Almost 10 years ago, back in my hometown of Skopje, an overly ambitious psychology undergraduate embarked on an honors thesis that required way more work than an honors thesis should ever require. I interviewed a few dozen Macedonian gays, lesbians, and bisexuals about their coming-out process and decided to do one of the few (only?) qualitative research theses at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. While researching the topic of sexual orientation, I read every academic article I could possibly access online without paying the exorbitant prices journals charge for articles (our University library had no offline or online access to any recent stuff). None of it what I read was in Macedonian, obviously; there were no informational resources of any kind available in any of the languages spoken in this area (Macedonian, Serbian, or Bulgarian).
What was more, in Macedonia at the time, sexual orientation was not a topic talked about. No one knew anything about it, my psychology professors included.
When I was done with my thesis, I realized I possessed a tremendous amount of knowledge about the psychology of sexual orientation. Knowledge that was entirely unavailable to the people in my country who did not speak English. Knowledge that I HAD TO get out of my head. It was weighing on me, almost physically so. So I decided to write a book that would a) summarize the state of research on the topic, and b) infuse it with the specificity of the Macedonian experience – information I gained over the course of my honors thesis research and the few other surveys on the topic conducted in there by me and my friends involved in the fledgling non-for-profit, LGBT civil rights movement.
Nine grueling months later, the book was finished, and I started to pack my bags – it was time to leave my old life behind and embark on a completely different journey: Graduate school in the US. The Mystery of Sexual Orientation: Contemporary Concepts and Macedonian Perspectives came out just as I was flying across the Atlantic. I was never really there to see how it did. My new life as a grad student at an Ivy League school in a new country was too eventful to allow time to think about my book. I was glad it was done and out, but that was all part of my old life. I put it behind me. For most intents and purposes, I’ve kind of forgotten that I once wrote a book.
Except in moments like this.
A couple of nights ago, I went out to dinner with a gay friend. He grew up in Macedonia, then moved to the U.S. for college. A couple of summers ago, he decided to come out to his parents. Like the vast majority of Macedonian parents, his are pretty conservative when it comes to homosexuality. They took the news badly. His dad cried uncontrollably. His mom tried to find some information online. Not speaking anything but Macedonian, she was limited to the rants of some racist, sexist, homophobic, conservative blogger. She came back to her son in panic that his life was ruined, that he will die young, sick, depressed, and miserable.
And then, someone handed him my book. He passed it on to his mom without ever realizing I was the author. She devoured it in a day. And came out of it a changed woman, with all her questions answered and her mind at ease. Her son was not ill and he wasn’t going to die any time soon just because he was gay.
Only later did he realize I wrote that book. And now he wanted to thank me for bringing peace to his family.
I never got any money from my book. It was published by a non-for-profit LGBT rights organization and I let them keep whatever profits they made by selling it. And I’ve never regretted that decision. Because money can’t buy the gift of gratitude. Knowing I’ve brought lasting positive change into someone’s life is the greatest reward I can think of.