Brief Endgame Reflections

Note: Endgame spoilers ahead! Do not read if you don’t want to know!

As a guy on the low side of 5’3’’ who regularly loses arm wrestling competitions, I didn’t expect to relate to Thor as much as I did in Avengers: Endgame. I’d always been more of a Loki fan. His struggle to belong as a half-frost giant resonated with how I’d felt as a young LGBT Mormon.

But while Thor’s storyline was mostly played for laughs in Endgame, I felt like I understood him in some ways. When I graduated from college, I left university with some unresolved struggles with anxiety and depression. I didn’t have a job lined up right away like some of my friends, I lived with my parents for a few months while job searching, and I struggled to deal with some of my inner demons. If someone were to ask me about my worthiness as a person, I don’t know whether I would have laughed or cried.

So on one hand, it was pretty hilarious that the God of Thunder spent five years after Infinity War playing Fortnite and eating pizza. But behind the humor, I actually thought it was an honest depiction of mental health struggles. Depression can transform people into shells of who they used to be and make them feel like they’ll never find joy in life again. It can make you too miserable to leave the house for days at a time. It can make you wracked with guilt until your self-esteem is absolutely annihilated.

There were a few solid weeks in August where I couldn’t bring myself to get off of the couch. Video games and reading helped me take my mind off things, but it didn’t stop the constant anxious thoughts from coming. I didn’t drink beer kegs like Thor, but I definitely emptied enough Diet Dr. Pepper cans to fill a room.

When I was a freshman in high school, the first Avengers film inspired me. It made me feel like even if you don’t feel like you belong in the world, you can find people who understand you and make the world a better place. For that reason, I actually teared up a little when Thor’s hammer Mjolnir returns to him and, astonished, he yells out, “I’m still worthy!”

Because I know what it’s like to think you’ve lost your inner goodness. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. And even though I laughed at plenty of the movie’s comedic scenes, I meant it with every part of myself when I cheered for Thor.

These days, I’m in a much better place. I have a job and co-workers that make me feel fulfilled. I’ve got a place (and a puppy) of my own. And while I have low days every once in a while, my life is full of joy.

For those who struggle with depression and feel like they’re unworthy of love or happiness in life, I want you to know that you’re a better person than you think and that you owe it to yourself to get help . Whether that’s telling someone, going to counseling, or taking steps to improve your mental health one day at a time, don’t hesitate to seek out treatment because you “don’t need or deserve” it. There’s nothing you can do that can take away your inherent worthiness of love and support.

YA Review: Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith

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TitleSomething Like Gravity by Amber Smith

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary:  Chris and Maia meet after a car accident, so it makes sense that their relationship begins with a rocky start. But as Maia grieves her late sister and Chris deals with a traumatic assault from the year before, the healing process brings them together.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Chris is a trans man who falls in love with a straight, cisgender woman. While many books about trans characters focus on the coming out process, Chris is portrayed as comfortable in his own skin and already taking steps toward the transitioning process.

As far as content warnings go, Chris spends part of the novel processing an assault that happened a year prior to the novel. It is in the past, but the emotions that Chris feels towards the attack can be intense at times. If you think this could be triggering for you to read, I’d recommend checking out a few more reviews before reading it.

What I liked: Finally, a FTM main character that doesn’t spend the whole novel ruminating about their self-hatred! I feel like that’s a theme especially in AFAB (assigned female at birth) trans YA novels and have no idea why. It’s definitely not healthy for cis or trans readers. Chris was a lot more comfortable with himself. I think that’s important to portray and gives a lot more nuance to the typical stories written about trans characters.

Also, I liked that Chris’s entire story didn’t revolve around him being trans. It is a huge part of his identity, but he’s also interested in getting to know Maia and helping her come to terms with the loss of her sister. Sometimes, a trans character’s gender identity overpowers YA books to the point where there’s no other plot points or characterization. This book does explore how many trans people feel and what it’s like to be attacked for choosing authenticity. This book is not an easy read because Chris and Maia are both going through hard things, but their relationship gives them a person to talk and empathize with as they go through the healing process.

Recommended: I think that this could be an especially helpful book for teens who aren’t as familiar with the trans community who want to understand and have more compassion for them. For trans teens, I might recommend an #OwnVoices YA book for a more authentic depiction but overall, it’s sweet and humanizes both the grieving process and what it’s like to be transgender.

Note: I received an ARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

Life Update: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Guided Meditations

Hey friends! Now that it’s March, I thought it would be a good time to do another personal post. Overall, things have been pretty alright! Work is busy but fulfilling, I’ve enjoyed co-authoring the LGBT mental health column at HealthyPlace, and my dog Yoda’s been smiling a lot more on her walks now that the weather’s a little brighter.

But at the same time, my anxiety’s been flaring up a bit and making life less enjoyable than usual. As a result, I’ve been devoting the past few weeks to doing a deep dive on both relieving anxiety and how to cultivate a happy, fulfilling life. Here are a few habits I’ve been trying to pick up from my research in an attempt to replace stress with contentedness:

  • Meditation. So far, this has somehow been one of the most successful calming techniques. Right now, I’m doing five to ten minute recordings but am trying to work my way up to thirty minutes.
  • Exercising more often–taking care of Yoda has helped because I need to take her on a walk every day. Otherwise, I’ve been trying to get into running and strength training lately.
  • Cutting out caffeine. In theory. I have noticed that when I drink less caffeine, I’m less jittery but have yet to go cold turkey for more than a day.
  • Volunteering and trying to focus more on others. Right now I’ve been writing messages for Letters Against Depression, which is a non-profit that sends letters of hope to people battling with mental illnesses. If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity you can do from home or could use a little support for whatever you’re going through, I’d totally recommend checking out their website.
  • Connecting more with others. Most of the books and articles I’ve read on happiness center around cultivating meaningful relationships. Since I’m pretty shy and just moved to a new city, this has been tough lately but I’ve been trying to get to know my co-workers a little more and hang around writing/book events

So far, things seem like they’re doing better. I’ve been feeling a little more at peace when I get home from work and have been getting more done now that my anxiety’s manageable again. And on the evenings where things feel stressful, there’s always melatonin.

Other than that, here’s a few other things going on:

  • Finally got around to watching Yuri On Ice and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. Oh, man. If any of you guys ever want to talk about Yuri On Ice, I know I’m like… two years late to the party but guys it’s so wholesome
  • Signed up for my first writing organization–the League of Utah Writers! So far it seems really cool and a good way to meet other local writers
  • Found out that BYU’s doing a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and I am so pumped to see it on Friday! I’ve been waiting to see it performed live literally since I was fifteen and am like counting down the hours. Plus, apparently the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s doing Hamlet this year so overall 2019’s shaping up to be an amazing time
  • My essay “A Whole String of Failures,” which explores Vincent van Gogh’s struggle to find pain in beauty along with some personal experiences, is going to be published in issue two of name and none (a trans and non-binary literary magazine)! Van Gogh is one of my lifelong heroes, and I’m honored to have an essay about him published so close to his 166th birthday on the 30th.
  • Have been reading–some of my favorites this month have been The Little Book of Lykke, The Adventure Zone graphic novel, and Howl’s Moving Castle

What about you? How has your month been and, when things get stressful, what do you find helps? And have you read any good books lately?

YA Review: Love & Other Curses

TitleLove and Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Sam Weyward has purposefully never fallen in love due to a family curse that proclaims anyone he loves before his seventeenth birthday will die. But with only a few weeks left, will he make it through one last summer crush without falling dangerously head-over-heels?

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book! Features an unrequited crush! Between a gay cis man and a straight trans man! Can you tell how excited I am for this?? Even though it’s not quite romance, it’s still important representation. I’m still waiting for the day the YA romance between a cis and trans guy will come out like my teenage self always wanted but baby steps. Love & Other Curses also discusses drag culture and the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation (i.e. being transgender vs gay).

What I loved: This is something I mentioned earlier, but I appreciated the trans representation in this book! AFAB guys especially don’t get much attention in gay romance books. I can think of a lot of YA fiction I’ve read where the trans guy expresses unrequited love but never one where he (or any other trans character, for that matter) is on the receiving end of it. It might not seem like much and maybe I’m just over-analyzing things, but this felt like a big step towards normalizing attraction between cis and trans characters.

And while Sam experiments with crossdressing and dives deep into the drag scene, he does so while remaining respectful of trans characters and noting a difference between the two– all simple but important things that really drive the novel’s nuance in portraying queer culture.

The writing style of Love & Other Curses also felt natural and conversational, like reading someone’s journal entry recollecting a summer crush that they’re still reeling from. Plus, the heavy musical themes almost give this book a built-in soundtrack, which was both fun and gave it a strong sense of presence.

Quote: “I’m pretty sure I’m the only guy in my school who can replace a faulty kick-down switch and also create the perfect smoky eye.”

Recommended: Out of all the new YA books releasing next year, should you read Love & Other Curses? Well, let me ask you the following questions:

  • Do you like your queer romance novels with unexpected twists and unrequited love and/or sudden death?
  • Are you excited about the aesthetic of family curses, drag nights at local LGBTQ bars, and mischievous magic?
  • Do you regularly say the phrase, “I wish YA authors were writing trans characters with more complexity”?

If the answer to any or all of the above is a resounding “yes,” this might just be one of your most anticipated YA books for 2019!

Note: I was provided an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

Queer YA Book Review: Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

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TitleParrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Rating: 3/5

Two-sentence summary: When Grady comes out as transgender, the backlash from his friends, family, and school overwhelms him. But as he meets friends (and maybe a first love) who see him as he is, he finds the strength to fight for acceptance.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book’s main character is a straight, teenage trans man. While he begins the story using a female name and pronouns, Parrotfish follows him as he accepts his identity and begins transitioning at the start of his junior year. It also features discussion of sexual orientation versus gender identity.

Review: Fun fact: this was the first book I ever read about a trans person, back when I was thirteen years old in 2011. I didn’t recognize that I was transgender until a few years later, but I remember reading about Grady’s experience and thinking to myself, “I’m just like this person. I wish I was a boy, too.” It was a key book for me in recognizing feelings I had about my gender and because of that, it holds a special place in my heart. Plus, it’s just a cute book in general with a loveable, courageous protagonist.

One critique, however, is that this book phrases Grady’s identity more as a “girl who wants to be a boy” than a trans man. That’s part of the reason, I think, I didn’t realize I was trans then. I remembered it more about a girl who felt like a boy than a boy born in the wrong body. It was not likely the author’s intention, but I think portraying trans people like that could spread misinformation about what gender identity means. Wittlinger also refers to Grady as “transgendered,” which is a dated and, depending on the trans person, sometimes offensive term (though it may not have been as outdated when the book as written).

Grady also engages in some unsafe transitioning practices—particularly using Ace bandages to bind his chest, which can cause bruised or cracked ribs and long-term breathing issues. The safe way to bind is using a chest binder or kinesiology tape, either of which would have been better options to portray when writing for teens. I understand why the author wrote this, as this was published eleven years ago when binders weren’t as common and even then, lots of trans people who can’t afford them still use Ace bandages. That being said, I think if a young trans guy read this, it could give him harmful ideas about binding. Maybe not the biggest complaint for a story, but something I felt concerned about since it’s a YA novel.

That being said, Parrotfish is also heartwarming and spreads a message of unconditional love and acceptance, which is groundbreaking considering its older publication date. It was written in a time when very little about trans acceptance was talked about in the media or mainstream queer community, let alone YA fiction. It probably helped a lot of young trans teens, myself included, come to terms with their identity and feel less different or alone. Overall, a sweet and uplifting story written when trans identities were seen differently than they are now.

Quote: “You can only lie about who you are for so long without going crazy.”

Recommended: This is one of the oldest trans YA books (2007) that I’ve been able to find, and the oldest in general about a trans man. It tells a compelling story and has a positive message for both trans teens and those unfamiliar with the trans community. But because of the way trans identities are portrayed and some unsafe transitioning practices, I feel like this is a good introductory book for people just learning about the trans community but not the ideal first book for trans teens.

LGBTQ YA Review: Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black

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Title: Devil and the Bluebird

Author: Jennifer Mason-Black

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: After losing her mother to cancer, Blue Riley makes a deal with the devil to find her runaway sister Cass. With the help of her mother’s guitar and a pair of boots that lead her to her heart’s longing, she embarks on a journey with both temptation and hope waiting on every corner.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book featured several prominent queer characters. What I loved about it was how seamlessly the author weaved their LGBTQ identities into the story without making it a major plot point. Being queer affected, of course, who they were as characters and how they acted, but it didn’t consume their identities. Without spoiling anything by mentioning the character’s name, I especially enjoyed the depiction of a gay trans character, maybe because trans characters are generally portrayed as straight in queer YA and I like that we’re seeing some diverse identities within the genre. And, of course, as a queer trans guy, it felt validating to see an identity like mine portrayed in a book—everyone deserves to feel that.

What I loved: For whatever reason, one of my favorite Halloween songs when I was a kid was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, possibly because it had two good things: a spooky and compelling story and a good rhythm. Devil and the Bluebird mirrors the Southern Gothic feel of that song, with the rhythm coming in the beautifully-crafted imagery. In some ways, this novel captures the essence of a folk song. Its core story of a girl named Blue betting her soul against the devil for her sister may be fantastical, but the emotions and characters feel so real that it’s devastating at times. Even minor characters are described so well that they click perfectly with the plot and make the entire novel feel purposeful in every word it uses.

Quote: “Remember that the devil is the one who tells you to play a tune that’s not your own, and you can drive him right on out into the cold by playing what’s in your soul.”

Recommended: It’s getting close to Halloween, and if you’re looking for queer YA with a fairly spooky plot, this book is for you. And if you’re looking for an artfully-written novel with diverse, lifelike characters and a bittersweet story, you’ll find that here, too.

Twitter, Job Searching, and Other Mini Life Updates

Hello, friends! When I posted that The Inexplicable Logic of My Life review yesterday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t posted a personal update in a while. So much has changed since graduating college in August that I think writing everything would devolve into a mess of rambles and exclamation points, so here are a few things going on right now in a neat bullet list form:

  • I got a Twitter—this time for real! It’s @andyjwinder, if you’re interested. Twitter is something I tried a few times in the past but I’ve heard it’s great for networking in the YA publishing world and memes, so I’m giving it another go. I’m still trying to get the hang of it but would love to connect with more awesome, literary (or meme-y) people!
  • All of the time I used to spend studying is now devoted to applying and interviewing for jobs. I never thought I’d find something more exciting and anxiety-provoking than walking to the testing center during finals week, but here we are. I just keep telling myself “this is why I got my bachelor in English, this is what I’ve been training for, it’ll be alright” and so on. And then I cry a little, just on the inside. But so far, so good and I’m feeling pretty optimistic!
  • During my last semester of college, I took a break from long-term creative writing projects to finish my senior thesis but am getting back into the swing of things and working on a new novel draft! It’s still very rough but it’s YA and features (among other things) baking competitions, a character named Rose who is a lot less delicate than her namesake, and a nice queer romance. Going for that “wholesome and uplifting” feel to counterbalance all the sad (but still beautiful) queer YA out there.
  • Last year at Pride, I wanted more than anything to have someone to share my life with and wondered if I was broken because I’d never had a partner or even a first kiss before. And this past week, I got to attend Provo Pride with my boyfriend. It’s funny how different life can become in a year. I feel lucky to know and spend time with someone as silly, thoughtful, and sweet as he is and happy that we found each other.
  • And, best for last, I finally found the music that really sparks my drive while writing fiction, and it’s folk music. On a related note, I have been listening to way too much Hozier lately.

That’s a little bit about what my life’s looking at right now. Hectic, sometimes a little less clear-cut than my life in university used to be, but overall bright!