Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Way We Were: The New Queer Memoirs Go Far beyond the Traditional Coming-Out Narratives

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Way We Were: The New Queer Memoirs Go Far beyond the Traditional Coming-Out Narratives

Article excerpt

WHEN B. RUBY RICH coined the term "New Queer Cinema" in 1992, she was defining a new movement of LGBT indie films where sexuality was fluid and subversive and the storylines anything but heteronormative. It was what the film movement needed in the '90s, but a similar ethos could describe a vein in literature today.

The last decade has brought forth a torrent of heretofore absent memoirs about LGBT lives. Most focus on now-familiar topics of coming out, finding oneself, identity politics, or family, and many were written by white, middle-class, educated gays. Now, a New Queer Memoir has emerged in force, and these books either buck the literary conventions in style, structure, and format, or offer entirely new queer and trans narratives.

There will always be a place for conventional memoirs; several new ones, including Ross Mathews's lighthearted Man Up! (Hachette, $25), Rupert Everett's charming Vanished Years (Little, Brown and Co., $19.95), Annie Rachele Lanzillotto's disheartening L is for Lion (SUNY Press, $24.95), and Melanie Hoffert's moving rural opus Prairie Silence (Beacon Press, $24.95) are all worthy reads. But the books that are really changing the landscape take a deeper look at individual lives in ways a narrator wouldn't dare 20 or 30 years ago, when being queer or trans was such a big issue it had to be the story itself.

Harley Loco (Viking/ Penguin, $27.95) is Syrian-American lesbian Rayya Elias's memoir of "hard living, hair, and post-punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side." From being a bullied immigrant kid in Detroit to her ongoing drug addiction in New York, Elias's memoir details her life on the streets, in jail, and in failed relationships. It shares cultural terrain with Kamal Al-Solaylee's story of growing up gay in Yemen during a political upheaval that saw his family go from one of the wealthiest in the area to being forced to flee. Intolerable (HarperCollins, $15.99) is complex and engaging, especially as the coming out narrative gives way to a cultural analysis of the irreconcilable differences that come from Al-Solaylee's life in the Middle East and his call to the West.

Looking at landscapes--political or geographic, literal or figurative--from the outside is a theme that recurs in several recent LGBT memoirs, notably in Barrie Jean Borich's Body Geographic (University of Nebraska Press, $17.95), which does an excellent job of showing how dislocation sometimes means finding oneself, and Damian Barr's vivid and engaging Maggie St Me (Bloomsbury, $16.99), which traces his life in the 1980s as a gay kid in a working-class Scottish town ravaged by Thatcherism. It's Barr's youthful anxiety that is the most engaging; in one chapter he recounts how he is convinced he has AIDS and stays awake to practice lying still for his coffin--he is 11.

Two provocative reads, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's The End of San Francisco (City Lights, $15.95) and Amber Dawn's How Poetry Saved My Life (Arsenal Pulp Press, $15.95) could be read as companion pieces. Each is messy and defies easy classification. Dawn's memoir follows the interloping narratives of sex work, queer identity, and the transformation that comes from creation. …

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