The Long Game

This year at our state library conference, my presentation on girls and comics in the library was standing room only. It was interesting and surprising to see that many people in a ballroom to listen to anyone at all talk about girls and comics. But more importantly they were there to listen to me. Which meant I would not be alone in an empty room for an hour, which is always one of my great fears both at science fiction conventions and actual grown-up conferences.

They cared. Librarians from rural and urban libraries throughout a Midwestern state actually cared about the challenges girls face entering fandoms, and were not opposed to the feminist ideas that I brought up slowly throughout the hour. I covered topics from dudebros to cosplay not equaling harassment. I even talked about the difference between the heroic pose and the sexy pose on comic covers.

I got questions, both during the session and in the hall after. I actually missed the next panel I had intended to go to, since I was talking to folks about everything from purchasing orders to podcasts.

Sure, for an hour and a half I was a bit of a rock star. A god among librarians. And for the rest of the day, people would stop me in the halls to tell me they enjoyed my talk. I felt like I should be signing things. This is very good for the battered self esteem. And I am glad this went well. I’m glad my message was accepted and even embraced.

This isn’t about bragging. This is about excitement over the opportunity for next year.

This year my talk was primarily about girls. I did slip into discussing characters, comics and services for LGBTA teens briefly. And it was unlike four or five years ago, when I gave a presentation about millennialist, said something uncomfortable, and had at least three middle aged librarians immediately walk out. Maybe we are making progress and I can move on to the next stage of advocating for under-represented young people: LGBTA youth.

LGBTA youth are under-represented in the library, yes. They need books and materials that speak to their unique challenges and needs. They need librarians who will provide, without judgement or hostility, the materials they want or need. But this is a microcosm of the world outside the library doors. LGBTA youth face not being accepted by peers, social structures, and parents. Most homeless youth are LGBTA. They often live in areas that provide little to no sex education, and sex ed directed solely toward straight, cis youth.

If a queer student can’t get solid information or emotional support from the community or from family, the very least we can do for this group is provide quality materials in a calm, safe environment.

I would like to see librarians go further and be able to reference community resources, or be able to provide a safe, friendly ear, even if we don’t have answers for their complex issues. Librarians have become strong allies for many under-represented groups over the years. I don’t think asking them to be good allies for LGBTA youth is out of the realm of possibility. Or, if they can’t handle that, at least provide quality materials and services without judgement or reproach.

As for my part, I think it has been a slow introduction to the challenges modern young adults face, over several years of mailing list participation and state library conference presentations I can work up to more difficult and less pleasant issues.

It’s a long game, but if it helps even a few kids, it is far worth the process.