Patricia Grayhall’s debut memoir, Making the Rounds, doesn’t include her real name. In addition to her own pseudonym, Grayhall also took care to change some names to protect the privacy of the people she was writing about. As much of Grayhall’s memoir details her four-decade career as a medical doctor, readers might wonder why she felt a need to conceal her identity. But Making the Rounds demonstrates how Grayhall’s career in medicine is fully intertwined with her identity as a lesbian, especially as she navigates medical school as a woman in the 1970s. Grayhall’s pseudonym allows her the freedom to share her experiences on a close personal level that might not otherwise be possible for her.
Wasting no time, Grayhall opens her memoir by describing her early understandings of herself and what it meant to be a lesbian:
Being a lesbian in the 1960s was considered a mental illness and, for some, a death sentence. On March 13, 1964, a man stabbed Kitty Genovese to death, a lesbian living with her girlfriend in Queens, New York, while she walked to her apartment complex. Decades later, society would label this a hate crime—but not then.
I was in elementary school when I discovered my attraction to girls—first Georgina and Becky in my classes, then Elizabeth Taylor in the movies, and my teacher, Miss Chiono. Playing Red Rover with the neighborhood kids one summer day, I stood—taller than most of the boys, wearing jeans and a red T-shirt—in the middle of the line. We called Becky over to our side, yelling, “Red Rover! Red Rover! Send Becky over!”
With her long brown hair, summer tan, and blue eyes, Becky ran headlong into me. I let go of the others, put my arms around her, and held on. We both fell to the grass, my flat chest on hers, her heart pounding against mine. I looked into her blue eyes, her lips only inches from mine, and a thrill ran through me as heat rushed to my face.
Grayhall’s youthful attraction was, of course, perfectly natural and innocent. As she grew up, her inclinations toward science and medicine were also worthy of being nourished and celebrated. But instead, Grayhall had to fight for her career and her right to pursue an authentic life. Her unflinching honesty in writing down her story resulted in what Kirkus Reviews calls “an honest, heart-rending memoir about finding oneself.”
It wasn’t until retiring from medicine that Grayhall, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, delved into creative writing. She had plenty of experience writing articles and contributing to medical books, but she still decided to enroll in classes at Hugo House as well as hire a writing coach. Grayhall also read widely and came to admire memoirists like Adrienne Brodeur, Melissa Febos, and Dani Shapiro for their abilities to intertwine memories with reflection and to describe love and painful secrets.
It would be easy to assume that starting a creative career would feel alien to a lifelong doctor, but Grayhall found plenty of common ground. “It takes discipline and perseverance to become a doctor. It also takes discipline and perseverance to become a good writer,” she says. “I don’t believe the ability to write well creatively is an innate talent. I worked hard at learning the craft, taking courses, starting a critique group, sharing my drafts with experienced writers, and revising again and again until I had something that, though not perfect, was good enough.”
Beyond being simply “good enough,” Kirkus notes that “the struggles, deeply felt emotions, and coming-of-age triumphs make this memoir touching and personal, and it will stir reflection in those who read it.” Grayhall feels strongly about sharing and uplifting the histories of queer people, especially for the benefit of younger generations who might not remember what life was like before the legalization of same-sex marriage. “Our gains are fragile,” says Grayhall, remarking on the current political climate and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. “Women and queer people, and those who love them, need to remember what’s at stake.”
Even before Making the Rounds was published, Grayhall got feedback from readers who were touched by her story. She had a newsletter where she sent out chapters and asked people to send their responses. She heard from people from all walks of life, including an elderly woman planning to finally pursue a romantic relationship with another woman, a lesbian teacher in a small town who was dealing with loneliness after the death of her partner, and other people who weren’t lesbians but wanted to learn about people who’d lived different kinds of lives.
Grayhall wasn’t surprised that her story found a wide audience and hopes that Making the Rounds will inspire readers to be true to themselves, even if they face enormous difficulties. “However you define your sexuality, we all want to love and be loved,” she says. “We all want friendship, to belong, and to do meaningful work.” But for queer people who simply want to love whom they love and for people who find themselves shut out of opportunities due to their race or gender, there’s a lot of societal pressure to suppress yourself.
That’s where Grayhall wants to share her experiences and show other people that it’s possible to fight back. “We lesbians have overcome multiple systems of oppression to live amazing lives. We’ve invented new ways of relating, challenged oppressive paradigms, and thrived with little support from mainstream society. It is important to document our lives and tell our stories, lest they dwell in the underground of our otherness.”
Now that Making the Rounds is out in the world, Grayhall is ready to write more and share more stories. After writing about her youth and her romantic struggles, she and her partner teamed up to write a romance novel starring older characters who find love. That book is now in the hands of a publisher, getting ready for a general audience.
Grayhall doesn’t think of herself as writing for fun in retirement; she considers writing to be her next career. She’s planning on penning a series of personal essays and on delving into genres like romance and thriller, but set in the world of medicine. “At age 72, I’ve had so many interesting life experiences,” she says. Those experiences, paired with her imagination, should make a perfect mix to create lots of exciting writing projects to come.
Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn.