How much of you being gay is about your parents? About how they accept you or don’t accept you, or maybe you haven’t even told them yet. There’s a book for that.
How much of you being gay is about your body? About how your body compares to other more perfect bodies, or how you’ve been reduced to your body. There’s a book for that.
How much of you being gay is about your gender? Did you even know it’s about gender? About you being a butch dyke or a femme faggot, or maybe you need to prove you’re a real man or a real woman. There’s a book for that.
Maybe you’re not a man or a woman, or maybe you’re a man who wants to be a woman or a woman who wants to be a man. There’s a book for that.
How much of you being lesbian or gay or trans or queer is about rights, women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, equal rights? There’s a book for that.
I owe a great deal to books. I came out of the closet by a book, literally. The book was Now That You Know: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding Their Gay and Lesbian Children by Betty Fairchild. Sitting across from my mom at our kitchen table, I told her there was something I had to tell her, and instead of saying, I’m gay, I pulled this book out of my backpack and handed it to her. Her face aged twenty years in just one second. I mustered this courage from the revolutionary book Outing Yourself: How to Come Out to Your Family, Your Friends, and Your Coworkers by Michelangelo Signorile. When my mom cried, I stayed positive, like Signorile told me to do: “However they react, you won’t ultimately benefit if you respond to their grief or anger in an equally negative or angry way.” Later, when I thanked my mom for helping me come out to my dad, she told me she was grateful for the way I handled it.
Then there are the books that have more to do with my life now, like when I first read Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I stayed up all night into the early morning hours finishing it, swept up by David’s shame and his worry that somehow society and his father would never see him as a real man because he’s gay. Even more recently, with books like Andy Sinclair’s Breathing Lessons or Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran, I think about the difficulties for gay men to navigate love and sex and friendships in gay society.
Then there are the books you think most likely have nothing to do with you if you’re a cissexual gay man or lesbian woman, like Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, And The Rest Of Us by Kate Bornstein or Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, and you learn you too are a victim of society’s culturally-constructed view of gender.
You see. I’m a queer-book addict, because these books have not only helped me better understand my own life but more importantly helped me to see I’m not alone. There are other people out there living and struggling in the same ways I am. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” Isn’t that what you and I both want—to belong? To not only beat the arguments against us but face the world with all of its injustice and know that even if you and I can’t change minds this day, we’re still together. There are others out there like us. We belong. We’re represented, and we matter.
I started Gay Reader’s Forum as a place where people could come together and share their own stories. By sharing mine, I’m hoping you will share yours, because our stories matter. M. Milks, in her/his 2017 essay Book Club Made Me Gay, said, “Book clubs and reading groups have long been important to marginalized communities: They support intellectual exchange, amplify underrepresented voices, and contribute to the production of a shared cultural and political identity.” By sharing our stories, talking about our pain and our joy, we help ourselves and others. Gay Reader’s Forum is a place where we can always come to remind ourselves, no matter where we think we are in our lives, unaccepted, alone, needing love, to take heart, because there’s a book for that.