People, mostly nonwriters, are always surprised when I tell them I wrote so much growing up. They’re incredulous that I would write such a large volume of work, entire novels, and never submit them, or at least rework them (as if all of it wasn’t incredibly sophomoric, amateur as if it wasn’t written by a 14-year-old). But those words, I want to tell them, weren’t written for anyone else the audience who needed to see them and the audience for whom they were written was me.
Writing fiction was my emotional test kitchen.
The book documents its time, a time when homosexuality was illegal, and still described in medical books as a mental illness. It is one of the best firsthand accounts of what it was like to be gay in the mid-20th century — ostracized — separate from the mainstream world. It reveals, through its characters, how young men couldn’t admit, even to themselves, that they were what society deemed perverted.
10. Discover the internet. Discover Kate Bornstein. Discover that it’s not just you.
11. Cut your hair, but only a little.
12. Fall again for the girl in the picture in that magazine you’re still carrying, after seven more moves and one amazing partner and three splendid kids and all those years.
13. Stop pretending.
14. Blow up the world, clumsily. Break hearts, including your own.
Our lives won’t be all kangaroos and blond ballet dancers. And difference can be painful, it can be felt like a disfigurement, and it’s easy to envy, at times, the ease of life for people in the majority. As O’Hara laments ‘you were made in the image of god / I was not / I was made in the image of a sissy truck-driver.’ But there’s joy in loving what you love, a purity in expressing it exactly in its unchecked, effusive and messy truth…
How do you describe the life and times of John Horne Burns? He was in turn a military intelligence officer, a schoolteacher, a critical darling after he published The Gallery, a pariah after he published anything else, and a gay man in post-WWII America. In characteristic concision, Ernest Hemingway summed the whole thing up: “There was a fellow who wrote a fine book and then a stinking book about a prep school, and then he just blew himself up.”
Duke University Press is set to begin publishing a transgender studies journal in 2014. TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly will be “the first nonmedical journal dedicated to transgender studies.”
But I foresee a time not all that far in the future in which the closet will no longer exist as we know it. Sure, people will still feel embarrassed about some of their sexual desires. Society will still hold onto certain gender roles, but the acceptance of gay people may allow society to tweak their stereotypes. What will no longer exist in the world I envision is the man who spends years lying to people about who he is, who marries a woman, and allows himself to grow cold, gray and isolated as the years pass. What will no longer exist is that weird English graduate student who doesn’t understand why everyone thinks Henry James or Walt Whitman is gay. Comic foils like David Cross’s Tobias in Arrested Development will have no corollaries in reality. Gay kids will go on their first dates when they’re 12 or 13 and they will go out with kids of the same gender and everyone will be happier for that fact.