In a city like New York, where space is at a premium, it can be hard for an organization like Visual AIDS to find places to hold events. The Bureau of General Service Queer Division, in the short time they have been around, has been a generous and warm host. Earlier this year they released "Future Perfect," a book edited by Visual AIDS blog contributor Andrew Durbin, as a fundraiser for the bookstore and community space. Contributors include Visual AIDS friends and collaborators: Penny Arcade, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Wayne Koestenbaum, Max Steele, and our own programs manager, Ted Kerr. Below is a excerpt of his essay, "Luck and the Need for Queer Bookstores."

The summer after high school I found Bob Smith’s first autobiography in a local grocery store in my hometown of Edmonton Alberta, Canada. I stole Sandra Bernhard’s Love Love And Love from my cousin’s house the summer I was 14. Wayne Koestenbaum’s Jackie Under My Skin fell off the shelf at the second hand bookstore I use to troll on Saturday mornings in my early twenties. On an early visit to New York before I moved here, a friend thrust Tom Spanbauer’s The Man Who Fell in Love With The Moon into my hands in the Housing Works bookstore and said, “Read this.” Sarah Schulman’s People in Trouble was left on the Greyhound seat beside me on my way to visit my grandma.

All this is to say: growing up, I was lucky. These queer books found me and I was smart enough to snatch them up and read them. As James Baldwin famously said, “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” While I am not comparing my situation to Baldwin’s I can say that books gave an education not only about what it was to be gay, they introduced me to my own queer mind. These books allowed me to explore the curious, angry and odd parts of myself I thought I had to let go of. I was given permission to be strange, thoughtful, hopeful and dissatisfied.

But not sexual. The books opened up my mind, but I wasn’t a good enough reader for them to impact me any deeper. For that I would need something physical to trigger the full reading experience.

Coming up, I got good at being homo and failed at being sexual. I have no stories of seducing the captain of the football team at some party, or tales of fit-less fondling with male class- mates behind the school. I did some dry humping at daycare but that’s about it. The best I have is the time Greg R and I ate lunch at his house in grade 8 and watched Inspector Gadget. He pulled down his pants and said to the TV, “Penny can inspect my gadget.” I am still flabbergasted.

I pity the first two men I slept with. While I’m no wizard now, back then I had no idea what to do beyond taking off my pants. To get into my body I would need to discover a space away from the place I came from—where I could give into fantasy, and feel safe enough in anonymity to try new things. I needed a place where gay bodies were available, where men would brush up close, and where there were dark corners, mystery and a hunger for something more.

Again I was lucky: I found a gay bookstore.

Flipping through a collection of Jane Rule essays in a narrow space between two bookshelves at Glad Day Books in Toronto, I was in my glory. I was in the city for a work trip back when I worked retail. I had already walked through the gay village, and felt more alone than ever. The bars, the fit boys, and the cruising eyes were all wonderful, but not for me. I was looking for my own gay experience, something that met me in the mind and pushed into my body. Walking up the stairs to Glad Day my stomach lurched. The neon at the entrance triggered the raunchiness in me and I was hoping—and was ready—for anything.

“The real power of books,” Jane Rule writes, “is their deep companionability. We learn from them as we learn from the deep companionability of love to know our own hearts and minds better.” I was deep into it when I felt someone come up behind me. Not wanting to leave the page I hugged the shelf closer, making room for someone to pass. But he didn’t pass. A body pressed into me, pushing my torso into the books, my nose against spines.

“Sorry, I needed to get that up there,” he said as I turned around, after he came down. He was maybe 34, bearded with small kind eyes and a ball cap on. I wanted to be annoyed but I was aroused. I liked the way it felt, he felt. I could feel my cheeks flush with blood. He smiled and I wasn’t sure what should hap- pen next.
He excused himself and walked out of the aisle. I stood there for a moment. A sexual experience had just happened. And I wanted more....

Hear the rest on Monday March 17th at the Brooklyn Community Pride Center (4 Metrotech, on Willoughby at the corner of Gold) at 6:30pm where Kerr will be reading alongside, Felix Bernstein, and Justin Allen and Yulan Grant of BDGRMM.