I’ve just finished reading Dirk Vanden’s magnum opus, “All Is Well.”
This guy started out writing stroke books for money, but ended up authoring real novels—all the more remarkable because they first appeared just two years after Stonewall. Gone were the sissy stereotypes, the internalized homophobia, the clueless guesses by Straight pornographers of what motivates Gay men. “All Is Well” finishes a story begun two books earlier, as a morally upright and uptight Mormon discovers, after terrifying pain, who he really is.
Due to Proposition 8, massively funded by upright, uptight Mormons, this story couldn’t be more timely. It’s a product of its times, 1971, complete with flower power and hallucinogens, but it’s fresh for today’s readers too.
A heterosexually married man is forced to confront his own desires. That’s the basic plot. He goes through hell—as men who live a lie still do. You don’t have to be Mormon to recognize the gut-chewing conflict. You could be Baptist or Catholic or Jew.
There is much to respect in the Mormon religion, and much that’s corrupt to its core. At its best it produces a sweetness in its adherents, a sincerity and genuineness the whole world could want. But then there’s a dark side, intolerant and vicious, sex-crazed and just plain crazy. They actually think that if they just fuck enough and make more babies (see polygamy), they’ll end up as gods on other planets. It’s the wackiest damn religion there ever was.
So what do you do if you’re Mormon and Gay? So much kindness, so little tolerance of those who don’t reproduce. Mormons ideologically oppose Gay people; we don’t fit their salvation idea that the way to heaven is to max out the baby-making, the more women you use the better. “Be fruitful and multiply,” the only ordinance of God mankind has ever obeyed, is the only rule that matters to these men. Why else do they maintain the world’s largest geneaological database? Why else do they baptize long-dead Jews?
It’s male-dominated religion run amok.
They think they’ll become gods on R-596. They portray themselves in public as circumspect (if you knew their secrets you’d see how rotten they are), but in their heads they’re wannabe fuck-machines, because babies are how they become gods. Joseph Smith was a world-class pervert.
Newsflash: men are not gods. Men are the exact opposite of gods. God transcends the flesh and rises above it; Mormons revel in it, and never get where they’re wanting to go.
Gay men represent a complete threat to this Mormon-god economy. We fuck for the fun of it, as sex-crazed as they are, without making new babies. They can’t stand the thought of all that seed spilled for naught. Fucking without becoming gods? Who do those fags think they are?
Vanden’s novel is both confused and confusing at first, but it does make you turn the page. And then you arrive at Robert’s grand awakening. He must be who he really is, before toxic religion drives him crazy.
He accidentally takes some mescaline, thinking it’s something else.
And the world is suddenly beautiful in ways he never saw before. The most mundane details he always ignored become spectacular. Vanden eloquently describes a drug-induced hallucination that makes the whole world gorgeous. It moves Robert beyond his boundaries and helps him connect with his son. Vanden sings with complete brilliance; you don’t have to have taken a drug to follow and appreciate. Dad encounters the world anew, and is flabbergasted. The writing is a tour de force, the best mind-expanding trip I’ve ever read.
The boy tries to tell his Dad there’s a new thing coming, but the novel takes off once Dad finds out for himself. Vanden’s description of the father’s trip is both ’70s-dated and timeless; the book holds up even now. Dad sees a sunset; Dad glimpses a thousand possibilities. Dad might be you or me, seeing the world for the first time.
I did not care for the rape and incest between Robert and his brother; the taboo-crossing scenes are violent and cruel. Vanden’s brothers who fuck are forgiving and finally respectful, but jeez, I don’t want to know. Vanden pushes boundaries, and it takes some strength for the reader to keep going. Gay sex is not about dad or brother hangups, but man-to-man sex here and now. Fantasies are allowed, but Vanden seems to say that rape is the logical extension of Mormonism. It’s also the crime the latest Fundamentalist Mormons are charged with; Texas authorities found rape rooms on the top floor of the Fundamentalist temple.
And they think God has anything to do with this? It’s a theology?
Joseph Smith was a ripoff artist, but it’s the fastest-growing religion in the world.
“All Is Well” is a journey book, where a man from Salt Lake City winds up in San Francisco; in keeping with his mental evolution, he grows up along the drive in an old VW bug.
The genuine ethic of this novel comes in the final chapter; Robert, liberated and Gay, takes responsibility and addresses his son, even as he’s leaving him. Dad admits everything and apologizes, and points to a better life. Always with a Vanden novel, hope arrives. We know the kid’s going to turn out okay. Now, in this era when Gay and Lesbian marriage and parenting are hotly debated, we have an example from 35 years ago of a Gay dad being a true father. In a way it’s the most Mormon moment in the book; it’s also the Gayest.
When you have children out of duty, and not from the free-flowing effulgence of your innate sexuality, maybe you think a little harder about the impact of your actions on your kids. Or maybe it’s just that Gay people are a little bit smarter, a little more thoughtful; heterosexual dads don’t even have to get licensed. But this father thinks about what he’s doing, reaches out to his child and makes a friend for life.
Yeah. Them’s my kind.
It’s amazing that Vanden came up with all this in 1971. He’s a genius, a visionary, an artist. He loves Gay men, and knows our troubles, and brings us into a positive sexual place. He thought drugs were how to get there, though at best they’re just a way-station. The important thing is to come to self-acceptance, and if that included an ecstatic experience once upon a time, then bully for you.
If not, stay sweet. Be true to yourself. Be honest. If you want dick, then find yourself a stud and have fun. Suck that big thing, fuck that little ass, don’t be ashamed. Love what is good in your religion, and be Gay. If it takes mescaline to get there, “the Lord won’t mind.” If it means telling your family and your best friends who you really are, then do it. If it means telling the truth to your son, then be honest. “Times are changing, Dad, a new thing’s coming.”
And now it’s here, it’s coming on strong in the Age of Obama, just as Dirk Vanden imagined. “All Is Well” may be ’70s-trippy, but it’s also ’00s real, because Robert learns to suck cock. He likes it, a truth that overrides everything. I wouldn’t give you two bits for stupid chemicals, but personal integrity is a pearl of great price.
And wouldn’t it be nice, just once in our lives, to hear a father who actually tells the truth. Most heterosexual dads are incapable of it; they’re wannabe fuck-machines, hoping to be gods, and they lie through their teeth. The homo dads save their lives by telling the truth. Maybe we wouldn’t if our lives didn’t depend on it, but they do.
You needn’t ask, but we have to tell, or else we die.++
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