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Editorial: Having Our Say

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Do You Read?

Why have so many gay men and lesbians abandoned the written word?

By Mikel Wadewitz

I am reading manuscripts -- giggling to myself and trying not to choke on my coffee. I am hopelessly enraptured, intoxicated by the very essence of the sentence. Yet, I wonder why no one seems to feel the same way. Is it too much to ask? Some sign of camaraderie or, maybe, some secret code that will reveal the bond among people who read. Does it exist and, if it does, where is it now?

And what of gay men and lesbians? Does our literature bring us together or has it only served to splinter us into those that "read" and those who "don't"?

It is a question I end up asking myself quite often, if only because I get to watch as a novel or anthology or book of essays slowly -- oh so slowly -- rises to a few thousand copies in its sales. My last thought, after tracking these sales, is always: What is happening here? We -- gay men and lesbians -- are not stupid, we are not lacking drive and imagination, and we don't despair in various forms of artistic expression. So, where are our readers? Where are the vast numbers who could stand exposure to the many ideas and hypotheses of those men and women who are writing our history?

I often hear the jokes of gay men who prefer to go clubbing instead of reading; of lesbians who don't buy hardcover books. I know the stereotypes. I know the sarcasm and irony. What troubles me is that, all too often, this lack of reader support is concrete. I am not hoping to make every gay and lesbian author rich and famous. I am not even asking for them to make the Advocate bestseller lists. What I am asking is that we reevaluate the ways in which works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry affect our lives.

In a world where visual media is king and queen, where music rules the bars and clubs, and where theater continues to impress us by the millions, it is necessary to know that none of this would exist without the written word. Without the millions of pages produced by gay men and lesbians, how the hell would we even remember? How would we be shocked, titillated, moved to tears, and even be rendered helpless in our laughter.

It is troubling to see the stalling of gay and lesbian literature and to think that our next generation will read books on-line (if they read them at all) rather than hold them in their hands. Yes, there is a wild proliferation of published work by and about gay men and lesbians. Yes, our "exposure" is phenomenal. But that has never meant that more and more people are going out of their way to buy the books or check them out of their library. It doesn't mean that they will be shared in classrooms, and it certainly doesn't guarantee that the ideas will be exchanged in conversation with our friends and family.

The solution, if there is one, is nebulous and maybe I am being naive. Maybe my relative youth betrays me. But I want to continue to choke on my coffee and feel as if I am solving a puzzle as I turn each page. I want to devour information and hold it in my head, use it and even regurgitate it. I want to identify a solution. I want to throw books at people and tell them they are dying without these words.

I would not be out and I would not be where I am today if it weren't for these words, words that seem to be trendy to ignore. Where do we start? Where does the next round of gay and lesbian activism begin? Where will we go from here? Hefty questions to be placed upon the shoulders of a community that is already being splintered, I know. But I'm tired of talking clothes with the cute boy at the bar. I want to deliriously quote, in a moment of utter fascination, a line of Audre Lorde's poetry and have him smile in recognition, not look at me like I am the one with the problem.

Perhaps that day will come. Perhaps I will talk shoes and Madonna instead. But the glimmer is there, hovering just in the back of my throat and eyes. Maybe there is a way to scream that message -- loud and clear. Without our own words and ideas spreading further, the splintering of our community will only continue and we will be forced to hear only sound bites and digest encapsulations that serve only to simplify, never to enlighten.

Mikel Wadewitz is a reviewer, writer and an Assistant Editor at St. Martin's Press/Stonewall Inn.


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Why Do We Need Gay Books?

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