The True Story of a Gay Son,
Christian Family, and
The Battle for His Soul
Stuart Howell Miller
(Alyson)Stuart Howell Miller grew up in Tennessee, and discovered early on that he was more attracted to men than to women. Like many of his age and time, he suppressed this desire until finally, at age twenty-three, in Fort Lauderdale, "drenched in beer and sticky drinks," he was seduced by an "attractive man in a red convertible." Later, he moved to Los Angeles where he became active in AIDS education, gay counseling, and gay rights. Prayer Warriors is the tale of his discovering his sexuality, and the discovery, as well, of his family's powerful antagonism to his new life.
It opens with Miller's journey from Los Angeles to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to tell his mother and father, for the first time, the truth about himself. He tries to convince father, mother, sister, and his many relatives that being homosexual is not a sickness, that it is a chosen life-style, that no one is to blame, and that he wants them to rejoice in his choice. But his father is a powerful born-again Christian, as are many of his relatives, and the trip is a complete failure. Instead of hearing him out, they tell him that he is now a sinner, and they try to "convert" him to their religion, and "back to" heterosexuality.
Miller is a gay activist --- with all that implies: workshops, counseling, parades, gay pride week celebrations, conferences, support groups, AIDS awareness. He lives the gay life in spades, and he is as militant in this world as his father is in his fundamentalist religious world. They are obviously chips off the same block.
Now no one will deny that this is powerful stuff: the gay son coming home, facing a militant father, with hell-fire damnation religion, and far from being accepted --- a family who enlists a band of "prayer warriors" to use every means (telephone calls, cards, letters) to turn him away from his chosen path. All the elements of drama are there, but as we read along, we find ourselves tapping our fingers impatiently and wondering why the hell we aren't taken by his tale. One of the reasons, for sure, is that Miller may know narrative, but he hasn't yet learned how to put narrative and dialogue and suspense and hate and love and sorrow in the same pot, to stir it up and make an un-put-down-able book.
Something else is missing, too. And I think it's that his father is a militant fundamentalist Christian and Miller is a militant fundamentalist gay and we know that never the twain shall meet - - - for family battles like this can neither have victory nor loss. (The best we can ask for from those we grew up with is not acceptance, but a truce.) If I am gay, and I want to continue to be in contact with my parents, I don't write letters to them saying, There seems to be little or no room for any light that shines outside of your realm . . . I feel you want to control and judge my choices . . . This is known as a no-win situation.
In truth, the author of Prayer Warriors comes across as a bit of a prig - - - so taken up with The Cause that all the wonderful spice possible in life gets beat into a tiny box labeled "Me and My Gay Sexuality and How My Family Don't Get It." He tells us oh-so-casually of his affairs with Scott and Larry and John and Ken and Chris, and we want to tell him to cool it on the bed-time roll-calls and guess just guess for a moment, Stuart what all this bed-hopping implies - - - to them; to the reader - - - about his own sense of self-worth. (I don't have to sleep with everyone in sight to prove that I'm gay - - - much less that I am a good person). Miller comes across as so militant that we wonder what he does for entertainment. How would it be, we think, to accept everything, especially his family's non-acceptance? Leave them to their world; stop trying to convert; stop telling them how wonderful his life. Which, with descriptions of his powerful depressions is obviously not the case.
I suspect that Miller inadvertently recognizes this. At one gay bar, where he has gone (again!) to find a lover, he runs into,
Scott [who] had realized he was gay in high school . . . To him, being gay was just the way it was. An intellectual, he hadn't grappled with moral or religious dilemmas as I had. He wasn't out to his family but thought they would take it in stride, just as they had accepted his decision to abandon a lucrative career in law. Unlike me, his life did not revolve around his gayness. I was envious of the ease with which he accepted himself.
Our tale ends with Miller going back to Tennessee for a "pride parade kickoff." He gives a speech. He tells of Rebecca, who was kicked out of her house (age eleven) for kissing another girl. "We're both orphans," he says, not realizing that he has created his own orphanage through his militance, the oft-repeated oh-my-family-is-so-blind, and more than a tad of self-pity.--- Laurie Wilson