VPL and the Safe Place Program

The Vancouver Public Library, one of Canada’s largest public library systems, recently issued the following public statement on its website:

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Vancouver’s library has joined the Vancouver Police Department’s Safe Place program, which identifies places where members of the LGBTQ community can shelter if they experience bullying or harassment or are victims of crime.

All of Vancouver Public Library’s 21 locations around the city are part of this initiative, and the program’s identifying rainbow-coloured stickers will soon be installed on main entrance doors at library branches and the central library downtown.

Businesses and organizations in the program – which launched roughly seven months ago – pledge to provide a safe place for LGBTQ community members to shelter, be welcomed and call police if they have concerns for their safety or are victims of crime.

“VPL has a long-standing commitment to inclusiveness, a commitment that is inherent in the role of the library as a social equalizer in the community,” says chief librarian Sandra Singh.

Does your library participate in a similar “safe space” program or initiative? We’d love to hear what libraries across the province (country or world) are doing to promote safe spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals in our communities.

Ten Great LGBTQ+ Picture Books!

Early this week the LGBTQ Interest Group hosted a fantastic professional development workshop focusing on materials for young people. Three engaging, experienced presenters shared some great recommendations for picture books, middle grade books and YA books with LGBTQ+ content. It was a fascinating presentation, and we all walked away with heaps of inspiring ideas to put into practice.

One of our speakers, Rob Bittner, talked about LGBTQ+ themes in picture books, and shared a handful of fantastic titles. These are all brilliant books that every library, whether public or school, should consider adding to their collection! Here just ten of the books that Rob shared with us:

10,000 Dresses

Every night, Bailey dreams about magical dresses: dresses made of crystals and rainbows, dresses made of flowers, dresses made of windows…Unfortunately, when Bailey’s awake, no one wants to hear about these beautiful dreams. Quite the contrary: “You’re a BOY!” Mother and Father tell Bailey. “You shouldn’t be thinking about dresses at all.” Then Bailey meets Laurel, an older girl who is touched and inspired by Bailey’s imagination and courage. In friendship, the two of them begin making dresses together. And Bailey becomes the girl she always dreamed she’d be!

And Tango Makes Three

In the zoo there are all kinds of animal families. But Tango’s family is not like any of the others. This illustrated children’s book fictionalizes the true story of two male penguins who became partners and raised a penguin chick in the Central Park Zoo.

Call Me Tree / Llamame Arbol

In this spare, lyrically written story, we join a child on a journey of self-discovery. Finding a way to grow from the inside out, just like a tree, the child develops as an individual comfortable in the natural world and in relationships with others. The child begins “Within/ The deep dark earth,” like a seed, ready to grow and then dream and reach out to the world. Soon the child discovers birds and the sky and other children: Trees and trees/ Just like me! Each is different too. The child embraces them all because All trees have roots/ All trees belong. Maya Christina Gonzalez once again combines her talents as an artist and a storyteller to craft a gentle, empowering story about belonging, connecting with nature, and becoming your fullest self. Young readers will be inspired to dream and reach, reach and dream . . . and to be as free and unique as trees.”

Donovan’s Big Day

Donovan’s two moms are getting married, and he can’t wait for the celebration to begin. After all, as ringbearer, he has a very important job to do. Any boy or girl with same-sex parents—or who knows a same-sex couple—will appreciate this picture book about love, family, and marriage.  The story captures the joy and excitement of a wedding day while the illustrations show the happy occasion from a child’s point of view.

I Am Jazz

From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

Jacob’s New Dress

Jacob loves playing dress-up, when he can be anything he wants to be. Some kids at school say he can’t wear “girl” clothes, but Jacob wants to wear a dress to school. Can he convince his parents to let him wear what he wants? This heartwarming story speaks to the unique challenges faced by boys who don’t identify with traditional gender roles.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

Morris has a great imagination. He paints amazing pictures and he loves his classroom’s dress-up center, especially the tangerine dress. It reminds him of tigers, the sun and his mother’s hair.

The other children don’t understand–dresses, they say, are for girls. And Morris certainly isn’t welcome in the spaceship his classmates are building–astronauts, they say, don’t wear dresses.

One day Morris has a tummy ache, and his mother lets him stay home from school. He stays in bed reading about elephants, and her dreams about a space adventure with his cat, Moo. Inspired by his dream, Morris paints a fantastic picture, and everything begins to change when he takes it to school.

My Princess Boy

My Princess Boy is a nonfiction picture book about acceptance. With words and illustrations even the youngest of children can understand, My Princess Boy tells the tale of 4-year-old boy who happily expresses his authentic self by happily dressing up in dresses, and enjoying traditional girl things such as jewelry and anything pink or sparkly. The book is from a mom’s point of view, sharing both good and bad observations and experiences with friends and family, at school and in shopping stores.

My Princess Boy opens a dialogue about embracing uniqueness, and teaches you and others how to accept young boys who might cross traditional gender line clothing expectations. The book ends with the understanding that ‘my’ Princess Boy is really ‘our’ Princess Boy, and as a community, we can accept and support youth for whoever they are and however they wish to look.

This Day in June

In a wildly whimsical, validating, and exuberant reflection of the LGBT community, this title welcomes readers to experience a pride celebration and share in a day when we are all united. Also included is a reading guide chock-full of facts about LGBT history and culture, as well as a ‘Note to Parents and Caregivers’ with information on how to talk to children about sexual orientation and gender identity in age-appropriate ways.

Stella Brings the Family

Stella’s class is having a Mother’s Day celebration, but what’s a girl with two daddies to do? It’s not that she doesn’t have someone who helps her with her homework, or tucks her in at night. Stella has her Papa and Daddy who take care of her, and a whole gaggle of other loved ones who make her feel special and supported every day. She just doesn’t have a mom to invite to the party. Fortunately, Stella finds a unique solution to her party problem in this sweet story about love, acceptance, and the true meaning of family.

And this is just the beginning! There are so many fantastic LGBTQ+ themed picture books to discover and share, so get thee to a library and check them out!

Aromantic 101 with Claudie Arsenault

We’re thrilled to welcome author Canadian author Claudie Arseneault to the blog today!

Happy February 19, 2017 everyone–or, as my community as come to know it, the start of this year’s Aromantic Awareness Week!

When I was invited to guest blog here on aromanticism, I wasn’t sure what to talk about. My mind was casting for a specific topic, but in truth, aromanticism is a still fairly unknown part of the QUILTBAG, and how better to start a week meant to raise awareness than with some Important Basics™

So here we go!  Start here, and keep your eyes (and search bars) ready for the rest of week!

Aromanticism 101

The standard definition of aromanticism is that one does not experience romantic attraction. This means aromantic people don’t experience crushes or intense desire to build romantic relationships with specific people. And this definition comes with a ton of caveats! Why? Because, much like asexuality (which is no sexual attraction), aromanticism is a large, complex, and diverse spectrum of experiences. Some aromantics are repulsed by the very association of romance with them while others absolutely do want a romantic partner (or several!)—they just aren’t drawn that way to anyone in particular. Add to these demiromantics (who develop attraction after a deep connection has been established), grey-aromantics (who experience it once in a never) as well as a plethora of other spectrum identities, and you have a wide variety of experiences.

Hard to universalize, isn’t it? Impossible, even. And yet we all face the struggle of erasure and dehumanization, although it can be shaped slightly differently from one aromantic to the next. So let’s look at some common PLEASE DON’T of representation.

The DON’T of Aromanticism Representation

Don’t equate humanity to romance. Some days I can’t believe this needs to be said, but it does because it happens all the time. “Love makes us all human” or “this romantic plotline really added depth/humanity to an otherwise flat character” or any more or less subtle variant. This one shows up a lot in fantasy with the Dark Evil Villain who is Incapable of Love™. Yes, I’m looking straight at Harry Potter right now.

Don’t “teach them to love”. Storylines dedicated to teaching an aromantic character (or anyone, really) to love imply that this is a problem that needs to be fixed. Characters who need to be taught how to love are typically either a) inhuman at the beginning (robots have this a lot), or b) unhappy/evil until the aforementioned teaching happens. This is dehumanizing for aromantic people and it needs to stop.

Don’t hierarchize your love. You know how people often say two lovers are “more than friends”? It’s so common it seems benign, but when aromantic people read that, what they hear is that their relationships will never reach the highest level. They are incapable of what is deemed the most complete, thorough, beautiful, and enjoyable type or relationship there is. And that’s a goddamn lie. We are fully capable of intense, fulfilling, and intimate relationships without romance. All this hierarchy does is reinforce the idea romance is the purest–as if non-romantic love isn’t every bit as valid and important. Upholding friendship and other non-romantic relationships as equal to romance is extremely validating to a lot of aromantic people.

Don’t equate aromanticism to being cold, distant, unloving, broken.  We hear those a lot already, thank you very much. Unless your character is literally freezing, avoid those words. And yes, feeling broken is a huge part of our narratives, but I heartily advise you leave that sensible ground to us.

Don’t imply or state romance is a necessary part of storytelling. Or that it makes a story deeper, more complex, etc. This overlaps a lot with my first point. And also with maintaining a hierarchy of loves. Romance is no more necessary to good storytelling than dragons: it can be super fun, but plenty of good stories exist (or should exist!) without it!

So how do you avoid all of those as a reader? Honestly, you don’t. They’re too common. But one reason I love the fantasy and science-fiction genres is how often it centres small groups–crews on a ship, adventuring parties, magical girl teams, etc. While romance is often a feature in those stories, they still typically feature other types of strong bonds, providing me with all the Good Feels I need. Now if I could get those with canon aromantic characters to boot, I would be in business!


Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very French Québec City. Her long studies in biochemistry and immunology often sneak back into her science-fiction, and her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders. The most recent, City of Strife, comes out on February 22, 2017! Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!

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Best Bisexual Books of 2016

Casey is taking a look back at 2016, sharing some of her favourite bisexual books in this post, which was original posted on Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

My Favourite Bi+ Books of 2016

2016 was a great year for diverse books, and in particular I found a bunch of great books by and about bisexual/pansexual people. These book are all either written by bi/pansexual authors and/or have bi/pansexual characters. Tell me about any bi+ books you read last year in the comments!

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

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I just finished listening to the audiobook version of this memoir, read by the author. The narrating was just as amazing as I’d expected, given that Cumming is a seasoned actor AND has a Scottish accent. What more could you ask from a narrator, really? It’s a fascinating and sometimes brutal book about Cumming’s relationship with his abusive father and how being asked to appear on a celebrity genealogy show opened up more than one can of worms in his family history. Throughout it’s lovely to hear a bisexual person talk about his life (his ex-wife, his current husband) as if it’s just all normal and no big deal.

All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor

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This is a character-driven novel about Ameera, a woman in her late twenties who’s been living in Mexico and working in the tourist / travel industry for years. Since Ameera arrived, she’s discovered she’s bisexual and enjoys having sex with (mostly man-woman) couples, many of whom identify as swingers. She’s from Hamilton, ON and was raised by a single (white) mother, having had an absent (Indian) father. She is totally lost. It’s such a joy to watch her slowly reconnect with herself and her history as the novel progresses. It’s also remarkable to watch Doctor tackle issues like all-inclusive resorts, bisexuality, swinging and polyamory, spirituality, death, and terrorism, somehow making it all work in the same book.

Corona by Bushra Rehman

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Corona—referencing the neighbourhood in Queens, NY, not the Mexican beer—is a “novel” that to me feels more like a collection of inter-related short stories about Razia, a young bisexual Pakistani-American woman, at different stages in her life. It’s beautifully written, for one thing: “Ravi was sitting in a corner, apart from the crowd. He was going back to India in less than a year, so everything he observed was for the warehouse of his mind. He’d seal the box, label it ‘My Time in America,’ and draw stories from it now and then to entertain the literary crowd in Delhi. That was the night I fell into the box.” There’s a great sense of place, character, and emotion in the book, and damn is it also really funny sometimes, even amidst sadness.

Long Red Hair by Meags Fitzgerald

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A graphic memoir about growing up in Canada in the late 80s and 90s, Long Red Hair should incite lots of nostalgia for queer girls of that generation: it’s full of fun pop culture references of the time, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hocus Pocus, Labyrinth, etc. Meags (like me) is a kid interested in spooky stuff, so there are also reference to sleepover games you may remember like Bloody Mary, séances, and dressing up as witches. Coming out is one focus, and young Meags describes the process in perfect teenage agony: “I just want to be gay or straight. Being bisexual is way too confusing … If I’m bi that means I don’t have a soulmate and I’ll never be satisfied loving just one person for the rest of my life. It’d be like … a curse.” The memoir is also a mediation on relationships and the potentials of celibacy. Bonus!: the sepia-toned art is gorgeous.

History is All You Left Me – A Review of Sorts

Yash Kesanakurthy is a writer, book blogger and publishing studies student with a Masters of Children’s Literature who’s a passionate advocate for diversity and representation in literature. This post is reprinted with permission and thanks.

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life. — [X]

Thoughts

After More Happy Than Not you’d think I’d make the smart choice and read something else, anything else, and definitely not pick History Is All You Left Me as a commute read, but no, turns out I’m just that much of a moron.

  • I could not put it down, though.
  • So I blinked away tears as I read, but I did not stop reading.
  • Let’s talk about the easy things first: the writing and the pacing. I didn’t think the style of the prose in More Happy Than Not was bad per se, but I definitely felt that History Is All You Left Me had writing that flowed like silk. I’ve only read the books Silvera has out, but I can say that this an author whose craft is only getting better.
  • He also has a very distinct style. Something about his sentences are just so gorgeous and so him. I think the only other time I’ve felt like this, like I was reading a signature of sorts, was with Neil Gaiman’s writing.
  • And the pacing was a surprise. I don’t know why I thought the jacket cover had given everything away and this would be a slow walk through a boy’s trauma? But turns out–maybe not to anyone’s surprise–a good author can draw readers deep into a book with just one simple question: will these characters be okay?
  • Now, for the hard stuff: mainly, Griffin. I don’t really know how to talk about Griffin. He makes smile and sob and he’s just my favourite. The summary hints at his OCD and his “destructive choices”, but no matter what he does or says or doesn’t say, no matter how flawed, Griffin is just so easy to love. Which makes History Is All You Left Me all the more heartbreaking to read.
  • As far as I can tell, Griffin’s OCD is realistically explored, how he does/doesn’t deal with it and how the traumatic loss of a first love exacerbated his compulsions. I also really appreciate that the OCD isn’t romanticized–even though Theo used to view them as quirks–and has a real impact on Griffin’s life.
  • I only wish we could have gotten more of a character who wasn’t mentioned in the summary, but plays a rather important role in Griffin’s life. Perhaps that is my one minor complaint.
  • History Is All You Left Me is by no means an easy read, but it is a damn good read and so worth the heartache. So long as you have chocolate/friends to hug/comfort reads close by/all of the above, you’re good to go. ❤

Quotes

“I’m sure there will be some interesting people at the flea market. Like hipsters.”

“Hipsters are characters, not people,” Theo says.

“Don’t hipster-shame. Some of them have real feelings underneath their beanie hats and vintage flannels.”

Look, there are unexpectedly funny bits too, okay?

Of course, there’s also these parts:

I think about alternate universes as we lay you to rest in this one. There are billions, trillions, existing all at once: one where we never broke up, one out of reach from oceans that have it in for you, one where we both moved to California for school … countless more where things are right, maybe with some touches of wrong. But in all of them, you and I are more than history. I have to believe these universes exist; it’s the only way to manage the suffering here.

Just … learn from my mistakes? Skip the kajal if you choose to read it in public. Especially if you’re headed to class and don’t want to show up as that girl from The Ring.

Six Canadian Trans Women Writers You Should Know

This post originally appeared on BCLA LGBTQ Interest Group member Casey‘s blog Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, and is reposted with permission and thanks. 

Six Canadian Trans Women Writers You Should Know

I’m gonna get right to the list in a second here, but I just want to tell you all how excited I am that all these writers are out there creating their amazing art and that publishers like Topside Press, Arsenal Pulp Press, Kegedonce Press, and Metonymy Press are putting it out into the world. I could not have written this list when I first started this blog almost five years ago.

Casey Plett

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Y’all are seriously missing out if you are not reading Casey Plett, who hails from Winnipeg. Her debut collection of short stories A Safe Girl to Love is one of the best books I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot of books). If you’re looking for a writer who really, really, gets people—from twentysomething urban cis, trans, and queer folks to a 7o-year-old cis Mennonite guy to a cat channeling the spirit of an old English dude—Plett is your woman. She’s applied these talents to a book dedicated to relationships between trans women: romantic, friend, and mother-daughter, resulting in a stunning collection that will not disappoint you. If you like Zoe Whittall’s work, especially Holding Still For As Long As Possible, you’ll love Plett. It’s no wonder she won the 2015 Lambda award for trans fiction. This year, you can look forward to an anthology of trans speculative fiction that Plett edited, coming out with Topside Press (who published her first book as well). You should also read this super smart article she wrote for The Walrus about trans novels by cis authors.

jia qing wilson-yang

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I just finished reading wilson-yang’s debut novel Small Beauty and I’m so mad at myself for not reading it sooner! It was so good. Obviously the folks at the Writer’s Trust of Canada, who give out the Dayne Ogilvie Prize, thought so too, as wilson-yang received an honour of distinction last year. Small Beauty is a meditative but engaging novel about Mei, a young trans women dealing with grief and family secrets while taking a break from urban life, staying at the small town house of her aunt and cousin who’ve passed away. What I really loved about this book was it didn’t do any explaining. Mandarin words are presented in pinyin (i.e., romanized letters), characters eat Chinese food—not the beef and broccoli kind, transmisogynist shit happens, people who know and are related to Mei appear, all without any untoward explanation or unnecessary description that would assume any of these things are anything other than totally normal and just life. It felt so real. wilson-yang is a mixed race writer and musician living in Toronto and a new-to-me author I’m very excited about.

Sybill Lamb

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Sybil Lamb—who’s originally from Ottawa—wrote a book called I’ve Got a Time Bomb in 2014 and somehow the rest of the world failed to recognize that a fucking genius had officially entered the literary world. It is truly, truly one of the most unique, weirdest books ever written and it should go down in literary history if there’s any justice in this world. I wasn’t being hyperbolic when I compared it to Tristam Shandy and Joyce’s Ulysses in my review. It follows a character also named Sybil, on a rambling journey in a modified ice cream truck through post-Katrina / post-apocalyptic “Amerika” after surviving a hate crime. The entire novel is a hallucinatory, fever dream, full of Lamb’s stunning, poetic and impressively fresh writing that is not the least bit show-offy. It’s also funny as hell and you will grow to love Sybil the anti-heroine. To top it all off, the book is full of kooky, evocative illustrations that Lamb did herself (see the cover art for an example). Am I ever excited to see what she does next.

Kai Cheng Thom

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Kai Cheng Thom has suddenly appeared on my radar these last few months or so, which probably means she’s been working away for years on her art and I just didn’t notice. Her first novel, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, came out in November 2016. The blurb describes it as a “highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents’ abusive home”; she finds her true family of trans femmes, who band together to form “a vigilante gang to fight back against the transphobes, violent johns, and cops that stalk” their part of town. This sounds delightfully like Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa but also like its own brand of trans femme magic. If that isn’t enough, Thom also has her first book of poetry coming out this year, A Place Called No Homeland. It interrogates body, land, and language, pulling from traditions of oral storytelling, spoken word, and queer punk. You should also check out her great book reviews and interviews on Autostraddle.

Gwen Benaway

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I have Kai Cheng Thom to thank, actually, for introducing me to Gwen Benaway’s work. Thom’s thoughtful review of Benaway’s poetry collection Passage and interview with Benaway had me completely sold. In Passage, which just came out last month, two-spirit poet Benaway (Métis and Anishnaabe) writes about survival, violence, colonization, and trans femme gender and desire. It’s a book rooted in Benaway’s ancestral homeland around the Great Lakes and Northern Ontario and one where Benaway “seeks to reconcile herself to the land, the history of her ancestors, and her separation from her partner and family by invoking the beauty and power of her ancestral waterways.” If you know (and thus love) the work of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Islands of Decolonial Love), you’ll be excited to know she blurbed Benaway’s book, saying “With equal parts warm light and raw bone, this stunning collection burns away the legacy of erasure and upheaval. If the lake could write poetry, this collection would be it.” Benaway writes: “nothing is more beautiful / than a woman who knows / exactly what she wants / and what I want / is myself.”

Vivek Shraya

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In case you missed it, I wrote a review of Vivek Shraya’s debut poetry collection Even This Page is White a few weeks ago. “Spoiler”: I loved it. Beautiful, accessible, smart, and playful, Even This Page is White is the kind of book you want to re-read right after finishing and then go out and buy a copy for a friend. Tackling racism in its many insidious forms, the book is both educational and healing, even while Shraya plays with different poetic forms and visuals on the page. Like so many talented artists, Shraya is at home in many formats, including different kinds of visual art and music. She also published a novel called She of the Mountains in 2014, a lyrical novel of two narratives: a re-imagining of Hindu mythology and a contemporary story about an unnamed feminine protagonist exploring bisexual identity. In addition her first book of poetry, Shraya also published her first children’s book last year, The Boy and the Bindi, about a young boy who’s fascinated by his mother’s bindi. A hard-working, prolific artist as she is, I’m sure we can be excited about whatever new work she’ll be putting out in 2017.

2017 LGBTQ+ YA

2017 is looking like it’s going to be a great year for LGBTQ+ YA books, with at least one being published almost every month! This is by no means all the LGBTQ+ YA books arriving this year. I’ve only included ones that have a concrete release date, so we have even more to look forward to!

Which one are you looking forward to the most? Click “Read More” to see the full list!

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