Every gay, lesbian, transsexual, or bisexual individual has a story. Whether we come out in high school, college, or later in life we all have a story. There is a virtual cottage industry of Coming Out stories. Google Coming Out Story and there are 1.9 billion options.
I do not want to make light of this issue because it is central to the experience of being gay. It is when a person actually says to his or her self, "I am gay." I have always held that this is akin to steel being forged. It is a difficult process.
One of the first books I read when I was in high school was, The Best Little Boy in the World. It was written by "John Reid" who was later revealed to be Andrew Tobias. This book came out in the early seventies which is such a different time from now. One of the key scenes that always stood out for me when I read it was when John had to go for a physical at the draft board. That experience is alien to me, but the feelings that John expresses about alienation and difference are all too familiar.
Reviewing the book some twenty years after I first read it makes it seem alien in many ways. The world has changed - kids come out much earlier, but many times they don't get the support they need. The author uses humor to great affect in the book. I know there are many moments I look back on in my coming out process and groan, but can laugh anyway. It is not all easy.
This is a must read book if only to provide some context to a generation that can come out with many support systems out there to help. So much has changed in a short period of time and a book likes this is a glimpse into a past that will be alien to many. But more it is a lesson in progress. For all the obstacles that we still face, to look back and see what is different now is amazing. I'm not saying much about the book itself because it deserves to be read and experienced on its own.
Entries From A Hot Pink Notebook was written by Todd Brown. It was published in the early Nineties and features a 14 year old kid. Where Best has a kid from a very upper middle class family, this book features a kid from a much more challenging one. Ben Smith is the kid and the book is his journal for his freshman year of high school.
It is written as a journal so each entry is dated. Ben comes from a home that is breaking. His older brother is a 'Cro-Magnon' in Ben's words. His father likes to drink and left his high school dropout mother for another woman. The whole town knows exactly what is going on. All this is a backdrop to Ben being a freshman in high school and dealing with issues he doesn't want to deal with. He has bad dreams - things that make him worried.
His best friend is a girl and for some reason he can't articulate he doesn't want to go out wither her when she makes it clear she likes him. It is never easy letting someone down, but his circumstances made it doubly difficult. In this year - a year that can be hell for many - Ben grows as a person and we see it through the pains and joy. And it is an organic growth as the writer let the experiences flow instead of signposting everything.
The good thing about this book is that it is a journal for a year. It covers a specific period of time. We may want to know more, but that is for another story
My Father's Scar written by Michael Cart was published in the mid-Nineties. Andy Logan is a freshman in college, but this book moves back and forth from the present to the past which has built Andy into the person he is.
The story begins with Andy as an overweight twelve year old being bullied by a classmate. Andy's father takes Andy to find the bully and tells Andy to fight back. Andy throws a punch and gets punched in return. The father demands that Andy get up and when he doesn't the father kicks Andy. The bully actually defends Andy for a second. When Andy returns home his mother manages to make the whole thing Andy's fault. The next day Andy starts to run...
When it picks back up as a freshman in high school who is wiry thin and still an academic at heart. There are some characters that matter in this story that moves back and forth in the time line. Billy, the bully from the intro, and Evan, a guy who Andy admires. There is a painful lesson for Andy he learns from Evan. Billy is not at all what he seemed as a kid and Andy tutors him because Billy needs the academic help.
There tends to be a formula in many of these types of books where the main character has someone from his past who is redeemed by either being gay as well or becoming the side kick. The author twists that formula a bit, but the structure of the story kind of gave that twist away early.
There a hundreds of books that explore Coming Out. Many are now found in Teen Fiction sections like Alex Sanchez's Rainbow Boys series or Brent Hartinger's Russel Middlebrook series. I don't read as many of those anymore. I'll pick one up every so often to see what the current generation is experiencing.
I think there will always be commonalities: the realization that we are different. There is a point where we come to terms with that and then we can openly say to the mirror for the first time, " I am gay." After that there is the first time telling someone else. I remember wanting to vomit as the words were uttered. That internal reaction calmed down after a time, but the first few are scary. But through books we can relate to that experience.
As the stories get written and told they are markers for our progress. Some stories will always show the painful difficulties of Coming Out. Some will paint pictures of progress needing to be made. But as a whole, they will show that society is changing. That is one of the great things about literature, it is the culmination of the story of US. All the pieces fit together like a mosaic, a fabric of humanity reaching back in time and going forward to our hopes and dreams. A sample of our progress is underlined in how the stories of LGTB youth are changing. Progress made and progress yet to be acheived.
A note I would like to make now. When I was growing up and first moved out a neighborhood bookstore was down the street from me. Crossroads. Over the years it moved and offered other things like coffee and desserts, allowing for more time to sit and chat.
There was something magical about a bookstore. A place to pick up a book and read the dust jacket or back-cover to decide whether this book was right for you. Since Crossroads has long since closed, I went to Borders which had a decent GLTB book section. Borders is now gone and I can't stand Barnes & Noble.
I've been shopping at Amazon for over a decade. But as robust as the recommendations are from Amazon, it isn't the same as picking up a book and deciding it is for me. Many a book in my collection would never have made it in the collection if not for the chance to pick it up and see if there was wonder inside. Progress made and losing something in the process...
I will be in meetings most of the day. I will join the conversation when I can.