“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

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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

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.

“The only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit the mold.”

simon coverThe LGBTQ Book club met at Central on July 31 to discuss the young adult novel Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. Everyone liked the warm coming-of-age story of Simon’s email flirtation with an unknown classmate, his forced outing, and the revelation of the surprise identity of his online crush. The novel is populated with Simon’s family and many, many friends, which are hard to keep track of but all have clearly drawn personalities. The book is lauded for its diverse cast of characters, but this seemed very subtle to us.  We were pleasantly surprised with the support Simon received from his family, friends and teachers, something that would have been unusual in a young adult novel ten years ago. While some of us who grew up in the area thought it rang true, a few of us thought that Simon’s classmates could have be crueler in real life and that Simon was free from any religious shaming.

Simon notices small, physical details about his friends such as the shape of their fingers. However, his primary relationship with Blue is conducted all online, with no physicality. Getting to know each other through email allows each boy to craft what they are saying, making their relationship less awkward and more intimate than it would have been face-to-face. This is mirrored the first time they are intimate, which is hilariously cringe-worthy.

The quotation “straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold,”  resonated with us. One participant read an interview with the author who explained that the title was a play on the phrase “homosexual agenda.” While we didn’t think that would resonate with today’s teens (and none of us realized it while reading the book), it does position the coming out story as part of the human condition. This is a deeply human story and everyone must struggle with identity, ideally without wounding others along the way.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
Other works
Movie adaptation

Alex Stranglove (film)
Rise (TV series)

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