We Should All Read Up On Queer History Month Beyond 2SLGBTQIA+ Fiction

Graphic by Erin Sass

This October is Queer History Month, which is the perfect opportunity to improve your knowledge about queer issues. Queer History Month was started by a teacher in Missouri in 1994 as a response to the lack of queer education in high school. The month “aims at raising awareness, advancing and increasing the visibility of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.” This is McGill’s third year celebrating this month, and throughout October, there have been many events that highlight 2SLGBTQIA+ perspectives and queer history. While queer history is something that should be celebrated and studied all year around, this month is the perfect opportunity to start to evaluate your awareness of the subject, recognize the gaps in your knowledge, and attempt to educate yourself further.

One of the ways that I attempted to increase my knowledge of queer history this month was by attending a virtual book event hosted by the Ottawa Public Library. The event was focused on  Justin’s Ling’s new book: Missing from the Village: The Story of Serial Killer Bruce McArthur, the Search for Justice, and the System That Failed Toronto’s Queer Community. The book describes eight men’s seemingly unconnected disappearances from Toronto’s Gay Village in 2010 to 2017. In 2013, the Toronto police theorized that their disappearances may be linked, but the investigation was quickly shut down due to a lack of leads. 

In 2015, Justin Ling, an investigative journalist, began to look into the case himself as the police continued to deny that there was any threat. He was convinced that these disappearances were the work of a serial killer as men continued to disappear. Finally, in 2018, Bruce McArthur was arrested and convicted for the murder of the eight men. Missing From The Village tells the story of these victims, explaining how the queer community responded, and the rampant racism and homophobia that allowed this case to go unsolved for so long.

Ling highlighted how the intersection of race and sexuality made it all the more difficult to convince law enforcement that the case was worth investigating.

While I had cursory knowledge about the Bruce McArthur murders beforehand, I became a lot more knowledgeable after this hour-long event. Justin Ling presented the crucial facts of his investigation, and he also discussed many of Canada’s systemic injustices in a succinct and captivating manner. Given that the majority of Bruce McArthur’s victims were racialized, Ling highlighted how the intersection of race and sexuality made it all the more difficult to convince law enforcement that the case was worth investigating He also talked about how Canada has created a police and justice system that makes finding missing people from vulnerable communities extremely difficult. The event provided excellent background information, which I hope will be useful once I purchase this book. As the event drew to a close, I began to think about how little non-fiction I’ve read on the subject of queer history. I’ve read articles and scholarly journals on the subject, but when it comes to books about 2SLGBTQIA+ stories and perspectives, my readings veer exclusively towards fictional narratives. 

As someone who is studying to be an English teacher, I value the power that literature has to enact change and educate people on disregarded subjects.

After attending the book launch for Missing From The Village, I have decided I want to learn more about queer history and theory. Staying in my literary comfort zone of young adult fiction might be easier, but I know it’s not going to benefit my journey of self-education. As someone who is studying to be an English teacher, I value the power that literature has to enact change and educate people on disregarded subjects. There have been so many novels that have been formative to my own understanding of 2SLGBTQIA+ perspectives. I am still reeling from Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not , which takes the concept of conversion therapy and transposes  it to a futuristic setting where a procedure has been invented that allows people to erase parts of their life. Silvera’s novel also addresses the homophobia that is present in the Latinx community. Another novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, depicts the difficulties of being a queer Latina in Hollywood. The author has a lyrical writing style that I continue to think about daily. Camryn’s Garett’s modern classic Full Disclosure is another queer book that depicts the difficulties of being a bisexual, Black, HIV-positive teen. And, if that wasn’t enough material for your reading list, Aiden Thomas’s paranormal novel Cemetery Boys masterfully depicts queer and trans identities and the way these two are treated in Latin communities.

Oftentimes people want to learn in an easy and comfortable manner, but a lot of these issues are not easy or comfortable.

These works may be fictional, but they all highlight various aspects of  2SLGBTQIA+ experiences and emphasize queer visibilty. Justin Ling pointed out that so often queer people are reduced to tragedy, but I think that fiction is an excellent way to show that there is more to 2SLGBTQIA+ people than their trauma. Yet, at the end of the day, while these books do shed light onto  2SLGBTQIA+ experiences, their main purpose is to entertain, and a thorough education cannot be achieved through entertainment alone. There are some issues that cannot be simplified or reduced to a side-plot. The issues faced by fictional characters in 2SLGBTQIA+ fiction still deserve awareness and attention, sure, but they are not an adequate substitute for learning about real history. Oftentimes people want to learn in an easy and comfortable manner, but a lot of these issues are not easy or comfortable. Discomfort is a key component to the process of self-education. 

The world of queer history is truly at our fingertips, and the internet allows us to access a wide range of perspectives from the comfort of our own home.

This is something that is certainly not limited to literature. In fact, it is applicable to all forms of media. If we want to truly educate ourselves on a subject, we need to consume works beyond those that merely scratch the surface of the issue. It is not enough to read one Instagram slideshow and use its simplistic interpretation of a topic as the basis for your knowledge. Self-education is an ongoing, imperfect process, which involves many errors and bumps along the way. However, the crucial part is continuously trying to become more knowledgeable. This can be done in so many ways, from reading books to listening to podcasts to watching documentaries, or, in our increasingly digital times, to attending virtual events like Ling’s. The world of queer history is truly at our fingertips, and the internet allows us to access a wide range of perspectives from the comfort of our own home. This month serves as the perfect opportunity to start your journey of self-education about queer history, but it should also be the begining of a whole lifetime of newfound knowledge.

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