Suddenly I received a message on Instagram from Eisenherz bookstore located in Berlin expressing their interest in selling the taleofmen magazines in their store. I was very happy. The deal went very smoothly. I think, for a moment, I got a sense of satisfaction, not because of the business perspective, but because of the idea that my zines will be among many other queer artists that I admire. I can’t either deny the Berlin factor. Berlin, the city that I love, for its queer energy, its community of queer artists, and everything around it, that I want to be a part of…It’s a great feeling. A few weeks later, another email came, this time from Les mots à la bouche in Paris, a legendary LGBTQ+ bookstore which used to be located in the heart of the gay district “Le Marais” in Paris. I was overjoyed by the opportunity to have my zines sold there, again among many other queer artists. I packed the zines and shipped them right away!
Now I had some time to take these all in. Then I got a bit emotional. Why? Because it’s hard work, because it’s connected so much deeper inside, because damn, it’s good to have recognition… I have never portrayed myself as someone oozing out of self-confidence. Partly due to my Chinese upbringing, I am, in my humble opinion, somehow modest. Even though I have been working hard on this project for almost 4 years, there’s always this little voice telling me it’s not good enough. When you put your work on social platforms, it’s not only about you anymore. I am aware of this. Therefore, I appreciate all the generous supports I have been receiving so far, which in a certain way boosts my confidence and my perseverance. Nevertheless, I still lack the courage to say, “Hey, I have made these zines, would you be interested in having them in your store?” The thought that comes into my mind would be “Why you? there are others who are much better than you.”
Actually, I went to Les mots à la bouche last summer when I was photographing boys in Paris. I still remember that day. It’s extremely hot and I left the hotel without having breakfast. I had been wanting to visit the bookstore for quite a while. To me, local lgbtq+ businesses are so rare now that I am afraid many of them would become history, thus gone with them are the experiences that we once had when we were young, the kind of lifestyle drastically different from the one now, and the way to connect with people. I wonder, how many of us still remember the feeling of stepping into a gay bookstore with a bit of nervousness as if stepping into a secret world, but at the same time, feeling a sense of safety as it’s our safe haven where we know people inside the bookstore are same as you. Maybe, memories of leafing through magazines with photos of naked guys, exchanging stares with a cute stranger, or finding valuable books telling some stories that have touched your heart…
When I posted the news that taleofmen zines would be soon available at Les mots à la bouche, someone said it’s the first bookstore he’d visited, which reminded me, as a matter of fact, Les mots à la bouche is also the first gay bookstore I have visited!!! It was in the summer of 2004. I was traveling in Europe for the first time. I landed in Paris and visited Le Marais. Before sitting on the terrace people watching, I visited the bookstore! Now, almost 17 years later, I spent a good half an hour there, browsing the photobooks section. Eventually, I bought the latest issue of the Kink magazine. I recognized many other zines/books there, the Elska, the Meat, etc. I had the urge to tell the guy behind the counter, assumingly one of the owners, “hey, I also make zines called taleofmen magazines.” but I didn’t.
I guess, the idea of publishing my work in physical form and having it in a bookstore has always been a big deal for me. Writing has been a way to converse with oneself, to reflect, and to express, to tame one’s emotions. I kept a diary for about 2 years at high school, mostly writing down my entangled feelings for a boy in my same class, my high school crush. Later I started to write on a famous Chinese online forum, documenting love and heartbreak. Writing is like open-heart surgery, a very honest, intimate, and vulnerable process. Even now, when my focus of expression has switched to photography, a form of visual expression, writing has never lost its power. That’s why I love to get to know my boys via their stories, through their experiences, through their way of telling them.
Now, for me, this almost middle-aged man, to see the childhood child come true, it’s very touching and humbling. I am grateful. I think I will still remain who I am, quietly doing my thing most of the time, on my own. As long as I keep on going, it will be alright.
If you are in Berlin or Paris, make sure to check the bookstores out. Support local queer businesses.
Les mots à la bouche
37 Rue Saint-Ambroise
75011 Paris, France
10777 Berlin, Germany