This guest post series is all about queer people talking about their relationship with queer books, whether they saw themselves represented in them or not. If you would like to write a guest post for me, the rules and info on how to contact me are on this post.
Today’s post is by my friend Sasha, a book reviewer from Russia. It talks about her relationship with various queer media (not just books!) and about her being Russian and bisexual. Thank you Sasha for your post!
Hello, I’m Sasha, I’m 23 years old and I’m so grateful Silvia has given me spot on her blog to talk about books I saw myself represented in.
I am Russian, I was born in Russia and I’m currently living there. I identify as bisexual. It’s been almost three year since I discovered I’m not straight.
The first book in which I ever saw two parts of my identity represented was in Abroad by Liz Jacobs. It’s an ownvoices book by Russian Jewish queer author. The protagonist Nickolay Melnikov is gay and Russian and he’s the best thing that happened. Even though he immigrated to the States and he’s a gay man, I instantly connected with him. It was incredible to see myself in the book like that, never have I been able to see these two parts of me in a book. The author manages to convey all those conflicted parts of our identity, with deeply rooted homophobia into the culture, importance of family and how it internalizes homophobia and how stressful it could be to open up.
It’s worth noting the book has a bisexual female main character Izzy and she discovered that she’s not straight pretty much at the same time I did, during her last year at university. I related a lot to Izzy in this sense, but I’ve got to admit my own Gay Discovery was less dramatic.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour hit me with all the feels of grief. A queer girl grieving the death of her grandfather and running away from her problems is the story written specifically for me. While we’re on the topic of grief, Adam Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me is masterpiece for many reasons and among them a queer boy grieving the death of his ex-boyfriend was so heart-breaking and genuine. The portrayal of grief in these two books is phenomenal.
The first ever bisexual character I saw in book was Magnus Bane in Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. The Shadowhunters Chronicles mean the world to me, because they led me to the friends I now have and being part of bookish community. Magnus Bane was a revelation, I don’t think I was even aware of a word “bisexual” before that book or that bi was a valid sexuality. Back when I read City of Bones I didn’t know I’m bi but Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood were an impulse to push me to research LGBTQIAP+ and specifically look for books with not-straight characters.
I have come across various queer representation since that first book and, of course, not all of them were good. The most negative experience I’ve had is the lack of queer representation. I know it’s a popular believe that no rep is better than bad rep, I’m living in Russia and all the media that I consume (i.e. TV with my father every day) is blatantly glaringly straight, so that’s perhaps the reason I am less opinionated on queer and bisexual rep in particular, because I crave it so badly and I want it in any shape and form I can get. Thus the most negative experience I can acquire from reading the book is to see no queer people at all.
To end the post on a positive note, I want to talk about queer rep in non-bookish media.
Podcasts! This is a very creative and inclusive form of storytelling. I adore The Bright Sessions and the casual way the writer Lauren Shippen introduces the sexuality of the characters in a “Oh yeah Mark is bisexual moving on with the plot” way. Or the thoughtful and genuine way of a teenage boy discovering he likes another boy type of story. This representation means so much to me because no matter how many times I hear that my sexuality is valid, it’s still hard. Seeing amazing queer characters doing wonderful and brave things builds up confidence and make me less afraid.
One of my new favorite fictional podcasts is The Penumbra Podcast (stories about queer characters by queer creators!). Juno Steel is the main character, Juno is bisexual disaster with avoidant type of personality, which is hi hello it’s me. Juno is frankly a mess, but! Seeing flawed imperfect queer character making it through and saving the day is inspiring beyond any words.
Another form of media that has been a big part of my life for ages is anime. The Yuri On Ice anime created something very important to me. It made me feel that being Russian okay. To elaborate, nobody told me being a Russian is wrong, but I consume American-centric and USA-made media, I used to be active on English part of tumblr and now I’m on English twitter with a huge focus on USA internal affairs. As you can imagine Russia doesn’t have a good rep there (for valid reasons but this post isn’t about that). This post is about me and I can say that before Yuri On Ice I was uncomfortable saying I’m Russian. It’s not that I didn’t feel proud but Russia has a terrible image and I honestly thought people wouldn’t want to talk to me if they knew where I’m from. Victor Nikiforov is a Russian queer brilliant figure skater who’s happily engaged with fellow figure skater Yuri Katsuki. This is huge. Victor is nothing like me, but people loved him and they accepted and loved him being Russian and I thought maybe people would like me too? I can’t say how much of this perception was faulty or not, but I know for sure after Yuri On Ice, after Victor Nikiforov, Yuri Plisetsky etc I started feeling comfortable sharing this part of my identity with the internet.
Thank you, Silvia, for giving me an opportunity to talk about myself and queer content, my two true passions.