Mitchell Gold has strung together a remarkable collection of first-person essays in his book, Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America. Some are the stories of famous people like Candace Gingrich and former NJ Gov. James McGreevy, others are the people behind familiar organizations like Kevin Jennings (founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), and still others are "ordinary" folks. They are old and young and in between; they are from various places around the country; they are rich, poor, and middle class; they are people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
And they have very engaging stories.
They are stories of pain, to be sure, as the title of the book would lead you to believe. There are suicides (attempted and successful), physical beatings, taunting and name-calling and rejection and plenty of internal psychological pain. The book grew out of Gold’s desire to change some ugly facts, like these: suicide is the #3 cause of death among 15-20 year olds (with 20 unsuccessful attempts for every successful one), and gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-gay classmates. These are stories that do not sugarcoat things.
These are stories of power — societal power, familial power, religious power, personal power. Ultimately, each story is that of someone claiming power over their own life, but never in a vacuum. Some stories are filled with ups and downs, while others follow a more constant arc, but all of them are stories of competing powers in the lives of the one telling the story.
These are stories of struggles, especially religious ones. Some of the stories describe people cutting their ties to religion, while others grow more strong in their faith — even while coming to terms with their own sexuality as a GLBT.
These are stories of partnership. While the pain is very real, also coming through the stories are pictures of friends, teachers, neighbors, family members, religious leaders, and other allies who offer support, acceptance, and love. There is a great deal of humor here, too, such as this exchange between Howard Bragman and his very Jewish mother:
Once, we were at Minzer Park, an outdoor mall in Boca Raton, Florida, and some flaming queen walked by. My mother turned to me and said, "Don’t look at me, he’s one of yours." I said, "When you take responsibility for every Jew in Florida, I’ll take responsibility for every gay in Florida."
These are stories of surprises. Some are nasty ones, as young people struggle with rejection from those they thought would support them. Others are amazingly wonderful surprises, as acceptance comes from unexpected places. Katie Batza tells of coming out to her best friend at her very conservative, very homophobic Catholic school, whose reaction was "Jeez, is that all? I thought you were going to tell me you had been abducted by aliens."
These are stories for everyone. For straights, they offer a glimpse into the struggles a GLBT young person faces. For GLBTs, they offer insights into the many places people find love and support all around them. For all of us, they offer a chance to step into someone else’s shoes, to see through someone else’s eyes. The diversity of the collection makes it powerful to a diverse readership as well.
All this being said, this isn’t the post I wanted to use to introduce this book.
In my head, I actually had two posts ready for this Book Salon, depending upon the results of the Proposition 8 vote in California. If "No on 8" had prevailed, we could talk about how wonderful it is that the largest state in the US had taken a stand in favor of civil rights and fuller acceptance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. We could talk about the positive message that this would send to anyone who is GLBT or who loves someone who is. That post, sadly, will have to wait for another day.
But that day is coming — make no mistake about that — just not as soon as we’d like.
And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant in television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.
Hope. By the end of the book, that this what these stories are finally about. Hope that life can be better for all of us, and that pain and trauma are not the last words for any of us, regardless of our own sexual orientations or the orientations of those we love.
Milk said, "You have to give them hope," and Mitchell Gold delivered.
(Out of respect for our guest, please keep the conversation here focused on the topic of the book, and take other conversations to the previous thread. Thanks!)