Transitions of the Heart

13238264The holiday season is a time when those with far-flung loved ones update each other with cards and family letters, family members gather, and adults reconvene in their hometowns. Sometimes when the year has brought about a revelation of a child’s emerging gender or sexual orientation, parents wonder how best to share the news to a large group of people. They want to support their children and share this family news but may also be concerned about others’ potentially invasive questions or insensitive remarks. How can this be handled?

In the book Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children (ed. Rachel Pepper), contributor Barbara Gurr shares a letter she penned and sent to family members to let them know that her school-age child, who had been labeled a boy at birth, was coming to understand her feminine identity and transition socially. She writes,

Dear Friends and Family:

I apologize for sending you all a crazy form letter, but our family has news to share! And it’s so hard sometimes to get together that we thought we’d send a letter to those people who mean the most to us, and let you in on what’s going on with us.

The news we have is kind of hard to share, and after thinking and praying about it for a while, it seems best to send a letter for two reasons: we have to start letting people know what’s going on with us, and it might be easier for some people to get a letter they can react to honestly and privately—without worrying about hurting our feelings, or saying the “right” thing (whatever that is) or the “wrong” thing (whatever that is).

As some of you have no doubt begun to notice over the last couple of years (especially if you’ve spent time with us more recently), Thomas is presenting us with a bit of a surprise. Our son Thomas is transgender. This means that although he was born with boy parts, he’s really a she. What’s on the outside does not match what’s on the inside of him … We have no doubt that this revelation will be hard for many of you to accept, as well. That’s okay. We know you love us and want the best for us—that’s why you’re getting this letter. We want you to understand what this means so that we can all be honest with each other about our concerns and our fears.

Gurr goes on to explain her child’s transition and share stories from earlier years that led to this realization of femininity. She closes by saying that she appreciates the love and support of those around her. Gurr’s letter provides an excellent template for parents who want to address a child’s gender or sexuality and also send a message: This is our child’s identity. We are happy to answer questions, but we expect that you accept our child for who s/he is.

In the GLBT Student Support Services office, we talk to many parents whose students are attending or planning to attend IU and coming to terms with their sexuality or gender. We are always happy to chat with parents who are concerned about addressing their child’s gender or sexuality with family or community members.

Gurr’s chapter closes with the beautiful statement, “Genders and sexualities are complicated, but love doesn’t have to be.” Through questions, uncertainties, and transitions, this fact holds true. Life is complex—but love is simple.

Written by Jamie, GLBTSSS Office Supervisor

Children’s Books

We often get donations to add to our collection as people try to downsize their current home library, after evaluating the materials, books that we cannot add to our own collection, we take to Boxcar Books.  Yesterday, we received two big boxes of donations; I wish I had thought to take a picture, so I could share with you all the sheer number of books we received.  When sorting through all of the donated materials, I came across this classic, which we already had in our collection:

heather-has-two-mommies

 

“Each family is special.  The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.”

 

Heather Has Two Mommies written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Diana Souza was first published in 1989.  Google Books described the book as the “first lesbian-themed children’s book ever published.”  The story is about a child, Heather, who is raised by lesbian women: her biological mom, Jane, who gave birth after artificial insemination, and her mother’s partner, Kate.  At Heather’s playgroup, her family situation is discussed simply and positively, as are those of other children in non-traditional family units.  In the 2000 reprint, the artificial insemination facts have been removed.

Newman later related:

“The idea for Heather came about one day when I was walking down Main Street in Northampton, Mass., a town know for its liberalism, tolerance of difference, and large lesbian population.  On this particular day I ran into a woman who, along with her female partner, had recently welcomed a child into their home. ‘We have no books to read to our daughter that show our type of family,’ the woman said. ‘Someone should write one.’
Well, I thought, I’m somebody.

Fun facts:

Other children’s books we have with LGBT Themes:

 

A Book of Prayer for Gay and Lesbian Christians

A Book of Prayer for Gay and Lesbian Christians by William G. Storey
A Book of Prayer for Gay and Lesbian Christians by William G. Storey

During the process of fully realizing their sexuality and coming out, many lesbian and gay individuals, particularly those who have participated in Christian traditions, struggle to reconcile their sexuality and their faith. As society at large becomes more aware of the diversity of sexual orientations and accepting of individuals who do not fit the heteronormative mold, an increasing number of faith groups and religion writers are addressing the spiritual needs of queer people. William G. Storey’s A Book of Prayer for Gay and Lesbian Christians is written especially for those who both practice Christianity and identify as lesbian or gay.

 The tone of the book is inviting; rather than demanding that the reader partake in certain rituals, Storey offers suggestions to those who wish to enhance their connection with God. As Mark D. Jordan states in the book’s foreword, “Any prayer book is an invitation. This prayer book invites us, gently and wisely, to become more ourselves—not despite our loves, but because of them.”

Some prayers and reflections are of a general nature: they could apply to anyone. They are written using inclusive language so as not to alienate queer individuals or same-sex couples but instead include them in the fold, offering reassurance that they are the same as anyone else of the Christian faith.

 And then some writings are specific to gay and lesbian people. Scripture readings and prayers for coming-out parties and same-sex marriage and unity ceremonies offer words for joyful celebrations. Sad events are addressed as well, such as the occasion of a person being rejected by loved ones. A reflection “For Our Enemies in High Places” urges forgiveness and compassion and offers reassurance of all-encompassing love.

The format of the book enables readers to open to a random spot and enjoy the reading there or search for prayers addressing a specific topic, event, or emotion. This is a valuable resource for those who are themselves lesbian or gay as well as for those who wish to pray for a loved one.

 The “Gaelic Blessing” on page 165 offers a soothing reflection for people of all beliefs:

Deep peace of the running wave to us,
Deep peace of the flowing air to us,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to us,
Deep peace of the shining stars to us,
Deep peace of the gentle night to us,
Moon and stars pour their healing light on us.

Written by Jamie, GLBTSSS Office Supervisor.

For more resources about Christianity, check out our subject guide, which includes movies and books as well as a list of LGBTQA-Friendly Christian Ministries.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

High school is a time of changing friendships, shifting identities, and makiWillGraysonng baby steps toward establishing values and goals. Those of us for whom high school has faded into the rear-view mirror often assert that we wouldn’t go back for anything; yet we often find ourselves replaying the same dramas and feeling the same anxieties in our adult lives. This is the pull of young adult fiction for adults who are no longer so young: it reminds us of where we’ve been while simultaneously allowing us to indulge in our youthful emotional excesses through the lives of the characters we read about.

In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan masterfully capture the angst and triumph that fill high school hallways, bringing to life a cast of teenage characters who feel isolated in their uniqueness but who will remind readers of people they’ve met: artists, worriers, loners, romantics, and boys-turned-men who hang all their hopes (and hearts) on their romantic relationships, declaring each new partner to be “the one.”

The teenage years are filled with discoveries that feel earth-shattering to the recipients of these realizations. Such moments are illustrated throughout the story:

“This is why we call people exes, I guess—because the paths that cross in the middle end up separating in the end. It’s too easy to see an X as a cross-out. It’s not, because there’s no way to cross out something like that. The X is a diagram of two paths” (277).

These simple but profound insights will resonate with teenage readers and pull adult readers back to a time when human interaction was filled with more mystery than familiarity, when every song on the radio delivered a new truth that prompted the thought, Yes, that’s exactly how I feel.

DavidLavithanJohnGreen
David Levithan (left) and John Green (right)

But beyond offering insight into human behavior and motivations, the authors tell an entertaining story. Two young men named Will Grayson find their paths crossing. They could simply notice the unlikely possibility of such an encounter, but fate has other plans for them: in each other’s group of friends, they find new romances and rivals, and each man is opened up as he is forced to confront his own assumptions about himself and those around him.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is ultimately a story of triumph. Feelings are messy; so are relationships, because people’s feelings get tangled up together. But the mess is worth it, and only when we allow others into our lives will we discover our potential for growth.

Written by Jamie, GLBTSSS Office Supervisor

For more information about John Green and other books he’s written, you can check out his website or Wells Reference’s blog post on him, and for more information about David Levithan and his other works, visit his website.  We have two of Levithan’s other works in our collection:

The Full Spectrum
How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

12000020“I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.”

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz is the story of two friends, Ari and Dante, who meet the summer of 1987 at the pool.  Ari is an angry loner with a father who won’t open up and an older brother in prison; Dante’s a reader, an artist, a philosopher, and a little bit of a crier. Against all odds, it is Dante that is able to break down Ari’s walls as their friendship develops.  This smart, engaging, coming-of-age story is one of family, friendship, love, and self-discovery.

“I wanted to tell them that I’d never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren’t meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever. And that somehow it felt like it was Dante who had saved my life and not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being aside from my mother who had ever made me want to talk about the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things and yet I didn’t have the words. So I just stupidly repeated myself. ‘Dante’s my friend.’”

Publishers Weekly review calls it “a tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love—whether romantic or familial—should be open, free, and without shame.” The book has won numerous awards, including the Lambda Literary Award and Stonewall Book Award for LGBT fiction, an Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award honor, Pura Belpré Author Award for Latino fiction, and Michael L. Printz Award honor for Young Adult fiction.

Also, it looks like there may be a sequel in the works:

Just So You Know #1

just so you knowThe beauty of the comic is that it can make difficult issues and heavy ideas seem a bit lighter by way of playful illustrations and minimalist dialogue. This is the case with Alison Sayers’s Just So You Know #1, an autobiographical collection of comics that marks her unique journey into womanhood.

Sayers highlights the difficulties many trans* people face, including invasive questions, the mood swings that can accompany hormone therapy, and maintaining a professional identity mid-transition. But there are also glimpses into the joys and victories trans* women experience, such as growing breasts and a stranger’s unquestioning acceptance of feminine identity.

Sayers also provides a (very brief) guide to trans* terminology, using the term “transgender” as a broad term that describes gender-variant people and “transsexual” as a term that refers to people who takes steps to transition to her or his true gender. This book was published in 2009, and five years later, the word “transsexual” has largely fallen out of use. Some view it as a hateful term; some simply don’t regard it as precise or useful. Readers should note that today, it’s generally not advised to refer to someone as being transsexual unless he or she specifically describes himself or herself in that way.

This publication doesn’t really delve into complex social or political issues, such as legal hassles or employment discrimination. And that’s okay—there are certainly books that tackle these subjects. Sayers’s offering examines queer topics like coming out but also universally human experiences such as facing loss and falling in love. Just So You Know is a delightful glimpse into trans* life for teens and adults alike.

Written by Jamie, GLBTSSS Office Supervisor

Book of the Week – Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

BeautifulMusic“I know this is a radical idea, but people should get to be who they want to be. If you’re going for the top of the charts, all right. A side all the way, go for it. But if I want to play my B side, I should get to play my B side. And only the cool kids listen to B sides” (p. 41).

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (@kirstincm) is a story about Gabe, a transgender high school student. Gabe (whose birth name is Elizabeth) has a cool job as a radio DJ, a supportive best friend and mentor, and big plans after graduation. However, his parents think he’s crazy and his classmates aren’t exactly supportive. Within this story, Kirstin Cronn-Mills creates realistic characters that expose many of the challenges and difficulties faced by transgender individuals. From the first page to the last, readers will cheer on Gabe throughout his journey and look for ways to “let [their own] B sides play”.

For more information about Beautiful Music for Ugly Children check out the author’s website: http://kirstincronn-mills.com

Book of the Week – Fag Hag

“I was never pret20140403_132109ty in the conventional sense. Hell—I was never pretty in any sense. But I smoked and cursed and made a lot of wisecracks, and for some reason that seemed to attract lots of gay men. Maybe they saw me as the kind of clownish sidekick who’d never try to get down their pants. I certainly saw them as the only kind of men who’d pay attention to me. They were the only ones who liked me for me and didn’t judge me by my face or my boobs. When I got older, I got tired of going to dinner parties alone, so I proposed to one of my gay friends” (Rodi, 270).

It’s a tale as old as time: girl meets boy, boy likes boys, girl drives herself crazy trying to get said boy to notice her. Such is the story of Natalie, the protagonist of Robert Rodi’s novel Fag Hag.

Natalie isn’t always a likable character, but she is a fascinating one. When she falls for Peter, a charming, devastatingly handsome gay man, she falls hard and determines to make him hers. She remains convinced that she can win his affections if she just tries hard enough—and chases any potential suitors away. She is usually successful in this endeavor, until a very different kind of man comes along. He’s not Peter’s usual type—which makes him much harder to shake.

Peter and Lloyd, his new beau, embark together on a journey of self-discovery as they fall deeper in love. Undeterred, Natalie digs in her heels and devises an elaborate plan to snag Peter once and for all. Rather than delighting in Peter’s happiness, she dismisses his contentment as a temporary state and comes up with increasingly risky schemes to make Peter understand, once and for all, that he must be hers.

Readers who enjoy fictional characters they can relate to and/or root for may not appreciate Fag Hag, as Natalie often behaves selfishly and irrationally. The author also has a tendency to rely on broad stereotypes when crafting supporting characters. Overall, though, the book is a fun, quick read for those who enjoy a quirky and occasionally dark page-turner.

Written by Jamie, GLBTSSS Office Supervisor

Book of the Week – Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships

This month (OpeningUpApril) is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and here at the GLBT Library we are supporting this cause by promoting items that focus on healthy sexuality and relationships. One of the items included in our Library displays is “Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships” by Tristan Taormino. “Opening Up” explores the benefits and challenges of open relationships and helps readers broaden their views on intimacy. Over one hundred women and men were interviewed by the author and their diverse experiences and viewpoints make “Opening Up” incredibly informative.

“Opening Up” is separated into three sections: Section 1- Choosing an Open Relationship, Section 2- Styles of Open Relationships, and Section 3- Creating and Sustaining Your Relationships. A useful resource guide that includes books, websites, groups/organizations, and other related resources is also included.

If you would like more information about Tristan Taormino and her other publications check out her website: http://tristantaormino.com/

Book of the Week – Lesbian Passion: Loving Ourselves and Each Other

Relationship book20140325_084134s can be a bit of a gamble. Some are timeless, filled with advice that speaks to any generation; some are hokey, filled with catchphrases and designed to sell rather than to advise.

Lesbian Passion: Loving Ourselves and Each Other by JoAnn Loulan falls mostly into the first category, offering advice that is relevant to lesbian women of all ages. The book opens by encouraging women to learn to love themselves before all else, to nurture their spirits and take the time to explore their own bodies and learn what excites and pleases them sexually.

I was impressed to see that the author broached some difficult topics that are often ignored except in targeted specialty publications. Loulan is unafraid to speak of issues such as addiction and recovery from childhood trauma. But Loulan also addresses general relationship concerns, such as keeping the spark alive in a long-term relationship and what action to take when a partner feels neglected.

Because the book was published in 1987, some of its contents have become a bit dated. Statistics collected on lesbian behavior have likely changed, and figures on rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) do not reflect current numbers. However, there remains good health information. The author discusses frankly how lesbians can pass along STDs—and how women can prevent them. She reminds women that even though they reside in a low-risk group when having sex with other women, they are still at risk for HIV and AIDS if they don’t use protection. This is especially relevant today, as a woman-to-woman case of HIV transmission was confirmed in February of 2014.

All in all, I would recommend this book to a woman who is looking for general relationship advice rather than current facts and figures. Those who are interested in finding current health information and resources can always contact the GLBT Student Support Services office, where all requests for information and referrals are handled with care and discretion.

Written by: Jamie, GLBTSSS Office Supervisor