May 15, 2006

EXTRA DOUBLE SUPER GAY!: Review of David Morrison’s Beyond Gay. (The title of this book makes me giggle.)

OK, I actually read this a while ago, and don’t have a copy with me, as I lent it out. But I wanted to do a (mostly) positive review, after the Payne debacle recorded below. So this will be brief, but possibly helpful.

When I first finished Morrison’s book–basically an autobiography with generous helpings of theology–I was somewhat disappointed. I’d hoped that he would have written my book, so I wouldn’t have to! Fortunately, I got over this lazy and entitled reaction, and I think now I can appreciate the book more on its own terms.

One major caveat remains: the degree to which Morrison uses “scared straight” rhetoric, especially in the book’s opening. You know–statistics on drug use, depression, STDs, etc. As I indicated below, I’m really unimpressed with this line of approach. First off, no one is a statistic. So it’s very easy to respond to the stats with, “OK, well, I won’t do those things, though.” Not everyone does! Second, if you don’t make that response, there’s still anger (we’re messed up because of heteronormativity!) or despair (fine then, I’m doomed, so kind of you to let me know). I don’t know of anyone who has responded to the “risky lifestyle” talk by actually embracing Christian teaching on homosexuality. I certainly didn’t.

That said, there are a lot of good points to the book. It’s engaging and personal, and it never feels like Morrison is just telling his audience what it wants to hear. Morrison gets the balance right, I think, on the “origin story” question–how come you’re same-sex attracted, and how much does it matter? He does talk about incidents and relationships that influenced him, but he doesn’t focus on the past. He identifies problems, seeks to resolve them, and doesn’t obsess over them.

He also describes an ordinary Christian life, with ordinary prayer and ordinary struggles, rather than the “crisis followed by happily-happily-happily ever after” pattern so prominent in Payne’s book. It’s a humble and very hopeful approach.

This still isn’t “my book.” I even think some of the posts in Morrison’s blog archive are better–more insightful and inspiring–than the book. But Beyond Gay is pretty darn good, really. Recommended with reservations.

(Also, of course, there are the links on my sidebar under “Sicut cervus”; and I’m going to trawl through Dreadnought’s archives at some point, since some of his older posts are terrific and I’d like to sidebar-link them as well.)

[eta: I should mention that Morrison, unlike Payne, is writing about his own actual situation, rather than other people’s. And I don’t want to push that fact too hard. I think I gained a lot, actually, from the fact that when I was first encountering the Catholic faith, the Catholics I knew were all hetero. So I had to realize that everyone has a cross, and I should stop whining and feeling like my cross was extra special.

But I read a hilarious thing a couple months back about the “Sturgeon Number.” Theodore Sturgeon famously said something along the lines of, “90% of everything is crap.” And this blogger pointed out that while every idea can be done well, some ideas have a higher Sturgeon Number than others–a higher potential to be crap. “Snakes on a Plane,” to take the obvious example, has an exceptionally low Sturgeon Number. It could be two hours of Samuel Jackson just yelling, “I want these m—f— snakes off this m—f— plane!!!” and it would still be awesome. People entirely without same-sex attraction writing about people with it, by contrast, are working with a high Sturgeon Number, no matter what stance they take on moral questions. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done well (Pat Barker comes to mind); just that it’s good to be aware of the Sturgeon Number of any enterprise in which one plans to engage.]

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