Tuesday, October 01, 2013

John Schwartz: "Oddly Normal": a memoir by a father about raising a gay son

Author:  John Schwartz
Title: “Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with this Sexuality
Publication: Gotham, ISBN 978-1-59240-728-8, 300 pages, paper
Amazon link  Available in many formats, including Kindle. 
First, a note on contents.  The book includes an illustrated story by the son, Joseph, titled “Leo” The Oddly Normal Boy”, and a short essay by Joseph, “July 4th, or “A Treatise on the Courtship of the Awkward”, as well as a new Afterword by the author (the father).
The book is an account by the author of his third child’s coming to terms, as he grew up, not only with his sexual orientation, but also with being “different” in some ways that other people, especially in school systems, find challenging.
This other difference is hard to pin down.  It sounds related to milder forms of autism like Asperger’s syndrome, but that isn’t exactly correct.  It seems to relate to a physiological issue in the way the central nervous system processes sensory information and attaches significance to sensory impressions, and the way these in turn connect to motor skills, like those necessary in playing sports or manual labor.  I experienced the same issues as I was growing up, as I have explained often in these blogs and in my own three books (check Aug. 20 and June 27,  and May 30, 2013 on this blog, for starters).  From a purely medical point of view, there has never been a clear explanation.  I am seventy years old now, and had to deal with these issues at a time when they were viewed through a moral lens, like that of mooching or getting out of physical challenges that other men have to face.  The world looked at sexuality this way when I grew up because in part there was a belief, maybe partly founded in religion but not entirely, that for a society to survive, men had to protect women and children according to gender roles.  Having grown up in the 1950’s and early 60’s, I did not have the benefit of a social climate willing to tolerate open mention of homosexuality. 

The father notes that in his experience many gay men grew up perceived as gender non-conforming, and sometimes exhibiting “The Sissy Boy Syndrome”, actually the title of a controversial 1987 book by Richard Green (Yale University Press”.  The subtitle of that book was “The Development of Homosexuality”.  I certainly did fit that stereotype.  But in general the stereotype often does not apply.  A few gay men have played professional sports, even football.  I have known a few who might have played had there not been quasi-military aversion to their presence in team sports – let’s say, one in a particular a pitcher would not want to hang a changeup to.  In fact, the author notes that his son appeared to develop physically a little earlier than average.  There is practically no correlation at all between sexual orientation and aspects of physical appearance or secondary characteristics.   

Schawrtz does discuss immutability, although not to the point of explaining "epigenetics", which would give a biological explanation of why a gay man could indeed win an MLB batting title.   The question that remains is, if it were a "private choice" rather than innate, why does society make it other people's business?   I've never thought that the immutability argument was enough/
The parents were quite supportive of their son’s exploring his own individuality, and they found the school systems, in northern New Jersey, less so, not out of ill will, but simply the lack of program and coherent response to students with hard-to-assess special needs.  

Nevertheless, the boy, in his tween years, made a suicide attempt, and wound up in psychiatric care.  This is understandably a difficult episode for a parent to write about publicly. The son had a good experience with a special summer camp and high school was much better than middle school (as it was for me, too).
The author does give some synoptic history of “gay rights”, with a discussion of the history of sodomy laws, gays in the military, and especially same-sex marriage.   He also discusses the difficulty school systems have with bullying, and the fact that “curriculum neutrality” policies, like one tried in a Minnesota school district, don’t work in practice.  

No comments: