“do you know what it’s like to live/someplace that loves you back?”

31IhYveEJTL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_The LGBTQ Book club met on May 29 at the Central Library to discuss Alex Gino’s George, a children’s book about a fourth-grade transgirl who names herself Melissa. Melissa’s dearest wish is to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web, but her teacher dismisses her because she presents as male. With help from her best friend and ally Kelly and the low-key support of the school principal, Melissa confides in her mother and brother. The novel ends with Melissa and Kelly enjoying an anonymous day at the zoo as two little girls.

Most of the readers who attended book club on the 29th don’t regularly read children’s literature so it took us a while to adjust to the vocabulary and pacing aimed at middle grader readers. Once we locked into the story, we did find the story accessible and Melissa’s family and friends familiar. We debated the term aspirational – Melissa’s journey is fairly easy as far as transitions go, could it be that Gino wished to showcase the possibility that transitioning doesn’t have to be a worse-case scenario, filled with rejection and violence? Did they write the transition story they wished they could have read as a child? The story normalizes transitioning and gives its intended audience of children the vocabulary to discuss trans identities, be it for themselves or like Melissa’s best friend Kelly, allies. As gentle as Melissa’s coming of age story is, the book does acknowledge that being trans is hard. Melissa’s mom is initially hesitant (she has her suspicions when she finds Melissa’s hidden purse full of images of women) but does explain her complex feelings. The ending is a soft landing and not as strong as the dénouement earlier in the book when Kelly shares clothes with Melissa, and through Kelly’s photographs show Melissa as subject and no longer object.

We discussed the title of the book. Gino has expressed regret at deadnaming Melissa so prominently, but some of our group found the pairing of a masculine name with feminine pronouns to be a compelling opening.

The novel is a great example of an own voices story. The audiobook is narrated by a transwoman actor. We thought it is useful for kids questioning their identities, the friends and families of those children and adults who want a glimpse into the mind of a trans girl.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
Author’s Guide

Next meetings:

“do you know what it’s like to live/someplace that loves you back?”

The LGBTQ Book club met on April 30 at the Central Library to discuss Danez Smith’s poetry collection, the 2017 National Book Award finalist Don’t Call Us Dead. It was our first foray into poetry as a group, in honor of National Poetry in April (and a feature of this year’s #NPRPoetryMonth). Smith identifies as Black, Queer and HIV postive (Pos), uses the pronoun they and is a member of the Dark Noise collective. danezsmith

We decided to focus on the first poem in the book, “summer, somewhere,” which “imagines a utopic afterlife for victims of racism and police brutality.”  The men and boys who have been killed by racist violence in America now exist in a perpetual, free, summer, where they “earned this paradise/by a death we didn’t deserve.” In that same interview, Smith says they found the writing of the poem cathartic and the chance to “build this world and imagine this alternate ending, to imagine something past what we call an ending.” Book club members all agreed that they were not regular poetry readers. Some don’t like the abstractness of poetry while others find line breaks distracting interruptions. Perhaps because of those preferences and that none of us share Smith’s identities, we probably missed many of their illusions. The poem is distinctly grounded in the Black, male experience (“I am sure there are other heres/somewhere for every kind”) but one reader was disappointed that he didn’t get an emotional connection to the experience of a Black, gay man. Some were put off by vulgarity. However, we all were able to find phrases that resonated and stuck with us.

We talked briefly about the other poems in the book, which was originally two manuscripts, one about “Smith’s personal identity and sexuality . . . the other focused on violence and brutality against black bodies.” There were instances of humor in  “dinosaur in the hood,” for example. More generally, we thought about the poems featured on the local bus service and the local poetry scene. There doesn’t seem to be an ongoing spoken poetry series anymore, but JMRL does host the annual Poetry on the Steps event as part of the Poem in Your Pocket celebration.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the poem
Recommended during discussion

Next meetings:

Posted in LGBTQ Book Club

“We must never be a country that says there’s only one way to love, only one way to look, and only one way to live.”

tomorrowThe LGBTQ Book club met on August 28 to discuss Tomorrow Will Be Different, Sarah McBride’s memoir about coming out trans in college, advocating for trans rights in Delaware, speaking at the Democratic National convention, finding love and losing it to cancer and advocating for trans rights on a national scale. It’s a lot to pack in to 25  years of living and a bit too much to pack into a book of this size.

About half of the group were familiar with trans people and rights before this meeting, although none of us knew much about McBride herself. One reader said that although he hadn’t been familiar, McBride’s authenticity elicited his empathy and that he has a better understanding of trans lives. Another reader had the opposite reaction, wanting more of McBride’s life story and less of the minutiae of her political life. We all agreed that while she does acknowledge her privilege (race, class, parental support), she doesn’t fully explore that but she is taking full advantage of the slide that has been greased for her.  

We explored the ways in which terms such as trans, bigot, and gay have evolved and the intersectionality of identities. One reader spoke of the conflict of including  lesbians and bisexuals in the now-LGBT community. We also touched on the work of trans women in the Stonewall riots.

Ultimately we agreed that the 28-year-old author has already led a remarkable life that is well documented in this book but we were left wanting to know more about the person and less about the potential political candidate.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
TED Talk

Other Trans Authors of Memoirs:
Arin Andrews
Cris Beam
Chaz Bono
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Katie Rain Hill
Skylar Kergil
Janet Mock
Jan Morris
Amy Ellis Nutt

Recommendation:
As One opera

Next meeting:
The LGBTQ Book Club is going on hiatus this fall. Look for more information on jmrl.org in the spring.