One Gay American: a Coming-of-Age Memoir by Dennis Milam Bensie

One Gay American ($13.95, 242 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-153-8), is a memoir by theatrical wigmaker Dennis Milam Bensie about growing up gay in small-town America.

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One Gay American was a finalist in the 2013 Indie Excellence Awards and 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

The Advocate voted Bensie’s first memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men, “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011.” The New York Journal of Books called Shorn: “Bracingly honest.” The Library Journal recommended it as “particularly topical in these days of bullying stories and gay teens committing suicide.” Shorn was also a finalist in the 2013 Indie Excellence Awards.

“Deeply poignant. I love how it traverses essential issues for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of all ages. The story evokes clarification, encouragement and comfort for anyone who is curious to know what it was like to grow up LGBT in small-town America during the waning years of the twentieth century.”

—Daniel Nicoletta, photographer and activist who worked in Harvey Milk’s Castro Street camera during the LGBT Zeitgeist of the mid ’70s

5 Stars: “A riveting and poignant attempt at explaining his life to the reader in the most vivid detail. Grab some tissues and a nice big carafe of warm coffee because you will need it …. Dennis is a wonderful writer, one that will transport all readers to another dimension of reality, one that was very cruel and harsh to gays. Thank you Dennis for such a wonderful book!”  Read more ….

Author Irene Roth

“I was stunned by the raw honesty of Bensie’s first book, Shorn: Toys To Men. He doesn’t back down in his second memoir, One Gay American, either. His spin on small-town gay Americana is spot-on. One can’t help but admire how the author tells his heart-wrenching stories with his head held high. Bensie is hopeful and embraces America … even though the country hasn’t yet fully embraced sexual equality.”
—Tony Buff, Director of Fetish Production, Falcon /Raging Stallion Studios

Dennis Milam Bensie’s One Gay American manages to be entertaining and engaging with no whining…. [His] frankness extends to the story of his failed marriage …. heartbreaking stuff.  Bensie handles this with the assurance of a master storyteller, using uncomplicated prose to tell his rather complicated life. His details are well-chosen, but even more interesting is what he chooses not to reveal. Once the book takes off into Bensie’s gay adulthood, he declines to recite chapter and verse his dating difficulties (though they are touched upon to hilarious effect) and other bad decisions are never dwelt on. One Gay American is a beautifully well-rounded account of just that—one gay American and his journey toward happiness. I’ll wager you’ll find some of yourself in here. Read it and see.”  Read more ….
—Jerry Wheeler, Out in Print

One Gay American is written in the authentic voice of author Dennis Milam Bensie. I have known and worked with Dennis for nearly twenty years, and I am pleased to learn that in addition to being a talented and well respected stage craftsman and artist that he is the real deal as a storyteller and author. Dennis doesn’t try to change anyone’s mind, he doesn’t scold (as he certainly could!) and he doesn’t hide. He shares his life as he is living it in this absorbing, enlightening and entertaining book. I gulped it down in a day. Enjoy!”
—Cynthia Lauren Tewes, actress

“Bensie gives us a look at our culture and history, and it not only makes us think, it reminds us of who we are. Those of us who have lived at the same time as Bensie have seen incredible changes in the gay community, both from within and from the larger society. It has not been an easy journey yet Bensie makes it an entertaining and fun read. We should never forget how it once was for us in this country and remember that every right we have today is the result of those that came before and worked hard so that each generation has it better than the generation before it. We stand on the shoulders of others and Bensie provides us with some very broad shoulders on which to stand. Read his delightful book and thank him for just that.”
—Amos Lassen, reviewer and activist

“Dennis Milam Bensie offers us an unflinching, emotionally engaging memoir, filled with both humor and humanity. One Gay American is a brilliantly endearing coming-of-age story that captures not just an individual but a generation.”
—Emanuel Xavier, GLBT icon, author and activist

“Open up One Gay American and you start a journey that is both poignantly personal as well as an eye-opening gay civil rights history lesson. Again and again, Dennis Milam Bensie courageously pulls open scar tissue to share his wounds and reveal his desires as he comes of age as a gay man in a heterosexist world. His stories are not only personally revealing but give a glimpse of gay culture we don’t often have the chance to learn about. By growing up with Dennis and getting an education about a civil rights movement currently on the cusp of breaking down some of the last bastions of discrimination against gays and lesbians, we gain insight into the exquisite pain and damage we cause because of our ignorance and prejudice. At the end of the book, we know the journey is not over for Dennis or other gay children, but now we all bear some responsibility to make America a safer and more loving world for future generations of gay, lesbian and transgender children.”
—Louise Chernin, President and CEO, Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA)

“Dennis’s memoir is a testament to survival, failure, success, expansion and growth when society remains apathetic to the needs and wants of its community. Glittered with history, laughter and tears, One Gay American is unique, brash and crass but poignant beyond its text. I got an omniscient view of living through several decades of one man’s journey, a journey that might easily belong to so many others. There’s a little of all of us in Dennis’s story. A fantastic read to affirm and/or reaffirm one’s commitment to life, laughter and indulgences!!”
—Sister Amore Flagellare, aka Mike Konkel

“One Gay American is a story with an underlying message that anyone can relate to: committing to yourself, regardless of whom you love. Bensie’s newest memoir is an unapologetic tale about growing up in the wake of the gay rights movement. Bensie is faced with the challenge of carving out a life without a traditional model: a gay man in pursuit of the American dream.”
—Tully Satre, artist, writer and activist

“An exceptional heartbreaking work, Dennis Bensie’s bobber keeps floating as the social-political waves of modern America try to sink this endearing, well-crafted story. This fish ate the worm and was hooked!”
—Norman Korpi, artist/director, gay activist, and cast member from MTV’s The Real World, 1992

“Dennis Milam Bensie has written a sometimes joyous, often treacherous, always honest and heartfelt account of self-discovery. His generation has seen more gay cultural change and progress than any before it.”
—Sam Harris, actor/singer/writer

“A story of struggle and strength that reminds readers of the American dream, to feel loved, purposeful and passionate. Mr. Bensie gives his own unique perspective on the challenges to fulfill his own American dream while living in a country that wants to deny his rights because he is gay. His story proves how powerful a life can be when not hiding a part of one’s identity.”
—Ryan K. Sallans, LGBTQ activist and author of Second Son: Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love and Life

“The journey to self-acceptance is often far too long for many gay Americans. One Gay American is a memoir from Dennis Milam Bensie as he recalls his journey from suppressing his homosexuality, trying to be normal, searching for love, and coming to accept who he is and find something that resembles happiness. One Gay American is a strong pick for general memoir collections and for gay studies topics as well.”
—Midwest Book Review

“The kind of memoir that stays with you a very long time. Mr. Bensie has lived his life as a gay man during an almost unbelievable period of progress for gay rights. His story is poignant, touching and, yes let’s say it … sad. But Dennis conquered in the end. He has lived in a brave and meaningful way. His story will be just as meaningful for you.”
—David Leddick, Actor, playwright and author of How To Be Gay in the 21st Century

“Dennis Milam Bensie takes the reader on a forty year journey from sissy boy to ‘straight’ husband to queer man-bear. His sweet, painful, and empowering story took me right back to my own coming-out and the early days of the Gay Rights Movement. One Gay American is an honest, unvarnished snapshot of GLBT history, seen through the eyes of a naive young gay man looking for love in all the wrong places and ending with his ultimate self-discovery. I loved it!”
—Lisa Koch, musician, actor, sketch-comedian (Dos Fallopia)

One Gay American took me on a journey back through my own life as a gay man in America. I just relived my younger days vicariously through One Gay American. The pain. The struggles. The careless coming-of-age sex of the late 70s and mid-80s. Every detail was covered in Mr. Bensie’s memoir. Most importantly, his memoir gives hope to up-and-coming generations of LGBT people. Job very well done.”
—Ron Kemp, musician, activist, and freelance writer

“Dennis has written an original, sweet, funny memoir that is intensely personal and revealing.”
—Jane Wiedlin, guitarist for the Go-Go’s

“The bitch has been through it, and she (he) has no problem telling you ALL about it, WITHOUT sugar-coating the shadiest, dishiest bits. BIG SNAPS for Bensie!”
—Jinkx Monsoon, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 5

“An entertaining ride through four decades of cultural history, as seen by a gay boy from rural Illinois whose compulsive drive for love takes him all the way to cosmopolitan Seattle and a new identity as a skeptical, wildly amusing bear. Milam Bensie’s account of his addiction to wedding gowns, Barbie dolls, public sex, and Facebook is like the pillow talk of your new best friend.”
—Kevin Killian, poet, playwright, novelist and author of Spreadeagle

Dennis Milam Bensie is One Gay American. Born in the 1960s and raised with traditional values in Robinson, Illinois, Bensie desperately wanted romance, a beautiful wedding, and a baby to carry on the family name. He denied his sexuality and married a woman at nineteen years old, but fantasized of weddings where he could be the bride. The newlyweds “adopted” a Cabbage Patch Doll and ironically witnessed a Cabbage Patch Doll wedding (a successful fundraiser staged by a local women’s club) where the dolls were granted the type of grand ceremony off-limits to gay couples.

In search of his identity as a gay man, Bensie divorced his wife and stumbled through missteps and lessons that still sting his generation: defending against bullies, “disappointing” his parents, and looking for love in gay bars, bath houses and restrooms. He helped his straight friends plan their dream weddings and mourned his gay friends dying of AIDS. Although true love has not yet come his way, Bensie has learned to love himself.

Bensie is the author of the much-lauded memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men, which recounts his battle with paraphilia. One Gay American tells the rest of his story and draws parallels to gay history, decade by decade, with newspaper headlines and quotations. Bensie is the gay neighbor that you either love or hate. Either way, he’s got a lot to say and says it with no apologies.

Says Bensie, “I never thought of myself as a gay activist, but I have been inspired in the last ten years by the gains made for the civil rights of the LGBT community. The media continues to open the closet door wider and wider: Will and Grace, Neil Patrick Harris, Chaz Bono, the Logo Network, Ellen DeGeneres, Glee, Ricky Martin, Johnny Weir. Diversity has become more celebrated in America, but there is still a long ways to go. I recently asked a Facebook friend who I went to high school with if things were any different for gay people in our small, Midwestern hometown. She claims the climate is better, but kids are still bullied for being queer. The media also reminds us that some gay kids are being pushed to take their own lives … just like I wanted to do thirty years ago. I wrote One Gay American for all the kids who may get confused and lost in the rhetoric of the anti-gay politics (especially this election year). Many of them will relate to my story. They must stay strong and keep building the LGBT legacy.”

Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. He holds a degree in Theater Costume Design from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and completed an apprenticeship in theatrical wig construction at Los Angeles Opera. His costume and wig design for Valley of the Dolls at Empty Space Theatre in Seattle garnered him a feature article in Entertainment Design Magazine and a Seattle Times Footlight Award for Best Design. Bensie was the Wardrobe and Wig Master at Intiman Theatre in Seattle for twenty seasons. Bensie is single and lives in Seattle with his three dogs. You can find him on the Web at www.dennismilambensie.com.

One Gay American is available e-book and paperback editions at select Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores as well as Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, and Amazon Japan. Bookstores and libraries can order through Ingram or Baker & Taylor or by contacting info@coffeetownpress.com. Libraries can also order through Midwest Library Service or Follett Library Resources.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Jessica accepted the invitation on the condition that I be allowed to come with her. Her mother hesitantly agreed, while protesting that the event was supposed to be “women only.” I had always wanted to go to a wedding shower. This would be my first, and I was scared out of my mind.

Jessica and I were stunned to walk in and see over fifty women presiding over a huge stack of gifts at the head of the church’s reception hall. Her perpetually scowling mother was all smiles as she guided us around and introduced us to her church friends. We were both surprised to see so many people and impressed by the spread of homemade goodies. There were cakes, pies, and cookies everywhere.

Perhaps the evening wouldn’t be so bad after all.

We quickly realized we had nothing in common with the church folks. Conversations fell flat. Effeminate and much younger than Jessica, I stood out almost as much as if I had shown up wearing Jessica’s wedding dress. After half an hour of uncomfortable mingling, it was time for the real festivities to begin.

Jessica looked very nervous as her mother led her to the front of the hall. I was more than happy to stay out of the way as Jessica began the overwhelming task of opening all the gifts in front of the crowd.

By the fifth or sixth gift, there was a particularly awkward moment. Jessica turned bright red. She continued unwrapping a box and revealed to the room a brown glass baking dish exactly the same size and brand as one she had opened a few minutes earlier. She politely laughed it off, but I watched the women in the group bristle. The room became deathly quiet. A few more gifts were unwrapped, and another brown-glass baking dish popped up, same size and brand.

Then another. Then another.

Jessica was speechless. I could see her trembling all the way from the back of the room. Everyone else remained still. I was just as nervous when I realized that several of the gifts yet to be unwrapped were the same size and shape. Many of the boxes were even wrapped in the same wrapping paper. I watched my fiancée open another, and another, and another box containing the same brown glass baking dish.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that there must have been a sale at Wal-Mart. By the end of the evening, over half of the gifts Jessica got from the church ladies were the exact same brown-glass baking dish. My future mother-in-law was embarrassed and had to leave the room for a moment.

The evening ended with a thud. Jessica gave a meek thank you speech and latched on to me tightly as we prepared to leave the church. We were both polite, yet timid, as we said our goodbyes and quickly loaded all the gifts into the car.
Once we were alone in the car, Jessica and I could finally laugh about the situation. Yet the evening had a major impact on me. I had seen clearly that all the people who came to the wedding shower spent their whole lives following the herd. The cakes, pies and cookies were delicious, but fed a small, petty world. The people we met that evening were proud small-town folks who all dressed alike, talked alike, prayed together, and shopped at Wal-Mart. It was the only world they knew. The whole scene was as American as a Norman Rockwell painting.

Was that really what I wanted? The Saturday Evening Post? Was that enough? It was the only world I knew, too.

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