Coming-out memoirs are hardly breaking news.
But a CNN news anchor and Virginia-Highland resident revealing himself to be gay? And telling the world that as a boy he was sexually molested by an older youth?
Doesn’t happen so often.
“I’m black and I’m gay, a double minority,” as Don Lemon put it.
That’s partly why the newsman from Baton Rouge decided to write “Transparent.” He wanted to inspire young people overwhelmed by challenges to be true to themselves and their goals. He wanted to prove it’s possible for a gay and black person to achieve success in mainstream society.
“Since I was knee-high to a duck, I’ve known that I was gay,” Lemon writes in “Transparent.”
Many coming-out memoirs are written for the gay audience and focus on someone’s struggle with being gay and having to tell friends and family. But “Transparent” is an absorbing memoir for the general reader because Lemon’s experiences as a newsman are just as interesting as his thoughts on sexuality.
“Transparent” details Lemon’s life so far, from his earliest memories that began with secrets about the identity of his father, to working full time in New York television while also putting himself through college, to early success and setbacks along the way.
Midtown Patch reached Lemon while he was in New York in connection with the release of “Transparent.” The news anchor lives in Virginia-Highland and has a partner of four years, Ben, who lives in Midtown. Lemon will appear Wednesday at to read from his memoir and sign autographs.
Lemon’s best advice for those who are uncertain along their own paths: “Live your life. Don’t live your life in a black box or gay box or white box or any box. Don’t let culture and society dictate who you are. Go from your heart and your gut and live the truth.”
Here are more highlights from our conversation with Don Lemon.
Q: What do you believe separates “Transparent” from other coming-out books?
DL: It’s called “Transparent” for a reason. As a journalist, I’ve always believed in being truthful. Mine is a story about someone who grew up with secrets, with obstacles to overcome, and I still overcame them. I would like to think of it as an American story of hope, redemption and overcoming obstacles to achieve my goals and success.
Q: You didn’t start out with the idea to reveal your sexuality with this book. What made you change your mind?
DL: That’s right. I first wanted to write about my childhood and overcoming all that I did. As I was writing some things, I thought that reading a book like this might have helped me as a young person. When I got to sexuality, I thought, now how am I going to dance around this? And so, as a journalist who has always believed in transparency, I realized that it would be disingenuous to not include that I am a gay man.
When I learned about Tyler Clementi (the Rutgers University student who last September jumped off a bridge to his death rather than be “outed” at school), I knew it was important. I hope that young people like Tyler can look on the TV screen and see an example of someone who is proud and happy. This is very powerful for me, now that I know it.
Q: In coming out, do you feel as though a weight has been lifted?
DL: Absolutely. The reaction has been 99.8 percent positive and supportive. I don’t think everyone needs to come out but I know I did what I needed to do. I’m free. I’m liberated. I am in charge of my own story. And it’s amazing.
Q: How did the feeling of not fitting in, of being lonely as a young person, help shape you in your career?
DL: I’ve noticed that journalists are often quiet and lonely types, but this makes them good observers. I think it’s important to be able to be quiet and sit back and really listen to someone’s story. And I’ve decided that being real about having a life yourself makes you more empathetic. My journey and my struggle have made me more aware of the human condition and I think have made me a better person.
Q: Can you talk for just a moment on a theme that comes up a lot in your book: your push-back whenever someone tells you “no.” One example is the professor back in Louisiana who told you that you would never make it in broadcast journalism.
DL: I really believe this. If you live your life as though “no” were not an answer, you might be amazed where you end up. As for the professor, I’ve never forgotten that but I don’t hold grudges, just like I don’t with my abuser. When a chapter is over for me, it’s over. I do work through it and heal, but then I move on. But I realize that people such as that professor ultimately teach me a valuable lesson. In an odd way, what he said to me was beneficial. It made me more aware of the realities, and therefore more determined. I’ve found that you have to take your misfortune and your struggle and turn them into your personal story of success. You have to use everything. OK, I had an abuser. Now how do I use that to help other people?
Q: You’ve covered so many major stories. Are there any that really stand out for you?
DL: I’d have to say Hurricane Katrina, because that’s my territory, those are my people. But also, Katrina just came in and uprooted so many people, but this story was so different because it changed people’s lives who lived there and made us all more aware of the injustices of poverty and discrimination.
Q: What would you like to be doing five or 10 years from now?
DL: Right now, I just want to enjoy this and evolve naturally. Someday, who knows, I might want to be independent. I might like to become a Junior Oprah. I mean, wouldn’t that be great if the world could be accepting of a gay black male whose only agenda was to tell the truth?
Q: Don, you would like to go down in history as ...
DL: I would like to go down in history as someone who was a good person, as someone who cared and someone who wanted to chronicle the human condition. I want to be the true journalist who was told so many stories, but who saw the value in being vulnerable himself, who saw the value in sharing his own story.
If you go:
Don Lemon appears at 7:30pm Wednesday at Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, 991 Piedmont Ave. (at 10th Street). This is a “VIP Line Ticket Event,” with tickets free, but priority admission to individuals (or a couple) who purchase at least one copy of “Transparent” ($24.95), at Outwrite in advance or at the event. 404-607-0082. www.outwritebooks.com