Top critical review
Once relevant but now a museum piece
on October 29, 2012
As a gay man living in Canada in 2012, The Homo Handbook: Getting in Touch with Your Inner Homo by Judy Carter from 1996 seems sorely dated. Human rights and social legislation for gays and lesbians have advanced at meteor speed in Canada since 1996, while Americans unbelievably have had to deal with homophobic propositions and referenda at election time. I received The Homo Handbook as a Christmas gift from a colleague at work sixteen years ago. While I flipped through it and enjoyed its plentiful cartoons, I did not read it cover to cover until now.
Carter is a lesbian comedian and at times her handbook is a riot to read. Most often the humour comes from playing with gay and lesbian stereotypes. I can laugh at myself even if I am not a flannel-wearing lesbian. Carter writes chapters on coming out to oneself, one's friends, one's parents, at work, and even chapters on how to get laid and how to become a gay activist. If I was at a point in my life where I was closeted and not even out to myself, I might have found this book valuable. However its structure seems far too new-age for my liking. The reader is often instructed to remember events from one's past, to meditate and breathe deeply in order to regress, and to write down spontaneously one's feelings in a coming-out diary. One is instructed to do a lot of note-taking while reading this book. I get the feeling that if one were to engage in every writing exercise during the process of reading this book, it would take a good two weeks--seriously--to accomplish all that Carter wants you to do:
"Imagine that you're getting married. Go into detail--the outfit, the music, the strippers. Write for five minutes. How does that make you feel? Does it scare you? If so, why?"
"Make a list in your coming-out journal of what you are letting go of by coming out. Now write down the ways your parents made (make) you 'wrong.'"
Carter believes in making lemonade out of lemons and finds internal strength even when dealing with homophobia or "toxic" friends. I didn't find some of her advice on what to do if you come out at work and get fired very helpful:
"If you are fired for being gay, your coming out can wake up the world if you file a sexual-orientation-discrimination lawsuit."
This is fine if you have the time, money and strength to file and go through with legal action. If you're living paycheque-to-paycheque, Carter's remark that if you've lost your job, would you really want to be working for bigots anyway, seems little consolation. I am indeed fortunate to work where I do in a gay-positive place, and in Canada at that, where losing one's job because of one's sexual orientation is not a worry.
Perhaps groundbreaking--and relevant--when it was written in 1996, The Homo Handbook is now a nostalgia piece that belongs in the lesbian and gay archives.