On Being Different

What It Means to be a Homosexual

Author: Merle Miller

Forword: Dan Savage

Afterword: Charles Kaiser

The groundbreaking work on being homosexual in America—available again only from Penguin Classics and with a new foreword by Dan Savage.


Available as paperback and NookBook™


Available as paperback and eBook


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On Being Different

40 Years Later

Originally published in 1971, Merle Miller’s On Being Different is a pioneering and thought-provoking book about being homosexual in the United States. Just two years after the Stonewall riots, Miller wrote a poignant essay for the New York Times Magazine entitled “What It Means To Be a Homosexual” in response to a homophobic article published in Harper’s Magazine. Described as “the most widely read and discussed essay of the decade,” it carried the seed that would blossom into On Being Different—one of the earliest memoirs to affirm the importance of coming out.

Merle Miller on the original publishing of On Being Different


"We will see what happens to On Being Different… I hope the best for it, but cannot wipe from my mind the poetry of Yevtushenko:


One day posterity will remember, these strange times

when honesty was called courage…."





Dan Savage (from the Foreword)

"The social change we've witnessed over the last forty years was never a given. Change began when men like Merle Miller decided that they had had enough and that they had to stand up for themselves and their friends".

Charles Kaiser (from the Afterword)

"Merle Miller's landmark piece was a vital, courageous step in this magnificent transformation of America".

“Forty years after Miller’s article and book his eloquent voice is still poignant, still relevant to the ongoing struggle, our struggle for dignity and equal rights.” 

Jonathan Ned Katz, Founder, CoDirector OutHistory.org

“Forty years later, the story Miller tells remains important and necessary to read, not only for both gay and straight readers to understand “the way it used to be,”but because the issues Miller raises are still being discussed and argued about.”

Nancy Pearl, Best Selling Author, Literary Critic and NPR host

“Brilliant, moving, and one is obliged to add, courageous narrative of personal homosexuality.”

James A. Wechsler, Columnist

"Merle Miller’s On Being Different is a searing indictment of social hypocrisy, written  with a quiet but burning passion…This book is not only a  valuable historical document about the gay civil rights movement, but it is an American classic because of the beauty it achieves through its unflinchingly honest portrayal of the raw pain of rejection".

David Carter, Author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution

“The publication in 1971, of Merle Miller’s moving and deeply personal story was an important milestone in gay history.  Forty years later, as America moves ever closer to full equality for gay and lesbian people, we need to recall – and emulate – the courage of Miller and others of his generation who helped crack open the closet door.  A new edition of On Being Different will revive an important voice for freedom and acceptance at a time when we most need to heart it.”

Charles C. Hayes, Senior Scholar First Amendment Center and Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project


Merle Miller

Merle Miller is the author of fourteen best-selling books, the writer of numerous television plays, two movie scripts, as well as being a contributing writer to several books on WWII.

Born in Marshalltown, Iowa, on May 17, 1917, Merle Miller was educated at the University of Iowa and the London School of Economics.  During World War II, he served as an editor and combat correspondent for YANK, The Army Weekly both in the Pacific Theater and in Europe. He was awarded two Bronze Stars with oak-leaf cluster for bravery displayed in combat in the war, but in 1968 he returned them to General Westmoreland in protest of the war in Asia.  While in post-war Paris his first novel, ISLAND 49 was published.

His second novel, THAT WINTER, was published on January 22, 1948, to rave reviews. Miller wrote many television plays as well, but his postwar career as a television script writer and novelist was interrupted by the advent of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the “blacklist.” As a member of the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, he was asked to head up an investigation to learn all the facts. He attended hearings in Congress and wrote a report of his findings which was turned into the book, THE JUDGES AND THE JUDGED, and published by Doubleday & Co. in 1952.

Throughout the 1950’s he was blacklisted from movies and television, where he had been making his living and it wasn’t until the early 1960’s that he re-entered television by writing a series for CBS. The series never made it, but he wrote about his Kafkaesque experiences in the best- selling non-fiction book, ONLY YOU DICK DARING.

PLAIN SPEAKING: An Oral Biography of Truman, perhaps Miller's most widely known work, was published in 1971. The book remained number one on the best seller list in the New York Times for over a year and only recently has gone out of print. It was while interviewing Truman in Independence that Merle’s novel A GAY AND MELANCHOLY SOUND was published to rave reviews. “This novel is big, clever, sardonic and readable from first to last…” “One of the two or three really important books to come along in this country since the war…It is not only his best book; that goes without saying. It is one of the best books.”

In 1971 Merle became one of the first of prominence to come out of the closet in a ground breaking article in the New York Times Magazine, WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A HOMOSEXUAL   The article received over two thousand letters, more than had ever been received by that newspaper, and as a result he became one of the most prominent spokesman for the Gay Movement.. The article with some additional material was published into a book titled ON BEING DIFFERENT: What It Means to be a Homosexual. He said he wrote the book because as a political person he felt the laws ought to be changed. Homosexuality is also the subject of his auto-biographical novel, WHAT HAPPENED, which was published in 1972, and is a book he considered one of his best.

Merle Miller died of peritonitis in Danbury Hospital in Connecticut, in June of 1986.


Additional Contributors

On Being Different

Dan Savage (Foreword)

Daniel Keenan "Dan" Savage is an American author, media pundit, journalist and newspaper editor.  Savage writes the internationally syndicated relationship and sex advice column Savage Love. Its tone is frank in its discussion of sexuality, often humorous, and hostile to social conservatives and Rick Santorum's views on homosexuality. Savage has clashed with cultural conservatives on the right, and the gay establishment, on the left. He has also worked as a theater director, both under his real name and under the name Keenan Hollahan, using his middle name and his grandmother's maiden name.  In 2010, Savage and his husband Terry Miller began the It Gets Better Project to help prevent suicide among LGBT youth.

Charles Kaiser (Afterword)

Charles Kaiser is the author of The Gay Metropolis, the landmark history of gay life in America, which is available in an updated edition from Grove.  His writing has appeared in New York, The New York Observer, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and among many other publications. Kaiser was a founder and former president of the New York chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He has taught journalism at Columbia and Princeton, where he was the Ferris Professor of Journalism.  Kaiser is an expert on the media, politics, the ’60’s, and gay life in America.  He is an avid bike rider and lives in the Upper West side of Manhattan.

Carol Hanley (Notes and Appendices)

Carol Hanley was Merle Miller's longtime friend and confidante, editor, researcher and co-writer.  She is the executrix of his literary estate and compiled the end notes and appendices for the new edition of On Being Different.  In a journal entry before he died, Miller wrote, "...it seems to me I should record that Carol has played so crucial and marvelous a part in my life."  Carol, along with Miller's companion of 21 years, the author David W. Elliott, were with Miller during his final hours.  Together they buried his ashes alongside the "glass house," in upstate New York, the house Miller said he felt more at home in than any place in the world. She now lives in Charleston, South Carolina, where she is currently at work completing a biography of Miller based on his journals, correspondence, interviews, and her own personal experiences.

Dan Savage, Charles Kaiser, and Victor Navasky  (L to R) discuss On Being Different at the
release event in Manhattan on October 11th. The book is going into a second printing already due to popular demand.

Full story here.

When The New York Times came Out Of The Closet

Afterword writer Charles Kaiser is featured in this New York Review piece about On Being Different.

Full story here.


NPR's Nancy Pearl selects Miller's A Gay and Meloncholy Sound as a must read for Summer 2012

"I have loved Merle Miller's A Gay and Melancholy Sound since I first read it when I was 18 and discovered it on the shelves of the fiction section of the Annapolis Public Library when I was a student at St. John's College there. Originally published in 1961and long unavailable, it's the first book I helped bring back into print as part of the Book Lust Rediscoveries series that I curate for Amazon. It's one of the purest examples I know of the novel-as-autobiography genre.

Full story here.

No events planned at this time.

LBGT links

The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better.

HRC seeks to improve the lives of LGBT Americans by advocating for equal rights and benefits in the workplace, ensuring families are treated equally under the law and increasing public support among all Americans.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation was founded by Dennis and Judy Shepard in memory of their 21-year old son, Matthew, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998.  Created to honor Matthew in a manner that was appropriate to his dreams, beliefs, and aspirations, the Foundation seeks to “Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion, & Acceptance” through its varied educational, outreach and, advocacy programs and by continuing to tell Matthew’s story.

Guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constiution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. Works to extend rights to segments of our population that have traditionally been denied their rights, including lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people.


The Gay Center provides a home for the birth, nurture and celebration of our organization, institutions and culture; cares for our individuals and groups in need; educates the public and our community and empowers  individuals and groups to achieve their fullest potential.

The guide is built around five core expectations: protect people from homophobic violence, prevent tortune, descriminalize homosexuality, prohibit discrimination and safeguard LGBT people’s freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

Alliance for full acceptance. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight allies in Charleston, South Carolina, uniting to eliminate prejudice based on sexual orientation.

A website about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and heterosexual history…OutHistory was produced in its first four years by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) located at the City University of New York Graduate Center. The site was founded and is co-directed by Jonathan Ned Katz.



Find more of Merle Miller's many best-selling books online at Amazon, including the recently republished A Gay and Meloncholy Sound.

Savage Love is a syndicated sex-advice column by Dan Savage. The column appears weekly in several dozen newspapers, mainly free newspapers in the US and Canada, but also newspapers in Europe and Asia. It started in 1991 with the first issue of the Seattle weekly newspaper The Stranger.

Charles Kaiser is the author of The Gay Metropolis, the landmark history of gay life in America, which is available in an updated edition from Grove.  His writing has appeared in New York, The New York Observer, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and among many other publications.

Nancy Pearl is an American librarian, best-selling author, literary critic and was, until August 2004, the Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library. Her prolific reading and her knowledge of books and literature first made her locally famous in Seattle, Washington, where she regularly appears on public radio recommending books. She achieved broader fame with Book Lust, her 2003 guide to good reading. Pearl was named 2011 Librarian of the Year by Library Journal.

For general inquiries regarding Merle Miller's literary estate:

Carol V Hanley

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Carol V Hanley

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