Content notes and warnings: None really; however, if you’re new to this blog, please know that even though this book is appropriate for teens, the rest of my website is decidedly for adults; click on internal links at your own risk.
We took a recent several-hour drive to Atlanta to hit one of our favorite New Age stores, Phoenix & Dragon. (This post isn’t sponsored or anything, I just really like the store. Our other favorite is Belladonna’s Gifts in Columbia; they aren’t relevant to this post, but if I’m doing shout-outs I’m gonna do them thoroughly.) While my metamour picked through shiny rocks and Damien loaded up the basket with beeswax candles, I found myself wandering through the books, and found their not-insubstantial queer issues section. One little book caught my eye, entitled A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities.
How could it not? Mushrooms and snails, bright colors, the word QUEER anywhere on its surface—you couldn’t do better if you had an “Attract Ollie’s Attention” guide open in front of you. I flipped through it, thought it looked cute and, yes, thought, “Hey, I might review this for The Blog.” It’s not erotica, but I cover non-erotic queer topics as well, and this seemed like a lot of fun.
The “Quick and Easy” part is definitely correct—it took me about half an hour to read, while taking notes. And it’s really well put together, neatly organized, and useful for refernce. (It’s also tiny. My spouse took the pictures below, showing the graphic novel art, and you can see how small it is compared to xeir hand!)
The graphic novel, written and illustrated by two queer creators, Mady G. and Jules Zuckerberg, is hosted by a snail named Iggy, who is the pet of a queer educator named Bowery and therefore has the expertise to explain terms of identity to several wild snails while their owner is on a retreat with their queer support group. Additionally, the snails happen upon a group of forest creatures called Sproutlings. The explanatory snail sections are done in a beautifully vibrant pink and yellow color scheme, and each chapter ends with a green/blue/yellow section about Sproutlings as they illustrate the concepts outlined by the snails previously in a short narrative. We also hear from the support group, especially on things like dysphoria which are very personal and are better explained by individuals experiencing it than, uh, snails observing it.
So how did the snails do? Well, as an introductory book, aimed for teens, I thought it was pretty good! It’s very easy to follow, the explanations are pretty clear (I just typed “pretty queer” which…they are that too!) with illustrations that serve to enhance understanding while also being cute and cheerful. Queerness is presented—as it should be—as a joyful thing, not something to be afraid of, whether the reader is questioning, already knows they’re queer, or is just trying to understand someone in their life.
The book goes well into not only binary trans identities, but how even those can exist on a spectrum; it also goes into nonbinary identies that can exist within a spectrum or reject it entirely; it also goes into not only gay and lesbian identities but bi- and pansexuality as well as (amazingly) asexuality, mentions demisexuality at least once, and even mentions that asexuals sometimes have and enjoy sex while also discussing the value of nonsexual intimacy.
My actual favorite parts were the discussions on coming out and on dating. In the “coming out” section, they discuss not only the value of coming out, but how some people must stay closeted, or may be out with certain groups and not others, and that criticism for this is unfair. They also used the snails very effectively to show that forcibly outing someone is never acceptable, by showing someone trying to remove a snail from its shell (!), which I thought was really clever. The dating discussion was also something that literally everyone should read; it talks about red flags to look out for, in dating partners and oneself, describes what a healthy argument should look like, and also notes that the LGBTQ+ community is not somehow free of toxicity in dating. In a book aimed especially at teens, this was super valuable, given there is an online narrative (which I’ve definitely joined in) about how cis-allo-het couples are all toxic and queer couples are all supportive and flawless, which is, uh…actually kinda gross.
I also liked that this book has some activities in the back! There’s a page on how to design your own Sproutling (in fact, a Sprout-sona) so I even made my own. It’s supposed to be part bunny, part lizard, but it sorta looks like a striped kangaroo.
There’s also a space for notes to your fast/future self, and a guide to making your own zine, which is super cool. (Fun fact: my first “published” item read by people who didn’t know me was a zine I did with my friend Cathy G. Johnson when we were in college. It no longer exists in any form, but it sure did exist once.) They also have a bunch of online resources for further reading and to expand on some complicated topics that are more nuanced than presented here.
There were some issues that, I admit, I probably wouldn’t have picked up on if I weren’t unhealthily neck-deep at all times in The Queer Discourse™. Their somewhat rigid definitions of bisexuality versus pansexuality will definitely annoy some people—they define bisexual as “attraction to the same gender as well as other genders” and pansexual as “attraction to people regardless of gender,” but some bisexual people consider the latter definition to suit them as well (and some don’t), and basically, these terms are extremely loose and self-defined by individuals; any definitive definition is going to miss some nuance. Arguing over what’s what and who’s who leads to flame wars on alternating Tuesdays on Twitter, so I understand why they simplified it, but I also recognize that it’s not going to thrill everyone.
The one that annoyed me slightly more was that the one (1) mention of aromanticism defined it as a subset of asexuality. Aro-aces are important and deserve to be validated, but there are also allosexual aromantics, who experience sexual attraction but not romantic attraction. (I like this post on Vanilla Free Sex, entitled Fuck Amatonormativity.) Aromanticism is often misunderstood and, unfortunately, sex without love is still villainized in our society, so allo-aros are also sometimes perceived as problematic, which sucks. Mentioning that it was an option, especially in this book where everything is stated with a sort of matter-of-fact cheer, might have been nice to help normalize this orientation.
That said, this book is pretty low on the mentions of sex anyway (there are two that I found) so they may not have included it to try to simplify things/keep it “teen-appropriate,” given how much queer books for youth are targeted by pearl-clutching lawmakers. I can, unfortunately, see how a simple message like “hey, if you experience sexual attraction without romantic attraction, that’s fine and normal” could get this book to never see the light of day. I don’t like playing respectability politics games, but it is a game we must play sometimes anyway to get anything out there. It sucks, but it is what it is, I guess. Baby steps.
Other than those quibbles, though? I thought this book was really nice. While it’s geared towards teens (Amazon suggests 14-17 as the target range), I honestly think most families should have a copy on hand for a basic understanding, especially as there’s nothing explicit; I’d also recommend it to, say, an adult who is trying to understand why a relative want to change names and pronouns. (Seriously y’all, if Aunt Susie trying really hard but struggling to understand, maybe this book will help?) I actually offered my copy to my sister and her family after my review, and she’s pretty excited about it.
I thought about donating it to the library in my rural town, but it turns out they have a copy already! On display! Good job, Community I Can’t Name For My Privacy, I’m proud of you! You might want to look into seeing if it’s available at your local library, and either donating or requesting it if not—check your library’s policies. (Or, uh, maybe look into sending copies to various Florida and Texas library locations, or other places where they’re enacting policies that harm trans and queer youth…)
The Bottom Line
Aside from some minor quibbles with definitions, I really liked this book! It does exactly what it says it will: it’s very quick and very easy as an introductory guide. As a bonus, the art is playful and fun, the explanations are easy to follow, and as a resource I think it’s pretty awesome. I definitely recommend it.
Buy from Amazon for $9.99 paperback or $7.99 on Kindle.
How are y’all enjoying my attempts at book reviews of late? Feel free to comment! I haven’t quit doing toy reviews or personal essays, but branching out into something different for now has been really fun and got me excited to blog again.
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