I used to say that there were three places in Boston which were at the center of gay life for me. There was, obviously, the Ramrod, the gay leather bar on outer Boylston, where numerous overlapping communities met to socialize, perhaps meet for sex, and to feel gay. There was also the locker room, and particularly the sauna, in the Huntington YMCA, which for me was the most sexual place in Boston. And then there was Glad Day, where one went for books. Glad Day had at least two attractions. First, it had everything. All the new books coming out that weren’t reviewed anywhere. All the porn and erotic literature. And then all the classic texts. You wanted to finally read J. A. Symonds A Problem in Greek Ethics (1873)? Glad Day had it. You wanted to have a conversation with John Mitzel about what A Problem in Greek Ethics was, and why you ought to know about it? John was up for it. I used to think Mitzel’s greatest attraction was his management ability in keeping a bookstore , in effect a University Bookstore for the LGBTQ community. Later, I thought that, while that was an important ability, his real, irreplaceable gift was his intelligence. He knew so much. He was here during the seventies and eighties, and he wrote for Gay Community News, and when I went into town to see John, he had the answer. Once I ran across something by a guy named Carl Wittman. I asked John, and without hesitating said, “Oh yes, I knew Carl Wittman. He was here. Its name was Manifesto and it was published in San Francisco Free Press.” The other attraction at Glad Day were the men. There were plenty of men or women who came only for the porn, and plenty who came for the political theory. But many of us came for both—or one from each of the major foodgroups, as Mitzel used to put it. I wrote about it in Race Point Light:
Near the videos is a rack of magazines. These are magazines that come out once a month and contain pornographic fiction, graphic spreads of naked models, personal ads, and advertisements for sex toys. The names of the most popular magazines are Honcho, Bound & Gagged, Master, and Drummer. There are also one-of-a-kind magazines devoted to pictures of a particular model or of a particular sexual taste. Above these are magazines with fewer pictures and more text—Christopher Street, fiction, politics, and social commentary, The Advocate, which has politics and social commentary, and gay travel guides from abroad, GaiPied from Paris, and TimeOut from London. I buy any of these magazines when they have something serious to say about the place of gay people in western culture. The nice thing about the magazine rack is that the man looking for something to jerk off to has to stand next to the man looking for political theory, and that forms a bond, even if it lasts only a minute. There is always the possibility, and it has happened to me occasionally, that what the man next to me is holding in his hand—porno or political theory—draws my attention away from what I am holding in my hand, or vice versa, and we end up buying the same thing, or better yet—Hi, I’m Fair Shaw—leaving together.
In short, Glad Day was, for many of us, far more than just a place to pick up a book. It was a place to go to talk about gay issues, about literary values, it was a place to find what was being talked about and written about, what is the state of current LGBTQ literature? it was an intellectual center, it was a communal center (it had a bulletin board where people could put up announcements about things the community might be interested in). It was a place to meet new people. I always paid a visit on Pride, just to remind myself how grateful I was. It served a real purpose
But John Mitzel died in October 4, 2013. The bookstore he started after Glad Day closed, Calamus Books, itself closed last year, a victim of the same forces that have caused bookstores—and many gay bars—across the country to close, victims of amazon.com, of new sources of information, of changes in social patterns in the LGBTQ community. Now Boston has no LGBTQ bookstore. And this has happened without any sustained discussion in the LGBTQ community in Boston.
Questions arise. Did we want this? Do we still want a bookstore? Are there enough of us to support a store? What are we willing to do to get a bookstore back? Is that even possible? I haven’t read anything that exhibits anything other than fatalism in the face of the closing of bookstores nationally. I haven’t read anything that says, amazon.com îs not answering the needs of the gay community in Boston, and it is not the only answer to our needs for books. There are some really interesting and serious books out there, written by serious, thoughtful people, who are addressing the future of books—what is the future of print books in the age of ebooks? what is the future of a brick and mortar bookstores when we can get our ebooks as well as print books from iBooks and Amazon. All of this ought to be written about and discussed. We should not simply shrug our shoulders and say, Que sera sera, as if we have no control over our lives.
Now a disclaimer. I have been selling my novels, which are ebooks, on my webpage, for the last seven years, and I intend to continue to sell my ebooks on my webpage. But I also want a brick and mortar bookstore available to me in Boston. Most of all, I want to discuss these matters with my friends in the LGBTQ to learn more about what’s happening and to learn whether, at this critical moment in the history of queer people, we could have done anything.
The gay bookstore, like the gay bar, is a centrally important fact of our history, And I want no part of a process where the LGBTQ community sleepwalks its way into allowing gay bookstores to close without even talking about what it is losing. What we lose may be irreplaceable.
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I am going to write several of these posts in the coming days, bringing together the names of books on the subject, major thinkers, librarians and publishers, and then I have some ideas of my own.
Dwight Cathcart. Race Point Light. Boston: Adriana Books, 2010. Part 5.
Donn Teal. The Gay Militants. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1971. Reference to Carl Wittman, p. 111.
Carl Wittman. Refugees from Amerika: A Gay Manifesto. San Francisco: San Francisco Free Press, 1971