by Jim Piechota
Androphilia: A Manifesto by Jack Malebranche; Scapegoat Publishing, $12.95
Jack Malebranche, the outspoken 31-year-old Oregon-based writer of this "instructional manual" for reclaiming masculinity for gay men, is not afraid to tell it like it is (for him). If his words offend, shock, embarrass, or piss off readers (and they surely will), I doubt the author will lose any sleep over it; he obviously didn't write this book to make new friends. His controversial work, just out this month, aims to incite a great deal of high-spirited debate on themes and theories of masculinity, and their role as applied to both the gay and straight communities.
The title Androphilia refers to "a sexual love and appreciation for men as it is experienced by males." But Malebranche refuses to associate that description in any way with the word "gay."
"I'm not forcing anyone to do anything," Malebranche writes on his profile page on Amazon.com. "Androphilia is about those of us who are not enamored with the idea of being considered half-men simply because we are homosexual. It's for homos who think that manhood is something you prove and earn through action and behavior, not simply demand via petition, placard or press release. It's for those of us who aren't flipping through fashion magazines, gossiping with the girls, fighting the patriarchy, or being 'fabulous.' It's for those of us who would rather stand with other men as equals, get our hands dirty, carry our own weight, challenge ourselves, and who have little interest in what the gay community has to offer."
Er, OK then.
A former New York City go-go dancer during the 90s club-kid scene, Malebranche does acknowledge the allure of living inside the "gay bubble" with a "gay hive" mindset. Now, however, he encourages others to secede from this lifestyle and retrieve their "lost manhood." With this book, he claims to have officially terminated his "membership" in the gay community. His uneven narrative exhaustively details the many reasons behind this sentiment and others like it — some smartly researched and effective, some miserably feeble and embittered.
These pages overflow with the slings and arrows of the author's belief system: jagged barbs of self-truths that seek either to elevate or denigrate, depending upon how one perceives the gay movement and the subcultures that have evolved into being over the last few decades.
Malebranche opines callously about pornography ("gay culture celebrates queeniness, but gay porn is almost exclusively a celebration of hypermasculinity") and gay as a word (it "connotes effeminacy.") He declares homosexual men "males running amok" whose achievement is "grossly undervalued," and whom people expect to be "fruity and flaky and emotional and inconsistent." "Man is a religion shared by almost all men," he writes. Though he lives with his male partner, Malebranche also takes a stand against gay marriage ("an institutionalized social control.")
Malebranche succeeds at expressing his thoughts and viewpoints on the subject of masculinity and the gay community, challenging that community to reexamine itself and what it really means to be gay. He fails at the delivery. Many of his harsh, negative generalizations serve to alienate the very readers the author hopes to captivate. Instead of tactful friendly fire, Malebranche's prose feels like a verbal blowtorch to the forehead.