3 min

Letters of Pride: Edmund White

For the week of Halifax Pride, I will be publishing segmented posts. The first will be a selection of Open Letters to various queer and queer-friendly artists/authors/personalities that I have or do admire. I would like to reflect and thank some of the various individuals who have made their mark on me. The second part of the postings will be listing of various events happening throughout Halifax.

To Mister White.

Sitting in my outbox is a letter addressed to you. It’s been sitting there for over six months: a collection of notes and reminders of things to say, personal recollections and a compliment or three.

But I recently learned that you had suffered a stroke. This spurred me on to write this open letter, to thank you.

When I was fifteen years old, I smuggled a copy of one of yours books into my house. It was a paperback edition of A Boy’s Own Story and The Beautiful Room Is Empty, with a big pink triangle on the spine. I had it sent to a friend’s house so that my parents wouldn’t open my mail. This is not to say that my parents would do such thing, but teenage boys are paranoid creatures.

Edmund White

That book was the first truly “gay” thing I ever owned, and I cherished it. It was like I gave myself permission to say it outloud, even if only to myself. That book was an object of desire.

I remember looking at it on my nightstand, wondering if my parents or sister would notice it, decipher the secrets that were hinted at by the pink triangle printed on the spine.

I would pull it out at night and read it, hoping to decipher the secrets of gay male sexuality. Like you, I was a bookish kid, precocious for his age (read: pretentious) and had a tendency to seek out literary reflections. You found “Death In Venice", and I found you. You studied French, I speak it fluently. The character of you, the struggles, the angst, the beauty of it all, were characteristics I understood and – perhaps in a bit of teenage angst – admired.

That book came into my house during the early 90s. AIDS was a big, scary word, drilled into my head by scared-straight big media, high school teachers, and the death of Freddie Mercury. But those two books were written and set before the onset of the-disease-that would-be-named. Your books gave me insight into a collective past, filtered through prose.

I am now near the age that you were when you started writing “A Boys Own Story". I don’t see the world in the way I used to when I first read it, and perhaps not in the way you described it. But I wouldn’t have gotten to this place in my life without having been given access to your past.

I wish you a full and speedy recovery,


P.S. – In 1996, a friend of mine gave me a copy of “The Farewell Symphony". He had it signed by you, to me. It is still a treasured possession. A small link to you that I am grateful for.


Don’t know what to do today on the first Monday of Halifax Pride?

How about Hissy Fit? It’s kind of an annual tradition where all kinds of Halifax bands get together and get dressed in drag and perform their own tunes. No lip syncing here, this is rock’n’roll drag baby. For more info, click here.

The YouthProject’s Pride Week Kick-Off BBQ
is open to all LGBTQ youth and their allies ages 25 and under. It’s free, starts at 5:30 and it’s at The Youth Project, 2281 Brunswick Street in Halifax.

As mentioned in a previous post, PrideHealth is presenting it’s Let’s Talk Trans Talk! at Hugh Bell Lecture Hall, Nova Scotia Hospital.
Transgender, Transsexual, Two Spirited, Gender Queer, Gender Variant, Gender Identity, Cis Gender, Gender Binary, Gender Dysphoria…what do these terms mean and how do they relate to providing person-centred health?  For more info, contact Cybelle Rieber at 473‐1433 or prideHealth@cdha.nshealth.ca. And it’s free!

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