In this Utah native’s memoir, he explores his queer and disabled identity

Greg Marshall says his book is a coming-of-age story ‘that didn’t end when I turned 18 or 21.′

(Abrams Books) Greg Marshall, author of "Leg," a memoir about growing up queer, with a disability, and in Utah.

Greg Marshall’s memoir “Leg” is a coming-of-age story, the author said, but not a typical one.

“I really wanted to tell a story of coming of age that didn’t end when I turned 18 or 21,” Marshall said.

Much of what’s in the memoir — which is set to be released June 13 — ties back to stories, moments and revelations that made Marshall who he is today. And three of the key factors that shaped his identity are being queer, being disabled and growing up in Utah.

Marshall lives in Austin, Texas, but his roots are in Utah. He grew up in Holladay, and graduated from Skyline High School in 2003. He worked as a journalist for the Park Record, in Park City.

His background is in nonfiction writing, and he never tried writing creative nonfiction — though he said he can trace the urges to do so throughout his life. He recounted once in school, when the teachers brought in Margaret Pellegrini, who played one of the Munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz” to speak to his choir group. That moment, he said, was one he wanted to write about.

(Abrams Books) The cover of "Leg," author Greg Marshall's memoir about growing up queer, with a disability, and in Utah.

In 2014, Marshall hit another turning point: He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects muscle posture and position.

“I started to look back at my childhood in a new light. It was kind of like discovering this mystery, that I didn’t know was a mystery,” he said. “It made things like meeting Margaret Pellegrini seem completely different, more like an engagement with my disability and my identity.”

Marshall said he had jokingly called the memoir his “Leaves of Grass,” a reference to Walt Whitman’s monumental work, because “the stories kind of kept getting older and older.”

During the writing process, Marshall said, the stories ended up tracking sexual and bodily milestones in the way many coming-of-age novels do.

Coming out as gay as a freshman in college was a very traditional experience, he said. He called it the “Spring Break bombshell” after he found himself watching the HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s epic play “Angels in America,” and realizing he shouldn’t be identifying with the bad guys.

Going public with his disability, he said, struck the same chord.

“At first, I felt betrayed by not being told that I had this diagnosable disability and that I’ve had it since I was 18 months old,” Marshall said. Growing up, he said, he remembered his parents always saying he had tight tendons, heavy plegia, a type of paralysis.

The lie felt a lot like “being cheated of autonomy in his lifetime,” Marshall said. “I had the trappings and treatments of having cerebral palsy, but in my own mind, I never connected it to disability in a larger sense as an identity.”

Eventually, he said, he came to a profound appreciation of finally having an explanation about his body and mind that made sense to him.

Through grappling with the notions of queerness and disability, Marshall said, he was able to trace those lines back in his own family. His mother has cancer, and his father died in 2008 from ALS. He was one of his father’s primary caregivers.

“Once I started to write about my body in a way that felt authentic and true, [to] express the magnitude of what I’ve been through, it started to recast other events in my childhood in different ways,” he said.

Being able to explore and reflect on these things, even through his own experience, was healing, he said. One of the most cathartic moments, he said, was “writing about Dad, and really bringing him back to life and wellness in my essays.”

Looking at “Leg,” the memoir, as a whole, Marshall said, “I’m 38 years old, and for people in my generation, it takes a long time to figure out who you are, and where you fit on any number of spectrums.”