Friday, September 24, 2004

That's Why They're in Cages, People!

Joel Perry
Alyson Books

Joel Perry's laugh-out-loud-funny book, That's Why They're In Cages, People! is a thought-provoking collection of essays that should go on people's gift lists this year. The 58, three-to-nine page, essays address a broad range of topics concerning the gay (and straight) world with a sharp wit, a glittering tongue, and importantly, a great heart. Divided into eight themed parts, Perry begins with topics on "Living the Life" including observations on just what Pride is in these early years of the 21st century in "Bring Your Own Pride." A native of North Carolina, Perry dishes out some amusing thoughts about the Southland regarding food, religion, and homophobia.

Perhaps the most interesting juxtaposition of topics is found in "Holy Cowhide!" This portion juggles issues of Christian churches, Perry's own rediscovery of faith, and the leather community. One of the most amusing of these entries is "Things your Mother never told you about leather," which details several outrageously funny observations any neophyte exploring the leather scene, including how to pull on a pair of leather pants. On this topic, Perry concludes that "I guess what no one told me is that along with all the cowhide and attendant paraphernalia, I'd need a sense of humor. But what else did I expect from a fetish that requires so much role playing, production, drama, and drag? In saying that, it's not my intention to offend anyone in the leather community. But then again, if I have, well, I need to be punished, don't I?"(80)

Perry tweaks the entertainment industry several times. For example, in the "Debbie Allen Dance Number," Perry is in mourning because of the loss of that most outrageous of Oscar Award night elements. And in "Queer as HGTV Folks" Perry suggests that the most realistic and grounded images of GLBTQ people can be found on the Home and Garden network shows. "Gay people shown as intelligent, contributing, successful, resourceful, caring, creative, but otherwise unremarkable people. What a concept." (140)

An appropriate recompense for celebrities and other "people of privilege" provides the title for the book. It was inspired by an incident wherein Sharon Stone's ex-husband, Phil Bronstein was bitten by a Komodo dragon during a "behind the scene" tour of the LA Zoo in return for a hefty donation from Ms. Stone. Perry suggests that some celebrities, particularly those who are suffering from the weight of their own egos might benefit from a bit of time in the "dragon cage." (Readers may find themselves tallying a list of candidates for the cage as well.)

Not surprisingly, Perry makes several observations about the queer community, revels in the power and humor of our stereotypes, and suggests that the GLBTQ community own its issues and strive for more. Perry is more than blunt in his assessment of some trends. One could even consider him an "equal opportunity offender." He is bound to make most readers at least a bit uncomfortable at some point in the book. Indeed, Perry seems determined to challenge readers and, hopefully, to prompt them to think in the process. The saving grace of these well-aimed barbs is that Perry is neither mean nor bitter in his humor. Outlandish, yes! His "Urban Legends" makes fun of the phenomena and stereotypes in a fairly over the top manner. And in "Aunt Christmas" we find that Perry is not beyond sharing a touch of revenge.

Meanwhile, "Glitter on my Heart" and "Birth Day" will tug the heart strings of the most cynical queer. The former details a partner's decision regarding how to dispose of the ashes of his dead lover. The story is touching, funny, and appropriately festive. The latter essay is a wonderful, roller-coaster, over-the-top, coming out story complete with marching band, men in grass skirts, and New Year's kiss in a leather bar.

The bite-size format of the essays makes this a fun book for those times when you have just a few moments to read. Pick up a copy for yourself and give one to your friends this year. We all need a laugh and this anthology is filled with them!
-MJ Lowe