Saturday, August 13, 2016

Book Review
One of These Things First: A Memoir
by Steven Gaines
(Delphinium, 2016)

Publisher page:

I started my own coming-out process at around 19, though nothing is ever sharply or simply delineated that way.  Maybe it began when it dawned on me that "gay" applied to me, or when I stopped telling myself that maybe there was a girl out there who would make me certain I was bisexual (never happened).  Or maybe it was in younger childhood, when I had crushes on boys but didn't have the conception that such a thing was possible.

Is this a coming-out memoir?  Basically, though more in its coming-out to oneself than to the world.  In Gaines' story, it is his own fear and disgust at his own gay identity with which he must contend.  He does this in the face of a certain Jewish conservatism, a less-understanding time, and pre-enlightened psychiatry.  We are fortunate to have this book, because it is a story of a man who came of age before homosexuality was removed from the list of mental disorders, and then spans the time afterward (briefly, in the final chapter). 

So real were the adolescent physicalities of desire that I instantly found myself present in mid-century Brooklyn, side by side with the author.  Chest-to-chest is a concept similar to my own painful yearning for other males as I was growing up.  I had my own lawnmower boys, some stronger presences in my mental obsessions than others, and the reaching out and the eventual crawling inward.  No, my life is not a mirror to Steven Gaines', but there are enough points of connection that this story spoke to me deeply.

I won't go into specifics of the story, as I too had very little foreknowledge of what I was going to be reading.  "Gay autobiography" is enough for me to open a book, and when the writing is as immaculate as this, I'm in for the full ride.  I wanted the book to go on longer, but perhaps that was not the story Gaines wanted to tell.  Or perhaps he'll gift us with another volume.  I'm on board should that happen.