On Saturday morning, W and I were up early packing her SUV and getting ready to head to our local Pride festival.
“Why do we do this?” I asked as I rubbed sleep from my eyes and loaded another heavy object into the car.
It rained during set up but then the sun came out. We all started looking for rainbows.
My best friend came and spent the day with me. And there we sat on a beautiful Saturday afternoon watching waves of people clad in whatever makes them happy–high heels, rainbow flags worn as capes, trans colors, combat boots, preferred pronoun stickers. I started remembering why we do this year after year.
One miscue: I wore my “I Love My Awesome Wife” tee. “Is this your wife?” everyone asked, looking at my friend. Everything does come full circle. When I came out, everyone thought my friend and I were a couple because we were so close. (In case you were wondering, W, my awesome wife, was manning a different table.)
I was promoting a local book group that I head, as well as my big butch memoir, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender. We handed out lists of recommended LGBT books and rainbow bookmarks with affirming statements like “Believe in Yourself” and “Be Unique.” We asked people to share a book that inspired them or made them feel not so alone by writing the title on faux library cards.
We talked about books. I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear young people chat excitedly about their favorite reads.
Here are some of my memorable moments from the day:
A 13-year girl so excited about books that she jumped up and down. She told me her favorite book is Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. “About the worst chosen one ever and how he finds out he’s gay,” she wrote on her library card. I don’t know about you, but that’s a book I want to read. When I told her I was a writer, she jumped up and down some more. “Me, too!” she said.
A woman who recommended the book Annie on My Mind by Nancy Gardner. She told me that she discovered the book when she was a kid at her local library. She checked it out and took it home. When her mother found it, she burned it in the backyard. She couldn’t go back to the library because she was unable to return the book. My heart broke for that little girl.
Everyone who picked a “You Are Amazing” bookmark and said, yes, I am amazing and will take this one.
The fact that one of our son’s friend who identifies as trans was forbidden by his parents to go to the Pride festival with us. I saw so many parents walking around with their kids. But it’s important to remember all of the kids who have parents who are not accepting or supportive.
Here are the book recommendations we received from young and old, in no particular order:
- Carry on by Rainbow Rowell
- Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer — I’m not the only one who wants to live in a bus in the wilderness.
- When Women Were Warriors by Catherine M. Wilson — Gay ladies who are bad ass warriors.
- Kase-san and … by Canno — Manga series with two cute lesbians.
- My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger — When I was trying to find myself in 8th and 9th grade.
- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz
- The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger
- She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan
- Life’s Golden Ticket by Brendon Burchard
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
- Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
- Shark School by Davy Ocean
- Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
- The Plucker and The Child Thief by Brom
- Annie on My Mind by Nancy Gardner
- Steven Universe comic books by Jeremy Sorese
- More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
- The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron
- Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz
- Echo of the Boom by Maxwell Neely-Cohen
- And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
- The Women Who Raised Me by Victoria Rowell
- Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash
- Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl by Satoru Akahori
- Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamilo
- The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon by Susan Stevens Crummel
- The Longest Mile by Christine Meyer
What about you? What book made you feel not so alone?
I love our little local Pridefest. I remember now–the book I could not think of–Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. Especially love the brazen parrot she was told to tame before publication. She got back at whomever and made it swear even more!
Ditto. So nice to have a Pride fest in the burbs.
I love Rubyfruit Jungle, too. I always thought that I would have come out earlier if I had read that book as a young adult.
Sounds like a beautiful Pride event!
The first book that made me feel not so alone? Probably a tie: Fahrenheit 451 (strange, I know) and Jane Eyre in high school. As far as seeing my sexuality represented, though? That didn’t come along until my 20s, when I discovered Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw (about the multiple paths one woman’s life could take) and Far From You by Tess Sharpe.
I feel so hopeful for kids growing up now, in that they have so many books out there that may help them feel less alone that we didn’t have even 10 years ago. And yet, there are still kids whose parents won’t let them go to Pride, which breaks my heart.
Thanks for sharing your picks. It’s weird the books we connect with.
I am jealous of all of the books and resources kids have today. Sometimes I feel like we don’t need these events and then something happens and I’m reminded of how many people aren’t out and don’t feel safe or secure enough to go to Pride. So, progress, yes. But lots more work to do.
Ruby Fruit Jungle was the first lesbian novel I read that really opened up a whole new world and made me feel less alone. Discovering lesbian fiction and women’s music were the two things that really connected me to others when I was a young baby butch in my 20s.
Good ol’ Rita Mae Brown. Melissa Etheridge’s memoir was another big one for me. It came out when I was coming out. I think I listened to Yes I Am on a loop for almost a year. God, I wanted to feel love like that. Walk across a fire, somebody bring me some water love.
Oh yeah, Melissa Etheridge anything is at the top of my list. My partner and I used to drive around singing those songs at the top of our lungs when we were new love. That’s a sweet memory.
It sounds like a fulfilling and heartwarming day. I’m sad about the poor trans child, though. Having no support in childhood hurts so much and does so much harm. (Been there, done that…)
Thanks, Penny. I’m sad, too. My wife and I don’t know how to best help. We worry about getting this kid in trouble with his parents. He is currently a sophomore in high school.
Oooh, I always have to comment on a post about books! A favorite of mine (and one of the first I found with lesbian characters) is The Serpent’s Gift, by Helen Elaine Lee.
Thanks for sharing! Sounds like a good read.
Hood, a novel written by Irish author Emma Donoghue.
I’ve heard of Donoghue but have never read any of her books. Will have to check that one out.
We’re obsessed with Carry On in my house (I have two thirteen year old daughters). Our robot vacuum cleaner is Baz, and one daughter’s plant in her room is Simon.
Okay, I have to read this book. I’ve wanted to read some of Rowell’s other novels but will put Carry On at the top of the list.