Today I cycled over to New York’s gay bookstore, the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division (BGSQD) which is on the second floor of New York’s LGBT Community Centre. I walked in and was barely down the ramp before seeing Greg Newton, one of the owners, I introduced myself “Hi I’m Raymond Helkio, I emailed you about my book, The Great Meeting Room?” as I pull the book out of my bag and hand it across the railing to him I am suddenly struck by how unprepared I am. I mean, I know everything there is about my book yet here I am face-to-face with a stranger who might be willing to sell it and I’m completely lost on how to talk about the story in a way that relates to selling it. I’m quite sure Greg will be interested in a good story but why someone should buy my book over a similar title in the same category is what matters. But and in this moment all I do is stumble around in my words attempting to explain what my book is all about and why he should care to stock it.
The Great Meeting Room is about two boys who search the world for understanding but find something better… love. Sometimes the best way to teach children about love, is not to teach them anything at all. The concept of same-sex love is not a new one in children’s books but The Great Meeting Room is different because the main characters are same sex yet there is no attention drawn to this as a difference. I think it’s vitally important as queer people that we are visible and public about our identities as a way of honouring what makes us unique so I don’t want the moral of my story to be that we are the same as everyone else. I’d just be nice to start seeing myself reflected back in books in a way that doesn’t always position me as different. For example, Heather Has Two Mommies is a children’s book that helps to explain why same sex parenting is okay and while that’s a good thing I’d still rather see same sex and gender non-conforming relationships as just one of the many types of relationships that exist. The fact adults feel a need to explain this says more about the state of our culture than our actual openness to diversity. Infants, up to very small children, simply do not care or even acknowledge such differences, it’s the grown-ups who imbue kids with these ideals and then they try and explain it away with a book. How do you sit a child down and explain to him that it’s okay that Uncle Ray is gay? How about not saying anything at all and just demonstrating by example that it’s okay to be LGBT. That’s a pretty tall order, even for some same sex couples.
When I was a child I often found adults to be filled with contradictions, arbitrary rules that served some “adult” purpose, and a whole lot of talking down to me. It wasn’t until I was seven that I first really remember an adult speaking to me like an equal with no baby talk, shortened sentences or high pitched voices. As children we are born with the most beautiful and luxurious capacity for love, it’s wired right into us. Our culture isn’t that sophisticated yet, so over a few short years a child’s purity gets chipped away at until love becomes another commodity. The Great Meeting Room offers same-sex main characters without having to justify them in any way. Most parents wouldn’t feel the need to own a copy of Heather Has One Mommy And One Daddy because explaining that you’re a couple, heterosexual, CIS gendered would be kind of absurd.
Greg and I continued our talk about independent bookstores cultural hubs, the evils of Amazon and then he hands me my a form to fill out – and it’s my first consignment order! BGSQD is the only LGBT bookstore in New York City so having my book here is a not only a perfect fit, it’s a totally official fit!
BGSQD happens to be holding an event tonight called Publish It Forward which is billed as a publisher, agent, bookseller, publicist, and cultural critic coming together for a panel discussion on queer book publishing. Panelists are to include June Thomas (Slate.com), Mitchell Waters (Literary Agent) and the co-owner of BGSQD, Greg Newton. The place was packed and as we got there Greg was putting out a extra chairs at the back so people could sit. Every person on the panel started with the fairly doom and gloom stuff about the reality of the publishing industry but they each had lots of practical stuff to say about how that translates into an increased intensity of involvement (beyond writing and design) for any author, but especially an LGBT author.
Highlights of the two hour evening included hearing Mitchell’s stories about queer books titles that did well, June’s perspective on what book reviews may not really matter as much as other parts of a publication, plus Greg’s thoughts on how independent bookstores serve multi-purposes and how big business makes life near impossible for the local, independent or community bookstores by favouring volume over content and context. It was an insightful event but the best part of the evening was looking over to see that my book was already out on display. Pure awesomeness.