Author: Eleanor Crewes
Publish Date: October 2020
Publisher: Scribner (imprint of Simon & Schuster)
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1982147112
Author website: https://www.eleanorcrewesillustration.co.uk/
by Soph Myers-Kelley
The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes is a largely light memoir but also potent coming home story for people of the LGBTQ community. It offers what has historically been a non-traditional story about coming out; a story where the person in question does not know they are in the closet, much less how to get out of it. The art is soft black and white drawings that are warm, friendly, and comforting. The book reminded me of many slice-of-life anime, so if you want a book to read on a cozy night, this is the book for you. It’s also messy, breaks the 4th wall, and entertains throughout.
This book does deal with sexuality, compulsive heterosexuality, relationships & dating, and some drinking, so it would be appropriate for ages that can navigate those subjects (with adult support if needed). The book is not explicitly medical-focused but does focus on coming out and the lgbtqia+ community.
Ellie is a strong, curious, funny, and personable protagonist who we see grow up from a precocious child into a steadfast and dedicated adult in the UK. Ellie connects with friends and digs deep into rock, goth culture, and spooky stuff like ghosts. She shares her childhood fascination with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the lesbian romance with Willow and Tara in the show. She becomes obsessed with the red-haired Willow character, emulates her attire whenever possible, and talks about Buffy nonstop at school. Willow is with her throughout her rebellious childhood into adulthood, and she finds she has more in common with Willow than she first realized.
Ellie has a much harder time transitioning from primary school to secondary school. This is a big time when she starts to notice differences in how other girls talk about boys, how they grapple with puberty, and how they start to treat Ellie herself. She escapes on summer family vacations to Italy and dreads the day she must return for school.
As Ellie becomes a teenager and an adult, we see more explicit interest in her friends in dating and sex, whereas pre-teen Ellie has little interest in sex. Ellie’s story is a textbook example of compulsive heterosexuality, where she works desperately hard at dating and believing she hasn’t found the perfect man yet and that her attraction to women can be explained away.
There’s a small but important scene concerning one of her first jobs in a restaurant and feeling a kindred relationship with the other woman (Rose) working there in the kitchen. The men in the kitchen bully and crudely warn Ellie that this woman is a lesbian who might “turn her”. As Eleanor writes “It was simply the first time I had experienced men (not teenage boys) taking something from me that they’d already decided was theirs to take” (142). Whether due to the work environment or some other reason, Rose eventually quits, and Ellie shortly follows her.
Ellie’s first time coming out is not what we generally see in movies, either. She comes out drunk with friends after a New Year’s Eve party; only to go right back in the closet again for some time. Surprisingly, coming out to friends and family is much easier than coming out to oneself. But the story is a triumph; it shows that throughout all this self-discovery one can discover oneself and find friends, community, and romantic partnership that accepts this newly discovered self.
Soph Myers-Kelley is a medical librarian, herbalist, and activist living in North Carolina. They can be contacted at https://www.smyerskelley.com/ and followed at https://www.instagram.com/sophmyerskelley/