TITLE: Forever the Fat Kid
AUTHOR: Michael Boyd
PUBLISHER: Trafford Publishing
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RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
Forever the Fat Kid is the story of one man’s lifelong journey from fat to thin, from shy to outgoing, and from unpopular to well liked and admired. Growing up as part of that lost culture somewhere between the Baby Boomers and Generation X ~ and existing within the gray areas of racial and sexual identity ~ he discovers that coming of age, coming out, and coming to terms with one’s life is a never-ending process.
From modest beginnings in the suburbs of New Jersey, his path of self-discovery spans the globe and includes brief stops on the Broadway stage, in theaters and concert halls throughout Europe, at a major tourist attraction in Orlando Florida and, for a brief moment, in the depths of depression. Fear, adversity, heartbreak, disappointment and a bit too much death and dying are the roadblocks along the way.
“Forever the Fat Kid” is a riveting journey through one man’s life. It offers us an introspective view in a way most of us have not yet been able to achieve over our own past. Boyd’s memoir is more than a coming-out story, and much more than a survival tale of a fat kid trying to find his way in the world.
I’ll admit, with a title like this, I had expected a lot more angst over weight issues than were detailed in the book. While Boyd touches on the struggle with his weight, after the Introduction, the issue seems to take a back seat to the rest of his story and I found myself drawn into his life as easily as if it were a movie playing out on the screen before me.
Reading this book is like sitting down with an old friend and catching up on what has happened to them in the intervening years. Boyd’s family is comprised of vividly characterized people who come alive among the pages of his book ~ from his mother and father, to his sisters and aunts and siblings, through his first loves to the many friends he made in theater.
The tone of Boyd’s prose is both facetious and endearing; with a gentle voice, he retells the humorous with the upsetting. Through his words, the reader feels the same deep passions he feels in all aspects of his life. We experience his joy at finding a place for himself among the stage and later on Broadway, and we also ache with his sorrow when personal tragedy strikes, as when his beloved sister is injured in a car accident, or as his parents age, or when some of his friends fall victim to AIDS or or suicide or depression.
In reading this book, of particular interest to me was Boyd’s “coming out” journey. Amid all the opinions about sexuality we hear in the news (whether it’s innate or learned), it’s refreshing to hear Boyd state explicitly that he always knew he was gay. Two of my favorite lines in the book show this well:
“If I had been born without genitals and never had a single sexual liaison in my life, I would still be gay.”
“Being gay is so much more than whom you choose to have sex with.”
It’s wonderful to see such powerful language used to embrace one’s own sexuality in so positive a light. While I understand every person’s journey is different, I enjoyed the no-nonsense, matter-of-fact way Boyd addresses the issue. I came away with the feeling that his being gay was very similar in manner to his being black ~ something he couldn’t control nor wanted to change.
And speaking of race, being a child of the ’80’s myself, it was very eye-opening to relive the prejudices of the past through Boyd’s eyes. It’s all too easy to forget racial segregation once existed, and living “up north,” Boyd wasn’t aware of it himself until he visited relatives in the South. Such early memories underline discrimination he faces later in life, this time against homosexuality. For every two steps forward we take in our fight for equality, there’s always that one step back that reminds us there is still much to do before all races, all creeds, and all sexualities are treated as one.
Boyd’s memoir is set against the volatile backdrop of an America on the brink of acceptance, when civil rights for blacks and gays were being forced into the forefront of our collective consciousness. Being on the cusp of change, it transcends your average “coming of age” tale and addresses every struggle in his life. From sexuality to race to finding his own path in the world, he retells his story with aplomb and panache. By the end of the book, you feel as though you’ve made it into Boyd’s inner circle of confidantes, and you’re sorry to close the page on someone you now consider a friend.