I think Derfner is the quintessential queeny gay guy you meet in a bar: funny as hell until he gets earnestly serious after having one too many.
In search of his own queer identity, he throws himself into gay stereotypes – knitting, cheerleading, go-go-dancer, musical theatre composer, social butterfly – he does everything except become a manicurist for Elizabeth Taylor.
Derfner’s tales takes us lightly through his own issues with intimacy, identity and masculinity. It’s not so serious as to make you wish you sat at a different bar stool, but you might wish occasionally that he took himself a little more seriously. His campy efforts feel over the top and a little forced.
But when he does take himself seriously – discussing artwork created at a concentration camp, or the Columbia space shuttle explosion – it’s beautiful and touching.
Certainly Derfern’s I-just-want-to-see-what-the-hell-is-going-on foray into a Christian gay conversion retreat (Exodus International) is revealing and horrifying (Derfner is Jewish and has no intention of converting). This story ends the book with a sobering reflection on internalized homophobia. It’s especially poignant since the book was published in 2008, and Exodus – one of the larges ex-gay conversion ministries in the world – didn’t close its doors until 2013.
Derfner’s wicked humour throughout the book (I laughed out loud many times while reading it) makes it a light, pleasant read, but be prepared for that sobering story at the end.