Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story

by Paul Monette

Paperback, 1993




HarperSanFrancisco (1993), Edition: Reprint, 278 pages


A child of the 1950s from a small New England town, "perfect Paul" earns straight A's and shines in social and literary pursuits, all the while keeping a secret -- from himself and the rest of the world. Struggling to be, or at least to imitate, a straight man, through Ivy League halls of privilege and bohemian travels abroad, loveless intimacy and unrequited passion, Paul Monette was haunted, and finally saved, by a dream of "the thing I'd never even seen: two men in love and laughing." Searingly honest, witty, and humane, Becoming a Man is the definitive coming-out story in the classic coming-of-age genre.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Coming of age in the fifties, Paul Monette lived a life that, in a sense, paralleled my own as I too am a child of the fifties. And I also share with him the theme of discovery, the inward thoughtfulness that, if it does not lead every boy to write his own autobiography, it leads them to a life of the imagination and a love of literature and the arts. Paul Monette shares more than his coming of age in the fifties, for his is a story of the outsider, the gay man in the boy whose life leads to the age of AIDS and the loss that has been brought with it. From small town through the Ivy League school to the life of a writer, Monette brings a truth to his story that only a truly personal memoir can hold. This is a book to cherish for its spirit and story, for it is a story that is universal and humane. Seldom has a book so richly deserved the awards and accolades it has received.… (more)
LibraryThing member bnbooklady
In this touching, insightful memoir, Paul Monette recalls growing up gay in the 60s and 70s and shares his battle with internalized hatred as he struggles to accept himself and seek acceptance from others. Monette does not shy away from the gritty details. His accounts of some of his sexual experiences are as raw and painful as he recalls the actual events to have been, and he does not sugarcoat anything. Monette explores his life in the context of American society and the then-emerging gay rights movement and considers the consequences of America's initial reluctance to address the AIDS epidemic, as he finds that he is only able to write half a life story. This is a very moving, eye opening book that serves to remind us that behind every statistic about AIDS or homosexuality is a person struggling to make peace with himself.… (more)
LibraryThing member kant1066
Paul Monette’s early life is marked by both the astounding conformity and pent-up rage that one might expect to find in the Bildungsroman of a young gay man growing up in mid-century America. His ability to “pass” for straight comes at a cost – to wit, the inability of ever having to admit to anyone that he’s not. From the time that he’s a small child, Paul seems tragically torn, more so than even many other figures in well-known gay-memoirs who came of age at about the same time in American history (I’m thinking of Edmund White’s “The Beautiful Room is Empty” and others). Whereas White’s memoirs explore sexual openness and the life of the mind, Monette can only begin to feel comfortable with the latter, and never seems to approach the former until he is well into adulthood. He was already one to get “straight A’s,” but whose courage balked when it came to admitting his sexuality to a close friend or family member.

Beneath that Yale- and Andover-educated genteel exterior is the heart of an enraged activist who, if he had a problem with admitting his homosexuality, certainly had fewer problems with hyperbole. He blithely claims within the first few pages of “Becoming a Man” that “genocide is still the national sport of straight men.” He goes on to clarify that Stephen Kolzak, one of his former lovers, “died of homophobia, murdered by barbaric priests and petty bureaucrats.” I would never be the first to suggest that the national response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in its initial years was rapid or proportionate to need, but Monette’s moralizing is certainly a momentous task in blame-shifting. One review, whose overall impression of the book was much less favorable than mine, nevertheless mentioned something very striking about the man who wrote it: he seems to consist of two different personalities, neither of which have reconciled themselves to one another.

Nor does he self-consciously explore his balkanized personality; he seems supremely unhappy in being unable to be open about his sexuality to most people, but does nothing to change this. And this repressed self sits right there, silently, next to the one that rails against America with clenched fist about committing “genocide” against those with HIV/AIDS. It’s a perplexing picture, but strikingly human one, a poignant one.

I’ve noted before in my reviews of memoirs that I don’t read many of them, and that I somehow have to be struck by the life of the author before I’ll pick one up. Monette was gay; Edmund White’s homosexuality and love of ideas were two big invitations for me as a much younger reader when I stumbled across “The Beautiful Room is Empty.” I found this book, my first experience reading Monette, honest and forthright in Monette’s “trying to give a true account of one’s self” – perhaps the hardest thing you can ever ask someone to do. Perhaps I’m grateful for his rage and his furor, discombobulated as it was. It allowed, decades on, for people like me to not have to re-wage the battles that he already fought.
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LibraryThing member uufnn
Paul Monette is the author six novels, three collections of poetry and a non-fiction book, Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir. This autobiography won the 1992 National Book Award for nonfiction.

Booklist said of this title, "Maybe one of the great American autobiographies....A book in which virtually every gay man will see himself; with which virtually every lesbian and bisexual will empathize; which will powerfully move the parents, siblings, and friends of witty as it is anguished and as full of understanding as of anger, this is Monette's best book."… (more)
LibraryThing member homeschoolmimzi
I was expecting to like this book, somewhat. I found it profoundly disappointing. The narcissism got to be way too much, as well as a lot of other things.
LibraryThing member aulsmith
Monette's searing anger at his oppressors, which include his younger self, make this book, in my opinion, just as relevant today as it was when it was written. It's not like there aren't millions of people on the planet trying to stuff queer folk back into their closets. I highly recommend this book to anyone who's struggling with being different.… (more)


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