The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Writing My Memoirs?

I’ve been wondering lately whether or not I’m too young to write a memoir. Not famous enough, maybe? (I have a hard time imagining that many people would want to read it.) The reason it’s been on my mind is because of a couple of books I’m reading.

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?

5 Comments

  1. In Mormonism you are encouraged to keep a journal and to write your ‘personal history’ and a family history. These are considered personal ‘scriptures’, in the sense that scriptures chronicle our (whether a society, a family or a person) spiritual journey, lessons and thoughts. By doing so we and our descendents can learn something from them.

    When I was a Mormon, I liked the idea. It attracted me, the definition of scripture that it entailed, the ‘universality, the continuity of human experience, etc.

    And though I’m no longer a Mormon, I still keep a journal and am, slowly but surely, writing my ‘personal history’ … or memoirs if you will.

    Hopefully my children or grandchildren or some random reader in the future will glean something from them (if at least to learn from my foibles). I know I do. It’s amazing to read my journals from 30 years ago… I was such a different (and the same) person.

    So, the short answer. Definitely, if only for yourself and your children.

  2. Reading your blog, T, is like reading your memoirs.

    Enjoyable too.

    Tho’ if you decide to go the trad book route, then you have an awful lot of material here in your blog already.

  3. Will it get published? Who knows. One thing’s certain: if you don’t write it, it won’t be published. You just have to do your part. Let the Executive Committee (your ancestors, fate, however you explain the workings of the universe to yourself) take care of the rest. Your writing is vital, immediate, fresh. It tells a story that hasn’t been told enough, a story (yours) that has never been told. It matters. Tell it. When you can. This is the kind of project that can take decades. By the time you finish it, you may be “old enough” by anyone’s counting. Go for it. I’m cheering for you.

  4. Definitely.

    You could publish excerpts here to build up interest. I think it’s probably safe to say that any of us who read you regularly are interested in not only what you have to say but in you and your life and how what you say was shaped and evolved by all of that.

    When you do become famous (it could happen!), you’ll want to have all of that past history stuff down, won’t you? Memories change and fade as we get older.

    Maybe you can have multiple volumes (I’m thinking of that movie 7-Up, I think? Whatever it was where it followed the lives of three women every seven years and caught up with them and where they were in their lives)?

    As several people have mentioned, it need not be a big egotistical thing that you’re writing down the story of your life. Everyone deserves that, really. I’d hate to have the most widely read book about gay men raising their child be Dan Savages. I’m sure there are others, since you mention at least one which wasn’t written, it doesn’t seem, to specifically be published.

    Heck, my life’s been pretty interesting. I’m not going to write about it, though. I should. Maybe I can guilt you into writing it for those of us who can’t. 🙂 Different story, but all of our lives are important.

    If you have the energy and time to do it, I’d love to read it. If it’s going to be a burden, then please don’t burden yourself. Or discard a different burden that you aren’t as interested in.

    Um, I hope that sounds affirming and supportive. That’s what I mean it to sound like. If not, please forgive me for not being of proper mind to spend the time to really write what I mean.

    It’s a difficult question for some reason, for me to answer. Who the hell am I to tell you to write your memoirs or not? I just think you’re as important as anyone else who has memoirs out there and a way better person than most who do.

  5. I’ve never written a response to one of your posts before but I now feel compelled. I think you should go for it when it comes to writing a memoir. I promise you I would buy it! I’ve been reading your blog since you first started it. In fact, at least once a week I come to your blog to see what you have to say.

    I think you are extremely fascinating, courageous, talented, and so much more. I make that statement based on what you have already shared with us in your blog. I am a gay black man and you have been an inspiration to me. I’ve struggled mightily with being gay. To know that someone like you is out there–a man who has similarly struggled but found love, and created a family, and is apparently determined to live his life according to his own terms–gives me hope that I can someday achieve what you have.

    You are doing the right thing by thinking long and hard about it. I know there are certain perils that go with writing one’s biography, especially in the memoir form. I am in graduated school and I have been reading a number of memoirs as part of my class assignments. In class, we often discuss the dangers of authors who, unintentionally or not, invade the privacy of other people while writing a biography. Feelings get hurt, litigation can happen, people become embittered–these are just some of the things you should think about if you actually ever do embark on that memoir. A fairly recent case for you to consider is what happened after novelist Ann Padgett wrote a memoir about her friendship with Lucy Grealy, a writer who died supposedly from an “accidental” overdose of heroine. Padgett sold a lot of books and probably made a lot of money, but not everyone in Grealy’s family was pleased.

    In the meantime, keep up the good work!

%d bloggers like this: