Monday, January 14, 2013

Every year at our three day New Years party, we have an exchange table where guys can leave books, DVDs, magazines, etc. with which they're finished, and browse for things they don't have but might like.  I generally try to toss more into the exchange than I take out, in a continuing effort to cull out books and other items I really will never read or use again.  This year I came away with just two items: a DVD that was a huge disappointment and may be thrown away rather than subject someone I really like to it next New Years; and the above book which is turning out to be one of the most engrossing gay lives I've ever read and one, moreover, with which I can identify very closely.

Alan (born Albert) Helms was born in a small Indiana town in the mid 1930s, into a household with an alcoholic, abusive father and a subjugated, victimized mother.  In school, just about everything with him was "wrong," his name, his academic excellence, his creativity, his lack of athletic prowess.  Up to this point, he and I had identical experiences except that it was my mother who was the alcoholic.  But he really had me when he wrote that during his high school years he realized he had to grow up nothing like his parents in order to survive and make something of himself.  I remember when I figured that out for myelf and the conflict within me that it caused.

After high school our trajectories diverged radically.  I went on to theater studies in Boston while he went on to Columbia University in New York City, losing his virginity to a handsome senior, being scouted for modeling because he was stunningly beautiful, losing a Rhodes Scholarship because the University had his phone tapped and found out he was gay.  Then he was-fast tracked into the gay demi-monde with marathon parties and sex with celebrities, other models, Broadway and Hollywood agents.  He had parts in some of the plays that established Edward Albee's career and became a good drinking buddy of Elaine Stritch in addition to appearing with her in a musical by Noel Coward with whom he was also involved.   All the while he kept an eye out for the police who took pleasure in raiding gay bars, private parties, anywhere gay men gathered, then arresting them and publishing their names so that their lives and reputations were destroyed. 

I won't -- and can't -- give away anything that happens next as I haven't read past this point in the book.  But I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Helms is a skilled, very engaging writer who eventually became a University of Massachusetts Professor of English in Boston.  He's had an amazing live, he's extremely honest, and he gives insight into gay life before gay liberation that more people, especially younger gay men, need to know.


what a lovely quote! thank you for it.
I hate Helen Keller [not]. She makes us all look bad;-)
Dear Will,
I have been thinking a lot about this post. I like the quote a lot and I was interested to read about Alan Helms. I am slightly envious of the freedom that young people have today compared to even when I was a young man in the 198os and 1990s. But then I remember speaking with a much older gay man in Melbourne who told me all about the police beatings (with telephone books so they didn't make a noticeable bruise) the slow hunting of gay men using the usual tricks on the 'beat'. This was in the 1960s and early 70s but to me and my friends it seemed as though I was hearing about life under a dictatorship - which I guess in a away it was.

As an aside In the summer we will be in England and I am going to be researching (if I can) into the life of a so many great uncle of mine (he died in 1870s) who lived in Hull and was not only a successful businessman but a happily 'same sex partnered' man. I want to know more. I know they lived openly together and the family (including my rather tyrannical so many great grandfather) seemed not to blink an eyelid at it. Given that this was not only the nineteenth century but also Yorkshire I am intrigued as to how he did it!
ANyway, I enjoyed this post Will.
Bye for now
I like that HK quote. I'll have to remember that.
I found your blog through JP at Salmagundi. I'd like to read this book, I'm sure you've finished by now, there are two copies on Amazon but I'd buy it from you plus shipping, if you're interested in selling.

thanks and like Spo, I love the quote.
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