Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Strict Pick: ODDLY NORMAL by John Schwartz

My full up-front disclaimer: one of the primary reasons I'm so excited for this book is that John Schwartz's daughter, Elizabeth, was one of my student employees when I was working as a student services assistant at my alma mater. I met John and Joe many times over the intervening years, and I'm so excited for their important story to hit bookshelves today.

The LGBT memoir is almost a genre unto itself. Each person's experience is different, but there are almost always some unifying themes: difficulty connecting with family, the "coming out" narrative.

This memoir isn't like that.

For starters, it's written by John Schwartz, a father of a gay teen, rather than by the teen himself.

See, John and his wife never were confused. They knew Joe was gay before Joe knew. On the interview John did yesterday with Terry Gross, he describes how Joe, who was a precocious reader, found the word, "Homosexuality" at about age 5 or 6, and then looked it up—only to find, to his dismay, that apparently boys were supposed to like girls.

John spent all of Joe's childhood trying to figure out how not to jump the gun: how do you let your child come out to you naturally and at his own pace, without making it seem to him that you are invalidating his experience by saying, "Oh, you were the last one to know." How do you balance your child's natural flamboyant energy with your desire to keep him from doing things that will cause him to be ostracized? (There's a heartbreaking story about the conflict behind their choice to hide Joe's Barbies in the attic to keep him from taking them to kindergarten—is it the right thing to do? Will it hurt him? Are they being terrible parents, or making way for him not to be bullied?)

And most importantly, how do you face the moment when, despite your unwavering, constant acceptance of your child and his sexuality, he decides that death is preferable to the ongoing harassment he experiences at school?

ODDLY NORMAL is a memoir that doesn't follow the traditional "overcoming your family's hatred" narrative, for as the U.S. becomes a nation that increasingly accepts marriage equality, that repeals DADT, features same-sex romances on popular teen shows like GLEE, that narrative starts to change. ODDLY NORMAL is an LGBT story for the 21st century—about how one lives in a family where you are accepted and loved, but still have to go through the process of learning to accept and love yourself.

You can listen to Terry Gross interview John and his wife about this book at the NPR website.

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