundreds of fanfics, across so many years. I spent years reading almost nothing but Harry Potter fanfic, spending so much time obsessing over queer ships, because although the books themselves weren’t explicitly diverse, they also were’t explicitly not. There was a world where it seemed like you could explore your identity, where the characters became more than what was written. I owe my queer identity to the Harry Potter world and the fanfic that showed me who could I be.
And then JKR decided to destroy that. She threw away her disguise, and what do you know, turns out it was Umbridge underneath all along. I am sickened by what she has done. Disgusted everytime I look down at my skin and see the tattoo there. She had a world which gave all of us who needed hope the most, and decided to take that away. Hogwarts is no longer a safe place. I hate that I didn’t see it sooner, that as a teen, I didn’t see the racism, the ableism, the homophobia in the books. I hate that it took looking back as an adult to see the truth of these books. I hate that she destroyed what was a safe place for so many of us with her outright hate. It makes me want to scream. You cannot separate the art from the artist: the morality of the artist informs what they write. We cannot say that Harry Potter is ours, because it isn’t. It’s hers and her hate informed her writing of it. And I know my hurt doesn’t even come close to the hurt of the trans people among us who looked up to this series as I did and have been even more personally hurt by her. The disappointment I have, the shame I have, the guilt I feel for ever having liked this…it’s a lot. I’m devastated that we’ve lost a community and a place of nostalgic safety. I’m so upset that I owe my queer identity to an evil, transphobic person. I hate that I didn’t see the universe for what it was before. I hate that I owe it so much. It hurts so much to see this place of safety gone. Where do we go now?
I’M GLAD YOU ASKED. Because let’s get positive! Now is not the 00s! We have such an incredible range of books that can help us explore who we are, so much more than I had as a teen when I needed them. But I can still use them as an adult, I can still use these books to inform who I am and provide a safe place for me now. So I just wanted to talk about a few of the books that have very personally helped me figure out a little bit more about myself, or have really helped to validate that I’m queer too. I still feel like a fraud. I won’t lie. I still don’t like talking about my queer identity in queer circles because of what they might say. I still haven’t been to a Pride parade, because I’m too scared of the bi/panphobia I could receive, from the community that’s supposed to welcome me. That’s what hurts the most, much like with Harry Potter: the place that is supposed to be safe and welcoming, isn’t. I’ve barely even discussed beginning to question my gender, because I don’t even know where to start with unpacking how much more of a fraud I feel for doing that. Am I fraud for not knowing? Am I just a woman pretending to be queer? How do you even know if you’re nonbinary? Am I just being stupid for even questioning?
But I’m doing better than I was a few years ago. I no longer feel scared to call myself queer openly online. I’m beginning to feel like I’m valid member of the queer community (even if I’m not quite at the stage that I could stand up for myself and say it! At least I’m thinking it right?) So here’s some of the books that have really helped validate my identity these past few years, and have provided a safe place for me to question who I am.
Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley
Deposing Nathan is quite possibly the book teen Rachel can most relate to and most needed. This book expertly and so, so personally discusses faith and queerness, the validity of bisexuality, and the complicated emotions of first love. It’s such an incredible book and has a brilliant voice, and I want to give this book to any queer teen who’s struggling to resolve their faith with their identity.
Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
There’s just a few more months until the release of Darius the Great Deservers Better, the sequel to Darius the Great is Not Okay and highly likely to be one of my favourite books of 2020, just as the first was one of my favourites of 2019. Darius the Great is Not Okay is described as ‘pre coming out’, so whilst it isn’t explicitly queer…. it’s still so obviously queer. But what I found most special about Darius, was the spectacular depression rep. Both Darius and his father suffer from depression, they’re both on antidepressants, there’s huge struggles in their relationship because of this. To avoid getting even more personal, all I’ll say is that I felt so seen in Darius, he’s one of my absolute favourite characters because of this and just, I please need everybody to read this book and pre-order the sequel.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
I only read this book last week, and yes it’s on this list. If you read my review of this book posted yesterday, you’ll already know what I’m going to say so sorry in advance! I went into Felix expecting amazing trans rep (which I got). But I wasn’t expecting the deep questioning and exploration of his identity that Felix is going through. Even though he’s transitioned, he still feels a niggling feeling that he isn’t always a boy, and so he struggles through what it means to be trans, how much he feels like a fraud, and comes to terms with his new identity as a demiboy. I cannot put into words how special this was to me. The uncertainty, Felix’s questioning journey, the fear Felix had of the queer community calling him a fraud and kicking him out, it was so similar to my own experiences, my own uncertainties about gender and not knowing who you can talk to about it because of this fear of not being queer enough. This book is just an absolute gift to the world and I hope it reaches all the young trans teens who need it.
The Fever King by Victoria Lee
I don’t think it’s a secret that The Fever King is my favourite book. I still can’t believe this was a DEBUT. This book is pretty much the fantasy book of my dreams as a teen. Fantasy has always been my favourite genre, because it provides such an escape from the real world which I really needed in my teen years. And so when I read this incredible, literally-everyone-is-queer fantasy novel, it was everything I wanted as a teen. I still haven’t read a book that impacted me as emotionally as this one did since I read it early 2019, and I think it will be a while until I find another that does so.
The Library of the Unwritten by A.K Larkwood
The Library of the Unwritten is on this list because it is THE FIRST (and only…) book I’ve ever read which has on page, like actually using the fucking word, pansexual rep. And it’s the main character. This was just mindblowing. Pan rep is so underrepresented so to see this incredible, fun, snarky fantasy actually use the word is just so empowering and validating. I wish I was even half as cool a pansexual as Hell’s Librarian Claire.
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Another of my favourite reads of 2019, Like a Love Story is a historical fiction novel set during the 1980s AIDS crisis. As I wasn’t even born in the 1980s, you might be wondering why on earth I felt this book of all queer books was particularly important to me? And I can tell you in three words: MESSY. COMPLICATED. RELATIONSHIPS. The relationships in this book showcase the full messiness of love that cishet books have had for years, with Reza terrified of being gay and dating a straight girl to try hide it. It showcases the really complicated and messy relationship some of us have with our own identity: not everyone is out and proud. And Reza’s shame and fear and the complete fucking mess and hurt he causes because of this is so brilliant. I really appreciated seeing a more complex queer coming of age story.
The Fifth Season by N.K Jemisin
I credit this book as being the one that got me back into reading as an adult. I came to this book after reading mostly fanfic for several years, and this book just blew me away with it’s open and honest queer relationships, something I’d never even imagined seeing so openly in fantasy. I spent so long internalising this idea that I was only ever going to find queer rep in fanfic, and this book just said to hell with that! This series is one of my favourite series of all time, N.K Jemisin is an absolute god.
These books have really helped me on my queer journey. It’s definitely a journey nowhere near it’s conclusion. I still have no idea about my gender. I still don’t feel safe and welcomed in queer spaces. I feel like a fraud, a lot of the time. But in the past few years, books have been able to help me grow into someone less afraid of calling themselves queer, who was happy and proud to write 30 blog posts to celebrate Pride this year, to someone who was able to actually write this very personal post about my journey (however much I put it off until literally the last moment to do so). This is why we need these books, why it’s so important for everyone in publishing to be pushing for more and more diversity in their lists. These books provide so much comfort, validation and empowerment to those most at risk. It’s why I work in publishing, why I want to write my own books: I want to give someone what these books have given me.
And finally, if you, like me, are feeling so hurt and ashamed of even liking Harry Potter in the wake of JKR’s transphobic hate, then whilst I don’t know how to make these feelings go away, all I can say is you aren’t alone in feeling like this. If you ever need someone to talk to, I’m here.