Writer Andrew Solomon has spent his career telling stories of the hardships of others. Now he turns inward, bringing us into a childhood of adversity, while also spinning tales of the courageous people he’s met in the years since. In a moving, heartfelt and at times downright funny talk, Solomon gives a powerful call to action to forge meaning from our biggest struggles.
” I would have had an easier life if I were straight, but I would not be me, and I now like being myself better than the idea of being someone else, someone who, to be honest, I have neither the option of being nor the ability fully to imagine. But if you banish the dragons, you banish the heroes, and we become attached to the heroic strain in our own lives. I’ve sometimes wondered whether I could have ceased to hate that part of myself without gay pride’s technicolor fiesta, of which this speech is one manifestation. I used to think I would know myself to be mature when I could simply be gay without emphasis, but the self-loathing of that period left a void, and celebration needs to fill and overflow it, and even if I repay my private debt of melancholy, there’s still an outer world of homophobia that it will take decades to address. Someday, being gay will be a simple fact, free of party hats and blame, but not yet. A friend of mine who thought gay pride was getting very carried away with itself, once suggested that we organize Gay Humility Week. (Laughter) (Applause) It’s a great idea, but its time has not yet come. (Laughter) And neutrality, which seems to lie halfway between despair and celebration, is actually the endgame.”
~ Andrew Solomon
Why you should listen
Andrew Solomon’s 2012 book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children, but also find profound meaning in doing so. Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. Their struggles toward compassion and the triumphs of love — so very different, yet sharing profound common links — are documented in every chapter.
Woven into these courageous and affirming stories is Solomon’s journey to accepting his own identity, which culminated in his midlife decision, influenced by this research, to become a parent. Solomon’s previous book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, won the 2001 National Book Award for nonfiction.