Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My battles in the GBLT book section

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

I've been thinking about GBLT book sections while browsing through my local book shop, and how they discontent me a lot.

I'm not actually a huge fan of GBLT book sections, or not entirely. Of course, I'm deliriously happy about there being GBLT books – and too often if you don't have a GBLT book section you don't have GBLT books at all. Which is the problem. If I want to read about a spaceship captain saving Earth from aliens – and he happens to be gay – I'd like to be able to look in the Sci-fi section. If I want to read a touching tale of boy-meets-boy, they fall in love after a long and rocky road and live happily ever after – I want to go to the Romance section. If I want to read a book with bright pictures of leather-clad man-titty on the front where the shagging begins on page 3, I want to be able to go to the erotica or adult section. Or the YA or the Fantasy or the historical fiction – whatever. I don't particularly want the presence of GBLT people instantly to cause a book to become niche – this book has THE GAY IN IT! Get it away from the rest!

Of course, some books are specifically about GBLT issues and need a section. And it can be hard to find a book with GBLT content simply because there so few compared to the oceans of straight, cisness out there, so gathering them in once place helps find them (having more books would help much much more).

But the main reason I will always be uncomfortable with the GBLT book section is memories of my awkward, gawky, geeky youth.

I hung around a few shops in my youth – mainly Waterstones, Games Workshop and a local gaming/comic book shop (yes, my geekdom is now officially enshrined in stone)

But the most epic conflicts I ever fought were not running elves across the board in Games Workshop nor playing Vampire in the gaming shop – no, Waterstones was always the scene of my most dangerous battles – against myself.

Because Waterstones had a GBLT book section. Oh and I was torn – I wanted sooo much to go into that section, to find some books about me, that spoke to me, that were for me and involved me. But I was also freaking terrified beyond all reason of being seen there, of being outed. Especially after I came out to my best friend and that was the epic epic disaster it was. Oh the plans I hatched to desperately think of how I could get to those books...

I remember the Religion and Spirituality section was right next to it. I used to stand for hours in that section, right on the edge reading the spines of various religious books while desperately, desperately trying to read the titles of the next section out of the corner of my eye... and occasionally I'd, y'know LEAN. Just a little. Just when I thought there was no-one around, and always with my hand on a book so I could quickly pull it out and express my fascination with Toaism or a scholarly treatise on the flaws of the KJV Bible in case anyone came nearby.

One day, after some desperate internal conflict, I dashed in, grabbed a book (completely at random, who knows what I would have ended up with – I do recall a bright picture of the aforementioned leather-clad man-titty, however) and sprinted out of the section, lest I set off any gay alarms. I moved so fast I may have broken some laws of physics. I nearly bought it too, but then I realised I would have to approach the shop assistant with a Gay Book. And she Would Know. And then I would explode, melt into a small puddle on the floor or the sky would shatter or something. Something bad anyway. And I bottled it, put the book back (well misshelved it, anyway, I could risk going back into the section again) and retreated, defeated, to plot my next move.

There then followed weeks of the most ridiculous plotting how I could buy one of those books. I think my most sensible plan was to buy a dozen or so books and slide it in among them so the cashier wouldn't notice – but I didn't have the budget for that. Or I could buy several when there was a huge queue and the shop assistant would be too busy to notice? But there was never any queue. A disguise? Maybe I could claim it was a school project (yeah, in the era of Section 28)? I considered trying to get a job at the shop so I could buy it myself (they weren't hiring). I contemplated stealing more than once but came up with the nightmare scenario of being caught and then the whole shop, my parents and, indeed, the entire world (it was quite an involved scenario) knowing I had stolen a Gay Book

And thought all this you have to remember that I didn't even know what I was buying here, since I was too afraid to browse. I just wanted a Gay Book, regardless. Of course, looking back now as a (largely) out gay man who has spent some time in that oh-so-forbidden section, I have a kinda sour-grapesey feeling that it's a good thing I couldn't get those books, because some of them were just awful and probably not all that great for younger me to read. 

Still, it would have been nice if I could have gone to my normal haunts and found a book with me in it without having to run the gauntlet of outing (and no, Ann tentpeg McCaffrey does not count. And yes I'm bitter). It would have certainly saved me no small number of hours of plotting and panicking.