Jesse's Book Nook
An Adult Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships
By Perry Brass
How to Survive Your Own Gay Life: An Adult Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships by Perry Brass; Belhue Press, 2501 Palisade Avenue, Suite A1, The Bronx, NY 10463; 224 pages; $11.95.
In How To Survive Your Own Gay Life, Perry Brass answers the age-old questions that bothered generations of queer men: "How to have the adult gay relationships you want and need"; "How to attract and keep relationships"; "How to survive and thrive, no matter what age you are, in the difficult - and exciting - years ahead."
Certainly, if anyone's qualified to answer these questions, it would be Perry Brass. With a resume that goes as far back as Stonewall, Brass's achievements include editing the Gay Liberation Front newspaper Come Out! (1969), founding the Gay Men's Health Project (1973) and, more recently, writing an acclaimed series of poetry, erotic fiction and science fiction books published by Brass's own Belhue Press.
"This book is for every generation of gay men. ... Despite its title, it is often not so much a 'how-to' book, as a 'why-is-it' book. That is: it deals with why are we doing so many awful things to ourselves ... and then how can we change this."
The main challenge gay people face, of course, is homophobia, which is either external or internal but whose "results are the same: a society that is both rejecting of gay men and a gay society that is self-rejecting." "Internalized homophobia works like a sponge, absorbing every negative feeling we experience, both from within and from outside. These negative feelings cut us off from our own tenderness, closeness with ourselves, and sources of strength." Only by recognizing and dealing with the fact can we "survive our own gay lives".
Brass is very community-minded, and in his book he writes about a "gay tribalism" that connects you "with something deep and ancient ... in other men." But he is highly critical of "the merry-go-round of rejection that the gay world has become"; "the obsessive body culture that is turning many gay men into steroid-androids"; and the "circuit parties ... which now screen men for masculinity and youthfulness, giving birth to a new tribe of hairless, pumped up, aging youth impersonators".
Brass's tribe goes deeper; for it is "a level of society that has direct contact with itself. It passes down through direct contact its beliefs and rituals. This is something that many of us are losing daily as 'queerness' becomes a slick magazine, 'digitized' experience - and we lose real contact with those wondrous, deeply compassionate queens ... who came before us." "We enter the tribe alone and naked, without a previous personal history. And yet our own history is a part of the history of the tribe."
Much of How to Survive Your Own Gay Life deals with gay relationships, if only because most gay men seem to be looking for one or trying to keep the one that they have. Brass, who is in a 18-year relationship himself, obviously thinks well of the matter:
According to Brass, "Gays have pioneered what may be the relationships of the future." "Although heterosexual marriage is basically a political union that involves recognition from the state, ... a gay 'marriage' .... is still an exercise in courage, faith, romantic conviction, and commitment" - and more "straight" couples are opting for the gay model.
"[G]ay marriages, by the very fact that so much of the 'marriage' is not or will not be recognized, have much more room in them for individual privacies, for individual friends, for outside affairs which may actually help a gay relationship ..., and for real identification with each other." But even the best relationships have rough spots, and Brass is quick to note that, "[i]f one thing makes it possible to predict the success of a relationship, it is the ability to deal with conflict."
"Few men are trained in being doormats - it is not part of our role, which is the reason why sugar daddies change lollipops so often." Brass advises us "to separate the emotions from the immediate problems", isolate "the causes of conflict" and "work... through each cause separately."
The recent murder of Matthew Shepard has shifted the spotlight from same-sex marriages - which only affects some of us - to anti-gay violence - which affects all of us. Here "surviving your own gay life" is no figure of speech but a life-or-death situation, which is probably why the chapter on "Surviving Anti-Gay Violence" is the most practical, and the advice Brass gives us is most useful.
"[A]nti-gay violence brings forth a fight on its own. To survive. But even if you don't fight back ... the battle for your survival is in front of you."
In How to Survive Your Own Gay Life, Perry Brass writes about "the gay work"; "the inner work, that will keep you on an even keel in life". "The 'gay work' ... is a relationship that we need ... as much as we need lovers, partners, or friends. It is very much a part of our relationships with ourselves, and a foundation we need to combat internalized and externalized homophobia."
"For centuries gay men felt that their calling was to be a shield against the violence that tragically seemed to be a part of human life. Characteristically, we were the monks, poets, doctors, and nurses, rather than rigid knights and hostile warriors."
Queer men also help the world recognize "the male as a being of intrinsic beauty"; "provide a normal brake on population"; and "enrich and enlarge the role of men."
From President Clinton enjoying oral sex in the Oval Office, to teenaged boys proudly displaying their body piercings and tattoos, "straight" males enjoy freedoms that their fathers would have thought unthinkable. Here, as in relationships, humanity has greatly benefited from the presence of gay men and boys, and of our life-giving "gay work".
How to Survive Your Own Gay Life combines practical advice with mysticism; and a chapter about fighting anti-gay violence shares book space with airy sections about such mythopoetic figures as "the Male Companion," "the Holy Trick" and "the True Friend".
Brass's criticism of "hairless, pumped up, aging youth impersonators" is contradicted by the presence of one such character - doubtless a sales device - on the cover of his book. All in all, however, How to Survive Your Own Gay Life is a valuable and, to quote the blurb, "indispensable" book.
Towards the end of How to Survive Your Own Gay Life, Perry Brass talks about "re-creating" ourselves in order "to deal with the generalized depression around us". Brass lists various ways that we can "re-create" ourselves, including exercise, meditation, affirmations, sex, nakedness, masturbation, and massage.
Above all, you can "re-create" yourself by "allow[ing] yourself to become involved with something which is much bigger than you are." In his life and in his work, Perry Brass has "survived his own gay life" by doing just that. How to Survive Your Own Gay Lifecontinues Brass's career of service. It is indeed a "fully-loaded Swiss Army knife for Gay Survival".
Previous Book Reviews from the GayToday Archive:
The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash & the Struggle for Gay Freedom
An Arrow's Flight
Columns by Perry Brass
On Andrew Sullivan & Conservative Values
The Politics of Intimacy
GayToday does not endorse related sites.