Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ode to Joy

Kirk Read’s account (from his How I Learned to Snap: a small-town coming-of-age coming-out story) of acquiring a copy of The Joy of Gay Sex by Edmund White and Charles Silverstein:

I feverishly ripped the bar codes out of the book so that I wouldn’t trigger the sensor gates on the way out of the library. I’d seen library clerks demagnetize books before by rubbing the spine across a black metal slab. The spine, too, had to go. It was full of alarms. I ripped the cover off altogether and shoved it into the trash can, then covered the evidence with handfuls of paper towels. I stuffed the book under my jacket and into the waistband of my pants. A friend and I had shoplifted hundreds of dollars worth of cassettes in the pockets of our camouflage pants, the covers of tennis rackets, and long shirt sleeves. [Yet] I’d never stolen anything that mattered so much.

… What can I say?

I’m appalled? I can identify with the desperation, though, and the terror of being suspected. If suicide is a way to escape the opprobrium society (even our loved ones) heap on the gay, theft is a minor transgression if it means survival?

I got my own copy with an employee’s discount when I worked for a Christmas season at Books Inc in Santa Rosa’s Coddingtown Mall. 1985. The year I came out. I was twenty. Would I have had the nerve to buy the book over the counter? Maybe. Maybe not. I was checking out from the local library books on gay topics (though they hadn’t the pictures). I’m pretty sure I’d managed a couple gay magazines from a Santa Rosa magazine shop by this time. A couple of them of the pictorial sort …

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