|Kirk Read's youth in the Shenandoah Valley had the outward signs of a comfortable adolescence in the Reagan-era South. Dad: career military. Mom: a homemaker. Son: Little League/soccer player, Baptist youth group member, a straight-jawed boy from a long line of VMI men.
One would expect that a young gay man growing up in such a way would lead a tortured teen life. But early Read began to show the surety and openness that has marked his later life and career as a young, queer journalist. Passing through the tough terrain of Bible Belt guilt and culturally ingrained sexual hypocrisy, Read acknowledged his difference first to those closest to him--with with expected doses of fag-baiting--and with acceptance from surprising corners.
Read's skewed and skewered version of the holy trinity of American adolescence--sex, drugs, and rock and roll--is described in his unique voice: he became sexually active at a time when we were only just learning that sex can kill, began saying yes to drugs when Nancy Reagan were just saying no; and when underground music was still buried. It is a story of bold strokes (premiering a play about coming-out in high school while still in high school) and ironic misfires (he expected to ignite a firestorm by demanding that he take his same-sex date to the senior prom; instead his request was calmly okayed).
Read's story is neither victim-based nor intended as a survival guide. It is not a radical call to action but a call to acceptance, with a Southern accent: "So much of gay Southern memoir has been so veiled in the shroud of first fiction that's its lost its sense of urgency. Or its been so literary that the queer content has been erased or relegated to the back in service to Gothic, poetically indirect costuming of hard realities," Read says. Ultimately, Read's is finally the story of every coming-of-age--heartbreaking, comic, tragic, and redemptive--and will be appreciated by everyone who, to quote Paul Goodman, grew up absurd in the 1980s.