Even today, it’s not easy to be gay in America. While many young gay men now come out more readily, even those from the most progressive of backgrounds often struggle with the legacy of early-life stigma and a deficit of self-acceptance, which can fuel self-doubt and, at worst, self-loathing. And this is to say nothing of the ongoing trauma wrought by HIV, which is all too often relegated to history. Drawing on his work as a clinical psychologist during and in the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic, Walt Odets reflects on what it means to survive and find a way to live in a new, uncompromising future, both for the men who endured the upheaval of those years and for the younger men who are now coming of age at a time when HIV is still deeply affecting gay communities, especially among the most marginalized.
Through moving, emotional stories—of friends and patients, and of his own—Odets considers how experiences early in life launch men on trajectories to futures that are not authentically theirs. He reimagines how we might reframe gay life by considering everything from the misleading and constraining idea of “the homosexual,” to the diversity and richness of gay relationships, to the historical roles of stigma and shame and the significance of youth and aging. Crawling out from under the destructive trauma of early-life experience and the epidemic and emerging into a century of shifting social values provides an opportunity to explore possibilities rather than live with societally imposed limitations. Though it is drawn from decades of his private practice, activism, and personal experience, Odets’s work achieves remarkable universality. At its core, Out of the Shadows is driven by his belief that it is time we act on the basis of who we are, and not who others are, or who they would want us to be. We—particularly the young—must construct our own paths through life. Out of the Shadows is a necessary, impassioned argument for how and why we must all take hold of our futures.