By Grace Manger
Parents far and wide: Listen up. I’m about to introduce you to a book that I want every pre-teen and teenager in the whole world to have at their fingertips. And that book is Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke, two queer adults who are dedicated to responding to every possible question, fear, and “what if” that a young person may have while coming out as LGBTQIA.
Queer is divided into seven easy-to-digest chapters that guide the reader through virtually every aspect of coming out and living as a queer young person: what the word “queer” and other LGBTQIA identities mean (yes, this book does include intersex and asexual identities! Woot!); coming out to yourself, friends, and family; dealing with homophobia; dating and relationships; and safer sex practices.
The first thing I noticed about Queer is that it is very clearly written for a middle school or early high school aged audience. The writing is neither needlessly complicated nor over-simplified. The authors do a great job of making the book seem less like a homework assignment (a guaranteed turn off for most young people) and more like a sassy conversation with a cool queer aunt and uncle who know a thing or two about growing up and coming out. There are casual jokes sprinkled throughout the text, as well as comics illustrating different situations young queer people may face. When discussing finding a supportive community, the authors write, “So where are you going to find your new queer best friend? Unfortunately, you can’t just call 1-800-GAY-BFFS.”
The authors also have their own pop-out columns in each chapter in which they reflect on their personal experiences with the topic at hand. The personal experiences they share are raw and honest stories about heartbreak, bullying, depression, and hilariously awful first dates. Take it from me, as someone who is already very comfortable in her queerness: There is something really comforting and powerful to hear about the experiences of those who came before you, and to know you’re not alone.
The content gets heavy at times. The authors don’t shy away from harsh realities of being a queer teen, like bullying, depression and other mental illnesses, and the possibility of homelessness in the case of unaccepting parents. When the authors bring up these topics, they stress the importance of self-care regardless of your individual circumstances. Belge and Bieschke consistently remind readers to take time for themselves to recharge, and to always only do things you feel comfortable doing.
Ultimately, the authors balance out this heavier content with discussions of all the wonderful parts of being queer. Yes, coming out can be scary and difficult and sometimes take longer than we’d like. But on the other side of this process awaits a community of people who have all been in that place, too, and who serve as a light at the end of the tunnel for us all.
Truthfully, it was all but impossible to reflect on my high school years while reading Queer. More specifically, I couldn’t help but reflect on how different my high school years might have been had this book been published and available to me during that time. I can entirely imagine my awkward self smuggling this book home in my backpack and staying up late digesting every last word. Yes, it would have been in secret—there were no openly queer kids in my high school, let alone any positive queer role models in my life—and it may not have led to me coming out any sooner than I did. Still, I often feel sad about how confused and broken I felt during that time, knowing I was different but not having the language to explain my difference. Books like Queer give young queer kids like my high school self the chance to see that others have felt the same way, and that everything will be okay.,
If you are a parent, buy this book for your child. If you are a teacher, make a copy available to your students. Books hold tremendous power to open us up to new worlds that we never thought existed. For all the young people who may feel weird or different but don’t have the words to describe what’s going on in their heads and their hearts, Queer might just introduce them to a world that could save their life and remind them that they are not broken.
Grace is the Senior Managing Editor here at My Kid Is Gay. A graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, she now lives in Portland, Oregon. In her spare time, she can be found reading feminist theory, writing letters, and doing handstands around the world. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger
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