It was like a dream, so many of my favorite authors covered the tops of the front tables. I no longer had to search longingly for their names, instead, they were displayed front and center. Ursula Le Guin, Ocean Vuong, Octavia E. Butler, and so many other authors who use their voice to explore societal and interpersonal issues that include queer and female perspectives. Walking inside, I felt the familiar quiet hum of a room filled with books. Comforting and enticing all at once, persuading me to fall into the void of their pages. Blissful escapism. She Said, is one of Berlin’s greatest bookstores, located at Kottbusser Damm. The bookstore only sells queer and female identifying authors, something I’ve never come across before. Being in this space made me wonder, what makes stories so powerful? What is it that makes them so meaningful and eye-opening? Perhaps it’s a mixture of relatability, the potential for discovery, and a healthy dose of discomfort. Tension. Most importantly, words are capable of transforming us, and therefore have the power to set life into motion. Literature pushes us to participate in life, and to be alive. What is it that makes you feel alive? Sometimes, it’s seeing your own reflection mirrored in the world around you. A validation of an existence similar to yours. Most of the time, for queer folk, this validation is scarce, alive only in the fringes of society. Luckily, in Berlin, this reality is slightly different; queer lives are set free, witnessed, and enjoyed for their cultural power. She Said, is one of Berlin’s many queer sanctuaries. It carries the stories so many of us are living today. To polish the reflection of a prominent community within this city, is to tend freedom, and to tend hope.
I was initially introduced to She Said, by a friend and second-year student at BCB, Isabella Thulin. They had mentioned it was their favorite bookstore, and craving a source of inspiration myself, I went on a quest to find a new book. It felt like the right place to go, as I often look for voices which paint the world for what it truly is, not how we have come to understand it through familiarity and security. For example, one of my favorite books, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, describes a world in which everyone is androgynous and gender is non-existent. While reading it, I fell without resistance into Le Guin’s world, because for me, that was the world I was already living in. The book solidified my perspective upon paper, which I had never known could be done before. In its validation of my worldview, I began, for the first time, to not only admire, but also respect the way in which life appears to me. Previous to The Left Hand of Darkness, this was something I struggled with a lot, for I was unable to find such validation within my environment at the time.
“I never have enough time to spend there,” I remember Isabella saying, as they explained why they loved the bookstore so much. And I understood why when I went myself. I hadn’t intended to buy anything, only to roam around listing the titles of books I could find in the library or download on my mother’s Audible account. However, after ten minutes in the store, I already had three books in my hand, my senses filled with that unavoidable hunger that springs from the perception of certain material objects, and makes the mind scream “MUST. HAVE. NOW.” I was clutching The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (which I had heard too many good things about to ignore, and even felt some embarrassment for not having read already), and lastly Inferno by Eileen Myles. In the end, I settled on Myles, unable to convince myself to spend money on three books, since frankly I already had too many at home. “Great choice!” exclaimed the cashier as I went to purchase it. “I am very excited,” I exclaimed, beaming, a slight bounce accompanying my response. In fact, I was overly delighted to have received this simple validation that confirmed I had made the right choice. For I had undoubtedly struggled for almost twenty minutes trying to make it. Immediately after my purchase, I sat down upon the windowsill covered in cushions and began to read.
I had never learned from a woman with a body before. Something slow, horrible and glowing was happening inside of me. I stood on the foothills to heaven. I was hooked. The first chapter, coincidentally, narrated Myles’s experience as a college student studying literature, struggling to amend the confusion regarding their sexuality. It hits very close to my own current experience. And I felt this even more because the reader is plunged into a complex fluctuation between denial and excitement that dominates the inner world of Myles’ youth. The tone was almost too on point. Myles’ voice is unfalteringly witty and captures quite accurately the self-doubting yet overly confident inner dialog of a young person on the quest of finding themselves.
As a tip for those who don’t want to travel all the way to Neuköln to get their fix of queer literature, BCB’s LGBTQ bookshelf is also located in the reading room. Finding similar voices to Myles’s on our campus makes appreciation and understanding that much more accessible. However, there is something comforting in knowing that I can always return to She Said to be reminded that I am not alone in my experience. For this reason, it is also a wonderful place to look for books to add to the bookshelf, not only to support our community on campus, but also to take part in the transportation of lives. With these stories, I can explore the depths of my own thoughts, and ideas through someone else’s experience. Having a place that harbors authors who solely understand and analyze the world through a lens similar to mine, makes the process of gaining wisdom and validation from stories that much easier. As one of my favorite quotes by Clarissa Pinkola Estés says, “The craft of questions, the craft of stories, the craft of the hands, are all a making of something, and that something is soul. Anytime we feed the soul, it guarantees an increase.” She Said is the banquette I have chosen for my soul to feed upon. Its specific delicacies thoroughly quench my thirst.