Queer Your Eyes and Ears (with some help from the Scarleteam)!
One of my favorite parts of Pride is watching queer stories and media be centered and shared throughout the month, which is why I put out a call to our wonderful Scarleteam to share their favorite pieces of queer media! The resulting recommendations are a great mix of books, podcasts, and T.V. shows to try out this Pride Month (or any month).
Before we dive in, I have to come clean and admit I teared up while putting this list together. There was one duplicate recommendation. Ten years ago (heck, even five, especially when it comes to trans representation), I don't think that would have been the case. Most of the media we would have been able to find would be "issue stories" where the queer or trans element is the focal point of a Very Serious Story. It's not that serious stories about our identities aren't good or necessary -- but our experiences are so much more than that. Being able to put together a list full of queer and trans joy, adventure, magic, space travel, heartbreak, triumph, shenanigans, and love is pretty dang amazing.
I hope you find stories on it that speak to you.
- Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell: I absolutely loved this one, for a number of reasons: its realistic characters (drama, but not too much drama), the diverse and interesting cast, the ~vibes~ of the pink spot-coloring amid the San Francisco landscape - it’s so lovely. I don’t think I’ve read anything like this that was specifically meant for a younger audience - a story in which the out-lesbian main character is able to live her truth so openly that she gets to mess up and have relationship drama like everyone else. Laura Dean follows the protagonist, Fred, who’s dealing with major heartbreak after her third breakup with the titular horrible girlfriend, Laura Dean. She’s tall, cool, and popular - a little too popular - and Fred is overtaken by her each time she decides to come back into her life. It takes nearly ruining her closest friendship for Fred to sort out which of these relationships actually means the most to her. Read this one if you like high school slice of life, friendship and relationship drama, and girls standing up for themselves against crummy partners.
- Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu: This is the first, but not the last, sport-related comic in this list. It’s also available to read for free online! Check, Please! follows Bitty as he enters Samwell University. He’s a Southern boy with a love for baking who's about to enter a frat house with a bunch of hockey dudes, and these aren’t the only things that set him apart from his teammates. Bitty comes out to the team and has a welcoming reception, allowing him to be open in a way that he isn’t able to at home. Along with having to balance being a full-time student with being on the team, Bitty struggles with the emotional whirlwind of falling for team captain and hockey protege Jack Zimmerman. For a story about frat-head hockey players, this one is surprisingly wholesome with Bitty as the main character, whose time in the kitchen probably takes up as much space in the story as the actual sports. Read this one if you like coming out journeys, rivals-to-friends-to-lovers arcs, and college antics.
- Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona: This is also the first, but not last, Marvel comic in the list! There are two things I love in a Marvel comic: young superheroes and canon queer characters. Runaways really scratched an itch for me when I first read it as a younger person. I’ve never really been into sci-fi/fantasy, but there’s just something about a cast of kids being the leaders in a story with grand adventures that really butters my biscuit. The story of Runaways is a wild one: each year, the parents of Gertrude Yorkes, Nico Minoru, Alex Wilder, Chase Stein, Karolina Dean, and Molly Hayes get together for a charity event. The year in which the story begins is the year the kids decide to spy on their parents, only to find the group together in ‘weird costumes’ while murdering a woman in ritual sacrifice. Turns out the kids’ parents are a league of evil supervillains who meet once a year to perform a sacrifice that will buy their children a spot in heavenly afterlife once the world ends. The kids are obviously freaked out by this, so they decide to run away - but not before they uncover the powers associated with each of their families. Read this one if you like: superteens getting into super trouble, post-apocalyptic realities, and Marvel-style twists.
- Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad: The second sports comic of the list! This is also the only story on the list that’s still on-going, and I totally think it’s worth it to keep up with it. I found this one to be the most consistently intense for me because of the emotional atmosphere of the story and its setting. Fence follows Nicholas Cox, an aspiring fencing champion from a tough background, as he enters the uber-preppy and highly competitive world of fencing. He’s ‘the scholarship kid’ at King’s Row Boys School, and finds himself rooming with his sworn rival, Seiji Katayama, not long after losing bitterly to him in their first match together. As I read this, I get the feeling that the rivalry between Nicholas and Seiji need not be taken seriously beyond each character's determination to be the best. Really, both boys are lonely among the sea of competitive classmates and would do well to look for a friend in one another. Their dynamic will remind Haikyū!! fans of Hinata and Kageyama: the scrappy, easy-to-love underdog versus the sullen genius athlete. Read this one if you like: an on-going series, prep school drama, and ‘guys being dudes.’
- Young Avengers by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung: Last but not least, the second Marvel series on this list. I’ll be upfront and admit that I’m not super familiar with the Avengers universe or most Marvel storylines in general, so some of the conflicts this story is picking up from are unknown to me. That being said, the conflicts are so straightforward that context can be understood while reading. So, for uninitiated readers looking to get into comics with limited experience, I don’t think you need to go back and catch up before reading Heinberg’s Young Avengers run. The gay couple in the series, Billy and Teddy, are front-and-center in this story, which happily treats their relationship as arguably the one normal thing in a world full of time-travelling dead people and world-conquering super villains. The story follows Iron Lad, Hulkling, Wiccan, Hawkeye, Patriot, Speed, Stature, and Vision, a group of young (and recently resurrected) heroes assembled by Iron Lad to stop a villain from the future. The Avengers want to stop them before they hurt themselves, and hijinks ensue. Read this one if you like superheroes scrambling following huge heroic failures, intergalactic conflict, and character deaths that basically mean nothing because the characters always get brought back.
- The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag: This series of graphic novels is aimed at middle-grade readers, but I found it to be a delightful read. The basic premise follows a family in which boys are shapeshifters and girls are witches. Our hero, Aster, is a boy who wants to be a witch and finds both resistance and encouragement from others in his quest to become one. This series shows that you can make a story in which a fictional dichotomy (witch/shifter) reflects the experiences of a trans person. The trick is to do it in a world where those categories don't replace queer or trans identites, but exist alongside them; the world in these stories is full of LGBTQIA+ characters, meaning magic intermingles with them instead of being a clunky stand-in for them.
- Lumberjanes: Another graphic novel series, and one that's had many excellent writers and illustrators. It takes place at a summer camp for girls where strange (and often dangerous) things keep happening. At the center of it all are the campers from Roanoke Cabin, who would like to just earn their badges without running into dinosaurs, exiled gods, or river monsters. One of the things I love most about this series is that the queer and trans elements are never treated as a "very special issue" and the story doesn't stop to justify why they're there; they just are, just like in the real world. Those identities do influence how the characters experience certain things, but no character is reduced down to one identity. In other words, it comes across as a realistic portrayal of queerness in a world populated by jackalopes.
- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: A beautiful, character-driven book that feels like a warm bath. Come for the epic space adventure, stay for the queer inter-species romance and casual use of varied pronoun sets. The follow-up A Closed and Common Orbit is an exploration of otherness and personhood, with a supporting cast that includes a casually gender-fluid tattoo artist.
- This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: A love story between two women, agents fighting for opposing futures who write each other letters in water and knots and seeds and the sound of the wind over old bones. Our protagonists travel between worlds and times, constantly expanding our understanding of what the words she and woman can mean as they shift forms. The sparse world-building and focus on the letters Red and Blue write to one another make this one short and poetic for a book that is set between murders and battlefields.
- Ancillary Justice and its two sequels by Ann Leckie: The author uses she/her pronouns for all the characters, regardless of their gender as a quirk of the language of the world she creates. The effect is that the genders of the characters become ambiguous and irrelevant – we never know the sex, gender, or sexuality of most of the people whose stories we’re getting invested in, leaving us free to interpret for ourselves whilst for a moment sinking into a world where it just doesn’t matter what genitals someone has or the gender of the people they are attracted to.
- The Rise of Kyoshi by F.C. Yeeo: The most powerful Earth-bender the world has ever seen and her fire-bending girlfriend. The story begins with Kyoshi being unaware that she is the Avatar until she is around 17 years old. It follows the very intense process of that becoming her reality. Amazing writing and great vibes.
- Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagio: Space, science fiction, disability, anti-capitalist critique, gays -- this book has it all! Fun adventure with really amazing and complex narratives.
- Pet by Akwaeke Emezi: Pet takes place in a future world in which all “monsters” are banished. The Revolution has already occurred and violent systems of oppression have been destroyed. Or that’s what Jam has been led to believe her whole life. This book takes on a very heavy issue but does it in a very simple way that captures the complexities while also making it understandable. The main character is trans and lives a very lovely and supported life with her parents.
- Bowie: An Illustrated Life by María Hesse and Fran Ruiz. A beautiful illuminated biography of David Bowie. Could anything else do him and his life story -- both as it happened and as he's told it -- justice? I can't imagine.
- The Price and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang: Sweet, genderqueery fairytales FTW.
- I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems (1975 - 2014) by Eileen Myles: I just moved and it's the first book I put on the shelf by my bed. There's really not much more to say about this than that.
- Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue by Leslie Feinberg: If you've never read this amazing collection of essays before, you're in for a treat. If you have, but it's been a while, may I suggest it's time to revisit this old friend? Feinberg's words are and will always remain powerful poetry that articulate joy just as well as pain, solidarity as well as struggle. Ze just gets to the heart of things like few people ever have and probably ever will.
- I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl's Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom. One of my favorite things I read in the last couple years, these extra-real, raw and open-hearted essays ask the reader to look at some of the hardest, most hurtful parts of the world and our community but also to keep our hearts and spirits alive both for our own sake and to help heal that world back to health.
- If you don't mind me tooting my own horn here, if you're looking for a couple books on sex, sexuality and relationships by a queer and nonbinary author that are also inclusive of everyone, I'd like to suggest Wait, What? by myself, Isabella Rotman, and our great colorist Luke Howard for pre-teens and younger teens, or, for those a little older, the second edition of S.E.X., The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties. And in the event you're curious about what's probably considerably further down the road for you, or want a gift for someone older in your life, you might even have a gander at my latest, a first book published on perimenopause and menopause by a nonbinary and queer author, and a first inclusive guide to both, What Fresh Hell Is This?
- History is Gay: History is Gay explores the stories of the LGBTQIA+ people from history, successfully dispelling any notion that queerness is a purely modern phenomenon, and challenging the cis-heteronormative tellings of history that gloss over the identities of queer and gender nonconforming people. Hosts Leigh and Gretchen are passionate about social justice, history, and queer culture, and it shows! They research each episode thoroughly, and tell the stories in an engaging and nuanced way with a healthy dose of silliness! They also transcribe each show and provide compressive show-notes with time-stamped content warnings where required. If you like stories, particularly stories about queer folks, you’ll love History is Gay. If you’d like a topical episode to get started with, this episode is about the history of Pride itself.
- Gender Reveal: Host Tuck Woodstock describes Gender Reveal as a podcast about “what the heck gender is”; like its description, the show recognises and delves into the broad expanse that is gender expression with a sense of fun and humor. Tuck is a journalist, educator, and a fantastic interviewer: Gender Reveal episodes feature a diverse group of guests, including artists, authors, and activists. Tuck’s curated a great list of episode starter packs that you can find here.
- A-Ok Pod: Hosted by Courtney Lang, this show recently ended but is still a great listen. This podcast’s whole premise is that everyone’s sexual and romantic identities are different and can’t be used to essentialise those of others who fall under a similar identity umbrella. It features interviews with a brilliantly broad bunch of people on the asexual and aromantic spectrums about their experiences. Courtney interviewed a big group of different people with different experiences; pick one that sounds extra interesting to you and just start from there.
- The Magnus Archives: A horror anthology podcast that reveals a wider, over-arching plot as the series progresses. The main cast is overwhelmingly queer, and while the horror narrative is the focus, there are some wonderful relationships that make up much of the emotional backbone of the show. For the squeamish: content warnings are available for all episodes and the writer is careful to avoid cheap, offensive horror tropes. Transcripts are available for all episodes.
- The Strange Case of Starship Iris: If you're a fan of queer stories in space, this podcast is for you! It features a delightfully diverse queer cast, human/alien romance, a dangerous case of mistaken identity, and a reckless plan to strike back against a dangerous political regime. Transcripts are available for all episodes.
- Making Gay History: This podcast explores the lives of LGBTQIA+ figures of the past in their own words through an extensive collection of interviews and conversations taped by the show's host, Eric Marcus, over many years. It focuses on well-known figures in the queer civil rights movement and on those whose names may be less familiar to listeners. Queer history is rich, vibrant, sometimes tragic, and always important to remember; this podcast does a wonderful job of bringing it to life. Transcripts are available for all episodes.
- They Them Theirs: A discussion podcast that talks about gender, culture, and entertainment from a queer, nonbinary perspective. Topics range from current events to YA fiction to monster movies to media with trans and nonbinary themes. The show's informal format makes listening to an episode feel like you're sitting in on a conversation between friends, and the hosts occasionally bring on guests for interviews and more focused discussions.
- One From the Vaults: A podcast exploring trans history. Episodes touch on well-known and less prominent activists alike, important court cases, transgender writing and performance, and the ways in which other marginalized identities impact the lives of trans individuals. The host relies on archival materials and in-depth research to tell some rich and wonderful stories about our trans ancestors (transcestors???).
- Blessed are the Binary Breakers: An interview podcast in which the host interviews trans and nonbinary people of faith from a wide range of religious backgrounds. Guests range from laypeople to community leaders to professors and represent many different faith traditions. Transcripts are available for most episodes.
- Maintenance Phase: Not an explicitly queer podcast, but one with two queer hosts, whose identities and experiences inform their approach to the subject material. Maintenance Phase addresses bias, false information, and outright scams around diet and wellness, with a focus on confronting anti-fat bias in the medical world and in the commercial "wellness" industry.
- My Gay Agenda: A chatty podcast in which the hosts interview a new guest every week about whatever queer- or trans-related topics they're feeling passionate about in the moment. Discussions touch on anything from relationships and intimacy, to art and gaming, to discussions of how to survive under the crushing weight of capitalism. This is another show that feels a lot like sitting in on a fun conversation between friends.
- The Bold Type: A lighthearted comedy that centers around the experiences of a writer, a fashion assistant, and a social media director who work at a “women’s magazine” called Scarlet. We see the ups and downs that come with finding and owning your sexual identity in your 20s. Kat Edison (played by Aisha Dee), one of the three protagonists, shows us what it means to have assumed all her life that she fit the default of “compulsory heterosexuality,” only to discover that she is also attracted to women. Her journey through sexual exploration is one filled with joy, support, and acceptance from her closest friends - a queer narrative that is yet to get the spotlight on television.
- Sense8: A science-fiction drama series that tells the story of eight different characters from different parts of the world who are complete strangers but find out they are emotionally and mentally connected. As the characters discover other people in their cluster of "sensates," they experience cross-cultural life experiences together. Nomi (played by Jamie Clayton), a trans woman who is in a relationship with Amanita (played by Freema Agyeman), a lesbian cis woman, show us how fierce their relationship can be in the face of adversity. Lito (played by Miguel Angel Silvestre) is a gay actor who lives in Mexico City and has to live a life that is closeted despite being a public figure - and face the dangers of being outed in a country that does not accept his identity.
- Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist: Zoey, a software designer living in San Francisco, is in an MRI machine listening to music when an earthquake happens. As a result of this, Zoey gains the magical ability to hear people’s inner most thoughts through songs that they sing to her. The show has a lot of amazing singing with some awesome queer characters and cool plotlines. It’s a show about relationships to other people. It's extremely engaging and has a star-studded cast. A content warning is needed for a death from progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).
- Pose!: Historical fiction of the New York City Ballroom Scene during the AIDS epidemic. Incredible characters, actors, costumes, and writing. A heavy but informative show. You will laugh and cry! Trans representations by trans actors and trans directors. Actors like Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, and more, give performances of a lifetime. This is a heavy show that requires content warnings for anti-trans language and sentiments, racism, substance abuse, sexual assault, and graphic anti-trans violence.
- She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: A reboot of the show brings us to the planet Etheria where She-Ra and princesses across the planet have unique superpowers that help them defend their people. This is a good show for both kids and adults with a very diverse set of characters and fun fantasy adventures. The queer relationships take place more in the final season but it’s a great show.