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by Adam Mastoon
Harpercollins Juvenile, 2001
Review by Ritch C. Savin-Williams, Ph.D. on Feb 23rd 2002
The Shared Heart: Portraits and Stories
Celebrating Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young People, edited and
photographed by Adam Mastoon, is the initial project to help heal homophobia.
Endorsed by Elton John and The Indigo Girls, Shared Heart presents in a systematic pattern, first, a photograph
of a young woman or man between the ages of 16 and 23 years; second, a sample
of her or his handwritten story; and, finally, a 100-500 word essay by each of
the 40 young people profiled. Instructions apparently requested that each youth
relate experiences of coming out to self and others. The intent was to gather
diverse reflections and images of growing up with same-sex attractions because,
to develop a healthy sense of self, we need reflections that verify and affirm
our inner feelings to our external lives. Such an affirmation heals previous
emotional and spiritual damage and inspires the development of an authentic
self. Shared Hearts offers
life-affirming, positive, resilient stories for the young person struggling
with her or his sexual attractions and identification. For further assistance,
relevant books, telephone numbers, and Internet resources are provided in the
last 12 pages.
Aside from a limit regional
focus, the profiled youths are diverse, representing the sexes equally and most
major racial/ethnic groups. Religious and economic variability is also
apparent, but not disabilities. By design, most youths are very out, although
they do contemplate a time in which they were not. The content of their stories
also depicts a spectrum of experiences. For example, some youths were rejected
by their parents and thrown out of the home while others had parents who
celebrated their coming out. Some youths had a trouble-free coming out
experience with accolades and enhanced prestige; for others, it was
treacherous. On the whole, however, the narratives are more positive than
negative, presenting, as the sub-title suggests, a celebration of young gay
life. As such, this book is a more accurate and representative portrait of
young sexual-minority lives than most previous efforts, which have appeared to
deliver the singular message, Coming out is hell and youll pay the price.
The stories thus belie Mastoons own ill-stated and unsupportable claim that
suicide is the leading cause of death among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
This highly glossy book has
beautiful visual images of youths, the text is well presented, and the
handwriting photographs personalize the youths. Unfortunately, the narratives
are too abbreviated. I found myself longing for more in-depth accounts of their
lives and more photographs reflecting a diversity of moods and activities.
Furthermore, without text or commentary by Mastoon, the narratives sometimes
fall flat. Although the intent was clearly to let youths speak for themselves,
their stories have little personal, social, or historic context. I wanted more
and some youthful readers might feel the same. In addition, if you are
wondering about the significance of sex or romance on these young lives, you
will be enormously dissatisfied. The youths appear de-sexed, which is consonant
with what I take to be the central message of the stories, as stated by Josie,
My sexual orientation is a part of me, but it is not all of who I am or what
makes me, and Nathan, I am no different that you. Yes, your sexual orientation is a part of you and
yes, you are different from other youths which is why we need this book and
The narratives are now 7
years old and the coming out process for most occurred a decade ago. For more
recent stories and photographs of young people, go to web sites such as Young Gay America and Coming Out Stories. Otherwise, this book is valuable for youths
considering coming out and recently out teens.
© 2002 Ritch C. Savin-Williams
C. Savin-Williams, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and professor
of developmental and clinical psychology at Cornell University in the
Department of Human Development. He has written six books on adolescent
development, including, ".
. . And Then I Became Gay." Young Men's Stories (Routledge, 1998)
Dad. Im Gay. How Families Negotiate Coming Out (American
Psychological Association, 2001).