For many gay men, trauma is a recurring theme in life. The legacy of gay men, writes John-Manuel Andriote in Stonewall Strong: Gay Men’s Heroic Fight For Resilience, Good Health, And A Strong Community, has been one of tremendous strength and resilience.
“Too many of us grow up into men who find ways to dissociate from our trauma. It’s not coincidental that alcoholism and other substance abuse rates are higher among gay men than among heterosexual men. It’s not coincidental that sex takes on exaggerated importance for men who don’t have a sense of their own lovability and value beyond being able to attract and please a partner,” he writes.
After receiving a diagnosis of HIV at the age of forty seven, moving back home to Connecticut, and finding himself unable to get work even at Starbucks or Lowes, the plight of gay men became palpable for Andriote. It was then that he made a powerful choice.
“I began to reframe my own life story in my mind. Instead of looking back across my life and seeing only the traumas I suffered, I chose to focus instead on how I had survived them – to think of myself as a survivor,” writes Andriote.
From Andriote’s perspective, resilience is something that develops over time as a result of exposure to traumatic experiences. It lives in the stories we tell ourselves about what our trauma “means.”
“The stories I told were always ‘their’ stories. I could watch and listen and share with readers what I saw and heard. Being HIV-negative myself though, I had only a limited understanding of even my closest friends’ experiences. Until October 27, 2005, that is. That’s the day I found out I have HIV,” writes Andriote.
The experience of discovering he had HIV propelled a desire to learn about resilience – his own and those of the many who shared his plight.
“These stories comprise our history and heritage and bind us together in community. Each of us must do our part to nurture and build a gay community and society that embraces all its young people, that gives us all the freedom to be who God has intended us to be, and that cares for all the sick and suffering,” writes Andriote.
Andriote soon realizes that stories of the resilience of gay men abound, and that through drawing consciously on his own resilience in times of challenge, he would not be knocked down by hardship.
“I wanted to be worthy of my community’s heroic legacy, the men and women to whom I would look for inspiration and hope as I pressed forward on my own heroic journey,” writes Andriote.
Recounting the 1969 Stonewall riots, the unanimous 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of psychiatric disorders, and the forming of ACT UP, the AIDS coalition to unleash power, Andriote makes an astounding observation when writer and AIDS activist Larry Kramer said in their interview for the book, “Somewhere along the line I was able to work out that I love being gay, that it was the most important thing in my life.”
Powered by hope, clarity, and tenacity, the right for same-sex marriage is finally won. For the first time in history, homosexuals now have a community, and Andriote realizes that heroic action can ignite social change.
“There is always going to be the need to live heroically, to tell your story as one of survival and triumph rather than defeat and surrender,” writes Andriote.
It is a sentiment that now lives on in the stories of the many gay men who fight every day for equal housing rights, economic opportunities, health care, and social experience that doesn’t shame their very existence.
The legacy of gay men is one of post-traumatic growth. A choice not to attempt to put their lives back together as they once were, but rather to embrace their broken parts and build anew, reframing their stories not as a victims but heroes. “The choice,” writes Andriote, “ultimately comes down to the story we tell ourselves about our suffering.”
Through his own personal experiences, Andriote tells a much larger story of a societal transformation marked by historic psychological resilience in the face of antigay stigma, discrimination, and outright hatred. It is a story that will inspire any reader, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Stonewall Strong: Gay Men’s Heroic Fight For Resilience, Good Health, And A Strong Community
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Hardcover, 272 Pages