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What is queer fiction?

Author:
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By Anna Hill

When I first started my search for mirrors in the form of queer books I was often recommended entirely non-queer books. I think this is because people have fundamentally misunderstood what queer fiction is and how good and valuable representation works. Here are some of the problems I have found:

One [side] character does not a queer book make

Throughout my journey the recommendations people made to me simply reaffirmed some of the things I already knew – that only white men are gay enough, or even interesting enough to be represented; and that if you are a lesbian or worse – a bisexual woman – you do not exist. I was recommended good books, but not good queer books. Books with straight girl main characters and straight romance pushed as the most important aspect of girls’ lives, with sad, buried gays and sick pitiful gay friends, but never part of the main story.

The lie that a queer book is one with a glimpse of a queer person has been spread, for example by lists like this. Books like Weetzie Bat and The Perks of Being a Wallflower have been put on it, but it’s Weetzie Bat’s best friend who is gay, it’s Charlie’s best friend that is gay! The main character in both these stories is straight. On other lists people have suggested Liberty’s Fire, Remix or Letters To the Dead – all of which have queer side characters, brothers or friends, but are lead by heterosexual and heteromantic love stories.

Queer books should be intersectional

On top of that the number of queer books I was recommended to begin with normally told the stories of white, cisgender, male characters. From Will Grayson, Will Grayson to lesbian classics like Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Carol or Fun Home (all of which do count as queer fiction), all are overwhelmingly whitewashed. The queer literature we continue to celebrate often simply reaffirms the idea that there is an acceptable, palatable type of queer and the majority of the queer community are not it.

The moments when you finally find those books that make you feel seen and validated are radical and nourishing. They are so important that, without them, I don’t think I would have survived. Being able to claim a historical and literary ancestry helps to centre queer survival and power today. Suggesting so-called queer fiction which doesn’t centre intersectional queer main characters allows all queers to be disempowered from their own narratives; we are not important or valid enough to be the heroes of any stories, even our own.

A quick counter-list of 15 queer books to read:

(I have yet to read any aromantic or agender books :()

KEY:

* are for poc

b is for bisexual characters

a for asexual

I for intersex

t for trans

  1. The colour purple by alice walker*
  2. Snapshots of a girl by beldan sezen*
  3. Huntress by malinda lo*
  4. Aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin alire saenz*(b)
  5. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson*
  6. The song of Achilles by madeline miller
  7. Far from you by tess sharpe (b)
  8. She of the mountains by vivek shraya*(b)
  9. Not otherwise specified by Hannah Moskowitz*(b)
  10. None of the above by I.W Gregorio (i)
  11. Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis*
  12. Pantomime by Laura Lam (i)
  13. From under the mountain by Cait Spivey*(a)
  14. A safe girl to love by Casey Plett (t)
  15. If I was your girl by Meredith Russo (t)

Wait… do I love myself?

Author:
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By Gemma Garner

Content note: Mental health, references to anxiety and body shaming

If you were to ask me if I loved myself, I would immediately say yes. My yes would be firm, honest and from deep in my heart. I love each and every part of myself, I’d say. Every lump and bump, every scar and freckle. I’ve learned to love my squeaky voice and the chips on my front teeth where I’ve been hit by a beer bottle or a karaoke microphone (I go pretty hard). On most nights, I take a moment to pat my belly and say thank you. Thank you for keeping me alive. When I see my naked face, my spotty chin and my dark circles in the mirror, I feel immense gratitude, and my heart fills up. What a beautiful face, I say.

This immense love, however, seems to retreat into darkness on my bad days. On the days where I wake up with intense nausea resulting in panic attacks, I hate myself. I hate the fact that I can’t deal with nausea like a ‘sane’ person. I hate my stomach. I hate my inability to eat well. I look in the mirror with a scowl and curse my existence. On the days I can’t stop crying and seeking validation, I cannot find the beauty I usually see. I don’t even try to. I look in the mirror and curse every lump and bump, every scar and freckle. I detest my squeaky voice and the chips on my front teeth, a constant reminder of my reliance on alcohol after a breakup years ago. I hate my mental instability. How can anyone love me? How can anybody find me beautiful?

With this in mind, can I really say I love myself? Sure, we all have bad days, but when you can only love yourself on a good day, is that love real, and honest?

It’s important to note that many years ago, my bad days were not bad days. They were every day. Like many people still, my existence was painful. I didn’t believe there was such a thing as true self love. ‘How can I possibly be OK with this?’ I’d ask, looking in the mirror. ‘Who in their right mind could love this?’

Perhaps the reason I love myself with such intensity, is because I want the love to bleed into the cracks that become craters on my bad days. When I love my flawed, naked face with such a burning passion, perhaps I think that I’m looking at a different self. A self that is still debilitated by self-hatred and misery. I’m protecting her, cradling her.

I’d like to believe that these cracks, a reminder of my teenage self-hatred, are still waiting to be filled. They aren’t a permanent fixture in my journey, nor are they a recent instalment. However, I don’t believe this is the case.

Despite having come so far on my journey to self-love and acceptance, my techniques haven’t aged along with my growing body and mind. My idea of self-love that I’ve carried with me for many years; could it have become self-destructive?

Years ago, the idea of eating whatever I wanted was revolutionary. Although my relationship with food has never been too toxic to the point of an eating disorder, at one point in my life, when I was responsible for my own food preparation, I would starve myself at school, only taking 4 crackers with me for lunch. Then, I’d come home, and eat 6 Kit Kat’s before anyone could see. When starting my self-love journey, I adopted the idea that I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, meaning I didn’t have to binge, and I certainly didn’t have to feel bad about my often strange cravings. This was wonderful, and changed my life. Gone were the diets that made me miserable.

Today, this self-love technique has become toxic. As I’ve developed an incredibly sensitive stomach, meaning I feel sick constantly, the act of eating whatever I fancy has become deadly. Not for vanity, but for my physical health. My diet has taken a toll on my stomach, bringing on incredible mental struggles that I would not wish upon any other person.

Years ago, the idea of doing whatever I wanted, despite the social implications, was revolutionary. I learned to make decisions regardless of how I would be perceived. I was debilitated by a fear of being disliked or unloved, meaning the decisions I made did not reflect how I truly felt, only how I wanted to be seen. I vowed to pretend I didn’t care, and do what I wanted. This became one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. My lack of care became real. Now I can honestly say that I do not care about the implications of what I do on how I am perceived. I will stand in the middle of the street and sing at the top of my lungs (badly), without any fear. I speak to anyone and everyone that I feel like speaking to. It feels incredible. I became free.

Today, however, this no longer benefits me. Considering my lack of self-discipline, the idea of doing whatever I want is actually incredibly destructive to my motivation. On my days off, if I fancy getting an ice cream on my own instead of doing incredibly important work, I’ll choose the ice cream. For self-love. In the moment, the ice cream is great. Then I come home, and slowly start to resent myself for being incapable of making appropriate decisions. Or, say, if I want to seek validation in the middle of an important conversation, I will. Yeah, sure I care about your dead dog, but do you think I’d suit a bob haircut?

All of the self-love techniques that I have adopted through the years have once been crucial and essential to my growth. Now that I’ve grown, however, they restrict me from going any further. They widen the cracks in my perception of myself, causing me to regress back into an aggressive state of self-hatred.

I’m learning that self-love isn’t something simple, nor is the same thing for each and every person. To another person, getting an ice cream alone instead of doing work could be a step in the right direction. Self-love also isn’t the same thing every day. That’s why I think it’s time for me to change my self-love routine. It’s time to look in the mirror and say, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done so far, Gemma. It’s changed my life. Now, it’s time to do some new things.’ Also, ‘Why are you talking to yourself as if your reflection in the mirror was another person?’

* * *

MY NEW SELF LOVE TECHNIQUES:

-Do the work you need to do every week, even if you don’t feel like it. Find a day that suits you. Sure, you want to catch Pokémon, but surely it can wait until after you’ve sorted your Student Finance out?

-Give yourself the space to have bad days. Just because you think you’re fat today, doesn’t mean you’re incapable of being loved forever. See things as they are, rather than catastrophizing it, even if you just pretend to at first.

-Remember that almost everybody suffers with some kind of mental health problem, and that doesn’t make them bad, merely human. That panic attack was just a panic attack, not a reflection of your instability. Give yourself a pat on the back for getting through it, instead of panic about the next one.

-Try and give your stomach a break, and eat a little better. Eating better does not constitute as dieting for vanity, so don’t beat yourself up for going against your beliefs. You can still eat what you want, as long as you look after yourself.

-Remember that self love is different every time. Sometimes, it’s right to cancel those plans and spend the evening with a hot water bottle and shitty Hillary Duff movies. At other times, for example, if you’re invited to the pub, but you’re scared to drink; just go. You’ll be OK, and your brain will learn new, wonderful things about drinking.

GirlCon – come along!

Author:
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By Anna Hill

What is Girlcon?

Inspired by the book Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, where a bunch of teen beauty queens crash land on a desert island, Girlcon is a two day convention aiming to celebrate teenage girls, young women and non binary folk and create solidarity and community.

The conception of the convention stems from a specific and incredibly relatable conversation held in the book:
“You know, instead of some old, backassward pageant competition, we should have a con. A Girl Con! How awesome would that be?” Adina said.
“What would we do at Girl Con?” Jennifer said, giving the words a cheesy announcer’s voice.
“We could have some wicked cool workshops — writing, films, science, music, consciousness-raising…”
— Beauty Queens, p. 152

They go on to talk about having “a seminar on DIY zine production”, and talks about comic books! Excited by the prospect of a space where girls need not apologise for being themselves, a discussion of what Girlcon could consist of happened on youtube in 2013. After these discussions the first girlcon took place in 2015 and was a great success!

Girlcon is back for a second year with even more content and discussions lined up; from a discussion about rage to talks on queer animation stories and black feminist thought as well as an Asexual and Aromantic meet up and a panel on Beyonce’s new album Lemonade.

Why create Girlcon?

The reason that the organisers of girlcon are so committed to its existence are various; it needs to exist to say that girls and non-binary people should be able to take up all the space they need. It needs to exist to fight against the the toxicity of patriarchal competition; other girls are your friends, your support, your loves, not your enemies. It needs to exist so we can learn from each other and listen to each other.

When and where is Girlcon?

30th – 31st of July, Woodhouse College, London, N12 9EY!!

Here is the facebook event page and here are the free tickets (we just need to keep track of numbers!). For more information about the schedule and anything else follow us on twitter and tumblr and like our facebook page!

Stories for summer

Author:
sophia3

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

Summer is upon us! Well…sort of, for those of us in the UK – but summer is rarely warm/dry/sunny here, is it? And it’s not summer in many other parts of the world right now… time is such a strange concept. And holy macaroni, I’ve just had an epiphany. TIME IS JUST A CONSTRUCT. TIME IS MEANINGLESS. TIME DOES NOT CONTROL YOU. Phew. I think my life may have just changed forever.

That aside, I am excited for summer, for the idea of it. Even though I’m not currently in education, summer still holds the connotations that it’s had in the past – the word still translates to one thing in particular: freedom. It’s swimming in an outdoor pool; the fresh air in my lungs as I come up for air and the sun shining on my back as I move smoothly through the water. It’s eating breakfast in the garden, starting my day with a sense of leisure, and making smoothies in the afternoon, then lounging on the grass, reading a book. It is, perhaps most of all, the books. Throughout the academic year, a large chunk of what we read is dictated by exam boards, by old white men who don’t know anything about what we’re interested in, let alone care. So every year, I look forward to the summer, to the freedom of being able to read whatever I want. I may not have had the external restrictions of academia lately, but old habits die hard. I’ve felt guilty every time I’ve gravitated towards a book just for fun, for escape, because I can’t shake the thought that I should be enriching my mind in an intellectual sense. I have felt shame every time I have given up on a heavy classic, because I should be stretching myself, because reading is supposed to be about learning. As if my break from academia isn’t about learning to relax, about letting myself breathe and having some fun. I know that as summer washes over me, this will become easier, that I will not feel quite so bad about reading solely for pleasure, because I have always associated this time with light and fun and I am used to giving myself permission to let go a little. I am very excited for the relief that it will bring.

If you are reading this, you are probably a bit of a book worm, like me. I reckon you probably share my excitement for summer reading, too. But if you’ve had your reading material selected for you all year, you might feel at a bit of a loss – what are you even looking for? Well, whether you’re off to the beach, in your back garden, in the car visiting country parks with your parents, or having to sneak-read behind the counter at work, I have a few fantastic recommendations for you:

If you’re starting university/college after Summer… Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer

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I read this graphic memoir whilst still at the Wrong University, and though I was completely distraught at the time, I was comforted by it. The protagonist, Ramsey, went to college in a completely new place, like me, and loved it, unlike me. Although I was bitter at the time that she got to enjoy her experience whilst I loathed it, I was also immensely reassured. It reminded me that it was possible. And whilst she loved where she went to school, it was clearly difficult for her, too. The workload, the navigation of a new city, the being away from home, the friendship anxiety… she was honest about that, which was so important for me. I needed to see that the people having a good time weren’t JUST living it up, it wasn’t ALL fun and games – that was just all I was seeing. I keep dipping into it again, and will certainly take it along with me when I go back to university in September, to soothe my anxieties. If you’re feeling stressed out about your move at all, I highly recommend Little Fish. Also, the drawings are so cute!

If you’re off on a road trip (or dreaming about one!)… The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

Reading this will make you really really really want start a band with your best friends. Like, REALLY. But it’s not an entirely light-hearted read – it’s very much concerned with the question of ‘finding yourself’, and gets pretty profound in places. The thing is, it’s not predictable – self-discovery in YA can be fairly formulaic, usually revolving around the manic pixie dream girl trope, but LaCour’s writing is much too good for that. It’s subtly woven in to the fun and adventure, and to the touching moments between friends and family and strangers.

If you’re going to Summer Camp/working at Summer Camp/feeling nostalgic for Summer Camp… Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

I’m ridiculously obsessed with Summer Camp stories for someone who was such an anxious kid that I was physically sick on the first night of every school trip or holiday camp I went on, and actually left after the first 48 hours one time. Alas, the idea of camp enchants me, and Maggie Thrash’s graphic memoir was wonderful for my obsession. The images are so beautiful, it’s easy to believe that some kind of magic goes into making camp happen. It is also a heart-warming tale of exploration, of the first crush and confusion that comes along with it. It shows how all-consuming it is the first time you fall for a girl, how you are overwhelmed by the girl but also overwhelmed in a scary way, overwhelmed by the fact that your desire appears to be unlike your peers. Perhaps most importantly, this book is an ode to the mystical, chaotic, insular world of teenage girlhood.

If you’re off to a music festival… Remix by Non Pratt

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Live music outdoors is one of the best things about Summer. FACT. And best friends are one of the best things about life. ALSO A FACT. Thus, Remix by Non Pratt? One of the best books in YA fiction. FACT FACT FACT. Seriously, nothing screams ‘TEENAGE GIRLS FOREVERRR’ more than this book. I adore that it is a dual narration, from both of the BFFs – Ruby and Kaz. Often when a book has more than one voice, it can lose depth, you don’t get to know the characters so well, but Non Pratt manages it perfectly. The emotions are raw, the love is real, and you can practically smell the mix of sun cream and vomit typical of a UK festival.

If you are really missing One Direction… Kill The Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

It is so rare to find representation of fangirls and fandom that isn’t condescending, that recognises the different dimensions of this whole thing. Goldy actually shows the more ridiculous side of fandom, the side that middle-aged men refer to as ‘hysteria’, but with humour, affection and compassion. Equally, she highlights the sheer brilliance of fangirls, how determined, quick-thinking and creative we can be. Most importantly, she writes about how fandom makes you feel – how you form friendships, feel an affinity with other young girls, and how the object of your devotion gives you blissful joy. I will leave you with this quote, which kind of sums up how I feel about One Direction, and made me cry, because I miss my boys: “Did I love them because they were the only boys in my life who consistently told me that I was beautiful? Probably. I loved The Ruperts for who they were, sure, but I mostly loved them for how they made me feel. Which was happy. The Ruperts made me happy. The simplest thing to be in the world. And the hardest.”

If you are mostly just furious and fed up with the white cishet patriarchal world… Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

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Queer People of Colour are simply not represented enough, but in YA fiction, it feels particularly problematic – this is a genre making waves, queer authors like David Levithan being some of the most prolific, and girl power trilogies such as The Hunger Games and Divergent being amongst the most successful. And yet, QPOC, particularly women, trans, and non-binary folk, are severely lacking. So along comes this novel, this outstanding novel, whose protagonist is a queer latinx young woman, and the book is blatant about that – the cover clearly and proudly depicts a woman of colour, and (not to stereotype, but…) she has an undercut, so clearly, she is queer (really, how many cishets do you know who have undercuts?). In moments the novel can feel a little bit 101 on intersectional feminism and being queer, but most of the time, the knowledge that is conveyed fits well. It’s about learning who you are and embracing that, it’s about the liberation that comes with finding your community, about respecting other communities, about challenging the norms and the crap you have internalised. It’s about a summer of discovery, and makes for a funny, emotional, and enlightening read.

If you want something to fill your heart like Perks once did, minus the manic pixie dream girl syndrome… Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

I can’t sing the praises of this book enough, and the thing that I want most in life nowadays is for Kate Scelsa to announce that it is going to be turned into a film, because I feel a physical NEED to see this adapted for the screen. It would have the best aesthetic. And I would also bawl, annoying everyone in the cinema. This was a book that I really connected to, it was the first time I felt like I’d read about being a teenager with depression and how it affects your life in a way that truly resonated. It wasn’t dramatic about it – of course, sometimes depression IS dramatic, but it’s so rare that it is written about in a non-dramatic context. It still gets intense, but it also gives a picture of a ‘regular’ life – Mira is depressed, and some days she can’t go to school, others she can. It’s a depiction of depression that resonated with me as I read the book, and I think is relatable for many. Beyond that, it’s a tale of friendship, and it is just so beautiful. It will make you feel ALL THE FEELINGS. I love these characters, I love their relationships with each other, I love the way they view the world. I’m certain that you will love it all too.

Hopefully, some of these books will take your fancy. If you’re not convinced, I dare you to give one a try anyway! I didn’t think that I was going to like Remix at all, for example, but after a glowing recommendation from a highly trusted friend, I picked it up – and I am so glad that I did. It ended up being one of my favourite reads of last summer! Read a couple of pages if you see a copy in your local bookstore, and I promise, you will fall in love with at least one of these beautiful stories. Then you can sit back, relax, and lose yourself in them. Enjoy your summer!

The Orlando shooting: alternative media

Author:
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Trigger warning – Orlando shooting

Here is a page dedicated to all those who lost their lives in the Orlando shooting at Pulse night club. 49 people were killed on Saturday – the biggest mass shooting in recent US history. They were queer people, predominantly Latinx queer people. As the media continues to blame Muslims and those with mental health difficulties, we thought we’d gather some alternative media. The articles below are by Muslim people and queer people, predominantly QTIPOC. We’ll keep adding to this list, so please send us anything you think should be included.

A video from Familia: trans and queer liberation movement

“We Must Remember That The Orlando Shooting Happened At A Gay Club On Latin Night” by Marie Southard Ospina

“Latinx LGBTQ Community & Its Stories of Survival Should Be at Center of Orlando Response” – an interview with Isa Noyola

“Queer Muslims exist – and we are in mourning too” by Samra Habib

“The hate behind the Orlando massacre” by Khaled A Beydoun and Mehammed A Mack

“Today is a tragic, sad day for the world’s LGBT community” by Shon Faye

“70 Percent of Anti-LGBT Murder Victims Are People of Color” by Michael Lavers

UK Black Pride press release

Noorulann Shahid speaks on channel 4 news

“Here Is What LGBT Muslims Want You To Know After The Orlando Shooting”

In honour of our dead: Latinx, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Black – we will be free – Black Lives Matter

“Defining safety for all queer people in the wake of Orlando” by Jacqui Germain

“This is how LGBT Muslims are responding to the Orlando shooting” by Fiona Rutherford and Aisha Gani

“Dear white, hetero, cis people: please don’t co-opt this tragedy” by Mariella Mosthof

“80 percent of LGBT people killed are minorities” by Leo Duran

“In Honor of Orlando: 10 Books That Celebrate Queer Latinx Identity”
A statement from the London Latinxs –

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Safra Project

“It was shocking and saddening to hear the news of the Orlando shootings yesterday, and to see the effects upon the world and community. I cannot describe how it feels to identify as queer, and to watch such a story unfolding- particularly, to read that the worst attack in recent US history was a hate crime based on gender and sexuality. My thoughts have been entirely with the victims and their families- not just those of the 50 lives lost, but also the countless other lives so broken by the acts of one person. At the moment, the entire community is in a state of grief and shock; it has been a hellish time, and I have not yet come across any individual who identifies as LGBTQ+ and hasn’t been affected. However, I have also been bearing in mind that, whilst this is a particularly bad attack, this is not a new thing: that the LGBTQ+ community history is steeped in discrimination and hate crime- which, whilst being an incredibly awful things to consider, is also powerful. There have been attempts to tear us down time and time again, and we are still here. The LGBTQ+ community is incredible in it’s adversity and solidarity, in it’s true meaning of the word community, and it is that that I, personally, am holding on to at the moment.” – PBGer Bex Dudley

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