with legislators Ban booksAnd Florida passes by Bill “Don’t Say Like Me”And And Transphobia makes daily headlinesThe times we live in can feel hateful. When it comes to such human rights abuses, there really isn’t a good answer to the question “How do you feel?” But Twin Cities resident JB Der Bogosian is the podcast host and founder “This gay book saved my life.” I got one recently.
“It’s hard to live in a society where we’ve seen an increase in visibility of ourselves and our lived experiences in media, novels, books, television, and movies, and (at the same time) seeing such a focused legislative effort on all levels—councils,” Der Bogosian said in a phone interview with MinnPost. The schools, the county level, the state level, the national level — they wiped us out, basically, it’s very frustrating.” “Actually, in one of the episodesAnd I was talking to Alison Bechdel about her book Fun House and I asked her, “I wrote this book, it became a national bestseller; it was adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical, and now it’s being banned throughout the South and Midwest. How does it feel?” about that?’
She said, “I don’t know how to respond to this.” I haven’t even fully processed my feelings yet. To have that kind of knockout effect… I don’t want to be discouraged, but I’ve always been skeptical of our progress, because it always felt a little weak, and it always seemed like it could be removed. The persistence she was showing (podcast-like), as she kept doing the work, like, “We’re going to keep doing this, we’re not going to stop.”
This kind of weighting is the lifeblood of “This weird book saved my life.” The two-year-old podcast is heard in 60 countries, 49 states, and 1,043 cities, including 75 in Minnesota, 48 of which are outside the Twin Cities. Thirty-eight strong episodes, Boghossian highlights such titles as Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain,” “Stay Sweet: My Homemade Recipe for a Gay Life,” Janet Winterson’s “Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit,” Jean Morris’s “Conundrum,” and “Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg, “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin, and many others.
Broadcast journalist/teacher, 2022 Lambda Literary Fellow and Founder Armenian Queer LibraryAnd Der Boghossian knows very well how important books are, and how they have the power to change lives.
“When you’re a queer person,” he said, “you don’t grow up in a queer home.” “You don’t grow up studying your history, you don’t grow up having actual connections to gay people. You have to go out into the world and find people and find your chosen family and find books and find TV shows. So anything I can do to help someone discover a book might be Really makes sense to them, that was part of the motivation for creating the show.
“In my life experience, books have been more than entertainment. I thought, If I could get a stranger to talk about it, ‘What LGBTQ book really changed something in you, and was giving you life?’ Then if I could bring the authors in and ask them, How did you even get this out into the world? Because it’s not easy for LGBTQ authors to get their work published. Some of these books have not been published for a long time; Some you can’t find in hard copies, there are only digital copies of them, so anything I can do to get these books out and help discover these books is really important. I think that’s really the job of the show.”
Der Boghossian’s day job is the position of chief diversity officer in higher education, which he considers important and necessary, but also stressful, so he created the podcast as “something that would fill my cup and be kind of life-giving for me.” Now that personal goal is in a very general context.
“To see the start of book bans and to see all these legislative attacks coordinated at every level, there is a sense that we can’t necessarily trust that cisgender or heterosexual people will always be there for us,” he said. “And we need to rely on our agency, we need to rely on how we build community and sustain each other. And for me, that’s books. For me, that’s storytelling.”
An accomplished essayist, Der Boghossian lives with partners in the Twin Cities and Northwest Wisconsin and recognizes Minnesota as a safe space to run his podcast, as evidenced by GovTim Walz’s launch of A small free library of banned books last week.
“We’re doing this in a state that was the first to put gender identity protections into state law, and then the second around sexual orientation. Minnesota is historically a progressive and inclusive state for LGBTQ people.” I hope (the podcast) is relatable (to small communities), because I was that kid, From northwest Michigan, where my father’s family is from, my mother’s family is Armenian and they live in France.
“I didn’t know any gay people growing up. I had to go out and find these books myself. I see myself among these people in these rural communities who keep coming out, and it means a lot to me. I know they’re out there and we’ve reached out to them and we’ve obviously made it up.” So people can buy books, but something I also appreciate is Quatrefoil libraries (a library for LGBTQ+ materials) and their e-lending library, where they have created a page dedicated to books.
We try to make books as accessible to people as possible. Because we know that in some cases, it’s actually unsafe for a teen, or even a kid home from college. So yeah, sometimes we can feel like we’re not making any progress, like we’re going backwards. But at the same time as Florida, there is Minnesota. I think Minnesota is not getting the national attention it should be getting when it tries become a trans state of asylum.
“I think we’re overly focused on prohibition and fascists and Nazis right now, and we don’t really talk about that, there’s another side to the story. You know, there are people trying to get more inclusive — Minnesota, Michigan, California. I see progress every day.”