Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South – Jeff Mann (Bear Bones Books)

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Everyone’s favorite leather bear daddy, Jeff Mann, is back with another volume of essays and observations, Binding the God—a perfect companion to Edge: Travels of an Appalachian Leather Bear. Where Edge roamed the U.S. and Europe, however, Binding the God is content to survey subjects mostly closer to Mann’s home.

What always impresses me about Mann’s work is its fearless self-examination. Confessional writing is nothing new, but rather than hiding behind self-deprecating humor like Augusten Burroughs or reveling in depravity like so many other authors hellbent on exposing their addictive personalities, Mann meets his life head on with a frank, engaging involvement. He never distances or hides behind himself for the sake of his own comfort.

Take, for example, the unabashed hero worship of “Loving Tim; or My Passionate Midlife Affair,” in which Mann confesses his adoration of country music superstar Tim McGraw. His fangurl behavior—buying keychains and coffee cups adorned with McGraw’s image–is disarming and his lust for McGraw is evident, but it’s his trenchant observations of crowd behavior as well as his own at a McGraw concert that really make this piece pop.

Among my other favorites here are the short, punchy folk culture reminiscences in “’Til the Ductile Anchor Hold,’” whose title comes from Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless, Patient Spider,” his obsession with a certain Oscar-robbed film in “Country Boys, Butch Queers and Brokeback Mountain,” and the steadfast love of Southern culture in the face of political and religious adversity in “Negative Capability in the Mountain South.”

But no incident cuts closer to the queer bone than the possibility of mayhem against a drunken partygoer throwing rocks at his mailbox in “Southern (LGBT) Living.” The confrontation itself is unremarkable, but as Mann says:

The story’s in what might have happened. When I turned away from the crowd and stalked back toward my house … I expected one of those stones to hit me between the shoulder blades. If it had, if one of those no-doubt-drunk guys had gotten his dander up and followed me with violence on his mind, I would have pulled that knife. I would never have carried it out there if I hadn’t been truly prepared to use it.

How many times have we, as gay men and women, felt that tug, that willingness to use violence because we are sick and tired of talk and patience and compromise? Mann isn’t afraid to admit those instincts but knows full well that words cut deeper than blades.

But no matter what he’s using, I’m glad he’s on our side.

© 2010, Jerry L. Wheeler

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