Transgender teddy to girl pirate: Authors tackle gender norms

Transgender-teddy

FRANKFURT

From a transgender teddy bear to a fearless girl pirate, children’s authors are tackling gender norms like never before, as debate rages about what it means to be a boy or girl.

Visitors at this week’s Frankfurt book fair, the world’s largest publishing event, will be faced with a string of books for young readers that defy stereotypes and navigate today’s hot-button issues of transsexuality and gender fluidity.

Stories with transgender lead characters in particular have broken one of the last “taboos” left in children’s writing, said literary expert Nicola Bardola.

“Some are watching this trend nervously, these kinds of books still make critics uncomfortable,” Swiss-born Bardola said, an author himself.

One of the most headline-grabbing recent titles has been “Introducing Tilly”, a tender story about Thomas the teddy bear who tells a friend: “I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy.”

The picture book, aimed at children aged four and older, was written by Australian Jessica Walton who was inspired by her own father’s transition to a woman.

Translated into German last year as “Teddy Tilly”, Bardola called the book “a phenomenon”.

For a slightly older audience, there is US author Alex Gino’s award-winning “George”, which is about a transgender 10-year-old determined to play a female part in the school play.

INAPPROPRIATE

The book has won widespread praise for its warm portrayal of a feisty heroine, but it has also stirred controversy.

A Kansas district last month decided not to purchase “George” for the area’s schools, deeming it inappropriate for young readers.

Gino, a self-described “genderqueer” – someone who refuses to be defined by a gender – promptly started a Twitter fundraising campaign to deliver copies to every school library in the district.

In just half an hour the money poured in.

“Sharing stories of trans people with children is key to trans acceptance. There is no age before which it is appropriate to be compassionate,” Gino told AFP.

In the young adult section, readers can find Meredith Russo’s “If I Was Your Girl”, which chronicles an American teen’s fresh start at a new school, burdened by the secret that she used to be a boy.

Children’s book expert Bardola said the trailblazing tales had triggered much earnest hand-wringing from critics wondering whether it was “appropriate” or “dangerous” to introduce young readers to such complex themes.

He said it reminded him of the stir caused in the 1980s when gay characters started appearing in young adult books.

“The debate is nearly identical. You can tell literary critics are unsure about these (transgender) themes,” he said.

“I think we can be a little more relaxed about it,” he added.

“These books should be judged by their literary quality and children should be given a chance to decide whether or not they want to read these stories.”

German literature critic Ralf Schweikert was more sceptical.

“If you want to talk about what it feels like to live in the wrong body, you are asking for a lot of self-reflection from young readers,” Schweikert told AFP.

For bookworms scouting for a more general take on the gender debate, there’s no shortage of new titles out to smash the patriarchy, reflecting a wider cultural discussion about the traditional roles pushed upon boys and girls.

“There are increasingly books for very young readers out there that deliberately challenge these gender stereotypes,” Schweikert told AFP.

He listed the German early-reading book series “Wild Wilma” as a standout example, about the buccaneering adventures of a girl sailing the high seas as captain of a pirate ship.

‘PONIES AND PRINCESSES’

Bardola said stories that turned gender roles on their head had always been around but that such titles tended to peak every few years depending on the zeitgeist.

“Of course you can still find books for girls about ponies and princesses,” Schweikert said.

“But if you want to get away from those cliches, there’s a lot of good material out there right now.”

And more titles grappling with gender issues are on their way.

Scholastic, which published “George”, will next year be releasing the young adult novel “And She Was” by Jess Verdi, about a teen coming to terms with a parent’s transgender identity.

“And we’ve seen a number of trans or gender non-binary characters in other books we are publishing,” said Scholastic’s editorial director David Levithan.

Books, he added, that “show how gender diverse our real world can be”.

Via: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/lifestyle/transgender-teddy-girl-pirate-authors-tackle-gender-norms

Celebrating Works of Queer Fiction

Queer Fiction

In trying and discriminatory times, queer literature can portray lives and loves that might otherwise be forced to remain invisible. Stories written by or for the LGBTQ community are, of course, just as varied as ‘heterosexual fiction’. But they also serve a unique purpose: to validate, explore and challenge ideas about same-sex attraction.

Published in 2015, A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers showcases a distant future where humans are a small part of a vast alien population. Within this sci-fi melting pot of cultures, there’s an acceptance of all sexualities, genders and races. Queer relationships are treated the same as any other, transporting the reader to a refreshingly accepting galaxy that we can currently only hope for.

It’s vital to celebrate works by queer authors

While Chambers’ novel presents a utopian vision of the future, The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurt reminds us just how difficult life has historically been for gay people in Britain. Set in Eighties London with a backdrop of the Thatcher administration and the looming AIDS crisis, it follows young protagonist Nick Guest as he manoeuvres his way through the hypocrisy and prejudice of the upper classes. Elegant and stark, it’s a book that will stay with you long after you’ve put it down.

Young adult fiction also shouldn’t be ignored when discussing LGBTQ fiction, given that many people first question their sexuality during adolescence. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera tells the story of a Puerto Rican teenager who has just told her family she is gay. What follows is a magnificent exploration of issues such as white privilege, the power of the queer community and the process of coming out.

In a world where people are still persecuted for their sexuality, it’s vitally important to celebrate works by queer authors such as Chambers, Hollinghurst and Rivera. They remind of us all that we’ve achieved in the long march towards equality – as well as how far we still have to go.

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Via: http://e.stylist.co.uk/2KOH-14CGF-BA6WVAR380/cr.aspx

LGBTQ+ Book Trade Network Launches | Bookseller

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Pride in Publishing (PiP), a brand-new networking group for LGBTQ+ people in the industry, has launched on Friday (25th August 2017) to create a way for queer members of the publishing industry to meet up, connect with others and find peer support.

The professional networking group aims to provide a space where LGBTQ+ employees in publishing can find fellowship and air suggestions for how to create progress for LGBTQ+ people and representation in the industry.

“It will be a members-led group, so various initiatives will be proposed and developed by members,” said Maisie Lawrence, one of the group’s co-founders and editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster. “In this important year, 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, we want to do everything we can to support and promote LGBTQ+ voices and books in the industry.”

PiP is open to professionals working at publishing-related concerns, such as publishing companies (from any department), agencies, bookshops and libraries.

Wei Ming Kam, co-founder of the BAME In Publishing network and sales and marketing executive at Oberon Books, said that the group wants to be as inclusive as possible, stating: “We aim to provide a welcoming space for all on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, including trans, non-binary, asexual and intersex people.”

It is hoped that in time the group willl inspire offshoots specialised in specific areas of publishing and where authors, who are keen on increasing LGBT representation in their books, can also get involved.

The idea for the group sprung from a offhand conversation in which several of the group’s co-founders were surprised that such an organisation wasn’t already in operation.

Louie Stowell, senior editor for non-fiction at Usborne and co-founder of PiP, told The Bookseller: “We were just really surprised that a network didn’t exist already. And lots of people had been having the conversation about why isn’t there a network so we just decided to do it.

“It’s less about benefitting us [as LGBTQ+ employees] as about making our output more inclusive and representative, because I still feel we have a long way to go and I think everyone is on the same page about that.”

Penguin Random House this year put on a Penguin Pride event in partnership with Stonewall to celebrate the importance of literature in the progression of LGBT equality at Proud, Camden, during London Pride fortnight, around which time W H Smith Travel ran a promotion dedicated to gay literature to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Stowell added: “In the past few years I’ve definitely noticed a difference in visibility and representation already and it would be really good if everyone had a place to talk about it in the same room; that’s basically what we are after. Then, across publishers, we will have more impact.”

PiP’s seven co-founders – Maisie Lawrence, Wei Ming Kam, Eishar Brar, Louie Stowell, Kate Davies, Nicky Borasinski and Linas Alsenas – hail from publishers spanning Simon & Schuster, Oberon Books, Scholastic, Usborne Publishing, Thames & Hudson and Puffin & Ladybird.

The group will begin with monthly meet-ups. The first, described as an informal get-together, is scheduled for 27th September and will be held at Faber & Faber offices in London.

To join PiP and RSVP to the event, those interested are invited to email prideinpublishinguk@gmail.com with their name, company and job role.

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Via: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/pride-publishing-launches-lgbtq-network-book-trade

Why aren’t lesbians anyone’s gay BFF?

“This is my gay bestie,” a new acquaintance chirps, pulling forward her homosexual arm candy with the same proud smile one might use to present a great prize. It’s a phrase I hear often in one form of another from almost every straight girl I know. Now that we’re on the winning side of the culture war, gays are faced with a funny phenomena: where once we were shunned, now we are fetishized.

I suppose it’s an improvement, but it’s not equality. How straight people objectify gays is different for women and men: gay men are treated as glittery accessories for any straight girl worth her clutch; lesbians are objectified as non threatening fuck puppets for straight male consumption and ejaculation. Neither role puts emphasis on our humanity, just our utility. It’s like once the mainstream stops wanting to destroy something, they start wanting to possess it. And we, the rainbow-tinged masses, are now in the very strange position of being in demand not for who we are but what we represent.

The modern woman doesn’t just need to have a black friend to be cool; she needs a gay friend to tell her how FIERCE she is. And lucky for her, gays seem far less threatening to white heteros than blacks. So unthreatening straights feel comfortable, nay entitled, to treat and refer to gay people as objects well within earshot. Frankly sometimes I wish straight people were a little more afraid of gays. It would make them less annoying. The role of GAY BFF has fallen squarely on the shoulders of gay men, not gay women. I’m super glad about that, but I still can’t help but wonder why? Why does the term “gay BFF” seem to apply only to men?

Original Cindy: Dark Angel‘s Lesbian BFF

dark-angel-7

I suspect there are several reasons that friendship with a lesbian isn’t prized as highly as friendship with a gay man. First, the obvious: gay men are sexually unthreatening. Since lesbians by definition are attracted to other women, straight women might feel less comfortable around us. That reasoning, while flawed, is still acceptable.

As lesbians, we know perhaps more than anyone how traumatic and uncomfortable attention from straight men can feel; I could never begrudge straight women for not wanting to be hit on by women. That being said, HELLO, honey, like you could get this. Lesbians do sexualize women; it’s fun! However we also share the female experience and are much less likely to put unwanted sexual attention or pressure on straight women than men. Most straight girls I know are pretty chill about the “lesbian thing” but once and awhile I tell a girl I’m gay and she defensively retracts, emphasizing “I’M NOT” as quickly as possible lest I fall for her incomparable charms. My favorite response to that is “Relax I’m only into model types,” which you can totally use if you like. But I digress!

The second reason lesbians aren’t seen as Gay BFF material is that lesbians are stereotypically perceived as being overly masculine, while gay men are seen as overly feminine. And a lot of lesbians do present themselves in a “manly” way (by straight people standards) or possess traits like independence or assertiveness that are traditionally and incorrectly connected with masculinity. But that doesn’t make us straight guy wannabes, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a good sale.

Before I came out, I was very much a girl’s girl. I’m still a girl’s girl, but it’s different to be a girl’s girl when you like girls because you’re no longer exactly one of the girls. I’m not going to commiserate about how CONFUSING men are (they seem pretty simple to me) or how HARD it is to find the right man (how could it be so hard there’s an insane amount of them). We can’t all go to the club and mack on cuties because my kind of cutie has a booty and hangs out at a different club (those gay clubs straight girls go to when they just want to DANCE and be worshiped like in Sex and the City). Before I came out, I didn’t notice how important men are to female friendships. Now I feel like a walking Bechdel test, and no one likes a test.

Leslie Shay is Dawson’s LBFF/Dawson is Shay’s Straight BFF on Chicago Fire

The third and final reason lesbians aren’t in demand as gay men for the role of dazzling arm adornment is simple; lesbians aren’t perceived as being very much fun. Unless we’re having sex with each other and therefore catering to the male gaze, our utility is diminished. We’re man-hating uber feminists who secretly want to be men. We exclusively wear plaid and Kmart jeans. Our sole means of entertainment is playing with our dozens and dozens of felines. Basically, by rejecting the odious embrace of men, we’ve been cast in the role of “miserable spinster” by a society that prizes male attention above all other.

This is unfortunate, because the lesbians I know get rowdy. We drink, we smoke, we have awesome hair, our clothes are carefully curated to express that certain je ne sais quoi that will lure women to our side. The lesbians I know bare little resemblance to the haggard debs looming large in the minds of American culture. We’re not accessories, but we’re still treated as two-dimensional objects rather than complex individuals in our own right.

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