I grew up in Britain in the 1990s and early 2000s. Although she hadn’t been prime minister for over a decade, Margaret Thatcher’s laws were still having a massive impact on the LGBTQ+ community. Section 28 was a law that prevented schools from “promoting homosexuality." In practice, this limited my access to great gay stories at the time I needed them most.
Books do so much than simply entertain us. They teach us: about the world, about other people and, most importantly, about ourselves. And during those times when we are questioning ourselves, finding our identities and growing as humans, we need stories of people like us, reflecting our lives and our experiences back at us.
We are not alone
There are, I have since discovered, lots of stories about people just like me. And these stories have been around forever. But I could never find them when I needed them because the law prevented schools from having them. How different my world would have been if I had access to great stories that reflected me.
I wouldn’t have felt so alone.
I would have access to characters with the same thoughts and feelings as me. I would have known my experiences were not unique. I would have been opened to a world beyond my, rather limited, horizons.
Telling our stories
As a community, our shared heritage is frequently lost. Unlike in other communities, where stories are passed down the generations, the LGBTQ+ community has to build its own, new stories each generation. Often, unless you actively seek out queer history, it is lost.
Stories help us to keep that history alive.
Keeping our history alive through fiction is more engaging than textbooks and museum pieces, although they have a place too. Stories allow us to connect to people, to explore our emotions safely through characters and narratives.
It means we have a shared experience, a shared knowledge, a feeling of not being alone but part of a worldwide family. They keep our language alive, our customs, our heritage. We have much to celebrate, but still much to achieve and fight for. Stories keep that spirit alive and ensure that we are not going to easily forget that past.
And it’s not just for the LGBTQ+ community that our stories are important. There are many allies and friends who want to understand what it’s like to be LGBTQ+. How many of us have felt ‘different’ just for being LGBTQ+? How do others get to experience those feelings?
Through our stories.
We can share our experiences safely through books in a way that we cannot access in other ways. Books have magical ways to transport readers into the hearts and minds of characters and to place them in situations that, otherwise, they could not have found themselves in. Through stories, as an LGBTQ+ community, we can build empathy with a far wider readership creating more allies and friends to the community.
Maybe, if my school and library had these books as I was growing up, I wouldn’t have felt so alone. So different. Maybe I would have understood, from a much younger age, that it was okay to be gay.
Maybe, too, my friends would have understood what it felt like. What I was experiencing. Maybe the world would have been more supportive.
I’ll never know for sure, of course, but I do know that today’s fabulous LGBTQ+ books are helping to create a community that understands, knows its history and knows how supportive the world can be.
Nick Taylor is an editor, proofreader and writer from Colchester, England. He works with fiction and non-fiction authors and specializes in supporting LGBTQ+ writing. To find out more, please visit his website: www.JustWriteRight.co.uk.