MEMOIR

Archbishop Carl Bean's "I was Born This Way: A Gay Preacher's Journey"

Sunday, June 13, 2010

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 Bitz

Simon & Schuster. 264 pp. $24

During the heyday of disco, it's doubtful that every majestically coiffed, leisure-suited, tightly slacked gentleman dancing to Carl Bean's 1977 hit "I Was Born This Way" recognized the song as an early homo-positive nightclub anthem. Still, three decades later, the oft-remixed track still has the power to get people's feet moving, if not ensure the legality of same-sex civil unions. "The song became an anthem of liberation for everyone," Bean writes in his entertaining, if thin, autobiography. "It was Holy Ghost power, prompting me, pushing me on."

Though Bean didn't write the song, its infectious hook -- "I'm happy, I'm carefree and I'm gay" -- synthesized the attitude he needed to overcome a brutal childhood marred by sex abuse and a short-lived career as a gospel singer that devolved into wilderness years of poverty and homelessness. Eventually, this queer black boy from Baltimore reinvented himself as an AIDS activist and the founder of the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church. "While suffering, these people asked for my hand," Bean writes of his AIDS ministry, one of the first to reach out to HIV-positive minorities sidelined by their churches' homophobia. "These encounters showed me the transcendence of the divine." The Village People's "YMCA" might get more airplay, but Bean doesn't need a construction worker outfit to build a moving narrative.

-- Justin Moyer


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