*originally posted October 23, 2009
Anyone who writes, anything from notes to journals to blogs to books, understands that the best writing of all comes when the writer writes what they know. There is nothing that connects people more than shared experiences, shared emotions, shared lives.
Paul Monette knew this, and opened up every aspect of his life to tell stories, all of our stories. He was there to tell us how he struggled with being gay, how he found his identity, how he coped with a society that often views us as 'less than', how to deal with finding love, and losing love to AIDS.
Paul Monette was always out, it seems. As a young man in his twenties he met Roger Horowitz, with who he would live, and love, for the next twenty years. He'd begun teaching poetry, but soon became disillusioned with that art form, and with Horowitz' encouragement, the couple moved to Los Angeles so Monette could pursue a career as a screenwriter.
He wrote many screenplays, none of which were ever produced, but just the act of writing them, convinced Monette that he should write novels, that he should tell his story and the stories of others.
Monette published four novels between 1978 and 1982, and all were enormously successful, establishing him as a writer of popular fiction. But his life began to change, and his work would change just as dramatically. In his fiction, Monette unabashedly depicts gay men who strive to fashion their own identities that lead them to love, friendship, and self-fulfillment. His early novels often begin where most coming-out novels end; his characters have already come to terms with their homosexuality and they battle family relations, societal expectations, and personal desires in a desire to live their lives as openly gay men.
In the earl 80s Roger Horowitz was diagnosed with AIDS, and he died in 1986. Monette began to write himself out of his pain, by telling of their battle with AIDS in Borrowed Time. Then he shared more of his pain, and his life, when he wrote Love Alone: 18 Elegies For Rog, a collection of poems about losing his lover to AIDS. These two books are oftentimes quoted as being the two most powerful works of fiction about living with, and dying from, AIDS.
With the publication of these two works, Paul Monette found himself as somewhat of a national spokesman for AIDS. Along with Larry Kramer, he became one of the most familiar and outspoken activists of our time. With very few out gay men in the national spotlight, especially in the early years of the epidemic, Monette's openness and honesty, and simple visibility as a gay man, helped many through their own times of crises.
His own memoirs, Becoming A Man: Half A Life Story, was less the story of people with AIDS, but rather the story of Monette's own struggles with growing up gay. It's the story of a life in the closet and the struggles we all face knowing when to come out. Becoming a Man won the 1992 National Book Award for nonfiction, and Paul Monette went on to write two more novels about AIDS: Afterlife in 1990, and Halfway Home in 1995.
Paul Monette, himself, died from complications of AIDS in 1995.
His is a story, in life and words, fiction and fact, of our struggles, with being gay, with finding acceptance not only from others but from ourselves, on recognizing that while we are different, we are all, straight and gay, black, white, male, female, all very much alike.
As I said, everyone who writes anything knows the best writing is what you know, and Paul Monette showed us that we can write what we know, live what we know, be what we know.
The march goes on.
On This Day In LGBT History
October 23, 1766 – Christoffel Bosch van Leeuwarden, a seventy year old porter in the Netherlands, was convicted of seduction to sodomy and sentenced to three years of prison labor.
October 23, 1907 – The Molte v. Harden trial began in Germany. Journalist Maximillian Harden accused General Kuno Count von Moltke of being in a homosexual relationship. Moltke filed a civil suit, and though Harden was acquitted the verdict was later overturned and he was found guilty.
October 23, 1937 – Mattachine Society founder Harry Hay’s former lover Stanley Haggart wrote to him after marrying a woman in an attempt to change his sexuality, “To think it had to take a marriage with its wedding night experiences to show me where my real affinity lies. Every cell in me screamed out in protest at my desecration of my body. At that time I knew that I belonged to you and you to me.”
October 23, 1977 – Two thousand people demonstrate in downtown Montreal to protest October 22 bar raids. Police attack the demonstrators with motorcycles and billy-clubs and made further arrests.
October 23, 1979 – Former Winnipeg Free Press publisher Richard Malone pleads guilty to charges of buggery and obstructing justice. He is given a one-year sentence, following “juvenile sex ring” investigation in February 1979.
October 23, 1993 – In Helena Montana the state supreme court ruled that transvestitism is not a sufficient reason to deny a father joint custody of his 3-year old child.
October 23, 1998 – The Los Angeles City council condemned the “Making Sense of Homosexuality” conference, organized by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, saying that claims of “curing” homosexuals create an atmosphere that can lead to anti-gay violence.
October 23, 1999 – Religious right leader Rev. Jerry Falwell and evangelical Christian supporters met with Rev. Mel White and gay Christians for an anti-violence forum.