June marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – a series of sporadic demonstrations by the LGBTQ community against police that took place on June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. Many credit the riots with igniting the LGBTQ movement, and while this community has seen many strides in the decades since, they still face plenty of discrimination.
In commemoration of the anniversary, we wanted to learn more about what it’s like for a queer Latinx writer nowadays, so we reached out to three authors – Mark Oshiro, Gabby Rivera, and Adam Silvera – to share their experiences. In our conversations, they touched on writing authentically, the need for more representation, and the issues that need to be addressed in the industry.
Read on for a glimpse of what it’s like to be a queer Latinx author today.
Gabby Rivera the Bronx-born, queer award-winning Latinx author behind Juliet Takes a Breath, is well known for speaking on her experiences as a QTPOC writer. She is an LGBTQ youth advocate, and believes it is most important to center joy in our narratives as Latinx people and people of color.
Manifest Your Own
To all the queer kids of color, you are vibrant and the universe is yours. Worship it. Set it ablaze. Manifest your own. Write whatever you want. Take no shit. Cause no harm. Finish your works. Fill up all the empty walls with your goals and biggest most wildest dreams. Work so fucking hard it feels like flying. Ask for help. Be present for the people who show up for you. Be present for yourself. Rest. Rage. Resurrect.
Reckon with Privilege
It’s me trying to figure out what those terms mean: queer Latinx. It’s using my words and stories to explore being a Puerto Rican dyke from the Bronx and the daughter of Martha and Charles Rivera, and not try to speak on any other experience but my own. Still, [I’m] allowing space for my imagination to run wild, so that all the things I write honor and reflect my family, my mentors, lovers, and friends – all the people that loved me into this creative life full of freedom and responsibility. Being a queer Latinx writer means also hating those words because I didn’t create them. I grabbed onto them because I needed something, and now I’m looking for more.
Queer and Latinx, for me specifically, is Celia Cruz, Pentecostal church, hating and then loving my thick, thick body, Lolita Lebron’s courage, Jacob Riis Beach, apologies in the form of prayers, and a whole lot of reckoning with privilege, machismo, anti-blackness, transphobia, white supremacy, colorism and all the other isms that impact me and my communities.While also figuring out how to f*cking show up for my communities in real time with all the love and respect I’ve got, and without causing harm.
Revel in Greatness and Creativity
I’m trying to tell honest and wild stories – ones that offer queer kids of color a million and one ways to revel in our greatness and creativity, and genders and bodies, and magic. Juliet Takes a Breath is a love letter to thick, nerdy, beautiful, spiritually vibrant brown girls everywhere, especially little bouncy Puerto Rican ones from the bronx.
Along with being a love letter, Juliet is an offering: Here’s one person’s experience of coming out to their family [and] learning the history of their peoples, while exploring their sexuality and diving heart-first into just being 19.
Look Beyond the Stories
I’ve gotta make sure that I’m also pushing myself to open as many doors as I can, offer my energy and resources to Black Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ+ fam, and always advocate for equity in pay and treatment.
New York Times best-selling author Adam Silvera is best known for his queer YA stories, including What If It’s Us. He works diligently to portray authentic queer characters. Silvera has worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller, a community manager at a content development company, and a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels.
More Representation Is Needed
I love hearing from my queer readers and I love hearing from my Latinx readers, but when I hear from someone who’s part of both communities? Pure joy! The community has been so supportive. We’re only growing every year, which is such a blessing. I’m loving seeing our stories expand into genre fiction especially.
We need more rep out there because we’re all out here. The majority of my books are about queer Latinx kids, and lately, as I’m coming to a better understanding of the privileges I’ve been afforded my entire life as a white-passing Puerto Rican, it’s important for me to pass that on so others understand what that’s like. The good and the frustrating. It’s still a journey I’m on so maybe it’s not always as deep as I’d like it to be, but it’s a start to a conversation I hope I have more to say about in years to come.
We need to continue to respect everyone’s personal upbringings. No one is less or more because they do or don’t speak Spanish or were raised with certain traditions. If you are, you are.
Claim Your Spot and Kick Ass
No one else is going to write your story better than you. Claim your spot and kick ass in it.
Hugo-finalist Mark Oshiro has been an activist in the queer community for many years. Their debut novel, Anger is a Gift, won the 2018 Schneider Family Book Award and was nominated for a 2019 Lambda Literary Award in the LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult category.
Know That It Can Be Lonely
There are not a whole lot of us who have traditionally published books, but you better believe that when we see one another at book festivals and events, we flock together. But we’re growing, and having a community of folks with a shared experience has made my publishing journey more meaningful and fulfilling.
Look at the Changes
In publishing, I wish it was bigger. In a general sense, it depends on where you are in the country! My community in Los Angeles was very different from the one when I lived in Oakland. I’ve only been in New York City for a couple years and am still adjusting. But I will say that it has been incredible to see how many changes there have been in the last couple decades. I mean … Latinx! We didn’t have that term when I was a baby queer, and for someone with a complicated identity like mine (due to adoption and weird gender stuff I’m working through), I’m really happy that the term exists and is seeing greater usage.
Issues Still Need to Be Addressed
The main concern I have within publishing is how often I feel torn between my identities. I’ve had other Latinx people say they’re uncomfortable with how queer my work is. (You probably would not be surprised how often I am asked if I’ll ever write a straight main character.) The larger queer community tends not to be as supportive of works that don’t center whiteness. It’s a difficult thing to be caught between the two, to have your identity constantly called into question (not being queer or Latinx enough) by people who believe you’re performing it wrong.
The other major issue: our community’s continued anti-blackness, our Black erasure, the fact that we tend to lift up and amplify those with fairer skin over everyone else. The Latinx community is often too concerned with appealing to and moving closer to whiteness, and we are doing a disservice to a whole bunch of our own people when we’re like this.
Support Other Authors
[By] writing as many characters as I can that are queer and Latinx, uplifting other authors, mentoring aspiring queer POC, pushing back against stereotypes and pigeon-holing within publishing itself [and] reaching out to actual Latinx, queer teens to meet them at their level when discussing literature. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I want to open the door as wide as I can to let mi familia into the room and get published, too. It’s also important to support those same people after book deals are announced. Traditional publishing can treat us like we’re disposable or forgettable when we are anything but.
Find Your Community
Truly, find your community, either online or in person. Write your truth and stick to it. Don’t worry about whether your work is too specific or if it doesn’t have ”universal” themes. Specificity matters, and many of the most memorable, impactful stories are about specific things. Support the queer POC around you in whatever way you can!