Review. Flying Colors
By Jonathan Danilowitz
Smashwords 2012, 111 pp.
Flying Colors is a deeply personal account by Jonathan Danilowitz of coming to terms with his own homosexuality after years of in-the-closet self-criticism. It's also a very political book, covering one of the most publicized civil rights cases of the 1990s -- one in which Danilowitz played a key role. An unlikely activist, Danilowitz takes us through the formative accomplishments of the gay rights movement and opening our eyes to just how different our society was only a few years ago. This thoughtful, emotion-packed book is a stark reminder of just how much progress has been made in so little time; but also, how much effort it took for the activists to get us here.
The story begins with Danilowitz, a Jew growing up in South Africa under the Apartheid regime, where our protagonist begins at a very young age to get an idea of how irrational hatred divides humanity. He is forbidden by his parents from playing with his black friend in public, for fear that some neighbor might intervene violently for not following the rules that encourage white people to persecute blacks without thinking about it. Quite early on, he also discovers his homosexuality -- even if in those boyhood years he doesn't yet have a name for his attraction to other boys, and soon after begins to hide his feelings. This habit would continue for much of his life. This part of Danilowitz's story is tragic for alternating between warm family anecdotes and darker scenes lurking at the edges.
South Africa is not a place where Danilowitz can thrive. He becomes a flight attendant, travels the world and begins to understand from a greater perspective just how thoroughly he has been conditioned to view other peoples as second-class citizens and view himself with self-loathing. He learns that the things he thought he knew were not true. The healing begins -- but it's a long process, with pitfalls and setbacks along the way.
Danilowitz moves to Israel -- ironically, a place that anti-Israel activists will libelously describe as an Apartheid state. Danilowitz knows better, having seen the real thing. That said, Israel in the 1990s was still making progress at the edges to becoming the gay-friendly nation we know today. Danilowitz joined the forefront of gay activism in Israel to help make that future happen; the book begins to gather momentum as it describes how Danilowitz used the law to overome discriminatory treatment of homosexuals by his own airline.
As an autobiographical story, Flying Colors is almost a bit too heavy on the details of Danilowitz' comings and goings throughout his career. Relationships seem to form and sputter with equal randomness (though one gets the sense that this is precisely the tragedy of living a closeted life for many years until his catharctic coming-out: healthy relationships are hard to sustain under a veil of secrecy.)
As a true tale of how civil rights are won -- and what it takes to forge an unlikely hero who wins them, this short book is authentic and insightful -- and well worth reading.
Jonathon Narvey is the Editor of The Propagandist