On Thursday, May 15, I had the distinct honor of reading with five other Lambda Literary finalists at Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia. Among the finalists reading were fellow Philadelphian and PhiladelphiaUniversity professor, Phil Tiemeyer, filmmaker and author, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, and poets Michael Klein and BrianTeare. Two weeks before, I’d done the finalist reading in New York. (You can read about that experience here. But this felt different. It was on my home turf. Stanley would be there. I had more time to read from my book.
The small room filled quickly with an assortment of people, including nun in her habit, all of whom seemed genuinely interested in our words, our stories; others there to pay their respects to a community pillar, a business about to close, and people I knew: our neighbors, Christine and Dwight, my young friend, Brandon, who’d flown in from California the night before, and my partner, Stanley.
It was bittersweet event for this was to be one of the last events held at Giovanni’s Room which was to close two days later after 32 years. The air was bittersweet but not melancholy; we had come together to appreciate, to celebrate, the very thing Giovanni’s Room had dedicated its history to: the celebration, and sharing of the words and stories of lesbian and gay writers.
The poignancy of me being there, reading for the first time, at that particular moment in time was not lost on me; as Giovanni’s Room was winding down, I was just starting up. I remembered the first time I’d walked into the bookstore more than 26 years ago. I wouldn’t have believed then the bookstore would ever close or that I would be among the last writers to read there. Yet I believe this is not the end of Giovanni’s Room. If I could reinvent myself at 50, I have no doubt Giovanni’s Room can reinvent itself at 32 and come back even stronger, a new chapter begun, a new story to be told.
Compared to the finalist reading in New York, the event in Philly was smaller, more intimate―like the city itself. Where there had been a podium on a makeshift stage in New York, here there was a wing chair beside a fireplace. The New York reading had made me feel like an author; the Philadelphia reading made me feel like an old friend.
I read a passage from the book, “’No’ was the word I heard most often. No, boys don’t do that. No, boys don’t do this…” And I realized that, like my main character Lincoln, somewhere along the line, I had turned “no” into “yes.” Yes this boy does.
Through writing the book and talking about it, I reconnected with the real Jose, my boyhood crush who is at the center of Unbroken. And what I thought would never happen, happened; 40 years after we first met, we formed a friendship. I became his friend. Yes, I did.
Today my partner and I looked at wedding rings. If a federal judge in Pennsylvania does the right thing in the coming weeks and overturns Pennsylvania’s gay marriage ban, I will marry him on June 28. On June 28―our 17th anniversary―I will say “I do.”
Yes, this boy will.
Learn more about Unbroken, a 2014 Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a 2014 IPPY Gold Medal winner.