Publication Date: July 1, 2014
In Queen Henry by Linda Fausnet, Henry Vaughn Jr. prides himself on a manly presentation of himself to his team-mates on the Baltimore Orioles. He won’t allow them to see him with his much-needed inhaler and when Henry hears that there may be a gay player on the team, this shocking news horrifies and disgusts him. An experimental drug for asthma that will save the inhaler and save Henry’s face leaves him with an attraction to men and, worse, one specific man. Will Henry risk all of come out or lose the relationship that is most important to him?
All proceeds from Queen Henry will be donated to the Harvey Milk Foundation.
On November 10, 1994, the final episode of the Real World San Francisco aired on MTV. Usually, the third season of a show isn’t its most momentous, but in the case of the Real World, viewers were introduced to Pedro Zamora, a 22-year-old activist and AIDS educator. Pedro knew when he agreed to film the show that he was dying and did indeed pass away the day after the finale aired. President Bill Clinton said of Zamora that “We all now know someone who died of AIDS.” Zamora’s widower, Sean Stasser, was appointed to the newly formed Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Sasser also continued in Zamora’s footsteps fighting for the rights of LGBT. Sasser died in 2013 of lung cancer. He long said that he wished he could have been at the hospital with the man to whom he’d committed himself (Zamora’s family barred him access) citing that perhaps he could have helped Zamora’s family in their grief.
Since 1994, the first for LGBT rights had advanced by leaps and bounds. In no small part to Zamora using the end of his life to make an impact on the American people. Any viewer of the program saw the struggle faced by Zamora and Stasser and our hearts broke for them. Showing our differences how alike we are, and the common struggles we face advance this (and any) cause immeasurably. Fausnet’s Henry Vaughn Jr. asks readers what if they felt one way and suddenly without will, choice and against all, they feel another. Why, Vaughn wonders, would this lifestyle and added challenge be something anyone chooses? It’s so much easier to do what people will accept.
On the surface, Queen Henry is light and funny. Vaughn is an asshole at the start of the novel but he’s a self-aware asshole. Somewhere in his heart, he knows that he must tiptoe around the topic of the gay player on the team. He knows it’s silly to hide his inhaler, but he can’t bring himself to leave himself open to any criticism from team-mates. Henry is terrified when he starts experiencing an attraction to men. He’s horrified, he’s angry and he tries all he can to deny who he has become. Given a choice, Henry would be having sex with every woman he passes on the street. More terrifying for Henry, it becomes clear that it’s only a matter of time before he’s found out unless he ends his relationship with his out and proud and very male paramour. Would he lose his job if they knew? Framed in this very light tale, Fausnet shines a light on concerns that people who live lifestyles other than what is normally accepted face every day.
Accepting Henry isn’t easy for the gay men with whom he’s forced to interact. Sam, a research assistant working on the experimental medication, frankly doesn’t believe him. Is Henry attempting in a horribly twisted way to make fun of gay men? In an attempt to find the truth, Sam brings in Thomas, an activist known for helping people. The attraction between Thomas and Henry has a very authentic feel. Fausnet doesn’t throw the two implausibly together in a contrived scheme. Her characterization at the start of the novel runs the gamut of stock stereotypes but as we read it becomes clear that Henry isn’t really looking at people with any sort of depth so we can’t see them with any depth until he starts to change.
Told in Vaughn’s voice, the reader gets the full impact of his emotional struggle. There are no easy choices for this young athlete. If only all of us were forced to live the differences we don’t understand, the world would be a better place. In Henry’s extreme circumstances, he gains an empathy if not bravery from which we could all benefit.
While Fausnet’s Queen Henry is in no way the perfect novel, it accomplishes the goal beautifully. We are all the same and it’s fear that keeps us from celebrating all of our fellow humans. Faced with a Pedro Zamora or even a fictional Henry Vaughn Jr., putting a face on our differences is essential is advancing the cause. The world opens to Henry in a way he never wanted and simply could not have been prepared to accept.
Queen Henry is a wonderfully written, light and entertaining read that shines an important light on the issue of LBGT rights and the challenges they face.
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