In this unconventional memoir, Alexander, who grew up in the Deep South during the 1970s and ’80s, addresses wry and affecting missives to a conflicted younger self. Focusing on three years—1989, 1993, and 1996—the book follows the author through the homophobic heights of the AIDS epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of Bill Clinton, and the steady advancements in gay rights that followed. With humor and wit afforded by hindsight, Alexander relives his closeted college years, his experiments with his sexuality in graduate school, his first marriage to a woman, and his budding career as a college professor.
As he moves from tortured self-denial to hard-won self-acceptance, the author confronts the deeply uncomfortable ways he’s implicated in his own story, grappling with the fact that he not only rejected his erotic interests but convinced himself (and others) that his uncle had sexually abused him, a lie that explained his attraction to men. More than just a coming-out story, Dear Queer Self is both an intimate psychological exploration and a cultural examination, a meshing of inner and outer realities—and a personal reckoning with how we sometimes torture the truth to make a life. It’s also a love letter, an homage to a decade of rapid change, and a playlist of the sounds, sights, and feelings of a difficult, but ultimately transformative, time.
188 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
ISBN: 9781946724465 (pbk)
PRAISE FOR DEAR QUEER SELF
In Dear Queer Self, Jonathan Alexander zeroes in on the turbulent years of his early adulthood, during which he came to terms with his sexuality, recreating them with the help of hindsight. Adapting a creative approach and “inhabiting the space between the real and the imagined,” his radiant memoir takes the form of wry, concise letters to his younger self, illumining the queer scene of the 1980s and 1990s. —Foreword Reviews (starred review)
[E]ngaging and well worth a read. [Alexander] explores deeply 1989, 1993, and 1996—three peak years involving AIDS, Reagan, and Clinton during a rich flux in American life. Along the way we encounter deeply uncomfortable ways in which the author implicates himself in his own story. Descriptions of his New Orleans hometown are rich and evocative, such as his adult self looking back nostalgically on “what a time we had,” raucous years during which he escaped homophobic bullies, the Catholic Church, and similar authorities determined to torment him to finally reach a position in which he at last felt free of them. —New York Journal of Books
I can’t recall the last time I was so moved as I was while reading Dear Queer Self. With unvarnished frankness, Jonathan Alexander pens these letters to his younger queer self about the messy borders that exist between love and obsession, loneliness and acceptance, during moments in history marked by uncertainty and upheaval. What emerges is a striking account of the ways we draw strength from tragedy and learn to face our past transgressions with equal parts humor and resilience. —Alex Espinoza, author of Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime
Jonathan Alexander’s searing memoir, framed as an interrogation of his past self during crucial years of his life, offers a deeply honest portrait of life as a complicated young man in the eighties and nineties, and reaffirms the isolation queer people still feel in a world that gestures its acceptance while withholding its substance. The writing is deeply affecting, brutal in its self-evaluation, evocative in its mapping of Alexander’s search for self-acceptance. The book is most valuable for its refusal to adhere to simple categories; sexuality here is complicated, variable, quixotic, and tenacious. Much like the author’s vision. I am deeply grateful to have encountered this book. —Jim Grimsley, author of How I Shed My Skin and Boulevard
Featured in Hippocampus Magazine: Memorable Creative Nonfiction, Queer Forty, The Georgia Voice, Hot Spots Magazine