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.

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: Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve

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TitleOut of Salem by Hal Schrieve

Rating: 3/5

Two-sentence summary: Genderqueer witch Z feels like a loner thanks to their new status as a zombie. After teaming up with unregistered werewolf Aysel, the two team up to combat the hostility against them in their town of Salem, Oregon.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues:  Out of Salem features a genderqueer protagonist named Z who deals with misgendering and dead-naming (which is kind of clever, considering that they’re a zombie). Z seems to use this term interchangeably with non-binary and use they/them pronouns. This book also includes a Muslim lesbian werewolf main character, and the interplay between these identities made the book a lot richer than some speculative fiction stories.

What I liked: I thought that the social commentary about LGBT discrimination via how these “monsters” are treated was a pretty unique concept. The queer representation was also very complex and well-written, especially the relationship between Z and Aysel. While there aren’t any major romances in this book, the friendship between this two is so authentic and uplifting for each other. Watching them learn to respect and genuinely care for each other through shared hardships is one of the best parts of Out of Salem. It makes the book feel so real for a story about zombies and werewolves.

The one complaint I had was that the writing felt a bit stiff, and that made it hard for me to engage with the story as much as I wanted to. It was an innovative idea, but it didn’t always translate over well into words (in my opinion). But that being said, this seems to be the author’s debut novel and even without that taken into consideration, it was still an enjoyable read.

Recommended: This was a pretty new concept for queer YA, especially within non-binary representation. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a spooky, gay read. Perfect book to get your Halloween fix any time of the year!

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

YA Review: Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

TitleHonestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: This sequel to Openly Straight follows Ben Carver during what should be the best year of his life: he’s captain of the baseball team, he won a prestegious scholarship, and he cut things off with his maybe-crush Rafe. But when his rekindled feelings for Rafe interfere with his straight identity, he must confront what it means to be authentic.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book features a protagonist who identifies as straight but falls in love with a gay cis man (Rafe). He feels that he’s physically attracted to women with Rafe being the only exception. It’s unclear whether Rafe really is the only exception or whether he’s in the process of understanding his sexual orientation.

Honestly Ben also has a side character who comes out as genderfluid and another character who’s implied to be asexual.

What I loved: Throughout the book, Ben explores what masculinity is and what it means to be a man. The crux of his internal conflict comes through his attraction to Rafe, but he also feels pressure from his position as the baseball team captain and the son of a conservative farmer. I liked how Ben’s ideology of what a man is shifts in a way that’s gradual but also helps him incorporate masculinity in a healthier way that seems natural for his character. And I thought it was important to note how ben calls out others who express toxic masculinity as Ben’s definition of manhood changes.

Also, the side plot about Ben and Rafe’s friend who comes out as genderfluid was an unexpected but also beautiful development! I almost wished that Bill Konigsberg had written an entire companion novel about them just because they seemed like such an interesting character. In general, it seems like so many more YA books feature genderfluid and non-binary characters and I love seeing greater diversity in queer representation.

Quote: “Anyway, my whole thing is, whatever path I’m on, I’m on. I’m not going to avoid it because it’s harder for the world, or even harder for me. I’m like, I gotta be me, you know?”

Recommended: I thought this was a sweet and wholesome follow-up to Openly Straight. To be honest, I actually enjoyed Honestly Ben a little more. But I would recommend that you read Openly Straight first because understanding the relationship between Ben and Rafe is important context for the sequel.

YA Review: Some Girls Bind by Rory James

TitleSome Girls Bind by Rory James

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Jamie Henderson has a secret: they feel out-of-place in their body and bind their chest to relieve dysphoria. Told in a free verse style, this book follows Jamie during the year that they come out as genderqueer.

Portrayal of LGBT issues: Some Girls Bind features a protagonist who explores self-acceptance and how to come out as non-binary throughout the course of the novel. While some groups make a distinction, the author doesn’t specifically define non-binary vs genderqueer and uses both terms interchangeably. The book does make a distinction between gender non-conforming vs non-binary identity, which I feel is helpful for both trans and cisgender readers.

Although the book’s synopsis uses “she/her” for Jamie, they also discover gender-neutral pronouns as a way to reduce dysphoria. Beyond non-binary identities, this story features a subplot about a gay student who’s rejected by his community after he comes out.

What I loved: I’m a bit of a sucker for YA books in verse and am always happy to read LGBTQ poetry. The writing style works well and allows Jamie to reveal their thoughts and feelings in an authentic and often beautiful way. Some Girls Bind features a lot of difficult subjects; even beyond queer topics, it also discusses child abuse, alcoholism, and marginalized characters living in a conservative and homogenous community. And it does so in a concise, yet thought-provoking way that keeps the story overall hopeful.

One of my favorite subplots in the book was when Jamie comes out to their brother Steve. As Jamie prepares to come out and live authentically as themself, Steve helps them find the resources and binding materials they need while supporting them all the way. In so many books about transgender characters, they don’t have someone they can lean on in their family. I thought it was both well-written and powerful to give Jamie one person who may not fully understand their gender experience but tries to and loves them unconditionally.

I’m not a big fan of the title, though, since it seems pretty binary for a book about a genderqueer person. But that’s pretty nit-picky and still fits with Jamie’s changing sense of gender identity throughout the book.

While this doesn’t necessarily relate to the queer community, I think it’s important to note that this is a hi-lo novel. Hi-lo refers to books written in a simpler style than most YA but still explores challenging topics. The purpose of hi-lo is to bridge the gap between juvenile fiction and YA fiction written at a high reading level for reluctant readers. If you’re a student who struggles with reading or know someone who is, this could introduce LGBTQ themes in an accessible writing style.

Quote: “When I look in the mirror, / I don’t see a girl and / I don’t see a boy. I just see / my goofy glasses and Beatles-like hair.”

Recommended: This book’s style reminded me a lot of Ellen Hopkins, another YA writer who explores challenging topics in free verse books. If you’re a fan of her books or hi-lo LGBTQ YA, Some Girls Bind could be a good book recommendation.

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

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 Review: Quiver by Julia Watts

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TitleQuiver by Julia Watts

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Libby, a teenager in rural Tennessee, is raised in a conservative Christian sect that views people as quivers in “God’s righteous army” and women as strictly homemakers. When she befriends a genderfluid teen named Zo, she struggles to reconcile her beliefs with her friend’s lifestyle and freedom.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This story features a genderfluid character named Zo who has two loving, pro-LGBTQ parents in a conservative, rural town. Quiver also discusses their sexual orientation and conflict between belonging in the lesbian community while feeling like something other than a cis woman. One of the secondary characters is also a POC trans girl.

What I loved: Quiver is told with a dual narrative between Libby and Zo, two teenagers who grow up in nearly opposite living environments. In this way, Quiver sends an overall message of compassion and understanding one’s upbringing, even if it’s not the same as your own. At times, I did feel like it leaned a little more sympathetic to Zo’s story than Libby’s and painted Christianity in a somewhat stereotypical light. But it also reflected the mindset of a lot of conservative religious groups and the difficulty groups on polarized social beliefs can have with befriending each other.

It feels like this book could be useful to help teens who grew up in strongly right- or left-leaning households understand people who don’t think in ways they’re used to. By having a narrator they can relate to and another with a possibly unfamiliar voice, it could expose them to other ways of thinking without pushing them far out of their comfort zone. Both Libby and Zo are incredibly sympathetic characters who help bridge anger and misconceptions their families have of each other, and I think that’s a beautiful message to send in such a politically fiery climate.

The only issue I had with this one is that I felt the writing style was a little stilted. Libby and Zo’s voices also weren’t as distinct as they could have been, so sometimes I’d forget that the chapter had changed and gotten confused about the narration. Because of that, I had a hard time really immersing myself in the story like I wanted to. But the concept itself is fascinating enough that becomes a compelling read, regardless.

Quote: “Sometimes I don’t even feel like I have a gender—that the body that contains my personality is no more significant than the jar that holds the peanut butter.”

Recommended: Quiver is one of those LGBTQ YA books that humanizes both left-wing and conservative right viewpoints in the idea that most people are just trying to do the right thing. If you want to cultivate empathy for a perspective different from your own, this could be a powerful read.

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