Roger Goodman contacted me a couple of months ago and asked me if I would be willing to read and review his memoir, Thoughts of a Tribal Elder: One Queerman’s Journey from the Ashes Risen. I read through the info he sent me, decided the book sounded interesting and told him I’d be happy to read it and review it, to please go ahead and send it.
Roger calls himself a ‘tribal elder’ he’s a gay man/queer man or, as he puts it, “Queerman” that’s been through it all when it comes to the travails of being a part of the gay community and being ill, being addicted and so much more. He documents his life’s journey in a series of essays in this book. It’s not a book that starts with his birth and rolls through the present or even his early coming out years as so many queer memoirs do. Rather, it’s a book that looks at specific experiences and periods in his life and analyzes them through the wider lens of his current perspective.
Goodman chronicles a lot of stuff here. We get everything from what he thinks it means to be gay, through his music, his divinity studies (and the refusal of the powers that be to ordain him), through the AIDS epidemic, living with HIV, drug addiction and so much more. It’s an intense read. At the same time, I have admit; I really struggled with parts of this book.
I’m not a gay man. My life experience in the LGBT community will never even approach mirroring what it means to be a gay man so maybe I’m not the best judge. Still, I can’t help but feel that Roger Goodman paints all the men in the gay community with the same brush. I do realize there was/is a real, very palpable issue with AIDS. I realize too that AIDS and HIV are still heavy duty realities for many of our gay brothers. I know too that metropolitan based gay culture often revolves around sex and drugs. Those last two specifically though don’t encompass all gay men or even most of them. Goodman’s portrait would have you believe that this is the “only” way that it is if I’m interpreting it correctly. In his time and in his experience, yes it probably was, but here he’s writing with a modern view and continuing the same conversation.
I disagree with Goodman on a couple of points, have true heartburn with at least one train of thought (the concept of sex between HIV positive men as a Eucharistic experience… but I’m not an HIV positive man so, what do I know?) and I’m skeptical of a few others. That’s the point though of reading things from someone else’s perspective, isn’t it? We learn from that and, perhaps, expand our viewpoint. He’s entitled to his opinions and his world view. I support his right to express them and I support him as a member of the Queer community. Though I don’t walk away from this book a true believer in all the majick he expoused, I certainly have new perspective and a broader understanding of some of the issues our elders faced.