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2019: Pride Books
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2019: Pride Books

By 49thShelf
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tagged: pride, LGBTQ
Books about the lives and experiences of the LGBTQ community—stories of courage, resilience, and survival.
We Have Always Been Here

We Have Always Been Here

A Queer Muslim Memoir

How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don't exist?

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.

When her family c …

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Sonia and I were the same age and instantly liked each other. She had a mischievous way about her that pulled me in. She always smelled of oranges, her fingers sticky from sucking on slices of the fruit as the juices dripped down her chin and hands. She left a trail of orange peels everywhere she went. I was in awe of her pin-straight hair that could do anything she wanted it to but mostly rested on her shoulders, two vertical lines framing her gamine face. Mine was curly and unruly, and my mother insisted on having it fashioned into an unflattering bowl cut. Since I was no longer allowed to go outside or visit friends without my parents chaperoning, much of our playing happened at our house. Sonia never asked why—I just let her believe it was because my parents were extremely religious. When we weren’t building blanket forts, we spent afternoons on the veranda flashing everyone who walked by, spreading our legs wide open and exposing our vaginas, breaking out into peals of laughter with each look of horror we received.
Some days, Sonia wanted to play doctor. She’d pull down her pants and ask me to give her an injection, and I’d pretend to inject her warm skin with a piece of chalk, its tip pointy and startlingly cold. The chalky imprint of my hand would remain on her bum as she pulled up her pants, laughing. We’d often play in the musty, abandoned room on the second floor above our unit that was full of discarded furniture and yards of fabric my mother had purchased to bring to Sonia’s mother. One day, when I suggested we tell each other stories instead of playing doctor, she began to tell me a dirty tale of two lovers, Idris and Sahar, who undressed in front of each other—but she abruptly ended the story just when my heart started racing with anticipation. I needed to know what happened next.
“I have to go,” she blurted. “Next time!” She patted my mop of curls and grabbed her backpack, flashing me an impish smile on her way out the door.
For days, I waited for her to come back and finish the story. A week went by. Unable to bear the suspense any longer, I told my parents I was going to visit Sonia, knowing full well I wasn’t allowed to venture out unaccompanied. When they prodded, I recounted the whole sordid story. As expected, my parents told Sonia’s parents that she wasn’t allowed to visit our house ever again.
It was nearing four o’clock and my mother still had to pick up a cake before the guests arrived and my dad came home from work. She asked Pinky to keep an eye on my sisters and me so that she could run some errands and swing by the bakery. She knew how much I loved the dense, spongy cake soaked in rosewater and layered with thick cream and ripe fruit. As she opened the door, the smell of burning tires infiltrated the hallway. Without giving it much thought, she headed out the door, the smell lingering in the air. After all, the birthday would be incomplete without the cake.
The bakery was only ten minutes away, so we were worried when an hour went by and neither my mother nor my father had come home. When my mother finally showed up, she had with her Osman and his mother, along with five other Shia families from the street. Sunni and Shia conflicts had erupted throughout Lahore, and my mother had gathered this band of strangers together and offered temporary refuge from the rioting in the streets. As Ahmadis, we were the only family in the neighbourhood to be spared the wrath of Sunni extremists. For once, the target wasn’t us.
The cause of the conflict goes back some fourteen hundred years. Immediately following the death of Prophet Muhammad, the two sects clashed over who his successor should be. Shias believe that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful successor, whereas Sunnis argue that it was Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s trusted advisor. Centuries of bloodshed have followed. Shias claim that Sunnis have received preferential treatment from the Pakistani government since 1948, soon after Pakistan was founded, and that their freedom of speech is consistently threatened. Around the time of my birthday, things had gotten particularly violent after the assassination of Arif Hussain Hussaini, founding leader of Tehrik-e-Jafaria, a religious organization that represented the Shias.
Amid all the mayhem, I marvelled at how my mother had managed to find a cake when all the shops were either closed or vandalized. I was even more shocked that she had made it home safe, unaffected by the tear gas or the rioters who were setting fire to everything in sight, the thick fumes permeating our house through the roofless courtyard where everyone had gathered. To a seven-year-old, it seemed the world was coming to an end. If my mother was panicked that my father was still not home, she certainly didn’t let it show.
I looked at Osman, who had taken refuge under his mother’s arm and was pressing his nose against it. There were other children, too—some my age or younger, some old enough to require a burka to hide the curves of their bodies. I couldn’t help feeling relieved that this time it wasn’t us. But the fear I witnessed was intensely familiar. Who belonged if none of us did? I had never felt as close to Shias as I did that day.
My mother, perhaps opting for a distraction, removed the wrapping from the cake and placed it on the dining table. Pinky heated a pot of goat’s milk for chai and poured it into eight terracotta cups. The smell of cardamom temporarily replaced the pungent odour of burning cars.
When the phone rang, my mother almost dropped the tray of pakoras and ran toward it. “Kee haal hai?”—How are you?—she asked ironically, knowing my father was probably plotting how to get home safely while police had blocked off access to our street. She spoke in Punjabi, the language my parents used when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about, not realizing we’d picked it up over the years.
We were startled by a flurry of loud knocks on the front door and the voices on the other side demanding that we open it. We all knew that the men outside were after the Shias hiding in our house. My mother hung up the phone and, with the help of the other women, pushed a heavy cupboard full of china and ceramics in front of the door. As the thumping persisted, she silently lit the candles on the cake, one for each of my seven years. Taking our cue from her calm demeanour, we all gathered around the table as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. After a loud chorus of “Happy Birthday” drowned out the noise in the background, I blew out the candles. My mother carefully plated each dish with an equal slice of cake, pakoras, and chaat and handed them to everyone in our house.
Soon it was time for Maghrib prayer. Pinky and the other women lined the concrete floor with bedsheets, and we Ahmadis prayed with our Shia neighbours for the first time, our bodies so close there was barely space between us. My eyes wandered to the different placement of hands on the chests of our Shia guests, placed higher than I was accustomed to. It struck me that despite our differences, we were all terrified of the same people.
The knocks eventually stopped and we wondered if the riots had too. Then we heard a heavy thud on the roof. We all lifted our heads in panic, and mothers tightly clutched their children. Then my dad emerged from the top floor, climbing down the stairs to the courtyard. Eager to unite with us, he had scaled the wall of a house at the end of our street and jumped between the rooftops until he reached ours. I had never in my life been happier to see him.

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This One Looks Like a Boy

This One Looks Like a Boy

My Gender Journey to Life as a Man
also available: Audiobook

Inspiring and honest, this unique memoir of gender transition and coming-of-age proves it’s never too late to find your true identity.

Since he was a small child, Lorimer Shenher knew something for certain: he was a boy. The problem was, he was growing up in a girl’s body.

In this candid and thoughtful memoir, Shenher shares the story of his gender journey, from childhood gender dysphoria to teenage sexual experimentation to early-adult denial of his identity—and finally the acceptance that …

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Death Threat

Death Threat

by Vivek Shraya
illustrated by Ness Lee

Finalist, Lambda Literary Award and Doug Wright Award

In the fall of 2017, the acclaimed writer and musician Vivek Shraya began receiving vivid and disturbing transphobic hate mail from a stranger. Celebrated artist Ness Lee brings these letters and Shraya's responses to them to startling life in Death Threat, a comic book that, by its existence, becomes a compelling act of resistance. Using satire and surrealism, Death Threat is an unflinching portrayal of violent harassment from the perspective …

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Woman Enough

Woman Enough

How a Boy Became a Woman and Changed the World of Sport

A powerful and inspiring story of self-realization and legal victory that upends our basic assumptions about sexual identity.

In 1966, a male baby, Chris, was adopted by an upper-middle-class Toronto couple. From early childhood, Chris felt ill-at-ease as a boy and like an outsider in his conservative family. An obsession with sports--running, waterskiing and especially cycling--helped him survive what he would eventually understand to be a profound disconnect between his anatomical sexual ident …

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Prologue: Gender Verification

“Do not show weakness,” I kept telling myself. “Do not let them see you break down.”

As a competitive cyclist, I had discipline. I knew a lot about riding through pain. But what these four men—all white, het­erosexual and over fifty—were doing to me in this non-descript Ottawa boardroom, in the name of Canada’s National Sport Organizations, was wrong.

Ever since I was a kid, when I would run as an escape from a life I didn’t fit into, I had wanted to compete as a high-performance athlete. Sport is supposed to be straightforward, clear-cut. You train, you do your best, and you either win or you don’t. Sport was my safe space.

I wanted to cycle for Canada in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. I was ready. I’d spent the last few years training six to eight hours a day, seven days a week. I’d raced twice a week. I’d ridden through rain, sleet and snow, skidding on wet leaves and swerving away from countless cars. I’d made a million cir­cles on the banked tracks of velodromes, climbing the steep angled corners and dropping down to straights at dizzying speeds. I’d gone to sleep each night with my pulse throbbing in my exhausted thighs, and I’d woken each morning almost too stiff to move, to do it all over again. Canada’s national coach believed I would qualify fair and square for the B-team in pur­suit track racing. All I needed was my licence. Which was why I was here, in this office, in front of these men.

I’m a woman, a fully transitioned XY female. But in 2003, in advance of the Athens Olympics in 2004, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), together with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), had put out a two-page policy statement, the “Stockholm Consensus on Sex Reassignment in Sport,” to govern the process by which transitioned athletes are “authenticated”—verified as the gender they say they are—and permitted to compete. It was now April 2005. I was the first athlete to be tested under this new policy, anywhere in the world.

Of the four men in the room, two were sport administra­tors, one was a lawyer, and the fourth was an emergency-room doctor—not a gender or endocrine specialist. The doctor had no special knowledge of hormone science. This shocked me. I had assumed that the IOC would have done its research before moving ahead with its new policy. But an hour into the encounter, I was sure that I knew more about the science of my body than these four men and the entire IOC put together.

The assumed authority of sport had empowered them to do whatever they wanted to me. It was like handing a layperson a scalpel and saying, “Here, now you’re a heart surgeon. Don’t worry about the law; we answer to no one.” It was absurd, and yet my sport and my livelihood—my life—depended on this panel’s “verifying” that I was who I know I am. “Authenticating” me as a woman.

I’d already endured a humiliating physical examination with an endocrinologist in Toronto, where I live. He asked me intimate questions about my vagina. He did a complete gyne­cological exam. He requested and received an affidavit from the surgeon who performed my transition surgery, and a copy of my birth certificate verifying my gender as female. He asked me about my sexuality—even though who I like to sleep with is irrelevant to my gender description—and included that in his multi-page report. He shared my full medical records—my most private information—with this panel, who eventually shared them with the IOC and the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the international cycling organization I belong to; they also passed my records on to Sport Canada and to Canada’s anti-doping body, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), and literally anyone else who asked to read them.

I’m uncomfortable talking about sex. Even though I went through a full medical transition in 2004, I was a square kid, and I’ve lived a private, conservative life. So I requested a copy of the UCI medical report, and a list of everyone who had reviewed my private file. My requests were denied. “You just have to trust us, Kristen,” was all the UCI said.

I was trying to play by their rules. I’ve always been a well-behaved person. Often too well-behaved. I am respectful. I treat others as I want to be treated. And I was the one who’d willingly driven the five hours from Toronto to Ottawa to be here, excited that, after this ordeal was over, I’d be able to com­pete in sport as who I really am.

I also knew that this was about something much bigger than just me. I wanted to make sport better and safer for the athletes coming up after me. I grew up in athletics. I’m passionate about the good things in the sport world, the way it’s able to shine a spotlight on issues of ability and diversity. To empower people. So I answered their questions, even when, over and over, they asked me why I wanted to be in sport. I answered honestly: I’ve been a high-performance athlete my whole life. It’s who I am. It’s fun. It’s my community, my tribe. My opponents are also my friends. It’s about competing—for me, and for my country—but even more, it’s about camaraderie.

To be honest, there was something deeper going on, too. I knew I was there to be approved. But what I really wanted was to be accepted. In my life, that’s been rare, and it’s pre­cious to me.

I quickly realized, however, that these men weren’t there to help me. They viewed me as a threat to sport. I was born in a male body, and their assumption was that an XY person will always, naturally and as a matter of course, out-compete an XX person. They had no scientific or empirical data to back up that belief. But their tone was clear: I was not, nor would I ever be, a “real” woman. At best, I was trying to cheat; at worst, I was a freak. They felt utterly entitled to ask me embarrassing, intimate questions about the details of my sur­geries, and talk openly about my body in front of me, as if I weren’t there. They had no idea that their line of questioning was socially constructed, as was their limited idea of “woman.” To them, a woman—even an Olympic athlete—should be pretty and soft. She should look hot in her spandex outfit. She should be marketable.

I did what I always do when I’m under threat. I went still. On high alert. It felt like an out-of-body experience. I wanted to walk out. But I didn’t want to show weakness. I was angry. I was on the verge of tears. I wanted to shout, “Do you ask male athletes about their penises? Their surgeries? Their medications?” But these men had all the power. They believed they had every right to do this to me, and they believed I deserved it.

Only once, when one of them asked if I’d have future sur­geries, did I crack a little. “Yeah,” I said to him. “I’m thinking of getting my ears clipped to make myself more aerodynamic.” That silenced them for a minute.

Finally the grilling ended. I stood up. I shook their hands.

I drove home, alone. For five hours, I kept thinking, “What just happened to me?” They had my medical records, which explained my surgeries. They had the letter from my doctor, which clearly called me a woman. We were in Canada, where women and men are supposed to be equal, and diversity cele­brated. They were the officials of sport, who claimed expertise about athletes’ bodies. But instead of being open to learning, they were closed-minded. Instead of being professionally cor­dial, they were suspicious and hostile. Instead of being inclu­sive, they were prejudiced. They let me down in every way, and now they held my future in their hands.

I didn’t allow myself to break down until I was home. Then, I cried for what happened in that boardroom. I cried for ath­letes all over the world who would have to endure similar humiliation. I cried for the bullied, misunderstood, lonely kid I had been. Bullied all over again now. Sport, my lifelong pro­tector, had not protected me.

I didn’t want to tell my family or friends about what hap­pened. It was too private, too embarrassing. They’d already helped me through so much change, so much loss.

The panel’s verdict was supposed to take three weeks. It took eight months. As I waited for the answer, as my most private information travelled in a five-page report from Ottawa to WADA to UCI, I finally realized what I was feeling: violated. Psychologically and physically, to my core.

My approval to compete finally arrived on January 16, 2006. The letter, from UCI medical chairman Mario Zorzoli, essen­tially said, “Congratulations, you are who you say you are.” But by then, something in me had changed. Of course I felt relief. I wanted to be back in my sport family. But I also knew that no one should go through what happened to me. Sport should not be sanctioned to humiliate people for their differences. No one should.

I stopped crying. I stopped feeling scared. It wasn’t just about my competing anymore. It was about who isn’t allowed to compete, and why.

I fought hard to be who I am—who I was always meant to be. So that’s what I decided to do with these men: fight back. I decided to take on the Ontario Cycling Association, and Cycling Canada (CC), and the Union Cycliste Internationale, and the World Anti-Doping Agency. And then I would take on the IOC itself.

The men at the bottom of that pyramid, the ones on the local level, were the ones who’d violated me. But I was deter­mined to prove how they were linked to the men at the top—how the 205 countries in the Olympic movement, and all their attendant sport organizations, and WADA, follow the orders of the IOC. I knew that the only way to make change is top-down. The IOC doesn’t want the world to see its ignorance, or to learn that its policies are based on prejudice, not science. But I knew the science, and I decided to use it.

I didn’t know that this fight would take a dozen years. I didn’t know that my case would be heard by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), which would help me to challenge both Canadian and international sport. I didn’t know that I would kick open a door for women and diverse people around the world.

But I did.

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Me, Myself, They

Me, Myself, They

Life Beyond the Binary
also available: eBook Audiobook

From renowned trans activist, Luna M. Ferguson, comes a work of memoir and critical analysis that embraces an inclusive understanding of sex and gender.

Me, Myself, They: Life Beyond the Binary chronicles Luna M. Ferguson’s extraordinary story of transformation to become a celebrated non-binary filmmaker, writer, and advocate for trans rights. Beginning with their birth and early childhood of gender creativity, Ferguson recounts the complex and often challenging evolution of their identity, inc …

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Finalist, Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry

In their fourth collection of poetry, Lambda Literary Award-winning poet and writer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha continues her excavation of working-class queer brown femme survivorhood and desire.

Tonguebreaker is about surviving the unsurvivable: living through hate crimes, the suicides of queer kin, and the rise of fascism while falling in love and walking through your beloved's neighbourhood in Queens. Building on her groundbreaking work in B …

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Swelling with Pride

Swelling with Pride

Queer Conception and Adoption Stories
edited by Sara Graefe

There's no straightforward path to LGBTQ2 parenthood and just as every queer person has their own coming out story, every LGBTQ2 family has a unique conception or adoption story.

In SWELLING WITH PRIDE: QUEER CONCEPTION AND ADOPTION STORIES, creative non-fiction writers celebrate LGBTQ2 families and the myriad of ways we embark upon our parenting journeys. These honest, heartfelt, unabashedly queer stories cover a gamut of issues and experiences, including the varied paths to queer conception - …

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A Queer Alphabet

A cheeky, progressive adult alphabet book that celebrates and illuminates LGBTQ terminology.

What would happen if someone picked up a classic ABC book, crossed out the words, and replaced them with LGBTQ terms?

The result would be GAYBCs “a playful, subversive alphabet book that aims to spread awareness and demystify queer terminology for everyone. Instead of apple, ball, and chick, this book's ABCs are ally, bisexual, and cisgender. A ladybug gains a matching girlfriend to become lesbian, kiss

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