Today I sold a souvenir from my past; something that represented a turning point in my life regarding coming to terms with myself and discovering who I really am.
Jeff and I are in the process of downsizing our possessions. You can read more about that here.
We are not planning to move to a smaller house anytime soon, but we are finally divesting ourselves of possessions we have been retaining for many years, even though we have not had any need for them in years.
This book is just such an item. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein and Edmund White, was published in 1977, which was during my junior year of college. It was published in the wake of the enormously popular The Joy of Sex. It was one of the first books ever published that dealt with gay sex (or anything gay) in an objective, positive, and non-pornographic way. It was a bold and brave release for an established publishing house.
During my first three years of college, I knew that I was attracted to men, but I kept holding on to the hope that if I found the right woman those urges I had would subside.
When this book first appeared on the shelf at Long’s Bookstore, directly across High Street from the Ohio State University campus, I would venture into the bookstore in the middle of the afternoon, when the store was relatively empty, and wander down the aisle where it was placed. If there was nobody within view, I would furtively pull the book off the shelf and spend a few seconds skimming its pages. Then somebody (a total stranger who certainly had no interest in what I was looking at) would enter the aisle and I would quickly return the book to its place on the shelf and scurry away.
Such was the fear of being discovered to be gay in the late seventies – although in reality, the person who I most feared would discover that I was gay was me.
During the following summer (1978), while I was at home in Springfield, Ohio working my summer job as a pool manager at a local country club, the intrigue of this book kept calling to me. Finally, on a quiet weekday afternoon in July, I summoned all of the courage I could muster and ventured into the Waldenbooks store in our local shopping mall. The bookstore and the mall were nearly deserted. In a major act of determination and bravery, I took The Joy of Gay Sex off the shelf. I also wanted to purchase the latest Doonesbury anthology.
Refusing to allow myself to be deterred from my mission and my destiny, I approached the cashier counter – with the Doonesbury book on top, of course. Two teenage girls, who I fortunately did not know, shot glances at each other signaling their pleasure at having a nice young man approaching the counter. (It was a slow day.) One of them rang up the Doonesbury book, and then moved it aside to reveal the other book. Both of them maintained their professional demeanor as it became obvious to them that I did not play on the team they were cheering for, as it were. I completed the sale with remarkable composure, without fainting, being struck by lightning, or falling through a trap door into hell. I left the store with both books safely hidden from public scrutiny in a brown paper Waldenbooks bag.
I made my way to my car as quickly as possible, terrified that even on this day when there was practically no one in the mall, I would encounter a friend who would inquire as to what I had purchased.
Thankfully, no such encounter occurred. Once I sat safely in my car, I pulled The Joy of Gay Sex from the bag. I spent the next 15 or 20 minutes (I have no idea how long it actually was) flipping through the book page by page, fully absorbing every single photograph and drawing of gay men engaged in various intimate acts.
As I reached the end of the book, I experienced a Moment of Clarity. I knew that this was what I wanted. I knew that this was who I was. I didn’t know what I would do next, but I knew that I would stop deluding myself by thinking that the right girl would miraculously turn me straight.
When I returned home, I feared that my mother would see the bag and ask what I had purchased at Waldenbooks. But thankfully, I made it to my bedroom with my clandestine purchase undiscovered.
What happened next wouldn’t take place until over two years later. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that one of my housemates during my last year of college discovered this book hidden in one of my dresser drawers while he was looking for something else. He later told me that he had discovered it, and it led to my first all-the-way experience.
All of this is to say that this book, The Joy of Gay Sex, was the catalyst for me finally admitting to myself that I am gay, and it was the catalyst for turning those feelings into reality.
I probably haven’t looked at anything in that book for thirty years. It’s been stored away in a box with other sexually-themed books and hauled from place to place over countless moves throughout my adult life.
Last week, as part of our tidying process, we went through all of our books and pulled over half of them to be disposed of in one way or another. This one could actually be sold on Amazon for $4.73, so I listed it.
Today, I received an email notification that it had been sold.
That’s when it really hit me that I was getting rid of something that had played a significant role in my past.
I suppose I could cancel the sale and the buyer would get his money refunded. He could just as easily buy it from the next seller for a penny or two more.
But I went ahead and packaged the book in a padded envelope, and tomorrow I will mail it to the buyer. The memory of the book and its role in my life will live forever whether or not I retain a physical copy of the book, which I no longer have a practical need for.
The buyer is a college senior who looks to be about the same age I was when I purchased the book. (He has a somewhat unusual name, so I easily found him on Facebook.) Buying this book may be an act of courage and self-discovery that he has been quietly contemplating for months. Receiving this book and thumbing through its pages may lead him to self-acceptance in much the same way it did for me over 37 years ago. At least in this scenario he doesn’t have to experience face-to-face contact with the seller.
This book fulfilled its purpose for me long ago, and now it can serve a purpose for another young man on his journey to self-discovery. Or maybe he’s buying it for a research project. Or maybe he’s buying it for a friend. Who knows?
Bless and release.
As a humorous footnote, the young man who bought this book lives on Morewood Avenue.
© 2016 Dave Hughes
Sailboat: Hugo Kerr
Book: Dave Hughes