Ron is 17 when he goes to his first gay bar with his friend Derek. It’s also the night he first meets Auntie Brie, a glamorous, elegant force of a drag queen who will touch his life in ways he never expected. In the late 70s, the gay community was fighting for its rights against discrimination and hatred. Ron comes of age in these tumultuous times, joining the protests at the National March on Washington. In the 1980s, he is faced with the reality of AIDS as a friend takes ill, only to pass away soon after.
Ron finds love, only to lose it; makes friends; has hook ups and breakups and endures sexual assaults; finding both joy and pain in life, and again and again his path crosses with Auntie Brie, the woman who teaches him — simply by living — to accept the people in your life for who they are. To love them for who they are. And to accept himself with the same grace and understanding he offers to others.
This is a memoir, and as Ron is still very much alive and a real person, has no carefully crafted character arc. The lessons he learns are painful and clumsy in the way all young people are as he tries to find himself, and while the people in this story may be amalgamations of real people, neither they nor the effect they had on Ron’s life — the effect they still have on his life — can be picked at and judged the way I judge fictional creations and fictional relationships.
Instead, I will review this book on two merits: How did his story touch me, and how well I think the author’s message came through. This is a well-written, if succinct, story of Ron’s adventures through a chaotic and confusing time in history, and it’s a personal one. This isn’t a story about a march or a story about the AIDS crisis. This is just the story of one man living through those events. The blurb hints erotic adventures, and though they are somewhat graphic and the author doesn’t shy away from physical descriptions, the stories of Ron’s sexuality and love affairs aren’t expressed in a way designed to titillate. They are simply the stories of what happened to him, and the affection he feels for those men he loved and befriended comes through.
Even through the bitterest moments, facing abandonment, betrayal, assault, or loss, Ron somehow manages to look back at those moments with both humor and understanding. Understanding and, maybe, forgiveness for himself as a young man who made mistakes and did stupid things, but who lived the life he lived. Drugs, drinking, gay clubs, and orgies on the beach, they all helped make Ron into who he is today. This memoir doesn’t dwell on things that can’t be changed, it just asks us for that same understanding. You can’t change anyone but yourself, but you can forgive. And you can love.