This is a wonderful book. Jonathan Rauch - a great analyst of American public life - writes here about the most private of subjects: how he remained blind to his own homosexuality until the age of 25, and the emotional damage he suffered as a result.
Rauch has a curious name for his condition: "inversion". The word rightly fell into disrepute in the 1970s, but he gives it new meaning: being inverted does not mean here being homosexual, but denying that one is. The invert lives in a looking-glass world that makes sense only at the cost of bizarre mental contortions.
Because Rauch could not recognise his growing interest in other boys as sexual, he interpreted it as "envy". Having grown up on the assumption that what homosexuals did was disgusting, Rauch could not accept that he was one of THEM: "I turned the world upside-down to keep myself right side up."
The invert is estranged not just from love, but above all from himself - how can you be truthful to yourself if you can't love others? As Rauch writes: "The great problem for a self-less man is the difficulty of any sort of integrity. 'This above all, to thine own self be true.' But what is the self-less man to be to true to? Not his beloved, for he recognizes no beloved. Not to his heart, for his heart is in cold storage... Not his personality, for at the core of his personality is the raging obsession which he views as less an element of self than as a kind of fungus. Perhaps, then, at least to his feelings, such as they are? But those he cannot face."
The story of Rauch's eventual redemption - how he forced himself to see what was in front of his nose - is deeply affecting, even uplifting.
Although it is profoundly about gay identity, "Denial" has wider significance. The harsh light Rauch casts inward also shines outward. A troubled adolescence is something everyone can relate to. The baffled frustration, the sense of being a freak, the lack of anyone but your own sick self to discuss your feelings with, the bizarre rationalisations tempered by fatalism - "Whatever", "something will turn up" - all these are well-known features of teenage wasteland. This is not to trivialise what Rauch went through. It is just that his extraordinary story will resonate with ordinary boys.
And of course, regardless of gender, orientation or age, self-deceit is an all-too human trait. "Denial" is reminiscent of the memoirs of former Soviet spies or lapsed Communists such as Whittaker Chambers or Philippe Robrieux. Rauch himself invites the parallel when he likens his inversion to "absorption in a cult or sect, or an all-embracing ideology that answers all questions before they are properly asked, and seals off all doors to the outside world."
"Denial" is a beautifully written, painfully honest book. It is also free of self-pity or exhibitionism, and includes many funny passages. I would recommend it to anyone. For half the price of Grande Latte, it gave me a rare glimpse into the human soul.
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