I realized I was gay when I was 10. I did not know how to deal with it. There was nothing I could do. The feeling that I might be taunted or worse ridiculed. I could not even tell anyone. I come from a Sindhi-Punjabi family, where the only exposure to “being gay” had come to my family through movies and that too at a very superficial or humorous level. I knew how my family would make fun of me, plus I was ten. I thought things would change. I turned thirteen. Things remained the same. I liked boys more than I liked girls. I could not tell anyone. I read.
Reading provided the much needed solace. Reading was a balm to all my aches. Books transported me, took me away from reality. I did not know want to face reality. Why should I? I thought to myself, when I could be lost in the lands of Oz and travel with Gulliver and be miserable with Jane Eyre. Nothing was of consequence, but the authors and the books I read.
School and Books
RL Stine’s books mattered more than lunch. Books were the core of my life. When so-called friends at school would bully me because I read too much, I could only turn to books. They became more important than any other friend I had and with good reason. Words grew on me, like a second skin, like second nature. I probably wanted to bury my orientation in them, but it wasn’t easy. Books were my friends.
When you are bullied at school, there are no happy memories. The library was a place I could turn to. Friends did not matter. I refused to see in their direction. The hoity-toityness was showing I guess. Ha! Come to think of it, it would help me later – help me distinguish between the kind of people I wanted in my life and the ones I did not.
Love in the time of discrimination
College was a different ball-game. It almost came with a prescription that I refused to follow. I just could not. I would not discuss women or men in the manner that was expected. I had books to discuss and yet I could not help myself when I fell in love. No one can. I loved at 16 and maybe even at 15. Again, I did not know whether my love would be reciprocated. I did not tell him. I read instead.
Love stories were the crux. It did not matter if the stories were about “straight love” or “gay love”. To me love was love and that was paramount. Erich Segal knew what it was like. He wrote about it. I knew Madame Bovary would understand. I knew for a fact that Allen Ginsberg would not discriminate, though I did not fully understand the impact of his words. I tried. They helped me yet again – words.
I was seventeen and confused. I was sure, but wanted to tell someone this time. Yet I couldn’t. I read The Bell Jar. I was depressed by it. I loved it more than any other book and I think I know why. I did not want to be alienated. I was afraid. And yet here I am telling all of you about me. This is a personal post and it doesn’t matter. I want to tell you how books saved me. Jack Kerouac and Rainer Maria Rilke spoke to me of growing up. Georges Perec strangely enough made me see things, through a complex web. Tolstoy’s Anna gave me the courage to stand up and face the truth. To make others face it.
Books don’t judge
I was 18. I came out. My family did not understand me. I did not expect them to. They still loved me or so I thought. My aunt refused to acknowledge my presence and I loved her probably more than I loved my mother. I read PG Wodehouse and laughed at his aunts. I read Matilda (a little later in the day) and understood why Matilda read the way she did.
Reading books was sufficient then. They did not discriminate against me. They were not like my family and friends. I was made to see a therapist. I read on the drive to her office. I read in her office as she tried to study me. I wept as I read East of Eden. It was about family. I had to read it.
Authors entered my life more than people did. My family did not get me, but reading Lawrence Durrell helped. The Alexandria Quartet made me feel that it was written for me when I was 20. It changed my life. It made me see passion and love and everything sexual. So did Anais Nin and Henry Miller. We need to get our education the way we can and there is nothing wrong with that. I thought I would be understood.
My family did not come around initially. I did give them gay literature then. I was relentless. I had to make them see my point of view. Books helped me again. They got around, to some extent. I worked at Crossword the bookstore. I read more. I met people who read. Men who read. I admired them some more. It was but natural. It was their minds. They made me think with them. It mattered.
It was at that time that Stephen King kicked in. The horror genre opened itself up. His complex characters made me realise that my life was maybe better (sniggers thinking of it). reading changed my perception about the human mind and the emotions we hold close.
Of men and books
I grew up. A little earlier than normal, but then I read so much more. It made sense. That was the only thing to do. No one else would understand my need to turn pages. I fell in love some more. Some men loved me and some did not. I discussed books with them. They read with me.
Those were spectacular moments. We discussed Dickinson and Joyce Carol Oates. We spoke of Charles Dickens and Austen. We went for walks and Neruda would roll off our tongues. We were not inhibited. Books set me free. I read gay literature. I read straight literature. It did not matter. It never did. I was happy and with every bookmark, my life was enriched.
At the same time, I discovered Murakami and I fell in love all over again. His words scratched the surface of the soul. They made me see. Reading him last year (his latest book then, 1Q84), when I was just out of a relationship (the one and only) made me learn about love and its detailing. The way it is. The way it probably isn’t. For this, I love his words beyond any words there to describe.
Still being saved
Today I stand tall. There is no question of “queer pride”. Books have taught me the basic principle – pride is pride and sexual orientation has nothing to do with it. Today I am surrounded by different authors and different words. They continue to take me places and when I feel that life is not going the way I want it to, books save me.
It does not matter what anyone has to say. What matters is that I know that I will have books, everywhere I go, whomsoever I meet. It is so important to get through life with something you can rely on totally and without a sliver of doubt. Books are that for me and I am hoping someone comes along who I can share this love with. One step at a time. For now, there are more books to be read.