Hi all– I just released a new record about coming into a non-binary butch lesbian identity after 10+ years of identifying as a femme lesbian. I’ve been featured on Autostraddle before. You might like my music if you like musicians like Frankie Cosmos, Courtney Barnett, the Mountain Goats- lyrically-driven lo-fi indie rock. You can find it on bandcamp here: https://antiquatedfuture.bandcamp.com/album/butch-spring or also on Spotify. I hope you like it!
One of the few bright spots of 2020 was the number of new, LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books. Here’s my annual list of picture books and a few select middle grade ones that caught my eye, plus queer-inclusive kids’ music albums—and a few titles for and about us LGBTQ parents.
Most of the LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books published this year were great—and I’m happy to see a (slowly) growing increase in protagonists of color and in books that aren’t “about” LGBTQ families per se. There has also been a relative surge in books about transgender, nonbinary, and gender creative characters. A few of this year’s books I didn’t love, but have included below in case you come across them or if they happen to fit a particular need. For the most part, though, this was a terrific year—and I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings!
Pride 1 2 3, by Michael Joosten and illustrated by Wednesday Holmes (Little Simon), is a simple counting book set at a Pride celebration. Full review.
Who Is Making a Mess? by Maria D’Haene and illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan (Amicus), is full of surprises and diverse families as it celebrates the messiness of life. Full review.
Kevin Keller’s Favorite Colors, from Little Bee Books, stars the Archie comics’ first gay character explaining the meaning of each of the colors in the Pride flag (including the recent additions of black and brown), as other characters from the comic demonstrate. Aside from the use of Archie characters, this book adds little that is different from existing books (Pride Colors, by Robin Stevenson; Rainbow: A First Book of Pride, by Michael Genhard; and Our Rainbow, by Little Bee Books)—and one might wonder whether Archie’s high schoolers really appeal to very young children. Best for adult fans who want it for their children.
Harvey Milk, Ellen DeGeneres, and RuPaul Charles from Little Bee Books (2020) with no stated author, illustrated by Victoria Grace Elliott, each offer simple takes on these figures’ lives, though not as simple as the board book format might imply. Full review.
Picture Books: Families
Wonderful You, by Lisa Graff and illustrated by Ramona Kaulitski (Philomel), takes us along with a diverse group of expecting families, including ones with two moms and two dads, as their babies-to-be grow and are born as their own delightful selves. Full review.
I Looked Into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families, by Aviva Brown and Rivka Badik-Schultz, celebrates diverse families in the Jewish spiritual tradition, including ones with same-sex and gender non-conforming parents and Jewish families of color. Use the code MOMBIAN when buying the book at Brown’s website to get 10 percent off your purchase. Additionally, 15 percent of the proceeds from sales until Dec. 31, 2020 will be donated to Be’chol Lashon, an organization dedicated to celebrating Jewish diversity and raising awareness about multicultural Jews of all races, languages, and ethnicities. Full review.
Picture Books: Transgender Characters
Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution, by Joy Michael Ellison and Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley), focuses on the close friendship of Stonewall icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and how they cared for their community. Full review.
Max on the Farm, by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Luciano Lozano (Reycraft), is the third in the series about Max, a White transgender boy. Here, Max goes on a trip to a farm with his class, including his friend Teresa, a darker-skinned girl, and the two get into gentle mischief. Full review.
She’s My Dad!, by Sarah Savage and illustrated by Joules Garcia (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) is the first-person story of Mini, a White six-year-old who speaks with pride about their dad, a transgender woman. Full review.
My Rainbow, by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal and illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila), based on Trinity’s own life as a Black transgender girl with autism, tells of her mom and nonbinary sibling helping her get the long hair she wants to express her true self.
I’m Not a Girl, by Maddox Lyons and Jessica Verdi, with illustrations by Dana Simpson (Roaring Brook), is a first-person story based on Lyons’ own life as a White transgender boy. Full review.
The Fighting Infantryman, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali (Little Bee), is the true story of Albert D. J. Cashier, an Irish immigrant, a Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War, and a transgender man. Full review.
Raven Wild, by Caitlin Spice, Adam Reynolds, and Chaz Harris, with illustrations by Christine Luiten and Bo Moore, is the third in the Promised Land fantasy series (after Promised Land and Maiden Voyage), but can be read as a standalone tale. In it, Raven, a transgender young woman, has various daring adventures and eventually finds love. Wordy for a picture book, but notable for being simply a fun adventure and romance and not simply “about” being trans per se. Full review.
Love Remains: A Rosh Hashanah Story of Transformation, shows changes in the life of a Jewish mother, father, and child as they go year after year to the grandparents’ house for Rosh Hashanah. One year, their favorite flower shop is closed and they must find another; the next year, the grandfather has died; the year after that, a cousin has a new baby. The child similarly transforms and comes into his identity as a transgender boy, which the family wholeheartedly accepts. Full review.
Picture Books: Nonbinary Characters
My Maddy, by Gayle Pitman and illustrated by Violet Tobacco (Magination), is a gentle story told as a series of reflections by a White child about her nonbinary parent. Full review.
Peanut Goes for the Gold, by “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness and illustrated by Gillian Reid (HarperCollins), tells of a nonbinary guinea pig finding the power and joy of being themselves. Full review.
A More Graceful Shaboom, by Jacinta Bunnell and illustrated by Crystal Vielula (PM Press), is a surreal romp of a book that follows a nonbinary child with “an extravagant collection of belongings” that they find hard to keep organized until they encounter a magical purse. Full review.
Picture Books: Gender Expression
Carlos, the Fairy Boy/Carlos, El Niño Hada, by Juan A. Ríos Vega (Reflection Press), is the bilingual story of a boy learning about his cultural traditions in Panama while he gets support from his abuela and a queer elder to follow his fairy boy dreams. Full review.
Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love (Candlewick), the sequel to Julián Is a Mermaid, shows Julián and his abuela attending a wedding, where Julián meets a new friend and proves that he’s still full of imagination and style. Full review.
Glad Glad Bear, by Kimberly Gee (Beach Lane), explores the gender creative Bear’s emotions during his first day at dance class, wearing both a tutu and leggings. Full review.
The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish, by Lil Miss Hot Mess, a founding member of Drag Queen Story Hour, and illustrated by Olga de Dios (Running Press), is a fun and flamboyant take on the classic children’s song “The Wheels on the Bus.” Full review.
Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero, by Ellie Royce and illustrated by Hannah Chambers (POW!) stars a young White boy loves his Uncle Leo, an accountant, and his Auntie Lotta, a drag queen—who are both the same person. When Leo/Lotta ends up in a situation that would reveal both identities to people who don’t yet know both, the boy helps find a solution that incorporates both aspects of his “Auntie Uncle’s” personality. Full review.
Tabitha and Magoo Dress Up Too, by Drag Queen Story Hour founder Michelle Tea and illustrated by Ellis van der Does (Feminist Press), shows us a brother-sister pair who love playing dress-up in gender creative ways, though they’re hesitant to go outside in these outfits. The drag queen Morgana then magically appears and helps them learn to celebrate being themselves. Morgana then takes them in a flying car to a nearby library for a diverse and fun-filled story time. Full review.
Bling Blaine: Throw Glitter, Not Shade, by Rob Sanders (Sterling Publishing), centers on a young Black boy who loves to sparkle. When he is bullied by some classmates, however, others come to his aid in this book showing the importance of allyship. Full review.
The One and Only Dylan St. Claire, by Kamen Edwards and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler (Doubleday/Random House) features a White protagonist who shows he’s a bit of a drama queen when he doesn’t get cast as the star of the school play, but he ultimately finds his own way to shine in this fun and funny tale. Although Dylan isn’t identified as queer in the text, Edwards’ bio at Amazon explains that the book is “a nostalgic re-imagining of an out and proud childhood.” Full review.
In It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn, by Jason Tharp (Imprint/Macmillan), Cornelius J. Sparklesteed is known and loved throughout the town of Hoofington for his incredible handmade hats. Hoofington is a friendly place … unless you’re a unicorn. And Cornelius is hiding a secret, in a book that isn’t explicitly queer-inclusive—but that offers an obvious analogy. Full review.
Hooray, What A Day!/¡Viva, Qué Día! by Molly Allis, takes us on a day-long adventure as two gender creative children (one with two dads) explore their queer and colorful community. Full review.
Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns, written by Afsaneh Moradian and illustrated by Maria Bogade (Free Spirit Publishing) is a sequel to the duo’s Jamie Is Jamie (my review here), but either can be read independently. Here, Jamie’s Bubbie comes for a visit, but mistakenly misgenders several of the people they meet on their neighborhood walk. Jamie, a White child whose gender is never specified, knows everyone’s correct genders and pronouns, though, and gently informs Bubbie, who is receptive to the feedback. Full review.
I Am Brown, written by Ashok Banker and illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Latana Publishing), takes us on a journey through the world of a young brown child and friends, celebrating and affirming brown children’s varied cultural and geographic origins, interests, talents, physical appearances, and relationships—and it’s inclusive of creative gender expressions as well. Full review.
Jesse’s Dream Skirt, written by Bruce Mack (under the name “Morning Star”) was first published in 1977, but was republished this year by its illustrator, Marian Buchanan. The tale of a young White boy who wants to wear a skirt to school and is supported by his mother and his Black teacher holds up surprisingly well today. Full review.
Picture Books: Same-Sex Relationships
Plenty of Hugs, by Fran Manushkin (Dial Books/Penguin Young Readers) is a gentle celebration of the loving relationship between a White toddler and parents who happen to be two moms, one of whom has a more masculine gender expression. Full review.
The Bread Pet: A Sourdough Story, by Kate DePalma and illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff (Barefoot Books), is the whimsical tale of a Black girl and an out-of-control sourdough starter left by her White uncle (who could be read as gay). She happens to have two moms, one Black and one White; the latter has a more masculine gender expression. Full review.
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, is a revised edition of the 2008 book about a girl worried that her favorite uncle will no longer have time for her after he marries his boyfriend. The original anthropomorphic guinea pigs are replaced by human characters: a White girl and her uncles, one White and one Black. Full review.
A Kid of Their Own, by Megan Dowd Lambert and illustrated by Jessica Lanan (Charlesbridge), is a fun story of adorable animals, gay farmers, clever wordplay, and adoption. Full review.
Who’s Your Real Mom? by Bernadette Green and illustrated by Anna Zobel (Scribble) shows a White girl with two moms answering the question in a clever and empowered way (her real mom is “a pirate in disguise” and “speaks fluent gorilla” she teases) that may better convey its message than a more serious treatment. Full review.
Mighty May Won’t Cry Today, by Kendra and Claire-Voe Ocampo and illustrated by Erica De Chavez (Bunny Patch Press), tells of a White girl’s first day of school as she learns that it’s okay to express her emotions. She happens to have two moms. Full review.
An Ordinary Day, written by Elana K. Arnold and illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster), shows us nothing less than the circle of life by showing us the parallel stories of two families: one with two moms and their three kids saying goodbye to their beloved but ailing golden retriever, and another with a mom, dad, and child who are welcoming a new baby. It’s poignant, but also gently shows the cycle of life and death. Full review.
My best friend, by Julie Fogliano and Jillian Tamaki (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster), beautifully captures the magical spirit of childhood friendships at an age when children are still figuring out what it means to have—and to be—a friend. It’s not exactly queer inclusive, but the close relationship between the two girls is likely to resonate with a lot of queer women and girls. Full review.
Papa, Daddy, and Riley, by Seamus Kirst and illustrated by Devon Holzwarth (Magination), tells of Riley, a Black girl, whose classmate asks which of her dads is her “real” dad. Riley gets upset thinking she must choose, until her dads (one Black, one White) explain that she doesn’t have to. Full review.
Pickles & Ocho: Our Favorite Place, is the second in a series about two French bulldogs with two human dads. In this one, they’re worried about moving to a new house, but discover that they’re happy wherever their family is. Sweet, but might have offered more effective representation if the human dads had human children.
Freeda the Frog and the Two Mommas Next Door, by Nadine Haruni and illustrated by Tina Modugno (Mascot Books), tries to address kids’ questions about same-sex parents in a rather pedantic book that seems aimed at those who don’t have same-sex parents themselves. If kids haven’t already heard erroneous things about same-sex parents, however (they’re “confusing,” “weird,” and “wrong”), this book might not be the best place to start. (Try another book that simply discusses diverse types of families in a positive way.) Full review.
Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Levi Hastings (Henry Holt), takes us from Buttigieg’s birth in Indiana to his announcement of a groundbreaking run for president. It may inspire young readers on their own journeys of self-discovery and service. Full review.
For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful,” by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Olga Baumert (Albert Whitman), tells of Bates’ childhood during the Civil War, her dedication to study, and her work to address social injustices, as well as the trip that inspired her most famous poem. It mentions “the home she shared with Katharine Coman”; an afterward calls their relationship “a close companionship,” though as I explain in my full review, it was likely more than that.
Picture Books: Activism and Pride
No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley, and illustrated by Jeanette Bradley (Charlesbridge), pairs the stories of youth activists with #OwnVoices poems from exceptional adult poets who were inspired by their work. Unsurprisingly, there are queer voices among them. Full review.
V Is for Voting, an alphabet book by Kate Farrell and illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald (Henry Holt), offers simple phrases and sentences for each letter, all related to voting and democracy. Harvey Milk is the only famous person shown who is clearly queer (though you can count Eleanor Roosevelt if you like), but several of the unnamed cast carry rainbow signs and transgender symbols during protests and marches. (Yes, the November election is past, but there’s a critical runoff in Georgia in January—and there’s always next year.) Full review.
Be Amazing: A History of Pride, by “Drag Kid” Desmond Is Amazing (Farrar Staus Giroux), is less a detailed history than a short overview of the Stonewall Riots and the first March one year later; brief biographies of Stonewall icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera; and a description of the influence of Pride on Desmond’s life. What it lacks as a history it makes up for with dazzling illustrations from Dylan Glynn and an enthusiastic message to “Be amazing.” Full review.
Middle Grade Novels and Graphic Novels
I don’t review as many middle grade books as picture books (if I did, I’d have no time to take care of my own family), but here are a few I have reviewed and liked.
The Deep & Dark Blue, by Niki Smith (Little, Brown) is a graphic novel in which two twins must hide with a group of magical women after a coup threatens their noble house. For one, dressing as a woman to blend in with the group is a disguise; for the other, it is the first step towards living as her real gender. The story takes up some familiar fantasy tropes—noble families; an evil relative who takes over from a rightful heir; young people coming of age—but transforms them into something fresh and original. Full review.
Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh, one of the creators of the lauded Lumberjanes comics is a magical realist graphic novel about a town with a witch (maybe), a girl who doesn’t quite act like one, and her transgender best friend. There’s also a queer romance, but I’ll say no more so I don’t spoil it. The protagonist and her family are Black; other characters are White. Full review.
A Home for Goddesses and Dogs, by National Book Award Finalist Leslie Connor (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins), is a beautiful, lyrical, and insightful story about moving through grief, growing up, and finding family, focusing on a 13-year-old girl who must move in with her aunt and her wife after her mother dies. Full review.
The Only Black Girls in Town, by Brandy Colbert (Little, Brown), is the story of 12-year-old Alberta, who lives with her two dads, the only Black family in their California beach town. When another 12-year-old Black girl and her mom move in across the street, Alberta is excited. When she and the new girl, Edie, discover some old journals in Edie’s attic, they work together to unravel their mysteries, which leads them on a journey back through history and the toxic threads of racism, colorism, passing, and privilege in the U.S., even as they grapple with micro- (and not-so-micro) aggressions in their own community. Full review.
Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, by Lilliam Rivera (Little, Brown), is an original novel based on the bestselling BOOM! Studios comic series by Hope Larsen and Brittney Williams. Goldie, a biracial, queer 16-year-old, lives at the Crossed Palms Resort Hotel in Florida in the 1960s, where she is the valet and aspiring hotel detective. When a Hollywood studio comes to the resort to shoot a movie, everyone is swept up into the excitement and glamour until a diamond-encrusted swim cap goes missing. Goldie’s mom is implicated, and Goldie must call on all her detective skills to find the real thief. Full review.
You Should See Me in a Crown (Scholastic) by Leah Johnson, ) is the first novel from Leah Johnson, a 2021 Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Fellow. Liz Lighty is a Black, nerdy, poor, wallflower, which sets her apart in her small, rich, Midwestern town. But when a scholarship to an elite college falls through, she unexpectedly finds herself in the social spotlight, running for prom queen and the prize money that brings. As if that’s not hard enough, she may also be falling for one of her competitors. Full review.
Middle Grade Nonfiction
Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle, by Robin Stevenson (Orca, 2020), is an updated edition of her 2016 Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community, which blends a history of the event with a broader look at the struggle for LGBTQ equality, along with a look at what it means to come out, what to expect at Pride events around the world, a glossary, and an explanation of gender identity. The new edition places a greater focus on activism and activists, as the need for such work has grown over the past few years.
Rainbow Revolutionaries: Fifty LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, by Sarah Prager (HarperCollins, 2020), offers short but engaging profiles of LGBTQ+ people who have had an impact on the world in a variety of times and places. The format matches her book for teens, Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, but the language has been tuned to a slightly younger audience. In both books, Prager writes in an informal, approachable style while also providing substantial facts about each person’s life and motivations. (Full review.)
Rainbow Revolutions: Power, Pride, and Protest in the Fight for Queer Rights, by Jamie Lawson (Crocodile Books/Interlink), takes a more event-based approach to history, rather than Prager’s people-based one, offering brief snapshots of significant moments and movements in LGBTQ history from the Victorian age to our current era. The choices about what to focus on feel somewhat uneven, but this is a beautiful volume that will likely engage tween (and even teen) readers. Full review.
The Every Body Book: The LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families, written by Rachel Simon and illustrated by Noah Grigni (Jessica Kingsley), offers tweens information on sex, gender, bodies, and relationships—and assumes an audience of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Full review.
On the Field with … Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Mallory Pugh, by Matt Christopher (Little, Brown), follows Megan Rapinoe and three of her 2019 U.S. Women’s National Soccer teammates from their starts in the sport through their rise to global fame—and which also discusses Rapinoe’s coming out and its positive impact on her life. Full review.
Noisemakers (Alfred A. Knopf), a new book from Kazoo Media, has brought together 25 of today’s best women and nonbinary comic artists to offer engaging graphic biographies of “25 women who raised their voices and changed the world.” When the promotional blurbs on the covers are from Jacqueline Woodson and Alison Bechdel, you know it’s going to be good. (Full review.)
Kids’ Music (that Won’t Annoy Grown-Ups)
The Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix is a multi-artist, multi-genre music album offering transgender and nonbinary children and youth songs that reflect and support who they are. It’s the brainchild of Julie Lipson, one half of children’s music duo Ants on a Log, and contains 21 songs from musicians representing hip-hop, pop, folk, country, and other genres. Download it free at the link; if you choose to make a donation, it will go to Camp Aranu’tiq, a summer camp for transgender and nonbinary youth. Full review.
Be a Pain: An Album for Young (& Old) Leaders, by Alastair Moock, which just received a Grammy nomination, seeks to inspire young listeners to become leaders for positive change. It includes a song for his nonbinary child, one that praises Harvey Milk, and another that invites young listeners to imagine leaders who are LGBTQ, among other identities. Full review.
For LGBTQ Parents
If These Ovaries Could Talk: The Things We’ve Learned About Making an LGBTQ Family, by Jaimie Kelton and Robin Hopkins,, the hosts of a popular podcast, captures the lively spirit of the show and the insights of their many guests as it explores LGBTQ family making. Full review.
What’s in a Name: Perspectives from Nonbiological and Nongestational Queer Mothers, edited by Sherri Martin-Baron, Raechel Johns, and Emily Regan Wills (Demeter Press), is a must-read anthology about queer women and nonbinary people who are nonbiological and nongestational parents looks at their paths to parenthood, their experiences as parents, and the evolving meanings of what it is to be a mother. Full review.
I’m Still Here, by Martina Reaves (She Writes Press) interweaves the strands of her life from San Francisco in the 1960s through teaching, law school, coming out, starting a family, and surviving two types of cancer. Full review.
Want even more? Check out my Gift Guide from last year or see my longer lists.
(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
Hi! This is my first post on this subReddit! I’m F/38/late bloomer lesbian.
I just thought you might like to know that there’s a really good album (in my opinion!) by quite a prominent (& gorgeous!) butch musician/London-based ‘Butch Please’ club-night organiser/activist here in the UK, named TABS (Tabitha Benjamin). I downloaded it today and I love it.
I thought you might be interested in hearing her work/knowing it exists.
I don’t know her (I wish!), and this post is 100% genuine in just me sharing some music that I think you might like, as her lyrics are very poignant and her voice is amazing: https://tabsldn.bandcamp.com/album/love-like-this
Edit: Butch Please is a club-night in multiple venues, not one nightclub. Just listening to the podcast now!
It’s a series of short 5-10 page vignettes about love and desire between different people in Montreal neighborhoods. The vignettes are connected by theme and location only. The book is packed with representation–there are queer people, straight people, polyamorous people, people of color, people with disabilities, trans people, and people of all ages. The variety of the characters and situations present images of all forms of love, from healthy long-term relationships to unhealthy long-term relationships, fuck buddies to polyamory to missed connections. Sometimes sexy, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, these stories reflect that there is no singular experience of love. One person confesses their romantic feelings to their partners, a mother and a son reminisce about her dead husband, two lesbians run into a straight man with a fetish, a couple relives their first meeting at a gay bar, among others.
For a series of themed vignettes, each is unique. The writing and art style shift each chapter, enough that it doesn’t feel like there were any repeats. I feel like ‘balance’ is the keyword for this book, which uses text and image in such a way that neither feels overbearing. Moments where one fails or suffers are counteracted by an abundance of the other. Simpler stories were augmented by engaging visuals and layouts. In moments where the art didn’t have as strong a grasp on me as a reader, a poetic monologue drew me back in.
Like many collections of short stories, there are some hits and there are some misses. Sometimes the vignettes are too short to do anything other than provide a second long snapshot, which can be unsatisfying. Because there is so little context to each story, it can take a couple of pages for the reader to understand what is going on. However, these are the minority. Most stories are either engaging or poignant, and I appreciated the balance between the two.
Not every chapter has something miraculous or revealing to say, which made the chapters that did hit that much harder. One vignette about a man waiting impatiently for his partner to come back from a dinner with his ex is simply funny and entertaining. Then, two chapters later, Maroh describes the effect a terminal illness has on a relationship. It communicates both the monotony and the sacredness of our everyday lives and loves. I feel like a lot of romances or books on love tend to veer toward one or the other, so having a space where love was portrayed as both casual and revered was refreshing.
In their foreword, Maroh writes “The image of the heterosexual, monogamous, white, handsome couple, with their toothpaste smiles for all eternity, stands in the collective unconscious as the ideal portrait of love. But where are the other realities? And where is mine?” This book is incredibly important to me as a younger queer person. Mainstream media doesn’t have very nuanced depictions of both casual and serious queer love, and I haven’t gotten to a point in my life where I am having a lot of those experiences myself.
This is actually my second or third time reading this book. I first read it when I was about 17, and now, at 19, different chapters resonate with me more. When I was younger, it gave me hope for my future. Now, it’s fulfilling to recognize a few of my own varied experiences within the pages.
I tend to give away books pretty soon after I finish them, but this one has a permanent place on my shelf. It doesn’t even get loaned out. Body Music is a dynamic graphic novel with great representation and high re-read value, and it is an experience I recommend to everyone.
A new multi-artist, multi-genre music album coming out this month will offer transgender and nonbinary children and youth songs that reflect and support who they are. It’s the brainchild of Julie Lipson, one half of children’s music duo Ants on a Log, who spoke with me recently about the project and shared this sneak peek of the cover art.
Lipson, who is also a co-founder of Camp Aranu’tiq, a summer camp for transgender and nonbinary children and youth, told me, “I have always been astounded by the role that music plays” for the campers. “Gender overlaps so much with music and the voice.”
This summer, however, the camp had to cancel in-person sessions because of COVID-19. “This just seemed like the moment where kids need this music,” they said. “We needed some way to keep everybody connected.”
Lipson, who is nonbinary themselves, reached out to their networks in both the children’s music and the transgender and nonbinary music world, and the response was “amazing.” The result, the Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix album, will contain 20 songs from musicians representing hip-hop, pop, folk, country, and other genres. While some of the songs have appeared on other albums, several are new for this one—and it’s empowering to see them all brought together in one place.
About two-thirds of the musicians are transgender or nonbinary; the rest are allies, some of whom have trans or nonbinary friends or family members. About half are people of color.
I wanted to be a part of this project because trans and nonbinary folks deserve to be at the center of stories, songs, narratives.
The project is personal for many of them. Be Steadwell, a self-described “a black queer artist storyteller witch,” said, “I never saw much of myself in the music I listened to. I never heard my story. I wanted to be a part of this project because trans and nonbinary folks deserve to be at the center of stories, songs, narratives. We deserve to see ourselves in art. To feel affirmed rather than ignored by the music we listen to.”
Storm Miguel Florez, a “trans queer, Xicanx filmmaker and musician,” wanted to participate because “As a teen in the 80s, music saved my life. I was especially lucky to have access to music by older LGBTQ people. It meant everything to know there were older queer people making art and getting to live full and interesting lives. I’m excited for an opportunity to be a part of that for younger people now.”
And Grammy-nominated Alastair Moock, a “cis, white, hetero male,” shared, “I have long worked to be an active and vocal straight ally. That commitment only deepened when one of my twins came out as gay and then non-binary.”
Some of the trans and nonbinary musicians don’t write “kids’ music” per se, but Lipson hopes their contributed songs nevertheless speak to kids. One example is “Weaknees,” by transgender singer and writer Vivek Shraya. “It’s just such a great message: ‘I want to know everything about you, I think you’re so cool,’” Lipson paraphrased. And Lipson also wants kids to think of these musicians and say, “Oh, that’s a role model.”
Every kid of every age is going to interpret these songs differently.
With this broad approach, Lipson hopes that “Five-year-olds and 15-year-olds could listen to this mix and find that they like most of the songs.” Some “are definitely for little children,” but with others, “a five-year-old might like the beat but have no idea what the lyrics mean.” Lipson added, “Every kid of every age is going to interpret these songs differently.” That’s part of the album’s appeal.
The nonbinary musician Totally Knuts’ contribution, “The Trans Wizard’s Song” comes from the genre of “Wizard Rock,” inspired by the world of Harry Potter. Lipson notes that the song was written before author J.K. Rowling’s recent anti-trans statements, but it is (appropriately) a “critique song” about being trans and nonbinary at Hogwarts (Harry’s wizard school) that looks at some of the problems underlying the wizards’ world.
Other musicians on the album include two-time Grammy Award-winner Cathy Fink; Grammy nominees the Alphabet Rockers; Beppie; Be Steadwell; Chana Rothman; Emily Joy; Jennifer Angelina Petro; the Okee Dokee Brothers; Queer Kid Stuff; Ryan Cassata; Shawnee; Star Amerasu; and Two of a Kind.
Notably, the album will be free to all, to make it accessible to “any trans or nonbinary kid who’s sitting at home alone and isolated,” Lipson said. “I did not want cost to get in the way of that.” People are welcome to make donations, however, all of which will go to Camp Aranu’tiq, which is offering free virtual sessions this year but has lost the income from its in-person camps.
Separately, Lipson is also fundraising to provide many of the musicians—all of whom donated their songs—with stipends. Many musicians and artists are unemployed right now because of the pandemic—and the Black Lives Matter movement has reminded Lipson of the importance of supporting musicians of color.
“I’m pretty privileged. I’m a White person who’s doing okay,” they asserted. But they know that not everyone is. “We need to dream into existence the world that we actually want, which is that anybody who doesn’t have the resources that I have can rely on society valuing artists.”
You can contribute here to the fund for the musicians. Lipson will divide the money among them, although they’ve asked that those “who do not identify in a marginalized community or identity give that money back into the pot.” Some will also be used to pay Wriply M. Bennet, the Black trans woman who created the cover art.
The album itself will be available from antsonalog.bandcamp.com later in July. (Right now, that page shows only the Ants’ album You Could Draw the Album Art!, which is great, but isn’t the Trans and Nonbinary Kids’ Mix.) Follow Ants on a Log on Facebook or Instagram for the latest updates.
To begin Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary, author Sasha Geffen offers a slight corrective: “The gender binary cannot really be broken because the gender binary has never been whole.”
Twelve chapters trace 20th century U.S. and European music history from the queer Black blueswomen of the 1920s like Ma Rainey through the internet-driven, gender-fucking pop phenomenons of the 2010s like Janelle Monàe and Perfume Genius. Geffen drags a shimmering thread that connects transgressive music histories that have defined not just queer culture but all of pop culture for decades.
Glitter Up the Dark, which came out in April on University of Texas Press, is Geffen’s first book. They’ve made their mark as a music critic, with work appearing in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and elsewhere. The book is extensively researched but not overly academic, with accessible language and a driving passion that swept me away along with from beloved touchstones like Prince and punk into other genres, like industrial and disco, that I’ve never spent meaningful time with. The chapters are organized by genre and chronologically, and Geffen does most of the work for you to make it abundantly clear how these disparate characters, movements, and sounds relate to each other. They seamlessly mix history, music critique, and narrative essay styles to help connect artists, technological developments, and moments of impact to illustrate their thesis: the collision between gender, rebellion, and technology has made pop and rock music a vehicle for gender disruption for their entire existence.
Geffen’s book is not a history of trans musicians, though plenty of them are represented — for example, the wide-reaching influence of Wendy Carlos, who revolutionized electronic music, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! is clear in the text. Primarily, it’s an exploration of music as a mechanism for expressing and expanding complex ideas of gender that find their way into society as a whole and threaten patriarchal, capitalist norms. Throughout, Geffen pushes back against the whitewashing of narratives around genres like disco and electronic music to reveal the layers of queer Black influence on 20th century music. Queer Black artists had a much more significant and authoritative role in US music history across genres than mainstream music histories tend to acknowledge. Take the Beatles, whose “few extra inches of hair appeared [to mid-1960s America] not just as a social lapse but as a biological anomaly.” The overt influences of Black girl groups like the Marvelettes and queer male artists like Little Richard on the musical and vocal stylings of the Beatles made these non-normative expressions palatable to mainstream audiences, but they still carried some hint of the counter-cultural resonance onto the Ed Sullivan Show.
The book reveals the extent to which critics, fans, and time have flattened our readings of some artists. From the overtly queer origins of hip hop to the trans-inclusive beginnings of Riot Grrrl and Women’s Music, Geffen flips over moss-covered rocks to fill in oft-ignored details. The chapter “God is Gay: The Grunge Eruption” is a must-read for its analysis of how Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love flipped gendered scripts in their relationship and their respective bands, Nirvana and Hole. Though Cobain was known for wearing dresses and told Rolling Stone that he experienced attraction to people regardless of gender, he’s remembered as an ally rather than as a queer icon (note to self: make Kurt Cobain a queer icon).
Geffen deftly brings in first-person accounts and the writings of other critics and historians to fill in the details, then jumps in to convey why it matters. This pattern makes the book feel conversational and dynamic, especially when it digs into the stories of individual artists and moments. A rumination on Patti Smith mixes factual nuggets (Allen Ginsberg once tried to cruise her), highlights her inspirations (Jackie Curtis, Iggy Pop, Robert Mapplethorpe) and includes notes from her own diaries and writings where she reflects on gender and relationships (“I never wanted to be Wendy—I was more like Peter Pan. This was confusing stuff”) before tying it all together and pointing the way toward Smith’s indelible influence on punk.
Smith’s androgynous otherness manifested in her voice, which swung from deep, guttural grunts to piercing staccato shrieks…It’s a voice between genders, high enough in pitch to register as a woman’s voice but irreverent, arrogant, and blunt like a man’s. The burgeoning genre that would come to be known as punk dispersed this voice. (The word “punk” meant “bottom” at the time, lending the genre’s name an air of queer deviance from the start). Both Iggy and Patti echoed in acts that would typify punk, such as the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, and the Clash, whose singers found a grunt to work as well as a wail.
Tech is one of the book’s most salient themes, both in terms of music and gender. Technological innovations, from the creation of vinyl records to the popularization of the Moog synthesizer, the advent of music videos to the internet as a means of distribution, have each given musicians more ways to articulate and obfuscate gendered expressions. These developments created more possibilities for music and for trans people, and that has never felt more clear than in this book. Queer temporality, capitalism, the family, and racism and appropriation in the music industry all thread through the text. Of house music’s endless parties, Geffen writes, “In the now of the dance floor, gender and sexuality have no eventualities…the timekeeping of a normative life—birth, puberty, marriage, childbearing, death—falls away to the glow of the infinite moment.” Numerous such insights elevate Glitter Up The Dark from beautifully researched history to insightful cultural commentary.
If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that it’s so short! As each vignette rolled into the next, I found myself wanting more. Early 2000s emo, whose boys in eyeliner that made me extremely confused as a sad suburban teen, gets the slightest of mentions. Clocking in at an approachable 221 pages, Geffen’s book feels like the most fabulous tasting menu that will inspire readers to fall down the rabbit holes of so many of these stories. Fortunately, they made a playlist to go along with the journey.