Monday, February 10, 2014

Finding community in literature

I’ve recently discovered the whole genre of gay literature.

Yeah, it took me a while.

But I love it.

I’ve only recently come to recognize myself as a minority, not a singularity—an anomaly, a freak.
And so I’ve started to realize that there are others who have gone through what I’ve been through, or much, much worse, and have so much wisdom to share. That there’s a community that I can tap into for support, even if finding them in Dayton has proved challenging.

I’ve been watching heterosexual couples fall in love on screen and in books and in my life for years. But it wasn’t until this winter, when I checked out a book on tape called Annie on My Mind to listen to on my way home for Christmas, that I realized there was another option. I assumed I could learn everything I needed to about love by watching straight couples fall for each other. Not true, I now realize. Annie on My Mind was a super relatable story for me about two teenage girls who fall in love before either ever realizes she's gay. Thanks to the stigma around admitting they're gay, they struggle to own the name, while recognizing the beauty of the love they share, and eventually they learn to accept it. 

I totally underestimated the value of having my own experience of love validated by reading a gay love story. It's slowly helping me feel like a whole person. And it’s not just lesbian lit that speaks to me, as I recently finished reading Two Boys Kissing, and still felt a connection with the various stories of young boys in love against the odds. It’s not like these are groundbreaking classics, but they just feel real to me. The stories, geared for teenagers, aimed to give gay kids a sense of community – some fictional characters to identify with. Like I said, I’d never realized how important that was, because I hadn’t been exposed to it.  

Two Boys Kissing had a simple line, but a powerful one: “Because he’s not the one with the problem – they are.”
It’s hard to let words like that sink in when you’ve had a lifetime of influences telling you just the opposite. But repetition helps. Reading it in a book helps combat the voices in my head that parrot the arguments I heard all my life.

The other book I read was Tipping the Velvet, a bit removed from the young adult fiction genre (i.e. not PG rated), but an excellent story of a woman discovering her sexuality and learning to accept herself in 1890s London.

So while there’s a long list of classic works of fiction I’m hoping to get through this year, gay literature will automatically move up on my list. I'd love any recommendations from anyone.