Bensie, Dennis Milam. “One Gay American”, Coffeetown Press, 2012.
The Search for Identity
“One Gay American” is a book that any of us who came of age in the sixties could have written. I can already hear you saying, “If anyone could have written it, what makes it special?” The answer is quite simple—no one did write it except for Dennis Bensie. Remember, the sixties were a different time and the mood of the country was different. Coming out was a political act and even though it was liberating, gay people were marginalized by society. The younger generation does not understand that and that is why it is so important. We tend to forget how it was, how we got to where we are now and who got us there.
Dennis Milam Bensie was raised in Robinson, Illinois and in a “traditional” family. He was sure that he would eventually find love, get married, father a child, etc, etc. He was aware of his sexuality that he hid and when he was 19, he married a woman even though deep inside he knew that this was not the life for him. As he tried to find his gay identity, he left and then divorced his wife and hit the bars, public restrooms and bath houses. As happens so often, the chase becomes exciting and everything takes a back seat.
What I have always found so interesting is that we expect others to accept us yet we do not accept ourselves. Bensie goes through this as well even while mourning his gay friends that he lost to the AIDS epidemic. It has taken him a while but Bensie eventually accepted himself and this book is a memoir of that journey.
Bensie has divided his book into time periods, beginning in the 1960’s and 70’s and takes us through the present. These divisions are further broken down into short chapters each named for a significant event in the author’s life. Just as we have seen so many advances in society for the acceptance of members of the LGBT community, Bensie has experienced some of these changes personally and he relates them to us. This makes his personal life part of the larger picture of the American LGBT community. He talks about areas that need to be changed, especially the bullying of gay kids. It may seem better but then we really only hear about the urban centers. What happens when a gay boy in Damascus, Arkansas (like Bensie in rural Illinois) knows no one else like him, has no one to talk to and is bullied at school?
In effect, Bensie gives us a look at our culture and history and it not only makes us think, it reminds us of who we are. Those of us who have lived at the same time as Bensie have seen incredible changes in the gay community, both from within and from the larger society. It has not been an easy journey yet Bensie makes it an entertaining and fun read. We should never forget how it once was for us in this country and remember that every right we have today is the result of those that came before and worked hard so that each generation has it better than the generation before it. We stand on the shoulders of others and Bensie provides us with some very broad shoulders on which to stand. Red his delightful book and thank him for just that.