Monday, April 16, 2007

Becoming a Man

I just reread Paul Monette's Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story. This book is a coming out story by a deeply conflicted, closeted young man who eventually finds the love of his life. (FYI, It's also a great piece of writing that won the National Book Award.) Monette wrote this after the memoir of his lover's illness, Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, as a kind of "prequel." I can recommend both books, but if you are going to read them both start with Borrowed Time first. Or, if you're mostly interested in the coming out story, stick with Becoming a Man.

I think this story has relevance for the MoHo crowd. Although Monette was not LDS, he grew up in an era where homosexuality was not as accepted as it is today. He made a huge effort to suppress his sexual orientation and actively tried to change it. The story (I warn in advance) is not for the faint of heart. Monette does not sugarcoat any of the missteps he took along the way.

I read this book when it was first published in 1992. I was in my early thirties at that point and had been out for less than 5 years. I was horrified. Monette seemed like a sexual outlaw to me, unlikable and hard.

When you reread books after time has passed, one of the most interesting things that you discover is the change in yourself. The words on the page are the same words you read earlier; how you feel about those words can be very different. This has happened to me a number of times. I remember rereading The Brothers Karamazov in my late thirties. I had read the novel when I was 21 and loved it. But it was a completely different book (I swear) when I read it on the cusp of middle age. I still loved it, but in a very different way (hint: I liked Ivan a lot better the second time around).

So when I reread Becoming a Man this week, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that my interpretation of it changed after 15 years. The bottom line: the forty-something version of me judges Monette a lot less harshly than the thiry-something version did. I think I now have more understanding for how difficult it is to come out, how many obstacles there really are. Also, I'm at a point in my life where I have a lot more compassion for the variety of responses to life's challenges.

Even though Monette doesn't come across as the most sympathetic of protagonists, the anguish he felt humanizes him. You get the sense that he did the best he could given the situation he was in. What I've come to after some years of living is that there are many stories. Our stories taken together, as a whole, give us understanding. Some of my favorite blog entries are those that tell personal stories.

I hope those of you who are looking for a well written personal account of coming out might check this book out.


Anonymous said...

As soon as I finish my books on how people actually have gay relationships, I'll be sure to check this one out. Working backward, I know, but what can you do?

Scot said...

" I now have more understanding for how difficult it is to come out, how many obstacles there really are."

It may sound odd to some that a man who’s come out may not understand how difficult it is to come out, but I can relate with this. While there were hard times, I know I was sparred a lot, and fear it’s caused me to misunderstand folks in the past... and maybe in the present too :-).

MoHoHawaii said...

U.S.-- I'll lend you my copy if you want. I think you'll find it worth reading. (It's certainly well written.)

scot-- I feel the same way. Coming out had its rough patches for me, but I think I sometimes forget and lose patience with others who may be struggling. Books like this one remind you of how unpredictable the path can be.