It’s a strange feeling to have your book banned, as the one I co-authored with Kathy Belge, Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens has been in large school districts in Oklahoma, Florida, Idaho, and Texas—and briefly Maine, but they reconsidered, because it is ridiculous. On the one hand, I’m proud of putting out honest information to young people who badly need it in the face of terrible attacks on queer/trans youth and the community. People applaud when I tell them we’ve been banned. Suddenly important orgs like PEN International come knocking at your door. It gives a frisson of antifa, if not Nabokov, to see your book displayed in large and lovely “Read Banned Books’ displays in bookstores across the nation and world.
And while sales haven’t exactly skyrocketed after the bans, enough is coming in to donate to local youth orgs and help keep me working in the independent press, no small feat. The strangeness comes in when you’re like, well, it’s nice that the book is getting attention, but do the young people who need it the most have any kind of access to it? (Luckily kids know how to get anything these days, but still, you don’t want anyone getting in trouble, or worse, for having “that book that’s everyone’s yelling about in the school board meeting.”)
That’s the kind of question that inspired Becka, the events manager of Fabulosa Books in the Castro, to come up with this weekend’s Read for Filth (Sat/7, 10am to Sun/8, 10am), a 24-hour marathon “celebration of queer literature,” that includes a Drag Queen Story Hour; a banned book-inspired open mic and variety show with Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence; an overnight reading of banned books with a “nightclub vibe” (DJs included); and a bright-and-early morning packing party to send banned books to red states where they aren’t readily available. That last action is part of Fabulosa’s fabulous ongoing Books Not Bans program that launched earlier this year.
“We started Books Not Bans back in March or so, because we’d heard from so many customers coming in from around the country about how difficult it was to find books where they lived that were LGBT specific,” Becka told me over email. “Frustrated by the spate of book bans and the right wing’s relentless cruelty and hateful rhetoric, we wanted to send support to the queer community in other parts of America in the way that we are best qualified to: by sending our favorite LGBTQ books.
“We send boxes of 20 popular queer books, a mixture of classics and newer titles, to LGBTQ organizations in conservative areas. We’ve sent 15 boxes so far, to queer groups in Tulsa, Cheyenne, Montgomery, Birmingham, and others. We always reach out to find out what folks want, and to ensure that they have a way to distribute the books to folks who need them.”
Read for Filth naturally grew out of Books not Bans as National Banned Book Week (October 1-7) approached. “We wanted to host an affirming event that celebrates the stories that set us all free and bring us together,” Becka said. “There’s a tremendously fabulous lineup of performers and activities. We have drag story hour, puppet story hour, zinemaking, and DJs. We have readings by local authors including Charlie Jane Anders, Julian Delgado Lopera, Yeva Johnson, and Miah Jeffra.
“We also have plans to read through an entire book in the store, aloud, overnight. The book All Boys Aren’t Blue is one of the most banned books in America, and we aim to amplify it and celebrate it for its powerful messages about growing up Black and gay.”
“I grew up in Los Angeles in the ’80s and ’90s,” Becka said. “It’s a very liberal place and book banning, per se, was not done. However, I remember learning about the tremendous erasure of gay culture as a young queer person while the AIDS crisis was in full swing, and having no access to resources. It was quite a long time before it was easy to find queer books. I also grew up around a great deal of Holocaust survivors, and the importance of having easy access to ideas and culture was imprinted on me deeply from a young age.”
Becka’s own favorite banned books? “So many of my favorite books are banned! Fun Home by Alison Bechtel, Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut, and Beloved by Toni Morrison, just to name three.”
While Read for Filth may not set the United States free of its looming fascist nightmare, Becka hopes it makes a difference in some small way. “We are proud to be a bookstore that centers the full breadth of the LGBTQ community, and we work hard towards ensuring that everyone who comes into our store is able to find their story on our shelves. We are constantly working to expand our offerings to be as joyfully inclusive as we can in order to reflect the world we wish to see,” she said.
“We know from our customers that for LGBT folks in many parts of America, daily life is difficult and often unsafe. We hear stories about high school students unable to use the restroom at school, and about queer kids feeling terribly isolated. The book bans are driven by a desire to suppress ideas that set us free and encourage love, empathy, and acceptance. We are doing what we can, as a tiny little bookstore, to counter the anger and fear with a day of affirming joy and connection.
“These stories save lives, and open us to joy, and are deserving of their own celebration. I believe that by sending these books with our Books Not Bans program, we are making a direct and meaningful impact on the lives of many people who are not able to easily access positive queer representation.”
READ FOR FILTH Sat/7, 10am-Sun/8, 10am, Fabulosa Books, SF, donations requested. More info here.