Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever – Joel Derfner

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.

Cover of the book Swish
Cover of the book Swish

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.


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