About a year ago, I wrote a post bemoaning the lack of YA diversity of my classroom library in terms of non-heterosexual main characters. Well, I’ve learned that there’s plenty out there now. I’d love to see even more, obviously, but no one who has browsed a YA shelf in the last year can say that there aren’t any books featuring diverse sexualities. If you separate the different orientations, they’re still in the minority when compared to the sheer number of books that have straight MCs, but I’ve been able to build a significant section of books about or including queer identities.
But that’s beside the point. My new problem is this: now that I have collected a long shelf’s worth of YA books starring lesbian, gay, trans, or bisexual characters (I admit I’m still lacking in some aspects of the LGBTQ+ spectrum, but I’m working on tracking down more pansexual and asexual recommendations), where do I put them?
This year, I was assigned to teach almost entirely freshmen English classes, so I was moved to the freshmen end of the building. While that required me to spend my summer hauling my hundreds of books the whole half-a-mile to my new room, it did give me the opportunity to reorganize my library. I decided that the most freshman-friendly way of organizing my books would be by similar topic or characters. I have sections labeled “Books about pirates!” and “Books about sick teenagers?” and “Gossip-girl-ish romances” and “Fairy-tale retellings.”
But I struggled with how to categorize my LGBTQ+ lit. I tried to think about what would be most helpful to me, if I were a teen. And thinking of the few students who specifically asked for LGBTQ+ book recs, I decided to put all of the books on one shelf, labeled “Books with LGBTQ+ main characters.”
The benefit to this is that if I have students looking for their own experiences reflected in literature, they know what shelf they can look on. They can work their way through the shelf, if they want to. And two of my students have been doing just that. But the downside is that it segregates these books, essentially. Are non-queer teens going to pick a book off of that shelf? I genuinely don’t know, but they should be exposed to these stories as well. These are books that are entertaining and informative to any reader, regardless of their personal sexuality.
The other downside to my current system of shelf-labeling is that if a teen is queer and does want to read these books but is still in the closet, they might feel self-conscious about browsing for too long on that shelf. It’s not as though another kid in the class is going to see them looking at those books and immediately jump to conclusions about their sexual identity, but being in the closet is scary. I know this. Would I have had the courage, as a tiny freshman, to spend time in public view looking at LGBTQ+ books? Probably not, because school culture back then was NOT friendly towards members of the LGBTQ+ community. We have a GSA now, and students are generally more welcoming, but it’s still a potential roadblock to access that I need to consider.
The other issue is that it’s hard to limit these books to just “Books with LGBTQ+ main characters.” They fall into other categories as well. Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest is better categorized with the fairy-focused fantasy books. Adam Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me would almost match better with the other books about teenagers dealing with grief. So many of these books can be double- or triple-categorized that it’s difficult for me to decide where would be best for them. I tend to move books around sometimes to other shelves in cases like those, but constantly shifting shelves to expose them to more students can be exhausting.
Maybe a sticker system would be more helpful? Forego the shelving labels entirely, and mark the spines somehow with colored stickers for certain topics/characters, and then have a code somewhere in my room? I’m not sure. Even then, I would surely run out of colors based on how many ways you can lump different books together.
If you have any suggestions, please send them my way! At least this problem – “Oh man, I just don’t know where to put all these queer books!” – is a fairly decent one to have.