A.B. Gayle's Reviews > Trysts: Tales of "Tea Room Queens"

Trysts by Mykola Dementiuk
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really liked it
bookshelves: first-person-pov, shelf-32

In succinct, dispassionate but at times hauntingly lyrical prose, the author captures the people, the place and the essence of the era.

First person point of view immediately puts the reader fair and square in the head of a young man (we are not told his age initially) in a time where being gay was seen as a sin. Readers who are naturally warm-hearted will squirm as the narrator does things they would never dream of doing or thinks thoughts repugnant to them. But anyone with a degree of imagination and empathy, (especially if they have read other books of that period) can really feel the loneliness and shame as he relates his tales with a disconcerting lack of emotion.

This distance extends to the sex scenes, mirroring the disconnectedness that pervaded that aspect of his life as well. No lingering pleasure was achieved from these brief encounters, only a quick gratification of urges leaving the narrator and reader even more sullied by an experience which in better circumstances should be uplifting and fulfilling. There was nothing sexy or even romantic about these trysts. The rainbow may be their symbol, but those two ideals were pots of gold at each end. Impossible to find – in those days at least.

This will be a difficult story for many people to read and review. No doubt it will attract its share of criticism. But I wouldn't mind betting that some men will get a kind of guilty pleasure while reading it. Possibly the same men who shared these encounters with similar young men or dreamed of doing so. Others will read the stories and wince at the memory.

Some of the scenes depicted are disturbing, and I suspect the author meant them to be. After all, isn't that a form of comment on the incidents themselves. What was the alternative? Wrap the memories up in judgemental self-loathing? Gay men were always made to feel the outsider. Dirty, shameful.

Dirk Vanden, winner of this year’s Lambda Award for erotic romance maintains that in those days gay men deliberately sought out and indulged in degraded sex because that's all they felt they deserved for being queer. Seeing everyone reviled them for being gay and they were going to hell anyway, the shackles were off as they sought out the company of like-minded men to share in their “downfall”.

These people were not just the six pack Adonises who grace the cover of today’s m/m romances. They were the overweight, the hairy, the meek, the mild, the old, the married, the accountant (or priest) and the truck driver stinking of BO.

It is not until we are further into the book that we discover the narrator is still a teenager, 15, underage, illegal. This throws another angle into play. Underage sex. But it also explains why, apart from exploitation there are other factors involved: experimentation, lack of money, confusion, not knowing anything else is possible, immaturity, the self-centredness of youth, lack of empathy from not having enough life experience.
Mind you, some teens look like men and I'm sure people weren't flashing around ID cards.

Now, without judging a reviewer’s right to their own opinion, I’d like to address a point I came across in another review which can be read in context here: http://briefencountersreviews.com/201...

“What really turned me off the story, though, was the narrator's reaction to the cross-dressing character who asks him to come on her face, even offering money for his "scum". When it doesn't quite go to plan and she takes the money back, the narrator curses her, calling her a "faggot whore" and a "half-boy/half-girl fake". If this transphobia had been dealt with by the narrator, calling on a more mature perspective in his later life (the point from which he is supposedly narrating) then I could have accepted it as the callousness of youth. Unfortunately this didn't happen, and after that I lost all sympathy for him.”

While totally understanding where they are coming from, I see this differently.

First off, I’m going to assume that now he is older, the author is well aware of how he will come across if he writes words like that. The question is, should he self-censor who he was back then? At that age, that was truly what he thought. Heck, a lot of adults still feel like that. But, given his intelligence as shown by other factors, isn't there a degree of self-criticism implicit in his acknowledgement of writing how he felt then?

Gay men had pecking orders. All men do. Some men who were struggling with coming to terms that they were gay felt that pretending you were female or acting like a female was the worst thing you could do. Check out the rules of the Old Guard and again, Dirk Vanden's writing of that time. Even though there are still pockets of prejudice, the fem gay man of today or the cross dresser or transman should count themselves lucky that they live in a different era. But this has only been possible because being gay stopped being a crime.

Like the pungent aroma of antiseptic used in a public urinal, the sad, lonely, and self-loathing stories will leave you with a nasty aftertaste. Thank God we have come so far since then that we are revolted by the difference to today’s standards.

Sometimes, I wonder if gay guys over forty deep down resent or are jealous of the fact that younger men didn't go through all this. That they escaped being divorced from their families, their work colleagues and society in general.

I read stories by men like Mykola Dementiuk, Blake Deveraux and others damaged by their pasts and cringe when these facts are included in their novels and they get condemned by reviewers for the content. In a way, I find that as bad as the condemnation that existed in their day.

We should be thanking these men for writing stories like this. Hopefully, they are a cathartic experience. No, we are not meant to "get off" on them.

Writing of these “trysts” without the author’s intervention or apology for thinking or doing things that may be unacceptable by today’s standards is better in the long term as these stories will last well into a future which will see even more changes. If “judging” be done, let each era, read, appreciate and make their comments on their current knowledge and values and acknowledge (hopefully) how much better things are now.

If the writer had written or “judged” from today’s viewpoint that puts an anachronistic stopper into the piece. His thoughts back onto what he was like then may change in ten years. Heck, they’re possibly even different from what they were ten years ago. Better to chronicle without judgement and let an empathetic reader use the picture it paints to understand the era.

In Australia, for a long time, a big deal was made about saying “Sorry” to aborigines for the way they were treated in the past. Oppressed, taken away from their families, abused, mistreated. Many people objected strongly to the notion that they should apologise for actions they themselves had nothing to do with, in fact many happened before they were born. Just the thought that an apology was needed created great debate. It is only a word. Action is needed as well, but sometimes, these gestures can carry great meaning. They are a line in the sand. An expression of determination never to repeat that mistake.

In the same vein, whenever I read books like this, I am often prompted to do the same. Instead of adding further agony to the negativity the author received in the past, I am going to praise the book and say “Sorry” the world was not a better place.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 9, 2012 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Marty (new)

Marty Wombacher Great review! I agree with your views on the book and your last sentence really drives it home. Mykola Dementiuk is an unflinchingly honest writer and we need more like him!

A.B. Gayle Thanks, Marty.
The anthology was definitely not an easy read and I can understand where that other reviewer is coming from. We saw the same things, but drew different conclusions. That diversity and freedom to think differently is great.
It's interesting. A friend of mine (gay male) read the book and commented that he lived through that era but couldn't stomach doing things like that and even now avoids going into public restrooms because they are so dirty. Not all gay men are the same, but in a way those that did showed a different form of bravery.
I think Dirk Vanden's words summed it up. They were regarded by society as no better than "animals" so some behaved as such.
This shows us that how we treat others as individuals or collectively does have some bearing on how they behave.

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