The first love of my life was books. I was pretty young (three or four) when my older sister first started learning how to read, but I was fascinated by the way little symbols on a page could turn into sounds, then words, then ideas. I would gobble up her Hooked-on-Phonics readers, and those little books were the beginning of a life-long love affair with the written word. To this day, if I have time or money to spare, I will spend it in a bookstore.
Yesterday was a lovely afternoon, and as I was walking back from class, I decided to dip into the university bookstore for a quick perusal. I hadn’t been inside and shopping for anything other than textbooks in quite a while and I wasn’t familiar with the sections anymore, so I began the hunt for the gay and lesbian area.
There was a women’s studies section that looked promising, but no books specifically on LGBT topics. I spent the next fifteen minutes wandering both floors of the store, convinced that I must be missing the sign somewhere.
Finally, exasperated, I made my way to the Help Desk. “Excuse me,” I asked the lanky thirty-something with his head buried under the counter. “I was just wondering if there is a gay and lesbian section..?”
A head popped up from behind the desk. “Yes, actually!” he said, with the hint of excitement and recognition that queers often exchange upon finding one another. “It’s right over here.”
I followed him past the table displays of best-sellers and new releases to a shelving unit by a large window; I had walked past the area several times, yet had seen no sign of an LGBT section.
My guide pointed at two small shelves at the bottom of the rack. The sign above read “SOCIOLOGY;” no wonder I couldn’t find the LGBT section.
“It’s not too extensive,” my guide conceded. He seemed equal parts embarrassed and defensive. “But it’s a very carefully hand-picked selection.” I wondered if he was doing the picking. “Although…” he paused, his eyes scanning the shelves, “I don’t see Stone Butch Blues.” He sounded baffled by its absence.
“That’s okay,” I offered, trying to put him out of his misery. “I already have it!” I laughed. My guide looked relieved and left me to explore.
Well, “explore” might be a bit too strong of a word to describe browsing through the fifteen, maybe twenty if I’m being generous, titles at my disposal. I still found a few things that I’m excited to read, but honestly I was shocked by the whole experience.
Y’all, I go to one of the most liberal schools in the country. So liberal, in fact, that I was the black sheep in my conservative family even before I came out, just for going here. And in a place like this, the university bookstore doesn’t even have a section labeled LGBT? That’s disheartening.
Fortunately I am confident enough in my identity to walk up to the Help Desk and ask for directions, but not everyone is so comfortable. There were people around when I asked, many of them fellow students, and if I had been closeted there is no way I would have said the words “gay and lesbian section” out loud. I hate to think of some poor queer kid wandering aimlessly through the bookstore looking for any sign of acceptance and not finding it, and I hate to think of all the closeted students who may never find the book that could have opened their mind and changed everything.
Now the counter-argument of course is that a closeted kid may not want to be seen in a section of the bookstore with a big “GAY AND LESBIAN” sign overhead. But there’s got to be some compromise that can be reached between no sign at all and a flashing neon billboard. A map to the bookstore hung on a wall somewhere? I don’t know.. do you all have any ideas?
The limited selection also bugs me, but I don’t know if it is indicative of a shortcoming of this particular bookstore or a greater systemic problem of LGBT books not being written and/or published. Maybe both.
So what do you think? How should a gay and lesbian section in a campus bookstore be marked? And please answer the poll question and let me know why you think there are so few LGBT books in mainstream bookstores! Thanksloveyoubye!