Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story
by Paul Monette
Open Road Media
Paul Monette grew up all-American, Catholic, overachieving . . . and closeted. As a child of the 1950s, a time when a kid suspected of being a “homo” would routinely be beaten up, Monette kept his secret throughout his adolescence. He wrestled with his sexuality for the first thirty years of his life, priding himself on his ability to “pass” for straight. The story of his journey to adulthood and to self-acceptance with grace and honesty, this intimate portrait of a young man’s struggle with his own desires is witty, humorous, and deeply felt.
Before his death of complications from AIDS in 1995, Monette was an outspoken activist crusading for gay rights. Becoming a Man shows his courageous path to stand up for his own right to love and be loved.
Growing up in the 50s and 60s, Paul Monette strives to be what everyone expects him to be: a straight A student, polite, kind, normal and straight. But even as a child Paul knew he was different, but he did everything in his power to push that difference deep down where no one could see it or even suspect him of being queer. He lied to himself, to his parents, to everyone around him so that he could fit in and not be singled out for the bullies and the haters.
I can hardly imagine how hard it must have been to grow up gay in the 50s and 60s. Even now, there are still such stigmas attached to being outside the norm as it were.
The book is well-written and heartfelt and pulls at the heartstrings, it's even more poignant reading it knowing that the author has died. The story is so raw and emotional at points that I just had to stop reading for a while and dry the tears.
As a straight woman, I suppose I can't really understand what gay people went through to be accepted, and even these days that isn't universally true. I was upset on Paul's behalf at what he had to do, had to pretend to be in order to be accepted by his peers.
I was always the odd one out at school, picked last for sports teams, rather be reading a book than playing sports. One day, I think I was around ten or eleven, the bullying got too much and I walked out of the classroom, out of the school and never went back. My parents refused to send me back there.
If only Paul's parents had been as understanding when they found his stash of magazines. His dad said it was fine to look at the girlie magazines, that was natural. But the others, the homosexual ones, that wasn't normal or good.
What is normal? What is natural? Homosexuality happens in nature and what is more natural than Nature itself?
The book reminds me a little of a gay version of Dead Poet's Society. It's a fascinating read on what it was really like to grow up gay in those times. Everyone should read it.