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Summer Book Award: Favorite NON-FICTION

We mentioned a week ago that we wanted to highlight some of the books we've read over the past year. Since we're not professional book reviewers, we wanted to put our own twist on what would qualify as a Favorite book. We thought we would select books in three categories (Non Fiction, General Fiction and M/M Erotic Fiction) and then talked about how we related to the book, what it meant to us personally and how we have possibly changed as a result of our reading.

We both voted to name this book as our FAVORITE NON FICTION BOOK FOR 2011:

BOYS LIKE US: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming out Stories
(ed., Patrick Merla), Avon Books: NY: 1996

We liked what the editor, Patrick Merla, said in his Introduction to these stories:

"Coming out" is the central event of a gay man's life. It is at once an act of self-acknowledgment, self-acceptance, self-affirmation, and self-revelation intimately linked to how he views himself and how he interacts with the world... So much is at stake that the way in which a man comes out can reverberate throughout his entire life, whether the response to his disclosure is positive, negative, or neutral."

This is an incredible collection of coming out stories written by 29 well-known gay authors. Neither of us knew all the names, and only Matt has read one of the authors (Michael Nava, who is a Mexican-American mystery writer featuring a gay Chicano lawyer named Henry Rios).

Some author names we've heard of are Edmund White, Allan Gurganus, Andrew Holleran, Christopher Bram, Scott Heim and  Stephen McCauley.

Some of the authors remember their first sexual experience (or experimentation) when they were young pre-teens with other boys at summer camp. Some are when the men are in their later teens, their twenties or their thirties.

Some wrote about coming out to their parents, siblings or co-workers. Some are humorous, some are serious and a few are heartbreaking. Many of the stories are highly erotic (and explicit) as they remember their first sexual encounter with a college roommate or a buddy during a weekend sleepover.

The time range for the stories is from the early 1940s to the mid-1990s. It was interesting to us to read what life was like for gay men back in the 1940s. About how difficult it was to really know what all your sexual feelings meant. What struck us was how dangerous it could be if anyone found out you not only wanted to have sex with a man, but wanted to even create a life together, if that was even possible. In spite of how alone these men felt, we both admired their determination to understand their desire and need to find other men like them.

One of the men in 1961 was required by his university to see a psychiatrist as a condition to continue as a student. Other men recall worrying about police entrapment if they went to a bar "frequented" (!) by gay men.

One writer talks about a friend who couldn't "conceive of coming out to himself because he had never been in the closet."

One writer concluded that "Being gay was not the problem. Everything else was the problem -- the pressure, the opprobrium, the future, the double life."

It was so exhilarating to read these words as one man finally understood what his desire and need was about: "I put my hands all over him, took in a sudden rush of air, and became the man I was meant to be."

Many of the stories written in the 1980s and 1990s had a different feel to them. In many ways times had changed, or were changing. The contrast between coming out in the 1940s with the present time are so striking. In many ways this is a history of a whole culture neither of us knew much about.

We both related to how incredibly important it is to come to terms with who you really are. It is amazing to us that many of these men had no role models and had to go through this incredibly difficult process of self-discovery on their own. Even today, with all the support we both had in coming out, it was still extremely difficult.

We both agreed that neither of us have any kind of true historical context to understand our own history as gay men. And that is our own fault. With books like this, documenting our history, we feel like we're on the way to understanding and claiming that history. For us, this is an important book and it's making us search for other books that document our history.

If you want to see how far we've come, read this book!

If you want to see how far we have to go, read this book!

We'd now like to hear from you about your favorite non fiction book. It doesn't have to have a gay-theme necessarily, but it would be nice if it did. Maybe you could even write a short summary of why you picked it as your favorite non fiction book.
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