We Were Always Here: LGBTQ Historical Young Adult Fiction

By Shelley R. RSS Fri, October 1, 2021

October is LGBTQ History Month!

A lot of straight and/or cisgender people like to treat gay people like we didn't exist until Ellen Degeneres came out as a lesbian in 1997; and as if transgender people didn't exist until Laverne Cox made the cover of TIME magazine in 2014. So many of our elders didn't survive the HIV/AIDS pandemic; and before that the Nazi Party had destroyed the Institute für Sexualwissenschaft: the world's largest collection of research in transgender healthcare, most of which had no copies anywhere else in the world. There has been an active erasue of stories about LGBTQ people before 1997, an erasure of our history and our struggles, of the truth that we have always been here.

So all month I'm gonna bring you stories from when our LGBTQ community went through another pandemic; stories from before we even had the words we use to identify ourselves today. This history puts into perspective that, even if we might not be related by blood, we have queer and transgender ancestors to thank for how we got here and we will have queer and transgender descendants to build a future for.

black and white aged photo with details difficult to discern. Features a ballroom with a line of dancers by the stage with performers on it.

Gilbert Pride Flag (left) adopted in 1978 and Philly Pride Flag (right) introduced in 2017.

This week, here are some LGBTQ Young Adult Historical Fiction recommendations.

All Out edited by Saundra Mitchell
Do you like the number seventeen? This anthology of seventeen young adult authors tells seventeen stories about seventeen young people of varying LGBTQ identities, living their lives in seventeen different time periods. There's a diversity of genres contained within, including a transgender soldier in the Mexican Civil War and an asexual girl at a roller-disco. And do we have lesbians? Oh, do we have lesbians! If you liked A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue and Code Name Verity, then you're gonna love these stories.

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Set in New York City in the late 1980s, this is the story of Reza, a closeted gay Iranian boy who starts dating Judy, the straight niece of a prominent ACT UP activist. Reza's only exposure to other gay people has been coverage of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on television; which terrifies him into staying closeted. His bond with Judy becomes the best friendship he's ever had, so he thinks he'll be okay pretending to love her romantically and living his life in the closet—until he meets Judy's best friend, Art. Art is the only openly gay boy at their school, and rebels against his conservative parents by documenting the HIV/AIDS pandemic using his photography skills. Reza develops a big crush on Art and now he's in a pickle: He wants the boy, but doesn't wanna lose his best friend/girlfriend... and there's also a pandemic happening that the federal government won't do enough to fight. Maybe you find this story relatable? If you liked Darius the Great is Not Okay and Speak, give this one a try. It's different, but I think you'll like it!

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara
I think the librarians over at Over The Rainbow described this one better than I ever could:
"For fans of the FX show Pose or the documentary Paris Is Burning, Cassara lovingly documents the NYC ball scene of the 1980s, when queer people of color were able to compete in a vicious and loving environment of fierce queens with even fiercer support. Tough issues like AIDS and racism are addressed head on as the vivid characters navigate love, life, and loss with their wigs tightly secured and their lipstick unsmudged." If you liked The Black Flamingo and Rainbow Milk, check this out.

I hope these stories allow you to imagine what it was like for our queer and transgender ancestors, to feel how they might have felt and the ways they lived. and how their struggles then reflect our struggles now. How they were like us, and we were like them. These are not unprecedented times for our community.

Next week: Comics and Graphic Novels!

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Thanks for these wonderful recs! I clearly have some catching up to do.
Sara Palmer - Philadelphia
Thursday, October 7, 2021