Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Book: Swish: My Quest To Become The Gayest Person Ever

My local library branch has the largest collection of LGBT library books in the East Bay (which is awesome), so when I was over there browsing the other day, this was face-out, calling my name as an easy, fun read. I was not disappointed!

Not so much a "first I did this, then I did this" accounting of his "quest," this was more a memoir of how Derfner ends up pursuing all manner of stereotypical 'gay' activities, either due to his own desire, his own insecurities, or the urging of his editor.

I'm about as open-minded as it gets, and I have to say that Mr. Derfner could not be more gay if he tried (and he tried!). He has a masters in Musical Theater, is a step aerobic instructor, tried a brief stint as a go-go dancer, loves to knit, has been a cheerleader, bakes a mean apple pie, and has slept with half of the gay population of Manhattan. (I exaggerate, but not more than he does!). He is also now in a deeply committed relationship with an amazing man, with whom he intends to spend the rest of his life.

Written in an extremely literate style (he's also very, very smart and witty, sort of like an ultra-gay David Sedaris, only I didn't laugh until I cried, which I always do with Sedaris books), Swish is more about Derfner personally, than a broad statement about gaydom in general. As they say, the political is personal. Only there's no politics in here (with the exception of a few asides about how STUPID it is that gay people can't marry).

He's also extremely neurotic. As the friend who recommended this book to me says, "If I ever start thinking that I'm too neurotic, I just read a few pages and realize that I'm in the minor leagues compared to him." In terms of the book, this is a wonderful thing. Nothing like saying, "Hey, I do that... only I'm not nearly as neurotic as you are...."

Towards the end, Derfner attends an Exodus conference. Exodus is a large Christian group that believes that you can pray your way out of being gay. Although he admittedly goes to this conference prepared to try and reconvert all the converts, after witnessing the pain of the people at the conference who fiercely believe that it's a deep character flaw (and a sin) that they are gay, he softens and starts to see the humanity of the conference attendees (although his perspective remains different than theirs).

However, some of the misconceptions of the people there brought me up short. For instance, one man believed (he was always "told") that gay people could not have monogamous, intimate, committed relationships. He thought it was impossible, even though this is what he desperately wanted. He figured that if he could find love with a woman, then he could have the monogamous relationship that he desired (nevermind that he has never been attracted to a woman in his whole life). He was astonished when Derfner told him differently. At this, I just felt confused. And grateful. What do you mean? Just because everyone told you that you can't have a monogamous gay relationship, how can you just accept that as truth, when what you WANT and envision for yourself is a monogamous gay relationship? I just couldn't wrap my brain around that. How can you not know that it's possible?

I felt very grateful for many things at that moment. Grateful that I was brought up to believe that whatever you want for yourself, you can have. Also not to believe everything I'm told, if it feels wrong to me, no matter the source. Also that I am loved, no matter what my orientation is or isn't. Also that I live on the West Coast and not the Bible Belt. Also, deeply grateful to be myself, with all my experiences and opinions and mistakes and growth and everything else. I realized right then how incredibly lucky I am to be absolutely fine with who I am, in all my facets. It just breaks my heart that there are people who could be happy, who think that they are condemned, all for just loving the person whom they love. It's a complicated issue, I realize. And I respect people's wishes and beliefs. But I do wish that there was a wider path for these people, so that they wouldn't have to hate themselves so deeply, if somehow they could find another way to be okay with who they are and who they love. I know everyone believes what they're going to believe, but still. Hate, even/especially when directed at yourself, isn't really a great thing. I can't believe God would want that, if God wants anything.

Ok, off my soapbox. BUT, the end of this book was thought-provoking and kindly written and all about love and support and connection and all those good things.

This was different than I expected, but funny, thoughtful, entertaining and also really made me want to go to Camp Camp, because how fun would that be?


Eva said...

This sounds like fun! I know next to nothing about LGBT lit, so you should totally make a list or some recommendations. :)

Anonymous said...

OMG - I wanna go to Camp Camp too!


Daphne said...

Eva: I don't, either! I'll have to do some exploring here. There were some fun-looking biographies, etc. I'll share as I find out more.

Daphne said...

Lara: doesn't it sound like fun? I totally want to go.

Tammie said...

i enjoyed you being on your soapbox.

the book sounds intriguing, expecially the Exodus part. are you familiar with the term cognitive dissonance? you know, that weird feeling you get when reason and fact start to crash head on with what you've been told to be true by others your entire life?

i imagine there is a lot of cognitive dissonance going on in rooms of Exodus conferences.

Having grown up in an extremely conservative religion, I can say first hand that the moment you step out of it and stop believeing what everyone has "told" you can be eye-opening and scary. I can only imagine the feeling is even more intense for a gay person who has basically been told they, and their behaviour, is evil.

sorry, if im babbling...but i think this is an interesting topic.

(on a lighter note: i need to go find your post about Breaking Dawn now...I finished the book yesterday.)

Daphne said...

Tammie: Thanks! I could have soapboxed a lot longer but thought I got my point across. :) I feel pretty lucky that my experiences with conservative religion are only fringe-y at worst, since my temperment seems to naturally be a bit anti-conservative, for better or worse.

Nymeth said...

This book sounds awesome! And I enjoyed your "soapbox moment" too. I can't even begin to imagine what being both gay and deeply conservative religious must be like. It does seem strange that people wouldn't trust their own feelings and experiences and realize that all the things they're told are simply not true. But on the other hand, it can be so hard to put aside what you were taught to believe all your life.

Susan said...

One of my close friends for many years is gay, and i've watched him go through so many of the things this author does! I might have to get this book to read it. And how sad that someone thought their sexual orientation doomed them to a life of non-lasting love.

It is very hard to step away from religion, for any reason, though having done it, I recommend it. It's difficult to be in a group and not want to be the same as everyone in it, but the value from allowing differences is beyond words. I do wish California hadn't voted to repeal the law for gay marriage again. Up here in Canada it's been legal for some time, though getting gay rights recognized by the government is another matter.

Anyway, I enjoyed your soapboax! And your review of the book. Thanks!