Around the same time I learned about Harvey Milk, I learned about Patricia Nell Warren, and about myself.
Warren’s 1974 novel, The Front Runner, made me think about myself, about who I was, what I was, how I might be. It was the story of an out gay track-and-field athlete, Billy Sive, who fell in love with his closeted, older coach, Harlan Brown. It was about love, and hate, and shame, and finding your way out of the closet, no matter who you were, or how old.
It was about me, but, you know, without the athleticism, cuz that ain’t my thing.
I found the book after asking my sister if she had something I could read and she told me to check her room. And I found The Front Runner, and the cover naturally caught my eye, so I took it. I didn’t know if it was about a gay athlete and his coach at the time, it was just the homoeroticism of that image.
But I read it, and parts made me ache, and made me smile, made me blush, and made my cry. I had never read such a book that talked mostly about the way two men could fall in love, and how they might choose to live after that.
Years later, I told my sister about the book—I kept it for years, never giving it back to her—and she didn’t know anything about it or where she’d gotten it; she said she never read it but she was glad I had.
I say all this because this week Patricia Nell Warren has died at age 82. And I wanted to thank her for her words and for all they meant to a young gay boy struggling to understand what that might possibly mean.
RIP. Thank you so much for helping me understand myself, a boy you never even knew.