cover image Out of the Shadows: Reimagining Gay Men’s Lives

Out of the Shadows: Reimagining Gay Men’s Lives

Walt Odets. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-374-28585-2

In this soaring combination of social critique, memoir, and manifesto, Odets (In the Shadow of the Epidemic) urges gay men “to discover or rediscover identities that are internally rooted, self-expressive, and revealed in authentically lived lives.” Drawing on his psychological forebears (Erik Erikson and Judith Herman among them), his own experiences (including those unrelated to romantic love, like grieving his mother’s death when he was a child), and the stories of patients he has seen in decades of practice as a psychologist, he highlights—with literary flair—shared trauma, stigma, shame, and suffering that he sees as particular to gay men’s experience in America, often contributing to a compromised existence of failed conformity to social norms. Odets unpacks the difference between “gay” and “homosexual,” defining the former as “an entire internal life of feeling” versus a “single, objective behavior.” His discussions of gay men’s sexual expression and relationships are frank, compassionate, and open-minded. He writes, “Only through self-discovery and self-acceptance can we most fully realize our lives,” and that “in the end, authentic self-acceptance—or the lack of it—is almost the entirety of what defines a life.” Odets’s greatest strengths are his moving prose and ability to make the psychological material accessible and as fascinating and thought-provoking as the poignant stories. Gay men will find much to ponder here, but any reader can find meaning in this extraordinary, stirring invitation to re-examine assumptions about what it means to be gay and to have a good life. [em](June) [/em]