Harvard Educational Review
  1. Free Your Mind

    The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth — and Their Allies

    By Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman.

    New York: HarperPerennial, 1996. 432 pp. $14.00 (paper)

    In Free Your Mind, Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman have written a unique and practical handbook for "lesbigay" teenagers and college students that presents a refreshingly positive portrayal of lesbian and gay youth.

    Like other authors, Bass and Kaufman acknowledge the harsh statistics: lesbian and gay youth represent up to 30 or 40 percent of runaway youth and 30 percent of youth suicides. But, unlike others, Bass and Kaufman point out that "these grim statistics are part of the picture, they're not the whole story" (p. xx), and Free Your Mind offers a more holistic portrait of lesbigay youth. In the words of Doe, a twenty-three-year-old lesbian:

    I've been active in lesbian and gay youth groups and we are not just suffering. We're challenging the boundaries. We're challenging the way relationships are viewed. We're challenging the way sexuality is defined. We're not apologizing. We're not hiding. We know what we deserve. We're proud of who we are. We are groundbreakers. (p. xvi)

    This positive and respectful attitude is found throughout the book's six sections. The first section, on self-discovery, includes a discussion of fundamental questions such as, "What does being gay, lesbian, or bisexual mean?" and "Why are people gay?" The reader learns that "sexual orientation is more about who you truly are drawn to than what your experience has been" (p. 6) and that the question of why people are lesbigay is less important than the fact that they are. As Bass and Kaufman point out:

    Interestingly, although there is quite a lot of talk about why gay people are gay, no one has done much research on why straight people are straight. The reason for this, of course, is that much of our society still presumes that being heterosexual is "normal" and therefore needs no explanation, whereas being gay, lesbian or bisexual is abnormal and so needs to be caused by something. In fact, homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality are all simply variations of human sexuality. (p. 8)

    The other five sections of Free Your Mind focus on coming out to friends and family; overcoming obstacles at home, at school, in places of worship, and in the community; and making healthy choices about relationships and sex. Throughout the book, the authors weave together practical advice and the voices of youth.

    For example, in the chapter on sex, Bass and Kaufman address the value of relationships that aren't sexual as well as those that are. The reader is told that if "for any reason it's not right for you to have sex now, respect that," and learns about Sara, who did not have sex as a teenager but had "a very rich fantasy life [and] felt like a very sexual person" (p. 103). The authors also share lesbigay youths' stories of positive first sexual experiences, some of which "mark the beginnings of long relationships [and] others [that] may happen only once" (p. 104).

    Another chapter focuses on "HIV, AIDS and Safer Sex." Free Your Mind encourages HIV-positive youth and their friends to have safe sex and not to "do anything that's going to get you [sick]" (p. 109). The chapter outlines specific guidelines and advice on safe-sex activities, including creating safe barriers for oral sex with women, how to use a latex condom, and sample scripts to use with a partner who doesn't want to practice safe sex.

    Free Your Mind also has chapters written specifically for parents, educators, clergy, social workers, and members of the community. The chapter for educators includes information on how schools are not safe places for lesbigay students, what educators can do to make schools safer, and curriculum ideas for elementary, middle school, high school, and college.

    Another impressive feature of this book is its inclusion of biographical notes about well-known lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, such as the poets Sappho and Pat Parker, the musicians Bessie Smith, Johnny Mathis, and Liberace, the athletes Greg Louganis and Martina Navratilova, and the mathematician Alan Turing.

    This special, first-rate resource book is highly recommended for lesbigay youth and the people who care about them.

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    Book Notes

    Open Lives, Safe Schools
    Edited by Donovan R. Walling

    Uncommon Heroes
    Edited by Phillip Sherman and Samuel Bernstein

    Free Your Mind
    By Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman.

    Becoming Visible
    Edited by Kevin Jennings

    Death By Denial
    By Gary Remafedi

    Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?
    By Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.

    One Teacher in Ten
    By Kevin Jennings

    The Gay Teen
    Edited by Gerald Unks

    Tilting the Tower
    Edited by Linda Garber

    School's Out
    by Dan Woog

    The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader
    Edited by Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin

    Joining the Tribe
    By Linnea Due

    How Would You Feel If Your Dad Was Gay?
    By Ann Heron and Meredith Maran; illustrated by Kris Kovick.

    Helping Gay and Lesbian Youth
    Edited by Teresa DeCrescenzo