Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: "Crisis: Growing Up Gay In America"

With so much talk this week about Dustin Lance Black's amazing Oscar acceptance speech, in which the openly gay screenwriter briefly detailed his difficult upbringing in a conservative Mormon household in San Antonio, Texas, it's fitting that I share with you some thoughts about a book I recently enjoyed.

"Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing The Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay In America," edited by Mitchell Gold and released in 2008 by Greenleaf Book Group Press, illuminates the incredible struggles faced by 40 individuals - some well-known and some not so well-known - in accepting their queer identities.

The book contains short essays written by people like Bishop Gene Robinson (the first openly gay Episcopal bishop), Rev. Dr. Mel White, actor Richard Chamberlain, design guru Nate Berkus (of Oprah fame), lesbian activist Rev. Irene Monroe, Candace Gingrich, former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, and many others, with a foreword by tennis star Martina Navratilova.

Writes Navratilova: "As a professional tennis player, when I came out, my focus wasn't on things like losing endorsements or handling the press or even sacrificing personal privacy. The biggest thing on my mind was being true to myself: I realized that I couldn't go on being a champion on the court if I was leaving half of myself off the court. I know some people felt I could have reached my potential without it; but now, looking back, I know I couldn't have."

While some of the essays do tend to cover the same territory, the book itself is an incredible testament to the importance of coming out and learning to love oneself despite the lies constantly pushed by religious fundamentalists and others who claim their God disapproves of homosexuality.

Of particular interest to me was the essay by filmmaker Dan Karslake, who produced last year's documentary For the Bible Tells Me So: "[What] most conservative Christians don't know - or conveniently forget to tell you - is that the Bible says absolutely nothing about homosexuality as we know and understand it today. In fact, the word homosexual didn't even appear in any Bible in any language until 1946! And whether you think Jesus was the Son of God, just another prophet, or even simply a myth, the story of Christ is all about embracing outcasts, not creating them."

Writes Rev. Dr. Mel White: "I believe that the Protestant and Catholic leaders who condemn homosexuality are sincere, but they are sincerely wrong, and their antigay teachings have tragic consequences in the lives of my sisters and brothers. They are responsible for the deaths of many of my sisters and brothers, and they were almost responsible for my own death as well."

Together, the 40 essays convey one underlying message: the damage caused by close-minded, conservative religion in the lives of people must stop! We are lucky to have these 40 essays to read and to share with others. Anyone who is struggling in the closet at this moment would do very well to read this book. Those heterosexual friends and family members who wish to understand better the difficulties faced by those in the closet, Crisis will provide you with much insight, I assure you.

Writes Gene Robinson: "Not a day goes by that I don't think of some teenager fearful and terrified that his secret will lead to his betrayal by those closest to him. Despite all the progress we've made, it still happens today. Young people who do not yet know that God loves them beyond their wildest imaginings are hating themselves, ashamed for who they are. I long to tell them that it will be all right, that they are not an abomination, that they are gloriously made precisely as God wants them to be."

While I doubt this book will reach as wide an audience as did Lance Black on Sunday, Crisis does its part in giving voice to the struggle of coming out in an unenlightened world and how we are all better off being true to ourselves.

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