The South Reverts to Gothic

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Mississippi SissyMississippi Sissy
by Kevin Sessums
St. Martin’s Press
305 pages, $24.95

 

THERE IS a growing literature attesting to the terrors and gothic comedies of growing up gay in the American South. With his memoir Kevin Sessums has produced a masterpiece that outshines all other contributions to this genre since Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, and it will surely endure as one of the pre-eminent accounts. Sessums catches the obsession with athletics and hunting, the horror of any femininity in boys, the vicious small-town gossip, the demand for rigid conformity, the squashing of sensitivity and feeling, the disdain for artistic and literary endeavors. He outdoes Sinclair Lewis’ derision in Main Street, combining camp observations with a keen awareness of the troubles of racism, much like Lewis’ Kingsblood Royal. Above all, he masterfully portrays the ignorance, the drabness, and the dreadfully bad taste of small-town Mississippians. He shows why gays and other sensitive people cannot tolerate the South.

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