Please forgive this entry's title. I'm not sure what I have to say here.
A Different Light, the gay bookstore in the Castro, just closed. The one in West Hollywood closed last year (I think). Independent bookstores have been closing for years due to a variety of reasons we all know. I won't get into that here. I lament their loss just like the loss of record stores. But seeing A Different Light close makes me want to examine community and wax eloquently about the past.
I'm old enough to remember the AIDS crisis of the 80's. One day in class, Ms. Bragg, my seventh grade Life Science teacher, asked if we knew what AIDS was. Wilbert Gilmore, the star jock of my junior high, shouted, "That's the disease fags get." Like most people, especially those who lived in less sophisticated places (like New Orleans), I was scared of AIDS. And I knew the "fags" Wilbert Gilmore referred to were my kin. I was scared of that too. Scared of being a dark outcast always on the verge of dying from my own poisons.
Fast forward many, many years. I'm out of college and getting into poetry, reading lots of anthologies. Some were seminal like Joseph Beam's In the Life and some, several years later, have become seminal: Rudy Kikel's Gents, Bad Boys, And Barbarians andThings Shaped in Passing, edited by Michael Klein and Richard J.McCann. Of course, there were others.
I discovered and / or bought all of these in gay bookstores.
I wasn't there and haven't talked to those who were there but I imagine gay bookstores were vital during the 80s and early 90s. They were places where everyday folks, booklovers, poets, novelists, scholars, activists and others could find much of what they needed to stay informed about the times. Those bookstores, like any independent bookstore, helped to support the community -- was community. And remarkably vital during that time, during such dark times as the AIDS years. Those years are still with us but I think you know what I mean.
I'm troubled by the loss of these spaces.Perhaps they served their purposes and can now go into the dustbin of history. But I'm thinking of my own history, too.
A few years ago, when I was at my lowest -- ever-- I went to A Different Light to find a book to inspire me. What I found instead was E. Lynn Harris giving a reading. When I was fresh out of college, I'd read his first book but never became much of a fan, mostly because I'd always associated his books with my years of shame and self-hatred -- times when I hid the covers of the gay-themed books I owned. His reading and talk that night inspired and encouraged me. Brought me higher.
We're all mainstream now, I guess. We no longer need gay-only this or gay-only that. Just like we're postracial and no longer need black this or black that, Latino this or Latino that, Asian this or Asian that.