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on February 5, 2006
My copy arrrived yesterday, and it turns out that the publisher's review about the book on Amazon is completely misleading -- in fact, it's awful. Far from being a book centered on "fabulousness" (if there is such a word), creativity, and material success, this book describes just about every gay man I have ever met -- including me. While it does mention these subjects in passing, probably 99% of the book talks about how the kind of behavior we have come to think of as "normal" and even expect from gay men (judgmental, prone to gossip, secretive, perfectionist, quick to blame, body-image problems, and more) is a way of dealing with the feeling most of us have had from childhood -- that of being "second-class citizens."

Yes, these character traits do not apply to all gay men, but my guess is that at least one of the areas Dr. Downs talks about applies to every gay man on this board. The important thing to note is that this is not a book about blame, but rather explaining where these behaviors come from, and best of all, how to change them. For those of us who have never even seen a healthy gay relationship, much less been in one, he's got a whole chapter on those.

Trust me on this one, guys, BUY THIS BOOK! If you read it and it turns out none of what Dr. Downs talks about applies to you, then not only are you welcome to tell me so on this board, but if you're anywhere within driving distance of Los Angeles, I will take you out to dinner, because I definitely need more people like you in my life. For the rest of us, this book offers a picture of what an emotionally healthy gay man looks like, and a roadmap to getting there.
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Dr. Downs has written an honest and straight forward book that speaks to the direct effects of homophobia on the psychological development of gay men. In The Velvet Rage, the author has taken a tremendous risk with his honesty. He has been willing to expose the truth about how the invalidation of this culture has resulted in self-loathing, over-compensation, and high-risk behaviors in the gay community. It gives the reader a window into the potential "whys" of these behaviors which in turn validates the experience of the gay man.

Dr. Downs beautifully illustrates the problems through anecdotes from his psychology practice and his own life. I look forward to sharing this book with my gay male clients both adult and adolescent as well as parents and family members who are trying to understand their loved one. This book is a potential road-map or guide for how to avoid some of these outcomes with gay teenagers who may be starting to develop similar behaviors and character traits. It is a must read for anyone working with gay youth.

In addition, Dr. Downs suggests clear solutions and provides positive examples which instill hope and optimism. His suggestions on how to overcome or prevent these outcomes from developing come from his very solid understanding of cognitive behavioral theory and humanistic psychology. I highly recommend The Velvet Rage.
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on May 16, 2006
I had reviewed all the comments posted here before I purchased the book because I usually like to get some general ideas of books I am interested in. After receiving and reviewing my copy, I'd like to say this is a great book. This book is very valuable for me personally.

So I knew I was not the 'targeted audience' (a gay white male from a middle-class family) before I began the book. I am an immigrant in Canada who grew up in Asia and didn't come to North America for school until I was 18. With that in mind, I read it really carefully. I swear I couldn't agree more with almost all of his theories. Some of the chapters almost brought me to tears. I WAS ashamed of being gay for the longest time and was not even aware of it! If Dr. Downs' generalizing theories are also applicable to me, a foreign man to this continent, how does this work?

Next, I can only guess that Dr. Downs had to target the medium gay crowd in order to reach and communicate to the most numbers of gay readers efficiently. After all, most gay people ARE in the 'average' category in its own subculture. I just don't believe it was his intention to publish this book like it was the most indisputable and verified piece of clinical work. If this book is indeed a lengthy-research paper with numbers and formulas, how many people will be interested in and capable of reading that? I'd say it is much better for someone like him to write about something typical than no one writes about nothing at all. Generalization can be the beginning to a greater understanding.

It also frustrates me when some of the people below don't even bother to read carefully what Dr. Downs had to say about setting the book's parameter of topics and discussion before they review the book. He DID mention about lesbians and acknowledge their difficult coming out experiences as well. But like this book's title suggests, it is about "gay men," so what is so bad not to include lesbians and transgender/transsexuals?

A lot of the materials covered in the book are good advices for me. It does not cover the whole spectrum of coming-out experiences, but `complete perfection' shouldn't be the expectation you should impose onto this book. For someone searching anything close to the `truth' of being gay, this could be a good read.

PS. I have also purchased "Coming Out of Shame: Transforming Gay and Lesbian Lives" by Gershen Kaufman and Lev Raphael. This book, on the other hand, is much more clinically written than the Velvet Rage.
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on May 31, 2005
I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when I picked up this book. While the subject matter is extremely interesting to me, I feared that this book would not tackle the real issues. It seems that so many authors writing in this field tend to subscribe to a "victim model": gay men have been victimized and/or marginalized by the stratight world.

As a gay man, I have always found this approach somewhat less than satisfying. Sure, gay men are "different" and, unfortunately, continue to grapple with issues of subtle (and increasingly not-so-subtle) discrimination. However, all the carping that takes place in the "victimization model" seems to miss one critical fact: we all make choices in our lives, and about our lives, that drives our experiences as humans.

Downs directly addresses these issues of personal choice, and that's what sets his book apart from the others. Downs' book goes way beyond the societal issues that gay men confront on a day-to-day basis, and encourages gay men to make good choices that ENHANCE their lives, and to stop making bad choices that DEVALUE their lives and self-esteem. In this sense, the book is incredibly empowering. To understand that every gay man -- as an individual -- can make big and small choices that enrich his life and his relationships, even despite a predominantly straight and disapproving culture, is to break free of the victim mentality and to move on to a fully actualized life.

Downs urges his readers to take an honest self-inventory of destructive patterns and behaviors that hold them back from accomplishing great things: most importantly self-love and an honest, patient, and abiding love for a partner. Three cheers for Downs. This book should be a "must read" for any gay man who is committed to becoming his absolute best self in an increasingly crazy world.

Bravo!
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on May 29, 2005
While elucidating the invalidation experienced by gay men, Dr. Downs also illuminates the toxic landscape shared by many wanderers through shame. He explores the dynamic that "quakes even the most stable part of our soul." This isn't just a social commentary or self-help book aimed at a minority population. Every reader will learn from a journey through cultural values about human flaws and perfection to arrive at a place where real and authentic human hope may be found.

And this isn't a therapist's case study viewed from a distance. Dr. Downs writes with compassion and insight about his own life as well as the lives of his friends and patients. Read this book if you have any interest at all in intimacy, relationships or honesty.
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on February 5, 2006
I can certainly see why gays might find this book of great great help. But let's enlarge our focus here a bit to include others who have had childhoods that bred shame. I was a child with a severe hearing loss and mainstreamed. I managed well enough academically by using books. I sank socially and emotionally and can easily recognize within this book the signs of shame as as well as how it effected me--different as it may be from those conseuquences the author lists for gays. Any difference I now see, that effects the ability to interact with your peers is going to be detrimental--though for sure how such shame effects any one person is going to vary according to individual personality traits. Society may change, and that may help, but when a child, too young to either articulate or understand his or her differences, has to cope with that difference in the school yard, day in and day out, there are always going to be repercussions. Learning from this book that there are reasons for my feelings has helped me tremendously to both understand myself and make some changes. Bravo Dr Downs!
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on October 6, 2008
This book is an excellent exploration of internalized homophobia, and specifically targets white gay men. There are a number of consequences that come with being gay- not only external threats like the threat of violence, the reaction of one's family, being out in the world, and other considerations, but the way we perceive ourselves and our own sexuality. There are a number of harmful patterns that get played out in queer communities, but we often don't discuss them as being directly linked to oppression. We often view them as our own failures/inadequacies. This book is an excellent method of explaining and pointing out common patterns and experiences of white gay men. If you are a gay man of color, this book is still useful, though written from a culturally white point of view. I am a queer woman of color, and still found it to be helpful and informative.
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on November 1, 2005
Finally there is a book dealing with the effects of shame on the gay male culture and it's connection to the eternal "gay adolescent." The issues of the oversexualized, overinflated, narcissistic sense of self are directly correlated to underlying shame in gay men.

Alan Downs is clearly making these connections in an easy to read, insightful, and human book. I have recommended it to numerous patients and it has provoked intense, healing discussions in the consulting room.

An outstanding book for both the clinician as well as the client.

Philip A. Tecau, M.F.T.
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on July 18, 2013
This book left me with some pretty mixed feelings. As a guy in my late 20s, I think this book is too dark. It has a gloomy, sort of Freudian take on what it means to be a gay man, and it speaks to a depth of shame that I think my generation just doesn't feel as much any more. I won't say that we didn't all feel deeply ashamed before we came out, or that we don't have anything to learn about the impact of that shame, but increasingly American society has moved to embrace us rather than shame us. And so when Alan Downs says, in italics for emphasis, that for the gay man, "the avoidance of shame becomes the single most powerful, driving force in his life," I just don't think that's the case any more, if it ever was. It's too simplistic and too dark a brush for the complex, multifaceted men that we are.

One of the passages that especially made me want to burn the book was a discussion about the gay man's affinity for the arts and for creative endeavors. Downs says gay men are "the worldwide experts" on things like fashion and design, but that this affinity comes from his deep sense of shame, rather than any inherent drive or skill:

"Is there really a gay creativity gene that we all inherited? When you think about it, is it actually plausible that our sexual orientation genetics would somehow also give us a talent for hair, makeup, and rearranging the living room? I don't think so. ... Something about growing up gay forced us to learn how to hide ugly realities behind a finely-crafted façade." (p. 20-21)

First of all, it is possible that our genetics would give us an affinity for the arts, and to belittle this creativity as "rearranging the living room" in order to make the point is insulting. This is a problem common to the whole book. The only explanation Alan Downs sees for anything gay men do differently is our shame, or desire to avoid it. In my opinion, this simplistic reasoning is hurtful rather than uplifting.

Downs' everything-is-about-shame analysis also extends to how he views relationships and sex. Downs seems to believe that, once healed of their shame, gay men will form monogamous long-term relationships just like straight people, and that bathhouses, Grindr and other things will simply fade away. I think monogamy is great, but I don't think that a gay man's love of sex or sexual adventure is going to dissipate somehow when he's healed. In fact, embracing his sex drive may be part of fully embracing who he is.

Another problem with the book seems to stem from Downs' largely wealthy, older and (presumably) white clientele. He seems to think we're all wealthy. "We have more expendable income, more expensive houses, and more fashionable cars, clothes, and furniture than just about any other cultural group" (p. 2). But this isn't right. If you look at the stats, as a group, gay men make less money compared to straight men, and LGBT people are more likely to live in poverty than the general population. Downs should try to speak to a broader diversity of gay experiences, or at least acknowledge that his perspective is limited by his clientele.

The final nail in the coffin for me was in the second half of the book, when Downs implies that once a gay man heals himself of his shame, he'll withdraw from the gay community:

"His visibility in the gay community often diminishes. ... You may see him on occasion at the gym or at a political fundraiser, but he is not a regular on the gay scene. ... Many of the gay men who `disappear' do so because they have outgrown the need for the avoidance of shame and acquisition of validation that is at the core of so much of the mainstream gay culture." (p. 110-111)

This is just wrong. Yes, a lot of people may go to bars and clubs to seek approval or validation, but just as many go to have fun, to hang out with friends, to hook up, or whatever. And if you're over the bar scene, how about volunteering at the local HIV/AIDS charity, or joining a gay chorus or a gay swim team, or getting involved in our fight for civil rights? There's no reason to disdain the larger gay community because you're no longer 21 and want to dance the night away to Lady Gaga. And there's no reason to say those 21-year-olds are all about shame avoidance. Come on. There's a lot to love and celebrate about our community, our history, and our future. How is the response to being healed one of withdrawal? No, get involved and help others! Find ways to mentor younger men!

Ultimately, it's hard to recommend this book, but that doesn't mean there aren't valuable lessons in it. A discussion about shame and how it shapes our lives is so important. I do see unhealthy addictions to drugs and to sex around me, and we need to talk more about it as a community. I've had to deal with the need for validation and approval, and have most certainly had my share of struggles in relationships. Let's talk about it. But, please, can we have a more complex discussion? One that is more inclusive of the diversity in our community? One that openly discusses what makes us distinct from straight men without chalking those differences up to darker forces? And one that says to get involved in your community, rather than shun it?
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on August 21, 2006
These are the exact words my gay son wrote to me after reading this book, The Velvet Rage:

"I finally opened up and read the book you bought me, "The Velvet Rage". I was totally blown away by it. It touched on subjects in a way I have never seen before, issues that are unique to gay men. I related to many, if not most parts of it. It described aspects of my personality and reasons for certain behaviors that I had never realized in myself before. It will give me a lot to discuss with the doctor when I see him."

Parents, family or friends of troubled gay men should all buy this book ASAP and send it to them. It took my son around 2 months to get around to reading it, but I suppose all have to do things in their own time, when 'they' are ready.
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