An Army of Ex-Lovers
I have a love/hate relationship with memoirs. I start them with a healthy appetite for the juicy details of the author's life, but about halfway through, I develop a sudden distaste and a mounting sense of outrage: who does this person think s/he IS? Such arrogance, to assume that I would care about all these details!
But I recently read a memoir that had me engaged all the way through: Amy Hoffman's An Army of Ex-Lovers: My Life at the Gay Community News. In her account of the community that formed around this Boston-based, small but influential publication in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hoffman strikes the perfect balance between history, reflection, and self-deprecating humor.
Her story is at once very personal -- a young woman figuring out who she is, navigating sex, relationships, work, family, politics, and all that good stuff -- and much larger than herself -- the creation of an alternative community and a liberation movement. Hoffman resists the temptation to idealize the movement she helped build. She captures both the exhilaration and the confusion that arose from the project of trying to build a new world order. What was a collective? What was pornography? What was a date? These things were often unclear.
Such struggles will be familiar to those who've been part of or read about social movements. So is the burn-out Hoffman describes among the staffers of the Gay Community News (GCN), many of whom leave in wildly dramatic scenes; so is the homophobic violence that many in her community face, sadly not yet a thing of the past. But her portrayal feels fresh in its humor and personal, poignant details. She manages to be honest without being depressing, funny without seeming like she's trying too hard.
What was new to me (someone with a doctorate in the history of social movements) was this story of gay men and lesbians working together for gay liberation, as it was then called. Most accounts that I've read depict a sad lack of cooperation, if not some hostility, among gay men and lesbians. Perhaps GCN was unique in this regard, but in any case, Hoffman offers an important corrective to this prevalent historical narrative.
What better way to celebrate Pride Month than by delving into this little-known chapter in GLBT history? You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll learn something along the way.