“I Was Born This Way”: A Gay Preacher’s Journey through Gospel Music, Disco Stardom, and a Ministry in Christ
by Archbishop Carl Bean (with David Ritz)
Simon & Schuster. 264 pages, $24.
YOUNG CARL BEAN never really knew his father, and he barely knew his birth mother. Born and raised in a poor area of Baltimore, Bean was basically raised by a village of “warm and wonderful women.” He says that he was a girly little boy, soft and feminine, and he was attracted to other boys at an early age. He believes that those who raised him must have known about those feelings, but nothing was ever said. Bean was loved, and that’s what he knew.
The shining point of his life was his godmother’s mother, the woman Bean called Nana. She cared for him, took him to church, and made him happy, but when he was just three years old, Nana died and life changed drastically. He was taken in by his godparents, who loved him but didn’t seem to like him. Shortly after that, Bean was sexually assaulted by an “uncle.”
Although various abuses continued well into his teens, and Bean had fully acknowledged his gayness, he maintains that he was cherished and accepted, especially by the unaware wives of his abusers. Fortunately, he found solace in God and in song.
Bean sang in good times and bad for audiences of none or many. Because he knew that God is love, most of his favorites were gospel songs that Bean sang in the church choir. He was encouraged and tutored, and when he was old enough, he moved to New York City to pursue a gospel music career, quickly making a name for himself on the gospel circuit. He followed that with a disco career and a top-selling record called “I Was Born This Way.” But his newfound fame didn’t last. Having sung an anthem to being gay and being accepted, Bean was asked to do a song about loving a woman, and he thought such a performance would be the wrong message to send to gay fans. He turned down the song, and his career quickly sank.
At different points in his life, Carl Bean had been homeless, which showed him what God truly wanted him to do. After his musical career ended, he reached back to his church roots and his work in jails, and he founded a church that was open to the GLBT community. He started an AIDS outreach program through his ministry with the help of a few famous friends.
While the book sometimes drags a little, particularly in the middle section, where all kinds of name-dropping and shout-outs to important people occur, I Was Born This Way is a wonderful biography that’s curiously soothing to read. As an author, Carl Bean is brutally honest in telling a story that is at times both sweetly idyllic and frighteningly real. Overcoming the abuse, discrimination, and suspicion that he suffered throughout his life, Bean manages to convey a sense of calm and comfort. Anger, the singular emotion one would expect in situations like those that Bean endured, is notably absent. Bean doesn’t complain, whine, or hold a grudge, and seems more than willing to forgive those who have trespassed against him.
Readers looking for soulful succor will find it in Bean’s reassuring, Bible-based (but personal) writings. Those not looking for an inspirational word will find a unique and, just possibly, an uplifting memoir.