Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever
by Joel Derfner
Personal essay. 255 pp.
Broadway. 2008.

flap copy:

Joel Derfner is gayer than you. Don't feel too bad about it, though, because he has made being gayer than you his life's work. At summer day camp when he was six, Derfner tried to sign up for needlepoint and flower arranging, but the camp counselors wouldn't let him because, they said, those activities were for girls only. Derfner, just to be contrary, embarked that very day on a solemn and sacred quest: to become the gayest person ever. Along the way he has become a fierce knitter, an even fiercer musical theater composer, an so totally the fiercest step aerobics instructor (just ask him—he'll tell you himself).

In Swish, Derfner takes his readers on a flamboyant adventure along the glitter-strewn road from fabulous to divine. Whether he's confronting the demons of his past at a GLBT summer camp, using the Internet to "meet" men—many, many men—or plunging headfirst (and nearly naked) into the shady world of go-go dancing, he reveals himself with every gayer-than-thou flourish to be not just a stylish explorer but also a fearless one. So fearless, in fact, that when he sneaks into a conference for people who want to cure themselves of their homosexuality, he turns the experience into one of the most fascinating, deeply moving chapters of the book. Derfner, like King Arthur, Christopher Columbus, and Indiana Jones—but with a better haircut and a much deeper commitment to fad diets—is a hero destined for legend.

Written with wicked humor and keen insight, Swish is at once a hilarious look at contemporary ideas about gay culture and a poignant exploration of identity that will speak to all readers—gay, straight, and in between.

To say that I loved this book would be a bit of an understatement. Such joy and amusement while reading. (If you ask Dec, too much joy and amusement, otherwise he wouldn't have told me to be quiet so he could sleep or concentrate on his sudoku.) Derfner has a voice and attitude rather similar to Dan Savage, and I think we all know how much I love Savage. When it comes down to it, Derfner is a good cross between Savage (wit and wisdom) and Sedaris (narrative storytelling).

And when you read other reviews where they talk about how Derfner manages to carry you over a multitude of emotions, it's true. Really, the book was quite good in capturing a range of feelings and experience and juxtaposing them against unexpected backdrops. For example, the chapter about the ex-gays included an insightful discussion of the differences in forgiveness in the Jewish and Christian traditions and what it means to love one's self. Or this snippet from the chapter about teaching aerobics:
"What would you say being gay means to you?" my sociology-student friend had asked.

I had thought for a long time before saying, "It's nothing, and it's everything."

Yes, being gay is just one of a thousand thousand traits that make up my character, no more remarkable than my love of M&M's or my ability to mess up a room in fifteen seconds flat or my failure to understand the appeal of Luke and Owen Wilson.

But I believe that the desire to love and be loved is the strongest force on earth. And in that way, being gay affects every interaction in which I take part—just as being straight affects every interaction in which straight people take part. Every human motive is in the end a yearning for companionship, and every act of every person on this planet is an effort not to be alone. (129)
When all is said and done, Derfner is a pleasant read, with plenty of humor mixed in with thoughts and lessons about life, insecurity, self-worth, and love.

Other reviews:
Hawley Blog | Bilerico Project


Steven said...

Looking at the cover and title, I probably would never have considered reading this. But I'd give it a go based on your review.

We're probably the geekiest, non-gayest gay couple you might ever meet.

Edgy said...

I think you'd be surprised how many geeky non-gay couples I know. :)

MoHoHawaii said...

Sold! I'm going to read this.

Nodrin King said...

Just by looking at the book cover is enough to give me chuckles...too bad I can't find them in the book stores in NZ...

mommymuse said...

Why do you review more books than I have time to read? My pile looms larger now...

BTW, the four little critters at my house have recently discovered a photo album from an unspecified number of years ago that seem to contain a large number of pictures of YOU.

I'd suggest a mutual truce not to post them online, but I'm guessing it will be more of a race to facebook :).

SMD said...

Thanks for the suggestion! I picked it up yesterday and I love it (so far).

eda said...