Book your date with queer country love from Tyler Childers and trans advocate Chanel Lopez

Plus two great fiction choices for tweens and teens

Greetings to you, my freshly sharpened pencils, and welcome to a new edition of Queer Culture Catch-Up! Three out of five members of my household are back to school this week, leaving just me and the sweet dog home to watch and listen and read and report on the good goings-on in queer culture. And there is a lot to enjoy (though to be honest, I am not sure our dog Francis cares as long as there’s room for him to sit next to me on the couch). The weather may be weird but the vibes are autumnal, so let us dive in.

Idlewild, by James Frankie Thomas

The interior lives of teenagers seem illegible to most people who are not, in that moment, teens—it’s a wild time, full of newness and challenge—but in Idlewild, author James Frankie Thomas absolutely nails it, remaining true to a chaotic, rewarding, difficult time in the lives of two NYC teenagers at a private Quaker school in the early aughts. The teens, Fay and Nell (who refer to themselves as The F&N Unit) are consumed with their burgeoning sexuality and the ways it moves them (and others) politically and socially. The intensity of their shared identity—often a hallmark of teen friendships—binds them. The writing is magnificently well observed, the story is hilarious and gripping and sometimes familiar in ways that made me cringe and bite my lip and hide my head in my shirt as a person who once, at the same age, delivered a 10-minute impromptu lecture about heteronormativity to the clerk at a postal outlet who innocently commented on the decorated Valentine’s box I was sending to my sweetheart. I ate this book whole in one enthusiastic day.

¡Orgullo! Queer. Latinx. Proud, online and at Queens College

Queens College (the one in New York, not the one in Ontario) has assembled a powerhouse panel, including the amazing Chanel Lopez (now deputy director of LGBTQ+ Affairs for New York governor Kathy Hochul) and Ecuadorian HIV activist (and now director of Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo) Liaam Winslet, to speak about equity and pride in Latinx communities. Queens College always brings together exceptional people for their annual LGBTQ2S+ Latinx event (last year was poet Emanuel Xavier) for a celebratory discussion with a social after for in-person attendees. There’s online access for those of us who are geographically inconvenient to the fabulousness. This year’s panel on Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. EDT brings together a number of people with deep community activism roots (and, historically, superlative outfits) to discuss and consider important questions around access, wellness and community for queer and trans Latinx people.


“In Your Love,” by Tyler Childers

I am not usually inclined to uplift the work of straight allies in this column, though I do deeply appreciate everyone doing that work, but this music video hit every single branch on the feelings-tree and left me weepy and nostalgic. Tyler Childers’s new single “In Your Love” (from his album Rustin’ in the Rain, out this week), is a sweet country-bluegrass ballad about love that includes lines like “I will work for you/ like a team of mules/ pulling hell off of its hinges” and comes with a video love story featuring two young gay men that feels like a direct challenge to every homophobic country music fan, and I am absolutely all the way here for it. The bittersweet and arresting story, by Silas House and Jason Kyle Howard and starring gay actors Colton Haynes and James Scully, feels very much an illustration of the common saying by queer Southerners: “We bloom where we’re planted.” 

Blackward, by Lawrence Lindell

Middle-grade graphic novels can be truly hit-or-miss—sometimes delightful and sometimes a sanitized version of pre-adolescence designed to appeal to parents rather than actual children. I am so pleased to report that Blackward by Lawrence Lindell is absolutely the former. Telling the story of a Black queer proto-collective called The Section, which is devoted to their dual aims of literacy and liberation, our intrepid main characters Lika, Amor, Tony and LaLa deal with some pushback against their aims of joy, celebration and liberation. But they support and encourage each other, get some help along the way and remain true to their aims and to each other. In my experience, there is little young people appreciate more than watching their contemporaries, take action and solve problems, and this truly adorable, colourful book is a rich compendium of the kind of friendships that activism begets. 

“What does it mean to protect trans children?” a lecture by Dr. Julia Sinclair-Palm

We’ve all seen, and perhaps own and wear, Protect Trans Kids T-shirts, but there is still debate about both what that means and how best to accomplish the task. Carleton University prof Julia Sinclair-Palm, whose work is principally concerned with the needs and experiences of GIaNT (gender-independent, non-binary and trans) young people, has things to say that I think you, dear reader, will want to hear—regardless of what you already know or believe. Sinclair-Palm is concerned with joy, celebration, resistance and agency for young people, especially GIaNT young people, and the strength-based lens of their multiple research projects gives them an opportunity to bring the needs, voices and realities of actual GIaNT youth into focus in this free talk on Sept. 14 at 9 a.m. EDT, as part of the UVic Chair In Transgender Studies speaker series, in person at the university or online (register here for Zoom access to their talk).

As usual, my beloved binders and folders, duotangs and calculators, I hope this list gives you some reprieve from the weather or smoke or uncertainty or exhaustion many of us are currently facing and lifts you into a place of joyful discovery or settles you down into the sweet and familiar in the next little while. I hope you have a friend or sweetheart to enjoy them with (just a reminder that picnicking together, even over Zoom, is still a surprising amount of fun). In the meantime, if you’re making something new and queer, drop me an email or DM me? I love to hear your news.

S Bear Bergman

S. Bear Bergman is a writer, educator and advice columnist. His ninth book, Special Topics In Being A Human, was published by Arsenal Pulp Press in the fall of 2021.

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