May 26

Andrew Solomon: TED Talk “Forge Meaning, Build Identity”

When I introduce TED talks on this blog I usually stick to the shorter ones, recognizing that many readers lack the time or inclination to go bigger. Today, however, is a holiday, and thus I’m hoping you can fit in Andrew Solomon‘s recent “How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Make Us Who We Are.” About 20 minutes long, it’s a moving, eloquent, and personal presentation from an accomplished gay male about resilience in the face of adversity.

If you don’t already know writer Andrew Solomon, his most recent book is Far From the Tree (2012), a highly praised volume that “tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.” When it came out I did a series of posts on it, which you can see here.

Here’s the TED talk, filmed in March and received with much acclaim:

Some Highlights

Okay, so you skipped watching it, but you still want to know what it was about.

To begin with, it’s about finding meaning in one’s life experiences—or, rather, forging meaning, in his estimation. Emphasis on making it versus looking for it.

Solomon talks about being disliked and bullied in childhood, particularly for being, or seeming to be, gay. He was once the only kid who (purposely) wasn’t invited to a classmate’s party, for instance. He also, throughout his school years, was continually ridiculed for being different.

As a result of his marginalizing experiences, Solomon learned to keep his own company. “I survived that childhood through a mix of avoidance and endurance.”

He also put a lot of effort into trying not to be gay, eventually putting himself through a type of sexual surrogacy therapy that of course didn’t work.

In adulthood Andrew Solomon has worked not only to forge meaning but also to build identity. He gives several interesting examples of how oppressed individuals across the world have done this. “Forging meaning is about changing yourself, building identity is about changing the world.”

About himself: “I’m lucky to have forged meaning and built identity, but that’s still a rare privilege, and gay people deserve more collectively than the crumbs of justice. And yet, every step forward is so sweet.”

Toward the end of the talk Solomon speaks about marrying his partner as well as having kids. He now regularly feels joy in his life, a feeling he’s not sure he’d now have were it not for his history of victimization and his quest to create meaning and identity from it.

Then he talks about the party thrown last year for his 50th birthday. In the midst of the celebration, his 4-year-old son George insisted on giving a speech. After getting everyone’s attention, he said, “I’m glad it’s Daddy’s birthday; I’m glad we all get cake; and Daddy, if you were little I’d be your friend.”

In closing, Solomon encourages us to share our struggles and identities with others. Why? Because it makes an important difference.

“Forge meaning, build identity,” he says. “And then invite the world to share your joy.”

Dec 26

“For Colored Boys”: Gay and Suicidal

In 1974, playwright Ntozake Shange published For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf. The book would go on to inspire legions of women for decades and would later become the subject and title of a hugely popular movie in the fall of 2010. While the film was selling out movie theaters, young black gay men were literally committing suicide in the silence of their own communities. Magnus Books, publisher of For Colored Boys

One response to this tragedy of widely neglected and/or ignored proportions is a new book, For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough: Coming of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home,edited by Keith Boykin.

The publisher states the following about the book: “addresses longstanding issues of sexual abuse, suicide, HIV/AIDS, racism, and homophobia in the African American and Latino communities, and more specifically among young gay men of color. The book tells stories of real people coming of age, coming out, dealing with religion and spirituality, seeking love and relationships, finding their own identity in or out of the LGBT community, and creating their own sense of political empowerment. For Colored Boys is designed to educate and inspire those seeking to overcome their own obstacles in their own lives.”

Boykin tells Ebony that several young men inspired the creation of this anthology: Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, Jaheem Herrera, Raymond Chase, and Joseph Jefferson. As Rod McCullom further relates:

Those names are probably not familiar to most readers. The first two were 11-year-old boys who took their own lives after relentless anti-gay bullying in 2009. The latter two were openly gay college students who committed suicide in late 2010.  Chase and Jefferson’s deaths happened around the same time as the tragic case of Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old gay college student who jumped to his death in September 2010. Clementi’s case received international attention and sparked the ‘It Gets Better’ project…

‘The implication was that the lives of Black men were not worthy of news coverage,’ said Boykin, a former aide to President Clinton. ‘Not to take anything away from Tyler but our society often ignores the pain and suffering experienced by Black men.’

Clay Cane, The Huffington Post, who’s a contributor to the book: “The voices in For Colored Boys represent empowerment, which isn’t always beautiful and sometimes laced with grit. We colored boys are slapping flesh onto a monolithic image of black LGBT people, who are usually regulated to being accessories for heterosexual women in campy reality shows. With President Barack Obama stating his support for same-sex marriage and Frank Ocean making pop-culture history as the first mainstream R&B/hip-hop artist to come out, For Colored Boys is relevant, regardless of the reader’s gender, race, or sexual orientation.”

Few reviews are available at this time, reminding me of Sarah Schulman‘s complaint about the mainstream media, noted in a recent post (“Familial Homophobia“).