The challenge this month is about why this challenge (which is, to read GLBT works) is important to you. The short answer is: I believe that just because we live in a heteronormative, cisgender privileged world, it DOES NOT mean that those who do not confine to this imposed society norm should have their voices be considered as less important, something to be silenced. If anything, by giving voice to the GLBT community, we can work at undermining this system of privileges that is pervasive in our world. I believe that everyone has a story to tell and this is my way of trying to learn and listen.
The long answer will be under cut, and um, much more personal. I’m worried that this more personal answer might make it seem like I’m trying to make this All About Me as an ~*enlightened*~ straight cisgendered person, but please believe me that I sincerely do not mean to do such a thing, and if my privilege is showing do let me know in the comments and I’ll apologize and try to learn from my mistakes. =D
Okay, here it goes. (Btw, this goes waaaaaaay beyond the requirements of one or two paragraphs. … Sorry? xDv)
From the moment I hit Grade 4, I started devouring novels. My local and school libraries were my favourite places to hang out. I practically lived in the children’s and the then budding teen section, checking out roughly ten books at a time whenever I could get away with it. Having gone about an almost systematic mission to read every book there was to read in those particular shelves, it was inevitable that I would come across GLBT works by authors (Nancy Garden, anyone?). Most of the GLBT fiction I remember coming across featured lesbian characters with a dash of the occasional gay character, and no transgendered characters. (I’m not counting those cross-dressing stories a la Mulan, though I did enjoy those very much too.) Like any other book, some I enjoyed, some I thought were boring/forgettable, and some I loved to pieces, re-checking them out and rereading over and over again.
Around the early years of 2000s, there were movements going about for gay rights marriage in Canada. I thought nothing much of it at first, to be honest. Seemed like yet another one of those messy adult things that I don’t care for and anyway, I was far more interested in the world of fiction than I ever was about the “Real” world around me.
Then, I saw my parents picking up signs in protest. Signs that said things such as “Marriage = man + woman”. They got my much younger siblings to march in protest with them.
I didn’t know how to deal with this new information at hand, to be honest. I loved my stories that featured a lesbian or gay relationship and it seemed almost given that of course we’d want them to get married. Two people love each other, then they get married and live happily ever after. Who cares what gender the two parties getting married are? And, I – I love my parents. I always had and always will. I didn’t know how to reconcile these two things, the image I have of my parents and what I thought they were doing wasn’t right.
One day, my brother came and sat around in my bedroom. I was going through yet another pile of library books and one of the books in that pile was GLBT lit. My brother took a look at it and looked at me. He said (paraphrased, I’m not sure if I remember this properly) “Don’t let our mom and dad see.”
And – I knew what he meant. I tried imagining confronting or being confronted by my parents about these books I read, which will inevitably bring about a discussion of gay marriage rights and how it was unnatural, etc, and I couldn’t do it. (There were slim chances of this happening, since no one in my family is really into reading – they’re the more sportive types. But it was the possibility of it happening that got to me.) I suppose this is a moment wherein my straight privilege shows, because I decided to stop bringing those novels home. This is not to say that I stopped reading GLBT works entirely. If there were novels that were available in my school library I’d keep them stashed in my locker and read them exclusively at school. Also I would soon discover that, around the time I was getting into anime and manga (Japanese animation and comics, respectfully), there’s an abundance of “yaoi” manga that I had easy access to online, which is basically Japanese comics featuring gay romance. (Yeah, I know yaoi’s rep and admittedly there are some of them that do graze the realm of being pornographic, but there’s just as many that depict a chaste romance or a romance that had a storyline to it as well.) But despite this, there is a marked difference in the amount of GLBT literature I choose to read - specifically a significant drop in novels I would read that feature GLBT content. I’m ashamed
Time passed and as I got older I started growing a backbone. There was an inner defiant voice that demanded why in the world should I stop reading novels by authors I liked just because there’s either a gay or lesbian character/romance in it? I slowly started bring the books back home again (with admittedly a sense of trepidation the first time I choose to do so. It got easier with time). My shelves of books are currently very much predominantly heteronormative, and hopefully by doing this challenge I can make my reading and book collection much more balanced by the end of the year.
I’m aware that I completely didn’t address transgenderism at all during that long spiel and I’ll talk about it now:
Currently there’s a CORA Diversity Call on Paradigm Shifts, and having read something that completely changed your perceptions. On the subject of transgenderism I was very much in the camp of those who couldn’t see beyond their cisgendered privilege. In fact, I was so blind to even the idea that it was a privilege, to be completely at home with the gender you were born in. Anything that could have had any relevance to transgenderism came to me in the form of various heroic females cross-dressing as males to achieve their goal, etc etc. Cross-dressing was something transcient to me, something the girls in fiction did for fun before settling down and going back to “normal”. I could not understand the idea that there may be transgendered men and women who may sincerely not feel in their skin with the gender they were born in, and thought that, if such people existed, it was “weird”. Nothing in my world that recognized my cisgender privilege, showed me that I could be so, incredibly wrong,
Then, a little over a year ago, I was linked to this particular article: A Boy’s Life. (I do like this article, btw. Please do consider reading it if you haven’t yet.) And something in my brain just went ‘Oh.. OH!’, an inner light bulb that started flickering on. (ETA Which is not to say that I am completely enlightened or what not. Just that I'm now much more aware that I ever had such privilege, and I'm trying to listen.)
Which is why I believe the written word can be so powerful. Sometimes words have the ability to change your mindset completely, challenge your world perceptions. For me, it is important that I make the choice to read more transgender books in particular. The world is full of people with experiences, identities, etc, different from my own and I want my fiction I choose to read to reflect such diversity.