I wrote recently about the trauma of growing up gay in the early 1970s. The largest single thing that influenced my perspective on homosexuality as a naive fourteen years old was the book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) by U.S. physician David Reuben. The book was published in 1969.
After writing the earlier blog post, I decided to purchase a copy of the original paperback, published in 1970, and face my tormenter head-on. I would read the chapter on homosexuality, that had influenced me so greatly in 1972, and write about it in my blog. The book arrived yesterday.
Upon opening the package I looked at the bright yellow cover with the title, #1 Bestseller at the top, and felt a wave of unease. I was fearful of reading the words again that had been so traumatic for me at fourteen. I was afraid that Ruben’s writing, which demonized homosexuality, and with an air of authority, and placed it in the category of sickness and deviancy, would have some kind of bad effect on me today.
As I did various things around my apartment last night, the book remained unopened. I carried it into my bedroom, intending to read a few pages before falling asleep, and again I hesitated. I was fearful of the words from the book having a bad effect on me as I slept. So as I turned off the light and went to bed with the book unopened.
What effect will a book, that had so colored my perspective as a fourteen-year-old, have on me all these years later? At fourteen I was desperately looking for answers and trying to understand the kind of life I could have. Soon after reading the book at fourteen years old, I tried to kill myself. I remember feeling that nothing had any meaning. I felt that it was just was not worth the energy to keep going. Was their cause and effect between Ruben’s book and my suicide attempt? I believe there was. But that was in 1971, forty-four years ago. My life did go on, and after that one attempt, I never wanted to kill myself again. The suicide attempt gave me new energy and interest in living and a desire to move forward.
So in closing, I did open the book this morning. I did read the first paragraph of Ruben’s chapter on homosexuality. The words read as almost funny today if it were not for the tragic and traumatic effect this book had on so many young men of growing up in the 1970s. In the first sentence of the chapter on homosexuality, Ruben makes homosexuality a ‘condition’ and writes about homosexuality in a way that sets the stage for what is to come. It was the tone of knowing authority combined with ugliness and a perspective that lacked any real facts except prejudice and hate, that was so hurtful to a generation.