An outspoken, gender-ambiguous author and activist reflects on her halcyon days as a wild child in San Francisco.
The powerful opening chapter of Sycamore’s (So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, 2008, etc.) deeply personal portrait finds the author (then “Matthew”) alternately sobbing at her father’s deathbed and demanding acknowledgment of the sexual abuse he’d visited upon his only son. It’s a raw, sobering scene that sets the tone for this introspective chronicle charting Sycamore’s zany gay youth zipping from one coast to the other in the heady 1990s. Sartorially eccentric with pink dyed hair, the author spent her restless youth commanding a “secret world” drugging and dancing in gay nightclubs and then cruising for men online and in sex clubs from San Francisco to Boston to New York City. She writes of becoming gleefully seduced by the gender fluidity of San Francisco’s house music–powered club scene circa 1992 and participation in AIDS activism with ACT-UP. Her efforts to create a San Francisco counterculture with political activist movement Gay Shame only reiterated how much she’d outgrown the Bay Area. There are moments when Sycamore’s youth captivates with unapologetic, stream-of-consciousness tangents about bygone club life or street hustling, while in other spots, she is poetic and tender, as in describing her own exasperation with gay attraction, wishing sexual desire would “become something else like lying in the grass and holding the sky.” Delivered in a free-form, associative writing style, Sycamore’s effort to exorcise the demons from her past is blunt, dynamic and original.
A blisteringly honest portrait of a young, fast and greatly misunderstood life.