The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World by Alan Down

There is something in it

That the author was raised as a Christian fundamentalist may explain the template through which he sees his clients. His central thesis is that it is not being gay, per se, which damages people’s self-esteem and emotionally disables them. Rather, it is the fact that gay men have to hide from straight society, having been taught that they were unacceptable. This explains the high suicide rate and substance abuse.

The author claims that the damage caused to gay men is unlike that of any other minority group. A distant relationship with a father, compensated by an over-doting mother is not the cause of homosexuality but is caused by it. Really? I would have thought that most people born before the 1960s had a distant father.

Lacking validation from their families, gay men seek it by being the best at their jobs, have superior `fashion skills’ and go `over the top’ if someone else makes them feel invalidated, for example by postponing a lunch date. I think this is a gross stereotype/

Why do so many gay partnerships break up? According to the author, the odds are stacked against two wounded people sustaining a relationship because a life of hiding and splitting makes authenticity, honesty and vulnerability difficult. Is the author not aware of the similarly high number of heterosexual couples who split up?

Gays who seek sex as a form of validation will tire of a partner with a lower sex drive. Is the author unaware that straight couples often have the same `problem’?

Where I most take issue with the author is his statement that homophobia in adolescence is natural. They used to say that about racism. If it is right, all our work in schools to tackle it is doomed to failure.

The book group suggested that the only thing that distinguishes gay from straight men is what they fancy lust/love-wise. However, some went on to say that though the author’s Christian background and his rebound from it have shaped his perceptions, and though this is an American book based on work with clients who encounter more religious fanaticism that here in the UK, there is’ nevertheless, “something in it”. That a gay man’s first love becomes a template for all future relationships, especially if there was rejection, that one will not find an ideal partner from a tick list of desirable qualities and that, controversially, because people who have been abused often abuse others, sado-masochistic sex is a playing out of past injuries – then again, is it not the case that S & M partners play within boundaries and have a code word for `stop now?’

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