Out of the shadows Reimagining gay men's lives

Walt Odets

Book - 2019

A clinical psychologist, writer and gay activist reflects on what it means to be gay today through moving stories of friends and patients in the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic and shifting social values. --Publisher

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New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2019.
Main Author
Walt Odets (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xv, 347 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 303-332) and index.
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Word to the Reader
  • Introduction
  • 1. Are Gay Men Homosexuals?
  • What Is a Homosexual?
  • The Story of Larry
  • A Study from Indiana
  • The Significance of Words
  • The Story of Stuart
  • The Developmental Gender Split: The Story of Felix
  • Sexual Expression of the Gay Sensibility
  • It Is Not the Cow That Makes the Frycook
  • 2. Stigma and Shame
  • The Story of Gabriel Fernandez
  • The Consequences of Stigmatization
  • The Story of Ronald Reagan
  • What Is Shame?
  • The Story of Peter
  • Sex and Shame
  • 3. Our Tripartite Communities Today
  • Three Groups of Men Defined
  • The Older Group: The Story of Luis
  • The Middle Group: The Stories of Franklin and Richard
  • The Younger Group: The Story of Jason
  • Young Men and the Legacy of the Condom Code
  • PrEP and the Legacy of the Condom Code
  • 4. The Significance of Early-Life Experience
  • Erik Erikson and the Story of Quentin
  • The Eight Ages of Man
  • 1. Basic Trust vs. Basic Mistrust
  • 2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
  • 3. Initiative vs. Guilt
  • 4. Industry vs. Inferiority
  • 5. Identity vs. Role Confusion
  • 6. Intimacy vs. Isolation
  • 7. Generativity vs. Stagnation
  • 8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair
  • A Word for the Young
  • 5. Some Obstructions to Self-Discovery and Self-Realization: Diagnosis, Isolation, and Grief
  • Diagnosis: The Story of Paul
  • Isolation: The Story of Sean
  • Complicated Grief and Guilt: The Story of Harry
  • The Aftermath of Harry's Aftermath
  • What About Harry's Drinking?
  • 6. Emerging from Trauma, Loss, and Isolation
  • What Is Trauma?
  • How Trauma and Loss Interact: The Story of Aaron
  • Our Great Unmentionable
  • The Four Stages of Recovery: The Story of Ralph
  • Stage One: Emerging from Isolation
  • Stage Two: Safety
  • Stage Three: Grieving and Talking Through
  • Stage Four: Working Through and the Story of Bill
  • 7. Gay Men's Relationships
  • The Hope
  • The Hopelessness: The Story of Michael
  • The Fear: The Story of Amado
  • The Fantasy: The Story of Brice
  • Ways That Gay Relationships Work
  • Sex
  • Sexual Interest and the Story of Lester and Bill
  • Attraction and the Loss of Attraction
  • A Songbook for Young Men
  • 8. The Life and Times of Matthias Johnston
  • An Afterword for Young Men's Futures
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Odets, a clinical psychologist and writer, reframes the way gay men could imagine their lives, moving toward self-realization and away from self-loathing. The book examines gay men's emotional lives through a series of case studies, including men Odets has treated as a psychotherapist, past lovers, and himself. Odets focuses on three core issues: "the ongoing psychological aftermath of an uncontrolled, deeply stigmatizing fifteen-year plague [AIDS]"; the "current HIV epidemic"; and "the still-ongoing childhood and adolescent trauma that gay people are subjected to." These three issues anchor the book as the author explores other important issues in the gay community, such as the emotional aftermath of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s and early-mid 1990s, which is perhaps one of the strongest elements of the entire volume. While this text makes an important contribution to conversations about gay men's lives, younger scholars and activists may take umbrage with the author's focus on cisgender men. Regardless, scholars of LGBTQ studies, social workers, and psychologists will find the text illuminating for their scholarship and practice. Summing Up: Essential. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. --Caro Pinto, Mount Holyoke College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

WHEN THE CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST Walt Odets began working with gay men in San Francisco in the mid-1980s, much of the therapy focused on trauma and shame. There was the reality of growing up gay in America combined with the catastrophe of the AIDS epidemic, which by 1989 had killed at least 90,000 people, including a number of Odets's patients. More than three decades later, the gay men Odets now works with live in a markedly different world, one where they can marry and in which sex doesn't come booby-trapped with the fear of death. A gay man, Pete Buttigieg, is widely considered a viable presidential candidate, his sexual orientation seemingly no longer disqualifying (and possibly even an asset). Many in the contemporary L.G.B.T. movement insist that gay men - particularly white gay men - have relatively little to worry about in 2019. But in "Out of the Shadows," Odets argues that the transformational effects of recent political and judicial victories on the lives of gay men have been greatly exaggerated. "Shame still often lurks unconsciously behind the most successful of gay lives," he writes, a theme that he returns to over and over again in a book that is part polemic, part memoir and part road map for gay people hoping to live fully. Odets is clear that the shame he believes still haunts many gay men isn't their fault. "The stigmatization of gay people has always been a societal problem for which gay people have been blamed," he writes. To add to that, there is the lingering traumatic effects of a "deeply stigmatizing 15-year plague" and what Odets calls our current "late epidemic," which, despite game-changing breakthroughs in treatment and prevention, still results in some 40,000 new H.I.V. infections a year. Odets also dissects the psychological impact of families and communities that too often burden young gay men with shame. He rejects the idea that we live in a posthomophobic country. "There is not a single gay man alive in America who has not sometimes felt selfconscious or fearful about touching a lover in public," he writes, correctly calling this "a human tragedy." The solution to the enduring psychological challenges facing gay men, Odets believes, likely won't be found in a desperate attempt to make a home in institutions designed by heterosexual people, including marriage. Odets writes that if "acceptance is predicated on 'normalizing' gay relationships by molding them - at least in appearance - into conventional heterosexual forms, the change will become a significant additional source of hopelessness for gay men. Mimicking and misrepresentation are inauthentic, and inauthentic lives feel hopeless." Nor will healing always be found, Odets argues, in contemporary gay communities, where he laments that younger and older men too often view each other with increasing suspicion and hostility, and where he insists that - despite the ostensibly endless possibilities for connection offered by gay dating and hookup apps - "isolation is endemic." Odets's solution is for gay men to acknowledge and face the shame they've been burdened with, and then to begin the difficult work of building lives "that stand on authentic self-acceptance." Odets introduces us to a number of men struggling to do just that and sometimes succeeding. Some of these case studies (and the conclusions Odets draws from them) feel dated and not particularly profound, and Odets is at his best when focusing less on his patients and more on the gay men with whom he has shared his own life. "Out of the Shadows" finds its purpose in its strong last two chapters, including an extraordinary one focused on Odets's small chosen family of friends and lovers. Here, his writing is poignant and achingly beautiful - so much so, in fact, that I occasionally had to put the book down to avoid weeping on the subway. There's sadness in Odets's life story, but there's mostly resilience, tenderness and a willingness to fashion an unapologetic gay life, sometimes against all odds. (The exquisitely told story of Odets's longtime friend and lover, who fled a trailer he shared with a brutally homophobic family and built a life bursting with meaning and intimacy, is the most compelling story of gay self-actualization I've ever encountered.) Odets and his close friends and lovers should serve as an inspiration to many gay men, as well as a reminder of what might be the book's most enduring message. "All the diverse forms that true gay life has improvised," Odets writes, "constitute a special universe that should not be relinquished to meet the expectations of a pathological society." BENOIT denizet-lewis is an associate professor at Emerson College and a longtime contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. His last book was "Travels With Casey."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 9, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

Gay clinical psychologist Odets' compelling new book about the lives of gay men is based, in part, on his three decades of therapy with gay men, on the 40 interviews he conducted for the book, and on his own life experience. The result is an insightful and thought-provoking book informed by such leitmotifs as considerations of stigma and shame, gay sensibility, and the lingering shadow of the AIDS epidemic (approximately 600,000 gay men are currently living with HIV in the U.S.) In these contexts, Odets writes about a broad spectrum of gay issues, including gay men's relationships, the significance of early-life experience, gay communities today, and more. Each of the topics he addresses is illuminated by its personalized impact on real-life gay men. While mostly accessible to a general readership, parts of the book remain technical despite the author's practice of consigning the thorniest of these sections to endnotes. Nevertheless, a luminous humanity shines through, never more so than in the final chapter, the author's highly empathetic, memorable story of the three men he has loved.--Michael Cart Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this soaring combination of social critique, memoir, and manifesto, Odets (In the Shadow of the Epidemic) urges gay men "to discover or rediscover identities that are internally rooted, self-expressive, and revealed in authentically lived lives." Drawing on his psychological forebears (Erik Erikson and Judith Herman among them), his own experiences (including those unrelated to romantic love, like grieving his mother's death when he was a child), and the stories of patients he has seen in decades of practice as a psychologist, he highlights-with literary flair-shared trauma, stigma, shame, and suffering that he sees as particular to gay men's experience in America, often contributing to a compromised existence of failed conformity to social norms. Odets unpacks the difference between "gay" and "homosexual," defining the former as "an entire internal life of feeling" versus a "single, objective behavior." His discussions of gay men's sexual expression and relationships are frank, compassionate, and open-minded. He writes, "Only through self-discovery and self-acceptance can we most fully realize our lives," and that "in the end, authentic self-acceptance-or the lack of it-is almost the entirety of what defines a life." Odets's greatest strengths are his moving prose and ability to make the psychological material accessible and as fascinating and thought-provoking as the poignant stories. Gay men will find much to ponder here, but any reader can find meaning in this extraordinary, stirring invitation to re-examine assumptions about what it means to be gay and to have a good life. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Odets, a clinical psychologist and AIDS activist, came to critical acclaim as the author of In the Shadow of the Epidemic. Subtle observations of contemporary gay life here confirm his status as one of its most honest, forthcoming, and insightful social commentators. One key component of the book is an analysis of what Odets calls the tripartite gay community: an older group who experienced AIDS firsthand; a middle group who heard caution about AIDS; and a younger group for whom AIDS was not a significant factor in their lives. Odets blends this construct into a psychological analysis of its consequences, including his experiences with patients, making for a humanistic narrative. The work is especially distinctive in its combination of solid social science and heartfelt compassion. VERDICT The stated primary audience is gay men, but Odets believes that all can profit from and recognize themselves in the emotional content--and he's right. Nearly anyone interested in how much people are alike, despite differences in sexual orientation, will find much to appreciate.--David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A San Francisco-based clinical psychologist explores how gay men construct fulfilling lives through self-acceptance and an awareness of their individual core instincts.With an understanding of the difficult challenges gay men face in America, Odets (In the Shadow of the Epidemic: Being HIV-Negative in the Age of AIDS, 1995) shares case studies and personal stories from his years working during the AIDS epidemic and the aftermath. These serve as examples to help gay men consider how they can move beyond negative family and societal influences to live more satisfying lives. The author views gay men as living in "tripartite communities, with significant psychological and social differences that define each group": older-group, middle-group, and younger-group men, each defined by age and social awareness in relation to the AIDS epidemic, from the often fatal trauma of the early years to the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy in 1996 and to the more technologically advanced present era. Odets closely examines the negative impacts of early life experiences, often triggered by a lack of family and/or community acceptance, and stresses the need for self-acceptance in order to move forward. "Self-acceptance allows realistic self-confidence, which is significantly unhinged in adulthood from the expectations and approval of others," he writes. "In the end, authentic self-acceptanceor lack of itis almost the entirety of what defines a life." The author's writing is perceptive and honest, as he openly discusses relationships and sex and accurately relates the struggles each generation has experienced. These reflect both similarities as well as differences and the difficulties in finding a genuine sense of community, especially within urban gay meccas. Odets convincingly argues for the benefits of talk therapy, with each story revealing how some level of personal growth was achieved. One issue: Though his cases reflect a broad range of ethnic and racial examples, the overwhelming majority of his profiles are about affluent individuals, all of whom can afford years of ongoing therapy.Though it could have been even more diverse in its presentation, this is an encouraging and deeply compelling study of how gay men can build meaningful identities. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.