Welcome to the Dedicated Queer Space for York Bookworms
This Pride Month Living North celebrates The Portal Bookshop – a charming space for the LGBTQIA+ community to bond and revel in the heart of York, offering a great range of queer literature to boot
Could you describe The Portal Bookshop to someone who doesn’t know about it?
The Portal Bookshop is an LGBT+ specialist bookshop with a massive slice of nerd culture, as I am a huge nerd myself. So that’s sci-fi, fantasy, young adult fiction and graphic novels. We showcase a lot of local queer artists as well. It’s a safe space where people can come and ask me any silly questions they like. It’s become a community space that people are really invested in, which is amazing.
How important is it to have dedicated LGBTQI+ spaces in York?
I created The Portal Bookshop because I felt a huge lack of dedicated space. If I felt it, then others must have been feeling it too. There’s two universities in town, and you get a lot of people figuring themselves out at that age. A place with the resources to help them ask questions without judgement is crucial.
How is Portal different from traditional book shops? Is it split into LGBT+ sections?
I struggled with that concept for a while – I used to work in Waterstones and they broke up their sections. I liked having it split by age and genre, because it makes sense sorting by people’s reading age and level. However, lots of queer novels have cross-over genres in them. For a while I had it just separated by genre, then one day I had a flash of inspiration! I decided to get custom printed stickers with the flags of different genders and sexualities on, using the stickers as book marks so people can scan along the shelves and see what sexualities or genders the books’ topics are most concerned with.
This method makes it so if someone comes in with a family member who isn’t completely aware of their identity, they don’t have to out themselves completely by going over to the ‘transgender shelf’, for example. They can just find the book that speaks to them the most.
As a community bookshop, how important is local engagement?
I want everyone to feel welcome, Portal’s a place where anyone can give back to people who may be struggling to find their way. From the beginning I’ve had local artists that would sell anything from dice bags to cuddly toys in the shop, priced properly so they would get at least minimum wage. I use the shop as a vehicle to improve the day-to-day lives of queer people in Yorkshire. At the moment I have a donation running to fund proper chest binders for people who can’t afford them, which otherwise might push them into practicing dangerous binding techniques. We also have the Pay It Forward fund, giving away copies of Trans Teen Survival Guide for free.
Do you operate online as well?
During lockdown my housemate built me a website with a shop on it, which was lovely of him. On that website I upload any book I have on the shelf in the shop – I get a lot of American imports in that aren’t published in the UK, so those are available there. I also signed up with bookshop.org, and they are wonderful. They are tied in to the UK wholesaler, so you make a storefront on there and they take a portion of the sales. You can make lists, sections, all sorts.
What is The Portal Bookshop doing for Pride Month? It must be a big time of year for you?
It’s a bit chaotic, but I’m trying to get bits organised ready. I will be at York Pride myself with a stall and the shop will remain open as usual. I’m also running a sign-making workshop beforehand, that way everyone can have a good clear sign that gets their message across.
Before we leave you, what’s the best novel from a queer author you’ve read recently?
Oh my goodness! You’d have to narrow it down for me! We’re spoilt for choice at the moment, which is glorious. I finally got round to reading Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, it was absolutely fantastic. It has bisexual leads and polyamorous relationships, it was utterly unflinching in confronting the ways women have been oppressed, and it really is brutal – but incredible.