By: Samuel Smith, Columnist
Happy Valentine’s week! Do you know what I love? Reading. Last year, I participated in #ReadDiverse2018, where you challenge yourself to seek out books by and for nonwhite, not straight, not cis folks. And, I learned a very important lesson. It gets hard after a while to find books that aren’t by and for cishet, white and able-bodied men.
Take LGBTQ books for instance. My favorite genre is LGBTQ young adult. They’re usually fairly easy to read, with characters I relate to, and most that I’ve read have happy endings. But, I found that after a while I had to start researching and actively seeking out these books and talk to librarians. Even then, sometimes I’d be turned away empty-handed, only to continue searching the internet for what felt like rare gems.
Our stories need to be heard, read and documented. Without these stories, there will be a gap in history, in English literature. It shouldn’t be difficult to come across these books, especially not in the young adult genre. Teens, tweens and young adults need these stories to know that they’re normal, that the way they feel or identify is healthy. Even in the age of the internet, where you can search for information on just about anything, you can’t search for what you don’t know the words for. Books about LGBTQ folks give kids and teens the ability to identify themselves and put a label to their feelings.
I never thought when I picked up the book “I am J” by Cris Beam at just fourteen years old that I would be changing my life for the better. Before this book, I’d heard of transgender people, but never heard their stories. By reading about J, I discovered that I could live a life that was mine, and I discovered a label for how I felt. I learned a new word the day I picked up that book, but I also learned about a part of my identity that I previously couldn’t place words upon before.
Books also help people relate to others. Books about same-gender couples that I secretly read in middle school helped normalize the idea of same-gender couples to me. Stories that took place in other countries not only showed me I could identify with people outside of my country, but also that there is power in the stories and traditions of other cultures and nations.
While we shouldn’t have to share these stories that other cultures, abilities, gender identities and types of families should be normalized from the start, we can’t discount the power of books as a tool toward understanding and acceptance when intersectional love and acceptance hasn’t been taught from the start.