” The culture at large regularly instructs people on how to be heterosexual. Movies, television, popular music, and advertising are about almost nothing else. But gay men and women, at least until recently, have had only books to help them find or invent or test their identities. ” –Christopher Bram, Mapping the Territory
When you were a 11-year-old boy who just arrived in America, who were surrounded by an incomprehensible culture, and who was gay, who could to you confide in all your fear and confusion? Despite the advent of civil rights for the gays, I’m surprised at how much Bram and I have in common our experiences of being a young homosexual. In Mapping the Territory, a collection of essays that falls into the autobiographical zone, Bram mentioned the books that made him as a person. Mr. Bram and I are two generations apart, yet we are both at the mercy of books, which offer the most diverse set of tools for an individual to find his self. I could be prejudiced here, but I believe literature provides a looser, broader, more varied medium in which to explore one’s identity than movies and television do—even now as gay and lesbian images make their way into mass media. A book has a delay factor, that is, the time taken to finish from cover to cover is way longer than watching a movie. Back when financial resources were limited, I read my way into homosexuality. I remember stopping by two bookstores on the way home from school, Doubleday on Sutter and Bretano’s in the San Francisco Shopping Center on Market, where I lost myself in a forest of books. I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a literary construct, but the love of books was already stamped into my being before I realized I was attracted to men. I loved books before I loved bodies—the bodies didn’t appear until junior high. Ina society where all voices are pro-heterosexual, homosexual thoughts are strictly taboo, let alone the lust. I don’t remember the title of the psychology book I stumbled upon in the bookstore, that gave me the first usual piece of information, about most adolescents go through a homosexual phase. Bookstores were heaven for this solitary and private, self-sufficient and bookish kid who wanted to read up for being gay. Books were magic: I found myself entering a dialogue with them. I use them to address my sexuality, a safe place where I can try out different roles. More important, I see through books the kind of life that I would have learned to want through my reading.