How to Find Queer Media
When we talk with young people, particularly young queer and trans people, we often recommend they seek out other queer media beyond what we offer here at Scarleteen. Sometimes that’s because we think it will help them feel less isolated, other times it’s so they can find stories that help them make sense of their own experiences, or just to give them something to escape into for a few hours.
We also frequently field questions from teens and young adults who come to us specifically looking for sexual media that offers more diversity than what’s usually present in “mainstream” porn, or that is made by and for queer people.
It’s not always easy for young people — for any people! — to find the media they’re looking for, media we know is out there. Our modern online spaces are often heavily filtered and curated, with algorithms showing you what they think you’re looking for. But often, in order to find good, queer media, you have to do a bit of exploration on your own. And these days, even though there’s more queer media than ever before, that’s getting harder to do thanks to things like book bans, shadow bans, sites hiding queer content, or the content you want going unpromoted because our stories still aren’t considered mainstream by a lot of people.
That’s where this guide comes in.
I’m going to offer you a crash course in how to find all kinds of queer media, with some bonus tips on how to support media that’s ethically made (meaning the people whose labor is part of the media are being treated fairly when it comes to things like working conditions and pay).
Where to Look and What to Look For
Ask other queer people
If your friends are queer and trans, odds are you’re already doing this through casual conversations about the things you’re watching, reading, and listening to. But there are ways you can make it more deliberate; maybe you start a book club—or just pass the one copy of a beloved, queer story from one person to the next-- or host a recurring movie night where you introduce each other to your favorite films. This has the added benefit of exposing and cis or straight friends to queer creators and stories they might not otherwise have sought out!
If you have access to an LGBTQ+ center, many of those have small — or not so small— lending libraries. LGBTQ+ centers will also often host movie nights or other arts events; even if you can’t make it to them, checking out who they’re showcasing can clue you in to some awesome, queer media.
I’m also a fan of asking older queers for recommendations. Yes, queer media used to be scarcer, but it was there, and the people who ferreted it out usually know of some titles, authors, and artists you may never have even heard of. Asking them offers a connection point to queer elders, and conversations about where or how they encountered that media often doubles as a history lesson on what it was like to be queer or trans in that time and place. And hey, queer adults reading this? Ask the younger folks in the community what media they’re into! This chance for learning and connection goes both ways.
If you’re an adult with young people in your life, see if you’re able to curate a shelf or a Little Free Library of your own for those who might need it. Having a parent, an aunt, a family friend, or even a friends parent who goes out of their way to make queer and trans stories accessible can make a big difference to a young person looking to understand or embrace their identity.
Decide what your other wants are
It can be tempting, when so much of the media landscape is still very straight, to have your requirements for a piece of media be “anything so long as it’s queer.” But there’s enough queer media out there now that using that as your only guideline could mean you end up with content that bores you, grosses you out, or just isn’t your cup of tea.
That’s why you want to think about what else you’re looking for. Are you in the mood for horror? Something fluffy with a happy ending? Are there other identities you want to see reflected or handled well? It may sound obvious, but the more you know what you’re looking for, the easier it will be to hunt it down.
Go to the Library
Libraries are excellent starting places for a media search of any kind, because you not only have access to the physical library in your area, in most cases you have access to the whole library system. That access allows you to get books from other branches, which seriously increases your chances of finding what you’re looking for, and for free, no less. The vast majority of libraries also have digital collections on top of the physical ones; audiobooks, e-books, movies, music, all on platforms that are free to use.
Library staff can also help you out if you’re comfortable asking them for recommendations. If your library has a teen librarian, they’re a great person to start with, since they’ll know what books for young people match your needs. But any staff person can at least point you in the right direction or help you with your initial search. If you’re nervous about asking a librarian face to face for what you need, many libraries have a spot on their website where you can submit questions remotely (and if the librarians I know are any indication, research quests brighten their day).
Indie bookstores have long history of being queer (and feminist) safe havens. Like libraries, they’ll have staff who can point you towards the stories you’re looking for, and many have sections dedicated to queer books and authors. They’re not free like libraries, but if you have the cash, buying a book or two from them is a great way to support an important and often precariously-supported community space. Even if you don’t have one in your area, you can use sites like Indie Bound or Bookshop to order titles from independent sellers.
Try Online aggregators
In the last few years, the number of sites dedicated to queer books has blossomed. The depth of reviews and interactivity of asking for recommendations varies, but these sites make excellent starting places for finding your next read. Some starting places are Queer Books for Teens, LGBTQ Reads, and Autostraddle’s list of queer book databases.
Aggregators are also a great way to find queer videos games. Sites like Autostraddle will create articles highlighting queer games. Increasingly, platforms where you actually access games, like Steam, actively curate collections of queer content.
While I’m on the subject, video game aggregators are also a great way to find out which game studios are treating their staff right. Certain studios in the industry often put massive pressure on their developers (aka the people who make the game) to meet unrealistic deadlines or otherwise do things that massively burn them out. So, when looking for games, I encourage folks to support studios that go out of their way to create a work environment that treats it’s developers like people.
A final form of aggregator: mixtapes! Not only are mixes a great way to discover new artists, songs, and genres, but you can also find people who make mixes of queer relevant videos and podcasts along with music.
- Audio and E-books: If your devices aren’t monitored, these formats give you more ability to conceal what you’re reading. Podcasts can also be your friend, since someone looking over your shoulder or at your phone will just see the name and maybe a brief summary of the episode.
- Choose “stealthy” books: While Two Boys Kissing makes it pretty clear what’s going on between those covers, plenty of queer books, music, and video games don’t give that trait away in their titles or descriptions.
- Pick up some non-fiction: Queer media includes content by queer authors about things other than queerness, and non-fiction is one of my favorite places to find that. Books like The Last Days of the Dinosaurs and How Far the Light Reaches are fascinating reads by queer authors that connect you to the experiences of other folks in the community while you learn something new.
When it comes to finding queer sexual media, a lot of the advice from earlier in this article still applies. I’m going to focus on the different, general places you can look, because sexual media is one of those places where a casual internet search can take you to some very shady places with just a few clicks.
But first, a disclaimer: Depending on your age and the laws where you live, it may be unlawful for people to sell you certain kinds of sexual media. If that’s the case, you’ll want to focus your energy on the forms of sexual media, like books, that you’re legally able to access.
When we talk about ethical porn or other sexual media, we’re talking about instances where:
- Everything that happens in the course of making and distributing the media is consensual.
- Performers, production crews, authors, or any else involved in making the media is paid fairly.
- Working conditions are safe for everyone. That includes things like clarity around steps being taken to prevent STIs, listening to people when they say they feel unsafe or uncomfortable with a situation, and not forcing people to go without needed food or rest in order to complete a project.
The ethics of sexual media also extend to how it’s is consumed. Sites like Pornhub are tempting, but most of what’s uploaded there is without the performer’s permission and means they’re not getting paid. According to performer Jiz Lee, “Piracy has done irreparable harm to the industry, saturating the web with free porn tube sites that first earned their traffic of the backs of sex workers who couldn't even get a bank account.” So if you are going to explore porn, and want to do so ethically, paying for it is very important.
Where to Look
Go to the source
Since you want to avoid free porn sites, a performers personal site or a particular studio is a better way to go. This helps ensure that if you consume content, it hasn’t been stolen from the people who put time, labor and resources into making it.
Go beyond videos
When people talk about sexual media, they generally picture videos and maybe some photos. But sexual media encompasses way more than just visual media; there’s audio-erotica, erotic webcomics and novels, for example. Heck, for some people, a collection of erotic poetry may be just what they’re looking for. These options often include ways to support creators directly, or at least operate through channels that make sure they’re actually being compensated.
Check out sex toy stores and reviewers
If there’s a feminist or queer-owned sex toy seller you like to buy from, they can be another starting point in your search. A lot of shops have a selection of books and zines, and some also carry videos. Odds are good they’re curating their selection to match the values of the store, and as a bonus there will be people you can ask for recommendations while you’re there.
In a similar vein, a lot of online reviewers of sex toys will also review sexual media and offer their recommendations on it. In those cases, they’ve probably watched, read, or listened to the media in order to review it, so you’ll get a lot more information about the content then you might in a more general list or round-up.
Dive into fanfiction
Fanfiction, those stories created by and for fans of a piece of media, has been queer from its inception. While there are plenty of straight stories to choose from, there are also mountains of ones featuring queer and trans characters, romances, and sex. I recommend starting at Archive of Our Own. Not only is there a ton of fanfiction there but the site has robust search and tagging functions that help you narrow stories down both by what you’re interested in and what you want or need to avoid. It’s also free to access, and might even inspire you to create some stories of your own!
Queer media continues to blossom, even under pushback and censorship. I hope the tips here help you find stories and art that make you feel as understood, embraced, and loved as you deserve to be.
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