One Gay American – Dennis Milam Bensie (Coffeetown Press)

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Most autobiographies are self-serving, especially if about a
celebrity. Non-celebrity ones usually rely on some sort of substance abuse
storyline to engage the reader, and you can only read so many of these before
you find yourself not caring on any level. However, Dennis Milam Bensie’s One
Gay American
manages to be entertaining and engaging with no whining, no
apologies, and no addiction/recovery cycle.

Like Scott Terry’s Cowboys, Armageddon, and the Truth,
Bensie reaches into his own past, selecting the choicest, most telling
incidents and anecdotes. The most painful seem to be from his childhood, but
this is also the most bewitching part of the memoir for me. Bensie, you see,
knows all about his differences. He’s quite aware that other little boys don’t
order flimsy negligeés for their mothers then steal them back to make wedding
dresses from. Or fantasize about being the bride. Or want to have babies. Or
need to have Barbie dolls.

But he secretly indulges these fantasies, reveling in whom
he wants to be. He’s savvy enough not to do this in front of his folks or other
friends, but the bullying from his peers was inevitable. He knows this and
purposely makes choices that appeal to his feminine side, figuring he’s going
to get punched either way. Bensie takes his lumps, learns his lessons and
follows his own way. In that, One Gay American is inspirational.

Bensie’s frankness extends to the story of his failed
marriage—his reasons for entering into it, what he got out of it, and why it
was no longer satisfying on many levels. If the anecdotes about his childhood
are the most poignant, these are the most universal. Who, trapped in a
relationship that can’t hope to address one’s needs, can’t relate to this union
between a gay man and a straight woman desperate enough for love not to sense
that something’s wrong. This is heartbreaking stuff.

Bensie handles this with the assurance of a master
storyteller, using uncomplicated prose to tell his rather complicated life. His
details are well-chosen, but even more interesting is what he chooses not to
reveal. Once the book takes off into Bensie’s gay adulthood, he declines to
recite chapter and verse his dating difficulties (though they are touched upon
to hilarious effect) and other bad decisions are never dwelled on.

One Gay American is a beautifully well-rounded
account of just that—one gay American and his journey toward happiness. I’ll
wager you’ll find some of yourself in here. Read it and see. 




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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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