Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Guest Post: Mystery Will Out

Today's guest post comes from Gregory Gerard, the author of IN JUPITER'S SHADOW, a memoir/mystery chronicling a religious teen's struggle with forbidden attraction. More information about the IN JUPITER'S SHADOW can be found at the end of this post.


I was recently listening to an episode of The CBS Radio Mystery Theater on my mp3 player and a phrase from the script, ‘murder and love will out,’ got me thinking.

I know, I know, such shows should be listened to on an AM car radio driving down a foggy highway, not on an mp3 player. For those of you born after 1989, The CBS Radio Mystery Theater was a radio program created in the ‘70s and ‘80s to capture the spirit of those great old radio shows from the 1930s…pre-Internet…pre-TV. Being a kid in the early ‘80s who loved mystery, I would hole up in my teenage fort (Headquarters) at 10 p.m. each night, alone with my Emerson AM radio, listening to the one-hour broadcast, complete with creaky doors and murderous plots. Loved it.

Flash-forward to 2010. I got mp3 files of the complete series and listen to them regularly. (If you'd like to hear for yourself, I stream free downloads of my favorite episodes at In Jupiter's Shadow, my book's website store).

Recently listening to an episode titled "Murder Will Out," (it's about a detective who solves the mystery of who murdered his dad – and discovers love along the journey), I started thinking about this topic of mystery and sexuality and out-ness.

In my teenage years, sexuality was a great mystery (that's why I wrote a coming out memoir as a 'memoir/mystery'). By age 13, I'd learned (from family, movies, church, school) that boys were supposed to be attracted to girls. And visa versa. The mystery in my life was that I didn’t think about Wonder Woman when I was in the bathtub ... I thought about Superman.

That mystery bred research, and the research bred a struggle. (Being a religious kid, you can guess at the 'clues' I uncovered!). I went through a long, painful, private battle that I don’t wish on anyone.

For those who haven't been there, I invite you to think about your first crush. Maybe back in seventh or eighth grade grammar school. Maybe somebody named Greg or Marsha (yes, I'm from the Brady Bunch generation!).

Remember the fuzzy, gushy feelings of warmth and excitement you had in your room alone at night, thinking about seeing that person at school? Talking to them at their locker? Sitting next to them in gym? Now - here's the challenge - try to imagine, at that age, someone pulling you aside: your mom and dad, or your cousins, or your teacher, or your pastor, or Hollywood, and told you that your fuzzy, gushy feelings were wrong. In fact, they were an abomination to God and you should never, ever act on them. Feeling any angst yet? I sure did.

But here's humanity's saving grace - mysteries fascinate us. We encounter them and we’re curious and we hang on, working for a solution. There were times when I thought about giving up – marrying a girl, living the life that everybody else expected of me – but the curiosity kept me going. The gnawing certainty that something was lurking unexpressed inside my heart.

Ultimately, I figured it out (I was a guy attracted to guys because I was gay. Oh, now I get it!). A wonderful thing to realize about yourself.

Today, I work with GLBT youth and I hear that the struggle continues. Kids may be solving this mystery of sexuality at an earlier age than I did – but that doesn’t exempt them from other mysteries – how will I find a partner in a homophobic world? How do I cope with the awful things people sometimes say and do when they figure out I don’t fit their idea of what love should be? Where in this beautiful life do I belong?

Adding to this struggle are prejudices that continue to come from mainstream religion. As an example, the U.S. Catholic bishops recently decried the rise of same-sex marriage as 'one of the most troubling developments in contemporary culture.' In their words, same-gender unions 'redefine the nature of marriage and the family and, as a result harm both the intrinsic dignity of every human person and the common good of society'."

When the Church, or elected officials, or teachers, or anybody suggest that that gay people are 'less' in some ways; when bigotry or misinformation rob faithful gay kids of the hope of a committed, blessed relationship – to me, THAT is one of the most troubling developments in contemporary culture." (Read this author's response to the U.S. Bishops: Memoir Author Urges Bishops to Consider GLBT Testimony).

For what it’s worth: my advice to those who struggle today – keep searching for the answers to life’s mysteries. It's the search itself that has merit; it’s the search itself that can define us. As an individual, as a GLBT community, as a people. When we don’t give up – when we tenaciously seek the truth like a detective on a case with minds and hearts open – that’s when answers come.

And, just like love, mystery will out.


IN JUPITER'S SHADOW (a memoir/mystery)

Hiding from others is easy.
Hiding from yourself is trickier.

Born in 1966 in rural Western New York – the last of six children in a
devout Catholic family – Greg Gerard dreams of escape and adventure. He's
different from his older siblings; he is "The Caboose." When mom makes
fudge, he's the one who gets to scrape the bowl. While his older brothers
and sisters go to public school, he attends Saint Michael's – where a
friendly nun with sturdy shoes and a ubiquitous guitar remind him of his
favorite movie, The Sound of Music. At night, he sleeps with boards under
his sheets – so he, too, can be as holy as the Saints he reads about.

Mystery surrounds Greg. At church, the priest dips his head, whispering
indistinguishable prayers. At home, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and his
favorite detective, Jupiter Jones from The Three Investigators, provide an
endless supply of adventure and intrigue. He devours their stories, mimics
their behaviors, and dreams of the day when he too can solve a real-life

At thirteen, Greg's own mystery presents itself in the most unlikely place –
the steamy bathtub on the second floor. He discovers sexuality – and senses
that it's unusual for a boy to think about Superman while doing so.

For more information, please visit www.JupitersShadow.com.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Guest Post: Memoir, Truth, and Activism

Today's guest post comes from Audrey Beth Stein, the author of the memoir Map. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and is a two-time national prizewinner in the David Dornstein Memorial Short Story Contest. She teaches memoir and novel development at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Direct links to order Map can be found at http://map.audreybethstein.com.


I stumbled into writing memoir accidentally. Back in 1996 as a senior in college, I unexpectedly fell in love with another woman over the internet, via an Indigo Girls email list. Although I hadn't really come out before it happened, telling people "I have a girlfriend" was relatively easy (and in some ways thrilling). It was the follow-up questions, beginning with "where did you meet?" that continued to make me feel insecure even months after the relationship had ended. This was a whole new kind of coming out. I needed words.

Nine-and-a-half years and sixteen drafts later, those initial words had become my memoir Map, a coming-of-age story that was named a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Nonfiction.

To write a memoir and do it well means that you have to dig deep and be willing to dissect, understand, and share that which most people shy away from, ignore, or gloss over. If it hurts, you have to go into the hurt, or the reader feels cheated. If something was good, you have to let the reader in to share the joy. You try your best to be truthful, both factually and emotionally, and to be straightforward with the reader about where you might be deviating from fact, whether due to the fallacies of memory or a respect for someone's privacy.

None of this is easy, and often it helps to let the manuscript sit for a time while you gain some distance and with it new insight. For me, every couple of months of furious writing was followed by six months or a year of fallow time.

I discovered the expanse of the memoir genre during this fallow time. I had read a handful of memoirs before, but suddenly I was seeking it out, devouring other people's stories. Memoir provided a kind of wisdom and guidance for my twenties and early thirties that was different from fiction, more direct. In sharing their stories, memoir authors helped teach me how to tell my own, and also how to live. They helped me understand difference in new ways and find unexpected commonalities. They named truths. For instance, from Harlyn Aizley in Buying Dad: One Woman's Search For the Perfect Sperm Donor:

"The major lesson from long-term relationships, from pregnancy, from illness, is that nothing ever goes as planned. Our worst fears are never as terrible as we have anticipated, our most glorious accomplishments never as life-altering and unequivocal. What looks like a great day coming down the road can turn out to suck to high noon. A day with all of the earmarks of hell on earth can, in fact, be filled with splendor and light."

I'm not very articulate in explaining what I loved about a particular book, and what resonates with me might not resonate with you, but here are a few other queer memoirs that along with Buying Dad particularly stand out in my mind: Name All the Animals by Alison Smith; The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant by Dan Savage; and The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl In America by Michelle Tea. I hope through this month's GLBT reading challenge, you'll introduce me to others.

I encourage you to use the comments section here to share your favorite titles and a noteworthy quote or two. I'd love it if you would also tell us why YOU read memoir, and how it differs for you from reading fiction. What do you think queer memoir offers that is unique, and what does it share with all good stories about people's lives?

Nine-and-a-half years is a long time to spend writing about eight months of your life, but when I felt like quitting, I thought about how helpful it had been for me to read other people's stories, and I thought about all the queer and questioning teens who needed to hear stories like mine, needed to read about others sorting out sexuality and relationships and identity.

By the time Map was published, same-sex marriage had been legal in Massachusetts for over five years, teens were regularly coming out in high school and even middle school, and a friend of mine got huge laughs out of a dating cartoon with the punchline, "We met offline." Map had managed to capture a unique time in history, a time when it was easier to admit that you were in love with another girl than that you'd met someone on the internet. And in all of its specificity, it was speaking to many different people, sixteen-year-olds and sixty-year-olds, straight and queer, boys, girls, and in between.

Perhaps Map will also speak to you, but even if it doesn't, I encourage you to join me in this books-as-activism quest by asking your library to order copies of Map and other queer memoirs. And I thank all of you participating in the GLBT Reading Challenge for helping to bring visibility to GLBT books and introduce them to new readers.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June Mini-Challenge

First, I need to announce last month's winners (3). First, for May's Mini-Challenge, Random.org has chosen......

Ali (Vorvolaka)!

Then, the winner of The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff, chosen by Random.org from among all the quarterly participants, is.......

Lawral from Lucy was Robbed!

Lastly, the winner of Sex Changes by Patrick Califia (thanks to Cass for this giveaway), chosen by Random.org from among all the quarterly participants, is.......

Ryan from Wordsmithonia!

Congratulations Ali, Lawral, and Ryan! Ali, you can choose your prize from the prize bucket. Then if each of you could send me an email (address is in the sidebar) with your choice (if applicable) and address, that would be wonderful!

June is Pride Month! And for Pride Month here at the Challenge That Dare Not Speak Its Name, we are concentrating on GLBT history, memoirs, and other nonfiction. Your mini-challenge: read a nonfiction book or essay on GLBT issues. Any sort of GLBT nonfiction will do.

Once you read a book or essay, leave a link to your post in the Mr. Linky. I will draw a winner of all participants at the beginning of next month. Winner will be able to pick from the prize bucket.

Mini-challenges are, of course, totally optional. :)

**Note: While you do not need to do the mini-challenge if you are a GLBT Challenge participant, you must be a participant if you would like to enter here. Thanks!

If you would like to write a guest post on GLBT Nonfiction this month, please contact Jen at jensfgeek[at]gmail[dot]com