I distinctly remember the first time I walked by the bookshop. I used to take long walks along Tavistock Place from my campus on the Strand to the British Library, where I isolated myself and read tirelessly for hours on end. It was an exceptionally cool April afternoon when I decided to take a detour and not go down the straight road, but perhaps acquaint myself with places nearby. It was a peculiar moment when I noticed the shop. I was just walking by and I saw the words Gay’s the Word written with golden letters above a little shop that oozed character. I stepped in and was warmly welcomed by a middle-aged man who seemed to have been immersed in reading Christopher and his Kind. I spent what seemed to be a small infinity in the shop. I went from one shelf to another and flicked over books about various topics from great gay people in history to graphic books on different gay and lesbian sex positions. I felt at home! I scanned one book after another and finally decided to stick to my budget and went to pay for the one book I had decided to buy. I didn’t want to leave the shop but the magical words on a little piece of paper on the wall behind the nice cashier forced me into a wide smile:
Gay’s the Word Lesbian and Gay Bookshop
Lesbian Discussion Group
We meet every Wednesday from 8:00 to 9:00pm.
During the next few days, I frantically went through all my notes on Butler, Spivak and bell hooks, trying to make sure that I was ready for my first meeting with the discussion group on the coming Wednesday. I reviewed the articles I had read on the three waves of feminism, performativity, heteronormativity, etc. Little did I know, however, that all of this research was completely unnecessary!
The discussion started with simple introductions and then simpler questions. Members started talking about the challenges they faced as lesbians, personal stories of coming out and the stigma that surrounded them. I really did not need theories or scholarly approaches to be a member of this group. I could simply pour my heart out and be listened to non-judgmentally. I could be out here. I could talk without fear of rejection or humiliation. As a half-Catholic half-Muslim lesbian who had lived all her life closeted, I came out in this group. I felt comfortable sharing things I never dared to share with anyone at home. I started to vent my feelings and receive the sincere care and support of the group. I found two of my very best friends in the group whose gentle kindness and genuine care warms my heart every time I think of them. I met wonderful women from all walks of life from whom I learned, with whom I happily conversed and without whom I would have missed out on a lot of things that have changed my life. My deep fondness, respect and gratitude goes to the bookshop and the discussion group, because of whom life in London became spectacular.