Finding Your Queer True North with David Rephan and Jay Quinn

Hello!

Our guests today are attorney David Rephan and Lambda Literary Award finalist Jay Quinn.

David shares with us how Jay’s novel Metes and Bounds saved his life and how David continues to return to the novel as a queer true north. This was Jay’s first novel and he went on to write four more as well as a memoir.

Metes and Bounds follows 18-year surfer, Matt, as he leaves home after his high school graduation to work for his uncle, a land surveyor. It’s about Matt’s story of claiming his place as a surfer and as a gay man in the small and large world of construction sites, fishing piers, and surf breaks.

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Awen Briem, Stephen D., Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.

Transcript

[theme music]

Welcome to the podcast This Queer Book Saved My Life!

My name is J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m a writer, LGBTQ health educator, Lambda Literary fellow, and founder of the Queer Armenian Library.

And this…is not another book podcast. We have on LGBTQ guests who share the queer books that saved their lives in conversation with the authors who wrote them.

And, as you listen each week, I hope you know that we’re kind of talking about you. Our guests and authors describe coming out, transitioning, facing homophobia in the family, living through an abusive relationship, or finding queer family. And I hope that you feel, hey that’s me! I’ve lived that. I’ve felt that. Or…I want to live that. I want to feel that. Why we run this podcast is for you to feel a little bit more connected to this mysterious, and weird, and sometimes scary, but also loving queer world of ours.

What we’re exploring in this episode are the special people in our lives who help us through coming out and coming into our own as queer folk.

My guest is attorney David Rephan, who specializes in Elder Care and Disability Law. And we’re talking about the book that saved his life: Metes and Bounds by Jay Quinn. The novel follows 18-year surfer, Matt, as he leaves home after his high school graduation to work for his uncle, a land surveyor. It’s about Matt’s story of claiming his place as a surfer and as a gay man in the small and large world of construction sites, fishing piers, and surf breaks.

AND Mr. Jay Quinn himself joins us by telephone from his home North Carolina. Jay is a Lambda Literary Award finalist and the author of 5 novels, including Back Where He Started and The Boomerang Kid.

So, let’s get started. Welcome to…This Queer Book Saved My Life!

[theme music]

JP: David and Jay thank you very much for being here! Well, let’s get to know each other. David, how about we start with you, would you like to introduce yourself?

David: Thanks, sure. First, I want to say what an honor it is to speak with you Jay. I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and we had a beach house my grandfather bought in the 50s on one of the barrier islands called Sullivan’s Island. I live now in Minnesota, in St. Paul with my partner Jason, and I’m a lawyer. I do elder law and disability law. And yeah, that’s me, you’re part of me.

J.P.: Thank you. And our author of Metes and Bounds, Jay Quinn, would you like to introduce yourself?

Jay: Yes, hi. I’m an author and many other things. I’m sort of a polymath.I write, I paint. I had a past career in advertising as an art director and a creative director. Currently, I’m enjoying my retirement and focusing on painting, essentially, and reading.

J.P.: A true Renaissance man.

Jay: I don’t know about that, but thank you.

J.P.: The question I always ask folks here on the podcast is about their favorite or really important stories, whether that’s a book or otherwise for us as kids. I feel like those stories stick with us and shape who we are in our adulthood and throughout our life. So David, what was an important favorite book or story for you growing up?

David: I watched more than I read: sitcoms in the day, growing up in the 60s and 70s. It would be Leave It to Beaver and Beverly Hillbillies and I Dream of Jeannie and the Brady Bunch. I think you look at those stories and think, well, that’s a family that maybe I should be admiring or modeling. I don’t know what the connection was, but I just love the sitcoms I could watch for hours and I think I did. They speak to me even of a different generation.
J.P.: I love watching them as well when I can catch them on reruns. But Jay, how about you?

Jay: My earliest and most favorite TV show… I have to explain this. I was working as an engineering draftsman for a land survey firm designing conduit systems for telephone cables. Of course, I was the only little Gay boy in the office. They had this real desire to talk and figure stuff out. They said, well, what made you Gay? Nothing MADE me Gay, but I was trying to think of a way that I could give them some information. So I said, it was Flipper. You remember the show about a dolphin with the kids and everything? They were like, Flipper made you gay??. I was like, well I wasn’t attracted to the fish! It was Sandy and Bud and I thought they had this brilliant life. They lived with their father who was sort of out of the scene but there to protect them and they never have to wear a shirt! They wear bathing suits all the time and they don’t have a mother and they have an effing dolphin. What could be better? And the guy with the phone was just like, OK. Flipper was when I really knew I wanted to be Bud and Sandy. So there you are.

J.P.: I think that’s great. hen I discovered Flipper as a kid on reruns, that was a two thumbs up show, definitely. Oh, hell yeah. So David, what is the book that saved your life?

David: The book that saved my life is Metes and Bounds by Jay Quinn.
It’s a coming of age story of a young Gay man named Matt, over a period of maybe one to two years between the ages of 17 and 18. He comes from real, good parents, but he’s turning 17 and nobody really talks about it, but they’re aware that he’s Gay. They kind of don’t know what to do with him or how to help him any further. So they send him to live with a cousin named Tiger and his partner Mark on one of the barrier islands in North Carolina. The book takes off from there. I think the book found me more than I found it. There’s just so much depth to it that I can come back to it every few years and I do. I think it’s a term later at the end of the book, it’s like a True North for me. It’s got surfing, which I grew up with and it speaks to me on a lot of different levels. There’s just so much to it. And of course the writing is just beautiful.

J.P.: We’re going to talk about it but Jay, real quick, do you have anything that you want to add to the plot description? It sounds like that was a pretty good one. But anything that you want to add?

Jay: It was exactly the kind of analysis and experience that I was trying to deliver. I wrote Metes and Bounds before my first book came out, which was The Mentor: A Memoir of Friendship and Gay Identify. I had been working on it for years. Beth and I both worked at an advertising agency and the boss went away for a week and I went into her office and used her computer to start writing my book and she came back and she was really sort of amused that I had spent my time that way. But she was like, you need to get back to work. Keep writing your book on your own. But anyway, I did that. It’s a long story about publishing and editing through from associate editors at Riverhead Books in New York and submitting it to Algonquin Books here in North Carolina, even though their parent companies work in Manhattan. I bounced back and forth between these editors. It was very much a sign of the times. They said, we love your book. You made these changes and followed our direction but I have to sell this book to my boss and it’s an up or down decision. So I kept working on the second and third. The first draft of the book, I caught some criticism because the editor said, is this book about Tiger or is this book about Matt?

Tiger was me, but Matt was the creation of my imagination. I had to make the decision. I was like, look, it doesn’t have to be about me. It has to be about this kid and his journey. So the final version that got published, was a product of all of these
and delusion that the people in New York offered me. But it came out and it’s my best-selling book. What can I say? And what I feel is that I have hoped that I had created this kid that was on so many levels a kid that I would have liked to be. Because I couldn’t make the novel about Tiger, it would have been a completely different novel. But it came out, I think, and David has given me the highest compliment anybody, any author can get in that it’s a book that he will revisit over time. Because I have books like that in my life that I go back and reread. With the acquisition of experience and knowledge, these beloved books grow in appreciation and understanding and entertaining different perspectives as you grow, as you age, as you have experience. So that was an absolutely amazing and beautiful acknowledgement of what I tried to do writing the book.

J.P.: Absolutely. David, I’m always intrigued about how books come to us and find us, particularly as Queer people. So how did Metes and Bounds come to you?

David: I actually found it at Quatrefoil library!

J.P.: Cool. Yes. I love Quatrefoil Library and I always have. It’s like the crown jewel and that it’s located in Minnesota is just like I’m pinching myself. Here’s this Gay lending library with just thousands and thousands of books that I’ve never read that I can go in and borrow and the videos and the digital. So I think I saw the cover of it and there’s this young, very good looking guy, no shirt on with his jeans rolled up in the tidewater. I’m looking and thinking that probably looks like me at that age and I’ll read this book. And it just became part of my life.

J.P.: That was gonna be my next question actually. It’s the coming of age story from 17 to 18 years old. So I’m curious, where were you at in your coming out story at 17 and 18?

David: Pretty closeted. I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, which is pretty rare in Charleston. You know, we’re not talking about New York or Los Angeles or even Miami, we’re talking about Charleston. To this day, today I value that part of me a lot and what I learned and how I am trying to incorporate it in my life. But at the time I think I certainly did not see a way out of that life into the life I have now. So I was not out. I had some clandestine hookups, how we say with cadets! Didn’t we all? At the Citadel, but I won’t go into that! This is a family program.

Jay: Well, it’s also like a very specific genre of fantasy. So I would encourage you to write it down for us.

David: Jay, you could help me write a story. (Laughs)

J.P.: So as you were reading it, was it illuminating anything for you about that time period in your life? You have this coming out story and it’s interesting that the family is like, well, here is a Queer person that you can go and live with!, As you were reading it for the first time, was there anything that you were learning new about yourself in that process, that time of your life that you were looking at in a different way?

David: Now that you ask it that way, JP, I think what it might have represented for me was sort of a wistfulness, like how I wish I had had a Tiger for my family to send me to, because I did not have a clue. I didn’t think it was possible. I had no idea where this was going to go. It didn’t seem like it was going to end well.

So that’s sort of a beautiful fantasy life, which is, well, if I had had a Tiger to sort of take care of me, I think that was the attraction.

J.P. Can you unpack for me more what you think when you say you didn’t think it was gonna go well, what that meant for you?

David: Well, on some level, I mean, I don’t know if I knew I was Gay, but I had very powerful attractions to men. What was gonna happen with that? Was I gonna just sort of cut off my left arm and just not have that be part of me? It doesn’t seem like you can do that. Yet my worldview, especially with a religious upbringing I didn’t seem to be able to hold all that together in one person. I think I ran into some pretty stiff headwinds, which is part of growing up, I’m sure, for many. Part of that was working through how do you put all that together into one person?

J.P: Can I ask? When was it that you finally started coming out? Was it in college, like when you got to college, or was it after?

David: No, no, much more buried than that. I got married. I had two beautiful daughters who are just the light of my life and who lived half the time with Jason and me and half with their mom. I didn’t come out till they were four and eight. And I was faithful during the marriage, but ready to explode! It was just not able to be contained. Finally, I think I was 40. I did come out later in life.

J.P.: Did you have a Tiger as you were coming out?

David: I didn’t, I did not. I had a Tiger later. When I was 21, I was living in New York and I was just really hitting a wall and stuff is exploding in my sexuality and I can’t deal with it. I reached out to my dad’s first cousin who lived in Manhattan. Her name is Rachel and she’s my Tiger.

I remember we were taking a walk around the reservoir in Manhattan. I feel like I’m about to tell her a secret that is like, I killed 17 people in some like murder thing you know. She just laughed. She worked in a book publishing company. Most of her friends were Gay. I didn’t know anyone growing up that was Gay. She didn’t laugh AT me, but she was like, David, this is nothing. I mean, I know you think it’s a very, very serious secret and she just helped me with that. She had some dear friends: a dear friend in the publishing company, Jay Poole, who has since passed on. She gave me the opportunity to talk to Jay and he was the sweetest man in the world. But Rachel to this day, she’s in her late eighties is my Tiger. She worked and lived in Manhattan for probably 50 or 60 years. And Jay, she still has as strong a Southern accent as you do. I think it’s honey too.

J.P.: I think it’s honey too. I get really curious about particular sections or passages in a book that really stands out for you. You had mentioned earlier about the concept of True North. Can you unpack that for me: the idea of True North?

David: I might be wrong, but I think, Jay, that’s one of the last… I think it’s the last sentence in the book. Yes, it is. True North is in there. I must have just looked at it earlier today but what I think it means is a, like a compass, right? When I feel like I’m losing my way,the term today, is intersectionality, all these different parts of me, right? My Jewish self, which is important to me, my Gay self, my Southern self, my family self and my work. I feel like every now and then it’s just time. Every few years, I’m gonna read through this and see how Matt navigated this. It’s gonna bring me back on target. And I don’t know if I can explain that much better than the beauty of the writing is how Matt is not going necessarily in the direction that he wants to go. He’s trying, but Tiger helps him. I think Tiger might be HIS True North. Tiger helps him to keep getting refocused and get back where Matt himself is the kind of person he wants to be. That somehow just feels like a compass story to me.

J.P.: Could you share a time where you revisited it? I love revisiting books and it’s the same way for me where a book will be on the bookshelf for a while. Suddenly I just feel the pull of it. It’s just calling to me like, hey, you need to read me again. I’m curious, could you share a time in your life when Metes and Bounds came back to you and you were like, I need to read this to rediscover my True North?

David: The thing that comes to mind is the idea of a chosen family in the story. Tiger and Mark, and then some broader characters in the story, become Matt’s chosen family. It’s very beautiful to read about. I think there are times, because I lived in Minnesota and Jason’s from Minnesota while our families are back East. I think at times I might feel a certain loneliness for family and then I might just be gravitationally drawn back to the book to remind myself, yes, you do miss your family of origin, but you’ve got this incredible chosen family here in Minnesota and don’t lose sight of that.That’s such a lovely thought.

J.P.: I think that the idea of a chosen family is so important for Queer people, it’s everything: Finding that family, finding the Tigers that will lead us to our chosen family.
Jay, you mentioned, that you started writing Metes and Bounds when at a job where the supervisor was gone for a week. I’m curious, where did the ideas come from? You were saying you wanted to tell the story ultimately not of Tiger, but I’m curious, where did the story originate for you?

Jay: I’ll tell you, when I first moved to South Beach in Miami, I got a job as a pool boy because I had certification as a pool mechanic, which is a pool person who knows how to correct pH balances and stuff like this. I worked in North Miami, right on the cut between there and the next town north. The name’s escaping me right now.

J.P.: Where did Metes and Bounds originate for you? Like, where did the story come from?

Jay: I was working as a pool boy in Bell Harbor, at this high rise community that had a lot of retired Jewish people and a lot of French Canadians.

I’ve always prided myself on my French. When I was working there, I would make a point if I was bringing them ice or I was opening their umbrella, I would say parapluie. In other words, I was practicing my French and there was this wonderful woman from Paris and she said, don’t talk to those people. Don’t talk to this Canadian. They don’t know French. You say it like I say it. And so every day we talked but I kind of felt sorry for the French Canadians, the Quebecois, because I’m from the South and, you know, depending on where you go in the world, they were like, don’t listen to his English. But there every one of the pools, and I had two, had a cabana where someone could rent the cabana. They didn’t have to be from that same hotel residence.
They could be from somewhere inland and still rent a cabana and spend their days there. Well, there was a woman, I don’t even know her name, she never came, but on her shelf qhwn I qA opening up these cabanas, making sure they had clean towels, making sure they were available for the tenant. This one woman never came and I got bored as hell one day and I went into her cabana and there were books on the shelf and I chose the book and took it to read while I was there. the name of the book was Ferris Beach by Jill McCorkle. Now Jill McCorkle throughout her career, started her writing career with underneath evidently a golden sun with a couple of books that got bought by AlGonquin books. She was graduating from college and she got married and moved to Boston and was a professor at these distinguished universities in the north. I read Ferris Beach which takes place in and around the environment of a very southern North Carolina area with the beach and the town inland and the social culture between this, that and the third. And it moved me so much.
I wrote Jill McKorkle and I said, look, I don’t even expect you to answer me, but this book meant so much to me. Here’s my experience and something I’ve written and I sent her the letter. She was so kind. She responded to me and said, I like your manuscript, but this is the correct way to write a manuscript. This is the way you need to actually structure it so you can pursue a publishing opportunity. And so I did! I sent her the manuscript when I finished it, and she was so kind and so encouraging that I got the courage to finish it, do this, that, and the third. Years later, she wrote a book called, Final Vinyl Day, that she wrote. She had married a Jewish guy. They had two daughters. She was wonderful. She was always very down east, which we call in North Carolina, the coastal area down east. She was always very much a person of that area, even though she lived in Boston and taught at these other places. But she was so kind to me.

She came to Books & Books in Miami, which is a wonderful independent bookstore. She came and did a reading for her most recent book and I went. And after the reading, I stood in line so that I could speak to her for a moment personally, and she was like, Oh my God, it’s you. And I was like, Oh, well, yeah. She was like, I keep your letter in my desk drawer!

She was just so kind and so wonderful. So, Jill McCorkle, it was your encouragement that kept me keeping on. You know what’s funny is now I live in Chapel Hill and she lives in Hillsborough, which is to the north of us, but there are a ton of brilliant North Carolina writers who live in Hillsborough. There’s Lee Smith for example and Jim Grimsley. He has a new book out now called The Dove in the Belly. So I am plugging it for him because it’s a brilliant novel. He grew up the same time I did, and he grew up in Eastern North Carolina the way I did. He has an incredibly gifted voice in the way that he has written books over time that you don’t want to put down. You always want them on your shelf so that you can go back and reread them. His novel Comfort and Joy. I know four people who reread that novel every year at Christmas.

J.P.: You said earlier that Tiger was you. Why did you write yourself into the novel?

Jay: Well, it was my first novel.

J.P.: So you wanted to see yourself represented in it?

Jay: No, I was picking a person as sort of a guiding light where I understood their personality, I understood their struggle, I understood their story. I could deviate from that to do a character that was completely new and original. I’ll tell you this, I loved listening to David tell me about, how he found the book and what it meant to him and his wonderful aunt who started him. Here’s the thing. The father in Metes and Bounds, Matt’s father, was based on an uncle of mine who I loved dearly. He was the husband of my mother’s baby sister out of a family of six. Unfortunately, he and that aunt couldn’t have children. Well, Uncle Johnny, from the time I was born, he would come over to see me and wash his hands and pick me up in a bundle…and talk to me as a baby. Well, over the years, he never stopped loving me and caring about me, even though he was just an uncle. And not even an uncle by blood, an uncle by marriage. I loved, loved, loved my Uncle Johnny. I’ll tell you a quick story. I swear to God, it’ll be quick. When I was a baby, my grandmother, who I was very close to and took care of me off and on the whole time I was growing up, was hanging out close and my uncle Johnny and my aunt lived in a small mobile home at the back of the lot up against what in that town was called quote unquote, the big ditch. It was actually a tributary to the Neuse River. But anyway, it was obviously not a very stable place. Well, one day, grandmama put me in the driver’s seat as a baby now sso she could hang out clothes. I decided that I was grown and I could drive. I stood up in the driver’s seat, grabbed hold of the steering wheel and took off the emergency brake. Oh, fine. I drove my uncle’s car into this Fing ditch!

They said when they came to me, I was still standing up and laughing my ass off because I had driven the car. I’m so proud of what I can do. Uncle Johnny would tell me that with this glint in his eye. He did other wonderful things for me throughout my life. When I moved back from Manhattan to North Carolina, he lent me a car, no questions asked. Here’s your car. You go do you. He was always loving and caring for me, just being me, not me being Gay; not me being this, that and the third, he just loved me. So the father in Metes and Bounds, Matt’s father, is based on my Uncle John. He was also a funding supply salesman. So in Metes and Bounds when that dad asks him to go to Tiger’s house and installs a new toilet? That is from my Uncle John.

I have to give him a thousand percent. He’s passed now, God rest his soul. He was wonderful. He always loved me just for being me. It didn’t matter about anything else. This atmosphere, he was like, you good, I love you: His whole life he showed that for me.

J.P.: Jay, I’m curious, do you have any questions for David?

Jay: Actually, yes, David, it must have been incredible. We talk these days about code switching. If you get me mad, I talk like some sort of third rate backstreet ghetto. I will cut right through all of that. It’s that kernel of identity that informs us in how to take care of ourselves verbally, through spoken words and through literature.

Listen, language is a virus. There’s no way you can live in a world that we inhabited, David and I growing up despite the fact that I was Catholic and his family was Orthodox Jewish, that’s not…the defining factor. The defining factor comes down to what language you use. You brandish as a shield and a weapon when you have been forced into a confrontation. I have absolutely no disrespect for my African American friends and culture. I will tell you, when you get to a point where nobody can push you any further, you’ll use whatever weapons you have at hand. If you are Gay; if you are an artist, you will push back with…the tools you have for defense. So I’m sorry, that was a big conversational exit issue. But the thing is, that’s the fire that’s in me that got expressed first in Metes and Bounds.

David: Well Matt has that fire in him too, I think. Tiger certainly has it. Matt’s afraid of Tiger. Tiger will look at him and raise his eyebrow and that’s enough. I mean, Matt knows exactly where Tiger stands, but Matt also has some of that fire in him. I think he doesn’t know what to do with it. It’s almost like someone who has a…superpower and just can’t really quite handle it. It’s just this fire in him and that causes him to have a bumpy road.

David: You’re right. Your perception is absolutely right. You might be scared of Tiger because Tiger talks truth. And truth, when you’re coming from a closeted experience and environment, is probably the most dangerous weapon you can possess. I completely agree with what you said.

[music]

I want to thank David and Jay for joining us today. As we were wrapping our interview, I asked David what was next in life for him and he said he’s going to be reading the rest of Jay’s books. If you live in the Minneapolis / St. Paul region and are looking for legal support in Elder Care and Disability law, David’s firm is Chestnutt Cambronne. We’re including links in the show notes and on our website.

When we recorded this episode, Jay was telling us that during the interview his adopted Weimaraner, Henri, was sitting on his lap. In Metes and Bounds, Tiger also has Weimaraners. Jay and his partner adopted Henri from Weimaraner Rescue.

I’m a big, big fan of pet rescues, and so is our Executive Producer Jim, so if you are looking for an animal companion, please Google your nearest Rescue Shelter.

To review and purchase all of Jay’s books, visit thisqueerbook.com/bookshop.

[theme music]

Well, that’s the end of our show today. If I can ask you a favor, if you are listening on Apple Podcasts, could you tap 5 stars right now and leave a few words of support in the review section? When we book guests they like to see our perfect 5 star rating and comments from listeners. Apple also uses these as part of their podcast search engine rankings. Thanks, also to Apple Podcasts Australia, for listing us as New and Noteworthy in April!

Our episode was executive produced by Jim Pounds. Our Associate Producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith.

Transcripts of all of our episodes are available on thisqueerbook.com.

We are on Facebook and we’re @thisqueerbook Instagram.

My name is J.P. Der Boghossian and stay tuned to this space every Tuesday for new episodes of 7 Minutes in Book Heaven or This Queer Book Saved My Life!

Until then, see you Queers and Allies in the bookstores!