There were many inspirations and touchstones for Two Boys Kissing. This is a very incomplete listing of them.
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, including this one.
The voice of Two Boys Kissing came from a story I wrote for an anthology edited by Michael Cart, How Beautiful the Ordinary, which is still available. Michael is also one of the authors (with Christine Jenkins) of The Heart Has Its Reasons, a definitive study of queer YA literature.
The voice of the gay generation before mine that I am closest to is that of my uncle, Robert Levithan (aka Bobby Levithan). He writes beautifully of living with AIDS and living as a gay man in his online essays and in his collection, The New Sixty.
There are many amazing accounts of the AIDS epidemic – journalistic, memoir, fiction – that I’ve read or watched over the years which no doubt informed the voice of Two Boys Kissing. I’m sure this is an incomplete list, just as much as I’m sure that there are many accounts that I haven’t read yet that would have been equally as meaningful.
I think Randy Shilts’s And The Band Played On is still the definitive portrait of what happened. Also, Andrew Holleran’s Chronicle of a Plague, Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time, and Mark Doty’s Heaven’s Coast. Tony Kushner’s Angels in America was hugely influential to me, as was Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. As I was finishing this novel, David France’s documentary How to Survive a Plague was released, which added fuel to the inspiration fire; the documentary We Were Here is also well worth watching.
The title of this book comes from Walt Whitman’s “We Two Boys Together Clinging,” which appears in the novel in its entirety. But I would have never looking in the direction of the poem if not for David Hockey’s painting of the same name, which you can see here.