Sessums, Kevin, “Mississippi Sissy”, St. Martin’s Press, 2007.
Gay in the South
Kevin Sessums has written the book that I always wanted to write and surely did a much better job than I could ever have done. Growing up in the South can be quite an experience but couple that with coming out gay in the South and you have a story. In “Mississippi Sissy” Sessums tells his story and as I read it I was reminded of many of the same experiences I had had a decade and a half before he did.
Of course, Sessums could write this book. He has a literary background being a contributing editor to “Allure” magazine and having done the same for fourteen years at “Vanity Fair”. He was also editor of “Interview” Magazine and his work has been seen between the covers of several other magazines as well. He has the credentials that I have always wanted. Besides he wrote the book I wanted to write. I should hate him but I don’t—I admire him and I love his book. He says all the things I have ever wanted to say but and he says them well.
In the 1960’s the South was a very different place than it is now. There were several places where a gay man could more or less be himself; New Orleans, Atlanta, Miami. By and large no one in the South dared to exhibit difference—conformity was the rule. We went to high school and then college, entered a profession, and wore Brooks Brother’s seersucker suits with white bucks. Those of us that were differed suffered at the hands of others. There was both verbal and physical abuse.
Unlike myself, Sessums is from a small town—Forest, Mississippi. He was orphaned by the time he was eight years old and he was somewhat of a loner. He had secrets which he kept to himself and he learned that he could survive by keeping what family he had close to him. He also learned to disregard taunts. The racist South was no place to be gay and as Sessums shows us the trials and tribulations he had growing up, we are let into a part of American history that somewhat embarrasses us now.
As a child Sessums had been molested many times—including once in a restroom at a movie and twice by a minister. When he was a teen, he discovered the body of his best friend, housemate and housemate after he had been bludgeoned to death. He was very lucky to have survived himself.
Sessums is also quite graphic in describing his sexual apparatus and masturbatory techniques. His arrogance about his appearance and equipment, unfortunately, hinders the flow of his prose. But that is all I can blame him for. He had the tenacity to put his sorrowful past into writing so we can all be better because of it. He has suffered but he has survived. He touches on many important issues relevant to growing up gay and he does so with great style.
Sessums has a dry wit that pervades his book and his insight is clear and absolutely amazing. He is a hero for having written this book; he is even more of a hero because his book so deeply touches us and will touch anyone who has ever felt like he is different. His writing his deep and meaningful but so are the wounds he carries with him. Yet, as deeply as he has been hurt, he has bounced back as a survivor and even with a terribly ugly past, he has managed to maintain his incredible dignity. This is one book you do not want to miss. It is tender, it is funny, it is sad and it is “outrageous”.
To be able to write about your home town and remain objective is no easy feet. To look back on the people that called you “sissy” and write about them in a matter of fact manner is very difficult. Thomas Wolfe, the great Southern author said “You can’t go home again”. Sessums went home and re-examined it and delivered to us a hauntingly beautiful memoir. I owe him so much for that.