Michael Crawford

10 Books Every Gay Boy Should Read

Filed By Michael Crawford | December 18, 2007 10:15 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality
Tags: black gay men, coming out of the closet, gay books, gay history, gay men, gay sex, gay youth

I've often thought of how great it would be have a gay version of Big Brothers/Big Sisters in which older gay men would mentor younger gay men as they grew from bois to (ideally) healthy and happy gay/bi men. The papa gay would help the baby gay through the coming out process and learn about gay history, gay culture and the crucial differences between Madonna and Britney and Christina.

Unfortunately this kind of program does not exist and I don't have the smarts ie the cash to make it happen. I do have a gorgeous MacBook and the public square that is the gayosphere. Hence my list of 10 (Non-Fiction) Books Every Gay Boy Should Read.

1. Ultimate Gay Sex - is a gorgeous book written by Michael Thomas Ford that provides a wonderful introduction to and celebration of sex between men. It covers more than just the mechanics of who puts what where and also provides smart information about dating and relationships, sexually transmitted diseases and coming out.

2. Making Gay History - written by Bilerico contributor Eric Marcus is an engrossing look at the first 50 years of the American LGBT movement through the stories of more than 60 people. Its an amazing testament to the gay men and lesbian who had the courage to live their lives openly and honestly.

3. From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write About Growing Up - is a wonderful collection of essays by gay men about what it is like to be gay and young, to be different and be aware of that difference from the earliest of ages. Some of the stories are funny, some touching and some will make you cry.

4. Outing Yourself - by Michelangelo Signorile is point by point guide to coming out to your family, friends and co-workers. The coming out experience is one that unifies us as gay men and one that we all struggle with. Grab this book to help take some of the drama out of revealing to your loved ones who you really are.

5. The Way Out - is written by journalist and former party boy Chris Nutter. Its about how gay men are taught by both straight culture and gay culture to see themselves in a destructive way, how to detox from the drama and the power you have to create the life that you want to live.

6. And the Band Played On - is an amazing history of the first five years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic written by Randy Shilts. It chronicles attempts to identify the virus, traces its spread in the U.S., the federal government disastrous response and how the gay community defended itself against a wave of anti-gay hostility that swept the country. It is the best book on the early years of the epidemic that has had such tremendous impact on gay men and our culture.

7. Queer in America - written by Michelangelo Signorile takes on the hypocrisy in the media which continues its double standard of reporting on every detail of of every one night stand of heterosexual celebrities like Britney while whitewashing the romantic lives of powerful gay men and lesbians and closeted gays who work for and promote business leaders and politicians who promote an anti-gay agenda. Want to know where outing began? Then this is the book for you.

8. Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America takes on the media's fascination with the "down low" in which Black men become vectors for HIV transmission by cheating in their female partners with men. Among white gays being on the "down low" is simply called being in the closet. Writer and activist Keith Boykin dissects the racism and homophobia implicit in the media's promotion of this story line and offers a way to move forward with a much needed discussion of sexuality, gender, race and AIDS.

9. My Life and the Paradise Garage is a memoir of the Godfather of Disco Mel Cheren. Mel tells what he calls "a story of my gay generation, the world we built, and the world we lost." In these days of openly gay politicians and celebrities its easy to forget just how important disco was to the development of gay culture and the creation of a stronger, more vibrant and more visible community. Mel passed away on December 7th.

10. Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality - is written by conservative gay writer and blogger Andrew Sullivan In this volume Andrew takes a critical look at the current state of the movement for LGBT civil rights from both the right and left. Andrew calls for the LGBT movement to focus on two issues: marriage and military service. When those two goals are achieved he suggests closing up shop and throwing a big party. You may or may not agree with him, but he is a damn good writer with a unique perspective.

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I would add Michael Warner's The Trouble With Normal: sex, politics and the ethics of queer life. Looking at the Sullivan book, it now occurs to me that MW was writing in response to AS, but MW's book was like the queer big brother I never had.

I noticed that the list(s) by you and Serena are both exclusively non-fiction. As a middle-school English teachre I would suggest the following (no gender differentiation--no offense, but I don't believe in "boy" books or "girl" books):

1. At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill
2. Sanctuary by Paul Monette
3. Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
4. Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman
5. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
6. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
7. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
8. Holw by Allen Ginsburg
9. Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara.
And I should recommend Leaves og Grass or Shakespeare's Sonnets or even something by Lorca but instead...
10. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I've read 4 of your ten, Michael. I wonder if Paul Monette's auto-biographical stories would count in this list - if so, something's gonna have to get bumped to "honorable mention." :)

I wonder what it would take to get Eric to sign my copies of his books. I devoured his Making Gay History.

And if we're throwing in fiction, R, we'd have to include Patricia Nell Warren's The Frontrunner. That book made such a lasting impression on me and paints a vivid picture of one segment of gay life from the late 60's & early 70's. I think I own all of her fiction.

And, hello? Rita Mae Brown's Venus Envy, anyone? And...

Okay - so we'd have to do more than ten for fiction. Good call, Michael. *grins*

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 19, 2007 12:11 AM

Yeah, I'm working on a fiction list now. Everyone should feel free to throw out their favorites.

I was thinking about putting together a queer list, but then I realized that the contradictions involved in saying that "every queer person should read these books", with all of its prescriptive and stabilizing force applied to an inherently unstable subject, the "queer", would have been too much irony, even for me.

But here are some queer books I like, and maybe they're gay too:

1. Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, vol. 1: First part of a 6 volume series that was never finished, it's pretty much a summary of the argument that sexuality is inherently unstable and modes of knowledge are used to control a populace through auto-discipline.

2. Judith Butler's Gender Trouble: Sex, gender, sexuality are different, so let's talk about the way that modern feminisms and dichotomies entrench oppression of the unspoken subject.

3. Kate Bornstein's Gender Workbook: Lots of the same ideas in Butler's seminal work, without the headache. And so needs to be required reading after this ENDA debacle.

4. The aforementioned Michael Warner's The Trouble with Normal: discusses the inherent problem of gay identity and utilization of race discourse in discussing sexuality as it leads to normativity, short-sighted activisms, and a perpetuation of power structures.

5. The Material Queer, edited by Ed Morton: Not all your queer theory should be (ludic) post-modern, Maries. Ed Morton's work takes on queer theory as a dialectic, working with queer theory to search for the power structures that underly queer oppression and commodification.

6. Mattilda's "That's Revolting": A solution to the marriage, marriage, marriage horse-race with many queer voices calling for us to bridge the gap between theory and praxis.

7. Leslie Feinberg's "Transgender Warrior": On Becky's list, and it needs to be here. Gender transgression didn't start in the 1960's.

8. Eric Marcus's "Making Gay History": Hey, even the queerest of the queer need to know their history.

9. David Halperin's "One Hundred Years of Homosexuality": Goes back to the Greek times to rescue a history and cultural interpretation of sexuality different enough from our own to show how a cultural climate changes perceptions of sexual identity. Really, continuing Foucault's work.

I'd like to add a couple that were MY first forays into "gay" books, back when you didn't just stroll down to the GLBT section of Borders or B&N.

The Best Little Boy in the World by John Reid. All about growing up, realizing something's "different" about you, and (because it took place 40 years ago) having to hide it as a deep, dark secret. The world has come a long way, but I doubt that, even in the most enlightened places, gay teens don't still go through these feelings.

The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren. It was literally the first book i ever heard of with any gay content (and a suspiciously gay illustration on the front, no less) and I happened across it in a newsstand! But, it was, for a while, known as "the" book about homosexual themes that anyone in the mainstream MIGHT have read. The elusive movie that was supposedly going to be made about it one day has never materialized, and by now, it may be too outdated.

middaymare | March 2, 2008 11:06 AM

What about "The Naked Civil Servant," by Quentin Crisp?

storyjasper | March 19, 2008 6:45 AM

These are great non-fiction suggestiions. I especially loved "From Boys to Men." So many of us recongnize our selves in those experiences.

Michael Travis Jasper
author of the novel, "To Be Chosen"

chokyi nima | March 23, 2008 7:56 AM

Here's another addition, this one easily accessible on the web. It's a humorous, gay-affirmative satire in the form of a children’s book that describes the painful process of growing up gay in a homophobic environment.


Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | May 2, 2008 8:53 PM

Just a few of my favorites off the top of my head:
How about the book that Sullivan's is a comparatively lightweight counterpoint to, Urvashi Vaid's Virtual Equality?
And no list would be complete without Richard Mohr's Gays Justice or his Gay Ideas: Outing and Other Controversies (the discussion on the difference between privacy and secrecy and the policy implications of protecting either or both is outstanding).
If marriage is the subject, there is no more articulate or sensible advocate for equal access to the law than Evan Wolfson in his Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry.
The entire works of historian John Boswell to give you a sense of your place in the sea of time (as well as ammo to argue with the pig-ignorant-and-haven't-figured-it-out-yet fundies.)
On HIV: Eric Rofes' Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men's Sexuality and Culture in the Ongoing Epidemic
And we mustn't forget Kirk Read's sexually joyful spirit in How I Learned to Snap: A Small Town Coming-Out and Coming-of-Age Story

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | May 2, 2008 10:38 PM

Lavender diaper baby that I was, I did have such mentors, albeit in a more closeted age. I would never for all the world traded listening and learning as I built toddler forts with the fabric sample books, blowing up balloons for the first Sara Awards in Jim Williams' Hampton Lillibridge House basement, the delight of learning to identify silver marks and Chinese export pieces when the post-London crates arrived and, having identified my pile of treasures exercising my earned privilege of being first in line to check the case goods for secret compartments (the family rule being that you could keep whatever was in any you found), or the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to the Charleston Battery to save Former-Sir-Then-Dame Dawn Langley Hall from the neighborhood lynch mob or the education in knowing who was whose current love and all the exes that was better training for the complexities of lobbying than the typical Southern belle education in the difference between aunts and cousins-once-removed. So many memories -- learning Savannah gay-speak and how to play psycho-dice, how big to cut the limes for vodka-and-tonics, how to tell the trolls from the keepers who might be invited in for drinks from the steady parade down Bull Street on a languid Sunday afternoon, and, most of all, how, despite that lesbians were ordinarily somewhat disparaged and politically active ones even more so, that, if I was one, that concept would have to be rethought because I was absolutely okay -- a treasure just the way I was (with proper polishing and decorating, of course). I miss my dear "Papa"/friend very, very much and love my myriad "uncles", "brothers", and, eventually, "elder sisters" (who'd been there in my life quietly guiding and waiting for me to be ready for them all along) more than I can ever tell.

Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl would be my recommendation for the non-fiction list. It's the best resource, as far as I know, to counter the old saw, "it ain't natural". Anyone who was raised on a farm (as I was) could never fathom that argument. :^) It also confronts the scientists who have shied away from or outright buried what was right in front of their eyes...same-sex frolics in nature.

Have read 2,4,6 & 7. Have no intention of reading Andrew Sullivan. I am not interested in reading about a well educated conservative Log Cabin Catholic hack from Great Britian. Signorille is the best of the lot.