Greg Marshall Embraces Fiction to Find His Truth in ‘Leg’

Marshall's memoir began as series of witty tales about coming of age as a gay man in Utah but quickly became something more.

A composite image a smiling man and the cover of the book 'Leg'
Marshall’s debut memoir is about coming to terms with identity. Courtesy Greg Marshall

Greg Marshall is a writer and editor with a story to tell—and the bona fides to tell it. To date, the Austin local has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow; had his writing featured in The Best American Essays, Lit Hub and Electric Literature; and received the McGinnis-Ritchie Award. Marshall was also born into journalism, though he’s not a proper nepo baby. His father co-owned several Salt Lake City community newspapers and business journals, while his mother had her own column where she wrote about the family’s life.

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You might say Marshall grew up with an appreciation for storytelling of all kinds. In fact, his debut memoir, Leg, started as a series of witty tales about coming of age as a gay (and non-Mormon) man in Utah—and it was precisely his understanding of how to tell a story that helped him see he was missing some significant aspect of his own narrative. That’s how, at 29, he discovered he had cerebral palsy. Something his parents had always known.

We meet for iced coffee on a sunny and violently humid Austin afternoon. I’m recovering from a brutal second-degree sunburn from the weekend prior, but end up sitting on the unshaded outdoor patio of our chosen pink cafe. We discuss everyday topics like sunscreen and questions like: Will AI steal our jobs? Did everyone have an HBO-induced gay awakening? Then we casually shift to talking about the depths of Marshall’s inner life, from his discovery of masturbation with a Brookstone vibrator to his discovery, weeks before turning 30, that his “tight tendons” were cerebral palsy.

He admits anger was his initial response to the revelation. After all, he was a writer working on a book about his life, and there he was sharing stories that were not the whole truth. When I asked why his parents kept his diagnosis a secret, he tells me their intention was to prevent him from being limited by stigmas and false expectations of what it means to be disabled. In other words, it was ableism. What is comes down to, Marshall explains, is who owns and controls your story.

“When you have information kind of protected from your existence,” he says, “you don’t have the agency that you would otherwise to make choices for your own body and for your own treatment.”

Leg considers what occurs when the stories we tell to protect ourselves and others from reality finally find us—and potentially pose a risk to ourselves and those we are supposed to protect.

Marshall shares how his ex-boyfriend Corey showed signs of HIV but never sought treatment or told anyone and then tragically passed away at 25 from AIDS. Marshall later tested negative, but the omission—and the effects of the lies—left him reeling.

“Sometimes a label is just a recognition of reality,” he tells me. “Oftentimes, not having a diagnosis is a label itself called denial.”

His experience with Corey became “the why behind the book,” but Marshall never villainizes his ex. He projects compassion both in person and on the page, even though the complexity of the circumstances are evident in his raw and painful prose. He sheds light on the gray area between truth and deception, and the spaces within us where forgiveness and healing are possible even without formal closure.

How disability enriched his life

After learning of his diagnosis, Marshall had a “thunderclap moment” during which he decided that his leg wasn’t the sidekick in but rather the star of his story.

With full knowledge of his disability, he could fill in the missing pieces of his story while better understanding and offering compassion to himself. The knowledge also changed the way he viewed his family, and he expanded his story to show other people in his life coming to terms with their own identities. This is important because in the Marshall family, disability was omnipresent. His mother fought an on-again-off-again battle with cancer from the time he was in second grade, and his younger sister grappled with finding her place in a neurotypical society.

In Leg, he writes about struggling as an adolescent to connect with his father. It wasn’t until he watched his father’s battle ALS that he could relate to him on a deeper level—in part, because he had only ever known his father as able-bodied. He also explores his relationship with his mother, and it is a treat to read his descriptions of moments of hilarity, raw blunt honesty and the unspoken understanding of how unique and unconventional their mother-son relationship is. There was nothing cookie-cutter about the dynamic; rather, they learned from one another and their shared experiences of disability (and queerness) give the story a powerful arc.

“Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down,” he says, explaining how his family approached the push and pull of caregiving in a household with multiple challenges.

Leg is a universal story

The overarching theme of Leg is open to interpretation. Is Marshall telling us to seize our narrative? To recognize the juxtaposition between what society expects from us and who we really are? Greg’s husband and fellow writer, Lucas Schaefer, playfully jokes the takeaway should be that Greg married well (Greg agrees). Marshall then suggests Leg is a reminder of what exists when an individual embraces their truth.

When I bring up Marshall’s tweet from the day before our interview, he tells me that he should’ve deleted it. “I get so emo on there, God damn it.”

On one hand, he is exploring the stories we all share—both true, imagined or existing in the gray. On the other, his memoir unravels the why behind these illusions. He leads readers on a challenging, yet essential journey: inviting them to discover their own stories as he embraces fiction to reach his truth.

“I think when you believe you’re worthy of the truth and that you can handle it, you will attract truth,” Marshall tells me. He goes on to say that as he’s shed his shame, stigma and internalized ableism toward his body and mind, he’s attracted more honesty.

Honesty is the basis of Leg; it is a chronicle of the journey of coming into one’s truth. Leg explores people and their intentions broadly, looking at what’s beyond objective reality, taking up space and showing the humanity of imperfect characters. At the same time, Marshall’s story isn’t a disability narrative or a gay narrative; it’s very much his story and his alone—a truly personal tale the offers lessons for the rest of us. What it captures is the universal essence of what it means to live in the now and to see people (including ourselves) for who they are with acceptance and compassion.

Greg Marshall Embraces Fiction to Find His Truth in ‘Leg’