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Dirk Vanden’s Remarkable Novel “All Is Well”


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.++

6 Responses

  1. Holy Hepplewhite…you are a graphic dude up there in Indiana…you even made this former, early 60´s, San Francisco, 18 year old Barfly blush! Of course as Haight Street progressed, so did the addictions…as it turns out there was plenty of well intended efforts at Free Love and the abandonment of ¨Uptight¨ that didn´t have pretty ongoing Sunsets…nightmares became the norm, many suicides…and yes, then the 70´s arrived and the plot(s) thickened…thanks for the Book Review , Josh, fascinating stuff…my personal hands-on experience with Mormons (1/2 of part of my Dads family) is that they are very loving, albeit narrominded, indulge in LOTS OF DENIAL and are fully brainwashed past challenging any of the weirdstuff you mention…dicipline, intimidation and fear (speaking of doublestandards, they often practice them without a blink).

    ¨It´s the way that you see things, that makes the world BE things.¨ (my favorite quote by Dorothy Johnson, a pal)

  2. Leonardo, I did NOT make an 18-year-old blush. You forget what you were like at 18. 🙂

    Maybe I should apologize for the four-letter words; if so I do. But maybe I don’t want to apologize, for this reason: it seems to me that a “Gay Spirit Diary” ought to talk like Gay men talk, and read like Gay men read, if we’re ever to put together Gay+Spirit.

    No one really knows what holy sex is like; not Gay, not Straight. Hinduism seems to have the smallest clue, but Western Christianity, fuhgeddaboudit. We don’t know how to talk about the love of a woman for her man, much less a man for his guy or a woman for her woman.

    We know sex is divine, that at its unselfish best it opens our minds to the transcendent Other, but meanwhile let’s fuck.

    I figure God is okay with this; he knew that making us sexual we’d go all Crazy Nutzoid. He’s not surprised we’re lust-filled pigs. That was always part of the deal; but he has hopes for us, that we’ll discover real tenderness and mutuality amidst the bang-bang.

    I’ll never forget the night I learned the difference between having sex and making love. When we have sex, we’re primarily concerned about our own orgasm; when we make love, we’re primarily concerned about our lover’s.

    That changes everything. Nothing could be more beautiful than making love.

    So I’m thinking that the primary purpose of a Gay Spirit Diary is to explore how we move from the fuck to the love.

    Along the way I use good old Anglo-Saxon words. They’re crude but they liberate us from our stained-glass voice, so pious, so phony. Don’t tell the Anglicans, but Anglo-Saxons are shrieking crude. (It’s one of our better qualities.)

    I present this to the world as a Gay man in his 50’s, not sexually active except in his creative brain. I find myself drawn ever nearer to God, yet still as fleshly as ever. What does holy love look like, feel like, taste like?

    Why does nobody write about this? Is it not the #1 obsession of male Christians?

    How does a man love his wife, and honor her and keep her, and plow her down? I mean, how? How can Gay men translate any truths Straight men arrive at to our situation? More to the point maybe, how do we show them the way? They’re not the leaders, they’re the followers. We’re the ones with the responsibility of discovery.

    How do you love someone when you’re a sexual predator? How do you pray to God about it? How do you live in the paradox?

    How do you raise kids when you’re hoping to get dicked? When the whole reason your ass exists is to get dicked?

    How do we become more than we thought we could be? That’s the real question. God is a magnet and we are the iron, drawn irrevocably to him. But we’re so basic, so horny, so physical, so mortal. When does it ever get revealed that what God loves about us is our bodies? That he communicates to us in our bodies?

    I don’t know the answers, I only know the questions. Fuck all you want but kiss kiss kiss; that’s a start.

    For most of us, finding God in sex mostly depends on our lover. If he or she is a God-conveyor, we’ll find the One in the midst of it. God-awareness doesn’t rise up from ourselves, the Loved One shows us in the one we love.

    If holy committed sex is part of the plan, then let’s give ourselves over to it. God knows what sluts we were at 18; now, let our sexuality be made more intense and healed as we grow ever closer to the Infinite One.

    The worst heresy of Fundamentalists is their claim that sin is mostly personal and sexual. God knows all the things we can do with our organs and orifices. Sin is not so much personal as it is shared, it’s political and economic and military. Sin is injustice.

    I hope our soldiers in Iraq are fucking their brains out.

    Meanwhile I hope to work out a novel in which loving Gay men, one cock-crazed, one ass-crazed, come to understand that their bodies are holy, but God is God. If I ever manage that, I can rest in peace. Problem is I can’t work it out. I’ve been thinking about this for ten years and I still don’t know.

    God is love, and ass is ass, and men will always disappoint you. Then what? How do we put together a longterm relationship? What does it mean, Gay marriage?

    I’ve got a few clues from long, long couples who get written up in newspapers. They’re best friends; the guy always does what his woman tells him to; he kept her satisfied. She never had to be perfect in his eyes to be the greatest girl on earth. I halfway cry when I read stories like that; he just adores her.

    Someday the intertubes will write about two guys together for fifty years, or two gals. We’ll all wonder how they managed, and envy them, and maybe try harder. This I know; having sex is nothing like making love. It’s not your orgasm that matters, it’s your partner’s.++

  3. Thank you, Joshua, for the incredibly insightful review.

    “No matter the path, & no matter the teacher, the lesson of life is Love.” Gabriel Horny

  4. PS: The Mormons will say “we hate the sin, but not the sinner.” I say “I hate Mormonism but not Mormons.” It makes just as much sense.

  5. Funny, I´d remember being 18,28,30 better if I hadn´t been drunk (mostly)…but since, you questioned my blush, and then think you know the answer to my blush…I´ll explain:

    Sex embarrassed me. Anyones sexual intimacies…call it what you like but I wasn´t considered a ¨conservative¨…it´s probably the Anglosaxon bit that liked dark better than light and night better than day…it helped me be me…well, it did until it didn´t work anymore…the release didn´t come and I became a neurotic mess (especially in my own eyes)…then I got sober at 35 and didn´t drink anymore…what a trip that was…finally, after a few years of blundering around in the SEX department I finally was able to SET MYSELF FREE…I actually spent a lost, yet sober/clean, long weekend that I had planned that NOBODY knew about…I went with and took the real, and shystill, me, pledging to me that there would be no guilt no matter what I discovered about the real me…about a dozen encounters, of the ¨flesh¨ kind, later, maybe more, I came home DELIGHTED…for me, I found one of the greatest of Gods gifts to me not only in sobriety but by NOT running from my sexuality…whew, what a blessing…and to think I never hid from me or my passions and HONEST desires again…that was over 25 years ago…I find it ¨manly¨ to have intense/unobstructed sex with a man…I don´t find it very manly or sexy to yack about tits, pricks, ass, other.

    Sex, for me, has been a passionate and LOVING experience in or outside of ¨relationships¨…sober/clean I find Sex a extraordinary opportunity to touch and be touched deeply with/by a partner I may never see again.

  6. You’re right, Leonardo, I don’t know what you were like at 18. But I celebrate your sobriety, your liberation, your getting in touch with who you really are, and your truth-telling.

    Even when I yak about tits and ass, I’m trying to tell the truth too.

    Now I’m going to post a prayer For Those About to Make Love.

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