Organizing My Bookshelf Helped Me Learn to Love My Queer Identity

published Oct 19, 2022
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Credit: Photos: Mandie Montes; Design: Apartment Therapy

I’ve always loved organizing my bookshelves. There’s nothing quite like putting new books on a shelf; doing so makes me feel like I’m nestled in the rustling pages of new worlds that I can freely explore. 

As a teen, I read novels like “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” and “1984” from cover to cover. I relished stacking these literary classics in alphabetical order, running my hands over the colors and textures of the required reading for my high school English classes. Every now and then — when I got bored doing my weekend chores — I’d sit against my bookshelf and gaze at my growing collection of classics. I felt incredibly proud for curating a space that demonstrated my knack for structure and my admiration for being well-versed in classical literature. 

But after I quietly started coming into my identity as a queer Latine during my adolescence, I noticed that even though my collection grew with each new classic, my knowledge about myself did not. It wouldn’t be for a few more years in the closet, a total remodeling of my house, and my resistance against reading more novels by white male authors that I would learn to let go of my old book collection and start anew — this time with my identity as a queer Latine at the forefront.  

Credit: Mandie Montes

Recently, I’ve felt frustrated over the sharp rise in book banning and censorship that’s been going on this year within public school libraries. In a recent report released by the nonprofit group Pen America, around 41 percent of more than 1,600 books banned in schools this year contained some form of LGBTQ+ content. And while I’m proud of youth, authors, and librarians resisting these book bans, I’m angry because I know that there are queer youth who will have trouble accessing books that can provide them with the self-reflection necessary to help them feel supported.

When I officially moved to New York City in the summer of 2020, I was certain that the only books I wanted in my bookshelf were those written by queer authors. I had been gifted a few here and there by my sister, such as collections of essays by James Baldwin, Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, and Audre Lorde’s biomythography. In the time I’ve been collecting more queer books, I’ve noticed that my purpose for reading has changed as well. Rather than wanting to appear well-read to others, I’m more focused on understanding the nuances and beauty of my queer identity. 

Rather than wanting to appear well-read to others, I’m more focused on understanding the nuances and beauty of my queer identity. 

I always struggled to make sense of my queer identity on my own but when it came to reading others’ work on queerness, I felt like I had a roadmap that would help me navigate my feelings. Exploring my identity through queer literature was like putting together a puzzle with pieces that no longer mismatched. Things that felt so foreign to me about myself started to become clearer. Each time I slid a new book into my collection, I grew to love my queerness even more. I felt like I could hear every queer author I came into contact with whisper into my ear to embrace myself.

Now, I look at my bookshelves — teeming with queer literature — and feel grateful for the opportunity I have to read books that have helped to shape my identity. I know I wouldn’t be nearly as determined in exploring who I am without them. I yearn for my collection to grow so that one day, my bookshelf is overflowing and I can share such literature with those seeking self-reflection the same way I did when I started my journey.