Read Radically: LGBTQ+ Comics & Resources for All Ages
By Alain McAlister
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), there are currently 34 bills that threaten LGBTQ+ human rights and access to expression in everyday life in Missouri. These bills range from healthcare to freedom of speech, but most recently they’ve been focusing on issues dealing with education and the rights of transgender youth. A huge issue that has been propelling these bills is a lack of empathy and misinformation surrounding transgender/LGBTQ+ people and their experiences. This month I’m sharing books that help create a space for openness and learning, to establish what these experiences might be like for people who may not know, and to facilitate conversation and educate younger generations. Buckle in, because this is a long list of resources for people of every age!
If you’d like to research further on the specific bills and their statuses, I highly recommend checking out this interactive website where you can view the issues happening in Missouri and other states in the U.S. The ACLU is currently tracking 399 active anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S.
Pink, Blue, and You!: Questions for Kids about Gender Stereotypes by Elise Gravel
Is it okay for boys to cry? Can girls be strong? Should girls and boys be given different toys to play with and different clothes to wear? Should we all feel free to love whoever we choose to love? In this incredibly kid-friendly and easy-to-grasp picture book, author-illustrator Elise Gravel and transgender collaborator Mykaell Blais raise these questions and others relating to gender roles, acceptance, and stereotyping.
A simple, accessible, and direct picture book that’s perfect for kids and parents or teachers to read together, opening the door to conversations about gender stereotypes and everyone’s right to be their true selves. With its simple language, colorful illustrations, engaging backmatter that showcases how appropriate male and female fashion has changed through history, and even a poster kids can hang on their wall, this is the ideal tool to help with conversations about identity and gender.
The Pronoun Book by Chris Ayala-Kronos
How do you know what someone wants to be called? Ask!
This lively board book features eye-catching illustrations of a diverse cast of people and simple text that introduces their pronouns, perfect for readers both young and old. It normalizes asking and introducing with pronouns, with examples of how there’s no “one look” to a certain gender expression and identity.
I Am You: A Book about Ubuntu by Refiloe Moahloli
We may be different, but our hearts beat the same. In southern Africa, there is a belief called ubuntu–the idea that we are all connected. No matter where we’re from or who we are, a person is a person through their connections to other people. With simple, lyrical text and charming artwork, this lively picture book first published in South Africa is the perfect introduction to the concept of ubuntu for young kids. A celebration of friendship and kindness, the book shows children the many ways that we are all one.
Connectedness and community is a focus for LGBTQ+ activism, and it’s important to note that less privileged and marginalized groups are impacted differently than others with more visibility or privilege. There is a call to decolonize thinking and be open to other cultures when dealing with diversity and inclusion, so this book is a great introduction to one of the many different approaches to community outside of traditional European thinking and models.
Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself?
A quiet and lovely book full of illustrations that support and encourage kids to be themselves and express themselves however they’d like, without fear of judgment or strict gender norms. A lovely and beautiful read.
Bodies are Cool by Tyler Feder
This cheerful love-your-body picture book is an exuberant read-aloud with bright and friendly illustrations to pore over. It is a pure celebration of all the different human bodies that exist in the world. Highlighting the various skin tones, body shapes, and hair types is just the beginning in this truly inclusive book. With its joyful illustrations and encouraging refrain, it will instill body acceptance and confidence in the youngest of readers. “My body, your body, every different kind of body! All of them are good bodies! BODIES ARE COOL!”
Filled with trans surgery scars and bodies usually considered outside of the gender binary, this book is a lovely celebration of everyone. This book does an amazing job of celebrating bodies without imposing any labels while also making space for conversations about intersectional identities, such as disability, gender, and race, in the LGBTQ+ community.
You Know, Sex: Bodies, Gender, Puberty, and Other Things by Fiona Smyth
In a bright graphic format featuring four dynamic middle schoolers, You Know, Sex
grounds sex education in social justice, covering not only the big three of puberty–hormones, reproduction, and development–but also power, pleasure, and how to be a decent human being. Centering young people’s experiences of pressures and joy, risk and reward, and confusion and discovery, there are chapters on body autonomy, disclosure, stigma, harassment, pornography, trauma, masturbation, consent, boundaries and safety in our media-saturated world, puberty and reproduction that includes trans, non-binary, and intersex bodies and experience, and more.
Racially and ethnically diverse, inclusive of cross-disability experience, this is a book for every kind of young person and every kind of family. It is a modern sex ed book for everybody navigating puberty and adolescence, essential for kids, everyone who knows a kid, and anyone who has ever been a kid. There is a whole section dedicated to gender and the things that come with it, so this is a great resource for younger kids.
Pride: An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement by Stella Caldwell
The LGBTQ+ community is so much more than rainbow flags and the month of June. In this beautifully designed dynamic book, young readers will learn about groundbreaking events, including historic pushes for equality and the legalization of same-sex marriages across the world. They will dive into the phenomenal history of queer icons from ancient times to the present and read about Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lorde, and more.
Including several personal current essays from inspiring young LGBTQ+ people, this book encourages readers to take pride in their identity and the identities of those around them. With all of the news right now, it can get overwhelming and feel discouraging. Which is so valid. But it’s important to remember where we’ve come from and reach outside of our institutions to learn histories that we’re not told about.
What can I say? by Catherine Newman
Middle school is an essential time to learn and practice social skills, including how to get along with others, talk about hard things, be an ally, and a good friend. In What Can I Say?
, Catherine Newman, author of the bestseller How to Be a Person, provides supportive guidance and instruction to help kids establish or and maintain meaningful relationships and effective communication with friends, teachers, family members, and others in their communities. Talking the talk can be tricky, and every page of this super-useful book provides easy, accessible scripts and guidance on the right thing to say in all kinds of situations, such as how to be inclusive, listen, give advice, argue, stick up for yourself, ask for help, express sympathy, deal with offensive comments, respond to bullying, and be trustworthy.
Humorous, graphic-style illustrations that play on familiar scenarios reinforce Newman’s friendly, non-judgmental tone and her commitment to helping kids develop the skills to express themselves clearly while showing empathy, care, and generosity towards others. This book doesn’t shy away from talking about and accepting LGBTQ+ sexuality and identity, and it truly is a wonderful guide for learning how to communicate.
Our Work is Everywhere by Syan Rose
Over the past ten years, we have witnessed the rise of queer and trans communities that have defied and challenged those who have historically opposed them. Through bold, symbolic imagery and surrealist, overlapping landscapes, queer illustrator and curator Syan Rose shines a light on the faces and voices of these diverse, amorphous, messy, real and imagined queer and trans communities. In their own words, queer and trans organizers, artists, healers, comrades, and leaders speak honestly and authentically about their own experiences with power, love, pain, and magic to create a textured and nuanced portrait of queer and trans realities in America. The many themes include Black femme mental health, Pacific Islander authorship, fat queer performance art, disability and healthcare practice, sex worker activism, and much more. Accompanying the narratives are Rose’s startling and sinuous images that bring these leaders’ words to visual life.
Our Work Is Everywhere is a graphic nonfiction book that underscores the brilliance and passion of queer and trans resistance. We need to learn these histories and issues from people in these spaces if we are going to successfully support and connect with them. This book is great for anyone interested in listening and learning, either inside or outside of the LGTBQ+ community. Recognizing these histories we have not been taught is integral in realizing that trans people have been around and fighting for rights for decades.
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Tristan Jimerson
Archie, a snarky genderqueer artist, is tired of people not understanding gender neutral pronouns. Tristan, a cisgender dude, is looking for an easy way to introduce gender neutral pronouns to his increasingly diverse workplace. The longtime best friends team up in this short and fun comic guide that explains what pronouns are, why they matter, and how to use them. They also include what to do if you make a mistake, and some tips-and-tricks for those who identify outside of the binary to keep themselves safe in this binary-centric world.
This really is a quick and easy resource for people who use they/them pronouns and people who want to learn more. Whenever I came out, I gifted/recommended this book to a few different people in my life who were new or struggling to understand other gender identities. The pages are simple and layed out in a way that flows, and the book is very to the point and a great resource. Trans and LGBTQ+ people often have to do a lot of emotional labor educating people about how to be respected, so this is a great resource that is readily available to everyone and easy to share.
Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer
is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears.
Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere. It’s also wonderful for those who’ve also never felt seen in many memoirs before.
Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker
Activist-academic Meg-John Barker and cartoonist Jules Scheele illuminate the histories of queer thought and LGBTQ+ action in this groundbreaking nonfiction graphic novel. From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer: A Graphic History
explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do; how these ideas get tangled up with our culture and our understanding of biology, psychology and sexology; and how these views have been disputed and challenged. Along the way we look at key landmarks which shift our perspective of what’s ‘normal’ – Alfred Kinsey’s view of sexuality as a spectrum, Judith Butler’s view of gendered behavior as a performance, the play Wicked, or moments in Casino Royale when we’re invited to view James Bond with the kind of desiring gaze usually directed at female bodies in mainstream media.
Presented in a brilliantly engaging and witty style, this is a unique portrait of the universe of queer thinking and queer conversations. Entertwined with impactful thinkers and moments, this is once again a great book that looks at the history of LGBTQ+ people while also engaging and explaining a lot of cultural movements and thinking.
Fine: A Comic About Gender by Rhea Ewing
As graphic artist Rhea Ewing neared college graduation in 2012, they became consumed by the question: What is gender? This obsession sparked a quest in which they eagerly approached both friends and strangers in their quiet Midwest town for interviews to turn into comics. A decade later, this project exploded into a sweeping portrait of the intricacies of gender expression with interviewees from all over the country. Questions such as “How do you Identify” produced fiercely honest stories of dealing with adolescence, taking hormones, changing pronouns–and how these experiences can differ, often drastically, depending on culture, race, and religion. Amidst beautifully rendered scenes emerges Ewing’s own story of growing up in rural Kentucky, grappling with their identity as a teenager, and ultimately finding themself through art–and by creating something this very fine.
Tender and wise, inclusive and inviting, Fine is an indispensable account for anyone eager to define gender in their own terms. This book is a look at what gender can be for so many different people, in an environment similar to ours here in Missouri. It’s a wonderful collection that shows how individualized and unique peoples experiences with identity can be. I highly recommend it for any ally and any fellow gender-outlaw friend out there.
I hope your reading is radical!
Your friend Alain