Non-Fiction, Reviews

Coming Out Stories edited by Emma Goswell & Sam Walker

Rating: 4 out of 5.

[…] We all want to be loved and accepted by our friends and family for who we are. We don’t want to lie; we want to be us. We want those we care about to share the highs and lows of our life.

**There are minor spoilers in the “Content Warnings” and “Review” portions of this post**

Thank you NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the digital ARC; which we received in exchange for an honest review.
Published: January 2021
Genre: Non-Fiction, Anthology
Representation: Black, Indigenous, & People of Colour (BIPOC); Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Non-Binary, Pansexual, Bisexual, Gender Queer, Androsexual (LGBT+); Drag Queen; Polyamory; Mental Health
Content Warning: Homophobic/heternormative comments, pressure by others to come out, guilt and shame around own identity, “passing,” substance abuse/addiction (and from a young age), homelessness, difficulty with mental health, being outed, lobotomy suggested as “treatment for being gay,” conversion therapy, mention of Magdalene Homes/Laundries, being shamed or not accepted as a result of being LGBT+, the idea of being “cured” from queerness, running away as a child, discussion of youth and adult suicide, mention of misgendering, stigma around being overweight, TERFs and trans-exclusionary/antagonistic behaviours, biphobia, unaccepting family/friends, divorce, being kicked out of school, being disowned, the idea that being gay is related to mental illness, sexual abuse, bullying/harassment.

Summary

“He told me being gay was nothing to be ashamed of.” – Bill

“I put my hands over my eyes as I told her, as I couldn’t bear to see her reaction.” – Olivia

Based on the hugely popular Coming Out Stories podcast, this empowering, humorous and deeply honest book invites you to share one of the most important moments in many LGBTQ+ people’s lives.

From JP coming out to his reflection in the mirror, to Jacob coming out to their Mum over email, from Christine knowing she was trans as a young child, to Kerry coming out as a lesbian in her late thirties, all of the real life stories in this book show you there is no right or wrong way to come out, whatever your age and whatever your background.

Whether you’re gay, pan, queer, bi, trans, non-binary, or an ally, this uplifting go-to resource is filled with helpful advice and tips on what to expect, and inspirational quotes from leading LGBTQ+ figures, to help you live your very best self. Welcome to the family!

— summary from Goodreads

Review

When we saw this book come up on Netgalley, we knew we had to read it. We are both queer-identifying, and while diversity, in general, is exciting for us, finding books that represent those specific parts of us can be so exciting. It’s one of the reasons why Abarna loved Get A Life, Chloe Brown. Coming Out Stories is one of the first of its kind for adults (to our knowledge), which is such a big deal. There are more and more texts available that are accessible to and catered to younger ages (pre-teen and teen, more specifically). But considering the amount of antagonism that exists in adults against LGBTQIA2S+ folks, we believe there is a need for more resources to be available for an older demographic. That doesn’t mean it will be read by antagonistic folks, mind you – but for those who are willing to learn, open their minds, and maybe even begin to understand the plight of their loved ones, this book will undoubtedly be a helpful tool and a way to potentially build bridges. 

There’s a lot of really good things about this book, but we do have one main criticism of it, which dropped our rating from a potential 5 star to a 4 star one. We’ll get to the latter later – let’s start with the good. Like we mentioned above, many resources available to LGBTQIA2S+ folks are aimed at a younger demographic, and for good reason. It is so important for learning to start young; it can help people understand and accept themselves as well as their peers, and foster a more caring and open community. But this learning is just as important as adults, and this book delivers on that front. Coming Out Stories explores the personal accounts of many different people across the LGBTQIA2S+ spectrum, from many different backgrounds, which allows for so much diversity and inclusion. When picking it up, Abarna wondered whether white stories would dominate the narrative. Don’t get us wrong – all queer stories are important. But there is a lot to be said about the intersectionality of identities and how these different parts of ourselves cross over and affect our lives. The more identities are involved, the more we can see and start to understand a plethora of experiences. Which is so valuable! As such, this book is an incredible resource and a great grounds to start learning or expanding one’s knowledge. It even includes a glossary at the end in case readers are uncertain about any terminology. This is a great way to avoid shaming folks for not being in-the-loop, but also gently encouraging them to learn. As such, readers can learn about different experiences, become familiar with the language, and through the shared anecdotes, learn how to best support folks in their own lives. This book is written in an accessible way, as well, as it doesn’t require any kind of background knowledge to be able to follow along. We also love that it emphasizes the fluidity of gender and sexuality. This is a great concept to focus on for anyone who is looking to have a deeper understanding of the LGBTQIA2S+ community overall, and all of the stories center on it.

For people who are LGBTQIA2S+, this book has the potential of being very validating. There are so many different stories, from folks of different ages, sexualities, gender identities, and cultures/ethnicities, and chances are you may identify in some way with at least one of them. If you don’t identify with them (you wouldn’t be alone – we’ll get to that shortly), you may still feel some sense of allyship when reading about the struggles of coming out, fighting for your rights, finding your own family, or even just trying to gain self acceptance. There are a lot of themes that many of us in the community have experience with, despite our fundamental differences. There are some positive stories in this anthology, but there are some really hard truths, too. Yet even with those difficult moments, there was the underlying love and acceptance that came from embracing oneself, and finding a group of people who care about you the way that you are. It is quite beautiful and warm to see the messages of hope that the authors of these stories are doing their best to convey to the reader. This is such a wonderful thing to be exposed to – whether you are LGBTQIA2S+, an ally, or otherwise. For us, we felt this book lent to our knowledge of other queer identities and experiences, along with LGBTQIA2S+ history and activism in different countries, and what coming out can be like for people of different households. We think this book can be eye-opening no matter who you are!

But we both had one big contention with this book that stuck out like a sore thumb to us. While there is an amazing variety of stories and identities represented in this book, there was absolutely zero asexual, aromantic, intersex, or two spirit representation. This was incredibly disheartening to the both of us. While this book purports to be a resource, and as it is one of the first of its kind as we mentioned, it can feel extremely invalidating that these perspectives were not included. There is a lot of erasure already in the LGBTQIA2S+ community, and while we want to be clear in that we are not in any way claiming that the editors of this book intentionally overlooked these stories, the lack of representation in these places leaves a bad taste in our mouths. We have no clue what the compilation or editing process of this book was, and we would never want to make any assumptions about what we don’t know about. We’re just bummed, is all. 

On that front, we hope to see this book become a series, and for future installments to include the narratives that were missed in this one. And regardless of our disappointment, we are still glad that this book has been put together and is going to be published. There is a lot to be said about the lack of easy-to-access and easily-understood materials about the LGBTQIA2S+ community, and this book helps diminish the scarcity of these resources. We’re so glad it exists, and we do highly recommend it! 

Yes, I’d love us to be living in a utopia where labels don’t matter and sexuality and gender are irrelevant. I’d love us to be at the point where coming out is a redundant, non-event. Straight, cis-gendered people don’t have to come out and I’d love us to live in a world where we don’t have to either. I’d love straight and LGBT+ people to get on with their lives and live in harmony without judgement. We’re not there yet though, are we?

We hope one day we will be!

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