Agreeing to review a friend's book having not yet read a word of it is like going to see a co-worker's band for the first time—you risk having to respond to “So, how was it?” with, “Tight, man. It was tight.”
So, Troy—your book? Tight. Kidding.
Troy helped start CityBeat six years ago and was the paper's music editor until last November. For that reason, this review was supposed to be farmed out to a freelancer who doesn't know Troy personally. That writer had the book for a day or two and then sent it back because she found some parts of it offensive and juvenile.
Is the book offensive? Sure—it gets a little raunchy at times; there's a mention of pubic hair in the first paragraph. For anyone familiar with Troy's writing, it's to be expected. And, as he points out in the book's introduction, you can't talk about homosexuality without talking about sex; and you can't talk about being a teenager and coming to terms with your mother's homosexuality without talking about coming to terms with your own sexuality. Sex, as Troy explains, became a bigger part of his life than it would for most kids—“epic promiscuity” is how he defines his sex life from his deflowering at age 15 to well into his adult years, all to prove to himself and others that he wasn't gay, too.
If sex became Troy's defense mechanism, then sexual references, humor and vulgarity (it's mild, really) are the book's defense mechanisms. Amid the clever analogies and witty turns of phrase, the book, written as a memoir, can be heartbreaking at times. Troy found out his mom was gay in 1983, 15 years before federal legislation banned discrimination against gays in the workplace and only a decade after the American Pyschiatric Association removed homosexuality from a list of mental illnesses. She was a woman, Troy writes, “whose lifestyle wasn't allowed in her own home” and whose ex-husband let Troy and his sister know that it was OK to feel embarrassed by their mom. In the book, when Troy graduates from college, she's not invited to the big family party, and when his sister gets married, she makes sure that her mom and her mom's girlfriend sit on opposite sides of the room.
To a large extent, the book is an act of penance. It ends with Troy attending San Diego's annual Pride parade, imagining himself in the anti-gay contingent yelling through bullhorns at parade-goers. It might as well have been him yelling at his mom with a bullhorn in the family living room, he writes.
Troy says he interviewed his mom for the book. I wanted to know a little more about how her family's attitude affected her: What was going on in her head when Troy rejected her idea that he attend a support group for kids with gay parents? What happened when she found out she wasn't invited to the family party? Is she as Teflon a woman as she seems to be in the book—one who's not only navigating her own place in the world, but who's also dealing with the impact her sexuality has on her kids? You feel terribly sorry for her, outed to her 10-year-old son by an ex-lover long before she's ready to come out to her kids, who'd already adopted frequent, pejorative use of the words “fag” and “gay.”
“We had scared her deep into the closet—past the hamper, past the shoes, into the mental crawl space behind the insulation,” Troy writes.
He cops to the fact that he treated his mom pretty badly at times—creating in his mind a Jekyll-and-Hyde version of her: “Gay Mom was an undesirable alter ego whom I was willing to ignore as a gesture of goodwill to the mom I loved,” he writes. The book becomes a sort-of parsing out of where that came from. He doesn't let himself off the hook, but he does keep things in context.
“My mother's homosexuality wasn't the problem,” Troy told me. “The problem was that politicians and religious leaders and grandmas convinced the young, impressionable version of me that it was a major problem.”
It's purely coincidental that the book's official release date, set months ago, was June 16, one day before same-sex couples were allowed to marry in California. As much as the book is a marker of how far its author's come in accepting his mom's sexuality, it's also evidence of how far we've come as a society (well, most of us). Troy will discuss Family Outing at Borders in Mission Valley on June 19 at 7 p.m. and at the Whistle Stop Bar in South Park (with music from Joanie Mendenhall and Correatown) at 9 p.m.