On “This Queer Book Saved My Life!” host J.P. Der Boghossian has conversations with guests from across the LGBTQ+ rainbow about the queer books that saved their lives…
By David-Elijah Nahmo
Love books and podcasts? We may have your next obsession. “This Queer Book Saved My Life” is a podcast based out of Minneapolis USA where each episode features books with queer themes. In installment after installment, host J.P. Der Boghossian talks to guests about the queer book that, according to the guest, saved their life.
Every episode takes a different direction and more often than not, the chosen books aren’t new releases. For example, in one episode a gay man discusses Armistead Maupin’s classic 1978 novel Tales of the City, which gave him his first taste of characters that he felt that he could identify with.
There are also episodes which feature the author of the book joining Der Boghossian and his guest in the discussion. In the premiere episode of season three, Minnesota Public Radio reporter Jacob Aloi talks about the young adult novel Simon vs the Homosapiens’ Agenda, a tale about a 16 year old boy coming to terms with his sexuality. (In 2018 the book was adapted into the hit film Love Simon) In this episode, Becky Albertalli, the author of the book, joins and takes part in the discussion. In another episode from October 2022, Dr. Joe Perazzo, an HIV clinical trials nurse and a nursing professor tells Der Boghossian about why he keeps coming back to Breaking the Surface, the memoir by famed gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis. Louganis joins the conversation and talks about being open and honest about his HIV status, among other things.
The inspiration behind the podcast? Der Boghossian himself has a queer book which he says saved his life. When he first read A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, he learned, for the first time, about polyamourous relationships. A few years later Der Boghossian met two men who would change his life.
“As it turned out, this relationship saved my life,” Der Boghossian said in an interview with IN Magazine. “Seriously. On so many levels. Something came alive in me. And I don’t think I could have been prepared for it if I hadn’t spent so much time with Jonathan, Bobby and Clare and their poly relationship. What I loved about it, and my disappointment with some of the choices they made, and ultimately how I didn’t want to make those same mistakes. And, here we are… Jim, Gordy and I have been together for over eleven years. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Der Boghossian works as an Associate Vice President of Equity at a community college where he finds the work important, yet he missed working directly in the queer community. As he continued to write and publish essays, he found himself wanting to be more engaged in the literary scene.
“I love books,” he told IN. “My joke is that I came out of the womb with a book. They are my solace and I found myself missing my first career in broadcast journalism. There was something so satisfying in telling stories and using that specific skill set.”
It was actually his therapist who suggested to him that a podcast could combine all of his interests and so “This Queer Book Saved My Life” was born.
“We have armed psychos showing up at drag queen story hours,” Der Boghossian said. “We have shooters in our clubs. We have more laws than ever before banning our books from schools, and criminalizing healthcare for trans and non-binary kids. How do we navigate this? How? I wanted to hear from queer people about the stories that helped them live and love in this world.”
Der Boghossian and his executive producer Jim Pounds do not select the books or authors that appear on the podcast. Rather, they recruit guests, who share which book saved their life. From there, they reach out to the authors.
“We really don’t know what the book is going to be, which is very exciting,” he said. “We are intentional about how we are recruiting. It was very important to us to make sure the full rainbow is represented. Not every person we reach out to wants to be on the show, but a good number do. And now we’re to the point where people are reaching out to us through the website or social media to request being on the podcast. I love that. A listener hears an episode and that sparks the desire to share their story and the book that saved their life.”
Besides the full-length episodes, “This Queer Book” also features a series of interviews called “7 minutes in Book Heaven.” In these segments, Der Boghossian spends seven minutes chatting with an author about their new or upcoming book. Questions he asks them include: “What do you feel is the best sentence you’ve ever written?” and “What are your favorite senses or smells to write about?” As the author responds, Der Boghossian reacts with an enthusiasm that is infectious.
“This Queer Book” is growing in popularity. According to Der Boghossian the podcast has been heard in 53 countries and 872 communities worldwide.
“I hope that a listener will find a book that unlocks something life-giving for them,” said Der Boghossian. “That it sparks new ways for them to live and love in this world and that they pass it along by sharing the podcast with others.”
Episodes of “This Queer Book Saved My Life” can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and on the podcast’s website: thisqueerbook.com.