I rarely re-read books anymore, and I’m not sure what put me in the mood to read Jeb and Dash: A Diary of Gay Life 1918-1945. I read it about a year ago, finally ordering after it had been recommended by a friend a couple of years earlier. It’s basically the diaries of a gay man — given the pseudonym “Jeb Alexander” — who lived in Washington, D.C. from 1918 through 1945, edited by the niece to whom he willed the diaries. (Actually, he left 50 volumes of diaries spanning from 1912 through 1965, when “Jeb” died following a cerebral hemorrhage.) Maybe it was the opportunity to read about gay life before I was even born, to see how much we had in common across history, and to see the city through the eyes of a gay man who’d lived in D.C. before me.
I guess it was another book I’m reading that made me grab Jeb and Dash off the shelf again, because it made me reflect on my own past and the significant moments that pretty shaped my present.
I came across From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write About Growing Up in my Amazon recommendations, and made a note to grab a copy the next time I was in a book store. What intrigued me was that the essays are not so much about coming out as they are about (as the back cover says” “realizing that young gay people experience the world in a ways quite unlike straight boys.”
I’ll say. Thinking back on those years, it was like living in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and couldn’t begin to learn. And I couldn’t find anyone who spoke the same language as me, or who could at least understand it. I’m only halfway through the book, but it seems to be a common experience among some of the authors; being aware of being different at a young age, but not having words for it until you heard them shouted at you on the playground. (Show of hands. How many of us reached for a dictionary immediately afterward?) In all of them, there seems to be an early attraction to other boys; their names — objects of desire and even worship — recalled with a certain kind of reverence.
I can remember the ones from my youth and adolescence. Thomas. Sean. David. Alex. Dexter. Eric. Bob. Johnny. David. Gerald. Chris. Richard. Brian. I can recite their names like a roll call of saints and demons who either haunted or tormented me during those years, or both; who either drew me out of myself or chased me further into my own shadow; and each of whom, for better or worse and probably without even knowing it, had a hand in shaping the man I’d become. Just recalling them reinforced for me that I knew was was gay or … different, somehow, even at a young age. (After all, when did you know you were heterosexual?
All week long I’ve thought about writing something about each of them, starting with Thomas. He wasn’t the boy next door, but that’s where I met him. When I was no older than Parker, we lived next door to a retired teacher who ran a kindergarten out of her home. My sister and I attended there, and I’m pretty sure that’s where I got a head start on reading.
Thomas attended there too, and I was fascinated with him right away. I couldn’t name the feeling then, and I can’t name it now. it wasn’t sexual or even physical. So the best I can describe it is fascination. He was a quiet boy, with a huge, soft afro and big brown eyes. (I remember being disappointed when he showed up one day with a haircut.) I wanted to be near him, I remember, and tried to put my mat near his at naptime.
As you can see, I’ve kind of started writing something already. I’ve thought of writing a “coming of age” memoir, with a chapter for all of the boys named above, that would take me from kindergarten through high school. I’ve even got a title picked out.
So, should I write a memoir?