Sunday, 20 February 2011

Velvet Rage: We Hate Ourselves And We Want To Die

There's an interesting piece in The Observer today by Paul Flynn and Matthew Todd.
A sub at The Observer has done it a disservice by giving it the cliched and inappropriate headline; 'Pride and Prejudice For Gay Men'.
It's about a book by Alan Down called The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World.
Apparently, this book; " becoming a touchstone in gay culture just as Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin was in the 30s, Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story in the 60s [Eh? It was published in 1982 - Fagburn] and Larry Kramer's Faggots in the 70s. But The Velvet Rage is not fiction..."
Fagburn thinks that over-hype is a fiction, but go on...
"It addresses the myth of gay pride and, after three decades of post-Aids concentration on gay men's physical health, turns inward to their mental wellbeing."
Which is hardly novel.
"Its snappy title is slipping, sometimes ironically, into the gay lexicon. Man orders fifth pint at the bar: "It's OK, it's just my velvet rage." Boyfriend finds partner trawling through the thousands of profiles on sex-on-demand website Gaydar: "But it's my velvet rage."
Umm, no, now you're just making stuff up.
"Downs coined the phrase to refer to a very specific anger he encountered in his gay patients – whether it was manifested in drug abuse, promiscuity or alcoholism – and whose roots, the book argues, are found in childhood shame and parental rejection. "Velvet rage is the deep and abiding anger that results from growing up in an environment when I learn that who I am as a gay person is unacceptable, perhaps even unlovable," he explains. "This anger pushes me at times to overcompensate and try to earn love and acceptance by being more, better, beautiful, more sexy – in short, to become something I believe will make me more acceptable and loved."
Fagburn often wishes he was better, more beautiful, more sexy, acceptable and loved - who doesn't?
And I agree I do have a very specific anger that I like to blame on my childhood, and Daddy not loving me and all that.
And I know i'm unlovable.
So what's new?
40 years on, Fagburn thinks these lines from The Boys In The Band still ring painfully true;
"Show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse."
"If only we could just not hate ourselves quite so very much…”
I really don't think we've moved on that much, so I agree with the book's general premise; their point, I guess, is that this has endured.
But again, none of this is new; show me a gay magazine from the last 20 or 40 years that doesn't have an article about gay misery, our unjoy.
It's a lie and a stupid cliche to pretend that the gay press - for all its faults - is "happy-clappy".
Trusting Paul Flynn and Matthew Todd's judgment - I admire them both - I have ordered the book from Amazon.
As it is a self-help book, it will probably end up in a pile with all the other self-help books, near all the ones promising that I can; 'Learn Spanish The Easy Way'.
I still can't count up to five.


  1. Do you really think gay people are filled with self-loathing?

  2. I am.
    I think it's a generational thing.
    I bet the psychic/mental health of gay kids growing up now will be better.
    It's a tricky subject to dance around, which is why I didn't want to post til I'd read the book - which I increasingly fear will be pants.

  3. I agree it is a generational thing, my generation are so much more at ease with themselves when it comes to sexuality.

  4. I agree.
    Much more at ease if they're gay, and if they're bisexual, and when other people are.
    It's all good.
    Sometimes I see how much the world has changed - like seeing two boys in love walking down the street arm in arm - and it's like I'm tripping...

  5. It must make you strangely proud, having been part of a generation that did all the legwork to make that possible. :)

  6. I keep asking young gay men to show me how grateful they are...

  7. "Interesting" - Fagburn code for crap.

  8. I think victims of bullying generally internalise the things that are used to hurt them, so it's no surprise that many gay people have done the same.
    Gay kids growing up today undoubtedly go through the same shit - the difference now, to some degree, is that the culture and society as a whole isn't bullying gay people... quite as much; but homophobic bullying in schools still exists, obviously, and the victims of that may well internalise what's happened to them if it's persistant enough. And that stays with you, I think.
    Oh wells.
    As Yehudi Menuhin once said, I believe; "Life's a cunt, I shit you not."

  9. The irony is, the one thing about myself that I'm perfectly happy about is being gay. Most of my heroes are gay and now I can't see one single reason why I would want to be straight. But growing up gay in a homophobic environment has increased my self-hatred exponentially. I hate all this self-pitying shit, though. It's my life and my responsibility.

    "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Eleanor Roosevelt

    Easy to say of course, but very true I think.

  10. Being 28 and generally self-loathing when did this wonderful new generation start then?

  11. You guys seem determined to twist a very simple and brutal truth into something more palatable. Good luck. Now while I don't want to undo the last 40 years of responsible social programming, let me iterate out loud what mother nature whispers into every ear be it human or animal from the first moment it can hear - "Different is wrong. Alike is good. Weak is bad. Strong is good. Compromise is weakness. Might makes right." Not exactly plot-lines for children's stories but I think you get my point. These are the maxims that satisfy our base nature and the attitude that every 'cool-kid' aspires to affect. Now in our rather messy and heterogeneous society where differences in race, religion, and culture are taken for granted, we gays and lesbians can find our place among the menagerie. Well, it wasn't that long ago when we couldn't and weren't worthy of any respect as a result. So of course we hated what we were and desired to be something different. This is a simple, intuitive and natural chain of reasoning that few of you don't want to face.

    By the way, here's the other dirty little secret you won't find in responsible social media these days: what other people think of you DOES matter. What you think of yourself is irrelevant. How your peers think of you, respect you, trust you and value you is very likely how your will be forced to see yourself, sooner or later. My advice is that sooner is better.