Notice anything about the above list? It’s the list of book categories in my local library. Yup, that’s right. No LGBTQ+ section.
That’s not to say there aren’t LGBTQ+ books. There are—just not many of them, and they’re also hard to find. Type in “lesbian” in the library’s online catalogue and you get a list of four books. Four. Three of them are great lesbian fiction, the fourth is a travelogue that happens to include “lesbian geisha girls” in its description.
I live in a regional part of Queensland, Australia, three hours’ drive from the nearest major city. My local town is a friendly, happy place of less than 20,000 people. It has good facilities and a medium-sized library that is a great community resource and centre. The town is small-town conservative in many ways, but it’s laid-back and the majority of people follow a live-and-let live attitude. My marriage equality bumper sticker gets more thumbs up than frowns.
But this sort of casual acceptance can sometimes translate into casual homophobia. “I have no problem with marriage equality—but my daughter better not bring home a girlfriend.” I overheard that in a pub the other week. It’s no wonder rural queer kids have a harder time of it than their city counterparts.
Young and questioning – the invisible kids
Libraries are therefore important for many of these kids. Where else can they read about people like themselves? Sure, there’s the internet, but that can come with parental filters, and well-meaning teachers and parents checking the browser history. Small communities can be stifling for people who don’t fit the perceived norm. It can be hard to figure out your identity in the spotlight of cozy community concern. But a library… Sit, browse, read, borrow. Discover yourself. Or you can if your rural library has books for you, and a section where you might be able to find them with ease.
Recently, I donated some Ylva books to my local library. The library took them with thanks and, sure enough, they appeared in the catalogue and eventually onto the shelves. But they’re not listed as lesbian books. They’re listed in general fiction with no description, nothing that screams Queer Books Here!
I searched the catalogue again, looking for mainstream lesbian writers. Jeanette Winterson, Sarah Waters, and Rita Mae Brown are there. There’s even a copy of The Well of Loneliness. But if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, you won’t find them. Want something by any one of the hundreds of excellent authors writing contemporary queer romance? Apart from the Ylva ones I donated, you’re out of luck.
Community blues – the ghosts of LGBTQ+
So once again, we’re invisible, hidden away, tucked into the metaphorical corner, unsearchable and mostly unfindable. It’s not good enough. Maybe it’s different in our capital cities—I know that in many parts of Europe, every library has an LGBTQ+ section. When I dropped off the donations to my library, I told the women that they all belonged in the LGBTQ+ section. She gave me a sideways look, and didn’t comment.
When they finally meandered their way through the library system to the shelves, I hunted them down. The romances are categorised as “Erotic Fiction” and the Young Adult books simply jammed in the uncategorised General Fiction, as if lesbian fiction is risqué and daring, not something that your granny might want to read with her cup of tea and a Tim Tam. Certainly not something your fourteen-year-old daughter should read.
Take a look at that category list again. Apparently, more people want to read ghost stories than queer stories. I feel pretty ghostly and not quite-there in my library these days. Invisible. Someone who should creep out at night under the cover of darkness.
I’ll take more books to my library in a few months, and once again, I’ll suggest that they put them in the LGBTQ+ section. I’ll do it for the queer kids of rural Queensland. If even one kid finds a book about them, it’s worth it.
Cheyenne Blue is the author of the “Girl Meets Girl” series, three standalone Ylva novels with interconnecting characters, Never-Tied Nora, Not-So-Straight Sue, and Fenced-In Felix. Her latest book, Party Wall, came out this year. Cheyenne has lived in the UK, Ireland, the United States, and Switzerland, but now writes, runs, makes bread and cheese, and drinks wine by the beach in Queensland, Australia.