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LGBTQIA+ Young Adult Literature

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How Reading Got Me Through My Teens And Beyond

Pride Month Blogathon: Day 13 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon

by EC King

Depression and anxiety have always run deeply in my veins. These issues are hereditary in my case and, though they are not my constant companions, they are definitely frequent visitors. Even though I was a privileged, seemingly happy and rambunctious child, I remember clearly the days or weeks when I felt a malaise that I didn’t know how to describe. I called it “being bored”, as I lay in bed staring listlessly out the window without even a book to keep me company, or as I ditched elementary school for a time to hang out in an empty house where no one could find me.

These visitors stayed with me intermittently throughout my teens, 20s, and 30s, and are even now standing outside that figurative door with suitcases in hand, hoping to be let in. But, you see, I have a particular coping mechanism called “reading” (with a side helping of “listening to music”) that has been instrumental in saving my life over the years.

I was one of those annoyingly precocious kids that started reading at a very young age. My parents, happy with me being such an early and avid reader, didn’t pay all that much attention to what books I was actually consuming. I read everything I could get my hands on for fun, including the dictionary and encyclopedias (look it up, young’uns!), and even old school sex manuals like The Joy of Sex that I found while snooping. If it was something way over my age range, all the better! I wanted to know everything there was to know about everything.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

I, of course, read the usual kid’s books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, but my favorite was Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. I probably read that book at least 50 times when I was little, and even tried to start my own (very short lived) spy route because of it. I really should have known something was up when I immediately felt a kinship with such a brutally honest and individualistically butch curmudgeon. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.
As I got a bit older, I segued into horror and fantasy, with a sprinkling of romance. While other 10-12-year-olds were reading Sweet Valley High and Flowers in the Attic, I reveled in scaring the crap out of myself on a regular basis. Stephen King was my go to at that age, but I felt a homecoming when I happened upon Clive Barker’s extremely dark, kinky and grotesque worlds.

Clive and Stephen often employed a mixture of fantasy and horror, but I looked elsewhere when I needed a hit of that high fantasy goodness. Authors like Piers Anthony, C.S. Lewis, Orson Scott Card, Guy Gavriel Kay and David Eddings took me out of myself on epic journeys of derring-do. Suffice it to say that the more recent personal revelations from some of those authors really threw me for a loop (Bigotry and racism galore? Aslan was an allegory for God?? What?? Why couldn’t he have just been a very talkative lion?).

In the ‘80s, novels in these genres were often written by (and chock full of) cis white males, so imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the unapologetically queer characters in Mercedes Lackey’s work. These books opened up an entirely new world for this incipient queer. I had been struggling with the fact that I liked boys very much even though I also had strong crushes on girls. We didn’t really talk about “those types of things” all the way back in the olden days, and especially not in Central America.

I ended up devouring these books and internalizing Lackey’s message of “it’s perfectly normal to be anything other than straight.” Thinking back, I realize that her books (and a few others) were partly catalysts for my decision to come out in the early ‘90s. I mean, if her gay characters could emerge victorious from all those trials and tribulations, why couldn’t I?

I was in my early 20s and living in San Diego, CA when I came out. The queer scene there was vibrant, but primarily consisted of gay men and lesbians. I came out as a lesbian because I felt that was the only identity available to me at the time. Much of the community was of the strong mindset that bisexuality was just a short stop on the voyage to full on gayness. If pushed on that subject they became very stubborn and often ostracized people who challenged that viewpoint. I even lost touch with a best friend I’d had since I was 12 over this issue. As a proud lesbian, she was firmly in the “bisexuals are just misguided” camp. Sadly she died in the early 2000s, and I never got the chance to try to resolve our friendship.

During this time I continued to use books as my escape from real life. In the ‘90s, the SFF and horror genres were still extremely lacking in LGBT rep, and I found most gay fiction to be too depressing. Luckily, I happened to stumble upon Anne Rice’s kink filled Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (written under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure) in a used bookstore and they became my gateway drug into queer erotica. I was amazed by, and drawn to, the author’s depictions of endless acts of bisexual and gay BDSM, and went on to read whatever I could get my hands on in the genre.

Depression, Anxiety and I became BFFs throughout those years, with a long sojourn after my friend’s death in the early 2000s. Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that I identify as non-binary and pansexual instead of bisexual and cis. I’d like to think that if my friend were alive today, she would eventually grow to understand that gender identity and sexual orientation can change or become more actualized as we go through life, and that these changes are all valid.

I’m in my 40s now, and my Frequent Unwanted Callers still come to visit from time to time, sometimes longer than others. I’ve been primarily into LGBTQ+ romances for a long while, and am absolutely loving that there’s so many authors writing about different aspects of the queer spectrum these days. It’s been an incredible experience to finally see parts of myself within the pages of a book.

So yes: when I mentioned above that reading has saved my life, I meant it. I’ve received so much enjoyment and peace of mind from allowing my imagination to propel me to fictional worlds. Good books have broadened my perspective and vocabulary, and helped me to unearth and express my sexuality and gender expression. They’ve helped me to deal with (but never completely overcome) my depression and anxiety in productive ways. They’ve been the best kind of constant companion, and I thank them profusely for their service.

unnamed (2)EC King is a non-binary Afro-Latinx writer who hails from a tiny and unnecessarily hot country in Central America. She currently resides in Florida (also unnecessarily hot) where she reads a lot and considers writing a book but never quite gets around to it. EC blogs about beauty and has, in the past, fangirled extensively over kpop and fashion for her own blog and others. You can find her many tweets under @OverlySarcasmic.

By | June 29th, 2017|Categories: Archive, Guest Blogs, Readers on Reading|Tags: , , |Comments Off on How Reading Got Me Through My Teens And Beyond

You Are Not Alone: Finding Community as a Nonbinary Teen

Pride Month Blogathon: Day 12 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon

by Kav

If I’m being honest with myself, I never thought of myself as “straight.”

Growing up, I never labeled myself that way and instead thought along the lines of “I’ll love who I love, no matter their gender.” That’s not to say that I never struggled to discover my gender and romantic and sexual orientations or that I never had a coming out experience – it’s definitely been a rocky ride. But when it came down to it, I was always fortunate enough to have been sure that my family wouldn’t disown me. I also knew, though, that they wouldn’t understand me, no matter how hard they tried.

Being out publicly as a nonbinary biromantic asexual teen is not easy, to say the least – especially not in the time we live in. I’ve definitely had it easy in a way so many others have not, but I’ve still faced my fair share of struggles because of who I am. The one thing that got me through those struggles, and the struggles that are still ongoing, is having a community. Even though I have known that I’m not straight for the majority of my life, it was always something I kept to myself. I didn’t even come out to my best friend until high school – which is okay, of course, but I could’ve used his support. When I started high school, the group I met somehow started talking about sexuality and all the identities that fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. Now, I have no idea why I randomly came out to a group of nerdy 14 year olds I had met less than an hour ago, but I did. This experience taught me the importance of having a community.

Before I knew it, I was in my school’s GSC, out to my closest friends, and, soon enough, building an online community. Having a group of people who not only accept me for who I am, but who can understand who I am, has been one of the most important aspects of me coming to terms with my identity. I always thought I was comfortable being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, but I wasn’t, not until I was actually part of it. I needed to meet people who had already faced what I was facing or who were currently facing what I was facing – I wouldn’t have even known I’m nonbinary if I hadn’t joined my school’s GSC.

Finding a community has in no way diminished all the struggles I face to this day, especially in terms of the recent U.S. election, but now I know that there are other people out there like me. I know that there are other people out there who feel the way I do and who truly understand what I’m going through. There are some struggles I’ll never be able to overcome – I’m never going to stop experiencing gender dysphoria, for example, but I’m not alone anymore. I’m not alone in experiencing gender dysphoria. Others have found some ways to help cope with it and maybe, one day, I’ll find a way to help someone else cope. I was never really comfortable with being part of the LGBTQIA+ community until I was actually part of the LGBTQIA+ community, but I’m finally not alone anymore.

And neither are you.

kav2Kav is a 15 year old nonbinary, biromatic, asexual, South Indian teen who loves fashion, books, and social justice. They are frequently active on Twitter and YouTube talking about a combination of book-related and social justice-related topics. You can often find them active here: https://www.youtube.com/c/xreadingsolacex

By | June 28th, 2017|Categories: Archive, Guest Blogs, Teen Voices|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on You Are Not Alone: Finding Community as a Nonbinary Teen

I am the captain of my soul: On Being a Queer, Muslim Teen

Pride Month Blogathon: Day 11 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon

by Warda

When I’m asked what it’s like being a queer teen in today’s age I kind of want to counter with: “Well, what’s it like having two eyes and a nose?” You know, something snarky and light-hearted that makes it clear queerness is perfectly normal without having to go too much into my own experience. It’s something I’ve always shied away from; sometimes I can’t find any words and other times there aren’t enough words in the world for me to even begin to explain. But, hey, here goes nothing.

Unfortunately, we’re pretty much all familiar with varying degrees of homophobia and often when it surfaces people’s first instinct is to say something along the lines of ‘It’s 2017.’ Which is supposed to mean blatant homophobia is a thing of the past and perhaps to the average, young, privileged, white American it is. A lot of them can, at least, have some small shred of hope that their loved ones won’t disown them if they ever knew the truth. That their grandmas could knit them pride sweaters and rainbow blankets. That they could truly be free.

But I’m not that average, young, privileged, white American.

My culture is very homophobic, my parents are as anti-gay as you can get, and I was raised with an extremely conservative interpretation of Islam. You couldn’t even imagine the amount of ingrained homophobia I had to battle growing up, and still grapple with today; it’s the reason why my instant reaction to queer couples kissing is to look away and I almost always hesitate when picking up queer books. In discussions about queerness, the impact of race, ethnicity, and (non-Christian) faith is often ignored as most people only look at queer identity through a white and/or Christian lens. This alienates the significant portion of the gay community that – like me – exist outside of that bubble and only serves to further marginalise us within our marginalisation as our experiences aren’t reflected anywhere and so we have no one to relate to.

I felt like I had nowhere to turn to and the weight of my own self-loathing was almost unbearable at times (and would completely demolish any tall, dark, and handsome brooding YA hero’s, can I just say) but the journey of self-acceptance is a long and torturous one. At least, for me it is. There aren’t just bumps – God, what I would’ve given for simple bumps – there are gaping pot holes you feel like you’ll never get past and quick-sand that damn near swallows you whole before you manage to escape its grasp. And at each turn and every pot hole, you have to choose yourself and force your legs to push on.

It’s a lot harder than it sounds, believe me.

I think I’m doing good now, though. I started university last September and almost mustered the courage to sign up for the LGBT society, albeit I took three steps in the general direction of their stand before making a giant U-turn back in the direction I came, it’s still progress to me. That’s three steps more than I would’ve taken a few months before that. I know I’m nowhere near done with my personal journey (I have eighteen years of Sodom and Gomorrah lectures and divine smiting of the wicked imagery to thank for that) but I’ve developed my own interpretation of my faith with a kinder, loving God and He’s with me every step of the way. I can now say that I’m bisexual with a new-found confidence and that’s progress. It’s okay to take a little longer than others when it comes to accepting who you are.

We all have our own struggles.

It’s okay.

If you’d have asked me two years ago about my sexuality, I would’ve lied. Default-straightness was all I knew back then. It was my shield, protecting me from having to accept a part of myself I wasn’t ready for while poisoning me slowly with every lie I had to tell to keep it up. It was only until I found the online YA community and saw all the wonderful queer people who were open and educational that I understood that not being straight wasn’t something to be ashamed of. I’m grateful to so many people who’ll never know how much they did for me simply by existing. Living an openly queer life is a revolutionary act and, my God, am I thankful there are so many that dare to do so.

I learn new things about myself and others all the time because of all these amazing people and I’m better for it. I’ve known for a while that I exist in the intersection of a Venn diagram with many rings: my sexuality, romantic orientation, race, religion, gender, and mental illnesses. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that if there were ever a character like me in a book, she’d be called check-box diversity by a certain loud minority within the community and that sucks. While I’m well aware that every single one of my rings is despised by someone somewhere in the world and they bleed so much into one another it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins – they’re mine and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There’s a poem I like to read often when I feel my foundations beginning to crumble called Invictus by William Ernest Henley; Nelson Mandela once said it helped get him through his twenty-seven-year prison sentence in the movie about his life, also called Invictus. I watched it years ago and the poem has stuck with me ever since. It reads:

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

The last two lines are my personal favourites and I repeat them to myself when my anxiety is too loud to handle and my depression is too heavy to bear. That’s the thing about words, you see. Within their array of curved letters and strings of soft and plosive syllables, they hold the power to destroy as well as the power to fortify and strengthen. I think it’s an almost poetic juxtaposition.

Sometimes it feels as though all the different parts that make me who I am are at war and I have to decide where I stand and pledge allegiance to one or the other. Other times, I feel like a fraud, that I’m not and will never be enough to lay claim to any of my identities, and what I thought were sturdy cogs and screws keeping me together become paper-thin and feather-light, I swear I try my hardest to keep it together, but it doesn’t always work. That’s okay, I realise. You don’t always have to be strong and keep a stiff upper lip when everything is on fire and there’s no water or extinguisher in sight. We all have our own ways of dealing with things and mine is this poem, it keeps me afloat on my worst of days and for that I’m thankful.

I guess my hope for the future with regards to books is that YA writers use their words to fortify and strengthen rather than to – knowingly or unknowingly – destroy. Saying things like a character is ‘too diverse’ or that there is ‘forced diversity’ in a book is one of the most destructive things an author can say as regardless of what your personal opinion is, intersections are real and vital in understanding who we are as people, and while you may have none or only a few, there are others who have so many they lose count and they are equally deserving of representation. I also hope that YA writers keep the kids they’re writing for at the forefront of their minds when doing so since a lot of people seem to be forgetting who their audience is nowadays. We make up the bulk of your readership and to see some of you sneering at us from the insurmountable walls of your own self-importance and arrogance isn’t doing you any favours. We see you.

To my fellow teens out there who are afraid and questioning their identities, I would say that whatever the label that fits you, or even if no label fits you, it’s okay. You’re perfectly fine just the way you are and I hope you get every single good thing life has to offer you because you deserve every star in the freaking cosmos.

You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.

By | June 23rd, 2017|Categories: Archive, Guest Blogs, Teen Voices|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on I am the captain of my soul: On Being a Queer, Muslim Teen

The Power of Stories: Saving Lives and Connecting Readers, One Book at a Time

Pride Month Blogathon: Day 10 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon

by Kheryn Callender

I didn’t like myself very much when I was younger. I was the only black student in my private school for a few years, and whenever I left my school, which was deep in the countryside where many white people from the states lived, I was surrounded by locals from St. Thomas who thought I acted too snobby, who thought I spoke with a stateside accent because I didn’t love my island, who thought I acted too “white.” It seemed wherever I went, whichever community I was in, I never really belonged.

It didn’t help that I knew I was different in other ways: I couldn’t put my finger on it, and I didn’t know what it was called, but I began to read books about boys falling in love with boys and girls falling in love with girls, and I knew there was something about these stories that spoke to who I was, also. I began to write stories like this too, and my favorite character was one that had an unknown gender, where no one could look at them and decide their identity.

Fast forward a few years: I left St. Thomas to go to a small college in New York where I was, once again, one of the few people of color. But at least in college, I found myself surrounded by people who were openly gay—and proud of it, too. Words I’d only heard of in negative contexts, like “queer”, were being used not only casually and in positive ways, but in classrooms. My language, my identity, my world began to shift as I began to think of possibilities for myself. I told my roommate, “I didn’t even know it was an option for me to be gay.” After all, the stories with gay boys and girls, and even the character I’d written and with a non-binary gender so many years before, were all white.hc_old_rgb

A memory is seared into my mind: one where a family member debated whether black people from the Caribbean could be gay. “That’s a white thing,” he said. “And if any black person from the Caribbean thinks they’re gay, it’s only because they met a gay white person.”

I’d known he was wrong, but for some reason, I never thought that being a queer person could be my experience. I knew that my assumed identity of girl who falls in love with boys wasn’t right, but every story I’d read, every TV show I’d watched, never had a queer person of color. Every queer person I’d ever seen in books and TV and movies, until college, had always been white.

Sometimes I still struggle with ideas of how I’m “supposed to look, supposed to act”, when I don’t have many role models to validate myself, to see myself in, to feel like I belong. But once I was in college, I made friends who were queer people of color. I watched TV shows like Noah’s Arc and The L Word that featured main queer characters of color. And more and more, I could see that my own feelings, my own identity, connected to the queer characters surrounding me. It was easier to see that my identity connected with the queer community once I could actually see myself—people who looked like me—in that community.

The power of stories and books never escapes my attention. I didn’t like myself when I was younger because I thought I was too different from everyone surrounding me—too different from the white students at my school, too different from the black locals in St. Thomas, too different from the queer people I saw in books and on TV. My loneliness, my isolation, often grew to a point where I didn’t want to be alive anymore, and I considered taking my own life for years. How different would my life had been if I’d had books about young queer kids of color like myself? Would I have realized I’m not so different after all? Would I have felt just a little less alone?

It’s been said before many times, but it bears repeating for anyone who might not yet be convinced: books save lives. They connect readers—and let some know that they’re not as alone as they think. In a world like today, with an administration like the one we must suffer, where violence is celebrated and perceived difference is feared—and where people are taught to react to their fears with violence—books with queer characters, written by queer authors, are more necessary than ever.

 

 

Kheryn Callender is non-binary and uses the they/them pronoun. Kheryn was born and raised in St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, and has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College as well as an MFA from The New School’s Writing for Children program. Their debut novel, HURRICANE CHILD, is due out from Scholastic in April 2018. Kheryn resides in Brooklyn, New York.

By | June 22nd, 2017|Categories: Author Guest Blog, Guest Blogs, New Releases, Writers on Writing|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on The Power of Stories: Saving Lives and Connecting Readers, One Book at a Time

“That Which Does Not Kill Us”

Pride Month Blogathon: Day 9 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon

by L.D. Lewis

It’s 2017 and the world is on fire. Whatever day it is you’re reading this, you probably woke up lost and groaning. Maybe while staring at the ceiling or at nothing in particular in the mirror, you idly pondered what sort of distant, existential crisis would manifest itself in a very real threat to your being today and if/how you would react to it. Survive it. After all, yesterday [wasn’t so bad/was utter trash]. How much should you reasonably be expected to endure?

Disclaimer: I am no good at stringing together words of comfort. Even my silver linings require a somewhat grumpy sense of humor to really enjoy. I despise the nonsense platitudes that have persisted for generations under the guise of being inspirational. Words, after all, mean things. Among them is my least favorite:

 

That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

 

Unless it doesn’t. If we are fortunate, our trauma leaves us with the tools to overcome greater harm in the future. But I can think of a dozen ways in which what doesn’t kill us may leave us debilitatingly fearful or fractured. The world as it stands today, yesterday, and tomorrow as far as I can tell, is doing its best to break a good many of us with some new struggle everyday. Our thresholds for what it means to “break” are varied and often bolstered by the time we are allowed to heal between the trials and assaults we experience. Sometimes there isn’t enough.

Summer 2016 nearly broke me. I don’t remember my process for recovering mentally from Pulse here in Orlando. My first mass casualty event as a first responder and it was an attack on my queer family. Twenty-four days later, unarmed Black man Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge. On the twenty-fifth day, unarmed Black man Philando Castile was killed by police in Minnesota. And I am Black. The twenty-sixth day was my birthday. I could have taken the day off but I was terrified by the thought of another unarmed Black person dying at the hands of the cops I worked alongside while I was home licking my wounds and unable to intervene.

A few years ago, I picked up Nassir Ghaemi’s A First-Rate Madness, which explores the links between mental illness and successful (read: effective to their own ends, not necessarily moral) leadership through profiles of political figures and the like. I live with Bipolar Disorder, and it intrigued me because although I am a creative, the correlation wasn’t between mental illness and creatives for once. Among the examined figures were Napoleon, Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, and others. The premise is a nuanced one, of course, and requires quite a bit of supplemental reading in order to confidently establish a correlation between success and illness one way or another. And who knows how different leaders would have addressed different crises if influenced by different/the absence of diagnoses or dropped into a different place in time, so on and so forth.

The question of who we are more inclined to follow in a crisis — someone who has been through something, who has met with struggle and prevailed, or someone who has never known adversity — is answered by our daily lives. How we handle stress determines our qualifications for jobs; the question finding its way onto employment applications. It determines how equipped we are to be leaders of movements and communities. In my reading, I got to view the illnesses of these leaders as quiet traumas, things that had to be overcome on personal levels in order to make them effective. I drew parallels to my marginalizations — the things I have had to embrace and simultaneously survive — and where I might similarly have more of myself to offer.

Calling up Trump’s, uh, sudden and vexing insertion into the White House, communities of color were less surprised than nonplussed white citizens. We did, however, watch as white liberal friends, colleagues, and neighbors scrambled for some semblance of sense behind what was happening after living lives of relative comfort for, in some cases generations longer than PoC groups. An SNL skit starring Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock even parodied the real-life division in our reactions. The reason? Well, PoC (in this case Black folks) are used to a certain level of disappointment, of struggling beneath oppressive governing and institutional bodies regardless of who is in office. The election was a symptom of a reality we’ve always lived. We could roll right into protest and protection measures from what would undoubtedly be escalated abuses against our communities. We were immediately equipped to answer the pressing questions of what’s next? How do we fight this?

The same is true for the LGBTQIA+ peoples. By virtue of being born into a society unequipped or unwilling to protect and defend your humanity, you (the young) are quietly, naturally operating at a heightened state of awareness. It may not feel like it at any given time, but you have a particular set of skills those with the privilege of not needing to insist on their own survival may come to rely on, though you will need to look to your elders to learn how to use them. It’s people within our intersections and with more marginalizations than we possess who have the most to teach.

I am a queer Black woman of young-auntie age and experience. I am grown and I will still never learn more about my strength, its applications, and its immortal depth than I will learn from older queer Black women and femmes. These are people who have been able to create the joy to keep surviving in a burning world. It is their experiences that make me stronger.

As queer kids you have different struggles, sure. Your battle scars are borne differently and are caused by different experiences than were had by preceding generations. But the surviving elders of every marginalized community have fought more battles, endured more brutality, more abuses, than their descendants can imagine most days. And they’ve developed the thicker skin and mental and emotional faculties to combat the dangers resurfacing today.

The world is not now the best it’s ever been or better than it ever will be. That’s the nature of progress. But do try to remember that it has been on fire before and that we live among quiet legends with oral histories of greater infernos. Here is where I would clumsily invoke Sir Isaac Newton’s “on the shoulders of giants.” But as you may recall, I’m not much a fan of platitudes.

 

L. D.L.D. Lewis is a coffee enthusiast and writes mostly novel-length fantasy with a particular enthusiasm for villains (who also drink coffee). She is an ASL teacher and medic in Florida. Her essays “On Walking My Fault Lines”, “Incidents at the Intersection of Black Mental Health,” and “Things I Learned from Nina Simone” are featured on BlackGirlNerds.com. You can find her novelette CHESIRAH in the inaugural issue of FIYAH. Follow her on Tumblr and Twitter @Ellethevillain.

 

 

By | June 21st, 2017|Categories: Author Guest Blog, Guest Blogs|Tags: , , |Comments Off on “That Which Does Not Kill Us”