Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Guest Post: Nick Rice

I met Nick Rice after a Reading for Filth at the now deceased Rapture Cafe sometime last winter. Nick, who is in his early twenties, introduced himself to me that he had found my blog and liked what he saw. Since then we've become friends, shared dance floors together and seen one another out at rallies and meetings. As I'm out of town for work I offered him a guest post here on KnuckleCrack. Here is what Nick Rice has to say:

I was a queer boy in middle school in the late 90's. Fearful of my classmate's judgment and ridicule, I was a loner only able to open up with a few close friends. I insulated myself from other kids with standoffishness and silence. Without invitations to the movies or to backyard pools, I cloistered myself between the dusty and quiet stacks of the local library. I found my escape, my hideaway. Being fortunate enough to grow up in a town with a massive and well stocked library, I spent years reading my way through the art and architecture shelves. Eventually, just like millions of queer kids before me, body shaking and tingling with adrenaline, I made my first furtive trips to the HQ 75-76.8 section, Homosexuality and Lesbianism. Somehow I was convinced the H stood for Homosexual and that anyone passing by would know exactly why I was there. If someone walked down the aisle, Now That You Know would be right back on the shelf and I'd be intensely scanning HQ755.7-759.92, Parents, Parenthood. Of course, no one ever gave me a second glance, it was all just my expansive paranoia.

I discovered Alfred Kinsey, Edmund White, Paul Monette and yards upon yards of gay fiction. I ate it up. It was my indulgence and my refuge. Soon after, I came upon this book: I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody. It is the memoir of two men in the 1970's, living as a couple together in the bloom of an open, ground-breaking and unapologetic queer social world. Having no contact with any queer people, 13 year old me was shocked and amazed to learn that a decade before my birth, gay men were already out in society, going about their lives like anyone else. I was fascinated (and a little bit scandalized) by the honest discussions of the sexual culture of that era and determined to learn as much as I could about queer society, past and present. With these books as my sole connection to anything queer, I also read as a way to feel connected to other queer people and to internalize positive explanations of all the feelings that were welling within me. I continued this reading in high school, past my coming out at 16 and on through college in rural Maine (where I discovered a whole new college library with an ample HQ section and numerous documentaries like "Word is Out" and "The Times of Harvey Milk" (Sally M. Gearhart!)) .

By college, my insecurity had given way to pride and an overwhelming sense of good fortune at having turned out queer. My daily reading led me to John Rechy, Robert Mapplethorpe, Vito Russo, Larry Kramer, Randy Shilts, Harry Hay, Fred Halstead, Andrew Holleran and George Chauncey. Because I was learning about queer culture through books, as opposed to experiencing it myself (again, I was in rural Maine), I was most often learning about queer social worlds from past decades that no longer existed. I was reaching back into the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's for the queer positive messages I needed in order to overcome all the shame and fear I absorbed as a child. Through this process I gained an enormous measure of respect and admiration for the queer people of earlier generations who had been fighting for my rights ever since I was an infant and even before my parents were born.

After I graduated from college, I unexpectedly landed in New York, the setting for so much of what I'd read about for a decade. Walking through the streets of the Village, slowly down Christopher, and out onto the piers was and continues to be an electric experience for. Passing the teenagers in Hudson River Park, vogueing and reading their competitors, I can't help but think back to the images of the piers as they were in "Gay Sex in the 70's". After reading "Dancer from the Dance" , "And the Band Played on" and "Faggots" I wandered neighborhoods filled with fashionably dressed young, straight people to find the Mineshaft, the Paradise Garage, Keller's, the Ramrod, the International Stud, the Anvil, Flamingo, the 10th Floor, Badlands. I searched online for addresses decades out of date and bought old gay travel guides on eBay. To stand in storied spaces that for so many years previous I could only imagine was both thrilling and bittersweet. I felt awed to be in a place that was the site of so much change and exuberance in the 70's, and then in the 80's comprised an epicenter of grief and activism in the first era of the AIDS crisis. These spaces once contained the vibrating, pulsing, ever-innovative culture of the generations to which I owe what freedom I enjoy. I was searching for a vanished world, and simultaneously felt so much connection and distance as I walked alone through its shell. For me, the Village is suffused with a nostalgia for things I never saw and people I'll never know, but which continue to impact my life today.

The internet has supplemented much of the information that I couldn't find on paper or in the physical landscape of the Village. It serves as a repository for so many memories which are not my own but which help me to understand the world that paved the way for my generation of queer people. However, offline I am pained to find the remnants of this past so few and scattered. In New York I have been privileged to get to know many queer people who belong to those generations I feel so fascinated by and indebted to, but their ranks are sparse. As time progresses there will be less of them to pass on the knowledge of what queer life was like in their youth. How is their cultural memory being preserved? Who is out there with stories to relate that my generation might learn from? What material pieces of that world remain hidden, in boxes and closets, waiting to be dusted off for us to appreciate? I feel so fortunate to be in a city where I can find so much queer history, but I am sure there is so much more out there, untapped. I would be very happy if other people felt the same. Do you have words or images with which to illuminate a queer reality, distant in time?

6 comments:

Dray said...

Hi Nick
Feel free to stop by my site. I have some growing up gay posts mixed in.

theviewonsuperior said...

Merry Christmas to you...

A. Friend said...

I know the library thing! I did it too1 From Biology books on down!

Cyrus said...

Yep...I feel the same way. I'm a bit older than you - 38 - but, I am so inspired, influenced and intrigued by the almost lost gay history of the previous generations. One of the things I'm most grateful for having experienced in my life was the friendships that I made with older gay people when I first came out. They filled my mind and heart with stories that make me happy to be alive.

And, as for the library thing...

http://nibbledbyanokapi.blogspot.com/2008/10/big-gay-reunion.html

- Cyrus

DUDDYLICIOUS said...

Nicky!
Good post! I too was saved by the library but in the "fashion mag overdose" kind of way. I wouldn't have traded it for the world. Here's to dusty libraries and to using oppression to your advantage!

Your Pal Dusty

sammy25 said...

What a great post! It was such a good read; I really enjoyed it!