This piece was originally published by 100 Days in Appalachia. Growing up in southern West Virginia in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Jeff Mann first came to terms with his sexual identity in the pages of Patricia Nell Warren’s “The Front Runner.” His favorite teacher, who confided to him that she was a lesbian, lent him the love story about a running coach and his star athlete.
“That’s how I learned I was gay,” Mann said. “I read a novel.”
His teenage revelation helped to name a lot of things he’d felt for years, but it also meant some new, hard truths for the West Virginia boy. If he were to be honest, Mann knew, he would likely be shunned from his little hometown of Hinton, or worse. Books and stories, however, offered a safe, inviting refuge, a place to learn and relate.