It took the loss of his life partner Roger Horwitz, who died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in 1987, to turn Paul Monette from the poetry and fiction with which he began his career to the powerful autobiographical writing that will perhaps be seen as his chief contribution as a gay author. To memorialize the suffering and bravery of Horwitz’s battle with AIDS, Monette wrote Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir (1988), which was much praised for its urgent, unflinching look at the disease and the ignorance and hatred surrounding it during the early years of the epidemic. In Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story Monette tells the rest of his story, narrating the history of his childhood and youth and focusing on his tortuous journey toward the acceptance of his gay identity. Part morality tale and part manifesto, the personal narrative goes beyond the account of Monette’s emergence from self-loathing to self-affirmation and becomes a denunciation of the closet to which society consigns its gay and lesbian citizens.
The book’s candor and insight won it the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1992. It not only anatomizes the closet with uncanny precision and passion but also provides a searing critique of the harrowing process by which all boys become men in an American culture that prizes violent games and denies male intimacy. Certainly Monette’s history of growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s reveals the casualties produced by a culture that insists on demonizing certain kinds of diversity.
Born into a New England family, Monette grew up puritanically denying his physical body and hoping that his well-mannered, self-effacing demeanor would disguise his secret sexual life. At Philips Academy, Andover, he buried himself in literature and art to avoid the golden athletes whose blithe sense of heterosexual entitlement he outwardly envied but secretly...
(The entire section contains 473 words.)
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- Critical Essays