Book 65: From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write About Growing Up – Ted Gideonse and Rob Williams (eds.)

This book is a bit unusual in that I have no idea when or where I picked up this collection of essays. I’ve had it since I moved into my new place last September, but I have no idea where it came from. But wherever I got it from I’m glad I did (if you loaned it to me and want it back let me know :-D).

From Boys to Men is a collection of stories/essays from men growing up and coming to terms with their sexuality and masculinity. What I enjoyed most about this book is that it wasn’t all about sex or who one has (or doesn’t have) sex with, and that the editors and authors wrote about masculinity and degrees of masculinity which is often times demonized or forgotten. I also appreciated the wide variety of views included from men of varying racial, geographical and socio-economic origins. Rather than write about each of the stories – I’ve provided a few quotes and you can read the quotes and my reactions to/about the particular story/quote.

The subtitle of the book aptly describes exactly what the book is about, but there is a line that struck such a chord with me in the introduction that I want to share it here rather than in the quotes/feedback section:

“Our first crushes, first infatuations, and first broken hearts are among the most profound moments of our adolescence, because they are often frustratingly silent and solitary experiences.” (ix)

This idea of a solitary experience is not an exclusive experience to LGBT individuals. Every young person is just afraid of asking another young person on a date as that same young person is afraid of not being asked. I mean we’re all terrified of rejection, or even of acceptance. Every one of us regardless of sexuality or gender is probably just as scared of our questions being answered in the affirmative, because then it brings on a whole new set of worries.

Recommendation: If you’re interested in LGBT lives or coming out stories it’s a fun quick read. If not, pass.

Quotes from From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write About Growing Up
“What I needed was someone to take me under his proverbial wing, to show me the way into late adolescence.” (38)

“I am convinced that we are imprinted from an early age, that the boys or girls we are captivated by at fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen years old are the types we will pursue for the rest of our lives.” (44)

From Preppies Are My Weakness by Tom Dolby — These two quotes above and the quote from the introduction were probably the quotes that hit me most. In this section Tom talks about coming to terms with the boys at his boarding school and the profound impact of non-sexual friendships have had on his life and how even now when looking for a partner he still looks for someone similar to those boys/men he found attractive as a teenager. I think of who I’m generally attracted to and realize just how true this is.

“The signs were there, but when you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t read them and the signs don’t mean anything.” (58)

From Signs by Raymonde C. Green — Green used this quote at the end of each anecdote in his story and it’s true with anyone’s life. Particularly in his life, he’s pointed out small things that throughout his life should’ve showed him his sexuality early on, but not knowing (or caring) about things like sexuality or gender he ignored them and led a happy life and leads an even happier life now he’s learned how to read them.

“Sports seemed to be about strife and people being mean, beating each other up. Not interested. Lover, not a fighter. I have to be a fighter? Is that what boyhood was about? What was boyhood? Boyhood was cowlicks and getting away with not bathing for over a week; climbing trees, exploring abandoned houses, riding a bicycle too fast down a steep gravel road. I understood these things. Solitary things. Liberating things. Sports were like school. Like prison. A batting cage. Good name for it. A penalty box. Sports were a drag and stupid. Ballchasers. I preferred to run and ride and climb and swim. (122-123, emphasis added)

From The Upshot by Trebor Healey — I think the quote speaks for itself and harkens back to the quote in the introduction about solitary journeys. I particularly liked the middle line of this quote about cowlicks, not bathing and exploring.

“What about music makes it so integral to our identity? For me, it was self-expression. In the music, all the things I couldn’t say to my parents came screaming from the stereo; the isolation I felt could be broken by a knowing nod, a tap on the shoulder that accompanied a Hey, nice shirt, and, while jerking my body to the rhythm, surrounded by strangers doing the same, I could make each stomp say, This is who I am. See me now?” (193-194)

From A Brief History of Industrial Music by Viet Dinh — I almost didn’t read this story as its formatting really bothered me and I guess technically I still haven’t read the entire story. It is a very short piece on Industrial music and the majority of it is in the footnotes, his personal experiences growing up Vietnamese on the industrial music scene. I tried to read the actual piece and the footnotes at the same time and gave up to just read the footnotes.

“I always remind myself: stories haunt you, and memories. Not people.” (252)

“How do you separate the truth from the way memory distorts it? How do you find—or continue to invent, and reinvent—yourself among all the stories that you hear from your parents, all the could-be lies you absorb from your aunts and cousins and your granny’s crazy neighbors?” (256)

From Inheritance by Lee Houck — I enjoyed this story for the meaning of truth and the search for familial memory in the spoken legends passed from family member to family member. Having parents with numerous siblings (7 aunts and uncles – not including spouses) and grandparents and great-grandparents living during my lifetime has given me lots of fodder for tormenting my parents now that I’m an adult and they didn’t realize I would remember all of those stories.

“I’d thought coming out would mean the answer to all my problems, but of course I only found new ones. My crushes on straight friends had trained me to approach men I liked with subtlety and care. I’d try to enter their orbit as if by chance, never daring to make a move, always ashamed to declare myself. It continually came as a shock whenever I found out someone was attracted to me. I’d learned to love as a kind of worship, to subsume myself to the needs, wants and preferences of some Other until I erased myself.” (270)

From Whatever Happened to… by Aaron Hamburger — That quote pretty much sums up my undergrad years.


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