I love reviews on Amazon.com and Goodreads. Typically, they are from folks who are not in the literary world other than to (hopefully) enjoy a book. I consider them the truest and purest of reviews.
This morning I woke up to a new review of ONE GAY AMERICAN on amazon.com. The book was given 4 out of 5 stars and I loved what the man had to say:
I was fascinated by this memoir because Dennis Milam Bensie and I are exactly the same age, and so I remember a lot of the events he refers to in the book as they happened. We grew up in the same country with the same cultural references and shared public experiences. And we both set off on the same journey of coming out as whole people at a time when that was a lot harder than it is in 21st century America.
And what’s fascinating is how different our stories are. As I read I found myself wondered how much that of that comes from being different people vs. living in different places; Bensie lived in a small town in middle America, while I was growing up in a suburb of New York City. Bensie lost himself in dolls and the arts while I threw myself into literary fiction, science, and my new & politics junkie tendencies.
I was just as socially maladapted as him – but a bit more tuned into the outside world, and fortunate to live in a part of the country where gay people were somewhat less of an oddity, religion much less of a plague, and with a direct path out of my hometown in the form of college.
So I appreciated getting a look at how the world looked to someone in entirely different circumstances… and how much was still the same, such as the pressure to do what was expected and the lack of good models to follow. I was fortunate; while Bensie was getting married to show that he could be the man he was supposed to be, I was meeting gay and lesbian peers and discovering a whole world of sane, well-adjusted gay men at all stages of life. And my Bensie was still kicking around Illinois I made it to Boston.
But every story has value and there were probably a lot more gay kids living a life closer to Bensie’s than mine. Some of what he describes may be hard to relate to if you’re in your 20s; yes, gay people really were that invisible in the 80s.
My only gripe with the book was that while I congratulate Bensie for sharing so much of his own story, including the difficult parts, there are some sections where it’s clear he’s not sharing some things – which is his right, of course – and I got a sense that there was some real emotional development going on that isn’t included here, making some of the life transitions feel very abrupt and strange.
But that’s a relatively small complaint. Many people of my generation will see themselves in this book (and I did in many places, despite the differences in our lives) and many others will learn something about the devastating impact that homophobia has on people and families.
So thanks for telling your story, Mr Bensie, from this unknown brother who was living his own version of it many miles away. We made it!