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The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of…
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The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's…

by Alan Downs

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As self-help books go (and I will admit that I am not a fan of the genre), The Velvet Rage is actually quite good. The problematic issue with many self-help books is that the underlying philosophy (or approach, or methodology, or treatment, etc.) is based on the assumption that everyone who reads the book is suffering with or struggling with the same condition (e.g., obesity, addiction, unhealthy relationship). This kind of essentializing or pathologizing of a condition usually results in overly generic (i.e., pretty much useless) strategies for correcting the condition. This book, however, is based on a more solid foundation—the belief that most gay men face similar challenges during the course of their development. These challenges result in deep-seated shame that often precludes any ability to maintain healthy, loving adult relationships with other men. And on this point, Dr. Downs pretty much gets it right.

I recognized more of myself than I care to admit in Downs’ descriptions of men crippled by a shame that dooms any attempt at a loving relationship with another man. The book is therapeutic and enlightening without being overly patronizing. In other words, Downs explains how and why our contemporary culture (20th century America, to be exact) makes it well-nigh impossible for a gay man to grow up as a healthy, self-actualized person, yet he does not excuse any of us for our failure to overcome these obstacles. He uses clear, frank language and relates anecdotes from his private practice to illustrate the various ways in which gay men sabotage their own relationships. (Unfortunately, Downs’ practice seems limited to middle-class or upper middle-class white men, so there is not much diversity within the stories he tells. We do not get, for example, a clear idea of what it might be like to grow up poor and gay or black and gay or Latino and gay or Asian and gay…). More importantly, he offers practical, specific advice for overcoming the various stages of shame many of us grew up with. Downs never explicitly draws the comparison, but the shame-redemption process he describes seems to closely parallel the coming out process in general. And for many gay men, coming out is merely the first step on the long road toward mental, emotional health and self-acceptance. ( )
  jimrgill | Nov 30, 2013 |
This book on gay shame has done me a world of good. While some of the examples are really broad, the meat on this book still works for me. I can see how others wouldn't see it the same way though. ( )
  pewterbreath | Nov 3, 2013 |
Some useful points, particularly around the effects of shame on psychological development, but in the end the author is trying to generalise too widely from quite a specific group of affluent American gay men. Many will identify with this nonetheless and love it; many won't. ( )
  anotherLondoner | Sep 23, 2013 |
Sorry, I cannot heap lavish praise on this book. What may be appropriate for one generation of gay men (as represented by people who can afford to see a psychologist) in America does not apply across the western world, never mind the globe he hoped it might. In fact, it barely makes it across the Atlantic or down to my generation (I'm 27 as I write this in 2010).

The book lacks any evidence beyond the anecdote presented as widely true - a grievous crime in any (social) science and no understanding outside that narrow evidence base. Add to that the stereotyping and judgemental attitude towards any non-normative relationships and you get a book that swings between disappointing and offensive.

Fuller review: http://www.penwing.me.uk/node/240 ( )
1 vote penwing | Sep 4, 2010 |
This fascinating book is about the search for authenticity. And about how difficult it is to grow up gay in a straight society,
and how for gay men, that manifests itself into feelings of shame.

There are three phases that gay men go through, Dr. Alan Downs claims:
1) Overwhelmed by shame. We are so ashamed of this part of ourselves that we masquerade as something we're not.
Often we hide who we really are, or split off different parts of ourselves. Some never leave this stage. They marry, or
hide all their lives. This is called "foreclosing" on shame.

2) Compensating for shame. In stage two, we come out, to ourselves and to others. But we have not dealt with the core
feeling that we are somehow shameful, unworthy of validation. In this stage, we try to neutralize shame by being bigger
and better and more fabulous than we are. Proof of this stage is the way so many gay men work so hard at the gym, or to
climb to the top of our professions. Also included here is promiscuity, which can be a way to manipulate one's mood and
not deal with an emotion. Many men never get past this phase, either.

3) Discovering Authenticity. Those who reach this stage, leave those trappings behind, and work to figure out who
they really are, rather than proving to themselves (and others) that they are desirable and lovable.

Dr. Downs fully explores the stages of life that cause the Velvet Rage and how to break
through them. Many men spend their lives in the first two stages, never reaching for the
true authenticity of the third stage.

It is much more than a self help book. Every page it is like having a therapy session or
two or three times over. Dr. Down's has amazing insights, explanations and answers for the
gay community that I believe can doubly apply to those who have or have not come out of
the broom closet as well. Things that we all have felt and experienced both consiously and
subconsiously that have caused us to grow, develop and behave in certain ways are explored.
The pain of shame from events that we have ALL gone through get displaced and eventually
turn into many different emotions and states of being very often negative, are addressed as
well as the healing of those wounds.

I think many gay men will relate to the emotions and experiences he
describes in the book. Truly an enlightening experience!

-Junior Cain ( )
  juniorcain | Jan 31, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0738210617, Paperback)

The gay male world today is characterized by seductive beauty, artful creativity, flamboyant sexuality, and, encouragingly, unprecedented acceptability in society. Yet despite the progress of the recent past, gay men still find themselves asking, "Are we really better off?" The inevitable byproduct of growing up gay in a straight world continues to be the internalization of shame, a shame gay men may strive to obscure with a fa?ade of beauty, creativity, or material success. Drawing on contemporary psychological research, the author's own journey to be free of anger and of shame, as well as the stories of many of his friends and clients, The Velvet Rage outlines the three distinct stages to emotional well-being for gay men. Offering profoundly beneficial strategies to stop the insidious cycle of avoidance and self-defeating behavior, The Velvet Rage is an empowering book that will influence the public discourse on gay culture, and positively change the lives of gay men who read it.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:45 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The gay male world today is characterized by seductive beauty, artful creativity, flamboyant sexuality, and, encouragingly, unprecedented acceptability in society. Yet despite the progress of the past century, our intimate relationships are generally short-lived, and depression and suicide occur more frequently than among straight men. Although an entire generation of gay men has freely come out of the closet, we still find ourselves asking, "Are we really better off?" Through honest individual stories and compassionate analysis, this book explores the lingering, deep-rooted shame which can be traced to our childhood experiences of feeling "other" and perhaps emotionally abandoned by the first men in our lives, our fathers. Most of us rage quietly against this shame, masking it behind a façade of beauty, creativity, or material success. Therapist Downs outlines three stages to emotional well-being for gay men and offers strategies to stop the insidious cycle of avoidance and self-defeating behavior.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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