“It was easier to lie when you believed the lie.”

boyerasedBooks on Tap read Boy Erased by Garrard Conley at Champion Brewery on June 6, a memoir of Conley’s time in the Love in Action gay conversion therapy center after his first year of college. Conley describes being raised in a religious bubble with a larger-than-life father who is leading his own church when Conley is outed by his rapist. 

We acknowledged that we were probably not Conley’s intended audience but we were taken by the painful choice he lays out between being true to his religion and family expectations or actually being himself. Conley skips between time periods, which we found confusing and we would have liked more explanation of the institute he was enrolled in and an epilogue to bridge the end of the book with his much different current life. We were most taken by the author’s relationship to his parents. His mother genuinely likes him while his father seems afraid that he’ll fall off the right path. Conely is sympathetic to the ways in which his grandfather’s alcoholism and abuse color his own father’s view on life and parenthood. In fact, it was the realization that he didn’t hate his father that helped Conley leave Love in Action with his mother’s support. 

We would recommend this memoir to teens and parents of teens who are coming out. Below is a list of books that contained similarities. 

More Information:
About the author 
About the book
Author’s podcast 
Movie adaptation 

Related Titles:
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Educated by Tara Westover 
Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak 
Celebrating the Third Place 

 Books on Tap Information:

  • July 4 No meeting

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“Standing in the doorway of the newspaper’s office, he watched the streetcar continue on its eastward way, and he knew that if he lived to be a hundred, he would never be more in love than he was now.”

fellow travelersThe Brown Baggers met on June 20 to discuss Thomas Mallon’s Fellow Travelers. The historical novel takes place in Washington, D.C. in the early 1950s when Communism and homosexuality were considered “enemies of all things American.” At the center of the red and lavender scare is Tim Laughlin, a young devout Catholic and staunch anti-Communist, and Hawkins Fuller, an older, sophisticated State Department official. The men engage in a secret affair as Senator Joseph McCarthy leads a crusade to root out Communist sympathizers and homosexuals in the federal government and Army.

Many of the Brown Baggers found the novel was a lot different from what they expected. They were familiar with the anti-Communism movement–some remember watching the McCarthy hearings on television–but they had no idea the federal government, even President Eisenhower himself through an executive order, persecuted gays in the federal government. Although gay people still face discrimination and prejudice today, the fact that they were once barred from federal employment demonstrates the impact of activism in past decades, such as Stonewall, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Some were overwhelmed by the staggering number of characters and names, while others were engrossed in the details. All agreed the novel taught them a lot about the time period and they were drawn to the love story at the heart of the novel. They were most sympathetic towards the character of Tim, who wrestled with an internal struggle between his Catholic faith and upbringing and the experience of his first love. Hawk, as his name suggests, preys on others and was an amoral and despicable character. For many, the most interesting character in the novel was Mary Johnson, Fuller’s co-worker, who was a revolutionary feminist figure for her time period. Overall the Brown Baggers thought the novel was an authentic portrait of human nature and appreciated the realistic ending that stayed true to the characters’ personalities.

Books Mentioned:

Advise and Consent by Allen Drury

More Information:

PBS Documentary, The Lavender Scare

Cincinnati Opera production of “Fellow Travelers”

Interview with Thomas Mallon

Interview with Thomas Mallon in George Washington Magazine

 

The Brown Baggers will meet again at the Central Library on Thursday, July 18 at noon to discuss Noah Trevor’s Born a Crime.

 

“do you know what it’s like to live/someplace that loves you back?”

31IhYveEJTL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_The LGBTQ Book club met on May 29 at the Central Library to discuss Alex Gino’s George, a children’s book about a fourth-grade transgirl who names herself Melissa. Melissa’s dearest wish is to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web, but her teacher dismisses her because she presents as male. With help from her best friend and ally Kelly and the low-key support of the school principal, Melissa confides in her mother and brother. The novel ends with Melissa and Kelly enjoying an anonymous day at the zoo as two little girls.

Most of the readers who attended book club on the 29th don’t regularly read children’s literature so it took us a while to adjust to the vocabulary and pacing aimed at middle grader readers. Once we locked into the story, we did find the story accessible and Melissa’s family and friends familiar. We debated the term aspirational – Melissa’s journey is fairly easy as far as transitions go, could it be that Gino wished to showcase the possibility that transitioning doesn’t have to be a worse-case scenario, filled with rejection and violence? Did they write the transition story they wished they could have read as a child? The story normalizes transitioning and gives its intended audience of children the vocabulary to discuss trans identities, be it for themselves or like Melissa’s best friend Kelly, allies. As gentle as Melissa’s coming of age story is, the book does acknowledge that being trans is hard. Melissa’s mom is initially hesitant (she has her suspicions when she finds Melissa’s hidden purse full of images of women) but does explain her complex feelings. The ending is a soft landing and not as strong as the dénouement earlier in the book when Kelly shares clothes with Melissa, and through Kelly’s photographs show Melissa as subject and no longer object.

We discussed the title of the book. Gino has expressed regret at deadnaming Melissa so prominently, but some of our group found the pairing of a masculine name with feminine pronouns to be a compelling opening.

The novel is a great example of an own voices story. The audiobook is narrated by a transwoman actor. We thought it is useful for kids questioning their identities, the friends and families of those children and adults who want a glimpse into the mind of a trans girl.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
Author’s Guide

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