Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 1997

Assertively Gay: How to build gay self-esteem, by Terry Sanderson

reviewed by Diesel Balaam

Terry Sanderson’s Assertively Gay is part of, and complements, an expanding library of invaluable books he has written about adjusting to the self-discovery that you are gay. In this book, he advocates assertiveness as a means of undoing the damage that has, in all probability, been done to you, and leading a happy and fulfilling life instead. It is written with intelligence, warmth and wit, and as such, must count as a primary resource for anyone who feels disempowered on account of their sexuality (or more accurately, on account of society’s failure to value and support gay people).

The consequences of failing to assert ourselves in given situations are illustrated in scenarios all too imaginable, indeed familiar – from coming out to parents, or overcoming shyness at your first gay party, through to dealing with the office bigot at work. These scenarios are then analysed and repeated with the person with low self-esteem taking a more pro-active and assertive stance, leading probably, but not necessarily, to a more satisfactory outcome. Failures are to be regarded as positive learning experiences.

These scenarios are often fleshed out with autobiographical testimonies which make fascinating reading, not least because they contain so many points of identification which can provide useful insights and reassurance to the inexperienced gay person. Indeed, this kind of self-recognition in which we see our own insecurities, past experiences, and triumphs, re-enacted in the lives of other gay men, is a formative experience in the building of gay consciousness, and is part of what gives the gay community its own particular cohesion and meaning.

Those unfortunate homosexuals whose self-esteem has been seriously eroded by religious sentiment and homophobia, are skilfully manoeuvred into a position where they are forced to confront the impossibility of integrating their immutable sexuality with the belief system they have chosen, ultimately, to adopt or retain. The tragic case of Simon Harvey, who committed suicide because he could not square his sexuality with his father’s fundamentalist Christian views (his father afterwards founded an ex-gay group which claims it can “cure” homosexuals), drives the point forcefully home.

There is, perhaps, a slight over-reliance on bald statements of fact from scientists in white coats (a very humanist failing), and not enough analysis and interpretation of those facts. For example, the Kinsey Report, with its silly statistics and naively empiricist approach to human sexuality is pored over at some length and accepted more or less at face value, while Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality is passed over entirely, in favour of the blandishments of obscure American psychologists. Even the determinist notion of a “gay gene” is briefly and uncritically entertained.

Nonetheless, these are very minor criticisms of what is otherwise an accomplished and authoritative book. The strength of Assertively Gay lies in its thoroughly down-to-earth and practical address to those who have yet to find empowerment, and while it signposts other avenues of possible investigation (gay activism, for instance), it wisely resists the temptation to do too much. In a saner society, this would be compulsory reading in schools.

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Created : Sunday, 2000-01-09 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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