I just finished what is, apparently, one half (or, perhaps, 2/3rds) of a great memoir. The book I’ve read is One Gay American, by author Dennis Milam Bensie. It was published by Coffeetown Press earlier this month.
I’ll be the first to admit that I love reading biographies and memoirs. I like hearing another persons life story. I enjoy being able to get a glimpse of what makes them tick. My wife just says I’m nosy. That’s a debate topic for another day.
I really got into the story that is the life of Dennis Milam Bensie. We’re all unique of course, but not being a gay man, and not having come to the realization that I was gay – or at least different – from a very young age, it was intriguing to read the history of someone who did know from go that he was only interested in girls toys (dolls, specifically) and that he wanted to be married but that he wanted to be the bride and wear a beautiful dress and marry a man. No, he didn’t want to be a woman (he’s neither transgender nor a cross-dresser) he just had a life long fascination with marriage, formal weddings and wedding gowns.
Dennis is an accomplished person with an amazing career in theater costuming and “wigging” that he touches on in dribs and drabs in this book. I’d have loved to have read more about that. Maybe in book three? Unfortunately, his life’s quest, up until near the end of this book (late 2011), has been to find the true love he’s always sought and that’s a significant focus in this book.
One of the things that I loved about this book is that Dennis has chronicled his life since the late 1960s against all of the major LGBT events of our times. Each chapter, dated to his life, opens first with something that was a current LGBT event or issue at that time. It’s a great timeline that, especially as he ages and pays more attention to current events and their significance, gives context for things that he writes about, how they affect him and how he feels about them.
I have only one gripe about this book: I mentioned earlier that I felt like I’ve only read half of the author’s story because, in my “where is he now” research about him for this post, I found that Dennis previously wrote the book, Shorn: Toys to Men where he discusses his obsession with cutting dolls hair (which he mentions briefly in the newest book) and how it evolved into cutting mens hair including the hair of hundreds of gay street hustlers. Apparently, he actually became sexually aroused over hair (a form of paraphilia – sexual arousal over objects) and worked for a long time to overcome the illness. He talks about none of that (beyond some minimal stuff with dolls) in this latest book. Additionally, the blurb for his first book includes the fact that he was sexually molested at age 7 and that it was a defining moment for him. That’s not mentioned this time around either. I would have liked to have seen these things at least mentioned here.
Since I was unaware of the other book, prior to being approached to read this one, I have no idea where his hair cutting time/his illness as an adult fits into this more recent memoir and what effect that had on everything covered here. Where I previously felt I had a fairly complete picture of an admittedly complex man, now I’m not so sure.
Don’t let my griping discourage you. This is a worthwhile read for everyone but it’s one that I think many gay men born between 1955 and 1975 will especially relate to. For those who have struggled, a lot of what you went through is mirrored here. You weren’t alone even though it may have felt that way.