Hands forming heart with rainbow color overlay

Queer Book Labels: Are They Helping or Hurting Sales?

While cultural movements abound trying to increase queer inclusion and understanding, it’s no wonder that there has been a rise in queer books being published and, according to NPD Bookscan, a rise in queer book sales as well. It seems that being an LGBTQ+ book is a good thing right now, at least for sales. But what if, in some ways, those same labels are losing sales as well?

Consider, for instance, the pros and cons of these queer books ending up on various published “banned books” lists. When a queer book ends up on a banned books list, there is a possibility of the book gaining an audience, rather than being repressed, especially an audience that wants to fight back against this oppression and will go out to buy the books in support. This leads to increased sales of certain books.

Unfortunately, of course, not all books benefit from “banned books” lists in this way. This article argues that many books will just fall by the wayside and be forgotten. This is a tragedy, especially for all those potential readers from wherever they have been banned.

For now, however, many publishers still feel that queer books need queer labels to be discoverable. There are other aspects of the books that can be marketed as well, but according to sources in this article, a large percentage of the audience still finds queer books because they are looking for queer books. And that audience isn’t just queer people, either. This article is from 2020, so it’s a bit outdated, you could say, considering how quickly some things change, but the current trends in LGBTQ+ books being sold suggests this may still be the case.

But, even with this seeming success for the books that are making it, we publishers need to ask ourselves, is this actually what we want? Are these people just buying books because they are labeled “queer” or are they actually going to go home and read the book, process the book, and hopefully even love the book and want more like it? Is this trend actually a sign of cultural change or just a phase that will blow over like so many others have?

There are other things to think about as well, in a less philosophical vein. Are such explicit queer labels on our books actually helping reach our intended audience? For instance, this librarian warns that making queer labels too blatant can scare off some of the very people we are trying to reach because they aren’t ready or feel safe enough to walk around with an obviously queer book.

And what about people who would love these books, but aren’t actively looking for “queer” books? Some people are willing to read books with queer characters, but aren’t looking specifically for queer books. Not to mention, there is more to a book than just being queer. For some books, yes, the main point is being queer, with queer characters, and addressing various aspects of queer life, but for other books, it is the genre, the adventure, the plot, etc. that are more central, with the queer characters/stories being a bonus on the side. Are we doing these books an injustice by labeling them as queer, rather than letting them shine for their more central themes?

For now, yes, it still seems like queer book labels are not only helping sales, but one of the leading causes of their sales, despite whatever backlash might come from that designation.

But, hopefully, someday LGBTQ+ characters will be such a normal, accepted part of culture it will be an expected possibility in the books we read. Someday, we’ll be able to go out, look in any category, and find plenty of queer books right alongside their counterparts because it will be accepted that any book, anywhere, may reflect real life with real characters.

A book with two pages curved up to form the shape of a heart

5 LGBTQ+ Romances by Oregon Authors to Read This Winter

There’s no better way to beat the dreary Oregon winter than to turn on the heat. A great way to do that is to add a little spice to your reading pile with a deeply engrossing romance. Here are a few LGBTQ+ romances to warm you from inside out, written by local Oregon authors who haven’t seen the sun this winter just as much as you, so they know how it feels.

Wolfsong by TJ Klune

Wolfsong is about Oxnard Matheson, a young man who lives in small-town Green Creek. One day he meets the Bennets, a strange and highly loving family that moves in next door. What he doesn’t know is that meeting them will take him on the journey of a lifetime––full of heartbreak, found family, werewolves, mates, and magic. This book brought me through all the stages of grief and my full range of emotions several times over. A mix of feisty romance, propulsive action, edge-of-your-seat thriller, and world-bending fantasy, this is a great starting point to begin your winter of heat. It’s a four book series, so it’ll keep you burning for a while.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Following the young brujo Yadriel, this story brings you on a journey into the spirit world where he finds, well, a ghost––but not the one he wanted. Cemetery Boys is a paranormal romance, a newer niche to the romance genre! As Yadriel tries to prove himself as a real brujo, he accidentally summons the ghost of the school bad boy, Julian. As Yadriel tries to help Julian back to the spirit world, he learns that maybe he doesn’t want Julian to leave at all. This story is vibrant, heartwarming, and heady-weightlessness inducing. It’ll calm you down from the raging fire the Green Creek series will set, but keep you toasty warm like a marshmallow in hot chocolate.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Another fantastic read by TJ Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea follows Linus Baker, a quiet man who investigates magical orphans. On a peculiar assignment, he finds himself at the Marsyas Island Orphanage, where he meets Arthur Parnassus. And it all goes downhill from there (in a good way). This book is positively delightful and wholesome in so many ways. Part quirky identity-finding story, part romance, it will warm you from the deepest parts of your heart that this winter season has frozen solid––all the way down to your toes.

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

In this pandemic and this political climate, this book puts the icing on the cake. We Set the Dark on Fire follows Daniela Vargas as she goes through school as a wife-in-training––what every woman is made to train for. Top of her class, she is expected to be the best, but is that what she wants? The story follows her as she rebels against the patriarchy (yes!) and tries to derail the system, falling in love with one of her female classmates along the way. It’s rebellious, clever, thrilling, and feminine forward. This book is a fiery sensation that’ll keep you blazing until spring and summer bring the sun back.

Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters

This one is a bit on the fluffier side, rather quirky and hilarious and a little . . . rom-com-y. Not that we don’t stan a good rom-com here, but that hasn’t necessarily been the theme for this list. Satisfaction Guaranteed follows Cade and Selena as they run, and attempt to save, a failing sex-toy shop called, you guessed it, Satisfaction Guaranteed. It’s a bit of a scandalous spin on the rom-com––a bit lighthearted, a bit what-we-didn’t-know-we-needed-until-we-read-it. It’s got just the right amount of slow-burn, hilarity, and serendipity that will bring you down a notch so you’re not burning bright when the sun finally comes out. After this, you’ll be just the right temperature to head into spring and summer without getting burnt (this is not a substitute for sunscreen, however).

Check out these books if you want to add a little heat to your winter and maybe even save some money on your electricity bill (wink wink). Not only that, you can support the LGBTQ+ community and local authors at the same time, and spice up your life while you’re at it!

African American woman looking up over her left shoulder, in pop-art background

Colors in Ink: Diversity Among Graphic Novels

As an avid reader, a few years back I made it my mission to venture out of my comfort zones (horror, historic fiction, and poetry) to test the waters in different genres. I picked up my first graphic novel back in 2020—A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached—and fell madly in love with the simple yet beautiful artwork, and the heart-wrenching story. I also enjoyed the fact that it was a quick read. It was beautifully written, and being used to submerging myself in novels the weight of my car, I found the graphic novel was a welcome easy-read to get me through my ever-returning procrastination of my to-be-read pile.

Since then, I have steadily amassed a small collection of graphic novels and graphic memoirs. I have tried to specifically focus on finding ones from the #OwnVoices category, with the intent to one day amass a diverse collection for my own son when he is older.

As such, I thought I’d share some of my favorites that focus on diverse representation. The tales range marvelously from war aftermath to more classic bildungsroman-style narratives, and the artworks encapsulate and celebrate the beauty of diversity in all ranges of color—and some in black and white! If you’re looking to explore the world of graphic novels, then look no further than these amazing suggestions (in no particular order)!

  1. A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return, by Zeina Abirached. This graphic memoir centers on a day in Zeina’s childhood during the civil war in Lebanon. When her parents go missing after crossing to the other half of the city, Zeina’s neighbors step up to make her apartment feel like a safe home for her and her brother. From lessons in cooking to games and juicy gossip, they all band together to get through the chaos of the day.
  2. I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir, by Malaka Gharib. Focusing on family heritage, discovering oneself, and freedom of American immigrants, Malaka Gharib’s graphic memoir will pull at your heartstrings through the tales of first-generation immigrant children.
  3. Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe. An autobiography in graphic novel form detailing Maia’s journey through adolescence as a genderqueer teen. From confusing crushes to gushing over gay fanfiction with friends, this graphic novel is perfect for anyone wanting to understand—or relate to—the struggles and triumphs of being nonbinary and asexual.
  4. The Morning Tribe: A Graphic Novel, by Julian Lennon and Bart Davis. A fun graphic novel that centers on twins Dawn and Dusk, two members of the Morning Tribe in the Amazon rainforest, who must gather their courage and their friends to stop the Agricorp mercenaries from destroying their homeland.
  5. Nubia: Real One, by L. L. McKinney. “Can you be a hero . . . if society doesn’t see you as a person?”
  6. American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang. Following three seemingly unrelated tales, this graphic novel weaves together the lives of Jin Wang, Chin-Kee, and the Monkey King in a comical, action-packed modern fable.
  7. Pemmican Wars (A Girl Called Echo #1), by Katherena Vermette. After moving to a new town and school, Echo Desjardins struggles to fit in and find her place. That is until one day in history class, when she is transported back in time to a bison hunt on the Saskatchewan prairie. Echo must find her bearings as she slips back and forth from her time to the dangerous days of the Pemmican Wars.
  8. Squad, by Maggie Tokuda-Hall. When Becca moves to a new high school, she is surprisingly invited to join the most popular clique in school. That isn’t the weird part though: her new friends are werewolves, hunting slimy boys who prey on unsuspecting girls. A funny, action packed graphic novel focused on taking down the patriarchy—one boy at a time.
  9. Generations, by Flavia Biondi. A wholesome, heart-jerking tale of Matteo, a young gay man from a small country town who, after spending years away in Milan, must return to his conservative family and rebuild his life.
  10. Turning Japanese, by MariNaomi. “In 1995, twenty-two-year-old Mari had just exited a long-term relationship, moving from Mill Valley to San Jose, California. Soon enough, she falls in love, then finds employment at a hostess bar for Japanese expats, where she is determined to learn the Japanese language and culture. Turning Japanese is a story about otherness, culture clashes, generation gaps, and youthful impetuosity.” — Goodreads.

While this list could go on forever, these ten will hopefully help you find your next (or possibly your first) graphic novel read. If you are looking to explore even more graphic novels that center on diverse characters and stories, Richard Library has a wonderful list of Great BIPOC Graphic Novels, and Books & Bao have an amazing list of Queer Graphic Novels.

stack of books with asexual pride flag

Romance is for Everyone: Asexuality in Romance Publishing

A core tenet of the romance genre is the emotionally satisfying ending or the Happily Ever After. Romance publishing, like much of the publishing industry, hasn’t always been inclusive about who is participating in these happily ever afters, however. It has taken a long time for romance publishers to seek out, acquire, and promote books with central LGBTQ+ storylines, and even though this is changing, the genre still does a lot to position straight relationships as the default. Even more pervasive in the romance genre is the assumption that sexual attraction and relationships are the only way to have a successful romantic relationship. The positioning of allosexual relationships as the last word in romance contributes to the invisibility of asexual people and relationships.

Asexual characters didn’t really start making an appearance in fiction until the mid-2010s, according to Lily Herman, a writer for Bustle Magazine. Even when these books began to appear, they were mostly put out by smaller presses or self-published. Content writer and blogger, Dianna Gunn, laments that “a lot of the media offered to us presents really narrow definitions of what constitutes a strong, deep bond. Too often, sexual and romantic relationships take the center stage as the most meaningful relationship you can have.”

Arguably more harmful than erasure of asexual identities in traditional publishing is the outright misrepresentation of ace identities and experiences that exists in older novels and persists in more recent portrayals. According to Lynn O’Connacht, asexuality is often conflated with either aromanticism or celibacy. In many cases, a character’s disinterest in sex cuts off their possibility for a relationship at all and in some cases, a character’s implied asexuality is intertwined with implications that are dehumanizing. Rebecca Burgess, author of the graphic memoir How to be Ace, points to Sherlock Holmes in the BBC original Sherlock, whose sociopathy and disinterest in sexual (or romantic) relationships are conflated. Although she qualifies Sherlock’s sexuality as something that is presented and not explicitly confirmed, there’s enough support within the context of the show to suggest that creators include Sherlock’s ambivalence to relationships under the umbrella of his sociopathy. Burgess writes, “It’s hardly the main problem, but it does contribute to the cultural ignorance of what asexuality is exactly . . . and people’s idea of what a healthy relationship should look like.”

But some novels hit the nail on the head. Burgess raves about Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, in which two ace-coded main characters develop a relationship. Discovering Good Omens was a pivotal moment for Burgess. “I saw my exact experience,” she writes, “And it didn’t need kissing or touching to be considered real, or written off as unhealthy. It was a happy, positive love story.” Although this example is from a fantasy novel, it provides a powerful picture of why representation is important for reinforcing the idea that asexuality is a valid sexual orientation and identity and that fulfilling relationships are absolutely attainable for people who identify as asexual. Author of The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune has made incredible strides in queer representation in general and ace representation specifically. In interviews and on his blog, he advocates for more representation and remains a beacon of hope to other aspiring writers who want to include ace characters and relationships in their novels, whether they identify as ace or not.

Even though romance publishing has a lot of ground to make up for when it comes to who gets their Happily Ever After, readers who are interested in reading more stories that include ace characters and experiences have a lot available to them if they’re willing to do a little digging. Listicles featuring recommendations for asexual romances or book featuring asexual characters are becoming more common, like this one on BookRiot or this one on Tor’s website, and the Aro Ace Database allows you to search for characters who are coded ace or aro (aromantic) in all genres of fiction.

rainbow coming out of dark clouds

Double-edged Sword: The Erasure, or Harmful Portrayal, of Bisexuality

When it comes to the discussion of LGBTQ+ inclusion within literature, we can see that progress has been made, albeit not nearly enough. With the expansion of queer inclusion in literature and digital media, new issues arise, such as perpetuating stereotypes. Speaking in terms of specifically bisexual characters, these issues often result from them being portrayed as a means of creating a specific type of character rather than for the purpose of positive representation.

It’s fair to say that coming out in any aspect totes along its own unique and frustrating labels and assumptions from those outside of the community. In my experience, the bisexual identity comes with being ostracized, not only from the straight, cis-gendered community, but also from their LGBTQ+ family as well. One of the biggest stereotypes is that bisexual individuals are “promiscuous” and, likely, unloyal. While this is not the case, the portrayal of bisexual characters across different media platforms only serves to preserve these damaging reservations about the orientation.

On the other hand, there is yet another negative form of stereotypes. Where there is no general sexual frivolity in a bisexual character, there may instead be the assertion of “confusion.” This is particularly true in cases where the audience is led to believe (not know, as this usually happens through suggestion instead of saying the words out loud, which is a whole other issue in and of itself) that a character is bisexual, but they tend to end up with the opposite gender. While this is fine in theory, the issue we’re faced with is the perpetuation of the stereotype that bisexuals are just “confused” or “experimenting,” and that when they settle down, they will inevitably choose a “straight” relationship. For a recent example, I think back to the Marvel/Disney show Loki. The Disney+ show led some fans to think that Loki might (finally!) end up in a relationship with another male character (although, I hold my reservations about Owen Wilson being a match with Tom Hiddleston—but that’s neither here nor there). However, what ended up happening was the rug being pulled out yet again for hopeful, queer audience members and pandering to the straight, cis-gendered community (I’m trying to be vague so that I don’t give any spoilers). Even though many people know that Loki is bisexual, there is a blatant lack of that part of his identity in his character’s representation, which is problematic, especially from such a large platform as Disney.

Literature can be just as challenging. Consider the novel Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult. The story revolves around Zoe, a bisexual woman who eventually becomes estranged from her husband. In the resolution, Zoe falls in love with another woman. And while this certainly happens in real life, the problem with this novel is that, rather than restating Zoe’s bisexuality, she is instead described as just being a lesbian all along, or worse, having been “turned gay”—which is even more disheartening.

While it is clear that the world is not the same as it was twenty or thirty years ago when it comes to acceptance, we still have a long way to go. All members of the queer community still have to face external biases against their orientation, internalized homophobia, transphobia, and more; however, there is a double-edged sword that bisexuals face between those inside their community and those outside of it. The stereotypes that come along with the orientation led others to mistrust them, and it negatively affects their ability to have stable relationships. Only through changing the script when we represent the LGBTQ+ community can we come closer to a world where we not only accept, but also truly celebrate, all identities.

streamers displayed in rainbow order connecting to a brick building

 LGBTQ+ Book Recommendations

If you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community, you’re probably eager to get your hands on any piece of queer media you can; if you’re not part of the community, maybe you’re looking to broaden the scope of your reading experiences. There are so many queer books out there, but it can be hard to keep up with new releases and titles that have already been published. We have put together a list of LGBTQ+ reads to add to your TBR list, whether you’re reading by yourself or with a book club.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles is a very popular retelling of the Iliad, focusing on the story of Achilles and Patroclus, told from the latter’s point of view. This book follows the two from childhood to the Trojan War, chronicling their growth and their romantic relationship. It is a very touching read, and it’s perfect for fans of Greek mythology.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe follows two lonely teenage boys who meet one another during the summer and become fast friends. Over time, and over a distance, the two discover romantic feelings for each other. This beloved novel has a sequel that was just published too!

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This is the sequel to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and it is a highly-anticipated sequel to boot. Having just been released, this book is on many a TBR list, but early reviews are giving it a glowing recommendation.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Cemetery Boys went viral thanks to TikTok, and it’s for good reason. Sixteen-year-old trans boy Yadriel is on a mission to prove to his traditional family that he is a man by way of a brujo ceremony. Typically performed as a family celebration, Yadriel invites his cousin/best friend, Maritza, to attempt to summon their murdered cousin to set his soul free. Yadriel mistakenly summons the ghost of newly-dead high school bad boy Julian Diaz, and he refuses to leave Yadriel alone until the pair finds out what happened to the murdered boy. The longer the two spend together, however, the less they want to leave.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Cynical August moves to New York City where she waits tables at a twenty-four-hour diner and lives with way too many people. She has given up on romance and is determined to live the rest of her life alone. One day, she meets Jane on the subway and is stopped in her tracks. Slowly but surely, August begins to believe in love and the impossible.

While not an exhaustive list, I hope you’ve found a book (or two, or five) to add to your list. Happy reading, and enjoy these highly-praised queer love stories!