I’m a reader who loves to read backlist books every once in awhile. Admittedly, now that I blog I don’t do it as often as I used to, but it’s still something I thoroughly enjoy. However, there are some issues that may come up with reading older books. I’ve talked before about how reading books that are a few decades old may lead you to feel that these books are unoriginal even though they are the original that inspired a proliferation of the genre. Something that I recently have been thinking about are the issues with reading backlist books that talk about issues within the LGBTQIAP community.
To be clear, some of the problems with reading backlist books talking about LGBTQIAP issues are pretty general problems that could apply to a lot of different types of backlist books. One of these issues is the relevancy of the topics explored. Something like discussing the need for marriage equality may not be as relevant now as it was a decade ago, at least in the US (although with the current uncertain political climate, it may be more relevant than I’d like it to be). Attitudes towards the LGBTQIAP community have changed a lot in recent years and while there is certainly a lot of progress to be made, some of the issues around unacceptability of being a member of the community may not resonate quite as much with a modern audience. Again, this is something that can be a problem with a lot of backlist titles, but is definitely relevant with regard to LGBTQIAP issues.
Another problem that may arise when reading these backlist titles is that terminology has changed a lot within the community and therefore books from even just a few years ago may now contain terms or labels that are now considered very offensive. I think this is particularly true for the transgender and intersex communities. Terms that used to be the preferred labels used by these groups are now considered slurs and should never be used in a modern context. However, in an older book, these may have been the preferred terms and therefore may be used consistently throughout a book. This may be upsetting or distressing for a modern audience who only sees the negative connotations of, rather than the former identification with, these terms.
Similarly, there are some labels that have only very recently become commonplace. Terms like demisexual or pansexual are still unfamiliar to a lot of people now but would have been even more so in the past. And while it may feel impossible to find representation for these identities in current books, the task is even more insurmountable when looking at backlist titles. For people seeking out these stories trying to find themselves represented or to help them figure out their sexuality, this may be discouraging.
While I certainly don’t want to discourage people from reading older books and potentially discovering a book that’s life-changing or a new favorite, there are some things to be aware of about backlist titles exploring LGBTQIAP identities. They may be upsetting to readers or even offensive and I’d be especially aware of this if you’re looking to recommend books for people looking to see themselves represented in these stories. These books are still important to read, but it might a good idea to do so with caution.