Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: Growing Up Gay: A Literary Anthology

Title: Growing Up Gay: A Literary Anthology

Editor(s): Bennett L. Singer

Publisher: New Press

Genre: LGBT, non-fiction

Length: 317 pages

Published: June 1, 1994


Growing up Gay, Growing up Lesbian is the first literary anthology geared specifically to gay and lesbian youth. It includes more than fifty coming-of-age stories by established writers and teenagers and has been hailed by writers, educators, activists, booksellers, and the press as an essential resource for young people—and not-so-young people—seeking to understand the gay and lesbian experience. The anthology includes selections by James Baldwin, Rita Mae Brown, David Leavitt, Jeanette Winterson, Audre Lorde, and others.


Published in 1993, Growing Up Gay was at the time the first anthology of its kind. Writers young and old---from black, white, Asian, queer, lesbian, gay, sons, daughters, mothers, athletes, students, and well-known authors---open up about their experiences being gay or lesbian in the 1980s-1990s, some even as early as the 1940s-1950s, when being gay was a "disease" that could be "cured" or when being a gay man or a lesbian meant being invisible, or if out, ostracized and condemned by family, friends, and society. What a better way to explore everything here by dividing the book based on themes: Self-Discovery, Friendships/Relationships, Family, and Facing the World. Most of the stories are non-fiction with a small few excerpts being pulled from some of the earliest-published lesbian or gay novels such as James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room and Nancy Garden's Annie on my Mind. Not only is sexual orientation explored in this anthology, but also the complications of gender norms and the strict binary-construct, which---more so now than in the 1940s-1990s---greatly affects how society and family perceive us, and how we perceive ourselves. No matter the time era, race, and experience of every person that contributed, every story is truly unique, and yet, how they all have the same bond---their hopes, dreams, and fears---in common. Some stories will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think, or all of the above. Many of them certainly did that for me. I personally related to many of the stories here, especially the stories written from the Asian gay experience and thte African American gay and African American lesbian experience. But the Family segment of the collection was also hitting close to home, as was also Facing the World. As refreshing and invigorating were the stories from straight allies giving their voice to us too, telling us honestly how they felt about their friends or ex-lovers coming out as gay or lesbian. There was even a bisexual nod in this too. Despite those particular stories being few, those voices gave the anthology such a well-balanced perspective from everyone---not only from gay and lesbian individuals but also bisexual and straight.  If there's any one negative thing about this anthology is that many of the stories end kind of awkwardly or abruptly. Otherwise, Growing Up Gay is fabulous and near-perfect.

Even though being gay and lesbian these days are a far cry from how things used to be in these stories, this book will forever be relevant. Things are better, but many of us are still going through what these authors have went through. Thankfully, a lot of these stories do have happy endings, but then again, many don't. Another reminder: it's 2015, and we still have long ways to go. This anthology in and of itself is a beautiful representation of how the LGBT community has survived, and we are strong. This book is targeted for young adults, but everyone should read this no matter your age group, race, or experience. I'll admit that at first I almost feared that this anthology would be outdated because it was published twenty-one years ago. I was wrong. There's nothing outdated or "old" about Growing Up Gay. This literary anthology is still fresh, moving, and above all, powerful

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