Hello and welcome to the November 2022 edition of the Queer Lit Review blog! This month we have a children's picture book on gender dysphoria, an autobiographical manga by someone who identifies as X-gender, and a gay Beauty and the Beast retelling.
These titles may be in other formats or languages. Check our catalog for availability.
Title/Author: Me & My Dysphoria Monster by Laura Kate Dale; illustrated by Ang Hui Quing
Summary: Nisha's monster follows her everywhere. It used to be small, but recently her monster has begun to grow. And as her monster gets bigger and bigger, Nisha feels more and more unlike herself. When people refer to her as a boy, or when she tries to hide her true gender identity, Nisha's dysphoria monster grows larger and larger.
Genre/Sub-Genre: Picture book
Book Format: Print
Length: 18 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Transgender/nonbinary
Content Warnings: N/A
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Art/Illustrations: Well-done! Warm and inviting in addition to conveying the emotion of the story.
Would I Recommend: Yes
Personal thoughts: This London import is such a treat! While I think the word “dysphoria” in the title is a bit of a double-edged sword (it’s important to name things, but folks reaching for picture books about gender identity might not know the definition), the book does a great job of breaking down what dysphoria is and how it feels, especially for kids.
Nisha knows that she is a girl. Every time someone calls her a boy, her monster, illustrated as a swirling black mass with flecks of color, grows bigger. Eventually, the monster is so big that it prevents Nisha from doing things that she loves because it gets in her way. I think this is a great representation of how dysphoria affects children and their relationships even at young ages. For some parents and caregivers, it may provide a visual insight into what their child is going through. The ambiguous “monster” figure is used a lot in picture books to stand for complex feelings and this goes right along with that trend, making it easily relatable to those who read it.
When Nisha meets Jack, a transgender man living happily in cohabitation with his monster, she finally realizes what she must do to help fight back against her monster: she voices her feelings to the adults in her life and their validation of her gender makes the monster grow smaller. Something I appreciated about this book is that, by the end, the monster was not vanquished. The story explains that while Nisha’s monster has grown smaller now that everyone knows she’s a girl, it will sometimes get bigger when someone misgenders her. Rather than her monster being gone, she begins to use it to help her know when something isn’t right so that she can speak up about it.
The back matter in this book is great for the adults reading this as well, with lots of vocabulary that they will most likely encounter while raising a gender non-conforming, differently gendered, or transgender child. It also provides answers to questions parents and caregivers may have after reading this book as well as questions they may not even know to ask yet! All around, a delightful story and resource, even for kids who may not experience dysphoria.
Title/Author: X-gender by Asuka Miyazaki
Summary: At 33 years old, Asuka Miyazaki realizes that they like women! Asuka, however, is neither a woman nor a man — instead, they're X-gender, which is a non-binary identity. Follow Asuka through the pages of this autobiographical manga as they record the ins and outs of their journey to finding love with a woman.
Series/Standalone: X-Gender vol. 1
Book Format: Print
Length: 154 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: X-Gender, which falls under the nonbinary umbrella
Content Warnings: Gender dysphoria and strong negativity toward the self and towards others. There are frank discussions of menstruation and sexual intimacy that include bondage elements, though private parts are not shown on the page.
Well-Written/Editor Needed: I did find some parts a little confusing to follow as we bounced around between events and Asuka's inner thoughts.
Art/Illustrations: The art is well-drawn in a manga style.
Would I Recommend?: If you are interested in memoirs of folks who fall under the nonbinary gender umbrella, you may like this one, but it’s a hard one to recommend due to the content and the negativity. This is not what I would call a casual read.
Personal Thoughts: This is hard to review simply because it’s a memoir and these events and feelings are very personal for the author. As someone who is nonbinary, I was interested to read about someone else whose gender falls under the nonbinary umbrella. If you're new to the concept of nonbinary gender and menstruation there are pauses in the story where Asuka explains some basic terms or personal experiences.
Be aware, there is a lot of gender dysphoria and general negativity aimed at the self as well as at others in Asuka's life as they begin to sort out their feelings and understand who they are as a person and how they fit into the wider world. As they discover more about who they are, they begin to dip their toes into bondage porn. While there is nothing explicit on the page, it still may be unsettling for some readers.
This is book one of a series and was written within the last few years (the pandemic gets a mention), thus it seems this series will be written as Asuka grows and changes in the coming years. While I can't say I was really engrossed in the story, I am curious to see where Asuka goes from here.
Title/Author: Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray
Summary: An English country parson takes a wrong turn cycling home and winds up in an enchanted manor, where perfect roses bloom and a feast is laid out for supper by invisible servants, unaffected by wartime rationing. But when the beastly dragon who has been trapped there since 1840 demands the parson's daughter in exchange for his safe return home, the parson refuses. Instead, he decides to remain in the manor and help break the curse on its inhabitants himself before their time runs out.
Genre/Sub-Genre: Historical Fantasy
Book Format: Print
Length: 166 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual and gay
Content Warnings: I don't know if this really rises to the level of a warning, but there is a fair amount of discussion of period-typical homophobia, especially as it pertains to the church. The parson has spent a lot of time reflecting on whether the core tenets of Christianity really condemn homosexuality and is able to lay out why he believes that neither he nor the dragon is damned, but even he has to admit that he can't know for sure and church leadership wouldn't agree with him.
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes!
Personal thoughts: Before I say anything about Briarley, I feel like I should make it clear that I am not an impartial reader. I loved Robin McKinley's Beauty so much as a child that my copy literally fell apart. I think I've probably read it more often than any other book in existence. So when I found a book that has very similar vibes, only it's also queer, how could I fail to love it? There's even an adorable animal companion!
Despite my admitted partiality to a soft, old-timey Beauty & the Beast retelling, however, I think Briarley is well worth recommending on its own merits! The language is charmingly old-fashioned, and I found I didn't mind the one odd affectation of referring to the protagonist and his love interest as "the parson" and "the dragon" throughout the book, even after the reader learns their names. Gray paints a vivid portrait of the English countryside during World War II in just a few strokes, and the supporting cast comes alive just as quickly.
The parson is the uncontested heart of the story, and what a lovable heart he is! It's refreshing to find a hero who is already so settled in himself, especially in his reflections on the two lost loves of his life — a schoolmate who died in World War I and his wife. The parson has lived through great tragedy without allowing himself to become bitter, but also without becoming a doormat! I really enjoyed his willingness to tell off the people around him, and of course his banter with the dragon. It's a little unusual that the love interest gets to do most of the growing and changing rather than the protagonist, but I loved the parson's gentler character arc as he opened his heart to love again.