Waldron’s account of life as a gay dad in Arizona.
The author’s engaging debut memoir opens with a protest rally against illegal immigrants in Phoenix. Seeing a young Hispanic boy on his father’s shoulders, Waldron reflects on his journey as a single, gay parent. When he fell in love with the charming smile of a 3-year-old boy, he had little understanding of the child’s intense anger simmering below the surface. After helplessly witnessing one memorable tantrum, Waldron sought a series of nannies to care for his child and teach him Spanish, as well as give himself some much-needed breathing room in his suddenly hectic life. Beginning with fun-loving Paulina, several Mexican women not only cared for his son (and later second child), but also showed Waldron how to appreciate the smaller, day-to-day triumphs of parenting. The women’s undocumented status and their ties to family in Mexico meant that their connections to his young family, while strong, were sometimes short-lived. While the women are idealized in their portrayals and treated like family (a far cry from The Help), the narrator is forthright about his own shortcomings and fears. Parents, especially single parents or those of adopted children, will relate to his worried comparisons to wealthier parents, his fears that his son might be taken away, his frantic juggling of work responsibilities and his musings about the lasting effects of his son’s difficult pre-adoption years. Early on, he confronts his own prejudices about the women he comes to depend upon who live in modest, sometimes sketchy, neighborhoods. He’s also quick to defend them from the unfounded accusations of his neighbors or his father’s concerns about strangers raising his grandchildren. A natural storyteller, Waldron offers a universal tale. He occasionally touches on issues specific to being a gay parent, including being advised to lie about his orientation or being offered harder-to-place children. More personal than political, this memoir’s conversational style, with its short chapters, lively bits of dialogue, candid observations and steady action, makes for enjoyable reading.
A timely, compelling story that challenges the traditional definition of family.
Birch’s candid new memoir recalls her punishing adolescent boyhood and the difficult pursuit of self-realization.
Birch never felt right in her body. She remembers a detailed, harrowing dream of retreating into the forest to commit suicide. Readers are catapulted to Birch’s boyhood as Jacob Mathewson, a quiet, awkward boy born with ambiguous genitalia. Tormented by his peers at school and by his mother at home because of his “birth defect,” Jacob explores his “female side” by dressing in girls’ clothing. College was “the time when I first realized how much Jessie could help me. I would come home from school and lock myself in my room, dress as a girl, put [makeup] on, and magically my homework assignments became much easier to complete.” And so Jacob sets out as Jessica on a path to discover where the feminine tendencies lead. Over the course of her journey, Birch continually seeks approval from others. She has a bad habit of imprudent attempts at friendship. Most troublingly, she develops an obsession with her therapist, sending her anonymous, unwanted gifts and unnerving letters. This fixation and her inability or unwillingness to see its inappropriateness has a climactic, disturbing outcome. Captivated yet confounded by her own thought patterns—she constantly worries that she’s going insane—Birch goes on to describe her struggle later in life, as she comes of age and contends with her own sexual and emotional immaturity. She interchangeably uses the terms “intersex,” “transsexual” and “transgender,” which might irk some contemporary LGBT scholars and activists, but Birch’s sincerity and enthusiasm are undeniable. Framed as a plea for absolution from family, friends and God, this memoir reads as an extended explanation and apology for the hurtful, misguided decisions she’s made over the course of her transition. “If through my actions, I’ve hurt anyone intentionally or unintentionally,” she says, “may I be forgiven?”
An honest, heartfelt memoir about coming out and transitioning.
A resonant debut featuring a closeted young advertising apprentice wrestling with the undertow of burgeoning homosexual feelings.
Journalist and attorney Sharlach’s vibrant, accomplished debut introduces Josh Silver, a young, handsome Cornell University graduate at odds with his sexuality and desperate to dip his feet into the boy pool. Evocatively set in late ’70s Manhattan (“the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road”), it’s not long until Silver’s 22-year-old jitters dissipate, he grows a mustache, moves in with some dicey housemates and dives right in by visiting a gay bookshop, then a gay bar. From there, it’s onward and upward through a lengthy procession of randy men from Christopher Street to sex-frenzied Fire Island to do what comes naturally. Searching for that elusive one true love, however, proves more of a challenge until he sets his sights on Tommy Perez, a troubled, muscle-bound hustler who steals Silver’s heart away on Christmas Eve. Sharlach provides some textured, nuanced scenes with the narrator’s cautionary family and his loving rehabilitation of former rent boy Tommy, and offers many nostalgic, gimlet-eyed observations about gay culture in the halcyon days of the ’70s throughout. All the fun and games, however, eventually succumb to the dour, encroaching specter of AIDS as the novel moves into a melancholy denouement that wraps things up grimly yet gracefully. Those with a particular affinity for gay fiction will be refreshingly satisfied with Sharlach’s storytelling acumen, his descriptive talents and the authentic dramatization of a gay man in search of love and laughter amid the ashes of a decimating plague.
An undeniably charming, well-written first effort—and hopefully not Sharlach’s last.
In Nelson’s debut memoir, a committed Catholic comes to terms with the fact that his son’s gay.
Expanding on his award-winning 2005 article for Notre Dame Magazine, “God Gave Me A Gay Son,” Nelson explores his son’s sexual orientation as well as his own growing awareness about life, family and the church. During a 2004 sermon that pushed for a measure on Michigan’s ballot to ban gay marriage, the author stood up, expressed his disgust and walked out of his church. How did a devout, unquestioning Catholic become an outspoken critic of the church’s homophobic policies and a fierce supporter of his son and the LBGT community? To answer this, Nelson delves into his own story, covering his strict Catholic upbringing, the rigors of raising six children, the revelation that his son was gay, his yearlong separation from his wife of 30 years, his emerging activism in the gay community and his struggles to cope with his wife’s death. Nelson’s memoir is a thorough study of a man coming to terms with his faith and his family. But the narrative does diverge on several tangents, including a large section on boating in the Great Lakes. But the story is consistently poignant and meaningful, buoyed by the author’s earnestness, his love for his family and his readiness to look at his own faults. Even when his writing wanders, Nelson’s work has heart; his insistence throughout the story that the experiences in his life have been a part of his continuing education feels authentic. Nelson frames himself as a layperson with important questions for his church, and his courage and curiosity should be appreciated by other adherents—not simply written off as the complaints of a disgruntled parishioner. His concerns are real, and the Church would be wise to listen.
A thoughtful, deeply personal reflection on a controversial institution.
A memoir of life as a gay man in Cincinnati from the 1950s through the 1980s.
Winchester, a late-in-life author, intersperses this thin volume with repetitive musings about homosexuality, stating that it’s natural and that most people, masculine or feminine, have both hetero- and homosexual desires. Either way, homosexuals should be respected as “fully human,” even if they happen to choose poor lifestyles independent of their sexual orientation. At the heart of the book are the men who collected around Chad—a church musician, child molestation victim and promiscuous social butterfly. Some of these promiscuous men used female names and, in the days before AIDS was a concern, even paid each other, or heterosexually-identified men in need of cash, for loveless sex. The writing, although not flowery, is explicit with the crude language—characters are “screwed in the mouth,” “screwed in the anus,” or they’re “blowing numerous men”—although it’s not intended to arouse. In fact, Winchester’s slightly prudish opinion of his peers’ behavior is generally disapproving; he simultaneously seems to aim for an authentic though negative chronicle of gay life as he experienced it, while pushing for a humanistic, positive view of gays and lesbians as people. Winchester glosses over his own behavior in his writing, which is often founded on a facile moralization of sexuality. “The Mermaid and the Centaur”—his love poem to Chad that concludes the memoir—frames this book not as a social history, or even a cautionary tale, but rather as an extended, loving tribute to a frustrating yet beloved friend and partner.
A clumsy, heartfelt portrait of a lively, self-destructive subculture in the gay community and a charismatic individual who personified it.
Benjamin’s novel explores a gay couple’s maturing relationship.
In his freshman year of college, Thomas-Edward rooms with obscenely rich socialite Donovan “Dondi” Whyte, and the two become fast friends and lovers. When Dondi invites Thomas to spend the summer at his family’s sprawling Long Island estate, Thomas falls in love with Dondi’s younger brother, Matthew. Thomas bounces between the brothers, eventually entering into a relationship with Matthew after Dondi and Matthew dramatically come out to their mother, who has secrets of her own. The pair’s love stays strong through the ups and downs of the ’70s and ’80s, the devastation of the AIDS crisis and the difficulties of being a mixed-race couple from vastly different economic backgrounds. The story combines themes of family, connection, race, class and sexuality in an unabashedly romantic style that will likely satisfy fans of the genre. However, while the story takes place in the ’70s and ’80s, the narrative voice is more similar to books from early-20th century, in particular The Great Gatsby, to which it periodically refers. This creates a slight cognitive dissonance between language and subject matter that can be confusing. The sprawling plot is somewhat uneven, and there’s a lack of character development that can occasionally feel disappointing. But as a love story, the book is a delight, sure to engage and satisfy readers. Thomas is an endearing, eloquent narrator, and his story skips along with hope and passion. While it touches on weighty themes, the narrative never becomes too heady nor does it turn into erotica. As a romance novel, it captures the heart and imagination with richly described settings and plenty of drama.
Linked short stories follow a half-century in the life of a Florida-born gay man and his search for emotional happiness and stability on two coasts and two continents.
Urquhart presents a cycle of interlinked short stories (one late entry brushes novella length), some previously published in literary journals, to form one leapfrogging life-arc saga—approximately 50 years for protagonist Rex Fordham. First introduced in the late-1950s as a pudgy, introspective boy born into a Baptist-repressive community in central Florida, the young Rex learns that some aspects of the adult world are of a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” nature, and this includes his own growing attraction to males, which increases when he exercises his flab into muscle and catches the interest of other homosexual men in college-level wrestling and adventure-sports spheres. Despite these furtive side encounters, Rex tries to fit in with the American mainstream, moving to Colorado, becoming an architectural engineer and marrying up in society to a responsible woman (albeit one in deep denial about Rex’s proclivities—and her own father’s, for that matter). They have twin boys, but a tragedy finally ends the marriage and compels Rex to come out of the closet. He continues his quest for lasting love and full acceptance, moving to San Francisco and even to France, and in middle age learns to value the people around him, the partners he has lost and the possibilities that still lay ahead. The fragmentary nature of the narrative succeeds in giving it the forward motion it might have lacked as traditionally structured, brick-thick novel. Urquhart wisely restricts himself to his character’s interior lives and desires rather than attempt to dole out history lessons in 20th-century LGBT life (AIDS is barely mentioned, Stonewall is AWOL and even religious intolerance and homophobia aren’t made much of an issue), though he does frequently invoke the dynamic of closeted husbands/deceived wives. Some segments shift the POV from Rex to supporting characters, with mixed results (a porn-addicted father-in-law rants like a cackling villain of the pulps), but Urquhart’s prose is usually on the mark and richly resonant, even for non-gay readers. The author, a former writing instructor, appends the collection with a “Reader's Guide” selection of questions for discussion.
Solid storytelling and a sequential short-story format uplift the potentially ponderous, gay-specialty plotline about a restless quest for love.