Gay’s The Word

I have lived a span of history. When I was a young man of 16 my sexuality was illegal, punishable by 2 years in prison. I had 5 inhuman years to wait until I was old enough to have a relationship. Not that I was going to let the law or the Conservative Party stop me of course, but the sensation of being a sexual outlaw is not a pleasant one, and the feelings of internalised shame usually become lifelong scars.But in the furnace of the soul that is criminalisation bonds are forged. When I was 17 I travelled to London on a tatty Eastern Scottish coach for a Lesbian and Gay Youth Group conference, an overnight odyssey in orange neon glow and sleepless anticipation. And thus began a love affair with London that persists still. And at the heart of my London, on Marchmont Street, is Gay’s the Word bookshop. I have known this little shop over 4 decades, longer than most of my friendships. In loneliness and in oppression I have found solace in its shelves, millions of words and hundreds of paper spines, each book opening up worlds like mine, tales of love lived under the heel of crushing disapproval, tales of defiance and ecstasy. I have bought badges here, magazines too. Second hand books and coming out stories by the Gay Men’s Press, accounts of queer London in centuries past, American crime fiction with their garish covers and cheap card.  Here the air smells of paper, hints of coffee, and the light hum of traffic. This space is mine. Here I feel free here, truly free. In the four decades since I began coming here oppressive laws have fallen away like dry scabs, laws that intruded into our lives by nasty prudes with nothing better to do than seek to control others. In their odious place have blossomed new equal rights that I relish and savour like iced water in the dry heat of summer. Prime Ministers have come and gone, political revolutions have swept in and out, the city’s skyline has arched cloudwards. Yet this corner of my London has lived quietly through it all. The painting sits above the counter now. I would be delighted if you came to visit it, and discovered too Gay’s the Word for yourselves ( http://www.gaystheword.co.uk/ )  . And if you live far why not use their mail order service sales@gaystheword.co.uk?

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