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Becoming a Man: Half a Life Storyby Paul Monette
Synopses & Reviews
Everybody else had a childhood, for one thing-where they were coaxed and coached and taught all the shorthand. Or that's how it always seemed to me, eavesdropping my way through twenty-five years, filling in the stories of straight men's lives. First they had their shining boyhood, which made them strong and psyched them up for the leap across the chasm to adolescence, where the real rites of manhood began. I grilled them about it whenever I could, slipping the casual question in while I did their Latin homework for them, sprawled on the lawn at Andover under the reeling elms.
And every year they leaped further ahead, leaving me in the dust with all my doors closed, and each with a new and better deadbolt. Until I was twenty-five, I was the only man I knew who had no story at all. I'd long since accepted the fact that nothing had ever happened to me and nothing ever would. That's how the closet feels, once you've made your nest in it and learned to call it home. Self-pity becomes your oxygen.
Forty-six now and dying by inches, I finally see how our livesalign at the core, if not in thesorry details. I still shiver with akind of astonished delight when a gay brother or sister tells ofthat narrow escape from the coffin world of the closet. "Yes yes yes, "goes a voice in my head, "it was just like that for me." When we laughtogether then and dance in the giddy circle of freedom, we arechildren for real at last, because we have finally grown up. Andevery time we dance, our enemies writhe like the Witch in "Oz," melting, melting--the Nazi Popes and all their brocaded minions, the rat-brain politicians, the wacko fundamentalists andtheir Book of Lies.
We may not win in the end, of course. Genocide is still the national sport of straight men, especially in this century of nightmares. And death by AIDS is everywhere around me, seething through the streets of this broken land. Last September I buried another lover, Stephen Kolzak-- died of homophobia, murdered by barbaric priests and petty bureaucrats. So whether or not I was ever a child is a matter of very small moment. But every memoir now is a kind of manifesto, as we piece together the tale of the tribe. Our stories have died with us long enough. We mean to leave behind some map, some key, for the gay and lesbian people who follow--that they may not drown in the lies, in the hate that pools and foams like pus on the carcass of America.
Why do they hate us? Why do they fear us? Why do they want us invisible?
Put it this way. A month after Stevie died, running from grief, I drove three days through Normandy. In the crystalline October light I walked the beach at Omaha, scoped the landing from a German bunker, then headed up the pasture bluff to the white field of American crosses. American soil in fact, this ocean graveyard, unpolluted even by the SS visit of Reagan in '84, who couldn't tell the difference between the dead here and the dead at Bitburg. You can't do Normandy without D-Day. After Omaha, the carnage and heroism shimmer across the pastureland, ghosts of the soldiers who freed the world of evil for a while.
Two days later I fetched up in Caen, where they've built a Museum of Peace on the site of an eighty-day battle fought by three million men. Newsreel footage and camp uniforms, ration books, code breakers, yellow star and pink triangle. You watch it all happen like a slow bomb, from the end of World War I, the dementia of power, till the smithereens are in smithereens.You walk numbly from year to year, country to country, helpless as a Jew or a Gypsy or a queer.
A child of the 1950s from a small New England town, "perfect Paul" earns straight A's and shines in social and literary pursuits, all the while keeping a secret—from himself and the rest of the world. Struggling to be, or at least to imitate, a straight man, through Ivy League halls of privilege and bohemian travels abroad, loveless intimacy and unrequited passion, Paul Monette was haunted, and finally saved, by a dream of "the thing I'd never even seen: two men in love and laughing."
Searingly honest, witty, and humane, Becoming a Man is the definitive coming-out story in the classic coming-of-age genre.
About the Author
Paul Monette (1945-1995) is the author of many books, including seven novels, four volumes of poetry, and several highly praised nonfiction works, such as Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir. In 1992, he received the National Book Award for Becoming a Man. He died of AIDS complications in 1995.
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