Konigsberg, Bill. (2013). Openly Straight. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.
I love the premise of Openly Straight. Who among us hasn’t wanted to cast off the burden of others’ labels from time to time? Rafe comes from a liberal community, has a supportive and loving family, and has been out and proud since the eighth grade. He even visits schools to give presentations on tolerance and gay rights. However, he’s grown tired of being “the gay kid,” the kid whose personality has been flattened and pushed into one single identity.
So when he gets a chance to go away to an all-boys boarding school, Rafe seizes the opportunity to leave labels behind and just be a regular guy. At first, his new life as a dudebro is going great—he gets in with a group of jocks and has tons of fun playing sports and being accepted as a part of the team, someone normal who’s worth getting to know.
But then he encounters the not-so-fun side of male bonding: trash talk about women. On page 147, Rafe muses, “I liked being part of the soccer posse, but I had to admit, there were about a thousand things I liked better than this part, in which we talked about women like they were just things. I tried to imagine what it would be like if gay were normal and all of us were gay. Would we objectify men in the same way?” These thoughts that go through Rafe’s head as he learns what it means to fit in with a group by leaving a part of himself behind are heartbreaking and smart and so realistic.
Things get even more complicated when Rafe becomes close with one particular guy friend and falls in love with him. Descriptions of their friendship are really wonderful; for all the gross locker room talk, these boys are complex individuals with real feelings, and it’s a pleasure when their conversations go deeper. Rafe realizes that his sexuality is not something that can be compartmentalized, and his inner turmoil as he struggles with how to be honest is painful and moving.
I thought Openly Straight was a terrific book, and would certainly recommend it to LGBTQ young adults, both out and questioning/closeted. Author Bill Konigsberg’s personal experience with coming out publicly after being a “regular” sports fan gives Rafe’s story a realistic flavor, both in terms of sports knowledge, male bonding, and eschewing then embracing the label “gay.”
Openly Straight was on the 2014 Rainbow List, was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist (to be awarded in June 2014), and also garnered several other (non-LGBTQ) awards and rave reviews.