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The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  5,349 ratings  ·  533 reviews
The gay male world today is characterized by seductive beauty, artful creativity, flamboyant sexuality, and, encouragingly, unprecedented acceptability in society. Yet despite the progress of the recent past, gay men still find themselves asking, "Are we really better off?" The inevitable byproduct of growing up gay in a straight world continues to be the internalization o ...more
Paperback, 212 pages
Published April 25th 2006 by Da Capo Lifelong Books (first published May 24th 2005)
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Liam I don't know which book you read, but it wasn't this one. Yes, it reviews the past as well as the near-present experience of being gay, but at no poin…moreI don't know which book you read, but it wasn't this one. Yes, it reviews the past as well as the near-present experience of being gay, but at no point does it glorify that. Rather, it uses those experiences as a pathway for gay men like myself to closely examine who we were and are and why.(less)

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Hannah Greendale
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Velvet Rage provides a three-stage model for the journey gay men are encouraged to take in order to (i) embrace their sexuality, (ii) acknowledge what habits or addictions they rely on to compensate for insecurity; and (iii) discover a life of authenticity and subsequently enjoy healthy relationships.

The experience of being a gay man in the twenty-first century is different than any other minority, sexual orientation, gender, or culture grouping. [. . .] Our lives are a unique blending of t
Hani Omar
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book way more than I did. Downs' broad premise - that gay culture is awash in deeply calcified narcissism - is a valid one, and bears the additional virture of being entirely true. However, like many readers, it became clear to me very early on that I did not fall into this book's target demographic, which has led me to wonder if its scope is much more narrow than many (including the author) realize. There is a white upper middle class American-centricity to Downs' approach ...more
Corey Fry
Aug 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: every gay person or friend/family of a gay person
this book gave me chills because i've never felt an author hit so close to the mark with his description of gay male psychological development. i couldn't have read this at a better time and i am eternally grateful to the author.

my only caveat is to take from it what you will. i think as gay males in our twenties and thirties, we might have a different developmental arc than the gay male generation ahead of us, for which this book seems to be written. however, the fundamental truths still exist
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
While I somewhat relate to his message I had to question (a) his methodology and (b) his not-unrelated narrowness of view and sweeping generalisations. Regarding (a) I think there's a serious lack of statistics to back up his statements - he relies on readers being convinced by the familiar sound of the problems he describes, and on their being disarmed by the idea that they aren't alone in suffering those problems, which I think is quite dodgy. And then (b) yes, he does acknowledge that he can ...more
Jul 18, 2014 rated it liked it
This is kind of at the intersection of 2 genres I seldom read: non-fiction about LGBT issues, and popular psychology. The former genre is something I've just never paid much attention to, the latter is something I've actively ignored from my own snobby contempt (I still remember rolling my eyes every afternoon as a kid when my mom would put on Oprah).

Anyway, the basic underlying assumption of this book-- that gay men specifically have a spate of psychological issues which follow them throughout
Cale Dietrich
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Honestly one of the most powerful and thought provoking books I’ve ever read. Certainly one of the most important nonfiction books of my life, and I say that after just finishing it. I’m not sure I exactly agree with *everything* in it – the worldview of the author can seem really bleak at times, but a lot of this genuinely struck home for me and the whole thing really made me think deeply. I honestly think this is a book all gay men should read. Actually everyone should read this, as I think it ...more
Chris Colman
I'm conflicted on this book. While I could relate to many of the author's points on gay shame and how it affects us, I struggled with the position from which the author was writing. Early on, the author puts forth a homogenous view of the gay experience, one that oftentimes seemed moneyed and white. With practically every example the author employs, there's mention of fabulous wealth, executive careers, and many other hallmarks of affluence that I just couldn't relate to in my experience. Early ...more
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: self-help, glbt
There was too much use of "we" and "us" constantly used, as over-generalization was rampant. There were many different scenarios/cases that were discussed in the book, so you are sure to find one that looks like "you" and even others that look like people you know. But the vast majority of the cases involved clients that were clearly going down a wrong path: multiple partners, additional boyfriends that slept over and were expected to be acceptable, lies, gossip, over infatuation with the youthf ...more
Dana Sweeney
Dec 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Not for me.

For starters, this book was more self-help than sociology, which I wasn’t expecting. I picked it up because I have seen or heard it described as a classic text in LGBTQ literature, and for queer men specifically. It wasn’t what I hoped for, but by virtue of its self-help style, it was still sometimes practical. It was, at turns, deeply insightful and helpful — there were dozens of times while reading that I felt a deep sense of recognition or lingered over a particular piece of concre
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
As self-help books go (and I will admit that I am not a fan of the genre), The Velvet Rage is actually quite good. The problematic issue with many self-help books is that the underlying philosophy (or approach, or methodology, or treatment, etc.) is based on the assumption that everyone who reads the book is suffering with or struggling with the same condition (e.g., obesity, addiction, unhealthy relationship). This kind of essentializing or pathologizing of a condition usually results in overly ...more
Jun 22, 2012 rated it liked it
The quick review: the book is targeted toward gay men, but it’s a worthwhile read if you have any interest in reflection, self-help culture, and even philosophy (if that seems grandiose, just remember that philosophy includes the search for meaning and happiness, whether it's Aristotle or a hippy dippy secular guru doing the philosophising). It’s not as ordered as it could be, it is more than a bit new-agey, but if you can get over that there’s more than a little here. And as a side note: if all ...more
Stephen Bird
I was looking for a therapist and during one consultation this book was recommended to me. This work addresses problems that are classically inherent to gay men: body fascism, objectification, perfectionism, inauthenticity, "instamacy", abuse / self-abuse, shame. The author is at his best when focusing on the clinical aspects / analysis of the particular gay male subject is being discussed. In general -- This work is a very fast read.

When I arrived in NYC in the fall of 1980, promiscuity was the
Conor Ahern
The other day, as we were sitting around the office trying to be thoughtful about trans rights legal guidance for the city, a moment of levity transpired. Someone said that someone else who had been involved in the drafting had said, "Don't LGBTQ people want gender and sex to be conflated?" And without wading into the practical and theoretical morass of that debate, I'm glad we could laugh it off, because though I admire our unfortunately rare moments of solidarity and I hope for more allyship-- ...more
Evan Oare
Dec 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
While I started reading this book believing it was telling me exactly what I needed to hear, the effect quickly wore off as the book progressed to be obviously addressed to a slightly different audience. The book panders to well-to-do gay men who are well on their in years who are looking in retrospect over their lives. While I still found many of the lessons helpful whether or not they have applied to me already or might in the future, the constant anecdotes about men who have everything (ultra ...more
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was a mixed bag for me. While reading The Velvet Rage I oscillated between reflection and deep annoyance. I think the message of the book is important even if the package it comes in is indefensibly flawed.

On the bright side, the discussion of toxic shame/rage and the path towards authenticity and acceptance that Alan Downs describes resonated with me and there is a lot of hard won insight and wisdom to be found in this book. I can easily see how this book has been helpful to a lot of peopl
Bobby Simic
Aug 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adultnonfiction
Psychologist Alan Downs believes gay men have an inherent form of shame because of a lack of acceptance from our straight male-dominated society. Because of this shame, we've adapted, suppressing certain behaviors, adding others and seeking validation, in order to overcompensate for our percepted faults and to be better welcomed into society. According to him, gay men often feel unfulfilled because we've lost our "true self," and this has repercussions in our relationships and other endeavors. I ...more
Michael Kage
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
Great book. Really isolates the average experience of the gay male in our society. While not every topic will apply to every gay male, the author acknowledges this, it does ring true at some level in nearly all gay males I know who have read it. Also, there is valuable knowledge for straight men and women also who wish to better understand their gay counterparts.
Mar 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend recommendation and good to read over again. Some of the messages are simple but it's usually those simple messages that become lost in life.

I certainly relearned a few skills.
Greg Thorpe
Mar 15, 2019 rated it liked it
I read the first half with great interest and plenty of recognition. I underlined many heavily relatable descriptions of the shame/rage spiral that I have experienced. I haven't ever fully faced the shame of being an effeminate bullied kid, he is so on the money about that process, but I did lots of work on the rage and self-worth bit in my 30s. Lots of that was to do with supporting/being supported by a queer community which seems utterly absent from his world. I see where he is going and I can ...more
Matt John
Oct 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alan Downs, Ph.D. is a California licensed clinical psychologist who specialises in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), gay men’s issues, and psychological assessment. Using his own experiences and those of his patients (names changed), Downs defines what all gay men deal with - shame. Downs theorises that this shame is born out of being different (ie gay) in a heterosexual world and it this shame which causes many gay men to be the superficial, spiteful and non-commited persons that fit the ste ...more
João Vaz
May 31, 2013 rated it liked it
Good good insights, I couldn't really relate with most of it but at least one learns what to avoid. BUT! I sometimes felt as though I was watching a National Geographic documentary: the gay man when at stage three does tarara, the gay man goes and hunts lol
Then there's this last part of the book on how to reinvent yourself to be better, self-help that is! I was bored to distraction. So I just thought: skimming throughhhh!
Alex Grigoriev
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliantly insightful.
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-star-shelf
“His secret he cannot reveal, not even to himself, for fear that it will consume him completely. Deep inside, far from the light of awareness the secret lives. Go down beneath the layers of public facade, personal myth and fantasy. Peel away the well crafted layers, for only then you can see the secret clearly for what it is: his own self-hatred.”

This book articulates everything that growing up as a gay man is.
I’ve tried to explain this struggle to straight friends, to family and never been quit
Morgan Blackledge
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh god what a life affirming and inspirational book.

It's ironic that many men, gay and straight alike, will be diverted from reading this healing, insight engendering book, simply out of fear.

It's sad that many women may not feel drawn to this liberating and empowering book because it's about men.

A lot of people will even avoid this review out of fear and shame.

And that is such a shame.

Because this book is a thing of beauty, intelligence and excellence (all things commonly associated with ga
Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, english
This book certainly has its flaws: it’s a little outdated on monogamy and commitment (no space for healthy and considerate consensual non-monogamy) and a bit sweeping about parental figures and their influences on our lives. It’s very 00s in that sense.

However, the core notions of dealing with shame I think still hold and are at times groundbreaking (at least for me).

The story of fifty something Chase who lets go of having to live the most glamorous extravagant life and chooses to be an “ordinar
Oct 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
It is deeply troubling that a well educated author cannot comprehend that middle-age upper-middle class white men do not represent the queer community as such. I understand that for many aforementioned men this book might be an interesting reading, yet, in the context of today’s world (especially the US), this book is highly irrelevant.
Mark Hiser
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtq
Writing can be anxiety producing. It is an activity that causes us to look deep within to see how we understand our world. Often my composition students tell me they worry about being judged. It probably does not help, but I respond that when they write with honesty and integrity, they probably do feel like John the Baptist with his head on a platter; their values, beliefs, ideas, knowledge and more are on display. But, when they take the risk and shine light into darkness, there can also be gre ...more
Jan 21, 2020 rated it did not like it
I get *why* people think this is a good book. BUT this is not a good book. Quite frankly, this book might actually do more harm for gay men who read it than good. It presents a homogenous Freudian interpretation of the gay male experience and takes it to a place that prefaces a heteronormative understanding of the world that strikes as victim-blaming "bootstraps" analysis. While there are nuggets of truth and relatable experience in here, where Downs takes them is not good. If you see a friend a ...more
Brandon Will
Oct 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: self-halp
Downs acknowledges the symptoms and hurts this book describes aren't solely experienced by gayish dudes --but this is a book I wish every GBT dude or anyone who closely interacts with GBT dudes would read.

This book is a masterpiece, culled from a lifetime of trying to figure out how to move past hurts, while helping other gay men do the same.

Some key points:

"We are born into this world helpless, love-starved creatures" who "avoid abandonment at all costs." GBT dudes know they're different from a
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Not everyone can afford to see a therapist, but here is a "self help" book that can really help if one reads it with an open mind. It may terrify some people, because this is one doctor who politely pulls the masks off the Oz-like wizards so many of us gay men wear in order to cope with being gay in "a straight man's world." I recognized myself in these pages;perhaps you will too. My only quibble with the book, and it's minor, is that the author uses the umbrella term "shame" in defining the sta ...more
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Alan Downs, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and the CEO of Michael's House.

His fifteen years of treating clients throughout America's culture have already been reflected in his numerous books in both leadership and self-help. His two most recent books include The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World and The Half Empty Heart.

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