YOUNG MAN FROM THE PROVINCES: A Gay Life Before Stonewall by Alan Helms


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A fascinating memoir whose subtitle doesn't convey the extremes of trauma and glamour in Helms's life as abused child, globe-trotter, neurotic, and professional beauty. Raised by an alcoholic father and victimized mother in Indianapolis, Helms (Literature/Univ. of Mass) fled the provinces in 1955 for Columbia University. There he was introduced into New York's thriving, clandestine gay society and quickly found that he was considered universally desirable. Soon he was juggling classes with a steady round of cocktail parties, opera dates, and sexual assignations with an endless parade of men. Helms became a successful model and sometime actor and spent the rest of the '50s and '60s, like Truman Capote but without the poison pen, as confidant and playmate to an artsy jet set. There's plenty of engaging chat about his famous contacts (an affair with Tony Perkins and close friendships with Luchino Visconti and No‰l Coward stand out), but Helms's central subject is his own increasing misery amid glamorous surroundings. He was bulimic; he reveled furiously in drink, drugs, and joyless sex; most of his more extended romances were disastrous. Helms went to graduate school, had something of a nervous breakdown, and in 1970 moved away to resolutely unfabulous Boston. Therapy with the renowned psychologist Robert Coles helped him to concentrate on his new teaching career and develop more substantial diversions than mirror-gazing. Helms neither wallows in remorse nor seems proud of the names he drops. He discusses insightfully how his low self-esteem made it difficult to resist the material rewards lavished on him for being decorative. And when he describes a recent visit to his family, it's clear that his struggles to come to terms with them and himself have been successful. An unusually vivid and sensitive account of the indigestion that follows breakfast at Tiffany's.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1995
Page count: 204pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber