The story behind Wales’s new queer bookshop
With so few LGBT+ bookstores in the UK, Paned o Gê is a welcome addition.
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The UK has a wealth of independent bookshops, some with rather niche specialities. From the occult to Celtic languages, and from 19th century children’s books to railways -- whatever your interest, there is normally a bookshop for you. Less niche, however, is LGBT+ culture. The stories of queer writers (some openly, others not) have long populated modern fiction. But despite this -- and the fact 52% of generation Z identify as ‘not strictly heterosexual’ -- there are almost no book retailers specialising solely in queer literature in the UK.
As it stands -- with the exception of pop-ups and online-only stores -- Category Is Books in Glasgow, Gay’s the Word in London, and The Portal Bookstore in York, which opened late last year, are the UK’s only permanent queer bookshops it would seem. The good news is, however, as of next year, Cardiff will be joining this small but illustrious list, with the first Welsh LGBT+ bookshop slated to open in early 2021.
Paned o Gê -- which rhymes with the Welsh ‘paned o te’ (cup of tea) -- was due to open in February this year. When coronavirus struck and put the world on hold, plans for the Welsh bookshop were delayed. Days before lockdown, Cardiff-based shop founder Daniel Bowen was looking to put down a deposit on a space for the shop. Though thankfully, he never found the right spot. “I’d be paying so much in rent that it wouldn’t be manageable,” Daniel told me. The shop would’ve been bankrupt before it ever had a chance.
While they wait to find a physical space for Paned o Gê, Daniel has launched the shop online and is hosting a monthly bookclub, open to everyone who wishes to join. Soon to be on the reading list is Daniel’s personal favourite queer book, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, a semi-autobiographical story by Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong of discovering ones sexuality as a refugee in America.
When it opens, it’s of huge importance to Daniel that Paned o Gê functions as a cafe as well as a bookshop. He believes that the LGBT+ community deserves more spaces than merely bars and clubs. Everyone should have access to somewhere safe and free from discrimination, to relax and take a break, without the emphasis on alcohol. “Cardiff has a great queer nightlife scene, but it was a necessity for me to have a space that wasn't nightlife oriented, which a lot of people don’t enjoy,” he says. Nightlife is a big part of queer history, but that’s not to say that clubbing should remain at the centre of our community.
“I think the most dangerous thing is that everyone now believes that everything is fine for queer people, and it’s not. You may not be able to understand or vocalise why it’s not, so it’s important to have a safe space and a queer network where you can learn about this stuff,” says Daniel.
From September this year, all schools in England will be required to teach about same-sex relationships and gender identity in lessons. The new curriculum will be in place in Wales from 2022. But, despite being mandatory, Daniel isn’t convinced the new curriculum will cover a broad range of queer culture. “Even though the curriculum is being introduced, I don’t really trust schools to introduce a lot of queer history,” he says. “The shop will be a place where we can be fully celebrated and protected. It’s place for people to figure out what their queer history was.” All Daniel had growing up, he laughs, was TV shows. “ Torchwood did everything for me.”
There’s a long way to go, but this is undoubtedly a historic moment for LGBT+ progression. The new curriculum could mean that the next generation will have a more sensitive understanding of queer people than every generation that’s come before them. No one is born with discriminatory views, they are learnt behaviours that can be challenged with teaching. Yes, there will be large chunks of queer culture that schools refrain from adding to the syllabus, but we can only hope that with this will come more LGBT+ writers and bookshops. That way unanswered questions can be explained by teachers who aren’t found in schools, but in the pages of books, found at Paned o Gê.
Paned o Gê’s required reading list
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
A Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S. J. Sindu
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
Tylwyth by Dafydd James (Welsh language)