As slim as the pickings for LGBTQ+ nonfiction usually are, there’s a recognized need for informational books that center queer experience. Though proportionally small compared to the amount of fiction published, nonfiction tends to do well at the Stonewall Award. In seven of the past nine award years, a nonfiction book has been among those honored. In this post, I’ll cover a few nonfiction titles for teens on MoMM’s radar this year. (See Alec’s post on Pride and Sewing the Rainbow for a look at some of this year’s nonfiction picturebooks.)
A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson
Limerence Press, June 2018
Reviewed from paperback
While not specifically published for the YA market, this guide has a lot of potential appeal for a teens. In comic format, two characters who represent the writers successfully speak to their dual audience: Archie, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, addresses nonbinary readers from a place of compassionate experience, while Tristan, who is cis and uses he/him pronouns, address cis readers and models good allyship. Making a case for basic human empathy, it stresses the importance of correctly using people’s pronouns and offers the tools to make that easier. For cis folks, it provides a grammatical explanation of pronouns, examples of how to use alternative pronouns, scripts for including pronouns in introductions and for apologizing for misgendering people, and advice for handling situations where someone else is doing the misgendering. For non-binary folks, it offers encouragement about asserting one’s pronouns and tips for self-care. Helpfully, it also discusses how to adopt gender-neutral language in everyday situations to be more accommodating of everyone.
This guide does a fantastic job of delivering the information it promises to in exactly the quick and easy way it promises. Smart and to the point, with just the right amount of humor to keep it engaging, it fulfills its mission of being an approachable fast-read primer. The intentionality behind its production stands out, too; it’s purposefully designed as a cheap paperback for the sake of financial accessibility.
Sex Plus: Learning, Loving, and Enjoying Your Body by Laci Green
HarperCollins, Sept 2018
Reviewed from ARC
This feminist, sex positive guide to sexual health by sex educator and YouTuber Laci Green offers an appealing balance of information, diagrams and illustrations, personal anecdotes, and words of encouragement to teens. While Green includes information for all genders, she intentionally centers the experience of women and vulva owners (language the text uses) for the sake of correcting the pervasive imbalance in sex education. Green candidly demystifies topics related to individual sexuality and sexual relationships, ranging from inclusive discussions of anatomy to gender and sexual identity to consent and abuse to sex toys and kink. Anticipating the questions and needs of teen readers, the text provides sections disabusing misconceptions around sex and trigger warnings for content on sexual violence.
While the vulva focus (complete with recurring peach motif) may not resonate with all queer teen readers, there is good info here for everybody and Sex Plus does the work it sets out to do in the field of teen sex education well and inclusively. The author is attentive to her own positionality as a bisexual cis woman and the way that informs her approach to sex education. The text includes short essays from people with experience Green can’t speak to personally, including intersex, asexual, trans, disabled, and polyamormous perspectives. Green’s presentation normalizes queer identities for teens by including them in the context of a general book on sex education, not as an afterthought, but as possibilities within a wide range of experiences that should be discussed.
The Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth by Jo Langford
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, June 2018
Reviewed from hardcover
In this information-packed guide, therapist and sex educator Jo Langford focuses specifically on LGBTQ+ experience. Langford devotes attention to topics that don’t otherwise get space in sex education like coming out, transitioning, and the unique concerns about personal safety that LGBTQ+ youth may face. The book is strong in its attention to social health, and includes a chapter on coping with minority stress, reconciling queer identity with religion, and dealing with unsupportive family members.
While on the whole, Langford includes a wealth of useful information, there were things about this book that could have been better. One was the lack of inclusive language around gender, even in sections about inclusive language. Using “all genders” rather than “both genders” or “both boys and girls” and employing gender neutral language when discussing body parts should be a given in a book specifically for queer youth. Perhaps as the result of Langford’s positionality as a bisexual cis man, there’s also a subtle, unacknowledged bias toward discussing sexual pleasure in relation to penises and/or men. Occasionally, Langford’s writing veers from humorous to condescending and prescriptive or comes across as a little out of touch. These criticisms aside, there are definite benefits to having a queer-specific guide that emphasizes social health as much as it does sexual health, and this may well be the most substantial, detailed publication of that nature currently available.