Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 28 April, 1997

STRANGER AT THE GATE:

To Be Gay and Christian in America

by Mel White, Simon & Schuster, 333 pages; paperback $12.95

A Book Review by Jack Nichols

 

This book, originally published before GayToday arrived on the scene, is now, nevertheless, for sale as a paperback in nearly every major chain. It tells how its genial author, Mel White, played holy ghostwriter for a bunch of fundamentalist yokels, then his mentors. This hole-y ghostwriting occurred before Mel's hormones finally propelled him to turn church's evidence on his sleazy bosses, including televangelists Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and even D. James Kennedy.

There's little evidence in Mel's book that its author is a anything but an intellectual softee. One could hope for a hard-cutting expose of televangelist charlatanry but what the dear parson has provided instead are the melodramatic details of his own journey through those structured pitfalls of wanna-be "thought" we call--too politely--theology.

Most of us make such journeys, true. Some spiritual journeys are more riveting than others. White tempts us to join him on his jaunt with phrases like, "It was during walks on the beaches or the bluffs of Laguna Beach that I had felt closest to God." Such details deserve to be called "melodramatic" because White himself writes: "My capacity for melodrama in those days still amazes me." Really, Mel? Even today it should amaze you. Its truly dumbfounding.

Describing his extra-marital affair he says, "When finally we made love, what I didn't have in experience, I made up in passion." Not surprisingly, therefore, what he didn't have in wit, he made up in gibberish. "You're talking this thing to death," a counselor told him, while he described "painful, loving, endless dialogue." Mostly painful, yes, and certainly endless.

By saying these things, this reviewer may seem to fly in Mel's kindly but naive face. Mel White, after all, is presently the Dean of "the largest gay church in the world" (in Dallas, in the largest state with the biggest men). Such criticism as this sidesteps the approaches of some mainstream activists who, though they know Mel's views sound somewhat corny, say that even so they welcome the author's so-called realizations.

Mel White is, to his great credit, an activist himself. The hunger-striking sort, as when, not long ago, he threatened to starve himself if Pat Robertson continued along the route of a certain misbehavior. The fact that Mel ghost-wrote books for Patty-Cakes Robertson, Billy Grahamcracker and Cupcakes Falwell must bug each of these anti-gay preachers now that its known their trusted ghost, though a Christian, is also as gay as a goose.

Should there, therefore, be any apologies made for having taken, as in this review, such a disdainful view of Stranger at the Gate? Mel's change-of-heart from Falwellian flunky to bigtime-gay-activist-cathedral-Dean may not seem much of a jump to nonbelievers. But even as one disagrees with White on basics, it should be said that what he does contributes in a peculiar but meaningful way to society's understanding of gay men and lesbians.

If it were not that lesbian and gay believers must go head to head with fundamentalist drivel peddlers, most would never be likely to read White's book. His world of supernatural faith and that of the philosophically-inclined are, by comparison, fire and ice. Mel White is a sweet-natured sentimentalist, you see, even if he can't think his way out of a paper bag. The agonies he knew while trying to do so ring truer for victims of fundamentalist nonsense than for more strident iconoclasts. Let gay men and lesbians who remain among the multitudinous fundamentalist loonies, be advised thusly: "Buy Mel White's book, you'll love it. Weep. Praise God. Read the Bible too."

But true blue infidels may feel uncomfortable seeing 1991 photos of Mel White seated "with his good friend Ollie North," or reading about his contacts (ugh) with Jerry Falwell, or his dinner date (ouch) with Pat Robertson. White's career moves starting as a troubled bourgeois blandman with connections in elitist circles of the religious Reich and ending with his position as "Dean of the largest gay church in the world," may seem a caterpillar to butterfly story to some, but to others its only bad geek to good gook. If he previously hobbled about on the nasty crutch of organized religion, he's now driving a brand new electric wheelchair.

The best things about Mel's book can be told rather than read. There's the scandal of Jerry Falwell's fleshy face (Reverend Falwell stuffing it with a constant supply of triple-chin causing coconut-covered snowball cupcakes.) But please, these saintly minister-autobiographers like Mel just don't know how to get really mean with fellow clerics, even Falwell. A cup-cake addiction does not a scandal make. Come on, Mel, tell us some real dirt. We already know he stuffs it. Admittedly, its fun to read that Reverend Falwell has a gay ghost. But given that, what else is a hoot? Well, there's the actual name of the prominent Christian psychologist that a confused White visits: Dr. Don Tweedie. One can almost hear Mel calling him Tweedie.

Finally, its gratifying somehow to know that Pat Robertson, the runty nuisance on the 700 Club who once ran for the Presidency, actually had his silly presidential platform, "America's Dates With Destiny," written by a philandering closet-case. Only the prospect of one sort of American date has perpetually intrigued Pat Robertson, and that is a homosexual date. And no wonder! His Goofusness had to have a dinner date with Mel, a gay man, to put some real potency into his national platform. It must have been as if Jehovah's own gay hand was holding Robertson's.

These facts show only what we've always known, that large organized cults would collapse entirely if not propped up by hordes of closet-cases, including a few like Mel White who have yearned to be free to put what's under their fig leaves into the care of the love object of their choosing. If only they could be self-actualizing and chuck the rotting dogma-do. But Bless you, Mel. Your story means a lot to too many, maybe. Just not to folks who ask toughy-type questions.

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