September 20, 2012 | by Terri Schlichenmeyer
The baggage of shame

‘The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World’
By Alan Downs (second edition, fully revised and updated)
DaCapo Lifelong
$15.99
252 pages, includes index

To out or not to out?

At this point in your life, you’ve made your decision but sometimes, you get a little angry that it’s even an issue. Sometimes that anger really gets you down, enough to make you want to just sit and think — or sit and drink, and that’s not good, either.

book cover of Velvet Rage

(Courtesy DaCapo Lifelong)

You’ve had enough hate flung your way. You’ve had your share of isolation and family problems. So isn’t it time to get your share of love and acceptance?  In the completely revised, updated edition of “The Velvet Rage” by Alan Downs, you’ll find a road map for the journey.

Is self-destruction inherent in gay men?

Alan Downs believes so, and he thinks he knows why: shame.

Shame, he says, is the “fear of being unlovable.” It’s “not embarrassment over being gay; it is the belief that being gay is a … symptom of your own mortally flawed psyche.” And perhaps because it’s a “secret [a man] cannot reveal,” it often leads to self-destructive habits including suicide.

Shame starts in childhood.

The first man you loved, says Downs, was your father. If he withheld acceptance, you turned to your mother and were “drawn to the feminine.” This led to a change in family dynamics, which might have taught you to hide “ugly realities” as a means of survival and avoidance, resulting in shame’s accompanying rage.

To live a life of happiness, Downs says, there are three stages that gay men must endure. The first is characterized by being overwhelmed by shame, coping with it by “splitting,” or leading two discordant lives. Splitting helps avoid shame, but leads to a breakdown in relationships and a crisis in identity.

Stage two is marked by compensation for shame and a “belief that there is something fundamentally flawed,” internally. This is where addiction and depression often appear, especially when former validation is no longer enough to “soothe the gay man’s distress.”  Resolution of this takes “all gay men” to the next stage.

In stage three, a gay man “seeks a better life for himself.” Old self-destructive behaviors no longer hold interest. Relationship trauma (betrayal, abuse, abandonment and relationship ambivalence) is healed. Joy becomes possible.

Aside from the overgeneralizations, “The Velvet Rage” is pretty good.

The beginning chapters of this book may make readers feel like a bobble-head doll, nodding, nodding, nodding. That’s eerie, because it may be hard not to see yourself in at least some of what author Alan Downs portrays, in fact.

What is most appealing about this book, though, are its last chapters. There, Downs helps readers along with his “Skills for Leading an Authentic Life,” which are good strengths to cultivate, no matter where you are (or are not) on Downs’ continuum.

Meant, perhaps, for a younger man who’s just starting this journey, I also think this book has words of wisdom for older gay men, too. If you’re in search of comfort and a more peaceful life, “The Velvet Rage” is a book to check out.

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