Gerry B's Book Reviews

Here’s What We’ll say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy, Reichen Lehmkuhl

A timely look at the anachronistic  ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy.

 

 

 

Blurb: Reichen Lehmkuhl is perhaps best known for the ambition, intelligence, and athleticism that won him the grand prize on CBS’s Amazing Race. Since winning the million-dollar prize, Lehmkuhl has gone on to find success acting in film and television. However, he played the biggest role of his life long before his professional acting debut, when he was forced to hide his sexuality to comply with the Air Force’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Here’s What We’ll Say tells the harrowing inside story of what happens when cadets who are committed to serving their nation’s military figure out that they are in fact gay. With no way out and no place to turn for protection, a new code of conduct emerged among gay and lesbian cadets that helped ensure their safety. Gathering secretly in various locations, cadets formed a hidden network. To guarantee the privacy of individuals in attendance, however, each meeting opened with, “Here’s what we’ll say…” — a pledge so sacred that the group had it inscribed on the inside of their class rings.

About the author: Reichen Lehmkuhl is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, a former captain in the Air Force, an actor, an international model, a flight instructor, winner of CBS’s Amazing Race, and a gay rights advocate. He lives in Los Angeles.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Given the current debate regarding the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy, Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy” by Reichen Lehmkuhl [Da Capo Press, 2007] is a timely topic. Regretfully those that need to read it most—the religious fundamentalists and dogmatic, small-c conservatives–will probably never see it.

Lehmkuhl’s story relates his troubled childhood; the breakup of his parents’ marriage, the feeling of not being wanted, and the psychological impact of all this. His feelings of inadequacy are also exacerbated by the stigma of living in a trailer park—i.e. the perception of being “trailer trash.” However, apart from being Lehmkuhl’s own story there is nothing unique about this. Nor is there anything about it that would necessarily be deleterious to a person’s later life. Therefore, I question the author’s choice of devoting 50% of the book to the telling of it when a quarter of the 368 pages would have said it all quite nicely.

Fortunately the second 50% somewhat redeems the prosaic first part, and finally gets down to the business of his coming out and the U.S. Air Force Academy, as stated in the title.

Although I was vaguely familiar with the discipline of a military academy, the pseudo-sadistic hazing rituals, etc., Lehmkuhl’s intimate knowledge of such has revealed much I didn’t know. For example, I knew nothing about the demeaning practice of running the “strip” [see photo to the left], which Basic Recruits are required to do between classes, or the memorizing of meaningless passages for the sake of being able to spout them on demand. It all seems rather mindless, but it is something that has worked to develop men for decades, and in the case of Westpoint Military Academy has worked since the time of Thomas Jefferson.

More odious is the systematic scourging of homosexuals at the official level; a point that ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ doesn’t address. This umbrella approach does not preclude being investigated or ‘outed’ by someone else. It also doesn’t preclude significant numbers of raunchy, virile young lads from indulging in ‘extra-curricular activities’ in spite of the risk.

To counteract this ever-present risk, Lemhkuhl describes how he founded an ad hoc brother and sisterhood, referred to as the “family,” which operated on the pragmatic basis of you lie and we’ll all swear to it, in order to protect one anothers’ asses. While one might argue the ethics of such a principle, Lemhkuhl makes a compelling argument for its validation on the basis of counteracting an even greater injustice.

Overall I found this story to be a worthwhile read on account of its look behind the anachronism of  ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. Three and one-half stars.

January 31, 2011 – A new threshold for viewership has been achieved! Thanks to you, January was the best month ever with 1,104 viewers. I am humbled by your interest, and sincere in my thanks. Gerry B.

January 29, 2011 Posted by | Autobiography, Military history, Non-fiction | 4 Comments

Sal Mineo: A Biography, by Michael Gregg Michaud

A life story, an adventure, and a romance – highly recommended

 

 

 

Blurb: Sal Mineo is probably most well-known for his unforgettable, Academy Award–nominated turn opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and his tragic murder at the age of thirty-seven. Finally, in this riveting new biography filled with exclusive, candid interviews with both Mineo’s closest female and male lovers and never-before-published photographs, Michael Gregg Michaud tells the full story of this remarkable young actor’s life, charting his meteoric rise to fame and turbulent career and private life.

About the author: MICHAEL GREGG MICHAUD’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and publications, including the Los Angeles Times. He is also a playwright, editor, artist, and award-winning photographer. An animal-rights defender, he is a founding director of the Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation. He lives in Los Angeles.

*Available in e-book format – 2137KB

Review by Gerry Burnie 

When I first came upon the title “Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud [Crown Archetype, 2010], I knew it was something I had to read. You see, in 1965 I spent an intimate evening with Sal Mineo in Toronto, and although this time was brief I can attest to some of the characteristics Michaud writes about; certainly Mineo’s disarming charm, his impetuousness, and his passion for life at whatever he happened to be doing at the time.

Sal Mineo’s impoverished childhood in the Bronx is a testament to several things: i.e. if you stay true to your dreams they will come true (in some measure), and anything worthwhile is worth working for. Mineo did against formidable odds. Along the way luck also played a role when he was cast with Yul Brenner in “The King and I,” and Brenner became his inspiration as well as his mentor.

Eventually Hollywood beckoned, and on the basis of his accomplishments, youthful good looks and luck, at the tender age of fifteen he was cast in a supporting role opposite the (now) legendary James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” The female lead in this cinematic classic was Natalie Wood, and it is particularly interesting to note that all three of these individuals met an untimely and tragic end.[1]

Mineo idolized Dean, who was known to be bi-sexual, and for the first time Sal began to realize how love between men could arise. Nothing ever transpired between these two, however, and eventually Dean’s brilliant career and unorthodox lifestyle was cut short by a tragic car accident—September 30, 1955.

In the Halcyon days of his career, Mineo was managed by his well-intentioned but domineering mother—the quintessential stage mother—who spent his considerable income faster than he could earn it.  Moreover, lacking the business acumen to realize this, and being a bit of a spendthrift himself, the plot was set for a financial crises.

Also contributing to this downturn was Mineo’s inability to make the transition from a teen idol to more mature roles. Ironically, it was his baby face and stereotype casting as a juvenile delinquent—the very characteristics that had made him a famous—that worked against him in the eyes of the public. Consequently, he joined the ranks of childhood stars whose careers were short lived.

Until this stage his sexual orientation had been strictly heterosexual, particularly with a British starlet by the name of Jill Haworth.[2] That was until he met Bobby Sherman; a virtual unknown until Mineo used his influence to launch Sherman’s singing career in the 1960s. Following his fling with Sherman, the floodgates seemed to open to a variety of attractive, young men who ended up in Mineo’s bed—some with familiar names from the era, i.e. Jay North (Dennis the Menace), David Cassidy, and Jon Provost (Timmy of Lassie fame). Nevertheless, when he met a handsome actor by the name of Courtney Burr, he finally formed a love that lasted until Mineo’s death in 1976.

Not surprisingly rumours of this began to circulate, and since Hollywood’s attitude about sex was oddly (and not just a little hypocritically) guarded, Sal lived his private life under the radar for fear and professional recriminations.

“Sal knew that outing himself, declaring his sexuality, would destroy what little was left of his career. Though Sal never publicly came out in a conventional manner, there was a subliminal coming-out that began years before. He wanted his lifestyle and his choices to be accepted. He wanted a normalcy and legitimacy in his life.”

Not an unreasonable wish in a town where almost anything goes, sexually, and sensuality is a packaged product.

***

This exhaustive biography is not only a tribute to Sal Mineo, a talented and misunderstood individual who lived life to the fullest—no matter what he did—it is also a tribute to the author’s unrelenting dedication. For example, the writing of “Sal Mineo: A biography” took ten years and three-years of research to complete. Moreover, numerous interviews were conducted, most particularly with Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr, to give it a personal insight beyond the written record. Bravo!

Full of details and previously undisclosed anecdotes, the biography captures a career of ups and downs and a private life of sexual impulses. Highly recommended. Five stars.


[2] With deep regret, Jill Haworth passed away January 03, 2011.

January 23, 2011 Posted by | biography, Contemporary biography, Gay romance, Hollywood, Non-fiction, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock, Mark Tewksbury

An inspiration for gay, aspiring athletes, and a challenge for similarly-oriented, marquee athletes to do the same

 

 

 

 Synopsis: In public, Mark Tewksbury has always credited the 1976 Olympics as a major inspiration for his becoming an Olympic champion swimmer, but in fact, it was wearing a towel-turban in imitation of his grandmother and swimming in her condo pool that first sparked his love of swimming. Intimate and endearing details such as these are what provide Tewksbury’s story with relevance beyond the famous-athlete-fights-and-overcomes-his-personal-demons story. Granted, Tewksbury covers all the usual challenges faced by performance athletes-the sacrifices, the post-Olympic depression, the intense glare of the media spotlight-but it is his private sojourn as a gay man, from coming out of the closet to visiting his first gay bar (“it was like being in another world with fashionably dressed people drinking cocktails from martini glasses”) to entering his first sexual relationship (an ongoing, three-way relationship with a male couple) that will resonate with the reader. Despite the “Gay Jock” subtitle, the book is accessible; Tewksbury comes with all the tics and quirks of your everyday gay man wrestling with his sexuality, and later, with the complexities of finding a partner and dating. A thoughtful, moving narrative that inspires as much as it entertains.

*Available in e-book format

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

I doubt there is a gay person out there who can not relate to Mark Tewksbury’s autobiography, “Inside out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock [Wiley, 1 edition, 2007]. That is, until he was propelled into international prominence with his 1992, Olympic gold medal performance in Barcelona, Spain; one of only seven gold medals awarded to a Canadian that year.

Until then his story is almost pro forma. Included are his family and his generally unhappy childhood, his early same-sex infatuations, the prevailing fear of exposure—yet being centred-out as gay, anyway; proving, I suppose, that the ‘closet’ has see-through walls at  times—and the mindless abuse he suffered on account of it. Through it all, however, his will to achieve never faltered, and it is this that makes his story truly inspirational.

Another inspirational aspect is his steadfast ability to remain true to himself, i.e.

“I gazed around the room slowly. The best swimmers from Russia, Cuba, the United States, Spain, Germany and France were in front of me. And I was different. I was the fag. And in that moment I owned my truth completely. I thought, `If these guys knew how hard it was for me to get here, they wouldn’t believe it. They have no bloody clue what I have been through. Or how strong I am.'”

Having said that, however, the second half of the story is both informative and redundant respecting the International Olympic Committee and its politics; given what was known even at the time when the story was first published in 2007. Likewise, the discord with the Gay Olympics, GayGames & OutGames came as no surprise. Sexual orientation does not preclude ideological differences, personal agendas, pecuniary influence, and rabid infighting. In this respect it conforms quite congruently with the wider community.

Albeit, that is the reality of Mark Tewksbury’s experience, and for his part he can only be faulted for trying to crowd all of this into one story. Nonetheless, I can enthusiastically recommend this story as an inspiration for aspiring, gay athletes, and a challenge to similarly oriented, marquee athletes to do the same. Four and one half stars.

See the story behind the story of my in-progress novel, The Brit, Kid Cupid, and Petunias

 

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | 3 Comments

Achilles: A love story, by Byrne Fone

Of gods and humans, highly recommended

 

 

Story blurb: The story of the war at Troy, as Homer wrote it in the Iliad and as I re-imagine it in Achilles: A Love Story tells of a violent clash of cultures that remains for us even now a dreadful exemplar of the horrors of war and the folly of those who engage in it. But as the ancients all knew, the story of the war at Troy was also a tale of love between men-of the devotion of Achilles, unrivalled hero, terrible warrior, and so it is said in legend, the most beautiful man in the world, to another great warrior, the handsome Patroclus. Their names resound in the catalogue both of heroes and of lovers; their story remains one of the greatest, most emblematic, and earliest gay love stories ever told. In the Iliad Homer also tantalizingly hints at another love story, the love of Antilochus, son of King Nestor and Prince of Pylos, for Achilles. In Achilles: A Love Story I tell the story of Antilochus and Achilles through Antilochus’ point of view and in his first person voice, fleshing out what Homer only hints at and inventing what he does not, as it plays out against the background of the last year of the Trojan war. Achilles: A Love Story creates the story of Antilochus and Achilles, and one both epic and tragic, that has been told, so far as I know by no other writer.

About the author: In the 1970s Byrne Fone, PhD, began working in the new field of Gay Studies. At the City University of New York he introduced one of the earliest university courses in the field, in which he is a recognized pioneer, in the United States, and later taught Gay Studies at the University of Paris and at the CUNY Graduate School. His work in the field includes the largest and most comprehensive anthology of gay literature, The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, as well as a study of early English and American gay literary history in A Road to Stonewall: Homosexuality and Homophobia in British and American Literature (Scribners). His book on Walt Whitman, Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text (S. Illinois University Press), explores both the poet’s homosexuality and how it is manifest in his poetry. His most recent study in the field is Homophobia: A History ( Holt and Picador) which examines the history of homophobia over a period covering almost two millennia. In addition to this scholarship, Fone’s interest in architectural history led him to write Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait, which is the first full-length history of the City of Hudson.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

I greatly enjoy the romantic stories of legendary Greek heroes, especially if they do not shy away or gloss over the practice of pederastric love between men. Supported by both historical fact and legend, the reality is that such liaisons were encouraged as a means of schooling younger men (the “eromenos”), and bonding warriors together; first in bed and then on the battlefield—for example, The Sacred Band of Thebes. To his credit, Byrne Fone does not shy away from this topic. In fact, “Achilles: A love story” [CreateSpace, 2010] is an unapologetic celebration of male love and valour.

The story follows Homer’s poetic version of ‘The Fall of Troy’ (the Illiad), but for the semblance of detail Fone has created a fictional chronicler, Dionysos of Tenedos. It is a clever device that effectively fills-in the gaps in Homer’s overview.

Another clever device is his decision to narrate the story in the first-person voice of Antilochus, son of King Nestor of Pylos [See the excavation of his palace at right]. In Homer’s Illiad Antilochus has the unenviable task of informing Achilles of Patroclus’ death, and after his death Antilochus was the closest to Achilles. “Indeed,” as Fone notes, “the reliance becomes more intimate, for Homer says that Antilochus’ ashes were interred in the great tomb on the Trojan Shore along with those of Achilles and Patroclus. Thereafter, as Homer notes in the Odyssey, the three friends are reunited in the underworld and walk together in the eternal fields.”

Quite apart from Homer’s ageless epic, however, Professor Fone has done a masterful job of fleshing out his characters in all their heroic proportions, as well as their human weaknesses. Agememnon, for example, has been lionized as a king among kings for centuries, and yet his character is far more believable as the self-promoting, glory-seeker by which Fone has depicted him.

Similarly, the legendary Achilles may have been physically invulnerable—except for his ‘Achilles’ heel’—but emotionally he is described as being quite prone to petulance, uncontrollable rages and fathomless love. In other words he is only half divine, as Fone has realistically made him out to be.

So, if you are a devotee of history, fiction, romance, and a darned good read, I highly recommend “Achilles: A love story” as the fulfilment of them all. Five stars.

Thanks to you, Gerry B’s Book Reviews has welcomed it’s 6000th visitor–a full 1000 more than December. Thanks for your interest!

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history | 2 Comments

Sam’s Hill, by Jack Ricardo

Mr. Ricardo has a flair for historical fiction, but…

 

 

 

Story Blurb: A young man coming to grips with his homosexuality during the latter half of the 19th century, through four years of The Civil War, the Indian Wars with General Custer’s 7th Cavalry, into the rough and tumble town of Cheyenne and up into the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory.

*Available in Kindle format, 382KB

 

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

A revisiting of the American Civil War is not a new theme, nor is gay, Union and Confederate soldiers, but “Sam’s Hill” by Jack Ricardo [Amazon Digital Services, 2010] contains some of the best, graphic descriptions of battlefield action I have ever read; the carnage, the confusion, the fear and the impersonal killing are all there in almost tangible detail.

The plot—at least for the first half of the story—is equally well conceived with some quite unexpected twists.

Sam Cordis is a young Union volunteer from New Jersey; green, innocent, seeking to become his “own man” and heading west when the war is over, “…a mere two or three months, he was sure.”

After a taste of war, and the reality of it, i.e.

“The order came. “Tear Cartridges.”

“Sam did exactly that. He poured powder into the barrel of his musket, dropped a metal ball inside, stuffed the ramrod down to push the ball into position, and carefully placed a cap under the hammer.

“When he heard the first shot, the taut skin of his neck strangled his throat, his heart stopped. The woods began bleeding with an indistinct jumble of men in gray yelling ferociously, shooting indiscriminately. Sam wanted to run for cover. There was none. And there was no interference when he lifted his musket.

“He stayed his mind, focussed his eyes, spied his target. He couldn’t see the Rebel clearly. He didn’t know if he was young or old, an officer or a volunteer. He was merely a target. Sam aimed the weapon with ease, as if marking a jackrabbit on the banks of New Jersey’s Rampo River. He pressed the trigger and squeezed as his older brother taught, gently, caressing the tender skin of a newborn calf. The report of the musket was lost in the din.

“Sam didn’t wait to see if the ball hit its mark. He followed the example of the others, crossing the former path, running wide, stumbling, turning, reloading, firing again, this time with haste. As hastily as the enemy fired at him.”

Under such perilous circumstances men frequently bond out of necessity, and the mores of a conventional society are either relaxed or shirked in favour of a new reality. So it was with Sam and his young companion, Davie, when a tender friendship gradually blossomed into love, like a flower amidst the ruin. Just as quickly, however, it was snuffed by a sniper’s bullet, but not before Sam had discovered a love that would not be denied.

As the war dragged on Sam found himself in Savannah, Georgia, with Sherman’s army, and during a lull in the hostilities he is drawn to the docks in search of male companionship. It is a mixture of intrigue and inert desire until he encounters an older man who almost succeeds in fanning his smouldering desire into a flame. However, in an unexpected twist, he is mugged and then rescued aboard a gunboat where the stranger is first mate. Romance nearly blossoms there as well, but when the gunboat is attacked Sam is thrown overboard during the mêlée. Miraculously he is washed ashore on the coast of Florida, and making his way inland he encounters a regiment of Black, Union soldiers, who are themselves captured by Confederate forces.

A forced march then proceeds to a POW camp somewhere in South Georgia—a non-regulation compound where corruption and cruelty prevail. A “King Rat” type-of-character also rules, and he sets his sights on seducing Sam. On the other hand, Sam befriends a badly wounded youth who would otherwise die. These are the characters that will play a significant role later in the story, but for now they are certainly interesting enough.

When peace if declared Sam and the now rehabilitated youth start for their respective homes in the north, where Sam’s several family members await, but first there is another character to be met; an Indian brave named Kehoe.

To this point I would have no hesitation in giving this story a five-star rating. The journalism is first rate, the characters are interesting and credible, the action is breathtaking, and the pace compelling.

Regretfully, the second half of the story begins to bog down under the burden of characters that, in their numbers and complexities, nearly overwhelm the reader. Likewise, to accommodate each of their parts, the story looses its linearity to twist and coil around the various subplots.

There is no question that Mr. Ricardo has a flare for historical fiction, but sometimes less is more. Four stars.

Happy New Year! Thanks to you, Gerry B’s Book Reviews has reached nearly 6,000 visitors, up almost 1,000 from last month. I am humbled by your interest.

Gerry B.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history | 2 Comments

   

%d bloggers like this: