This was lent to me by a close friend at a time when we were voraciously reading and listening and politically active in our late teens. He was given it, hot off the press, by a New York DJ.
It was a funny in-between time: for sexual politics, somewhere between the time of NY’s ‘Silence=Death’ and the S&M Dykes, but just before Manchester’s Homocult and London’s Torture Garden. There wasn’t quite a word for queer, afrofuturism, certainly not geek, polyamory or neurodiversity. The political and sexual and cultural scenes were still hung up on the factionalist and separatist ideas of the mid 80s. My circle of friends felt that we were at the forefront of bringing down these divides- playing Parliament and Ministry on the same mixtapes. Imagine our surprise to read about someone who had embarked on becoming his complicated self in the late 50s!
The sheer turgid nerdiness of Delany’s writing made me feel enormous relief that there was someone out there ‘worse’ than me! His extreme honesty was shocking and liberating. I was moved and inspired by how his relationship with his wife changed over time. I was always pretty certain that I should pursue my own course in life, instead of conforming to common stereotypes and expectations, and this book really confirmed it for me when no older person was doing so at the time. So I guess I adopted Delany as something of an ‘uncle’ in my mind. He reassured me that being black, or gay, shouldn’t stop us from wanting to be a writer or artist in any genre, a parent, a geek, or anything really. And that nothing need limit our sexuality except consensual desire. Delany’s world in this memoir perfectly captured the excitement and frustrations of a funny in-between time, the sense of a culture exploding.
I recommended this book to plenty of people but I remember it was very hard to find. It went out of print quickly and I think the later edition was censored- most likely because of his exposing of famous names. I still do recommend it and would like to re-read it now and pay more attention to the sci-fi aspect of it, but my copy has long-since gone wandering…
Andrea Chandler, Systems Librarian, Senate House Library