Welcome to a super special post on Queer Books for kids/teens/Young Adults.
Fact: there isn’t enough non fiction for kids about LGBT topics. We must take what we can. And yet nonfic is as valuable as fiction, especially to reassure kids that being gay or trans is just as dull and everyday as rainforests, recipes, cat breeds and the history of English kings. Now, in general non fiction is not as popular as fiction among kids, and fiction is a better way to reach them. However, some kids find that non fic is really their thing; and it’s a valuable thing to have around for homework, or to photocopy for citizenship lessons.
I am reviewing LGBT books for kids/YA – the index of other reviews is here. Looking just for nonfic? Here is my non fiction tag.
Gay People Who Changed History
by Adam Sutherland (published by Weyland)
3/5 stars – suggested age 13+
This is a big hardback book containing 12 one-page profiles of famous gay people, starting with Oscar Wilde, and going up to Elton John.
I feel like this book needs to be twice as long. The profiles are too short: I feel like I’m reading a hamfistedly edited Wiki article on each, with no continuity between the facts in their life. I suggest a reading age of 13+ because I found it challenging to grasp the significance of each person in so small a space.
Two pages on each person would put them properly in context, and allow a sense of story to emerge. These guys had amazing lives, and yet these are just bare facts cobbled together. No narrative, no quotes, no drama. A better book would give you a narrative to get your heart into and give you a sense of what it was like to be those people.
However, this book is a great starting point for research. Gay heroes & significant folk are still mostly unknown in the mainstream, and this gives you a palatte of significant people to find out more about. For example, I had never heard of 4 of these people, and Larry Kramer in particular stood out as an incredible human being. I like its historical scope – all the early people’s lives are filled with imprisonment and suicide, whereas more modern stories end with happy come-outs and marriage.
There are significant diversity issues here. 10/12 of the people are male; 100% are (as far as I can discern) white. There is one page at the back of the book with six extra people crammed in, which adds two extra women and a black man. Come on, is all I have to say! There were important lesbians, important POC in the struggle – excluding them from books like this simply perpetuates the idea that white people and gay men are the most important queers. I would replace Truman Capote and Andy Warhol – their only qualification seems to be “being famous while gay” – with POC and/or lesbians and/or gay trans people who actually contributed to the struggle, or (like Oscar Wilde) were a big cause celebre in gay history.
There are no trans people in this book. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – the book says “gay people” on the cover after all. But one of the 12 “gay people” is “the Stonewall Rioters” as a group. Significant work has been done recently, reclaiming the role of trans women in that riot. This blog, which describes the origins of the protests, notes that the focus of police brutality was gender variance first and foremost – trans women refusing to remove their makeup, butch lesbians being told to wear “3 items of female clothing”, a kick-line of angry drag queens. To describe it as merely a gay rights protest is a massive distortion of what happened, disrespectful to the people who were actually there, and erasing folk like Sylvia Rivera from the riots that followed.
This book urgently needed to be written. I wish it was better written, and more diverse, but it is better than nothing. A great start-point for research, throwing light on fascinating, little-known histories. I hope similar books are written soon, correcting these flaws.
(the 12 people are Oscar Wilde, Henry Gerber, Larry Kramer, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Harvey Milk, Frank Kameny, Randy Shilts, the Stonewall Protesters, Martina Navratilova, Ellen de Generes, Sir Elton John; and one page which crams James Baldwin, Elaine Noble, Dan Savage, Margarethe Cammermeyer, Peter Tatchell and Matthew Shepherd in)