Reviews

Book review: The Journey Out by Rachel Pollack and Cheryl Schwartz | A backlist guide for gay teens

The Journey Out is a guide for gay and lesbian teens – how to come out, how to be safe, where to meet fellow LGBT+ teens, and all the other aspects of surviving. But it was published in 1995, and I definitely felt it. The information is limited and often outdated. For that reason, I have decided to change up my review style a little bit, and write a list of ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’.

 

The bad

I want to end this on a positive note, so let’s get the bad stuff out of the way.

  • It’s outdated. This might seem obvious, but it really stands out. There wasn’t really any social media around in 1995, so the book never recommends it for finding LGBT+ spaces and meeting people. The authors also talk about LGBT+ representation in the media, which has changed a lot in the last 20 years, so that information is outdated as well.
  • It’s very binary and limited to gay teens. There are a few mentions of bisexuality, but most of the time it’s just gay gay gay gay. At the time this was probably enough, but nowadays it’s very limited. Trans teens are mentioned, like, once? Twice? Not enough.
  • It reads a bit patronising. It’s by two adults writing for teens, so sometimes it reads a bit like ‘I know all about this and you probably don’t because you’re young’. I’ve read a lot about LGBT+ history and culture, and I don’t live in 1995, so I actually know quite a bit more than what they talked about in the book, and this patronising tone really bothered me. It’s not always there, but when it is, it’s annoying.
  • It assumes that sexuality is a fixed thing. The authors kept going back to the good old ‘you are born this way’ argument, which works if you’re trying to convince fundamentalist Christians that being gay isn’t wrong, but reads very limited and outdated to someone who knows a bit more. I’m sexually fluid (and usually identify as bisexual because it’s less complicated to explain), so hearing ‘you were born this way’ and ‘it’s not a phase, your sexuality will stay like this forever’ all the time is, well, a bit meh.
  • It supports a negative view of polygamy. This is a very minor flaw, as it’s only mentioned once, but it still bothered me. The authors just straight-up shamed polygamous people and promiscuity in general, which is not okay.
  • It mentions other sexualities and gender identities, but it doesn’t explain them. I think this is probably to avoid confusing teens who already have a hard time accepting that they might be gay. However, I really, really hate when people half-ass things and try to be safe with how liberal they are. Either you don’t mention these other identities, or you explain them. It’s like having a gay character in a TV show without developing them, just so you can be ‘diverse’.

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The good

That was a lot of bad stuff, so let’s move on!

  • It mentions that bisexuals aren’t confused. I mean, I’m confused all the time, about a lot of things, but my sexuality isn’t one of them. So I think it’s really good that they mentioned this, especially considering that they barely mentioned bisexuality at all.
  • It includes a lot of resources, phone numbers, and further reading. I think this is super important in non-fiction books, especially if they’re written for teens. As the author, you want to make sure that the teens who are reading your guide can access other books and call up helplines if they need something.
  • It is, even if flawed, a guide for gay teens, and that has its merit. Publishing a book with LGBT+ themes now isn’t as hard as it was in 1995, so even if Rachel and Cheryl made some mistakes, they still deserve some praise for writing this. The information they included, even if now outdated, was probably quite helpful back in the day, and I’m glad that teens who were struggling had something like this.

 

The conclusion

I mean, I gave the book 3 stars, so I think my conclusion is pretty obvious. It’s a good book with a lot of flaws, and it’s hella outdated. I’m happy knowing that it existed when someone might have needed it, but I think nowadays it shouldn’t be read as a guide – instead it should be looked at historically, perhaps compared to newer books about LGBT+ culture. And speaking of newer, better guides for LGBT+ teens, you should totally read This Book Is Gay by James Dawson and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin.

 

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Have you guys read this? Have you read any similar books? What did you think? Let me know!

‘Till next time and happy reading!

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