- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books; 2 Rev Upd edition (June 5, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0738215678
- ISBN-13: 978-0738215679
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (300 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World, Second Edition 2 Rev Upd Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
With a title that plays on Janet Jackson's epochal 1997 LP The Velvet Rope, and its anatomy of unmet desire, therapist Downs's book describes the paradigmatic ways in which early childhood molds the future lives of gay men: scorned on the playground, disrespected by Dad, loved only by Mom until their first sex with men. Through this mechanism of rejection, gay men feel unlovable, correspondingly angry and, he says, driven to heights of creativity and "fabulousness"—in addition to shopping addiction and obsessions with fat, muscle and penis size—in a bid to distract themselves from their inner shame. For Downs, the only thing that will bring an end to this spiral of torment is, finally, "validation," which produces "authenticity." Downs is an engaging writer, though prone to repeating the same few points in different words, while his patients, quoted in sidebars, often make witty quips that rival Quentin Crisp for dry, bitter sarcasm. While many gay readers will fail to recognize themselves here, others will find Downs's logic warming and even generous.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Philadelphia Gay News bestseller, 5/11/12
A groundbreaking examination of the psychology of homosexuality, why it leads to shame over one's identity and how to overcome it. This book has remarkable staying power.”
The clearest, most succinct delineation of the origins and consequences of internalized homophobia, and how to address them.”
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Top Customer Reviews
Downs makes the argument that we gay men suffer the effects of a toxic self-image, one that stems from a pit of shame embedded deep inside. He argues we must systematically and assiduously destroy this cancer if we ever entertain the notion of maturing into emotionally healthy adults. This deep-seated and long-enduring sense of shame inhibits us from showing our most genuine feelings and from being our most authentic selves. As a result, we develop a set of theatrical tricks to hide our true selves, to shield us from any chance of honest emotional disclosure. In short, we become master dissemblers, actors, actresses adept at the art of giving others what they want to see and hear from us. All this comes at a horrible cost. Downs states, “…we must hide, presenting to the world a fabricated version of ourselves until the day that we are free to express our sexuality and step out of the closet of shame.” Downs explains in great detail how we ‘compensate for’ rather than ‘confront’ our shame. We become obsessed with out-performing others in our chosen professions, obsessed with physical beauty above all, and perhaps most dangerously, become obsessed with the thrill of seemingly endless sexual conquest.
Our ‘velvet rage’ comes out when these compensating strategies begin to weaken and crack, leaking out ferocious and foul bouts of poisonous rage, often directed at innocents. Downs provides a lot of first-hand testimony from other gay men as to how these compensation tactics work and yet, ultimately fail. These quotes are oddly placed in sidebar boxes adjacent to the text body. For the most part, these testimonies do little to strengthen the psychological points Downs strives to make. Rather, they are too general and not always well-fitted to the topic at hand. Furthermore, Downs frequently repeats many of his points throughout the first three-quarters of the book.
Downs` shame thesis could have been delineated in a more engaging and meaningful way had he examined the roots of our toxic shame. Does it stem from feeling ‘different’ at an early age? Is it the fear of not fitting in? Is it internalized homophobia or fear of sex with men? Or perhaps is it the fear of being emotionally and physically vulnerable with another man that drives this shame? Or maybe it stems from all of these factors combined? Sadly, Downs never really analyzes this question to any great depth. His book could have been even more helpful and empowering had he done so. Finally, most of Downs` clients share experiences from relatively ‘problem-free’ coming out processes. Those who have struggled with both internal and external self-acceptance might not connect with the experiences presented here.
These criticism`s aside, ‘The Velvet Rage’ finishes on a strong note. In fact, the last quarter of the book is the best part, worth the other three- quarters combined. Additions to the second edition, these ‘Skills for Living an Authentic Life’ impart some valuable life wisdom to the reader. Downs shares from his accumulated years’ worth of psycho-therapeutic experience for all to learn from. Each skill is succinctly presented in a short paragraph and then explained in greater detail. Even the titles themselves sound off as tiny snippets of healing help, “Inner peace above all else,` ‘Contentment over approval,’ ‘Accept reality on reality`s terms,` ‘Walk your way out of distress,` ‘Embrace ambivalence,’ ‘Default to forgiveness,’ are all just some of the practical, life-changing tips Downs gifts his readers. While gay men especially need to ‘do and live’ these lessons, anybody, straight or gay, could profit immensely from their common sense wisdom.
While “The Velvet Rage’ is not quite the gay bible to life, it does go a long way in helping us understand why we are the way we are. Most importantly, it sheds light on why we ‘behave’ the way we do. Combined with his practical skills section, ‘The Velvet Rage’ is helpful therapy for the gay male. Understanding is the first step towards full self-acceptance and Dr. Alan Downs has done much to help us recognize the face in the mirror.
The main flaw with "The Velvet Rage" -- and it's a stunner -- is that it focuses almost exclusively on only one type of gay man, i.e. the urban, successful, materialistic, attractive, sexually promiscuous, well-traveled, fabulous "powergay". Life examples from the less-than-fabulous, i.e. rural/suburban gay men, unsuccessful or non-materialistic gay men, poor and middle-class gay men, ordinary-looking gay men, gay homebodies, senior gay men, disabled gay men, gay men of color, and many others are almost nowhere to be found, likely because these people appear largely absent from the author's social and professional circles (which he talks about a great deal, almost to the point of bragging at times). Though surely unintentional, this is a terrible oversight for a book that seeks to provide psychological support to a marginalized minority, and I suspect a fair number of gay men reading this book will feel further alienated in some way as a result.
I would still recommend "The Velvet Rage", as it is vitally important for gay men to understand the toxic shame that lies at the core of our personal and collective psychological shadows as well as acquire the psychological tools necessary to make positive changes in our lives. Just don't expect to see your life experiences adequately reflected if you're an average gay Joe.