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You would think what with all the progress we’ve made that it would be easy for kids to come out nowadays, but as we all know, it’s still no picnic, and it’s especially hard when you’re surrounded by folks who like to use the Bible to defend their homophobia. This was the environment Kate Fagan found herself in at the University of Colorado and she tells her story in a powerful way in the new memoir, The Reappearing Act.
Fagan first realized she was different at age eight, after she got a boy’s haircut. She didn’t request the haircut because she was a lesbian—she didn’t realize she was one back then—she just didn’t want to stand out among the male players on her baseball team. Read on as she brilliantly describes the moment with the perfect layer of dramatic tension:
There was a slight pause before [the hairstylist] leaned forward and removed her scissors from a jar of blue liquid. I had no inkling how shaping my hair would shape my life. I didn’t hold my breath or worry that she was cutting off too much. There was no such thing as cutting off too much—at least not in that moment. It took her about fifteen minutes to create my new look, and as each tuft of unruly hair fell to the floor, I became increasingly sure that I had done exactly the right thing. She returned the scissors to the blue liquid and grabbed what looked like a badminton shuttlecock, with bristles at the end. She held the knob in her hand and brushed off the back of my neck in a quick, tidy motion. Then she removed my cape in a flurry, as if she were a magician.
The grand reveal!
But it isn’t so grand after all, because Fagan’s mother can’t handle it. “I had not yet learned,” Fagan writes, “that one of society’s unwritten rules was that I was supposed to make it easy for everyone to identify my gender.”
Years later Fagan is at University of Colorado, where she is being subtly pressured by a peer into going to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. She begins attending them regularly, not because she is such a Jesus freak, but mostly because it’s what everyone else is doing. At one of these gatherings, she watches students ask God to encourage a lesbian coach to walk away from her “sinful lifestyle.” At a Bible study, someone tries to sniff out gay attendees, asking, “Who here struggles with homosexuality?” Fagan writes that the question “hung in the air, like a basketball that would decide the outcome of a game, in that moment where it’s still going up, just before it starts coming down.” She is terrified of being found out and particularly concerned best friend Dee won’t approve. As it turns out, Fagan has reason to worry about Dee.
Fagan faces another problem with her crush, Cass, who doesn’t have the patience to be with someone who isn’t out. In the wake of that rejection, Fagan dates Ashley, an emotionally vulnerable girl who helps Fagan test the lesbian waters. Fagan is acting selfishly here, because she’s not terribly wild about Ashley, but anyone who has been in a similar situation will relate. The closet can make even the most saintly among us hurtful people.
Fagan’s crisis reaches its worst point when her parents visit. Ultimately, Fagan realizes that while there are high costs to being out of the closet, there are even higher costs to staying in.
Reading this book, you’ll likely find yourself getting angry at Fagan’s teammates for treating her this way and at a school that would tolerate this kind of garbage, but Fagan keeps a pretty cool head as she’s describing her torment. On the one hand, her attitude is refreshing, seeing as how so many memoirists wear their victimization as a badge of honor, but on the other hand, sometimes you just want to shake her and tell her that it’s okay to say bad things about these people.
Fagan’s memoir ends on a bittersweet note and yet the reader can feel good knowing that overall she is in a better place. She is now a person who realizes that to have any happiness in life she must first please herself, and then focus on pleasing others.
At a little under 200 pages, The Reappearing Act is thin and there were certainly issues Fagan could have expanded on, like her relationship with her parents and her love life after coming out. Still, these flaws don’t keep The Reappearing Act from being anything other than a first-rate reading experience. Fagan knows that it is not enough for a memoirist to merely relate her story; she must figure out how her life has shaped her. Teens need to read this book, but so do their parents, teachers and friends. With any luck this memoir will change a few minds, or at the very least, start a few conversations.
The Reappearing Act
By Kate Fagan
Paperback, 9781629142050, 185 pp.