Michael Nava

American writer

Michael Nava (born 16 September 1954) is an American attorney and writer.

Henry Rios series of novels


The Little Death (1986)

"Every choice closes doors," I said, "and at some point you are left in the little room of yourself. I think most people who get to that room go crazy because they're surrounded with missed possibilities and no principle to explain or justify why they made the choices they did."
  • [Henry Rios, with Aaron Gold] "Every choice closes doors," I said, "and at some point you are left in the little room of yourself. I think most people who get to that room go crazy because they're surrounded with missed possibilities and no principle to explain or justify why they made the choices they did."
    • p.18 [page numbers are from the 4th Edition, 2003]
  • [Henry, with Katherine Paris] She looked away from me. A moment later she said, "I have never understood homosexuality. I can't picture what you men do with each other."
    "I could tell you but it would completely miss the point."
    • p.105
  • The rich are different, I thought: condemned to live their lives in public, they go through their paces at the edge of hysteria like show dogs from which every trait has been bred but anxiety.
    • p.118
  • [Grant Hancock, with Henry Rios] "As for me, when I die I'll direct my family to bury me without fanfare."
    I smiled. "When you die, Grant, the tailors and barbers will declare a day of national mourning."
    • p.120
  • [Henry, with Katherine Paris] I smiled as charmingly as I knew how. Her hard, intelligent face showed no sign of being charmed.
    • p.149

Goldenboy (1988)

  • [Larry Ross] "There are only two stages to dying, Henry. Being alive and being dead."
    • p.18
  • His eyes were judging me. It was as if I was the last of a long line of grown-ups who would fail him.
    • p.46
  • They were empty gestures, the kind it was beginning to seem that these people were full of.
    • p.115
  • [Josh, and Henry] He sat down again and looked at me. "I just really wanted to see you again."
    I looked at him. "Why?"
    "I've seen you before," he said.
    "I beg your pardon?"
    "Two years ago you gave a speech at a rally at UCLA against the sodomy law. Remember?"
    "I gave so many speeches that year," I said apologetically.
    He smiled. "I remember. Afterwards I came up and shook your hand." The smile faded and he looked at me gravely. "You gave me the courage to be who I am. But it didn't last."
    "Few of us come out all at once," I said, gently. "It's not the easiest thing to do."
    He shook his head and frowned. "I never came out at all."
    "We are at a gay bar," I said.
    "It's easy to come out in a bar," he said, "or in bed." A shadow crossed his face.
    "Are you alright?"
    He stared down at his hands and said, "No."
    There was a lot of pain in the little word. He grabbed my hand, clutching it tightly.
    "What is it Josh?" I asked.
    "He drew a shaky breath. "My life's a lie," he said. "No one knows who I really am, not my friends or my folks. I can't live this way anymore."
    • p.119
  • [Josh and Henry] "Do you want to?" he whispered.
    I raised myself on my elbow and said, "Of course I do, but I haven't carried rubbers with me since I was sixteen."
    "Just this once," he said. "You could pull out before - you know."
    I squeezed his neck between my fingers. "No," I said softly. "There's AIDS, Josh. It's not worth the risk."
    • p.123
  • [Irene Gentry] "We all love according to our natures."
    • p.128
  • It was one of those winter days in Los Angeles when the wind has swept away the smog and the air is clear and the light still and everything has the immediacy of a dream. I parked on a street called Overland in the Hollywood Hills. It was lined with white-skinned birch trees. Their nude branches shimmered against the sky. Tattered yellow leaves clogged the gutters and the air was scented with the rainy smell of eucalyptus. There were no cars on the street and the houses were barely visible behind walls and fences and sweeping lawns that had never been trod upon except by gardeners.
    • p.132
  • [Irene Gentry] "Some people are just so beautiful that life seems to speak to us through them - they're vital, radiant. It's more startling in men than women, I think, because we don't usually let ourselves think of men that way. But Shakespeare knew. Remember the sonnets? 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day,' was written to another man."
    • p.134
  • Larry was in his study, going through a pile of papers. Watching him, it occurred to me that I hardly knew him at all. It was as if all these years I'd been seeing him in profile and now that he turned his face to me, it was the face of a stranger.
    • p.159

How Town (1990)

  • There had been little about our childhood that could be described as paradisiacal. Our alcoholic father was either brutal or sullenly withdrawn. Our mother retaliated with religious fanaticism. As she knelt before plaster images of saints, in the flicker of votive candles, her furious mutter was more like invective than prayer. Their manias kept my parents quite busy, and Elena and I were more or less left to raise ourselves.
    Elena and I were united only in our unspoken determination to show nothing of what we felt about this embarrassment of a life that our parents had visited upon us. In this we succeeded. To the outside world we were simply quiet children, good at school, not very social, a little high-strung.
    • p.2
  • [Henry Rios, with Elena] The heat had become a bit denser and the light a little dustier as the fragrant morning waned. Birds called from the surrounding trees and the low burble of water sounded from the stream that ran through Elena's property.
    "This is heaven," I said, opening the car door.
    She smiled, deepening the lines around her mouth. "Have you ever read Primo Levi?"
    "He has a passage in his book about concentration camp survivors―to the effect that those who have once been tortured go on being tortured. Heaven's not possible for people like that."
    • p.11-12
  • Lips pursed, Sara moved swiftly and rudely through the crowd of midday shoppers as we crossed the square. Sara'd been thin as a girl, but no more. Not quite fat, but the extra weight she carried blurred her features. Pouches of flesh had gathered beneath her eyes and her chin. Damp circles stained her armpits and the seat of her dress was deeply wrinkled. Her makeup was hit-and-miss and she had the look of someone who no longer cared much about her appearance.
    • p.29
"Society is a conspiracy and everyone who's different is its target."
  • [Henry Rios, to Paul Windsor] "Society is a conspiracy and everyone who's different is its target."
    • p.56
  • [Henry Rios] "I acquired my values through trial and error."
    What I'd meant when I told Paul my values were acquired through trial and error was that they were learned, not given, and came out of my own experience.
    • p.56, 57
  • After talking to Mark, I'd spent much of the night in the kind of "what if" ruminations that served no particular purpose except to depress me.
    • p.80
  • [Henry Rios] It has never taken much for me to dislike a cop. My automatic assumption that most of them are assholes is seldom disappointed.
    • p.82
  • [Ben Vega, with Henry Rios] "How can you defend a guy like that?"
    "If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that question I'd be retired by now," I replied. "So do you really want an answer or were you just asking so you can feel superior to me?"
    Startled, but game, Vega said, "Yeah, I want an answer. Really."
    "Well, the answer changes depending on the case," I replied. "Sometimes I defend someone because I think he deserves a break,, or maybe just because I like him. And sometimes I do it because, whatever the guy's done, worse has been done to him." I grinned. "And sometimes I do it for money. And sometimes I do it because no one else will. Like this case."
    • p.84
  • [Paul Windsor, with Henry Rios] Holding up a red M&M, he added, "I thought they'd stopped making these."
    "Someone started a letter-writing campaign and got the candy company to start making them again." I opened a 7-Up and took a swig. It was as warm and thick as the air in the room. "It's funny what people get themselves worked up about."
    • p.118-119
  • [Henry Rios, with Josh] "I think someone's at the door."
    "I'll see who it is."
    "If it's the grim reaper, tell him he's a couple of years early."
    • p.128
  • I didn't know what else to say. Moments like this brought home to me that no matter how well I thought I knew him, how much I loved him, we were on different sides of the fence that separated the infected from the uninfected. I could see a little way over to his side, but he lived there.
    • p.133
  • [Henry] I shrugged. "Being born into my family was like being thrown into an accident."
    • p.149
  • I had loved so infrequently I felt a debt to those whom I had, for the reprieve from solitude.
    • p.198
  • [Henry Rios, with Kevin Reilly] "Sometimes I can't believe what people do to each other."
    "Believe it," he said. "There's nothing that hasn't been done by someone to someone. People settling scores is what keeps us in business."
    • p.205-206
  • [Mr Hendricksen, a high school principal, with Henry Rios] "Useta be there were a lot more people, with the braceros and all," he said. "Now all the big farms are mechanised and they don't need as many workers. Plus, a lot of the canneries have shut down. We're drying up. We've closed classrooms."
    "What about those bunkers outside?"
    He swept crumbs from his shirt front. "They went up in the sixties when the place was packed with kids." He squinted at me. "I guess that woulda been your generation, Mr Rios. The whole bunch of you were smart-ass troublemakers and I never thought I'd miss those days, but I do." He poured me more coffee. "You kids were alive. Nowadays, the students, they seemed kinda depressed."
    "It's a harder world to be young in," I said.
    • p.217
  • A child's sexual innocence isn't moral, it's literal: he has no context for it. From the adult who uses him sexually, he learns a context
    • p.237

The Hidden Law (1992)

  • He was a great and impartial hater; anyone different from him became an object of his contempt.
    • p.1
  • [Gus Peña] "It's time for me to take care of me."
    • p.8
  • I walked over to the railing and watched the traffic stream up and down the boulevard. A blond in a Jeep cruised by slowly, his cassette player blaring a disco tune from the seventies. Ah, the hunt, I thought, remembering the nights I had stood in San Francisco bars listening to that same song while I ingested a little liquid courage. Or, rather, a lot of liquid courage. Most nights I would stagger out alone and take the train back to school. Once in a while someone would pick me up, or I would pick him up, and I would toil in a stranger's bed for a few hours, trying to get out of my skin by going through his. I imagined that I was having fun, and sometimes I was, but not nearly often enough.
    • p.17
  • [Chuck Sweeny] "Times change, we change with 'em."
    • p.26
  • It was not quiet in my head.
    • p.44
  • [Henry Rios, with Raymond Reynolds, therapist] "Somewhere along the line, I had died."
    "What does that mean, Henry?" he inquired in his mild voice.
    "The thing that makes us human, the recognition of being alive, I had lost that. I drowned it in bourbon and kept myself so busy with work that I hadn't even noticed until that moment."
    • p.45
  • [Henry, to the therapist] "You people always end up wanting to talk about mommy and daddy," I said, intending a joke, but it was more hostile than funny.
    • p.45
  • [Josh] "Just listen to me. I don't want to die, Henry. I want to be like everyone else. I want my seventy-five years or whatever, but I know I'm not going to have them and it makes me crazy." He tipped his head back and swallowed hard. "I can't help resenting you. You're going to be alive after I'm dead and you'll find someone else." He drew a deep breath. "It's not fair. I had to get away from you. I had to get away from my own resentment."
    • p.55
  • It was the mystery of my sexual nature that a body which was the mirror image of mine could be so compelling and feel so unfamiliar. When I was younger, it had seemed urgent to unravel this mystery because I believed that if it could be explained, the haters would stop hating us. Now I believed that they had no more right to an explanation about me than I did about them and, in any case, they would find other reasons to hate. Now I was simply grateful for his body beside me, known and unknown.
    • p.55
  • As far as I was concerned, the Catholic Church was just another totalitarian political entity, like the Communist Party or IBM, but I had to admit, it put on a good show. I watched the theatrics unfold.
    • p.66
  • Having had to work twice as hard for what he deserved on merit alone, he'd developed a kind of rage, like an extra set of muscles, propelling him through life. The rage never went away. There was never enough to reward you for what you had suffered. And you never, ever, forgot you were an outsider, no matter how expensive your suits.
    • p.66
  • He hoisted himself up to the ledge of the pool, the water running streams down his thin, hard body. "I came out here from Tennessee to go to school, a long time ago. I was eighteen and pretty and there wasn't anything I wouldn't do in bed. I had a lot of friends." He pushed wet hair from his forehead. "Thing is, you don't stay young and pretty forever. It began to take more and more booze to keep up the illusion, not that anybody but me was fooled. The friends drifted off, the party moved on, and I woke up one morning and I was thirty-one, broke and a drunk."
    • p.99
  • [Edith] "If you tell a child he's bad long enough and often enough, he will act it out."
    • p.106
  • Downstairs, in the bleak cafeteria, a crazy woman sat at a table carrying on an animated conversation with someone who wasn't there.
    The crazy woman got up and shook hands with the air.
    • p.150, 151
  • And they drank. They drank to wash down the slights they endured by day and to enlarge small lives which became heroic in alcohol-glazed rumination, but at their cores the fathers knew the full measure of their unimportance and, so, finally, they drank to quiet the rage.
    But the rage would not be completely calmed. How could it? The church told them their reward would be in the next life, but this is small consolation for the back-breaking labors of the present, the years of enforced humility. When the rage exploded, they struck out at the only ones over whom they had any power: wives, sons, daughters, particularly the sons in whom they saw their own lost youths. The sons bore the blows and absorbed the rage.
    • p.175

The Death of Friends (1996)

  • [Detective McBeth] "Being out of the closet is a luxury that many gay people can't afford. Maybe you can't understand that, but it's something I think about."
    • p.53
  • [Henry Rios] I said a prayer, always the same prayer. Two words. Help us.
    • p.55
What happened is that I realised I could not outrun this thing.
  • [Henry Rios] I went down to my car, got in and sat, waiting for something to happen, some tidal wave of grief or anger to overwhelm me, but all I felt was a kind of dazed fatigue. It was the mental emptiness of effort I used to feel when I was a distance runner on my high school track team, and everything got reduced to putting one foot in front of the other.
    What was I then, fifteen, sixteen, pounding the dirt path along the river that ran through my home town? I sought refuge in that emptiness from my first awareness that I was different from other boys. What had Chris told me about his own adolescence, that he didn't want to be different? I didn't, either. I watched my classmates being initiated into the world of men and women where everything was planned and the outcomes known: marriage, children, family. That world was closed to me. I didn't have a plan, didn't know where I would end up or with whom. So I ran, mile after mile, until my body ached and my mind went blank.
    What happened is that I realised I could not outrun this thing. I remember that day, staggering along the path after a stupendous effort, darkness falling in the summer sky, racked with the dry heaves, gasping "I'm a queer," the only word I knew for my condition. I was full of fear and I felt completely alone, but I could not deny the truth and there was a kind of relief in that.
    I had now reached the same point with Josh's disease. I couldn't outrun it.
    • p.59
  • The Abbey was on Robertson, just below Santa Monica, on the edge of Boys' Town. Low brick buildings housed cafes, clothing stores, coffee houses and watch repair shops that rubbed elbows with gay clubs and sex shops. These establishments catered to hordes of the beautiful young gay men who lived in the big apartment complexes that lined the side streets or who drove in from all over Southern California on weekend nights. I seldom ventured there, because it reminded me of San Francisco in the '70s, when I was a boy just coming out and how out of place I'd felt among the big-muscled boys who cruised each other with cold assessment. Twenty years later, only the faces and the clothes had changed; the air was still charged with the brutal calculation of lust. And beneath that was the claustrophobia of a ghetto, of fearful people looking out at the world from behind invisible fences.
    • p.60
  • It really was a brutal place, Los Angeles, less a city than a collection of hostile villages united only in their mutual suspicion of each other and a susceptibility to disasters, natural and otherwise. Fires, floods, riots and earthquakes; it was looking more and more like Armageddon-by-the-Pacific.
    • p.81
  • [Zack Bowen] "Damn, it's tough being a fag. People hate you who don't even know you, and the ones who know you, they're worse."
    • p.105
  • [Josh Mandel] "Most things people care about are silly. They don't think about the ones that matter."
    • p.121
  • It was sometimes easier to read the future from the entrails of a cat than get a fix on what a judge was thinking, and Torres-Jones was particularly hard to get a handle on.
    • p.189
  • Greed had always seemed to me the most self-defeating of vices, because one cannot own anything permanently: we have, at most, a life tenancy in our possessions. But I suppose the fulfilment was in the acquisition and maybe, too, someone who'd been tossed around by life needed the cosseting that money and things provide.
    • p.219
  • [Henry Rios] "We never know anyone as well as we think we do."
    • p.229

The Burning Plain (1997)

  • [Alex] "I never knew how many ways there were to fail until I moved here."
    • p.41 (Chapter 4) [page numbers as per the Alyson Publications Paperback Edition, April 2004]
  • [Inez] "...If you consort with lowlifes you've got to expect complications."
    • p.91 (Chapter 8)
  • [Henry] Life is a kind of exile and we all long to go home. Who said that?
    • p.146 (Chapter 12)
  • [Donati] "You see why I don't advertise I'm gay?"
    "No, not exactly, Nick."
    "Because I don't want to be confused with people like Bob." He tossed back his drink. "Drag queens, leather queens, all those sick fucks who parade around and make it impossible for the rest of us to have normal lives."
    • p.174 (Chapter 14)
  • [Alex] Big ideas don't pay the rent.
    • p.205 (Chapter 16)
  • [Donati] "You couldn't have planned a worse place to put a city than LA."
    • p.225 (Chapter 18)
  • [Asuras] "There are means people and there are ends people. The means people create distinctions among means and call it morality. The ends people understand that in this world, in this system we're born into, anything that gets you what you want is a good thing."
    • p.258 (Chapter 20)
  • [Henry] "...when you start running from yourself, you end up in some pretty dark places."
    • p.282 (Chapter 21)
  • [Henry, to Rod] "Hell's not a place, Rod, it's something people do to each other."
    • p.304 (Chapter 23)

Rag and Bone (2001)

  • [Elena] "My God is not an unpleasant old man who lives in the sky and forces people to make desperate choices and then condemns them if they get it wrong. For me, God is the clear inner voice that guides us to the choices that are right for us, if we're willing to listen. The choices are different for everyone."
    • p.21
  • [Dr Hayward, to Henry Rios after his heart attack] "You're still a relatively young man. You'll be around for a while. Make the best of it, Henry. Live every moment as fully as you can, even if all you're doing is eating a bowl of soup."
    • p.26
  • The isolation that was so much a part of the city's psyche, the feeling that its ten million people were all living parallel lives that never intersected
    • p.27
  • [John, to Henry] "Here's your dog. Con todo, like you said. Mustard, relish, onion — you sure it's okay for you to eat this with your heart and all?"
    "If it's not," I said, biting into the hot dog, "I'll die a happy man."
    • p.67
  • [John, about children] "Mostly, you have to listen and try to hear what they're really telling you and remember that, half the time, they don't know themselves."
    • p.78
  • [Henry, to Vicky] "I know you think homosexuality is a sin, but that's because you've been taught by ignorant people."
    • p.86
  • [John] "I tell you, Henry, I did not want to grow up. I figured if I grew up, I would stop having fun."
    "Something change your mind?"
    "No. I was right! You do stop having fun, or maybe the things that were fun when you were a kid stop being fun. For a while I just did 'em more, faster, harder, trying to get the fun back, but it didn't work."
    • p.114
  • He laughed, but then in a serious voice said, "I have my slips. You gotta know that about me."
    "Anyone who has standards has slips, John. Only good people worry about being good."
    • p.115
  • [Dr Hayward, to Henry, after his heart attack] "Sex is not going to kill you — well, let me amend that. Safe sex is not going to kill you."
    • p.121
  • It had that unnatural stillness of a place where people feared to venture outside.
    "You better come in before someone tries to kill you," she said. "Did you lock your car?"
    "Yeah. It has an alarm."
    "That won't stop anyone around here."
    "Bad gang problem?"
    "When I was raising my kids, they used to play out in the streets. You see any kids out there now?"
    • p.124-125
  • [Henry] "Maybe she hasn't learned yet that good people can make terrible mistakes and still be good people."
    • p.127
  • This is my life, I thought, these are the people among whom I have spent it, prostitutes, tattooed boys with dead eyes, and horny cops.
    • p.153
  • [Henry, to Tony Earl] "I'll argue self-defense."
    "You do that," he said, "but last time I looked at the jury instructions on self-defense, if someone comes at you with fists you don't get to blow their brains out with a semiautomatic."
    "You can if his fists can kill you," I said.
    • p.155
  • [Elena, about daughter] "Now I understand that it isn't up to her to be who I might want her to be. It's up to me to love her for who she is."
    • p.160
  • All I knew about his life was that he had had the kind of childhood that turns people into psychological time bombs. How would I react when he started to go off? Did I have my own time bomb ticking away in me?
    • p.174
  • He had the open, cheerful, rather self-satisfied countenance of someone upon whom life had made very few demands.
    • p.187
  • After he left, the three of us sat on a bench worn to the wood by all the fidgeting bottoms that had occupied it before us.
    • p.192
  • [Henry, to Elena, about Angel] "Remember when Edith called him an invulnerable? I've figured out that what that means isn't that things don't hurt him, but that they don't stop him."
    • p.204
  • "You want me to stipulate that the cops violated her constitutional rights?"
    "This is the LAPD we're talking about, Kim. It would be shocking if they hadn't violated her rights."
    • p.225
  • Patricia Ryan was a tall, beautiful woman about whom many stories were told, some of them true.
    • p.228
  • ... the usual hired guns who made up the expert witness circuit and would say basically what they were paid to say.
    • p.233
  • [Elena] "Raising a kid is the ultimate exercise in trial and error."
    • p.234
  • I had formed my stereotype of evangelists from channel-surfing through the Sunday morning religious shows: white Southern men in expensive suits, with brittle, poufy hair and faces slimed theatrically with tears as they condemned people like me to the crude hells they constructed out of ignorance and fear. Sometimes the face was black, and instead of tears was frowning sternness, but the condemnation was always the same and it was animated by that purposeful energy of hatred. I expected Ortega to be the same kind of shrieker and weeper, and assumed the best I could hope for was that Leviticus was not this week's text.
    • p.243
  • [John] "You don't stop loving your kids because they fuck up," he said. "You love them more."
    • p.261

'The Children of Eve' series of novels (historical fiction)


The City of Palaces (2014)

  • [Miguel Sarmiento] "The principle of all existence is cause and effect. Scientific knowledge illuminates causes so that men are not condemned to go on living ignorantly in effects."
    • p.40
  • [Alicia Gavilán] She had learned to distinguish between her personal thoughts and those thoughts that came to her like messages from a deeper source than her own personality. These deeper messages were sometimes consoling, but more often they had a challenging and unsettling quality. Her first impulse was always to resist them [...]. Yet as always happened, the thought simply repeated itself until she was forced to examine her reasons for rejecting it.
    • p.41-42
  • [Miguel Sarmiento, to Alicia] "I do not wish to be disrespectful of your beliefs, but in my view religion is no more than superstition, a way to explain natural phenomena for which there are now rational and scientific explanations. Those superstitions may have served their purpose once, but their time has passed. The longer they persist, the more pernicious they become. "
    • p.45
  • [Alicia Gavilán, to Miguel] "We are all birds in cages, but some of us find reason to sing."
    • p.46
  • [Her elderly mother, to Alicia] "Except in the novels of the Brontës, marriage is a barter. You make the best bargain you can before I die."
    • p.50
  • The room took shape in all its squalor: clothes scattered everywhere; plates of half-finished meals; the long table used as a desk, every inch of its surface covered by moldering documents, books, and sheaves of paper bestrewn with his father's tiny script.
    • p.59
  • [His father, to Miguel] "I know that a man's honour means nothing to your generation, but it is all that a man possesses in this life."
    • p.60
  • The vendors shrilled their wares as if the lard, coal, tortillas, or candies they were selling were the last of their kind. Their cries, as they blended together, were like bird calls, as if the city were a gigantic aviary.
    • p.82
  • [Alicia, with Miguel] "I do what I can to be faithful to Christ's admonition to love God and to love my neighbour. Nothing else matters."
    "To love God," he repeated. "How can you love a phantom?"
    "Because he is not a phantom to me. I perceive him in the scent of the flowers and the sun's warmth on my face. Do you truly not feel at this moment a benign and loving presence?"
    "Only yours," he said.
    • p.83
  • He felt like Hercules at the Augean stables commissioned to clean out the accumulated filth of centuries.
    • p.86
  • [Padre Cáceres, to Miguel Sarmiento] "Poor people are not simply a set of diseases or potential diseases, Señor Doctor. They are human souls. If you wish to change their habits, you must learn what those habits are and why they have acquired them. You must meet the people."
    • p.90
  • As destitute as it was, San Francisco Tlalco was not the worst of the barrios in Sarmiento's district. At the edges of San Antonio Abad were massive garbage heaps scavenged by entire families who lived on-site in huts constructed of plywood and tin. In other neighbourhoods, slop jars filled with human excrement were left on the roadways, where they were intermittently collected by the leaky night soil carts that rumbled through the dirt streets. One evening at dusk, he saw dozens of men, women, and children walk out of the city into the far distant fields, where, having nowhere else to sleep, they bedded down on the earth. He saw the decaying carcasses of burros, dogs, and cats left in streets where the city's garbage collectors refused to venture; fountains that gushed slime the people used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning; and malnourished infants at the breasts of skeletal mothers.
    Sarmiento had never systematically examined his attitudes toward the poor, but he did so now. He observed, as if recording the results of an experiment, his disgust as well as his pity, his superficial identification with the poor as a matter of their common humanity, and his profounder feeling of superiority to them.
    In the end, he felt anger. How, he wondered, could the poor persist in habits and customs that experience alone must have taught them were detrimental to their health and moral well-being? Why else, for example, would the men squander their pittances at filthy pulquerias while their women and children went ragged and hungry? But then rationality overcame emotion. Every human was born ignorant, he reasoned, and their habits and understanding were shaped by their environment. How could he reasonably expect those born into a cesspool from which there was no escape to acquire the habits of someone like him, born by comparison into a palace? He could not. Therefore, he concluded, his attitude toward the poor should be one of humility and understanding, not superiority or condemnation. He must meet the poor on their own ground.
    • p.91, 92, 93
  • While his father had railed against the church, to Sarmiento, the Christian sky-king, the virgin impregnated by the air, and the man who came back from the dead were stories so manifestly absurd they did not merit much more than a raised eyebrow and a shrug at human credulity.
    • p.99
  • The harsh emphasis on sinfulness that she heard elsewhere in the city's churches was absent in Padre Cáceres's homilies. Instead, he spoke of fallibility and forgiveness and the passionate, unchanging and ever-present love of Jesus for his people whatever they did and in whatever circumstances they found themselves. At the end of each Mass, before the final blessing, he always reminded them that while Moses had given the Hebrews ten commandments, Jesus had promulgated only two: "Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Children, that is the whole Gospel."
    • p.108
  • "I refer you, sir, to the work of Sir Francis Galton," King said. "England's preeminent eugenist. Galton points out, and quite correctly, that if the morally and physically enfeebled are allowed to reproduce themselves, humanity will be dragged down."
    "Even allowing that that is true, there are enfeebled individuals of every race, Señor King. Even among white Americans."
    "But it is true that our Indians seem utterly impervious to self-improvement. Surely your decade at the department has demonstrated that over and over."
    "It is difficult to assess the Indian's capacity for self-improvement since he is never offered the opportunity for it," Sarmiento said. "He is forced to take the worst and lowest-paying jobs, eat food unfit for human consumption, drink putrid water, and live in squalor. His children must work rather than attend school, assuming there is a school available to them, and he is caught between the church and the pulqueria, one offering the false panacea of a future heaven and the other the false panacea of intoxication to console him for his present misery. That's what I have learned in my ten years at the department."
    • p.127, 128.
  • "You're a fine one to talk about motherhood," Eulalia replied. "You expelled your children from your womb directly into Swiss boarding schools."
    • p.134
  • ..."a male with a woman's psyche"...
    • p.137
  • [Alicia, with Miguel] "As long as the poor are regarded as expendable parts of the machinery of the economy, they will continue to be ground into the dust."
    "The Lord said the poor will always be with us," she murmured.
    "One reason I am not a Christian," he replied. "Your Jesus should have spent less time teaching the poor to accept their lot and more time teaching the rich to share."
    • p.138
  • Everywhere, he saw the symptoms of starvation as one economic crisis after another was balanced on the backs of the poor, while the city's anxious rich hoarded their wealth or sent it out of the country for safekeeping in foreign banks.
    • p.141
  • [Jorge Luis] "It is my nature to love other men, Miguel. That may disgust you, but that night I decided I would no longer allow it to disgust me. It no longer does. I am at peace with myself."
    "Once I made that decision," Luis continued, "remarkable events occurred."
    • p.146
  • "Come on, then," Gustavo said. "Let's get the circus started."
    • p.170
  • He was so arrogant that he spoke of himself in the plural.
    • p.173
  • But something terrible had happened - she had become old.
    The decades of her marriage had curdled her gaiety into scorn, transformed her charming impertinence into sarcasm, bent her back, whitened her hair, and withered her limbs.
    • p.173-174
  • [Jorge Luis] "I am a man like other men who love and suffer. Do I love Ángel? Yes, I love him. Do I suffer because of it? Yes. I suffer because my love for him must remain a secret and our life together enshrouded in lies." He swigged the pulque. "Can you imagine living in a world where there is no place in the sun for you, Miguel? Only a few rat holes like this one."
    • p.186 [speaking as at 1911]
  • "Abuelita," he said, groping for words to frame his thought. "Was today history?"
    "History is simply the passage of time, José, so we are in history at every moment."
    • p.205
  • "My father was a man of many sayings," Sarmiento replied. "And one of them was "A mas honor, mas dolor." No risk, no reward."
    • p.240
  • "War is destruction and destruction is easy," Madero said.
    • p.240
  • Sarmiento waited for Luis at a sidewalk table at the Cafe Colón on the Reforma. Two sumptuous carriages filled with beautifully dressed women passed beneath Columbus's monument. They were the advance guard of the daily procession of the rich that wound its way up the boulevard and around Chapultepec in a stately and pointless show of opulence. Meanwhile, ragged Indian men swept the sidewalks with branch-and-twig brooms, bent over at their labour and ignored by the passers-by. The distance between the silk women and the pauper Indians was the true history of México, Sarmiento thought.
    • p.264
  • [Madero] "An eye for an eye ends in blindness."
    • p.284
  • [Jorge Luis, to young José's mother] "You must help him accept his nature," Luis replied forcefully. "Do not let him do as I did and stumble for years in the darkness trying to make sense of his feelings and his shame. Can you do that, Alicia?"
    • p.314
  • Madero focussed his magnetic gaze on Sarmiento. "Arresting Huerta would not have solved the problem because the problem is not Huerta, it's the army. Huerta's replacement would have also schemed behind my back and his replacement and his replacement. Don't you understand, Miguel? Until the army finally submits to civilian control, México will never be a real democracy. The army must stop thinking of itself as a branch of the government. Its generals must stop thinking of themselves as presidents-in-waiting. Until then, México will be condemned to repeat the last one hundred years of coups, countercoups, civil wars, and military dictatorships until Jesus arrives in the glory of his second coming and puts an end to it."
    • p.316
  • The fighting had ended and his old routines had begun to be re-established ‑ even El Morito had reappeared, skinny and flea-ridden - but nothing was as it had been. He was like someone who had stepped into a long, dark, and frightening tunnel and, coming into the light, could not blink away the darkness that continued to cloud the periphery of his vision. The world was a more arbitrary and crueler place, and even though his family surrounded him, he knew now that he was essentially alone in it.
    • p.323
  • In my father's house are many dwellings. Is that what Jesus had meant? Was he speaking not only of heaven but of this life in which each person carved out of the vast, unified reality of existence the little houses of personality they inhabited? She had a vision of children making sand houses at the edge of the sea and of waves gently spilling over and eradicating them. The little sand houses were like the houses of self, and the waves were the fingers of God drawing the sand back into himself.
    • p.326-327
  • [Alicia] "What is false does not become true simply because people shout it. What is right does not change because it is inconvenient."
    • p.328-9
  • Since then, however, his city had disintegrated around him, shattered buildings and the glassy-eyed dead transforming familiar landscapes into a circle of hell. He had felt the fear of the adults whom he had once believed were impervious to fear and invincible in their certainties. The world had taught him there are no certainties and ultimately no safety. Terrible things happened without warning or explanation.
    He blinked back his tears. He was not yet a man, at least not like his father or Tió Damian, but he could no longer be a child. He felt the world's enmity and he responded not with a child's grief but a man's defiance, as if his blood were being infiltrated with threads of iron.
    • p.349-50



Created equal: Why gay rights matter to America (1994)


(co-authored with Robert Dawidoff)

  • This struggle is not about sex. It is about privacy, individuality, and civil equality and the right of all Americans, not just gay and lesbian Americans, to be free.
    • p.4
  • What blocks gay equality is prejudice. What fuels the movement for gay equality is the conviction that this prejudice is not constitutionally protected, but that the individual rights of homosexual Americans are.
    • p.6
  • What is happening in contemporary American society is that people who prefer to be with members of their own sex no longer see this as a reason to be deprived of the rights to citizenship, family formation, and privacy.
    • p.7
The price you must pay for the enjoyment of your own liberty is the recognition that other people, especially people with whom you may not like to identify, have an equal claim to the same liberty. America requires an allegiance to the stern principle of liberty. This is the reason gay rights matter to Americans generally and not just to lesbians and gay men. (p.9)
  • The price you must pay for the enjoyment of your own liberty is the recognition that other people, especially people with whom you may not like to identify, have an equal claim to the same liberty. America requires an allegiance to the stern principle of liberty. This is the reason gay rights matter to Americans generally and not just to lesbians and gay men.
    Liberty, unlike nationality, cannot be safely restricted. Restriction turns liberty into privilege, and no American's freedom is safe if individual liberty changes from a right rooted in nature to a privilege rooted in custom.
    • p.9
  • The defined categories of heterosexual and homosexual orientation were an invention of the late nineteenth century.
    The notion of the "homosexual" per se is comparatively recent, an invention of the nineteenth century; the word was coined by a Hungarian doctor named Karl Maria Kertbeny, in 1869.
    But the classification was not a neutral one; homosexuality was not just a phenomenon, it was a pathology. This view of homosexuality - congenital but pathological - laid the groundwork for homosexuality's subsequent psychiatrization.
    By [the mid-twentieth century] American culture had declared war on homosexuality as if it were an epedemic.
    The equation of homosexuality with sickness, and heterosexuality with health, persists in popular culture.
    Until 1974, when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its catalogue of mental illness, psychiatry played a long and dishonorable role in providing a basis for discrimination against gays and lesbians.
    • p.12, 40, 41, 42
  • This argument is not about sexual practices or particular lifestyles. It hinges on whether gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to the same enjoyment as their fellow citizens of the freedom to make choices about how to live their lives without suffering discrimination in consequence.
    • p.154
  • The common experience of being gay is deeply individual. You discover your sexual identity yourself, your closet is your own, your coming out is individual.
    Coming out represents a decision to transform one's life from the inside out, choosing the natural over the conventional at great personal cost.
    The process of coming out is harrowing, but it can leave in its wake an unshakable core of certainty of self.
    Coming out is more than an acknowledgement, acceptance, or even announcement of one's sexual identity. It represents a continuing process founded on an act of compassion towards oneself - a compassion, alas, seldom shown by one's own family or friends, let alone society. That act is the acceptance of one's fundamental worth, including, and not despite, one's homosexuality, in the face of social condemnation and likely persecution. Coming out is the process through which one arrives at one's values the hard way, testing them against what one knows to be true about oneself. Gay men and lesbians must think about family, morality, nature, choice, freedom, and responsibility in ways most people never have to. Truly to come out, a gay person must become one of those human beings who, as psychiatrist Alice Miller writes, "wants to be true to themselves".
    Each gay man and woman has to come to terms with his or her homosexuality, decide whether to accept it, deny it, or try to change it, and face the consequences of the choice.
    • p.21, 25, 26-27, 34.
  • We must also again emphasize that gays and lesbians do not seek the right to be homosexual. This "right" is not one within the authority of government to give. They are fighting for the right to secure the conditions under which they may lead ordinary, civilized lives.
    • p.27
  • Our culture is in large part a majority-takes-all, reward-and-punishment system of sexual preference. It expresses itself by not only marginalizing minority preferences but by obsessively associating them with immorality and perversion.
    • p.38
  • You're in a world of hate.
    • p.52
  • The fact is that most gay men and women lead, or try to lead, ordinary lives indistinguishable from those of their neighbours.
    • p.53
  • AIDS has had the effect of forcing gay men to examine their sexual expression.
    • p.55
  • In a pluralist society, people act according to their own views of right and wrong, except where their actions violate agreed-upon criminal codes. This moral diversity is precisely what the religious right objects to; rather than seek to persuade nonbelievers of its version of the truth, it would simply impose that version on them.
    Religion enjoys freedom, not a licence to interfere with other people's freedom.
    The religious right's complaint that Christian values have been left out of public discourse reveals either a basic misunderstanding of our constitutional system or an equally basic disregard for its principles and workings. Religious-based values are not banned from the public arena, but they are not vested with any greater moral force than competing viewpoints, nor are they exempt from rational examination simply because they originate in someone's notion of the divine. The religious origin of opinion does not, in our system, give the opinion any special status in public debate. In a contest between individual freedom and particular religious views, individual freedom must be preferred because it and its corollary, equal protection of the laws, are what the American constitutional system holds sacred.
    Scriptural views are not exempt from dispute and have no special status within our constitutional framework.
    • p.86, 88, 89.
  • The religious right is a counterrevolutionary movement whose purpose is to return society, and the individuals who make up society, to the social understanding and the roles that existed in the 1950s.
    In fact the religious right is a group of mail-order wizards and lobbyists tied to religious "media personalities" who spend millions to raise millions with the twin object of advancing their own social and political agendas and enriching themselves and their organizations.
    Acting out one's hatred of homosexuals is acceptable behaviour in the world of the religious right.
    Perpetrators of hate crimes against gays routinely cite religious reasons for their hatred of gays. Most of the hate mail we get cites religious justifications for the hate.
    The religious right rejects cultural pluralism and it rejects individualism. It sees its opponents not as fellow Americans presenting alternative views of what American society might look like; it sees them as conscripts in the army of Satan.
    The religious right aims to convert traditional principles of toleration and personal liberty to Bible-based precepts of "revealed" behaviour and comprehensive social order - "revealed", that is, to a few preachers and evangelists, and to their strategists, fund-raisers, and media advisers.
    There is no doubt that the evangelical attack on gay and lesbian rights is part of a broader strategy to impose specifically religious values on American politics and American bodies.
    Gays and lesbians make an ideal target for an evangelical coup because of the persistent fear and hatred of homosexuality in our culture.
    The Reverend Mel White bears important direct witness about the motives and purposes of his onetime associates: "These guys are not interested in biblical truth. They are only interested in proving through their interpretations of the text, their own prejudice."
    The religious right has discovered homosexuality as a marketing tool, and we may expect them to feature it, partly to intimidate homosexuals but principally to scare the freedom out of everyone.
    The aim of the religious right is to terrify people with the spectre of predatory homosexuality in order to assert control over public morality.
    Plainly, such an apocalyptic approach to social issues is principled in its unsusceptibility to reason and compromise, the basic tools of democracies; in this respect, the ideology of the religious right is profoundly antidemocratic. Such paranoic politics represent a grave danger to the Constitution and the society it informs.
    • p.95, 98, 100, 101, 104, 112, 105, 102.
Each gay man and woman has to come to terms with his or her homosexuality, decide whether to accept it, deny it, or try to change it, and face the consequences of the choice. (p.34)
  • The emergence of an openly gay and lesbian population is simply the latest stage of the evolution of individual liberty, and a reaffirmation of American tradition.
    Gay men and women don't come out because it's fashionable, popular, easy, safe, mandatory, or conventional; they do it to be true to themselves.
    • p.103
  • It is a sorry fact that prejudice against gays, and the violence it engenders with increasing frequency, are not yet treated by the media with the same clarity that racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, or discrimination against the disabled are.
    • p.126
  • For many years, the single most potent weapon in the armoury of invisibility was the shame with which gay men and women were taught to regard their sexual nature. What kindles the fury of the antigay right at the gay and lesbian claim to equality and freedom is the implicit rejection of that shame. The energy released by that triumph over shame is what makes the movement so powerful. The gay and lesbian movement signals the existence of a people who have decided that they know more about themselves than what has been shoved down their throats by an ignorant and fearful society.
    • p.129-130
  • What we do want is equal protection of the laws and all that implies, and we want our fellow citizens to acknowledge that our constitutionally protected choices about what is, after all, our own business should not disqualify us from equal membership in the multitude of American communities.
    We ask and deserve that our fellow citizens recognize our existence and accept us into the common life. This is neither begging for acceptance nor looking for approval. It is the corollary of the Bill of Rights that creates a nation of equals, equally free. The constitutional protections we are entitled to must go along with the effort to educate nongay Americans out of their hostile conditioning. Again, this is not to win approval, but to change perceptions enough to prevent majority prejudices from being acted out against us.
    In the end, acceptance does matter - acceptance not of the way other people live their lives, but of their right to live them.
    Stated generally, what gays and lesbians want is not very different from what most Americans want: to live as little disturbed by government as possible but secure in the knowledge that social institutions will serve them equally and that laws affecting them will be enforced fairly. We are demanding our basic rights, rights that Americans are not supposed to be deprived of without due process of law and that are nevertheless denied us, without due process, as a matter of routine.
    It would be nice if our families, friends, neighbours, leaders, and other fellow citizens could just get over their prejudices about us. It is really difficult sometimes to see what in the lives we lead should be a source of such interest to so many people.
    At the very least, public institutions should treat gay and lesbian Americans and their lives with the same respect they give heterosexual Americans.
    People's inclinations, orientation, preference, nature, and private lives should be respected, unless it can be shown that some harm to the public interest would result. This is the principle of equal protection under the law.
    • p.137, 138, 139, 140.
  • Many Americans share the feeling that our society has forgotten how to mind its own business.
    • p.141
  • What gays and lesbians have to teach other Americans is that morality is how you live and how you conduct yourself, not what you happen to be.
    • p.142
  • The campaign against gays is really a campaign against modern American society and against the freer women and men who populate and struggle in it. Gay rights attempts to structure that freedom with fairness so that we can get on with the business of building real and stable lives for all the different kinds of people and families inhabiting this country.
    Fairness is what this is about - not the sanctity of marriage or the "promotion" of homosexuality, but fairness.
    • p.166


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