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One Gay American Paperback – September 1, 2012
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"Deeply poignant. I love how it traverses essential issues for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of all ages. The story evokes clarification, encouragement and comfort for anyone who is curious to know what it was like to grow up LGBT in small-town America during the waning years of the twentieth century."
--Daniel Nicoletta, photographer and activist who worked in Harvey Milk's Castro Street camera during the LGBT Zeitgeist of the mid '70s.
"I was stunned by the raw honesty of Bensie's first book, Shorn: Toys To Men. He doesn't back down in his second memoir, One Gay American, either. His spin on small-town gay Americana is spot-on. One can't help but admire how the author tells his heart-wrenching stories with his head held high. Bensie is hopeful and embraces America ... even though the country hasn't yet fully embraced sexual equality."
--Tony Buff, Director of Fetish Production, Falcon /Raging Stallion Studios
"One Gay American is written in the authentic voice of author Dennis Milam Bensie. I have known and worked with Dennis for nearly twenty years, and I am pleased to learn that in addition to being a talented and well respected stage craftsman and artist that he is the real deal as a storyteller and author. Dennis doesn't try to change anyone's mind, he doesn't scold (as he certainly could!) and he doesn't hide. He shares his life as he is living it in this absorbing, enlightening and entertaining book. I gulped it down in a day. Enjoy!"
--Cynthia Lauren Tewes, actress
"Bensie gives us a look at our culture and history, and it not only makes us think, it reminds us of who we are. Those of us who have lived at the same time as Bensie have seen incredible changes in the gay community, both from within and from the larger society. It has not been an easy journey yet Bensie makes it an entertaining and fun read. We should never forget how it once was for us in this country and remember that every right we have today is the result of those that came before and worked hard so that each generation has it better than the generation before it. We stand on the shoulders of others and Bensie provides us with some very broad shoulders on which to stand. Read his delightful book and thank him for just that."
--Amos Lassen, reviewer and activist
"Dennis Milam Bensie offers us an unflinching, emotionally engaging memoir, filled with both humor and humanity. One Gay American is a brilliantly endearing coming-of-age story that captures not just an individual but a generation."
--Emanuel Xavier, GLBT icon, author and activist
"Open up One Gay American and you start a journey that is both poignantly personal as well as an eye-opening gay civil rights history lesson. Again and again, Dennis Milam Bensie courageously pulls open scar tissue to share his wounds and reveal his desires as he comes of age as a gay man in a heterosexist world. His stories are not only personally revealing but give a glimpse of gay culture we don t often have the chance to learn about. By growing up with Dennis and getting an education about a civil rights movement currently on the cusp of breaking down some of the last bastions of discrimination against gays and lesbians, we gain insight into the exquisite pain and damage we cause because of our ignorance and prejudice. At the end of the book, we know the journey is not over for Dennis or other gay children, but now we all bear some responsibility to make America a safer and more loving world for future generations of gay, lesbian and transgender children." --Louise Chernin, President and CEO, Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA)
"Dennis's memoir is a testament to survival, failure, success, expansion and growth when society remains apathetic to the needs and wants of its community. Glittered with history, laughter and tears, One Gay American is unique, brash and crass but poignant beyond its text. I got an omniscient view of living through several decades of one man's journey, a journey that might easily belong to so many others. There's a little of all of us in Dennis's story. A fantastic read to affirm and/or reaffirm one's commitment to life, laughter and indulgences!!"
--Sister Amore Flagellare, aka Mike Konkel
"One Gay American is a story with an underlying message that anyone can relate to: committing to yourself, regardless of whom you love. Bensie's newest memoir is an unapologetic tale about growing up in the wake of the gay rights movement. Bensie is faced with the challenge of carving out a life without a traditional model: a gay man in pursuit of the American dream."
--Tully Satre, artist, writer and activist
"An exceptional heartbreaking work, Dennis Bensie's bobber keeps floating as the social-political waves of modern America try to sink this endearing, well-crafted story. This fish ate the worm and was hooked!"
--Norman Korpi, artist/director, gay activist, and cast member from MTV's The Real World, 1992
"Dennis Milam Bensie has written a sometimes joyous, often treacherous, always honest and heartfelt account of self-discovery. His generation has seen more gay cultural change and progress than any before it."
--Sam Harris, actor/singer/writer
"A story of struggle and strength that reminds readers of the American dream, to feel loved, purposeful and passionate. Mr. Bensie gives his own unique perspective on the challenges to fulfill his own American dream while living in a country that wants to deny his rights because he is gay. His story proves how powerful a life can be when not hiding a part of one s identity."
--Ryan K. Sallans, LGBTQ activist and author of Second Son: Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love and Life
"The journey to self-acceptance is often far too long for many gay Americans. One Gay American is a memoir from Dennis Milam Bensie as he recalls his journey from suppressing his homosexuality, trying to be normal, searching for love, and coming to accept who he is and find something that resembles happiness. One Gay American is a strong pick for general memoir collections and for gay studies topics as well."--Midwest Book Review
"The kind of memoir that stays with you a very long time. Mr. Bensie has lived his life as a gay man during an almost unbelievable period of progress for gay rights. His story is poignant, touching and, yes let's say it ... sad. But Dennis conquered in the end. He has lived in a brave and meaningful way. His story will be just as meaningful for you."
--David Leddick, Actor, playwright and author of How To Be Gay in the 21st Century
"Dennis Milam Bensie takes the reader on a forty year journey from sissy boy to 'straight' husband to queer man-bear. His sweet, painful, and empowering story took me right back to my own coming-out and the early days of the Gay Rights Movement. One Gay American is an honest, unvarnished snapshot of GLBT history, seen through the eyes of a naive young gay man looking for love in all the wrong places and ending with his ultimate self-discovery. I loved it!"
--Lisa Koch, musician, actor, sketch-comedian (Dos Fallopia)
"One Gay American took me on a journey back through my own life as a gay man in America. I just relived my younger days vicariously. The pain. The struggles. The careless coming-of-age sex of the late 70s and mid-80s. Every detail was covered in Mr. Bensie's memoir. Most importantly, his memoir gives hope to up-and-coming generations of LGBT people. Job very well done."
--Ron Kemp, musician, activist, and freelance writer
"Dennis has written an original, sweet, funny memoir that is intensely personal and revealing."
--Jane Wiedlin, guitarist for the Go-Go's
"The bitch has been through it, and she (he) has no problem telling you ALL about it, WITHOUT sugar-coating the shadiest, dishiest bits. BIG SNAPS for Bensie!"
--Jinkx Monsoon, "Seattle s Best F**king (drag) Performer"--The Stranger and winner of RuPaul's Drag Race, 2013.
"An entertaining ride through four decades of cultural history, as seen by a gay boy from rural Illinois whose compulsive drive for love takes him all the way to cosmopolitan Seattle and a new identity as a skeptical, wildly amusing bear. Milam Bensie's account of his addiction to wedding gowns, Barbie dolls, public sex, and Facebook is like the pillow talk of your new best friend."--Kevin Killian, poet, playwright, novelist and author of Spreadeagle
About the Author
Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. He holds a degree in Theater Costume Design from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and completed an apprenticeship in theatrical wig construction at Los Angeles Opera. His costume and wig design for Valley of the Dolls at Empty Space Theatre in Seattle garnered him a feature article in Entertainment Design Magazine and a Seattle Times Footlight Award for Best Design. Bensie was the Wardrobe and Wig Master at Intiman Theatre in Seattle for twenty seasons. His first book, Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the international gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011. Dennis is single and lives in Seattle with his three dogs.
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Top customer reviews
And what's fascinating is how different our stories are. As I read I found myself wondered how much that of that comes from being different people vs. living in different places; Bensie lived in a small town in middle America, while I was growing up in a suburb of New York City. Bensie lost himself in dolls and the arts while I threw myself into literary fiction, science, and my new & politics junkie tendencies.
I was just as socially maladapted as him - but a bit more tuned into the outside world, and fortunate to live in a part of the country where gay people were somewhat less of an oddity, religion much less of a plague, and with a direct path out of my hometown in the form of college.
So I appreciated getting a look at how the world looked to someone in entirely different circumstances... and how much was still the same, such as the pressure to do what was expected and the lack of good models to follow. I was fortunate; while Bensie was getting married to show that he could be the man he was supposed to be, I was meeting gay and lesbian peers and discovering a whole world of sane, well-adjusted gay men at all stages of life. And my Bensie was still kicking around Illinois I made it to Boston.
But every story has value and there were probably a lot more gay kids living a life closer to Bensie's than mine. Some of what he describes may be hard to relate to if you're in your 20s; yes, gay people really were that invisible in the 80s.
My only gripe with the book was that while I congratulate Bensie for sharing so much of his own story, including the difficult parts, there are some sections where it's clear he's not sharing some things - which is his right, of course - and I got a sense that there was some real emotional development going on that isn't included here, making some of the life transitions feel very abrupt and strange.
But that's a relatively small complaint. Many people of my generation will see themselves in this book (and I did in many places, despite the differences in our lives) and many others will learn something about the devastating impact that homophobia has on people and families.
So thanks for telling your story, Mr Bensie, from this unknown brother who was living his own version of it many miles away. We made it!
From his first memory of his mother’s wedding dress, Dennis desires to one day have that perfect wedding and maybe that perfect wedding dress. What starts out as a desire for a beautiful dress develops into the author wanting to have a meaningful relationship with a lifelong partner and actually being wanted and having a sense of belonging. He starts out with a photo of his mother at her wedding in which to his amazement and horror is not decked out in a traditional white flowing wedding dress. For the rest of his childhood Dennis is trying to make up for that by making bridal dolls for family members and even one for the woman he marries.
Dennis does marry a woman, all the while struggling with the realization that he is a gay man and that this marriage is a sham. Being the loving person he tries to stay married so as not to crush his bride, her family or worse yet his family. He wants to impress his father, who doesn’t know how to show his feelings for his effiminate son. Eventually Dennis cannot handle living that lie and gets divorced. The rest of his life from his college years to working in the theatre, Dennis struggles with trying to find the right person to share his life with. This is the basic struggle of all human beings, finding love, loving and being loved. The big difference is to find love with the right person when your passion is for someone of the same sex and all the while society looking down on your lifestyle.
Dennis tells his life story while at the same time comparing with what is going on in gay rights history. Each Chapter begins with an event in gay rights history and the authors response to that event and compares that to what is going on during that moment in his life. One day in the future when same-sex marriage is accepted and gay rights are an accepted norm, this book will serve as the perfect textbook in this history of America’s civil rights movement. From the gay bashing of Anita Bryant to California’s Prop 8 turmoil, Dennis’ life parallels the struggles of any Gay American, this book just makes it more personal.
But sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees. I appreciated the real-world tie-ins that open every chapter and the author's analysis of their impact on his life. I remember every single one of the things he mentioned, and it was very helpful to be able to step back and contrast the significant events of our day with the timeline of the author's life and of my own.
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