'A gay man could read this book as if his life depended on it - and perhaps it does' Andrew Holleran, author of Dancer from the Dance
'Poignant and achingly beautiful' The New York Times
Even in our modern progressive world, it's not easy to be a gay man. While young men often come out more readily, even those from the most liberal of backgrounds still struggle to accept themselves and experience stigma, shame and difficulties with intimate relationships. They also suffer from ongoing trauma wrought by the AIDS epidemic, something that is all too often relegated to history.
Drawing on a lifetime's work as a clinical psychologist, Walt Odets uses the stories of his patients as well as those of his own deep relationships with other gay men to illuminate how these difficulties may be overcome. From a 74-year-old who only felt able to come out after his wife had died, to the boy raised in a strict religious family who worked his way to San Francisco, to the middle-aged defence lawyer who left everything behind to embrace a new life, the experiences here explore everything from grief to survival, childhood pain to the definition of gay itself. Out of the Shadows shows us how a new way forward is possible through learning to accept ourselves and others as they are, and independently inventing our own lives.
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. \n