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David Leviathan & Billy Merrell (Editors)
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2006
272 pages, $9.95 US
Reviewed By JoEllen A. Morrison
The Full Spectrum is an anthology of poetry and short essays which chronicle the personal odysseys of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and other individuals. The works contained in the book run the gamut from light-heartedly comedic, thought-provoking to touchingly poignant. What is even more compelling about these stories and poems is that the writers are all 23 years of age or younger.
As with most anthologies, at times, the writing is uneven. However, I was particularly drawn to the poem “Body Isn’t This,” the essays “Snow and Hot Asphalt,” “My Diary”, “The Night Marc Hall Went to the Prom,” “A Quietly Queer Revolution”, Walking the Tracks,” “Gaydar,” “All You Need is Love,” “Continuation of the Life,” and lastly, “A Fairy’s Tale.” I believe this essay, in particular, should be required reading in high schools across America.
Adolescent years are fraught with emotional upheaval, either real or imagined. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth run a gauntlet of isolation and cruelty during these years. Not only do they cope with the typical angst of being young, but they also struggle with gender and sexual identity in oft-times rabidly homonegative environments such as schools, religious institutions and, most unfortunately, in their homes. Commonality of experience was evident in many of these essays. “My Diary” relates “a sick feeling that this (her father’s discovery that she is a lesbian) is going to tear my family apart” (p. 45), and pleads with her father to “stop saying them. am them!” (p. 43). In “Crying Wolfe,” the writer (being more comfortable with girls than boys) tells of carving out a unique spot for himself in the school hierarchy, “not a lowly place, exactly, but not entirely desirable either. I sat at the right table but on the wrong side. I was invited to the right parties but by the wrong people” (p.59). In “Don’t Tell Me that I’m Overly Sensitive and Paranoid,” the author describes a litany of homonegative commentary by schoolmates and his volleyball coach (p.102) and in “A Fairy’s Tale,” the writer relates feeling “like a foreigner who’s away from home…who longs to see someone who resembles him” (p.110).
The editors have countered-balanced these experiences of isolation with depictions of unconditional love and support. In “Walking the Tracks,” a brother leaving home to join the Marines, goes for a last walk with his younger gay brother and tells him “I want you to know that I don’t care. I love you and I’m here for you” (p.187). In “Queer: Five Letters,” a young woman describing her parents says, “I tell them this: If parents are assigned by lottery, I won the hundred-million dollar jackpot” (p.82).
There is a thread of heart-wrenching pleas for understanding (as one young writer puts it succinctly: “we’d be just fine and dandy if everyone would just let us be” [p 43]) interwoven with a mature wisdom aptly shown in the story “Hatchback,” where the writer states, “It occurs to me that adversity rather than success is the true defining element of a life worth living. It is possible that the act of struggle rather than any sort of outcome is that by which we are measured” (p.175).
In summary, the reader is left with a lasting impression of hope and optimism. As gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth struggle for acceptance and continue to battle the entrenched mind-set and laws of the nation, this optimism is humbling. “A Fairy’s Tale” says, “Gay is not positive or negative; it just is and being gay is not a bad thing or a good thing, it is just part of who you are” (p.119). The writer in “Continuation of the Life,” who suffered horrendous physical and verbal abuse as a young gay male, finishes his essay by saying, “I believe anything is possible” (p. 262).
In this anthology, the editors have succeeded on two levels. First, the book will provide a beacon of hope for GLBT readers. More importantly, it may change perceptions and promote greater understanding from the heterosexual population. I strongly recommend this book, and believe it would be suitable for senior high-school students as well as those in senior undergraduate courses in sociology, psychology, and human sexuality.