Written by Troy Johnson
$25; Arcade Publishing; 238 pages
REVIEW BY TERRI SCHLICHMEYER
Adolescence is hard.
First, your face erupts like Mt. Aetna, making it impossible to be suave and James Bondish. Your hormones start acting like the Incredible Hulk and for a reason you can't comprehend, being near somebody who used to have cooties becomes as important as breathing.
Your voice changes, your body morphs, your brain mushes, and getting to First Base will never have the same meaning again.
Author Troy Johnson had a typical adolescence, with one big difference. In the new book Family Outing, he explains how one word changed everything.
Troy Johnson had a relatively normal childhood. When he was three, his parents divorced. Later, Johnson's mother moved with her children to San Diego so she could attend college. Johnson remembers playing with his friends, riding bikes, fighting with his sister in brutal sibling rivalry, and loving his mother fiercely.
A normal childhood. Normal, that is, until the day his mother's friend, a woman he calls Tattle Dyke, outed his mother. Johnson was ten years old.
Johnson says that kids are vulnerable and need what he calls the 'adequately neutered caretaker' image. They don't want to think of their parents Doing It. Upon hearing the word 'sexual' in the same sentence as 'mother', the way he looked at his Mom changed. While he always kind of knew what went on behind closed doors, there was suddenly no mistaking it: she Did It, and she Did It with women.
And from then on, his mother could see him in the shower. His lesbian mother couldn't.
'Gay Mom was an undesirable alter ego whom I was willing to ignore as a gesture of goodwill to the mom I loved.'
Shaken, but pretending otherwise, Johnson told almost no one. He kept his mother's gayness to himself and he became angry at her. He lashed out, becoming destructive. He made fun of effeminate boys and used the word 'fag' around his mom. He noticed that nobody came to her defense.
He barely noticed that his teenage attitude was hurting her.
It wasn't until he was in college that he realized how much anger he held and what it did to his mother and to himself. And he knew he had to fix it.
I really enjoyed this book, mostly because it's written from the unique viewpoint of someone who's brave enough to say what's on his mind. It doesn't hurt that it's bawdy, brash, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Author Troy Johnson says in his foreword, 'Listening to politicians and religious leaders pontificating on the issue [ of gay marriage and child-rearing ] prompted me to tell my story—the story of a kid who lived it.'
He's unapologetic about his bluntness, saying his book needed to 'be honest'.
Since this is a no-holds-barred memoir about growing up, being a pain-in-the-tush and being loved anyhow, I don't think that's a worry. His honesty will resonate with anyone who was once an adolescent, embarrassed by his or her parents, gay or straight.
And that, alone, makes Family Outing a book to stay in with.
Looking for more? Check out Lesbian And Gay Families Speak Out: Understanding The Joys And Challenges Of Diverse Family Life by Jane Drucker; or Love Makes a Family by Peggy Gillispie and others.