Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Nicole Melleby, Author of “Hurricane Season” and “In the Role of Brie Hutchens…”

I’m so excited to welcome Nicole Melleby, one of my favorite middle grade authors, to my blog for Shattering Stigmas. I loved Nicole’s heartfelt debut HURRICANE SEASON and can’t wait for her next two books IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… and HOW TO BECOME A PLANET. I’m so grateful for the multi-faceted and relatable girls that Nicole is bringing to kid lit and I always love to support a fellow Jersey Girl. You can can buy HURRICANE SEASON on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. You can pre-order IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. You can find Nicole on Twitter and her website.

Taylor Tracy: In Hurricane Season, there is the emotional arc of Fig’s Dad, who is struggling with mental illness, and then Fig, who is struggling with questioning her sexuality and the stress of managing her Dad’s mental illness to “protect” her family from CPS. Can you talk a bit about how you developed these two arcs and what you hoped to say with this story? 

Vincent van Gogh plays a major role in Hurricane Season. He serves as a lens through which Fig copes with her Dad’s illness and her role in relation to it. How did van Gogh and his life come to be a part of this story and did any research you did on his life surprise you?

Note: These were originally two separate questions that Nicole answered together. 🙂

Nicole Melleby: In spring 2017, my cousin Andrew was studying abroad in London. My aunt and uncle were planning a vacation for themselves and Andrew’s two younger sisters to go out for a week to see him. I pretty much decided I was going to crash the trip, and they, being the best, didn’t complain about it. 

At the time, I was coming out of a low period emotionally, and hadn’t really been writing anything much; it was too hard to be creative when I was feeling the way I was. But I was finally ready to try something new. I knew I wanted to explore the relationship between a father and daughter…but that was pretty much all I had. I didn’t really expect to work on the idea at all while on vacation, but I adjusted to the jet lag pretty quickly, while my family decidedly did not. So, I had my mornings to myself and I knew that the National Gallery in London was free—and I do love a free museum—so I decided to check it out.

When I got to the Van Gogh paintings, there was a tour guide talking about Van Gogh’s mental illness, and there was just…something so unbelievable relatable about what he was saying—particularly since, like I said, I was just coming out of my own depression—and I ended up going to the gift shop and buying a book of Van Gogh’s letters. At the time, the only thing I knew about Van Gogh was that he cut off his ear—so the surprising part was learning how much I felt connected to him and his thoughts and his mental illness the more I read about him, the more I wanted to understand him. 

I read all of his letters on the plane ride home, and I knew exactly what I wanted to write by the time we landed.

As far as Fig’s sexuality—I always knew I wanted to write queer stories, so I didn’t really give it much thought at first. I’m a queer woman, and I know how much these sort of coming of age stories would have meant to me when I was younger. 

The one thing I hope kids get out of this book, the one thing I wanted to accomplish, was that they know they aren’t alone, that they’re seen, that I see them.

Taylor: Hurricane Season and your upcoming 2020 middle grade, In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, deal with the emotional struggle of discovering one’s identity and beginning to share that with the people in one’s life. Can you discuss a bit about what brings you to write about the emotional journeys of queer girls in middle grade and how writing Brie’s story was different from writing Fig’s?

Nicole: Like I said, as a queer individual, it’s important for me to tell stories that I would have needed. That’s pretty much the question that every queer kidlit author is asked: Do you write the stories you needed? Of course I do! But also the answer is a little more complicated than that. The middle grade readers of now are different than when I was a middle grader—what they needed is different than what I needed, or wanted. So I try and think about what it would be like to be queer in today’s world, and mix that with the stories I wish I had when I was younger, and then just tell the most honest story I can about that journey. 

The biggest difference between writing Fig’s story and writing Brie’s, is that Brie’s sexuality plays a huge role in IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS…, it’s basically the leading storyline. Every obstacle that Brie faces stems from her awkward first crush on a girl, and her desperation to connect with her religious mom, in the face of her sexuality and what that means for her moving forward. Fig’s sexuality wasn’t what the story was shaped around, it was just a part of who Fig was. Both books also have coming out scenes—but Fig’s is short, and simple, and easy (which was something I wanted to write more than anything) and Brie’s is much more complicated, and happens over, and over, and over again. Fig’s dad accepts her (he’s even learning about his own sexuality in the meanwhile) while Brie’s family needs a little more work. 

It just goes to show that there’s no one way to come out, there’s no one story, that there are different ways to be accepted, different ways to understand who you are, different understandings of it in general. 

Taylor: I have to say, from someone who was a huge space nerd and Hayden Planetarium geek as a kid, I am SO excited for your 2021 release How to Become a Planet. Can you tell us anything about that book and what you’re trying to do with the mental health representation in it?

Nicole: I keep referring to this book as my inverse HURRICANE SEASON. The story starts off with an 11-year-old girl named Pluto having just gotten a depression and anxiety diagnosis. While HURRICANE SEASON dealt with Fig and her dad struggling with his undiagnosed bipolar disorder for most of the book, Pluto and her mom are struggling to understand and deal with Pluto’s diagnosis and what that means for Pluto moving forward. 

My friend Josh Levy (who wrote a wonderful sci-fi MG book called SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY) actually told me that he called the Hayden Planetarium Question and Answer Hotline to ask them questions about traveling in space while writing his book, which takes place on a public school that is a spaceship. When he told me this, I had already written a first draft of Pluto’s story—and her mom’s love of outer space and how she gave that love to Pluto—and I knew immediately I wanted to write that into my story. So Pluto, while wondering why astronauts decided that Pluto (the dwarf planet) wasn’t a planet anymore, and wondering why she has depression and why her life is changing because of it, calls up the Hotline to ask all of the big questions that are on her mind. Even if they can’t exactly help her. 

Taylor: What are some of your recommendations for great mental health representation, whether it’s in books, movies, TV, etc.? 

Nicole: Here are some of my favorite Middle Grade books that feature characters with mental illness: 

Taylor: Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in middle grade and YA, or issues you hope to write about but haven’t had the chance yet?

Nicole: Just like I said about how there isn’t one story fits all for sexuality, the same goes for mental illness. I would love more of the issues already written about, I would love ones that haven’t been written yet. Just like in LGBTQ MG—there isn’t as many stories about POC with mental illness, so I’d like a wider variety of children’s stories being told, too. I’m hoping to be able to continue to explore different stories about middle grade characters with different sexualities and mental illnesses moving forward, too. 

Taylor: Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share, especially for writers?

Nicole: You don’t have to write every day—I see so many writers wracked with guilt over how much or how little they write day-to-day, and it’s hard! Write how much you want to write, how much you need to write. You decide what those answers are. 

Find a group of writers who are in the same boat as you. If you’re looking for an agent? Find writers to commiserate with. If you’re on sub? Ditto. Find a debut group if you’re having a very first book coming out—because all of these stages are daunting and new and no one knows how to navigate them, but it helps not navigating them alone. 

Also: If you’re facing a rejection? I find it best to sing this ridiculous song, because it’s so ridiculous it makes me feel better every single time I have sung it to myself (which has been often, because rejection is part of being a writer!): Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I should just go eat worms. Worms! Worms! Worms!

Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. Her debut novel, HURRICANE SEASON earned three starred reviews and was awarded the Skipping Stones Honor Award for exceptional contribution to multicultural and ecological awareness in children’s literature. Her second novel, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… will be released Spring 2020. When she’s not writing, Nicole can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea..

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

“Write About Anxiety, Said My Brain” by Charvi @ It’s Not Just Fiction

I’m so excited to welcome teen book blogger Charvi to the blog today with a post about examining anxiety from a variety of angles and through books. Charvi is a newcomer to Shattering Stigmas and I’m so excited to have her post on my blog. Keep up with Charvi on her blog and Twitter.

Write about anxiety said my brain.
It’s gonna be great, said my brain.

Hi everyone! My name is Charvi and you can usually find me blogging away at Not Just Fiction. Today I’ve popped up at Taylor’s blog for the Shattering Stigmas series. First off, I want to applaud all the co-hosts of this series for coming up with this idea, I absolutely love it. Also, thank you so much Taylor for having me here 🙂

Why am I here though?

I’m here to talk about anxiety.

No, I’m not here to give you textbook definitions of what anxiety is and educate you on how to go about it. Because to start with, anxiety isn’t really something you can define. It is indefinable because  different people experience it differently. Trying to define anxiety would be like trying to define love, there is no one definition.

And many a times people don’t even use definitions, they use prevalent stereotypes associated with anxiety as definitions.

“Oh you’ve got anxiety? You must shy away from every single person and hate phone calls.”

Maybe, maybe not. Either way your stereotypes are making me uncomfortable or invalidating my anxiety, if I don’t fit into your stereotypes of what anxiety is. Here’s a true story for you. I’ve always been an anxious individual and a couple of years ago I found out that the internet associates anxiety with being afraid of making phone calls. I found phone calls a pretty normal part of my routine but to get that validation my teenage self somehow internalised that stereotype and now I’m anxious of phone calls. Bravo! As if I didn’t have enough anxieties in life 🙂

Please tread lightly when it comes to anxiety, or any mental health illness for that matter of fact. You may not intend to or even realise the amount of damage you are causing to the other person. Whatever you know about anxiety is only the tip of the ice-berg. I like how media, especially books are giving voice to anxiety in so many ways these days.

I’m so tired. I’m tired of anxiety that twists my stomach so hard I can’t move the rest of my body. Tired of constant vigilance. Tired of wanting to do something about myself, but always taking easy way out.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Every time I thought I’d worked out what I really enjoyed, I started to second-guess myself. Maybe I just didn’t enjoy anything anymore.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

But like I said, everyone experiences anxiety differently so there’s plenty more room for other narratives. In fact, for this post I want to list out some anxious thoughts that are a part of my daily routine, ones that you might never think a person with anxiety has to go through.

  • Me, lying in bed: my dorm neighbours are having some fun. Hmm, I wonder what my friends back home are doing. Are they having fun? Have they already forgotten about me because they haven’t contacted me in a long time. Wait am I the only one in my friend group who’s not having fun in life?
  • Oh that’s nice, my friend is going back home today. I hope they have a nice flight. Wait, it’s raining outside. What if their flight gets delayed? Or cancelled? What if they have to stay alone and hungry at the airport?
  • I wonder how my sister’s studies are going? Ugh she has such bad concentration, I hope she’s not on her phone right now. God I hope she gets good marks in her exams. What if she doesn’t?
  • Am I feeling anxious? Or am I hungry? Oh god why am I feeling anxious about feeling anxious??
  • God why is it so hot in October? It’s global warming that’s why. I’m so worried about this, when is the government going to act? Are we really going to die by 2050?
  • Okay, I’m so full. I literally can’t eat anymore. But there’s still some food and I don’t want to waste it. So I should eat it I guess. But what if I get a stomachache from eating too much? What do I do??

In a nutshell, my anxiety doesn’t just revolve around me. It revolves around the lives of every single person I know and every incident that takes place in my consciousness. Anxiety can be triggered by something extremely random and knowing that I’m getting anxious over something completely random and useless doesn’t help in the least bit.

I hope what I wrote resounds with at least one person who reads this, but even if it doesn’t resound with you, I’m going to recommend five books with great anxiety representation and hopefully you’ll see yourself in those books 🙂

“I learned years ago that it’s okay to do this. To seek out small spaces for me, to stop and imagine myself alone. People are too much sometimes. Friends, acquaintances, enemies, strangers. It doesn’t matter; they all crowd. Even if they’re all the way across the room, they crowd. I take a moment of silence and think:

I am here. I am okay.” –Eliza and her Monsters

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)” – Fangirl

“Some people’s coping mechanisms were all about festering and secrecy and ruminating until you grew yourself a nice little tumor in your heart with a side of panic attack. Different strokes.” – Emergency Contact

“I get into this weird place sometimes where I worry about that. I’ve never told anyone this – not my moms, not Cassie – but that’s the thing I’m most afraid of. Not mattering. Existing in a world that doesn’t care who I am.” – The Upside of Unrequited

“I wonder- if nobody is listening to my voice, am I making any sound at all?” – Radio Silence

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Social Anxiety and Heteronormativity by Olivia Gennaro

I know I shouldn’t play favorites with my Shattering Stigmas posters because they are all wonderful and I am so grateful for each and every one of you and my fabulous co-hosts Amber, Shannon and Mari. However, there is something special about having such a close friends share extremely personal things with me and on my blog. Olivia originally wrote this piece for last year’s Shattering Stigmas and it got lost in the shuffle. However, I’m more excited to post it this year because over the past year, Olivia has become such an incredibly close friend of mine, so thank you my favorite (and only) accountabilabuddy and podcast co-host. Speaking of our podcast, Culture Popped Open, you can find us on Twitter and Instagram, and you can listen to us wherever you get your podcasts. Olivia is a future English teacher (she’s gonna be goals, y’all) and you can find her bookish and educational musings on Twitter, Instagram and her blog. Take it away, friend. ❤

I have social anxiety. I can say that now because my licensed therapist agrees. I also didn’t figure it out until this year, and I didn’t even realize I had anxiety until four years ago, even though it all makes sense I’ve had this all along. Oh, and then there’s also how my therapists have said I probably have some sort of OCD, and I obsessively check my hair and pick the skin on my fingers and typo-check and over-explain things, revise, and explain again. There, that’s it. Over-explain things. Like I am right now. Let’s move on.

I’m also bisexual. I feel very sure of that and I’ve properly known for like three years, even though of course I’ve always known a little all along. I also like the word queer, but that one’s more difficult to explain to those outside the community. I sort of like pansexual, but how can I confidently say I’m attracted to all genders? Oh, look. There I go again. You get it.

These two things interact in a way that goes beyond that paragraph. For me, my social anxiety means that I take great pains to present myself how see myself, so that others can see myself that way. Hence the constant explaining. (This means I’m confident in school, because I’ve always been told I’m good at it, and you can see how my perfectionism ended up very unhealthy.) This obviously gets complicated when it comes to bisexuality. Unless I’m wearing a big bi flag button (which, admittedly, I do have on my backpack), no one’s first guess is going to be bisexual. It’s not anyone’s first guess. Most people are going to assume I’m straight, because the world is rather heteronormative. Others might think I’m gay now that I’ve got shorter hair and sometimes I’ll dress more masculine (I like to switch it up). Or they might assume one or the other depending on the gender (or assumed gender) of the person I’m dating. And then I can’t just broadcast this fact to everyone, either, because homophobia and biphobia exist, and my social anxiety really just wants people to like me because that’s how I feel in control of my image. Being “political” or “controversial” by nature doesn’t go well with that.

And then bisexuality comes with even more explaining, because a lot of people don’t understand it. When did you know? How do you know? When did you come out? Are you 50/50? Have you been with each? Wait, there’s more than two genders? Then why do you say you’re bisexual? But if you’re in a relationship with [gender], are you still bi? How does that work??

So, naturally, every time I tell someone I’m bi, I have to resist the urge to explain exactly what I mean by that and my entire history of crushes on various genders. (Thankfully, a lot of my friends at college are totally used to bi people, if they aren’t LGBTQ themselves.) But this world is aggressively heteronormative, which I learned I really, really hate.

This is the story of how I learned that.

I’m going to curb my compulsion to explain everything when I set the scene here, so: Senior prom. Small school; we all knew each other. My boyfriend of 2.5 years broke up with me a few months earlier, and we’d tried to stay “friends.” (We actually had different definitions of what friends were, at least good ones, so after graduation we stopped speaking.) We were in the same friend group, which was more or less the half of the grade because again, small school. As you’d imagine, with my social anxiety that I hadn’t figured out yet, I was terrified of being that girl (dumped, upset, vengeful, so on), in addition to all the academic pressures. I knew I was bi, but I was only out to my ex at the time. (He was totally fine with it. But that’s another story.)

In this new stage of my life, where I was single and college-bound and just looking forward to all the independence that comes with that, I figured we would hang out with our mutual friends together. There were other girls I knew who were recently single and it seemed like a fun idea. After all, he’d broken up with me to be single and focus on himself, right?

But then I asked him if that’s what he was thinking of too, and he revealed he’d already had a probable date, one of those recently single friends, so there went my plan. Putting aside all the personal feelings that necessarily came up here, he said something that bothered me: “It’s important to me and my family.”

I didn’t understand this, and honestly, I’d never understood all the conventions about buying tickets or paying for dinner. (Not to mention that we’d had a junior prom, of course, and took many pictures.) We’d always make a joke of it. I said it was because it was important to me that I felt equal in our relationship, which is why all the college and career stuff caused me to panic a lot and ended our relationship. But now I understand it was about way more than that—it was my queerness.

I had this complete existential crisis during the actual dance. Most of our friends had dates, mostly not romantic ones, and I just didn’t understand why it was so important. (Of course, all the pictures taken to be posted to social media also stressed me out, because of my obsession with getting my hair to look right and the digital trail of information.) Sure, I had an argument with my ex over I don’t remember what and cried, but I spent a lot of time sitting in the bathroom, just thinking about why none of this felt right and other senior year feelings.

Part of that was my sexuality, even if I didn’t quite put my finger on that at the time. I wanted—needed—to be seen as me, and I’m bisexual. And that fact will never go away no matter what relationship I’m in.

Social anxiety can be illogical, exhausting, and time-consuming, but it does force me to examine who I am. And while I struggle daily against the heteronormativity that means most people don’t see me as I truly am, there are benefits from this self-scrutiny. Labels like “bisexuality” and “social anxiety” help me understand how I operate, eliminating all the fear and confusion that dominated my teen years.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Phil Stamper, Author of “The Gravity of Us”

I am so thrilled to welcome Phil Stamper to the blog today to talk about his forthcoming debut THE GRAVITY OF US, which is out February 4, 2020 from Bloomsbury. You can pre-order it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book DepositoryIndieBound and Target. If you pre-order, you can get a signed bookplate that was actually IN SPACE by filling out this form. I talked to Phil about his adorably gooey queer contemporary debut about the sons of astronauts who might have a bit of an out-of-this-world romance while uncovering secrets about the space program and the media. I read THE GRAVITY OF US this summer and loved it a lot. I am so excited for everyone to read this book and see what Phil writes next. To see what Phil is up to, you can find him on Twitter and Instagram and his website.

Taylor: So I loved THE GRAVITY OF US and want to first talk about the mental health rep in it. First, I LOVED Cal’s mom. It was the first time I saw a parent in a YA book who had mental health issues, but managed them and was still presented as a loving authority figure in the MC’s life. And I loved that you included online therapy as a valid, accessible option through her character. Secondly, I loved the representation of Leon’s depression and how that was complicated by his life in the public eye and how his mental health issues affected how he could connect with other people.

Can you discuss a little bit about how these specific elements became a part of the book and why you wanted to write about them?

Phil Stamper: I’m SO happy that you enjoyed the mental health rep in GRAVITY. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years learning how to manage my own mental health, and that was a big inspiration for me in building out these characters. Such a big part of the mental health conversation is in how we communicate our experiences with mental health to our friends and family, and I’m glad I got to explore that dynamic throughout the book, especially in conversations between Cal and his mother, and Cal and Leon.

In GRAVITY, I got to play with how the media treats mental health, but also talk about something we all experience at some point: how big life changes affect those with anxiety or depression differently. I wanted to include characters who experienced mental health at multiple stages: undiagnosed, but prevalent; diagnosed, but untreated; and diagnosed, treated, but still not perfect. Some of this came naturally as I wrote the story, but I’m glad I was able to hone in on these experiences and make it a part of their character—but not have it define who these characters are.

Taylor: THE GRAVITY OF US is also in many ways about the emotional impact of the interfering forces of fame, reality television, science and technology and myths of American nostalgia all encompassed in a book that reflects on the zeitgeist of the 1960s space race and what a space race to Mars would look like today…with queer teen leads! And these forces have a deep emotional impact on Cal and Leon on their families. Can you discuss a little bit about what brought you to write about these forces and how you developed the larger emotional arcs of the story?

Phil: Ah, it always feels so great when someone fully gets what I was trying to do with this book… and articulates it way better than I ever could! To what brought me to write about this: I have always been a space nerd, especially when it comes to the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions. I’ve read dozens of astronaut/engineer memoirs, watched documentaries, and I’ve got a growing collection of LIFE magazines from the era. 

While reading THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB, actually, I realized that one thing in the background of every astronaut story kept calling out to me. The astronaut families essentially became the celebrities of this era, frequently gracing the covers of magazines and giving interviews for national news outlets. This meant the astronauts’ spouses and children had to be immaculately dressed, polished, and ready to entertain, all while not knowing if their husbands or fathers would come home alive that night. In THE GRAVITY OF US, I wanted to capture this brilliant tension while also showcasing a contemporary queer love story. 

I wanted it to be relevant for today, so I built in the Orpheus missions to Mars and the reality TV elements, but I also knew I personally had a lot of nostalgia for this (very flawed) era that I needed to unpack. Cal is what brought it all together: putting a skeptic at the forefront of the story helped so much with keeping my own nostalgic inclinations at bay and, like a true journalist, he got to the root of the story. 

Taylor: Finally, what are some of your favorite books, movies, TV shows, etc. that feature mental health representation? And what do you hope to see more representation for in the future?

Phil: In the video game Celeste, the main character deals with anxiety and self-doubt through her journey climbing a mountain. The game visualizes this later on by pitting the main character against a “dark side” copy of herself, and you ultimately realize that you don’t need to outrun this “dark side” but rather try to understand and work alongside her to climb the mountain. As someone who’s trying to get a little more comfortable with breathing exercises, I appreciated one part of the game where she’s guided through a panic attack. The player does this by holding down and releasing a button to simulate breathing, while you’re trying to keep a feather floating in the air. It’s all beautifully and respectfully done, which is rare to see in any media.

I would like to see better rep across the board, but especially TV and movies. While I think we’ve come a long way in book publishing, there are still so many toxic mental health stereotypes getting pushed through. That said, I feel incredibly lucky to be an author who can regularly discuss mental health both on and off the page, and I hope that only continues. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I am definitely happy about where we’re at, and where we’re going.

Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. He has a B.A. in Music and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt. He works for a major book publisher in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog. THE GRAVITY OF US is his first novel, but he’s no stranger to writing. His self-insert Legend of Zelda fanfiction came with a disclaimer from the 14-year old author: “Please if you write a review don’t criticize my work.” He has since become more open to critique… sort of.

Posted in Blog Series

On Pride and Queer Rep Year-Round by Maya Gittelman

I have known Maya for years as the person who announced the events at the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble. But now we’re friends! I was so worried about how I was going to close out this event, and then Maya sent me the perfect post to do the job. You can find Maya on Twitter. They also write for The Body is Not an Apology.

I have so many messy feelings about Pride and my relationship to it, year-round. Because it is not a single thing, a flat experience. Pride is a palimpsest, simultaneity, tragedy inextricable from joy and vice versa. Pride as we know it began as a riot, a revolution of angry and hurt Black and brown trans women fighting for safety, for healthcare, for protection from the state. Today Pride celebrations are too often actively inaccessible and fail to center Black and brown queer trans voices. Pride has become a capitalistic, exploitative nightmare, coopted by cis, sometimes allohet white folks to party and sell things.

And yet…I find so much joy in it.

The thing is, I want to be unapologetically queer year-round. I want to exist outside of cisheteronormativity. I want to surround myself with queer everything: queer fairytales, queer sci fi, queer businesses, queer stories, queer love, queer community. All of my identities are nonbinary: my sexuality (bi), my race (mixed, Filipinx-Jewish, and diaspora too), my gender (literally nonbinary). Lots of folks, including LGBTQAI+ elders, have told me I’ll grow out of wanting to wear my queerness on my sleeve, that I will grow up and settle into being just like straight folks, except also I like people who aren’t cis men.

Some people love that idea, and that’s fine! But I don’t want that. I love being queer. I love knowing myself enough to know I can lead a different life than what the a cishet patriarchy wants from me. I can be honest with my body and my heart now. I can live honestly in the love I share with a woman.

I’ve always felt a distance from the expression “Love is Love,” which parallels the idea that hey, queer folks are just like you cisallohets! It’s asking to be seen as human, too. But what it leaves out is that LGBTQAI+ folks…we navigate this world differently. Pride is inextricable from grief, from loss, from danger and fear. Not for everyone, not to the same degree, and privilege is always a factor.

Yet in general at least, queer love is a triumph.

In a world, a set of systems that prescribes who we are supposed to be and love and become, queer love and queer self-love is an act of revolution. It’s such a tender, magical thing, such an absolute privilege and a gift, to survive and exist like this, and to get to love myself and my girlfriend within in. I can’t believe it, sometimes. For all the tensions surrounding Pride, it feels like a reminder, resonating, cliché but true: we’re here, we matter, you are not alone.

And that’s what LGTBQAI+ books do for me. Year-round.

I realized a few months ago that I can picture the queerest scenes from my favorite books so easily, because I’ve read and reread them so often. For so many, many years I only had tragic stories, stereotypes, or fanfiction. Now, I have the beautiful bi love story of Labyrinth Lost. The all too necessary vindication of I Wish You All the Best. The glory of This Is Kind of An Epic Love Story. The self-love of Patsy. The revolution of We Set the Dark on Fire. The magic of When the Moon Was Ours. The poetry of When the Chant Comes. The messy bi love triangle of Odd One Out. And so many, many more. The surge of LGBTQAI+ is still a small one compared to the whole of publishing, but it’s gamechanging. It means I get to read stories in which people have bodies like mine and loves like mine and not only survive, but get happy endings, and that lets me envision a future I once wasn’t sure I was allowed to have.

Love should be love, but it’s not. Queer love and queer self love are hard-won things. So even though Pride is a messy month, I am grateful for it: for the community, for the reckoning with our past and how far we have yet to go, and for the excuse to be absolutely brazenly queer. I hope soon we can do it every day of the year. Until then, I’ll spend my days reading books that let me celebrate queerness in all its messy, magic triumph.

Posted in Blog Series

A Guest Post from Olivia Hinebaugh, Author of “The Birds, The Bees, and You & Me”

Here today to talk about identity, privilege and more is Olivia Hinebaugh, debut author of The Birds, The Bees, and You & Me, which you can buy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. I love this book a lot and Olivia is incredibly sweet. You can find her on Twitter and at her website.

I was watching Orange Is The New Black with my spouse. It was the episode where we get to see Laverne Cox’s character’s backstory. Her wife was so supportive of her transition and it made me feel sappy, so I turned to my spouse and said, “I would support you and love you the same if you were a woman.” He turned and looked at me in disbelief. When he said the reverse wasn’t true, I was offended.

Because I love and am attracted people regardless of their gender or sex. Like, that literally does not matter at all to me. Generally, I thought most people were like me. Hearing that my spouse cared about my gender or sex so much was weird to me. It started the wheels turning. I never thought I’d be 30ish and questioning my sexuality. Nothing about me felt different, though. I had always had crushes on guys, girls, and especially people who weren’t, like, super masculine or feminine. But, I only ever really dated guys. (OK. Honest talk here: I married my first boyfriend…so…kisses on the other hand, men were in the minority) 

A great thing happens when you get a little older. First of all, so many of the people I knew in younger years as straight and cis, are openly LGBTQIA. All of these wonderful shades of nuance came into focus as more and more of my peers lived their truths. And suddenly, the fact that I had kissed more girls than guys, and the fact that a huge majority of what I considered crushes were almost solely platonic started to make me wonder.

Right now, where I sit, as a 34 year old woman: I am a white cis woman who is married to a white cis man and has children, but I’m also pansexual and demisexual. Another way I look at it is, I’m queer enough that I identify, but I’m also super privileged so I need to cede my voice and listen when my more marginalized pals talk. 

Learning the term “demisexual,” by the way, was the closest thing I’ve had to a true lightbulb moment in my entire life. I’ve just never walked around thinking about sex. Or having urges to jump anyone. My urges were more like “I want to have coffee with them” or “I’d like to make them smile.” Only when I was really and truly fully enamored with someone on a fairly deep platonic level, did I *ever* want to kiss them. I need to be super comfortable with someone. And the other lightbulb moment came when I realized that my friends who had flings and one-night stands were maybe allosexual. I had always struggled to understand how you, like, meet someone, think they’re hot, and then jump in the sack with them. I wouldn’t say I judged them. Because that’s, like, against the rules of feminism. I just didn’t understand them, even though I’m very sex positive. I want all people to have the sex life they want (with consensual parties). I don’t need to understand someone’s sexual experiences to accept them. And that has been a really powerful lesson.

We can all, all the time, work on being more understanding and accepting. I have always been an ally and a feminist, but I still learn ways to be better at both of those things. 

As a writer for teens, part of me is excited to include things that I didn’t know about at that age. In The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me there are characters who are bi and on the ace spectrum (*cough* very similar to me). I grace those characters with more self-knowledge than I had, because I can’t imagine how awesome it would have felt if a friend turned to me and said “yeah, I choose random celebrities to be ‘obsessed with’ because other people are doing that,” and I’d be, like, “right?” Or someone to be like “well, gee, I actually think androgynous people are hot. And that’s valid.” Or if anyone ever used the term “nonbinary.” Holy smokes, the doors it might have opened.

This is by no means a “kids these days have it so good,” kind of post. It’s just that I do want to do my part to help kids these days. If I’ve done that–even in a small way–as an author, then a dream has come true. 

Folks, there are just billions of ways to be a person. You can label these facets, or you could decide you hate labels. You can love in so many different ways. When I think about that, it’s impossible not to smile.

Posted in Blog Series

Being Me by Savvy @ Savvy the Book Royal

I’m so happy to welcome Savvy to the blog today to share their coming out story (and I am so, so proud of them). Savvy is a queer teen book blogger and bookstagrammer Check out their book blog Twitter and writing Twitter. You can also find them at their blog.

I’ve gone back and forth on how I wanted to word this. I’ve rewritten it time and time again, and not just for this post. I’ve said it in my head so many times, but I’ve never been able to fully put into words how I feel being out to most people. About how I feel now that I’m able to fully be myself.

I think the best way I can think of putting it is, a breath of fresh air. It’s like trying to swim from one end of the long pool to the other without ever surfacing and then finally, when you can’t take it anymore and your lungs are burning and yelling, bursting from the water for that first gasp of air. You never realize how much you needed it until you finally got it.

I never realized how much of myself I was hiding until I finally shared with my mom, my grandparents, and my aunts that I’m gay. To my mom that I’m nonbinary.

It was like surfacing from sitting on the bottom of the pool. It was my breath of fresh air. The gasp I needed after a long time of pretending to be someone other than me.

Being able to be me was like finally being able to breathe.

I was confused and felt like I was being held down when I was questioning and it was as alright when I finally settled on not really labeling my sexuality beyond gay and queer. I was as good as one can be when they finally admit to themselves that they haven’t been honest with others about who they are. And it was better for a time but the looming thought of sharing this new part of myself that I discovered, that I continued to keep to myself, was terrifying. Proclaiming who you are to the world is terrifying. But after so long I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t stand not being me around the people who thought they knew me the best. The people who, a lot of the time, know me better than I know myself.

I wanted to be able to be comfortable being me and I wanted to be able to be me around the people I care about. And even though they have to work on some things, I’m lucky enough that they want me to be comfortable being myself with them. They taught me to be unapologetically myself, and to get everything off my chest and to be able to be me, not hiding any part of myself, is thrilling. It’s terrifying, but thrilling.

I can just be me.

And that feeling, even if from very few people and even if some of their reactions were not the best, that feeling of putting a piece of myself out there to share with the world is enough to keep me going. It reminds me of what it’s like to unapologetically be myself and that no one should be able to hold you back from that feeling. No one can stop you from being you and if they try they’ve never really been there for you. They’ve only been there for their image of you and that’s not the real you.

That feeling is being yourself and there’s almost nothing as refreshing.

It’s all about feeling when the time is right, when you feel it’s safest for you. I’m still in one situation where I can’t be myself because I can’t read the people. I can’t tell where they stand. And that’s okay. Not pushing for a situation you can’t read is okay. You get to choose when you want to be you. When you’re ready.

But dang, do I long to be able to feel that thrill of unleashing me to everyone I know. To be able to finally be very openly gay . . . And maybe one day, openly nonbinary.

Until then, I’ll just keep being as much of me as I can with the people around me. I’ll take my small breaths here and there and I’ll wait for those last few big gasps. For now, I’m content withslowly being able to breathe again.

Posted in Blog Series

A Journey of Self-Discovery from Becca @ Becca’s Book Realm

I am so excited to welcome Becca to the blog today to talk about their story of self-discovery and talk about their identity today for 30 Days of Pride. It is such a joy to welcome them to share their story in this space. Becca is a blogger and gamer who is autistic and has incredible tattoos. You can find them on Twitter and their blog.

I didn’t realize till I was 18 that the curiosity I’d had for girls all throughout middle school (and even earlier) was the same curiosity I had for boys. I’d thought I simply admired them, wanted to befriend them, wanted to be them, found them aesthetically and platonically pleasing to look at, etc. But because I didn’t necessarily want to make out with them the way I did boys, I didn’t see those feelings as romantic at all. It never even occurred to me. See, no one told me that sexuality could be so nuanced. Nobody told me that you can have a preference for one gender and still be bisexual. I thought you had to like the 2+ genders you were attracted to equally in order to be bisexual. I didn’t know demiromantic or demisexual were things. I didn’t know attraction could vary greatly among genders. So that’s part of the reason that I didn’t even realize my feelings had been of a romantic nature until one day my senior year of high school when it very suddenly hit me that I liked this girl in a “more than friends” kind of way. I’ve struggled a lot with doubt these past couple years, unsure if I’d read my feelings correctly and coming to terms with the fact that preferences and varying degrees of attraction existed within bisexuality. 

As for the Aspec part of my sexuality, I’m still figuring it out. I’ve never really had intense romantic feelings for anyone, including my crushes, which is what first led me believe that I was maybe demiromantic or demisexual. Now, I’m thinking I’m gray aro when it comes to girls, and possibly demisexual when it comes to them as well, if not for all genders. I still have sexual fantasies, I still have libido, I know that I want a sexual aspect to my romantic relationships and it can be very hard to determine whether I’m feeling libido or attraction when I’m reading erotic romances. It’s especially hard since I have no romantic or sexual experience. It’s something I’ll need to figure out as I go, but for now I’m comfortable calling myself gray aro and demi. 

Then there’s the polyamorous aspect to my bisexuality. I don’t think people understand that, at least for me, polyamory isn’t a decision I made. It’s not a choice. Instead, it’s more of a realization I came to. A realization that I need to be with both a man and a woman in order to feel completely satisfied in my relationship. And that’s why I see polyamory as a queer identity, as a queer type of relationship. I’m just way too bisexual to settle down with only one gender for my whole life. I may not experience attraction to men and women the same way, and I’m still not sure whether I’m sexually attracted to women at all, but I do know that I’m capable of loving them romantically and I know without a doubt that I want to spend my life with two people of two different genders. Realizing this has made me more confident in my bisexuality than I’ve ever been before. Now, when I picture getting married, having kids, being in a relationship, there’s always two people involved rather than one. I want to build a family and live in a house and live happily ever after with two people I love unconditionally, and I can’t imagine it any other way. It TRULY is 20biteen. 

I won’t even get into my gender identity right now cause I’m still not entirely sure I’m not cis and I don’t really know what exactly to label myself or how I feel about how I present, or about gendered terms. I do know I don’t wanna be confined to “feminine” ideals, clothing, etc. I’m experimenting with how I dress and how I present and still trying to figure out whether I’m confusing attraction to non binary genders with wanting to BE a non-binary gender. I’ll let you know when I figure it out, but for now my pronouns are she/they or xie/xer/xem. 

Thank you to everyone I’ve met online who’ve encouraged me to be myself, who’ve offered me advice and encouragement and solidarity. You’ve helped me come to terms with so much and helped me learn to accept myself without reservations and I’ll forever be grateful. 

Posted in Blog Series

Great Books with Bisexual Representation by Sam @ Some Books & Ramblings

I’m so excited to welcome a teen blogger to the blog today to share some book recommendations with you all for 30 Days of Pride!

When Ben announced that they were doing a pride month blog post session, I knew I wanted to participate. I wanted to share my story and share some of my favorite books with bisexual rep!

1. They Both Die at The End by Adam Silvera

Not only is Adam Silvera a queer author, but one of the main characters of TBDATE is bi! This story is exhilarating, heartbreaking, mysterious and fun. I would highly encourage people to read this if they are looking for Queer POC rep!

2. The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater

This series has a bi/gay relationship around halfway through, so I won’t spoil who it is because it isn’t known at the beginning, but I love the character. I can’t wait for Maggie’s follow-up series!

3. Shades of Magic Series by V.E. Schwab

Like all the books before, this series has a bi/gay relationship and I personally am a big fan.  V.E. Schwab is a magical storyteller and as a Queer author herself, I think she deserves to be mentioned on this pride list!

4. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

I talk about this book all the time on my blog, and I would be remiss not to include my fave disaster bi who is pining for his best friend on a hijinks-filled trip across Europe. (Fun fact: the sequel that stars The MC’s sister, The Ladies’ Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, has Ace rep!)

5. The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments spin-off)

This stars a self-titled freewheeling bisexual warlock and a gay Shadowhunter! Magnus and Alec were one of the first queer relationships I ever read, and Magnus personally means a lot to me ❤

6. Godsgrave (Nevernight, #2) by Jay Kristoff

Let’s start this one off by mentioning that THIS IS NOT A YA BOOK. It is adult. However, that doesn’t make it any less amazing (if you get past the footnotes). This is actually the first Bisexual woman on this list, and she is a total badass. Jay shows the male and female relationships in throughout the first and second books (jury’s still out on the third as it comes out in #Stabtember) If you are okay with violence in abundance, strong swearing and on page sex, then definitely give this one a try.

7. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This book is full of representation. Bi, gay, POC, disabled, fat, survivor of abuse, and probably more that I’m forgetting. You don’t have to have read Leigh’s Grisha Trilogy beforehand, but this duology is mind-blowingly good.

8. The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

The MC is introduced as Bi, and at the end, there are clues to another character being bi/gay. I can definitely see more happening between a few of these characters and if you want more POC, disabled, queer rep that takes place in a magical town with a murderous forest, magical powers, and 4 troubled teens, then you will definitely want to pick this book up. I’m dying for the next one!

9. The Fever King by Victoria Lee

This book, man. This book has been described by Victoria Lee herself as every character being queer. In the first book, we have a bi/gay relationship and I can’t wait to see where this series is going. It has Queer, POC, and Survivor rep, not to mention it’s a cool dystopian take on a future North Carolina (Durham, to be exact) and it ended on such a cliffhanger!

Make sure you check out my post for The Fever King blog tour that included my interview with Victoria Lee, playlists for each character and an exclusive short story about 2 of the characters!

10. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This is the 3rd BI woman on this list, and this book is a doozy. I like to describe it as a very gay flashback about the Marilyn Monroe of this fictional world. This book is impressive, gorgeous, heartbreaking and tragic. I will recommend this to everyone, ever.

I hope anyone who sees this discovers a book they didn’t know had Queer rep and you find a new character you can relate to! These books make me feel not so alone, and they’re written wonderfully.

I want to thank Ben for allowing me to share my list of Bisexual book rep list and my coming out story, even if it isn’t as vital as some other stories are. I know I didn’t have to go through any of the bad like most queer people, and I am aware of what others go through. Sometimes it’s cathartic to share your story, and I wanted to share my mom’s business with those who may need it.

You can always talk to me if needed, and you can find me at Somebooksandramblings.home.blog, Twitter at @ramblingbooks, Instagram at @somebooksandramblings, or you can email me at somebooksandramblings@gmail.com. 


Bio:

Hi, my name is Sam and I am an LGBT+ teen book blogger located in Georgia! I specialize in blog tours, reviews, book tags and more! My favorite genres are fantasy, sci-fi and contemporary fantasy. You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and Email!

I hope you have a good day!