WorldPride 2014 officially opens today in Toronto. This is the fourth WorldPride and the first one to be held in North America, so even more people are expected to descend on Toronto over the next 10 days than usual during Pride week. I expect that many of those people will be coming because of the broader, more issue-based programming the organizers have put together this year — like the 3-day Human Rights Conference — and others will be coming because they’re expecting an even bigger party than usual. This year also marks the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, so there is much to remember and much to celebrate.
My own relationship to Pride is complex. I fully believe in the importance of these kinds of events in raising awareness, gathering community, celebrating diversity, promoting freedom, and providing safe spaces for people who still, in 2014, can’t live openly without risking their lives. And while I have attended many Pride festivals over the years — in different cities and different countries, where I have marched and celebrated and volunteered — I think I’m done now. I’m not someone who really enjoys spectacle (of any kind) at the best of times, and as I’ve gotten older my tolerance for the noise, crowds, heat, line ups, and drunk people has dwindled very close to nil. I am my father’s daughter, no question about that. And beyond the physical discomforts, I also struggle with the increasing corporatization and mainstreaming of Pride as it gets further and further from the grassroots uprising that spawned it.
So, to celebrate Pride this year, I’m going to dive deep into my own safe space: a comfy chair on my own patio, close enough to the Village that I can hear the goings on, but far enough that the noise and crowds won’t distract me from my book. And in case anyone else is looking for a good book to celebrate with this year, here are six of my favourite Groundwood and Anansi books with queer content, and Jessica has paired the books with a perfect pride playlist for you to enjoy.
I’ve had an author crush on Shani Mootoo since I read her first book in the late 90s and I was beyond thrilled when I got hired at Anansi in 2009 because they had recently published Valmiki’s Daughter. I read it in a weekend and was completely swept away by the lyrical quality of the writing. This book beautifully weaves together broad and sometimes difficult themes like gender, race, class, and sexuality with a lush and vivid landscape.
Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
I am not a big reader of graphic novels but I picked up Skim because I thought my niece, who loves to draw and loves manga, might like it. She was a little younger than the suggested reading age so I figured I would skim through the book (pun intended) to make sure it was appropriate. Instead, I was completely drawn in to the story and read the whole thing through. The illustrations are brilliant and evocative and the story is heart-breaking and heart-warming and heart-tingling. This book has opened my eyes to the beauty of graphic novels and I will definitely read more — at least more written and illustrated by the Tamaki cousins.
I love a good mystery novel, and I love a good mystery novel with a queer female protagonist even more. The Disciple of Las Vegas, the second Ava Lee novel, is my favourite of the series because Ava’s character gets more fully developed both in her personal life and professionally. Also, a good chunk of the action happens in Vancouver, my home town, and it tugs at my West Coast heart strings.
Tamara Bach translated by Shelley Tanaka
This is exactly the kind of book I wish I had come across when I was a teenager. I was an avid reader and knew I was different from most other kids, but I had no idea why. I’m certain that reading a story like Girl From Mars back then would have opened my eyes and my mind to the possibility that I was different because I was gay, and maybe that was ok. The charm of this book for me is that is doesn’t read like an after-school special. Instead it’s real and sexy and complex and fun and full of really big questions — just like the life of a teenager.
I am a tough customer when it comes to memoirs because I’m cynical and have little tolerance for self-importance — I find the whole genre rather self-indulgent (I know, I know, this is more a reflection of me than of the genre itself) — but reading Maggie & Me was a genuine pleasure. This book was entirely lacking in self-pity, even when the author was describing the bleakest and most traumatic events of his childhood. Damian Barr found the perfect balance between comedy and tragedy in recounting his life and I am glad that I went along for the ride.
I love this book for its simple and real portrayal of queer and trans characters who are just living life. It’s refreshing to pick up a book and find characters that reflect my lived experience — and it makes me grateful that I didn’t have to navigate my early twenties via txt msg.