Since, in his usual way, Barney Frank gets right to the point in his new memoir, I will too: the most engaging—and indeed occasionally heartrending (not an adjective I ever thought I’d use in writing about Frank)—parts of this book are those in which he discusses his long struggles with his sexuality and relationships. He opens by announcing his confusion when, at the age of 14 in 1954, he realized that “I was attracted to the other guys.” At several points he writes of the torment he felt as he also realized how much he hungered to live a political, and thus unusually public, life and what that meant: constant fear, certainly back when he was starting out, that in pursuing such a career, he risked an exposure that would finish him.
And finally, he writes with simple eloquence about finding true love late in life, at age 67, with Jim Ready, whom he married in 2012. A book that begins with his description of the terror he felt at being “an involuntary member of one of America’s most despised groups” closes with an affecting little passage, a kind of auto-benediction, that marks how far both society and Frank have come:
Sixty years ago, when I began to think about how to maximize my participation in politics, I understood that it would require the repression of any private life. Today, I cite the emotional damage I inflicted on myself when I speak with younger LGBT people who ask my advice. It took me far too long to achieve a happy, fulfilling domestic existence … Looking back, I think I was pretty good at my job. Now it is time to be good at life, and with Jim’s help, I think I can be.
It is surprising, as I suggested above, to find oneself being moved by Frank, a man typically described in the press as “brusque” or “acerbic,” and less euphemistically known to be, well, rude. He was never one for small talk. He did not suffer fools patiently. He hated campaigning, as he acknowledges in this book, but the problem seems to have run even deeper. One former aide has spoken about how hard Frank’s staff worked to minimize his campaign schedule, in order to keep him away from as many voters as possible. The more voters he met, his aides’ logic went, the more of them he was likely to alienate.