I came across Good-Bye, I Love You by Carol Lynn Pearson after discovering a 34-year-old copy of People magazine in my garage. I read the article on the author’s story, and recalled seeing Pearson on “Donahue”–this has to be 34 years ago–so I recall its resonance, especially on me as a young closeted gay man. Although the book has no formal subtitle, Pearson or her publishers explain what the book is about on the front cover: she had married a man whose gay dalliances drove them to divorce and eventually his later death from AIDS. I was able to acquire this book through my library system’s interloans service. Thanks to the Newmarket Public Library for lending it to us.
Pearson and her husband Gerald were devout Mormons who were pillars of their community. During their courtship Gerald revealed to her that he had had gay relations, but that he was over them and ready to move on with a wife and start a family. Pearson was so in love with him that she wasn’t worried about it, although 20/20 hindsight exposed the truth to her besotted blindness.
In 1986 when this book was written, an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence. The Reagan administration was reluctant to deal with the “gay plague” and this form of official denial led to sanctioned homophobic ignorance. In the early eighties people were terrified of AIDS, giving rise to an AIDS panic where gay men were shunned or beaten up as scapegoats. With this environment in mind, it is a testament to Pearson’s faith and honour that she cared for her ex-husband in her home as he was dying of AIDS.
Pearson with Gerald’s support and financial backing became a published writer and poet and was often in demand as a motivational speaker. She could write a story that I did not want to put down. I raced through her book from the first page but accelerated my pace after she discovered that Gerald had been seen in gay bars.
The level of maturity in how the couple dissolved their marriage while remaining devoted to each other and their four children is a model to all of us. While gallons of tears flowed in this book, there was no rage. Pearson educated herself at Gerald’s urging and learned more about homosexuality than she had ever known before, and to this day is an advocate for gay acceptance in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In spite of my admiration for Pearson and her devotion to her faith to care for her ex-husband on his deathbed, there is a marked datedness to the story in its overall depiction of homosexuality. No book published today would have used the word “homosexual” on the cover (and throughout the book to the extent that it did). The mot du jour in regards to a specific male context is “gay”. Granted, the author was chaste before marriage and lives her entire life according to devout Mormon principles, so a 21st-century gay awareness cannot be attributed to her over forty years ago. Nonetheless, certain remarks about Gerald struck me as jibes. For example, from as soon as page 8, shortly after she met her future husband, she remarked:
“And he was crazy about Barbra Streisand.”
She also commented on Gerald’s love of disco music over her own preference for dance music. Remarks like these could also be interpreted as personal reproaches, as if she was shaking her head as she was writing the book and saying “How could I not have known that Gerald was gay? He was crazy about Barbra Streisand and loved disco music.”.