by Joan Alden
In 2010 Alden set out to write her autobiography. When I First Knew tells the story of her early years from 1951 to 1957 when she began to express herself as a young lesbian, long before the words gay and lesbian were adopted by the community. Strictly speaking, the book is a creative memoir because the sub-plot is fiction.
When I First Knew is Abby Harper’s journey of self discovery in the 1950s with all the challenges of being different in an era of conformity, identity confusion, bullying, and the heartache of shame and rejection, which exist today in spite of new understanding and acceptance of the LGBT community. Abby’s story, both brutally honest and heartwarming, is told in Alden’s voice as a young girl, writing letters to an imaginary friend, Tweed. The story rings as true today as it did yesterday and will tomorrow, for the conflicts that arise from being different play out in the lives of young and old, gay and straight still. The title of the book echoes the first question gays, lesbians, and transgenders are asked, When did you first know?