Memoirs remain one of the most popular genres in publishing, as imprints pump out hundreds every year—including dozens of LGBT autobiographies.
And why not? There are still so many queer stories to be told.
This fall sees a bevy of true tales, including that of supportive parents grappling with their gay son’s attempted suicide, a man who got married twice twice before accepting his true self, and the journey of writer Greg Martin (above) toward accepting his father’s truth. Plus, for a sense of continuity, a must-read essay from the 1970s that reminds us it actually has gotten better.
John Schwartz (Gotham Books)
What It’s About: Schwartz and his wife suspected their son Joseph was gay from the time he was a baby—and only wanted to offer love and support. But the pressure of being an out gay teen—and the realities of high school—led Joseph to attempt suicide. Here, Schwartz recounts Joseph’s unique childhood and their family’s bumpy journey to happiness.
What to Expect: A sort of What to Expect When You’re Expecting for the parents who know their kid is going to come out sooner or later. Schwartz, an ace reporter for the New York Times, peppers his emotional response with vital research and telling anecdotes.
Just a Taste: “Joseph’s hints had the intended effect; by then, some kids had asked directly if he was gay. ‘I’d say yes,’ he’d say. That day, he was talking with some boys during the last class period and took up a thread of conversation he’d been pursuing for a few weeks: criticizing the way they talked about girls. ‘You’re always rating them,’ he said. ‘Well I’m going to rate you. You’re a seven. You’re a five.”
Coal to Diamonds
Beth Ditto (Spiegel & Grau)
What It’s About: Plus-sized diva Beth Ditto is now known to millions as the Gossip’s out lead singer. But the 31-year-old, born Mary Beth Patterson from the backwoods of Judsonia, Arkansas, may have one of the most unlikely rags-to-riches stories we can remember.
What to Expect: Ditto can ramble, even with the help of co-writer Michelle Tea. There are moments where her narrative reads like a rambling jam session rather than a sharply polished ballad. But wading through the tough parts will be worth it for any fan to understand the music, and the woman, even better.
Just a Taste: “Jeri won’t kiss me,’ Jennifer said, nervously, one day.
‘He’s gay,’ I thought.
I heard it from the same inner voice that told me I’m gay all the time—reverberating, ricocheting, resisting all my efforts to shut it up. This Jeri person had to be gay. He had to be! Boys started doing it with girls so young in Judsonia, and its all they ever did. It was unthinkable that a teenage boy with a proper girlfriend wouldn’t kiss her! If things were normal Jennifer would have had a couple pregnancy scares by now, or a couple abortions, maybe an actual kid toddling around.
Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay.”
Cowboys, Armageddon, and the Truth: How a Gay Child was Saved From Religion
Scott Terry (Lethe Press)
What It’s About: Terry shares a story of growing up in the small town of Anderson, Missouri—and how isolating that can be for a gay kid among a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But he makes his way, eventually getting involved in the rodeo circuit and riding broncos as an openly gay man.
What to Expect: It’s refreshing to experience a coming-of-age that doesn’t take place in the mean streets or a cliquey suburban high school. Yes, at times Cowboys dips into erotica, but there’s something authentic about the desire of a cowboy for other butch guys.
Just a Taste: “Buck turned the TV on, then stripped down to his boxers and sprawled out over the bed, practically inviting me to look. We ordered a pizza to be delivered.
He fell asleep, a hard beer-induced sleep, and I took long glances at his nipples, and his body hair, and the access hole gaping wide in the front of his baby blue boxers, wanting to touch him, wanting to explore what was passed out before me. Wondering if he shared my desires. Wondering why he often bunked with me. Wanting to run my hands over his body. Wondering if he would awake if I dared to touch him. I didn’t touch him.”
Stories for Boys: A Memoir
Gregory Martin (Hawthorne Books)
What It’s About: Sometimes everything you thought you knew can change in an instant. That’s what happened to Martin, whose discovery that his father was gay—and having countless meaningless affairs—made him question his own role as a father.
What to Expect: Reconciling the dad we want with the one we have is a journey all children face, but the fact that Martin’s father attempted suicide and hunted after anonymous gay sex places this memoir a little beyond the pale. Still, Stories might dredge up unresolved issues with your own dad, so be warned.
Just a Taste: “My father told me two things that day, two revelations which I had never once suspected. He told me that for ten years, from the time he was four until he was fourteen, his father had molested him. His voice broke as he said this. He hesitated and looked wildly about the room. I moved toward him.
My father held up his hand. ‘I’m not done.’
He then said that he’d been having anonymous affairs for as long as he and my mother had been married – for thirty-nine years. All of these affairs were with men. He was gay.
My father cried as he spoke. I cried with him. I told him I was grateful he was alive.”
My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man’s Odyssey
Charles Rowan Beye (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
What It’s About: Beye has been married three times: twice to women, and once to a man—his current husband. In this fascinating autobiography he recalls eight decades of choices, pain and ultimately, joy.
What to Expect: Wonder what it means to have mommy issues? Beye delves into his complex relationship with his mom, with all its complications and contradictions. But Husband also reminds us it can get better for almost anyone—it might just take longer than expected.
Just a Taste: “Benediction. We said little more; I departed and walked slowly home. My chest, which had felt in the last 24 hours as though it had been shut, turned in, hardened almost to the point of denying my breathing, suddenly opened. I was too exhausted to be happy, too apprehensive of Mother.
But Dr. Miller had called me whole, had called me sane, had called me normal. It was not the substance, but the style. ‘Need to be more discreet.’ The words stayed with me like the kindly squeeze of a hand on the shoulder.”
On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual
Merle Miller (Penguin Books)
What It’s About: In 1971, two years after the Stonewall Riots, Joseph Epstein published a homophobic essay in left-leaning Harper’s that sparked outrage among the gay community. Among his other claims, Epstein said nothing would upset him more than if his sons were gay “because then I would know that they were condemned to the niggerdom of the earth.
The piece led to a sit-in of Harper’s offices, and inspired Merle Miller, a distinguished author and editor in his own right, to pen this essay, which originally ran in the New York Times Magazine, about what it meant to be a homosexual in America.
It was brave, almost reckless, but it became a loud clarion call for others.
What to Expect: In his introduction, columnist-activist Dan muses on how his own current family life is so far beyond what anyone of Miller’s generation could have imagined.
In the compelling epilogue, Gay Metropolis author Charles Kaiser writes that, “Merle Miller’s landmark piece was a vital, courageous step in this magnificent transformation of America.”
Buy two copies—one to read (and re-read) and one to give to a friend.
Just a Taste: “I suggested he not come for the weekend. I have never molested a child my whole life through, never seduced anybody, assuming that word has meaning, and, so far as I know, neither have any of my homosexual friends. Certainly not in my living room or bedroom… I have never heard anybody say that he (or she) got to be homosexual because of seduction.”