Give Them a Barbie

There are several advance copies of the book out right now. I am slowly getting feedback from my readers and reviewers. All of it positive. It is a wonderful relief. You simply do not know what you have until people, especially those who don’t know you, read it.

I am so alarmed right now by the recent trend in gay teen suicides. I understand those kids. I was one of them. I thought of killing myself constantly and eventually (in my twenties) did attempt suicide. I hated a few of my bullies so much (and by default, the whole school) that I often contemplated killing them. Thank God, I never acted on the idea.

I realized in the last month that my book is about more than the impulse to cut hair. The few that are reading it now are telling me that they identify with me. They see themselves in my abuse. They feel their own pain as I searched for my identity. They remember their darkest hour by reading about mine.

One reader called me a hero for writing the book. (What??? I wasn’t ready for that). I have been told that my brutally honest memoir is a great tool for the psychiatric world; no one has ever chronicled the genesis of paraphilia first hand. I have to admit I have been stunned to hear such comments. To me, it is my life in words. I know I was different but my life was all I ever knew.

When I was in meeting with Dustin to adapt the book into a play, I gave him free reign, with one tidbit of constraint: I told him he had to keep my character “likable”. How interesting that that would be a concern of mine at 45 years old: worried that my truth would make me an unlikable character. Months after the meeting and several dead gay teenagers later, it still rings true. Despite Will and Grace and Queer as Folk, being gay is still considered counter-culture and feared by many people. Too many.

My book has surrounded me for ten years, and the loss of Asher, Raymond, Tyler, Billy and Seth has made me look at my memoir differently. I was bullied, too. If I hadn’t done the things that I did (poetry, drama, dolls, a fantasy personality and even cutting hair) I could have been a statistic. I developed coping skills, albeit odd and dangerous ones, to survive.

One thing that I didn’t put in the book that perhaps I should have is a story about my therapy. I was 18 years old and dangerously depressed. I was beginning work with a new therapist after all sorts of problems (which you will have to read about in the book). I was in a horrible state. I explained to the therapist my past use of dolls as a coping mechanism. Believe it or not, it had only been a year since I gave away my secret dolls. I was doll-less. He gave me permission to go to Wal-Mart and get a doll when I left his office. Sadly, I had no money. He took out his wallet and gave me money to go buy a Barbie. As strange as it sounds, Barbie (and her hair) was a lifeline. I bought two Barbies that afternoon. As GAY as it sounds, the dolls may have saved my life that week.

It might sound like I am going out on a queer limb here, but I wish those five hurting gay teens had a Barbie or something they could just go buy to save their lives. It reminds me of how lucky I was.

Rest in Peace, Young Gay Men.

About Dennis

Dennis Milam Bensie’s poem “Eight Ball” was published in Greater National Society of Poets, Inc in 1980 when he was a freshman in high school. It was featured thirty years later in his memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men. His short stories, poetry and essays have been featured all over the web and in print. His second book, One Gay American, was chosen as a finalist in both the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. His latest book Flit: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature has been featured in Kolaj Magazine and was a part of Tribe Magazine’s “Anti-Shame Week”. The author has been a presenter at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans and at Montana’s very first gay pride festival.
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2 Responses to Give Them a Barbie

  1. TSP says:

    Dennis – Thanks for writing this post. The death of these young people has been bothering me over the past few days. As someone who experienced similar torment in my youth (and to a lesser degree, at times in my adulthood), I’m so thankful for my friends and those who always showed they believed in me, gave me comfort and confidence that helped me survive. Something you eloquently express here.

    • dennis says:

      Thanks, TSP. This was an important blog entry and I wasn’t sure I was saying what needed to be said effectively.

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