The groundbreaking work on being homosexual in America—available again only from Penguin Classics and with a new foreword by Dan Savage
Originally published in 1971, Merle Miller’s On Being Different is a pioneering and thought-provoking book about being homosexual in the United States. Just two years after the Stonewall riots, Miller wrote a poignant essay for the New York Times Magazine entitled “What It Means To Be a Homosexual” in response to a homophobic article published in Harper’s Magazine. Described as “the most widely read and discussed essay of the decade,” it carried the seed that would blossom into On Being Different—one of the earliest memoirs to affirm the importance of coming out.
For more than sixty-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,500 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.58(h) x 0.28(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Merle Miller (1919–1986) was an editor at Harper’s Magazine, Time, and the Nation, and was the bestselling author of several books, including the novel A Gay and Melancholy Sound and Plain Speaking, a biography of President Harry Truman.
Dan Savage is the internationally syndicated columnist of “Savage Love” and the author of several books. With his husband Terry Miller, he cofounded the It Gets Better project and edited the It Gets Better collection.
Charles Kaiser is an author, journalist, and blogger. His books include 1968 in America and The Gay Metropolis, which was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book. He lives in New York City.
What People are Saying About This
“Merle Miller’s On Being Different is a searing indictment of social hypocrisy, written with a quite but burning passion… This book is not only a valuable historical document about the gay civil rights movement, but it is an American classic because of the beauty it achieves through its unflinchingly honest portrayal of the raw pain of rejection.”
“Forty years later, the story Miller tells remains important and necessary to read, not only for both gay and straight readers to understand ‘the way it used to be,’ but because the issues Miller raised are still being discussed and argued about.”
“Forty years after Miller’s article and book his eloquent voice is still poignant, still relevant to the ongoing struggle, our struggle for dignity and equal rights.”
“Brilliant, moving, and one is obliged to add, courageous narrative of personal homosexuality.”
Reading Group Guide
When Merle Miller’s article, “On Being Different: What It Means to be a Homosexual,” was published in The New York Times Magazine in 1971, the gay revolution in America was only eighteen months old. It had begun in June 1969, when the gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village had taken the nearly unprecedented step of fighting back when the police raided the place.
One year later, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, more than five thousand people marched up Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and held the city’s first “Gay–In” in Central Park. New Yorkers had never seen anything like it, and even many of its most liberal citizens were horrified by the brazenness of this celebration. Similar commemorations were held in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Just how horrified liberals were became clear less than three months later when Harper’s Magazine—a pillar of the liberal establishment—published a rant by Joseph Epstein under the headline “The Struggle for Sexual Identity.” Epstein described homosexuality as “anathema” and homosexuals as “cursed . . . quite literally, in the medieval sense of having been struck by an unexplained injury, an extreme piece of evil luck.” He continued, “If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth” because it caused “infinitely more pain than pleasure to those who are forced to live with it; because I think there is no resolution for this pain in our lifetime . . . and because, wholly selfishly,” he was “completely incapable of coming to terms with it.”
It was the violence of these words that finally propelled Merle Miller out of the closet at the age of fifty–three, after two New York Times editors he was lunching with expressed their admiration for Epstein’s piece.
When Miller’s piece was published in The New York Times Magazine a few months after that lunch, he became the first prominent writer ever to reveal his homosexuality in the pages of that distinguished publication. But his piece was just one example of the gigantic energy that was released by Stonewall—after being bottled up for many, many centuries.
In 1969, the only gay organizations with any significant public identity were the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. Just four years later, you could join a radical Gay Liberation Front, Radicalesbians, a more mainstream Gay Activists Alliance, the National Gay Task Force, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and hundreds of other groups in New York, across the country, and around the world. “It was like a prairie fire: let it roar,” said Jim Fouratt, a founder of the Gay Liberation Front in New York. “People were ready.”
The revolution that began that summer night in June 1969 led to the most rapid improvement in the status of any minority group in the history of the United States. Miller’s two articles in On Being Different are a perfect time capsule, providing a powerful picture of how gay people were being treated in 1971. Dan Savage’s foreword and Charles Kaiser’s afterword describe the extremely rapid changes in gay life in America since then. As Kaiser states, “The last forty years have been the greatest time to be gay since the era of Aristotle.”
ABOUT MERLE MILLER
Merle Miller was born in 1919 and grew up in a small town in Iowa. He attended the University of Iowa and the London School of Economics before joining the army. During World War II he won two Bronze Stars while covering the conflict for Yank, the distinguished army weekly. He later returned those commendations to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He was an extremely early opponent of McCarthyism in the late forties and early fifties, writing an anti–McCarthy novel in 1949 and a report about blacklisting in the broadcasting industry, published as a book by the American Civil Liberties Union three years later. Miller went on to write numerous novels, plays, and screenplays. His most successful book was Plain Speaking, an oral history of Harry Truman, which was published in 1974. He died in 1986.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is my new favorite book. From the foreword to the notes, this book moved me in so many ways. Being gay myself, I could never even imagine living in a time like this. Miller words everything perfectly, citing sources, using his own experiences--everything fits together so perfectly, and it creates a perfect image. I recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested or not--it's a very short, nice read. It honestly really makes you think.