Steven Gaines is an openly gay author who has written several best-sellers.
In his most recent project, One of These Things First, Gaines goes down memory lane as he recounts growing up in Brooklyn as a young Jewish boy struggling with homosexuality.
Windy City Times: Can you explain the title of your book for our readers?
Steven Gaines: It's the title of one of my favorite songs ever and it was written by Nick Drake, an English songwriter.
It was about all of the possibilities that we could be, so I very much wanted to call it "One of These Things First." I planned on calling it that for a very long time, although people tried to dissuade me because they said it was too airy a title. What happened was we stuck to it and I needed to get the rights to quote the lyrics inside the book so that readers would understand but Nick Drake's family or whoever holds his rights never responded.
So the publisher said that if you want to call it that, you just can't use the lyrics. It's kind of dumb and readers don't know. [Laughs]
WCT: You tell the stories of when you were 15-year-old Jewish boy struggling with homosexuality in Brooklyn. Is it easier for you to talk about that today than it was back then?
SG: We couldn't talk about it at all back then. It was before gay liberation. Homosexuality was considered a very, very bad, nasty, horrible thing. You were worse than a pervert. The word "gay" didn't exist, as far as I knew. Really, there was no one I could talk to about it. I was so ashamed of myself. What I kept on thinking back then is, "This is a curse you'll have for the rest of your life; you'll never ever be normal." I was heartbroken.
WCT: You make what seems like a traumatic experience into something humorous. Is there a reason why you chose such a light-hearted approach?
SG: That's me. I've always had an ironic sense of humor. I've always been funny through it all. I still am at the darkest moments. That's just how the story came out of me. I didn't try to be funny.
WCT: Were there any obstacles you faced writing One of These Things First?
SG: Uh, yes; it took me years. I focused on so many different things. I wasn't sure how to tell the story. The book had an entire second half to it, which is years later, when I finally do have a relationship with a woman. ... In any event, all of that used to be apart of this book. Also, I exposed myself completely. I tell people I was in a mental hospital when I was a young boy. I had to decide, "Okayeverybody's going to know this."
WCT: How did your family react to this book?
SG: They're all dead. Everyone's dead. There's only me.
WCT: Do you think that made the book easier to publish?
SG: I would've done it, anyway. The last people I would care about what they think of me would be my family. When I came out it was '72 or '73 and I already had written a book so people knew me. It was a very hard thing to do and to determine if I was going to live openly as a gay man. The only shame that I have is maybe people saying that I was once crazy and I probably still am.
WCT: The book definitely has its share of unforgettable characters. Who would you say was your favorite to write?
SG: I love Richard Holiday. He really opened up doors for me, showed me what to read, how to read. He wasn't gay but he might as well have been, how he acted and who his preferences and things were.
The other character I loved in the book, although, I don't think I do them justice, is the psychiatrist who tried to relieve me of my pain. I tried to kill myself; I was so unhappy and he saw that I was tormented. He was a wonderful father figure to me.
WCT: What do you hope LGBTQ readers will gain from reading your memoir?
SG: It does get better and at one point it was really intolerable and really bad. Things do get better and the only way they can get better it to be out. You have to be out. It's who you are; it's what you are. It's not the center of who you are. It's just a piece of who you are.
[Also,] I want people to have a laugh. A lot of people identify with this little boy in so many different ways. I just want people to enjoy it.