This month’s queer reader is Shvaugn Craig, a voracious reader and big-time supporter of public libraries and diverse books, including SFF, Can Lit, poetry, and the occasional non-fiction title. She’s from a small city in unceded Secwepemc Territory in BC and is just newly using the words bisexual and demisexual to describe herself. She added that “I keep expecting the identity police to appear out of nowhere and accuse me of lying” to which I say, fuck the identity police! Shvaugn just graduated from university and has a lot of knowledge about communication, media analysis, publishing, book design, gender, and sexuality, which she will hopefully be able to use in whichever job she ends up doing. You can find out more about Shvaugn and all her bookish loves at her book blog, The Borrowed Bookshelf. But first, stick around and hear what Shvaugn has to say about finding queer books in the public library, some awesome bisexual book recommendations, and researching her next read like a serious hobby.
What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)
I don’t actually remember the first LGBTQ2IA+ book I read. We moved a lot when I was younger and I was a really quiet, bookish kid who spend a lot of time at the school and public library. Reading and information was always encouraged by my parents and I spend a lot of time reading and researching gender and sexuality as a teen. Even though my family is really progressive and I had access to all these books and information online, my actions always felt like a secret, albeit a poorly kept one. I spent a lot of time hiding in the non-fiction stacks and had the dewy decimal number for gender and sexuality memorized for a while. I remember being afraid that somebody at the library would stop me from checking out queer books, saying that they weren’t appropriate for teenagers. My internalized fear of queerness led to me reading a lot of queer books, fiction and non-fiction, and not recognizing myself in them because I couldn’t gather the courage or understanding to apply those terms to myself.
One of the books I remember reading and having it make a big impact as a teenager was Ash by Malinda Lo. Although I wound up reading it as a bisexual love story and not a lesbian one, it was still one of the first books that really spoke to me. I’m pretty sure I just stumbled across it at the library but I remember being aware of the book before I read it and knew it was a queer fairytale retelling.
What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?
Why must you make me chose?!
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. This book was so pivotal in my reading habits and understanding of my sexuality. It was one of the first adult fantasy books I read and depicted such interesting and real character relationships.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. This probably isn’t thought of as a queer book that much, seeing as it’s a military space opera that’s primarily focused on taking down a rebellion. But I’m a huge supporter of world building that creates queerness and trans identities from the ground up so that they’re an ordinary part of the world and Yoon Ha Lee does an amazing job with that.
Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote. This was the first collection of Ivan’s work I ever read. They were presenting at the local writing festival when I was in high school and I bought it even though I had no money to do so. It’s one of my favourite collections by them and I tend to reread it every few years.
Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones. This is a recent favourite. I didn’t know I needed a queer historical fantasy of manners with women becoming academics until I saw author Shira Glassman promoting it on twitter.
She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya. I loved Shraya’s poetry collection even this page is white as well but She of the Mountain was one of the first books I ever read that examined the complicated feelings around bisexuality and feeling forced to ‘choose a side’.
Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?
I’m going to go with Kushiel’s Dart again. One of the major problems I had with identifying as bisexual is how queerness is primarily culturally presented as the opposite of straightness, erasing bisexuality and other fluid or non-binary identities. It’s the classic ‘I can’t be gay because I still like men’ while I spend time secretly checking out women, romancing women in D&D and video games, and compulsively reading Autostraddle. Bisexuality was so rarely represented in media that I couldn’t manage to apply the word to myself. Phedre’s relationships really helped open that understanding up, as her attraction and feelings for both men and women don’t cancel each other out. They’re an integral part of her character and the plot, and other characters understand that.
Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?
A week ago I would have had an answer but after reading The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, the queer, all-female, biopunk space opera of my dreams, I’ll have to find a new one.
I’m just always hoping for more books, more support for new authors, translated books, books by authors outside of Western Anglophone countries, intersectionality, and SFF world building that doesn’t have queer and trans characters as an outlier to humanize the particular group they represent, but rather builds the world from the ground up to include that group of people as an integral part of it. I’m all for undoing hetero-patriarchal discourses of power and relationships where ever they’re found in fiction and creating new stories and worlds that challenge and centre themselves in other ideologies, mythologies, histories and discourses.
How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?
I find a lot of good recommendations from your blog actually as I like to read Can Lit and find that it’s not often promoted outside of Canadian literature spaces. The Lesbrary is also another place I trust, particularly their tumblr as I find it easier to navigate than their website. I joke that researching books is my second hobby though and I spend a lot of time collecting lists, following blogs, and reading reviews. I’m really thankful for all the work other bloggers and readers have put into finding queer and trans books. When I was starting blogging and looking for queer books I was so happy to not feel alone and to find really dedicated bloggers, readers and reviewers.
Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? What’s it like? Why or why not?
I primarily participate in LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities online as I’m largely an introvert. Although social media filter bubbles do get criticized, and for legitimate reasons, one of my favourite parts of the internet is being able to build communities. I grew up in a town of 16,000 people that’s largely white, conservative and christian. There were no in-person queer spaces available to me in high school or college. The closest thing available was an LGBT community centre in Kelowna that did party nights, a whole hour and a half one way, which I never did make it out to. Community through the internet was the only option available. There’s a number of LGBTQ2IA+ bloggers, readers, writers, and reviewers that I interact with on twitter, tumblr and elsewhere, and I’m really grateful to be able to have serious discussions about diversity in books with them but also squee over fan art and speculate about forthcoming releases.
Thanks so much for sharing with us Shvaugn! Y’all should definitely check out her book blog if you like mine, cause we have totally similar taste in books.