Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Review of "A Passionate Engagement"

Harvey, Ken. “A Passionate Engagement: A Memoir”, Aequitas Books, 2010.
Becoming an Activist
Amos Lassen

Ken Harvey’s name is not new in the field of gay literature. His previous short story collection, “If You Were With Me Everything Would Be All Right” (2000) won the Violet Quill Award and Lambda Literary declared it to be “one of the twenty books of note”. Now he turns to nonfiction with his memoir in which he takes along on his journey to adulthood from coming out to finding and settling in with his partner and to becoming a political activist and it is quite an amazing story with its candor and its honesty. Harvey has been in the forefront of the same sex marriage issue. By reading his memoirs, we also get a picture of what went on during the movement for same sex marriage in Massachusetts s this memoir serves two purposes—we get the life of a man and the life of a movement.

Gay life in the 1960’s and 70’s was much different from the way it is today and a get a look at how it was here. As he was coming out, Harvey was a closeted school teacher and although he was open around his gay friends, his real coming out was when he married his partner, Bruce. He helped to raise two children and in his book he deals with the issues of youth and gay suicide, the power of the radical right and the right to marry.

He was not loved as a child and he tells us how he first realized that he was not like other boys. He remained in the closet and suffered taunts from his schoolmates yet he attempted to live a straight life style. Gradually he began to accept the fact that he was gay and through clubs and meetings he managed to make contact with other gay men. It is the way that Harvey relates this, in such a straightforward manner that makes this such an interesting read. We feel What Harvey felt and we find instances in our lives that are similar. It is important to remember that coming out today is so much easier than it was when I came out, for example.

When he does come out fully to the people that he taught with, he is not only accepted but supported. He finally is able to be open about dating other men and he reads the ads in the local press hoping to find a man to share his life with. He met Bruce through one of the personal ads and he not only got a partner but two children as well. This marriage brought him to activism and he gives us a peek behind the scenes of what went on in Massachusetts in the fight to legalize gay marriage. He writes about it beautifully and we get a really good explanation. It is further cleared up by the fact that Harvey gives us an analysis of the situation and especially because Harvey, himself, had such emotional turmoil and an abusive youth that he looks at human civil rights more carefully and as one who did not always experience them.

As Harvey looks at his own political life, we see the political life of so many and we are lucky to have this so clearly presented to us in such beautiful language. The fact that it is so personal makes it all the more real and important. It pulled me in on the first page and has a profound effect on me and it looks like it will be heading toward my ten best of 2010.

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