All gay kids want to be borne from their bullshit. I did, but if you’d ask me then, I’d have told you that I was married to my bullshit – and by the way, what bullshit? Leave me alone. People who know me now know I’m as gay as Truman Capote’s purple cigarettes from Murder by Death. But then I had a girlfriend, and she gave me the book that would eventually frighten me out of the closet.
She was kind and calm and went to another school forty miles away; a perfect beard for me, the little farm-town coward with a spine as thin and sensitive as scrotum skin. I would have stayed paralyzed if she never told me about her best friend: a redhead who was her boyfriend until he came out to her months before she met me. Knowing the guy before me (made of braver stock) was gay, too, doubled my guilt and tripled my resolve to never tell her what was really going on with me. She said, or rather whispered, that her friend had just read a new gay book. In my head, she said this with a somber Gregorian chorus chanting behind her. In reality, she was sipping iced coffee in a Barnes & Noble.
“It’s called A Density of Souls,” said the girl who probably knew more than she let on.
“Can I borrow it?” asked the lying sack of shit. “I’d like to know what your friend’s going through.”
I only saw her a few more times before the chaos of my senior year allowed me to ghost permanently out of her life, but I did snag the book: a hardcover thriller by then-newcomer Christopher Rice. That she had quantified it as a gay book was all I needed to know to be both terrified and possessive of it. It took me half a year to read it. I kept it safe in the upper bookshelf of my desk; I ordered the spine to face the wall so it knew its shame and wouldn’t lure in anyone else’s interest. It sat there, uncracked, until I graduated. After graduation, my family relocated from Illinois farm country to a Chicago suburb, and A Density of Souls was deliberately packed in my carryalong bag. With my desk reassembled in the new house, A Density of Souls returned to its night’s watch over my thoughts.
A month later, I read it – a fascinating and ugly assembly of high school friends sharing a dark secret. Gay guys are killed in it, gay guys are abused in it, and gay guys ultimately make it through. I don’t remember what happened to the book (another coma-esque memory loss from my lying days).
I live in West Hollywood now, I’m getting married to Michael this fall, and I’ve written my own “gay book” – another thriller about secrets. While I hunt for an agent for it, I have decided to embrace the novel as a gay book. The characters are gay; the story is gay; its entire identity is gay. I want it to be called a gay book. I need it to scare the shit out of a kid who doesn’t know how much he’s hurting himself and others.
That’s the power gay books have – to sit on a shelf as an unchanging sentry and whisper, “You’re not getting away with anything.” It saved my life making sure I didn’t forget.
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Written by Adam Sass
ADAM SASS begins all his writing in Sharpie on dozens of Starbucks pastry bags. This may cause him to be late making your cappuccino, and he sincerely apologizes. His Writer’s Digest-honored story “98% Graves” appeared in the anthology STARTLING SCI-FI: NEW TALES OF THE BEYOND. He lives in New York City with his husband and two dachshunds.
Find Adam at AdamSassBooks.com, his pop culture writing at GeeksOut.org, or keep up with him on his (over)active Twitter @TheAdamSass.