Today, I’m reviewing writer and actor Kerry Ashton’s non-fiction memoir Saint Unshamed: A Gay Mormon’s Life–Healing from the Shame of Religion, Rape, Conversion Therapy & Cancer.
Book Title: Saint Unshamed: A Gay Mormon’s Life
Healing from the Shame of Religion, Rape, Conversion Therapy & Cancer
Author: Kerry Ashton
Publisher: Lynn Wolf Enterprises
Release Date: April 17, 2019
Genres: A Gay Memoir featuring M/M Romance & some hardcore sex
Blurb: The first paragraph of Kerry Ashton’s new memoir explains a lot: “I told this story once as fiction in the 1980s, but this time I tell the truth. I even tell the truth, in #MeToo fashion, about being violently raped by another man when I was 18, with a knife held to my throat—a secret I kept from everyone, including myself, for over 40 years. The rape, like other experiences I endured while a student at Brigham Young University, where I came out in the early 1970s, had a profound impact on my later life. But this story is not so much about my rape or my coming of age at BYU, as it is about the lifelong effects of shame itself, not only about how I internalized and inherited a wounding shame from my Mormon upbringing, but also how I eventually unshamed myself. It is about the journey of a lifetime, finding spiritual growth, self-discovery and healing along the way, while encountering many miraculous events that pushed me forward through darkness toward the light.”
Telling about his experiences during his four years at BYU—the rape, falling in love for the first time, police surveillance, harassment and arrest, while enduring three years of conversion therapy and electric shock treatments—provide the structure of Kerry’s memoir. But intermittently, the author shares memories from his childhood, growing up Mormon in Pocatello, Idaho, and later from his adulthood, as well as from his professional career as an actor and writer, both in L.A. and NYC, describing encounters with Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis and Julie Harris, while detailing his experiences with Tennessee Williams and his brief affair with Stephen Sondheim. Lastly, he talks about the 12 years he spent in therapy, about his 16-year battle with cancer, how he eventually rid himself of the shame internalized from his Mormon youth, sharing glimpses into his sexual journey from his innocent youth through S&M and the gay leather scene in mid-life to the loving monogamous relationship he now enjoys.
There are many erotic passages—most are hardcore, erotic and explicit passages, all M/M. Many deal with scenes of sexual humiliation, degradation, group scenes, S&M and/or the gay male leather scene.
Length: 120 000 words /348 pages incl. 14 pages of B&W photos from author’s private collection.
“A TRIUMPHANT MEMOIR!” Clarion Books
First, the author holds nothing back in his memoir. Everything is covered. And I mean everything. He is honest. Brutally honest. And his honesty is why I enjoyed reading his life story.
The memoir touches on every level of living: death, life, joy, sorrow, shame, desperation, success, sexual desires, love, unrequited love, and healing.
I enjoyed the author’s voice. He wrote as if he was speaking directly to his reader, and I wonder if he’ll turn this into a one-man play since he’s also an actor.
As for the setting, I’d call the Moron Church the true setting of this novel because the author carries it everywhere, whether he wishes to or not. Baptized as an infant into this religion, the author has to learn how to let go of everything he’s been taught as a child, which is a very brave move on his part. He refers to himself as a victim at one point in the book, but I never saw a victim. I saw a survivor. One forced to survive at all costs or allow his life to end tragically, as it did for those who couldn’t break free from the invisible bars placed around them because of their upbringings. And his survival methods are heartbreaking at times, but he perseveres.
I don’t want to give too much away, or spoil the plot. Let’s simply say he turns tragedy into triumph. He has a million demons to battle, and he makes it his life pursuit to overcome his demons.
I enjoyed his glimpses into the world of acting. He has encounters with many famous people throughout his journey, and these are very enjoyable and entertaining anecdotes.
There are many dark places in the memoir that will grip the reader tight. The only problem I had with the story was his plotting method. He constantly shifts time periods, and this didn’t allow me to fully engage emotionally in his story. I would have preferred he wrote in sequence because there are times when I wished to see how he dealt with everything, especially two devastating incidents, as he became older.
Have you read Saint Unshamed? If so, do you agree with my review? If you haven’t read this memoir, would you?