Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

2BK 2

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

I’ve read most of this author’s books and e enjoyed them all. Maybe this one’s the best.

Older gay men remember the sacrifices they made and the battles they fought so that the younger generation could be themselves without constantly fearing other people’s reactions. There’s a lot of this in this book.

Kiss-ins were a powerful form of non-violent protest in favour of gay rights. Police could hardly arrest people, especially in large numbers.

Levithan’s story lasts only for around 48 hours, and within the time period a lot happens; a lot of important and moving events occur. With the evolution in homosexuality acceptance, but a definite and significant amount of people still being homophobic, the balance is perfectly measured in Two Boys Kissing. The omniscient narrators navigate the sense of freedom for gays compared with the past and knowing the pain and hurt associated with homophobia extremely delicately but with conviction and truth. The four separate stories of Harry and Craig, Ryan and Avery, Peter and Neil and Cooper seem to cover the general kinds of situations that gay individuals might be in, as well as being able to be applied to straight people too. For example, Ryan and Avery have mixed ideas about what their relationship could be, and where they might be going.

David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

These people who died of AIDS remind me of Isaiah’s suffering servant: We shit blood and had our skin lacerated and broken by lesions. We had fungus grow in our throats, under our fingernails. We lost the ability to see, to speak, to feed ourselves. We coughed up pieces of ourselves and felt our blood turn to magma. We lost the use of our muscles and our bodies were reduced to collections of skin-encased bones. We were rendered unrecognizable, diminished and demolished. Our lovers had to watch us die. Our friends had to watch as the nurse changed our catheters, had to try to put aside that image as they laid us in caskets, into the ground. We will never kiss our mothers again. We will never see our fathers. We will never feel air in our lungs. We will never hear the sound of our voices. We will never feel snow or sand or take part in another conversation. Everything was taken away from us, and we miss it. We miss all of it.

And these people show what the travesty of the Christian gospel has caused: Why can’t we close our eyes? We who did nothing more than dream and love and screw — why have we been banished here, why hasn’t the world solved this by now? Why must we watch as Cooper steps up to the railing? Why must we watch as a twelve-year-old puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger? Why must we watch as a fourteen­year-old hangs himself in the garage, to be found by his grandmother two hours later? Why must we watch as a nineteen-year-old is strung up on the side of an empty highway and left to die? Why must we watch as a thirteen-year-old takes a stomach full of pills, then places a plastic bag over his head? Why must we watch as he vomits and chokes? Why must we die over and over again?

The author says, of his inspiration: On September 18, 2010, college students Matty Daley and Bobby Cancielo kissed for thirty-two hours, thirty minutes, and forty-five seconds (longer than the characters in this book) to break the Guinness World Record for longest continuous kiss. I am just one of many people who were inspired by what they did. While the characters in Two Boys Kissing are not in any way based on Matty and Bobby, the story is certainly inspired by what they did. I am grateful to Matty for telling me what it was like, and for continuing to inspire. If you’d like to find out more about Matty and Bobby’s kiss, there was a documentary, Our Lips Are Sealed, made about it. There are also numerous videos of the kiss on YouTube,

The title of this book comes from Walt Whitman’s “We Two Boys Together Clinging,” which appears in the novel in its entirety. David Hockey did a painting of the same name.

And guess what? Some parents wanted the book pulled from the library at Fauquier High School. But hooray! They lost their case.


“your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother’s or your grandmother’s best friend from college, […]. We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore. We are the ghosts of the remaining older generation”

“We had the best songs.
We taught you how to dance”.

“We were once like you, only our world wasn’t like yours.

You have no idea how close to death you came. A generation or two earlier, you might be here with us.

We resent you. You astonish us.”

“We know that some of you are still scared. We know that some of you are still silent. Just because it’s better now doesn’t mean that it’s always good.”

“Things are not magical because they’ve been conjured for us by some outside force. They are magical because we create them.”

“We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you’d never have any doubt about how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are.”

“Whatever anyone threatens, whatever anyone is offended by, it doesn’t matter, because you have already survived much, much worse. In fact, you are still surviving. You survive every single, blessed day.”

“We wish we could have been there for you. We didn’t have many role models of our own–we latched on to the foolish love of Oscar Wilde and the well-versed longing of Walt Whitman because nobody else was there to show us an untortured path. We were going to be your role models. We were going to give you art and music and confidence and shelter and a much better world. Those who survived lived to do this. But we haven’t been there for you. We’ve been here. Watching as you become the role models.”

For a long time he thought he had a demon on his shoulders, weighing him down so he’d drown quicker. The demon liked boys, wanted nothing more than to kiss a boy. Craig couldn’t get rid of him, no matter how much he wished it, no matter what promises he made to God. Then he met Harry, and suddenly the demon was revealed to be a friend. He offered Craig a hand, pulled him up. Craig emerged, gasping, from the sadness — then created a dam to keep it at bay. He didn’t let Harry see it, just like he didn’t let his parents see it. It had to remain inside of him, contained. When Harry broke up with him, the dam came undone. He started drowning again, even as he pretended for Harry and their friends that he could swim. Smita kept a close eye on him, and in his own way, Harry did, too. Their friendship helped him rebuild the dam. He still had his life within his house and his life outside his house, but he was almost used to that. It was all under control. Until he saw Tariq after the assault, and felt in his heart that this was his future, that this time the demons were as bad as he feared, and they were going to win.

He hated feeling this way. He hated feeling helpless. He wondered what he could do. How could he stand up for himself? He knew vengeance wasn’t an option. He wasn’t going to track down the guys who’d beaten up Tariq. He wasn’t going to punish them. But there had to be some way to show the world that he was a human being, an equal human being.

He thought about protests. About gestures. About making the world watch. Then he thought about world records, and came up with the idea of the kiss.

If you put enough closets together, you have enough space for a room. If you put enough rooms together, you have space for a house. If you put enough houses together, you have space for a town, then a city, then a nation, then a world.

All of these men and boys with their computers, all of these men and boys with their phones. All after the druglike rush of doing something adventurous, doing something they consider to be on the edge of something else. All of these men and boys fragmenting themselves, hoping the fragments are pieced together on the other end. All of these men and boys trying out this new form of gratification. All of these men and boys still lonely when the rush is over, and the devices are off, and they are alone with themselves again.

There is a term for this.

The term is limbo.

And now Harry needs to stop thinking about sex, because his body is starting to . . . react. So he thinks about something else — about whether he should ask for a sip of water. They’re allowed to have some, but only if it’s through a straw, and the lips are still touching. Tricky, but it can be done. The problem is, if he drinks now, he runs the risk of having to pee later. And he really wants to avoid that. This is another of the rules: no diapers, no cheating in the bathroom department. If he has to go, he’s either got to whip it out and pee on the grass — or just leak a little into his pants. Neither option is really attractive, and the horny edge is totally off his mind now.

“The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us had a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it. What we hoped, and what we found, was that the second sentence of the truth is always easier than the first, and the third sentence is even easier than that. Suddenly you are speaking the truth in paragraphs, in pages. The fear, the nervousness, is still there, but it is joined by a new confidence. All along, you’ve used the first sentence as a lock. But now you find that it’s the key.”

“…he hopes that maybe it’ll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing than they were before, and a little more welcoming to the idea that all people are, in fact, born equal, no matter who they kiss or screw, no matter what dreams they have or love they give.”

“Harry, of course, knows he is being looked at. But what he looks like is the farthest thing from his mind. When your body starts to turn against you–when the surface value of the skin is nothing compared to the fireworks of pain in your muscles and your bones–the supposed truth of beauty falls away, because there are more important concerns to attend to.

Believe us. We know this.”

“Love is so painful, how could you wish it on anybody? And love is so essential, how could you ever stand in its way?”

“We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you’d never have any doubt about how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are.”

“The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us has a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it.”

“Some of our parents were always on our side. Some of our parents chose to banish us rather than see us for who we were. And some of our parents, when they found out we were sick, stopped being dragons and became dragonslayers instead.”

“could be outside his room, surrounded by people, and it would still feel like nowhere”

What a powerful word, future. Of all the abstractions we can articulate to ourselves, of all the concepts we have that other animals do not, how extraordinary the ability to consider a time that’s never been experienced. And how tragic not to consider it. It galls us, we with such a limited future, to see someone brush it aside as meaningless, when it has an endless capacity for meaning, and an endless number of meanings that can be found within it.

“The phrase rush to judgment is a silly one. When it comes to judgment, most of us don’t have to rush. We don’t even have to leave the couch. Our judgment is so easy to reach for.”

“So many of us had to make our own families. So many of us had to pretend when we were home. So many of us had to leave. But every single of us wishes we hadn’t have to. Every single one of us wishes our family had acted like our family, that even when we found a new family, we hadn’t have to leave the other one behind. Every single one of us would have loved to be loved unconditionally by our parents.

Don’t make him leave you, we want to tell Mrs. Kim. He doesn’t want to leave you”

“Eventually Harry will leave Craig curled on the couch. He will tuck Graig in, then tiptoe back to his own room. They will be in a separate places, but they will have very similar dreams.

We miss the sensation of being tucked in, just as we miss the sensation of being that hovering angel, pulling the blanket over his shoulders, wishing him a sweet night. Those are the beds we want to remember.”

“There is the sudden. There is the eventual. And in between, there is the living. We do not start as dust. We do not end as dust. We make more than dust. That’s all we ask of you. Make more than dust.”

“On September 18, 2010, college students Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello kissed for thirty-two hours, thirty minutes, and forty-seven seconds (longer than the characters in this book) to break the Guinness World Record for longest continuous kiss. I am just one of many people who were inspired by what they did”.

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