LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth
|Dig a Hole and Dump Them in It
In late April, Alabama lawmakers met to vote on a measure introduced by Republican state representative Gerald Allen. Allen's bill would have banned the use of state funds to purchase any books with gay characters or by gay authors for public and school libraries in Alabama. Last December, when The Guardian asked Allen what should be done with classics like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or The Color Purple, Allen answered "Dig a hole, and dump them in it."
As it turned out, there were not enough state legislators present at the vote, and the measure died automatically. All that's left of it now is the shock that it got as far as it did, that so many applauded Allen when he said, "I don't look at it as censorship. I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children."
I look at it as censorship. But, while I'm utterly against censorship, learning of the measure (before the failed vote) did not trigger the same righteous response in me that hearing of the censoring of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Catcher in the Rye tends to do. Nor did I share the first reaction of many others: questioning how the measure would be put into play and which books would be singled out ("What about Shakespeare?" "Forget Shakespearewhat about Patricia Cornwell?") Nope, my initial spiteful spidey sense tingled in another way entirely.
It went like this: no gay books, Alabama? Fine. Then no gay anything for you. We're taking it all back, starting with "Y.M.C.A." That's right, Alabama. No jumping up in the stadium, awkwardly forming letters, belting out the chorus to our big gay bathhouse anthem anymore. It's "Who Let the Dogs Out?" for you, forever. And we want the E.L.M.O.s, too. We'll get out of your hair, Alabamaliterally. And what will your hair look like then? Gay-designed clothes will be purged from your closets: whatever shall you wear? Let no movies worked on by gay cast or crew be screened in Alabama; take any music gays have contributed to off the airwaves. I'm sure some, er, science stuff and medical procedures were invented by gays, toowe'll be grabbing those on our way out.
There's an old fantasyI can't remember who imagined it firstof a single day out of the year when everyone gay (or leaning, or questioning) turns blue. The idea is that straights will look around and be astonished, never having realized how many gay people touch their lives. My fantasy, as I thought about Alabama's potential ban, was of a day when every invention, every building, every note of music, every discovery made by gays would simply vanish. I pictured people looking around at the (poorly-designed, naturally) landscape left them...the world erased of gay genius and endeavor. I couldn't imagine it looking like anything so much as the moon.
Then I came back to Earth, to reality, to the thought of gay kids in Alabama growing up without access to those books. I thought of the books that had given me inklings, when I was young, about my heart (blood wasn't flowing to the nethers yet). And I was heartened: these books did not have "gay" characters, per se. I thought of "jaunty" Jordan Baker, the golfer in The Great Gatsby with the dry, dry wit. Did anyone buy her "romance" with Nick Carraway? And long before Jordan, Jane Eyre and Helen Burns. It made me feel better, somehow, that I first found my queer self in books that wouldn't fall under the scope of the ban. And I knew young queer Alabamans would, too, if it passed. I celebrated, quietly. Then I wrote the below.
Jane Eyre, Unbanned
upon hearing of a bill to ban books with gay characters in Alabama libraries
You think of Mr. Rochester, mad wives in attics, Jane herself, as plain as flan. You don't remember Helen Burns, Jane's friend
from school. Reader, I married her. I pressed my eighth-grade self between those pages like a flower, left for later hands. Helen.
"I like to have you near me," she would cough, romantically consumptive, after Jane snuck to her sick-bed. "Are you warm, darling?"
We'll always find ourselves inside the book, no matter what the book, no matter how little we're given. I was twelve; gay meant
nothing to me. I only knew I'd go to Lowood Institution, rise at dawn, bare knuckles to the switch, choke down the gruel,
pray to the bell, if this meant I could hold another girl all night, if I could clasp this even if she died there while I slept, this even if I died there in my sleep.
Emily Lloyd is a regular contributor to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 4 May 6, 2005