By Lewis Gagnon
For the past few years, interest in LGBTQ+ literature has grown world-wide. This has also been true in Quebec. From American contemporary fiction writers like Adam Silvera to Quebec authors like Samuel Champagne, LGBTQ+ literature has carved out a niche for itself, attracting gay and straight readers alike.
On June 15th, 2022, Reflet de Société held a Round Table on LGBTQ+ literature. Three panelists were invited to participate.
Trans writer Samuel Champagne specializes in youth fiction. His stories are out of the ordinary, and he explores what makes us all unique as human beings. He studied LGBTQ+ for 7 years at the Université de Laval, ficusing on stories in which a character enters the closet, because everyone who comes out of the closet has to go in there in the first place.
Delphine Sifa Kamizire is a social worker involved with the literature project at Jeunesse IDEM in Gatineau. They aim to improve the quality of life for young gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual people between the ages of 14 and 25. Jeunesse IDEM also has a goal of raising awareness of the realities of sexual orientation and diversity in the Outaouais region. She is especially concerned with how the COVID crisis has affected young people who have been shut in and unable to explore their diversity. Closed up all the time with parents who may have problem reactions to their child’s diversity, these teens and young adults may no longer have a safe space for themselves.
Denis-Martin Chabot is an author, journalist, actor and director of Fierté Littéraire, an organization whose mission is to celebrate “queer” literature. Specializing in adult literature, he has written six novels and has won numerous prizes along the way. In the summer of 2022 he, Fierté Littéraire and Fierté Montréal collaborated to create a contest to find new writers in the community. The grand prize winner will receive a writer’s contract with the publishing house Éditions TNT.
In the Rainbow Pages
To kick off the round table, we asked our panelists to share their LGBTQ+ literature experiences, and how these experiences changed their lives. Samuel started off by telling us: “After 15 years of studying or writing LGBT literature, I discovered myself, and I also found a lot of holes in that literature.” At first he found that there wasn’t a lot of diversity in Quebec teen literature in general. He found only his name in that niche. But as time has gone on, he’s seen new authors crop up. For him, LGBTQ+ literature is all about learning about the human experience, understanding the varied identities of the genre, and helping young people identify who they are.
Denis-Martin, 60, found it much harder to get his hands on LGBTQ+ literature when he was young. Aside from the Gai savoir novels of Michel Tremblay, no one was really writing on the subject at the time. Denis-Martin wrote because he wanted to read stories he was interested in, and recognize himself in the pages of such stories. He never likes pigeonholing his own novels as “gay.” Rather, they are stories that are as interesting as those with heterosexual characters that he reads. For him, writing is a sort of coming out, not simply in terms of orientation but in terms of who you are and what you feel. As the old saying goes, “you write for yourself you publish for others.”
For her part, for the past year Delphine has read a lot of LGBTQ+ literature for her work. Since she counsels LGBTQ+ youths every day, it’s a way for her to not give out bad information. She works with her young clientele to create an educational milieu for them, so they can learn the different identities that exist in the community. She also recognizes how these authors transmit their messages forcefully. “Whether or not it’s fiction, our imagination is always fed by something, by the stories we hear around us. We can dramatize or minimize the facts, but it comes from somewhere.” The fact that we can now read openly about these subjects gives her hope for future generations.
For Delphine, it’s important that LGBTQ+ literature be available to readers of all ages. From age 4 to 5 onward, readers are capable of understanding that there are homosexual couples, without bringing up sexuality. Showing children that such couples exist will lead them to ask their own questions without it being awkward for everyone involved.
As part of her job she has contacted libraries and teachers to propose LGBTQ+ works they can carry. And her recommendations are often adopted. By bringing books directly to teachers, they can use them in the classroom to teach about identity in a way in which parents won’t accuse teachers of teaching their children to be gay, whereas Jeunesse IDEM usually focusses on sexuality.
Denis-Martin complains that traditional media doesn’t give a lot of space to literature. He referred to the Radio-Canada radio program Plus on est de fous, plus on lit! but he denounced the fact that the guests come from the same small clique. And LGBTQ+ literature gets very little if any space indeed on traditional media.
Samuel was bowled over when he went to a book festival and discovered that the best-selling book there was a cookbook. He has seen the power that literature about taboo subjects can have on someone’s life, yet despairs that this sort of literature is vastly under-promoted. Literature is a safe way to walk in the shoes of someone else and better understand their entourage and help someone they love, he argues.
Samuel also pointed to the lack of diversity in many forms of literature. He pointed to the tiny number of racial minorities and disabled characters in science fiction and cartoon books. We often see gay white men, but minorities rarely rise to the status of main character. He is mulling over writing just such a book but has not yet put pen to paper on that one.
Samuel says that the mental health issues of people we read about in LGBTQ+ literature are real problems faced by people in real life. You can write a totally fictitious work and it will apply to some young person in your reading audience. There are very few teen books in which the main character lives easily with their identity as a basis of the main plot, which Samuel says is too bad. To see this you have to go to adult fiction, because adolescence is a time for adaptation and self-comprehension.
Samuel talked about book fairs, the salons du livre, which have had a very positive effect on his life. He’s been able to follow the progress of people who have come back to the same book fairs year after year. He asks them about their questioning and their progress between parents and children. Sometimes they even come back with a chum. He finds this very rewarding. It fuels his desire to write.
To watch this Round Table, including the book recommendations our panelists made at the end of the session, please click below.