“Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay”–an early classic

Kantrowitz, Arnie. “Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay”. Morrow, 1977.

An Early Treasure

Amos Lassen

“Under the Rainbow” is one of the first gay books I ever read and although it was written 30 years ago I found when rereading it last night that it still has a lot to say.

Arnie Kantrowitz has always been one of my heroes because he dared to buck the system for gay rights when not many dared to do so. He is a “good Jewish boy” who was a child t very difficult parents or as he calls them “Freudian classics” and he happened to turn out to be gay. This book is his story and it gives great insight of what it is like to grow up Jewish and gay. We learn all about him from his earliest recognition that he had same-sex tendencies and read about his coming out of the closet a long time later and his ultimately becoming a national spokesman and gay activist. He appeared on the Jack Paar show early on when talk shows were new and because of this he was uninvited by his parents to the yearly Passover mean and his uncle declared him to be dead.

The beauty of the book is that he omits nothing. In the beginning he tried to love both women and men and finally had to admit the truth to the women who loved him. He attempted suicide several times and did not succeed. His life is filled with sex—anonymous, random and bathhouse orgies, he cruised Fire Island, and bathrooms for gratification. He became involved in politics and he lived on a gay commune and he lived the history of our movement and community.

The boy focuses on his gay experiences but it does not leave out the author’s other life—ethnic, psychological, educational and spiritual. We get a whole picture of the whole man and he is quite a man.

Memoirs written in the first person can be very boring reads but this is one that will hold your interest and have you flipping pages. His views and insights on organizing for gay rights are wonderful as is the way he writes on his relationship with his family, his lovers and his friends. There is neither bitterness nor regret here.

I love the way Kantrowitz wrote of his mother—she is THE Jewish mother—complex, intelligent and resourceful and dominating. I also respect greatly the way our freedoms were stressed and knowing that the author had something to do with us achieving them gives me a sense of kinship with him.

This is a touching book especially when we realize that so much of it is part of our history. He writes of tolerance and acceptance and above all loving yourself, something all of us need to do a little more.

This is a book that demands to be read and it is a pity tthat not many know about it. Kantrowitz is open and honest and he moved me to tears on several occasions. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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