As with most pop-psychology books, I’m a little torn: do the benefits of the book outweigh the drawbacks of the book? And, as with any book, I found both good and bad parts. I can say regardless, I am glad I finally read this book. It’s been on my to-be-read list for ages, but the push from my friend Dominic spurred me to move it up my list.
The largest challenge I faced while reading The Velvet Rage was having to constantly remind myself that Downs wrote this book for the “masses” and not for academia or research. And as often as I did this, I still wound up harshly judging Downs’ generic and stereotypical observations, which I do for anyone including my own. His generalizations were not wrong, stereotypes exist for a reason, but I did have to ask how Downs’ feels about this and whether he has since acknowledged this as he does not discuss it in the novel. There is an updated, 20th anniversary, version of this book which would be interesting to read.
Let’s start with the great things about this book. Although I struggle, and always have, with people telling you how to be a “healthier happier you” I found Down’s to be succinct and quite wise, so he clearly has the experience and the ability to synthesize it and share with others:
“When you drop the struggle with shame and accept life as it is without judgement, you find great freedom on the other side. It is freedom to be who you are, exactly as you are. The only real meaning in life is found in being who you are right now, without apologies…In this moment, all you need to be is you, Only in that space will you find lasting contentment.” (106)
Another great aspect is that I did find myself in the book. There wasn’t one portion that was like oh that’s clearly me, but there were bits and pieces that I could clearly see in myself. And I’ll be the first to admit that they weren’t all the glowing portions of success. There were a lot of things in this book that I know will help me in my next relationship and that I hope the next guy I date will realize that I’m acknowledging and working on these things. I don’t know if I would go so far as to blame them on shame rather than sheer stubbornness, but I’m open to interpretations.
Now on to what I did not like about the book. I really hope this changes in the anniversary edition, the book needs a new designer and a new copy editor. Whoever laid out the design should have their design credentials removed. The inclusion of quotes is great, but when they detract from what else is on the page and don’t seamlessly fit within the page then get rid of them. In addition to the poor layout, there were copy editing mistakes that any copy editor should catch with the worst being words completely missing from sentences; not cool. Also, why did the editor/copy editor not discourage Downs’ from including PhD on the cover? I get that it makes it seem more professional or that he’s coming from a ‘career’ perspective or job of knowledge, but it just came across ridiculous to me.
The only other issue I had about the book is what I mentioned above about stereotypes. I completely understand why Downs used them and I understand why they are so prevalent in society, but I feel Downs really should’ve placed a bit more emphasis on the fact that his examples and his prognostications were not for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, he does do this and attempts to provide numerous stories and examples, but an entire chapter or even just more of the preface or perhaps in the 20th anniversary edition afterward, he should reinforce and reiterate this. I was able to find myself in bits and pieces, but if I read this book 10 years ago I’m not sure how I would’ve reacted. Would I have fallen deeper into the ‘shame-well’ or would I have moved faster through the process because I assumed I was just another copy from the same mold? Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never done what’s expected and I’m definitely from a different mold than most, but I know this and have always been able to acknowledge it; some people aren’t or can’t.
Recommendation: As Dominic said I think this is a great book for any male who is in the process of coming out. Not only does it explain a lot about why many (gay) men are the way they are, but it also provides a few step-by-step suggestions to help you navigate what may happen to you emotionally and mentally. I felt that Downs’ did a great job explaining that the same type of cycle discussed in the book is also prevalent in lesbians and straight men, but that it is different enough that it couldn’t be encompassed within the one book.
Opening Line: “The experience of being a gay man in the twenty-first century is different from that of any other minority, sexual orientation, gender or culture grouping.”
Closing Line: “After all, once you own the injury you realize that there really isn’t any shame in it at all.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)