Late author’s memoir tells of gay love for the Greatest Generation
TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER | Contributing Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
3.5 out of 5 stars
MY QUEER WAR, by James Lord.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2010).
$27. 344 pp.
In his memoir My Queer War, James Lord explains how a tiny fib to Uncle Sam changed the course of his life.
Lord hated college, just like he had hated prep school. A loner, he always felt awkward, and the higher the educational setting, the higher the level of discomfort. Finally, he did the one incongruent thing he could think to do: 19 and naïve, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps 11 months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor — and decades before “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
By this time in his life, Lord suspected his attraction to boys, and he was horrified. He saw himself as abnormal, an “abominable thing.”
Still, when asked at his induction, “Do you like girls?” he paused. “And I, to tell the truth, had known a couple of likable girls, so I said, ‘Yes. Yes, sir.’”
Much like his introduction to the Army, Lord’s months of service were unique. Basic training was spent in a moldering hotel in New York. Assignments in California, Nevada and Utah were mostly of the hurry-up-and-wait kind, where boredom was rampant.
But Lord fell in love: First with a man who was a mentor but almost turned him in; second, with a confused longing. When the government sent him back to school, Lord, who was as green as grass, learned to cruise gay bars.
But the Army sent him overseas to France and Germany, assigned to the Military Intelligence Service, a job where he learned brutal truths about others and himself.
Several times in this book, the late author indicates his love of the arts, particularly the works of James Joyce and Thomas Mann. He also expresses a love of poetry. All this shines through, for the good and the bad.
My Queer War is a sometimes-painful, sometimes-shocking, surprisingly chaste account of a man hiding from himself and his government, lest he be ridiculed and shunned. Lord is a fine storyteller with his smart-aleck humor and his goosebump-inducing, just-the-facts, somberly gentle writing.
What’s not enjoyable, though, is that this book is dripping with the influence of the aforementioned authors, as well as other creators of High Literature. While it gives this book a period flavor, it also tends to bog it down more than I think the average reader will want to endure.
Still, in post-Prop 8 America, My Queer War may provoke thinking not only among gays but straights who think they already know all they need to about gays in the military.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010