From Unseen to Seen with William Burleson

Hello!

This episode is the recording of our live event at Lush Lounge and Theater. And we welcome back William Burleson! You remember him from Season One, when we discussed how his book Bi America was life-giving for our guest Neil Aasve.

Now, William talks with me about the book that saved his life: The Bisexual Option by Fritz Klein, MD. He shares with us, “I have to say, coming out as Bi, at first to myself, and then later to other people, there is really an uphill climb to find community. It’s better today. We have Google. But nonetheless, it’s still difficult. So when I went into a bookstore and I found the book The Bisexual Option, that was revolutionary.”

And….William went on to meet Fritz who wrote the forward to Bill’s own book!

Buy the books we discuss on this episode!

Visit thisqueerbook.com/bookshop to purchase The Bisexual Option or at https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9780985871703.

You can also purchase William’s books too!

Home: Anthology at https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9781733976329.

Bi America: Myths, Truths, and Struggles of an Invisible Community at https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9781560234791

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Become an Associate Producer of our podcast through a $20/month sponsorship on Patreon! A professionally recognized credit, you can gain access to Associate Producer meetings to help guide our podcast into the future! Get started today: patreon.com/thisqueerbook

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.

E-Lending Library

Quatrefoil Library has created a curated lending library made up of the books featured on our podcast! If you can’t buy these books, then borrow them! Link: https://libbyapp.com/library/quatrefoil/curated-1404336/page-1

Transcript

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J.P. Der Boghossian: Why hello everybody. Welcome to this very special episode that we’re recording live at Lush Lounge and Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. We have a beautiful crowd in front of us here tonight. (Applause) There we go. Thank you very much. We are calling this episode today From Unseen to Seen. We have a very special guest who you may remember from our first season, author Bill Burleson, who we had on in episode seven of Season One. Our guest that evening was Neil Aasve and he was talking about the book Bi America as the book that saved his life. Bill was very gracious to join us on that episode. We got talking afterwards, and I said you should be on the show. Bill said, I have a book too that I can talk about that saved my life. So here we go. Let’s get into it. Bill, would you like to introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about your background, pronouns if you’d like to share them as well?

Bill Burleson: Thanks, JP. My background is, I’m old. Been around a long time. I’ve become an elder apparently, I’m told. I don’t know how that happened exactly. But I figured with a cool, rakish hat, and your podcast people can’t see my rakish hat. But my cool, rakish hat, I figure I can get away with a lot tonight. I’m a lifelong Minneapolis person. I came out as Bisexual in 19 (garbled) on the 17 bus at 24th in Hennepin. I said, aha, I am Bisexual. And it stuck ever since. It’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. That’s how I’ve always felt, and that’s how I feel today. Everything else that happens around it is news to me, but that’s my life. You’re an author. I’m an author of how many books? Oh, not many. Bi America is a nonfiction book that I published in 2002 with Hayworth Press at the time, now it’s Rutledge. That was very exciting. I’d done a lot of different writing things. I wrote for Lavender Magazine a couple times as a columnist. This is back in the day. Everything’s back in the day. I write a lot of fiction and have a lot of short stories published. I can’t sell my novels. Nobody wants my novels. Apparently they can’t touch them with tongs. I don’t know why novels, but because I can’t publish my writing, I became a publisher instead. So I can inflict pain now upon other writers instead. So now I run a publishing business called Flexible Press. And it’s a nice little press, very focused on literary fiction, about four or five titles a year going forward and very carefully curated, with lots of TLC, and focused on good literature. Then we give the money away at the end to whatever nonprofit is relevant to the topic. So it’s been a very fun gig.

J.P.: That’s why I asked the follow-up because I wanted to hear more about that. In doing this podcast, I have found there are these books that really shaped our guests and it’s fun to learn. It’s kind of interesting to see how these favorite books as a kid shaped them moving forward. So what were your favorite books growing up?

Bill: Growing up, I gotta tell you, one specifically really stands out, which is a Wrinkle in Time. Being a kid when that came out, I just remember the scene of all the kids in the town that is basically a postwar suburb bouncing the ball at exactly the same rhythm. Then somebody screws up and the ball rolls away and now it’s a big turmoil because somebody’s different. The whole book is, as you know, about people being different. That really stuck for me when I was like nine or ten. It’s like, wow, it’s a celebration of being different. That’s a good thing. I think my whole life is defined by A Wrinkle in Time. I can see that.

J.P.: We might come back to that. So Bill, what is the book that saved your life?

Bill: I have to say, coming out as Bi, at first myself and then later to other people, there is really an uphill climb to find community. It’s better today. We have Google. But nonetheless, it’s still difficult. It’s very difficult to find your tribe. It was very difficult to try to find fellow people. So when I went into a bookstore and I found the book Bisexual Option, that was revolutionary. In fact, even to back up before that, I remember looking for the topic in the late 70s at the downtown library and LGBT topics were shelved between prostitution and child molestation. So that told me everything I needed to know in the 70s. By the time Bisexual Option comes along, it’s like, whoa, this is awesome. It was written by Fritz Klein. The first edition came out in the 70s. The second edition came out in the mid-80s. It really just normalized being Bi. It came up with some Klein grid idea because everybody wants to measure things. Fritz at his heart is a research psychologist or psychiatrist, and he does these things. He comes up with scales. He came up with a scale to measure people, and that was all fine. But what the scale was about was just saying that there’s this incredible diversity of what it means to be sexual, and what sexual attraction means, and what identity means. Those things are so complex, and so much richer, is how I would put it: so much richer than the simple either or paradigm that we’re stuck with till today. That hasn’t changed a bit. I mean, we’re still kind of stuck in this thing. We’re still stuck in this either or paradigm that has to be stopped because that is not the case. That’s not how human beings are and they never have been, and they never will be. So let’s not do that anymore. So to read his book about that, and to really, tweeze that apart, and to understand, yeah, and I’m Bi was a pretty awesome thing. Many years later, I got to know Fritz Klein very well. He became a friend of mine until he passed away about 10 years ago. He was a really nice guy who had a really interesting journey of his own. I wish he could be on this podcast. That would be a wonderful thing. Such an interesting journey of his own. He started in the New York Public Library, where he went looking for books on the topic of sexuality and found one and that was it. He said well I should write about it. I should do some research and I should write about it and now, here we are talking about The Bisexual Option.

J.P.: To that point of us always having to go out and find our stories, how did it come to you? Did you find it at the Hennepin County Library? How this book come to you?

Bill: I think I found it at Borders in Calhoun Square. A Borders is like a mainstream place, which is awesome, because I’d always go to the LGBT section.There’s this bay of books. There was some nonfiction and lots of fiction: really bad pulpy novels, right? Some of my fellow travelers are laughing back here. The pulpy LGBT fiction category. It was like the LGBT version of Zane Gray for quality of writing. But, people were able to see themselves in this writing, in this 100-page book with large fonts and bad art cover art. They’re awesome. I know somebody’s saving all that because Quartorfoil has all that and it’s a wonderful collection of these books. ‘The Bi Ranch Hands’, exactly. That’s the kind of titles we’re talking about. I always gravitated to that section. I’m always pulling books out of there, and then voila, here’s The Bisexual Option sitting on the shelf. The book is divided up into three parts. What is bisexuality? Bisexuality in health and the Bisexual in society. But the first chapter is titled The Threat, which is by discussing the reality that many homosexuals and heterosexuals view the Bisexual as a threat, quote unquote.

J.:P.: To discuss the myth of the non-existence of Bisexuals still held by many in society in the sense of the either or, I’m curious, as I was doing my research into the book, what was it for you as you were reading it, the first time or the second time, that you felt was life-saving? What was the life-giving features for you as you were reading the book?

Bill: It was that acknowledgement that I existed, that I wasn’t making this up. It’s not a small thing. I mean, that’s pretty big for anything we’re doing and that was enormous for me. The Bi threats an interesting angle. Why a threat? I argue in my book, that Biphobia is just homophobia with a different cover. That’s all. If we, as a community, learn that we start out from the point of oh, it’s bad, I am broken, I am sick. Then through therapy or whatever you learn, I am not bad, I’m OK. But the rest of you all are sick. For a lot of people, that’s as far as they get. The rest of you guys are kind of weird. It’s not OK. That’s just more homophobia, right but in a different cloak. So the real goal is to say, we’re all OK. You get to live and love however you choose with how many people as you want. Be honest and live your real life and your happy life. That’s what we’re looking for, right? The straight community oftentimes gets that better because they didn’t have to internalize this. I’m okay. They didn’t have to have that journey. They’re just like, oh, well, OK. get a lot more, oh, all right. I get a lot more of that. But I get a lot more heat, oftentimes, from the Gay Lesbian community, for that reason. Because the journey was so hard. I would argue that not all the lessons were learned. That’s being very judgmental, but I’m going to throw it out there.

J.P.: That’s interesting to me. I’m curious about that acknowledgement. Where were you in your own coming out journey? Because you said it was at 17 that you came out on the bus. So where were you then as you were reading the book in that journey to feel like you were being saved by this book that was acknowledging that you existed?

Bill:I was just starting to come out to the rest of the world by that point in time. And we’re talking about the mid to late 80s. I had a large court of friends who were Gay and Lesbian, and I came out with them, and that was supportive at first. It was very supportive at first. However, it became problematic as time went on. That’s basically where I was in the process. I was embracing the Gay community. I’d go to Pride. I would go to LGBT bars. I was never anything but Bi. But I think that a lot of my friends thought that I was secretly Gay and I just hadn’t come out yet or some narrative like that. That just simply wasn’t true. So it became a problem, especially as I continued to date women and continued to live my life and it wasn’t their life. So there was some very painful times of losing my circle of friends and losing my community that I had kind of built around myself.

J.P.: Can you share more about that? What did that look like in terms of loss?

Bill: Well, because I had built this community and the biggest problem was for me that I assumed that they would be supportive, right? Because we’re all in this together, right? Right? We’re all on the same team, right? But we weren’t on the same team. That was shocking to discover for these individuals. It was painful and it was difficult. Time marches on and I made new friends. I got to know the bi community which is awesome. I remember going to Pride with some friends one year and this is probably 1990 and one of my friends said, you should go talk to him. There’s a Bi booth there. What’s that? Huh, that’s funny. So I do. I know every person behind that booth now. I’ve known them for the last 30 plus years. I know everybody who’s in that crowd.

J.P.: Can you share a little bit more about connecting to community? Because that’s something that we all go through, right? Trying to find our people. It’s very, very, very rare, that we’re born into any type of Queer family, Queer positive, or Queer connected family unit. So this book, The Bisexual Option, is you seeing yourself acknowledged for the first time. That’s a life-saving feature for you. Now, as you’re connecting to folks, what was that? I mean, unpack that a little bit more for me.

Bill: I started discovering and uncovering a Bisexual community. That was incredibly empowering. At that time, things like the Bisexual Empowerment Conference was starting up, and I went to that. I found my tribe. It was like, here’s 150 people in a room who are on the same wavelength and all looking for community and we’re all in the same boat. That was incredible. That was kind of the process, slowly but surely. I got to know people more and more. I’m the kind of guy who likes to start things. I don’t know why. So I started things like a Bisexual men’s group at the men’s center in Uptown. That was an incredibly informative experience for me to talk to all these folks who are in similar situations as me and despite different situations actually, we had THAT in common. To be able to talk about that with men every Friday night, for years and years and years was incredibly rewarding and impactful. I’m just honored by it in so many ways. I started a job and HIV AIDS work because being a Bi guy was really a plus when you’re getting hired in HIV AIDS work. It’s like, whoa, there’s gold. That’s a unicorn. Let’s go get. Let’s hire that guy. This is like a serious job. This is like being left handed in baseball, man. This is fantastic. Being tall in basketball is the same as being Bi in the HIV AIDS community. I started working in that, and that was incredible. I got to talk to and meet so many different people in so many different places in their life. Many were living their lives not always as happily as they could perhaps. It led to a whole career. Then I ultimately did a whole bunch of stuff and I retired.

J.P.: Let’s get to your book then, because that’s what’s happening in the 90s. So where did your book come in? It’s Bi America: Myths, Truths, and Struggles of an Invisible Community. Where did the book come from? Why did you want to write it?

Bill: I wanted to write it because of a concept in cultural anthropology called salvage anthropology. When a community is disappearing, you need to record it because you’re not gonna get the second chance. That sounds really dire. But that was the situation with the Bi community by 2000. There wasn’t anything going on. In the 90s, there’s conferences taking place around the world and around the country. There’s a lot of energy. It was incredible. All these things were happening. It felt like, surely everything’s going in our direction. Now, surely the world’s changing in our favor and then it didn’t. Things started imploding a little. Now the conferences are gone, or there’s only a couple of them left. Now the groups are closing, the organizations are closing. It’s like, what happened, man? What happened? So much good energy that was happening. So I wanted to record it. I wanted to record the community that I knew and that I was introduced to, which embraced me. I wanted to record it. So that’s what I did. I recorded it. I wanted it for posterity and for a person like me coming along to discover it and say, hey, wow, this is me. This is awesome. Apparently that actually worked, which is wonderful. I couldn’t be happier to hear that that happened with Neil. That’s exactly what I wanted to do. I just wanted to record it. By the way, since then, things just took off again, right? Then it’ll go up and it’ll go down. So I guess that’s just life and movement. They go up and they’ll go down apparently. I don’t know. I’m curious what did happen? I have no idea what happened. I have no idea why it slowed down. The original organizers around the country got tired because you count on a few people with lots of energy to do all the work and then even but they can only do that for a number of years until you just can’t keep doing it. Who’s the next generation coming up behind? Maybe it’s an organic thing where of course there should be a next generation, but maybe there isn’t. I don’t know. The web is a game changer in many ways. I just mentioned before, you can go find your group now, bam, snap of a finger, you can do that. But what are you going to find when you go look? Is that group holding meetings? Is there anything happening with that? Or is it just a link to a dead web page? And there’s a lot of that now too. So it has gone up and down. I think a lot of that is as generations of leadership come up and fade away because they have to. Nobody’s getting paid. Thank goodness for the Bi fund, by the way, which is the new fund that Neil Aasve is working on. We’ve had no money. I mean, you can’t have an organization last forever if they have no money, right? How many years can a person work for free and I mean like a maniac for free?. They’re out there trying or working their butts off and they’re not getting paid. At some point, if you can just get enough funds to get an executive director or a storefront or something, it could change the world. The Bisexual Resource Center in Boston changed the world. That institution is still there and is still doing its thing. It’s been around since the mid-80s, man. The Bisexual Resource Center in Boston is the kind of institution that we need many, many more of.

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J.P.: Hey everyone, JP here. I wanna share with you some stats about This Queer Book Saved My Life! We’ve been listened to in 60 countries and over 1,060 cities worldwide. We’ve made the top 200 charts for Apple Podcast Books category, peaking at number 38. We are ranked in the top 25% of all podcasts on our hosting platform Buzzsprout. On Spotify, we were in the top 20% of all followed podcasts in 2022. For an independent podcast, that’s killer, but we didn’t do all of this alone. We have amazing Associate Producers who are financially supporting us through Patreon at $20 a month. They are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kafer, Nicole Olila, Joe Parazzo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith. These are folks who believe in our mission. If YOU believe in creating platforms for Queer writers, Queer books, and Queer life, I want you to join us. Associate Producers donate $20 a month through Patreon. You can use it on your resume, your CV, your LinkedIn, and we will publish it on our website, our social media, and on our own LinkedIn page. Our associate producers get to provide me with questions to ask on air with upcoming author interviews, and they have access to an associate producer-only seasonal meeting to give us feedback on the shows as well as for us to provide them behind-the-scenes info and run new ideas past them for upcoming seasons. We’re independent. We’re Queer. We’re proud. We can continue to lift up platforms for Queer writers, Queer books, and Queer life. I hope you will join us. You can get started at patreon.com slash this queer book. If you’re not ready to support us as an associate producer just yet, you can sponsor us at the $10 a month or the $5 a month level. Your support gets us on the air, keeps us there, and supports transcription services to keep our podcast accessible. Shout out to Awen Briem, Stephen D., Thomas Michna.

Now, we’ll send you back to our live broadcast that we recorded at Lush Lounge in Theatre in November of 2022 and we will be back at Lush in May of 2023. Stay tuned to our social media and our website for all of the details. In the meantime, here’s more of my conversation with Bill.

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J.P. You got to meet Fritz. How did that come about?

Bill: It was wonderful. He was a psychiatrist in New York City by the time I met him. The book was long out, around 1999. A good friend of mine, Victor, picked him up from the airport, drove him to my little studio and store at 24th and Lyndale. Victor came in with Fritz, and he’s a fairly tall, older gentleman and he said, yeah, where’s the party tonight? I go, well, I don’t know. It’s Minnesota. We don’t have a party tonight. He was the nicest guy. He went on, gave a really good keynote speech, and he came back to several other conferences after that. He toured around with his last book. I got to drive him around town a little bit with that. He helped me with Bi America. He reviewed it and edited it for me. and ran through it. He was just a really all-around nice guy. He grew up in a time where he was never going to get support as far as he was concerned. He was going to have to go create it, and he did. It continues to today.

J.P.: He wrote the forward.

Bill: Yes, he did. He did.

J.P.: How did that come out? Did you share with him that you were writing?

Bill: Well, we kind of talked about it. I said I want to write a book for it. He was helping acquisitions at Hayworth Press at the time, which was very handy to have an acquisitions editor to talk to about it. I want to write this book. I say, OK, well, let’s do this. So I hammered together this outline. I think it was a little bit more sociological or cultural anthropology oriented than psychiatry or psychology oriented. So he didn’t feel that great about that. He was looking a little bit more for the individual. I’m looking more for the community. Neither one’s wrong or right, it’s just different points of view. I also worked with Max Weinberg and people like that at Kinsey Center. A lot of people were developmental people for me who helped read and give me good feedback to make sure I didn’t say anything too silly.

J.P.: Can you tell me more about how Fritz’s book played a role in writing Bi America? You were just saying that he was more focused on the individual and you were focused on documenting the community which was as you saw it, leaving. How did it inform the book that you were writing?

Bill: I tried to include a lot about psychology too. That’s an important piece. So I tried to include that, but it wasn’t going to be all about that because I was very interested in the community and what that means. It was a larger concept around why you could have a Bisexual picnic and there should be, if there’s three and a half million people in the metro area, you do the math: if five percent of them are Bisexual, that’s an awful lot of people at your picnic. So where are they? Why aren’t they at the picnic? That’s kind of like the leading scene of the book. Where are they? Why aren’t they at this event? There’s a lot of reasons why. Perhaps they can’t find us. A lot of people don’t want to and aren’t looking. Their lives are happy and they don’t need to go find a community. They don’t know what we’re talking about right now or why they’d be interested in this. That’s wonderful for them, and I think that’s great. So I really wanted to look under the hood on that. It’s like, where are all the Bisexuals, right? Why are we invisible? Besides the fact that the biggest thing, obviously, that we live in this community and this country of yes and no; on and off; black and white; duality. Why is it that Bisexuals have to be invisible if there’s so damn many of us? There’s an awful lot of us. How can that possibly be? How can there not be more of a community than there is? So I really wanted to examine that question too. I don’t know if I sorted it out because it’s kind of too big, but the invisibility piece is the reason why that’s in the title of the book.

J.P.: I’m not particularly a fan of the question, like what would you tell your younger self knowing what you know now? Because I feel like that puts all of the pressure on yourself to kind of save yourself, right? I want to kind of flip that question to say, knowing what you know now, knowing about what the Bisexual option meant to you and helping you feel seen and acknowledged for the first time, what would you tell the people who are around you to have better supported you?

Bill: Oh, wow. That’s a tough question. Some of the stuff I’ve talked about has been really, really old things. I’ve just lived my life, and that’s all I’m going to do. I can’t really do anything else. I appreciate the support, but is there a problem if they’re not going to give me support? They’re not going to be in my life then, are they? Because I just can’t continue like that. I mean, you just can’t muddle through and wonder why people aren’t in your corner or when they’re not going to be in your corner any longer. I don’t have any time for the poisonous people. I encourage everybody not to have time for poisonous people in their lives. I don’t have time for that. I’m too old.

J.P.: Tell us about Flexible Press.

Bill: Oh thank you! I appreciate it. I started Flexible Press a while ago. It was a really fun journey. We started, bringing a group of people together. I was at a writing conference at the Loft and I gathered together all the writers I knew and I said, ‘Hey you know what we should do? We should put out an anthology and it’s gonna be fun. So we got together and we decided to write an anthology that turned into Lake Street Stories. We gave the money then to Clues, which is a great non-profit that was on Lake Street at the time. This is 2018. Robert’s Shoes burned down and the building fell on top of their offices and so they needed some money. It’s not going to make a lot of money, but we’ll try. We’ll give them some publicity. So we wrote a book and we gave all the money to Clues and said, well, that’s fun. Let’s do it again but let’s not write the stories, let’s go open up submissions. Let’s take some stories from other people. wWe’ll review and select all the stories and we’ll put together an anthology. That became Home. We gave all the money to Alliance Housing, which is a fabulous nonprofit dedicated to helping people who are housing challenged. That was a wonderful experience. I’m really, really super proud of Home. This is great, let’s just keep going. We’ve been publishing books ever since. A nice little quota of about four books a year. We’re doing five this year. It’s been a wonderful experience. What we decided to do is to give the money away. We don’t give all the money away now, because we’re talking about gross here. Otherwise we’d never give any money away. So we lose money like crazy, but that’s fine. We give money away to nonprofits through every book we sell. For example, this summer we published the book, , A Secret Waltz, where a young woman in the 60s gets pregnant and horrible shit happens. Because it’s the 60s and she has no idea what she could possibly do. She has no access to anything. So the money goes to Planned Parenthood. We continue to do that. The recent book we just published, for example, was Tell Us When to Go. It was a buddy story in San Francisco, very San Francisco focused, and the money there goes to this program to help stop gentrification in San Francisco. So it was a really fun project. It’s things you can do after you retire, and you kind of have got everything all lined up. You don’t have to worry too much about making a living, because God knows they’ll never make a living. But… It’s a wonderful thing and I couldn’t be more happy because I get to meet all these wonderful authors and build this community of authors and it could not be more rewarding. It’s wonderful. It’s amazing what you can do if you don’t want to have to worry about making money, I guess. But see, we’re gonna come out at a full circle moment of A Wrinkle in Time celebrating difference.

J.P.: Tell us what is next in life for Bill Burleson.

Bill: Oh, I can’t wait for my next career. What will it be? I don’t know. I’m enjoying the publishing thing. I’ll probably just keep doing this till the bitter end. It couldn’t be more rewarding. I’m going to keep doing that. Someday somebody’s going to buy my novels, and that would be awesome. You might have seen them. I drag them behind me like an albatross as I go through my life. Someday somebody will read them. Nobody reads them. There it is. I wrote two satires: two really broad-humored satires, and I’ve since found out that nobody buys satires. Life in the publishing world. So I buy a lot of satires for my publishing company to make up for it. I’m looking for a publisher. If you’re me out there, look me up and publish my book. Maybe when I listen to the thing, I’ll go, hey, that guy’s pretty good. I should publish his book. Someday, some of my own books will be published. Meanwhile, I couldn’t enjoy more sitting in a coffee shop pounding away on a laptop, writing short stories, and sending them off to literary magazines for the handful of people in the world who read literary magazines to read.

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J.P.: Cheers for listening today. All of our episodes are executive produced by Jim Pounds. Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kaffer, Nicole Olila, Joe Parazzo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith. If you haven’t subscribed to our show, you should. Give us a five star rating too. The algorithm gods look at those numbers to help Queer folks who are looking for new podcasts to find ours. You can also listen to us every Sunday evening at 6pm Central Time on AM 950, the progressive voice of Minnesota. 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!