How We Fight for Our Lives
In lyrical language, Saeed Jones chronicles his coming-of-age as a black, gay youth in Texas in the 1990s. The only child of a single mother, he knew that, despite his mother’s fierce love for him, his sexuality was a topic they couldn’t discuss. That might have been preferable to his grandmother’s approach. When he visited her in Memphis, she complained he was too worldly and forced him to the front of her church so the preacher could pray over him. That left the library, where the books about gay men always ended in AIDS. He already knew the dangers of being black; now he knew the consequences of being gay as well. Still, he was determined to live his truth, even if that meant distancing himself from those closest to him.
What that truth was, though, often remained unclear as Jones felt cultural, peer, and familial pressures to adopt other identities. As he progressed through school, then college, he switched between selves, at times putting himself at psychic risk and at times at physical risk. Yet, there is a sense that he required these experiences, a type of trial and error of behavior, to arrive at a place of peace.
Jones writes of these experiences with rawness and vulnerability, and at times I was incensed on his behalf, worried and angry that he put himself at such risk, saddened by his grief, and delighted by his good fortune. These reactions testify to his ability to convey his very self in his narrative, an act that takes not only skill but bravery. On one level, How We Fight for Our Lives is worth reading because of Jones’s story and how beautifully he conveys it. Yet, his memoir goes beyond his own experiences, echoing with themes of race and sexuality, questioning the strictures placed on those who don’t fit into the dominant paradigm and showing how damaging that can be.
A must-read for anyone interested in LGBT books or who enjoys reading spectacularly crafted memoirs and non-fiction.
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.