The publicist for this book reached out to me and with my Masters degree (Gender, Sexuality and Queer Theory) and a friend who at one point studied gerontology, I of course said yes!
Finally Out is Olson’s look at gay men/MSM who come out/acknowledge their practices later in life. What seriously strengthens the book is Olson’s own story and experience of coming out at the age of 40. What Olson really needs though, is a good Queer Theory 101 course. In general he did a really good job of writing about these men, but there were some problems when it came to sexual orientation/identity/practice. He basically gets it, but in choosing not to use the pre-existing language, I feel that the book suffers.
What’s great about Olson’s work is that he’s focusing on older individuals, a population that is often overlooked when it comes to research. Add in the minority status of LGBT individuals and narrow it down to just men, and then to men who come out later in life and that tiny percentage is who Olson looks at in this work. In general, he is looking at these individuals through psychiatric, historical and even geographical lenses, however what he really needs to take this book to the next level is a Queer Theory 101 course, but more on that later.
It seemed like there may have been some controversy around the first version of this book based on what feels like re-writing on Olson’s part in a few places. Specifically he mentions being accused of endorsing pedophilia and lying to his wife and himself about his sexuality. But, in general, I felt that Olson did an incredibly respectful job looking at men who come out late in life, because he has his own experience on which to draw. I didn’t feel as if there was anything too controversial about the work.
So what really got me about the book was the whole sexual identity/orientation/preference piece. Olson really seems to understand it and comes right up to the edge of saying the words performativity and heteronormativity to name two queer theory terms I thought he did a great job of defining but not naming.
“Rupaul, America’s foremost drag queen whose show, Rupaul’s Drag Race, has been nominated for an Emmy, said in her autobiography, ‘We are born naked and the rest is drag.’ What RuPaul is suggesting is that all of us use our bodies and the way we dress to influence others’ opinions of us.” (179)
“So what is the relationship between sexual orientation and sexual identity? Sexual orientation is more fluid and multidimensional; sexual identity is narrower and more fixed, develops at an early age, and is more stable over time.” (212)
That first quote by RuPaul, that is the a lot of what Judith Butler in Gender Trouble and José Esteban Muñoz in Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics write about. Olson narrows in on this and talks about the hypermasculinity required for many of the men in his study because of when and where they were born as well as their ethnicity and their current location. He could’ve taken this thought process a bit further and talked about the construction of not only sexuality, but gender identity. Only through RuPaul’s quote does he touch on this key factor of performance and the fact it has nothing to do with sexuality.
When it comes to sexual orientation/identity/practice, again I felt Olson did a good job, but it often felt as if the three were interchangeable. This has more to do with Olson’s writing style than with his knowledge. I felt he could’ve put MORE emphasis on the coming out as self-identification. Being LGBT+ is an self-defined socio-political identity that not everyone feels the need to identify with. Many of the individuals whom Olson interviewed are heterosexual men who have occasional sex with men, some even exclusively with men, but because they haven’t come out. That defining moment is key.
I am a firm believer in defending someone’s right to self-identify until they say otherwise because coming out and self-identifying is crucial to identity. You cannot assign an identity to someone else. And ultimately, Olson gets this, it was just how he wrote about it that I had some issues with.
There were two other things that could improve the book. The first was simply updating the graphics and getting rid of the call out quotes, they were redundant and the text-on-text was garish. The bigger thing was for Olson to either write more about his personal experience or to take it out. The vignettes were great and he had insight into his coming of gay age, but they didn’t always seem to connect directly to what he was writing about.
On a somewhat tangentially related note it would be fascinating to see one/some of these men sit down with a young person to talk about their experiences and why their identity was so long in being discovered. I watched this video recently and it was fascinating:
Recommendation: If you are interested in gerontology and/or LGBT individuals this is the book for you. Olson and those he interviews have interesting stories to tell and add an important perspective to the rapidly evolving and expanding LGBT+ collective narrative. It could’ve been stronger when it came to Queer Theory and even sharing his experiences, but overall this is a solid and interesting read.
*I received a copy of this book from a publicist in return for my honest opinion, no additional goods or money were exchanged.
Opening Line: “I know precisely the moment I became gay.”
Closing Line: “I’ve written my first book and now revised it. I may start another.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)
Additional Quotes from Finally Out
“The LGBTQ community walks a delicate line between justifiable and appropriate anger and intolerance. Both sides of this divisive argument [about religion and sexuality] must begin to find common ground. Freedom from the bondage of this internalized ideological conflict comes when one begins to realize on a very personal level it is possible to be both gay and good.” (60)