By Simon Thibault
When I was 16 and trying to learn what it is to be gay, I only knew one person, other than myself, who was gay. So, he and I turned to books and popular culture. We watched "Torch Song Trilogy" by Harvey Fierstein and any other film we could find that had gay references. I went looking to filmmakers like Derek Jarman, and his adaptation of "Edward II" by Marlowe, while my friend introduced me to John Waters and "Hairspray."
We both began reading books. I read Edmund White's "A boy's own story" and "The beautiful room is empty", the two books bleeding into one. White was honest -- to a fault -- and told an incredible story. The book recounted the author's personal, intellectual and sexual awakening, often to the point of rude awakenings. I re-read "The Beautiful room is empty" at least once a year, and I remember finding the book laying on the bed of one of my own sexual awakenings.
I also picked up John Rechy's "City of Night", a novel telling the story of a young hustler in San Francisco in the 60's. Amazingly, this novel was published in the 60's, recounting stories of S&M, bondage, drugs, and nellie old drag queens with biceps that would crack walnuts.
At the same time as I discovered White's books, I found "Dancer from the Dance" by Andrew Holleran, a novel recounting the stories of Fire Island. Though it has been 6 years since I read the book, I still remember the feeling I got when I read it. I felt like I was a part of something, of a great movement, literary or otherwise.
It is because of my digging through these books that I realized where I come from. I come from a league of men and women who wrote their stories the best way they could. I come from a league of people who were artists and activists. And not enough people of my own age know who any of these people are.
When I mention Gore Vidal, they say "Who?". The closes answer I can get is, "Isn't he in "Gattaca?". Vidal's novel "The City and the Pillar" was published in over 40 years ago, and yet, no one of my generation has read it, that I have ever met. The same thing goes for Thomas Mann. People who know of Virginia Woolf can thank the play that bears her name, rather than her brilliant novel "Orlando" a book which looks at gender roles.
Not enough people of our generation are conscious that the so-called "queer culture" that we are a part of has been around for centuries, permeated into high society and secular world alike. Michealangelo's Sistine Chapel is the work of a man who supposedly fell in love with the boys who modeled for him. Fact or fiction, the story of this gay man who lived into his 90's, an unheard of age in his time, is beautiful and moving. Oscar Wilde's witticisms are no match for today's queer comics, though I think Lea DeLaria is an amazingly talented woman and I think Mark Davis is a riot. I think queer youth should learn and be conscious of queer artists of their own generation, and of generations past. Pick up Arthur Rimbaud's poems, or go see Attila Richard Lucaks paintings.
If we are so gung-ho about being queer, and pushing queer issues, it is the artists and the poets who will push and persevere to have voices heard. It is their voices who will be the loudest.