Jeffrey Sharlach and Andrew Tobias on the Courage to Come Out

First-time novelist Jeffrey Sharlach speaks with DNC treasurer and acclaimed author Andrew Tobias on coming out in the 1970s as nice Jewish boys and what opportunities young people have now when it comes to connecting with LGBT family. 

BY Michelle Garcia

May 01 2012 2:35 PM ET

Jeffrey Sharlach is the author of the new novel Running in Bed (Two Harbors Press), which tells the story of Josh Silver, an ambitious gay New York advertising executive, as he comes out of the closet and sets off in search of true love, finding himself in the process. Set in New York’s Greenwich Village and Fire Island in the late 1970s, it covers a path similar to that trod by Andrew Tobias a decade before at Harvard, which he related in The Best Little Boy in the World, first published in 1973. We asked them to both look back at their coming-out experience and tell us how they view the experience now, decades later.

 
Jeffrey Sharlach: That's probably the most autobiographical part of Running in Bed. Josh’s coming-out is a lot like Jeffrey’s coming-out. For me it was 1977, I was 24, and it was literally right after I finished law school and was supporting myself for the first time rather depending on my parents. I went to a therapist, told him I wanted to be straight. And fortunately, rather than send me for electroshock therapy, which was still in use then, he asked a simple question: “Why?” From that point it was less than two months before I got up the courage to go to my first gay bar. And after that things moved even faster.
  
Andrew Tobias: Was that therapist gay? Did he guide you through the process?  
 
Sharlach: I wasn’t looking for a gay therapist. My goal was to be converted to heterosexuality. And in fact he was straight, something he told me that first night. But honestly, I consider myself very lucky, since at the time I could have just as easily ended up in conversion therapy of some sort. After that fateful first session when the therapist asked me “Why?” I set out to read everything I could on the subject and, as I’ve told you before, I started with your book, which really helped push me out of the closet although you were writing under a pseudonym at the time.
 
Tobias: Was I ever. It was such a different time. Not a single openly gay politician in any state or city in the entire country [Elaine Noble would not be elected to the Massachusetts House until 1974], let alone Congress, just to give you a data point. And, really, that was the least of it. It was shameful to be gay — the worst thing you could be — and so I opened the book with this disclaimer, 40 years ago: “This is a book about owning up to one’s true identity, yet I have ... signed it with a pen name ... the least I can do for my parents, who have done a great deal for me. Ideally, of course, it would not be necessary. But, then again, ideally there would be no reason to write a book like this at all.”
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