Monday, November 27, 2006

More on Here's What We'll Say

A reader (Leland Frances) recently made a substantial comment regarding my review of Reichen Lehmkuhl's new book, "Here's What We'll Say." While there were certainly varied opinions of the book left in the comments section, I promised to respond to Leland's particularly thoughtful comments.

I'm sorry guys. I know you mean well, and that is exactly why my anger toward this poser is so strong—playing upon the gullibility of people with exaggerated, tearjerking accounts of his life. Never has research demonstrating that "pretty people" tend to be automatically assumed to be truthful and good been so well illustrated.

But while desperation to get it on shelves before the spotlight on him as Lance's lover went out easily explains its shoddy editing, factual errors, lack of an index, etc., and whatever one thinks of him, there is less excuse for sloppy reading than there is for his sloppy writing.
I agree that the overall quality of the writing was less than excellent and would have preferred the memoir had it been given better editting. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The quality of writing, however, has little to do with the content of the book, which was fantastic.

Certainly time considerations may have played a great role in the lackluster editting. In order to achieve the greatest distribution of this book, it makes good business sense to distribute the book while Lehmkuhl is still a newsworthy item. But I do not fault Lehmkuhl or the publishers for this. In fact, I will go so far as to credit them for making the decision because this will lead to a more widespread readership. The book does have an important message regarding Gay men and women serving in the military and we all benefit from a wider understanding of these issues.

1. Out of his many claims, some believable, some not, he does NOT claim that his "rape" was in any way CAUSED by DADT.
On page 221, Lehmkuhl implies that the anti-Gay policies of the military are what made rape a choice, therefore causing his rape. He also states that he has forgiven his rapists

2. "gay cadet": Lehmkuhl was NOT forced to give anyone else a blow job. HE was blown by one of his "attackers;" admits to loving it, having a blazing orgasm, imagining, in retrospect, that he gave the fellator a hickey as he [Reichen] pressed his mouth so forceably against the guy as he [Reichen] shot off, and repeatedly fantasized about experiencing it again for days afterwards. What does the law say about that? HIS penetrating the other person? If I forced you at gunpoint to take a thousand dollars cash from me, could you have me arrested? I don't care what the legal definitions are--no one with any common sense, except someone wanting to get a mountain of publicity, even among mainstream media, which he has beyond probably his wildest dreams, would call that an antigay assault. The alleged punch in the stomach would have been "assault and battery," but it is an insult to those who actually have been violently attacked and sodomized or forced to fellate someone else.
I am unfamiliar with Colorado laws and cannot speak to the legal terms of that state. However, forced sexual acts are always reprehensible in our society. Whether we call it sexual assault or rape, the acts committed that night are illegal both under state laws and military codes whether or not they were performed with homosexual or heterosexual partners.

It is not uncommon for rape/sexual assault victims to partially or fully enjoy parts of their experience. The point is that he was forced unwillingly into the sexual acts. And even more importantly, he is almost certainly not the only man to be raped in the military. Given that Gay men and women are often unable to report these incidents because of anti-Gay policies, it is good that Lehmkuhl used his celebrity status to bring light to an issue most Americans would not have thought much about.

3. What is so "important" about this book? Many much more interesting, let alone better written coming out stories have appeared. While very little of the book actually discusses DADT, had either of you never heard of DADT before? Is anything he describes something that you could not have imagined on your own? The book confirms what "anonymous" wrote. Lehmkuhl was not outed at the Academy; never investigated; not even asked by anyone antigay if he was gay. He simply endured no more than millions of other closeted gays have throughout the history of our antigay military [which long precedes DADT], and, unlike others such as Leonard Matlovich all the way back to 1975 and Margarete Cammermeyer and Tracy Thorne and others more recently he did NOTHING to protest DADT while he was still active duty. Now, four years after his resigning the USAF because he wanted to "go Hollywood," he's applying for some kind of retroactive hero status and people, mesmerized by his looks, are buying it AND this shoddily edited [whatever happened to his first true love "Ben Silverman"?], factually incorrect [Matthew Shepard was not murdered three years before Lehmkuhl's junior Academy year as he writes, but two years after he graduated], vanity project. What child of divorce hasn't been traumatized? Who among those who've experienced it haven't hated boot camp?
This book is important because it brings a celebrity light to issues that still affect many in the military. It is irrelevant how well he was or wasn't able to maintain his closet while serving in the military. I think we can agree that he shouldn't have needed to maintain a closet at all.

I have already discussed that the book could have used better editting and could have been better written. Not to discredit other books on the topic of DADT, but few if any were penned by a person with celebrity status that is as sweeping as Reichen Lehmkuhl's. People will read or hear about this book that wouldn't otherwise care much about DADT or wouldn't otherwise hear about the experiences Gay people have in the military.

4. WHY did he feel the need to claim that things which happened to others happened to him? His "to protect them" doesn't wash given that he could have simply used the method authors have used forever: changing their names and enough other details to "protect them." My theory: because it makes him look like more of a martyr than he actually was. [And, despite his identifying himself as Reichen while at the Academy, he did not change his name to that until years later. He was Richard/Rick/Ricky then.]
Addressing the second part of your point first, had he referred to himself as Rick throughout the book it would have confused the reader. He is popularly known as Reichen now and must draw upon his own celebrity if he intends to sell books.

While you may be correct in your assessment regarding the need for Lehmkuhl to claim that things which happened to others actually happened to him, it could very well be that he was aware that saying they occured to him made both for better story telling and would have a greater impact if they occured to the hero of the story. Given that I do no know which incidents he "borrowed" from other people, I will give theoretical examples. For instance, supposing that Reichen was not the unofficial leader of the "Underground," it makes a better story to make him the leader than it would if he weren't.

Further, changing the names of individuals in a book may very well not have been enough to shield the identity of some individuals who might still be serving in the Air Force or have other circumstances that may prevent them from wanting to be identified. It may also serve to prevent lawsuits from those individuals.

5. What about the twisting of facts in the very first two sentences of the book, appearing on the inside dust jacket, claiming that he and he alone won "The Amazing Race" and its million dollar prize? As he finally admits in the afterword, he AND former partner Chip Arndt won as a team and split the prize. But adding insult to injury he doesn't even include Arndt in his acknowledgements, even though without their joint win there is no reason to believe we would have ever heard from him again, which until he actually DOES something other than writing self-aggrandizing books, would be a good idea. He also should have included his remarkable plastic surgeon in his thank yous.
The writing on dust jackets is usually not prepared by the author of the book but by the publisher. Also, his acknowledgements are his time to thank who he chooses to thank. Generally, neither the acknowledgements or dust jacket are considered of any real literary importance.

I get your point though--you are saying that people will only buy this book because he is a pretty face that won the Amazing Race and now dates Lance Bass. That will definitely sell the books. However, I believe that the story related inside provides the reader with a better understanding of what it is like to be Gay inside a military academy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

People are strnage and behave rather childishly when a Good-looking amn does anything, anything at all.
Being someone who has been called a "very good looking guy," people do get very jealous and invalidating in their quest to define and judge people.
Okay so Reichen is a good looking guy. Remeber when he was in the Air Force he didnt have a clear picture of his own identity. Many of the contrdictions and elements of his story are actually behaviours that are prevalent to young gay men. I guess everyone on this blog is just jealous of this guy. He's a pretty cool guy. He really tried not to be pretentious in interviews. Remember he's in front of a camera, with stylist telling him to gloss his lips, gel his hair,with make-up and people all over him telling him how to look and what to say. The best indication of who he is is seeing him at the HRC National Dinner. He was humbled, kind and even though he went on rather long, he had an important message. He's doesnt have to be Rhodes Scholar to get a message across. Give the guy a break