Williams-Savin, Ritch. “:..And Then I Became Gay””: Young Men’s Stories”, Routledge, 2013.
Gay in America, 1980’s and 90’s
“…And Then I Became Gay” is about young men who share what it was to be gay in the United States during of being a sexual outsider in North America during the 1980s and 1990s. It also contains a cross-section of men from different ethnic backgrounds. Each story has a personal meaning to the individual youth disclosing it, yet aspects of these narratives can express a normative experience growing up gay or bisexual. For many of the contributors and readers, these stories may prove to be not only about coming out, but also coming of age.
The stories included were drawn from interviews with 180 men aged 14 to 25. They contain graphic and poignant reminiscences and we read of awareness and acceptance of a gay or bisexual identity, initial sexual experiences (both homo- and heterosexual), and the coming-out process. We also look at the issues faced by youths who are both cultural and sexual minorities. While the book is essentially a scholarly study, the sensitive treatment and personal narratives will appeal to lay readers. We see that the existing stereotypes of gay male development are demolished and replaced with real life stories.
Savin-Williams uses the term “sexual minority” for those interviewed and who share their memories of same-sex attractions, first gay sex, first heterosexual sex, labeling self as gay/bisexual, disclosure to others, first gay romance, and positive identity. In each category he gives the diversity of when and how sexual minority youths achieved or didn’t/hadn’t yet reach these “milestones”. He notes similarities and differences between boys and young men who achieved them during childhood, early adolescence, middle adolescence and young adulthood. He then compares/contrasts the experiences of white males with those of ethnic young men.
The young men tell their stories and we get a sense of real lives. It is the last chapter that is so important. We read of the current crop of sexual minority youth, those who came of age in the late 1990’s and early 21st century. He states, “A singular or normative developmental lifestyle for gay/bisexual youths simply does not exist. Those who advocate such a position are usually adherents to a straight versus gay psychology. This approach might satisfy those who desire to draw attention to either the ‘Look, we are just like them!’ assimilationists or the ‘We are different from them!’ separatists, but it also results in a misrepresentation of gay/bisexual [male] life. No two lives are identical, nor are two lives irrevocably distinct. Both concepts should be assumed concurrently….”