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

February 4, 2009

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?

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