17 December 2009

Guest Blog - A Giovanni's Room Story

The following is a guest blog from The Phaggot.  He is a self described artist, writer, wine drinker, objector, citizen, homosexual, computer geek, activist, super hero, and grad student. Most importantly, a CUTE homosexual.  He does a lot of great work in Philadelphia, and I am very appreciative to him for sharing his story below:

I grew up in a poorer section of the great NorthEast corridor. Money in our family was spent frugally, better to feed the 7 kids then spend paychecks on any type of luxury. The VCR was a gift from an Uncle. Clothes were always hand-me-downs or Wal-Mart fresh. Our worn-out television was so old it bared the RCA logo. What few books we owned were dog-eared and smudged, passed down from father to son, to brother, to sister. Although our Encyclopedia was out-dated enough to talk about 48 states in the Union, we loved all our books.

My school system, while under-funded and under-appreciated in that rural American kind of way, did have an excellent set of librarians. These women (yes, they were all women) worked overtime to make sure books were available to all students. Classics, science fiction, romance, adventure and horror, they were all stacked on the shelves. For a voracious reader like me, this was heaven. I found inspiration in the stories of Hans Brinker, John Carter, Thomas Jefferson, James and His Giant Peach, and those four Little Women. What I didn’t find was was role-models or people who seemed like me. My school’s Dewey Decimal system didn’t extend as far as the Kinsey scale.

In my teen years, when my hourly rate at Dairy Queen allowed me some financial freedom, I was still in a sexual book bind. A small town in Maryland is still not a place a teen boy can find a Playgirl, much less any works of our great gay authors. Neither the Christian Light Bookstore or K-Mart’s book section carried any of the titles I needed.

At 17, I visited a girlfriend attending Drexel University. A born fag-hag, she had known far before me what my destiny was in life. After a long walk on South Street, we took a detour north. We ended up in the middle of Philadelphia’s Gayborhood.  Lacking a sophisticated fake ID and born with a non-stop babyface, my initiation into the world of big city homosexuality would have been cut short without the most important shopping moment of my life: Giovanni’s Room.

I didn’t buy much on my first visit; after all, I still shared a room with two brothers. There was only so much I could hide. Hefty purchases would be saved for later visits. But that wasn’t what made Giovanni’s Room special. The important thing was that Giovanni’s Room was THERE. It represented the first time I knew that there were other people like me out there, and that we were OKAY enough to have books about us! And while my parents had never said much positive about homosexuality, if anything at all, I did know that books meant something, something good and something important. I also knew, that a place devoted to our tales, catering to our fears and desires, and built upon our past and looking toward our future – that kind of place had to be for me.

Losing Giovanni’s room wouldn't just be a loss to your bookshelf. Not for me now, and certainly not for the old me either. While it’s a tremendous bookstore with shelves and shelves of delightful gay fun, that is not why we need Giovanni’s Room. This bookstore transcends retail; it’s a place that is pivotal to the gay community – to our people and culture. We Queers are not just drinkers, or activists, or networkers or marchers. We are not always going to congregate in the squares with signs, or on social media sites with secrets. Not all of us want to join, and some of us are shy. Some of us, either always or at different points in our life, need a place were words are on pages and ideas are in front of us. Were we can learn the news, exchange in the arts, and see a little tushie too.


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