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.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Excerpt from A Passionate Engagement

I finally attached myself to a group that was chanting “no discrimination in the constitution.” I believed in what I was shouting, but I knew I was holding back. I didn’t want to be the loudest voice in the crowd, the one who stood out. I stood in the rear, sometimes yelling and sometimes just mouthing, then moved on to another group. What was my hesitancy about? Why did I feel little like that boy in the schoolyard on his first day of school watching the other boys play dodge ball? These were people on my side, people like me. Well, sort of. These were young gay college students, people in their sixties and seventies who, if they weren’t gay themselves, I imagined were the supportive parents and grandparents of gay children, the PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). A sad truth: many gay men of my generation had died.

    So I felt both welcomed yet out of place, the forty-something gay man, walking about alone, both eager and reticent to claim my voice in the crowd. It wasn’t in me to wave signs at cars or yell at the woman holding the crucifix. So I struck a tacit bargain with those around me: I’ll let you be in the spotlight, I’ll let you be the ones on TV with your voices and your signs, if I can just stand in the back and copy you. I gave myself permission to just be present, to not feel obligated to lead the march or even strike up conversations with those on my side of the issue. I wouldn’t have known who to speak to anyway. With my khakis, button down shirt, dark green overcoat and leather gloves, I looked downright nerdy compared to the young people with brilliant scarves and secondhand chic coats. They had come of age just as the tide was shifting towards gay people. They were confident, not concerned with politeness, not only speaking out but expecting to be heard. I felt like they had come to demonstrate for gay rights while I was waiting for the formal lecture on the topic.

    “This is ridiculous,” I heard behind me. “Next thing you know, they’ll be letting you marry your grandmother.”

    The man, with a stubbled chin and smoking a cigarette, was talking to me. I didn’t know what to say, so I looked away from him. One of the young women who had been chanting spoke to the man.

    “Hey, if you want to marry your grandmother, you go right ahead,” she said. “Personally, I think it’s sort of weird.”

    “No,” the man said, this time louder and more guttural. “You’re the one that’s gonna make it so people end up marrying their grandmothers.”

    “I plan to marry my girlfriend,” the woman said. “You can marry whoever you want. But your grandmother? That seems a little unnatural to me.”

    The man started muttering something about having sex with other relatives, but the young woman smiled at him until he ran out of steam. He walked away.

    “That was impressive,” I told the woman. “I’d never have thought to say that.”

    “You just can’t let them get to you,” she said. “If you do, you’ll never make it through this whole thing.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oh, this is good

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Five Star Review for A Passionate Engagement from an Amazon Top Ten Reviewer

From Naiveté of Childhood to Passionate Commitment of Adulthood, November 15, 2010

Ken Harvey has written a memoir that is a fine book on so many levels. The utter simplicity of retelling his childhood is as tender a story as any in the literature. Somehow Harvey manages to completely return to those days as a kid when he realized his attention and desires were not similar to those of other boys his age, his mortification when he progressed to gym class and faced the showers where his fellow students would mock his dreaded indication of arousal, his being a closeted gay man through school and teaching, dating and interacting with women successfully but without the passion he longed to experience, and finally his coming out process in gatherings and clubs where his innocence was magnified with his honesty with those with whom he came into contact - all of this is related in such a keenly written style that echoes of Salinger and Joyce haunt the pages. There is a section when he is describing his trip to Spain and his frustrating encounter with a German man that he sets aside space for adroit philosophizing. 'Above all, I've learned, kids value authenticity in adults. There have been other times when I was visible even though I didn't want to be, times when I didn't want to be visible to myself. I wanted to slip on the comfortable shoes of denial, even if those shoes eventually wear out at the sole, exposing your bare feet to the glass and sharp rocks of the burning pavement.'

At last Harvey comes out to his fellow teachers only to win their support, goes on to date through the local newspaper ads until he encounters the man who will become his life partner Bruce - a man who comes complete with two children that the new couple will parent. From this point on through the rest of the book Harvey personalizes the events that lead up to the equal rights stance of same sex marriage, becoming an activist and remaining an activist to this day. He shares his beliefs, his trials with the ups and downs of governmental decisions and laws and takes us to the present moment when some states have sanctioned same sex marriage while others, like the supposedly emotionally advanced California, have failed to pass such measures as Proposition 8 just this year, and for once that sharing becomes fine literature.

While other writers are producing pamphlets and books and blogs and demonstrations about the inequality that likely at some point in the future will seem as irresponsible as women's rights and racial equality now appear, Ken Harvey offers a different way to analyze the situation. By sharing the turmoil of his innocent but emotionally abusive childhood in such eloquent prose the reader is introduced to the issues of human rights on a wholly different level. We want to hear what this man has to say because he says it so well. This is a book to read for pleasure and a book that should well be mandatory for schools across the country. Ken Harvey is a very fine new voice. Grady Harp, November 10

Monday, November 15, 2010

The High Cost of the 2010 Political Compaign

It's been a while since my last post.  I've been involved in my book release.  Thanks to everyone who came to the reading on Sunday!

I've been thinking about the November 2 election for quite a while now. According to some reports, the congressional campaign of 2010 will cost an estimated 4 billion dollars.  I started thinking about what that money might buy.  These are estimates, of course. Here's what we could buy in the United States:

•tuition to college for over 100,0000 students for four years
•construction of 30,000 houses in the Midwest (houses, not apartments)
•a year's salary for 100,000 teachers in the United States
•a year of food for ½ million families of 4 in the United States
•a pair of glasses for 2 million people in the US (and that's assuming a pair costs $200 -- we can assume much less for  basic, non specialized glasses.)
• almost a million basset hound puppies.  (Okay, a silly statistic, until you think: what would make you happier when you see reports of Washington?  100 senators or almost a million bassets?)
•200 million books for elementary school children
• 750 elementary schools, built at union rates

Okay.  I could go on and on.  And research and research.  Just look at these figures without your political lenses.  Whether you are Republican or Democrat, these numbers are pretty intriguing, aren't they?