Mixed Review for New Book on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spirituality


The National Catholic Reporter carries a review of a new book by Richard Giannone, entitled Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS and Spiritual Desire. 

The review, by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry (and your humble blogger), is a mixed one, based on what he views as two books in one:

“Richard Giannone’s memoir is really two books in one. The first book, the one suggested by the title, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire, does not live up to its promise. The second book, the unanticipated story of Giannone’s care of his infirmed mother and sister, is a fine surprise.”

The reviewer explains the problem of the “first” book:

“Based on the word ‘reflections,’ I’d hoped his story would provide personal insight into the struggles of living a closeted existence during decades when “coming out” was sometimes a dangerous decision. I expected that there would be tales of courage and sacrifice about caring for friends with HIV/AIDS in a time when all of society’s institutions — including the church — ostracized these victims. I looked forward to reading reflections about connections between sexuality and spirituality from the perspective of one on the margins.

“Unfortunately, there is too little of that story in this text. . . .For example, Giannone offers the powerful and curious claim: “Being gay and seeking God are inextricably bound at the generative vortex of one’s nature.” Such a claim deserves serious unpacking of details, events, insights, but sadly he offers no further explanations. Those details would be where the true story lies. Unfortunately, there were too many such unfulfilled promises, too often summary when expansiveness is needed.”

While critical of the “first” book, the reviewer has praise for the “second” one which describes Giannone’s care of his ailing relatives:

“It is the second, far better book that is the heart of this volume. Caring for his mother’s physical needs provided the author with a wealth of opportunity for reflection on personal identity, family relationship, gender roles, ethnic and cultural barriers, and connections with the divine. The story of caring for her comes before the story of care for his sister and is the more compelling one. Understandably enough, a parent-child relationship is in many ways much more primary.

“The second book has wider appeal, of course, for it relates a common situation that many people face — caring for a sick family member, and some of the existential crises and vistas that such a task produces. Giannone’s preference for abstraction rather than detailed writing serves this section well. We are treated to some profound insights, such as his description of his sister’s return to her home after a long hospital sojourn: ‘At home on Harper Terrace, she would be solely dependent on the source of her life; she would be alone with the Alone.’ ”

The review concludes with a mixed recommendation:

“While Hidden does not deliver the title’s promise of insights into sexuality and spirituality within the gay and HIV/AIDS community, it can offer solace and companionship for those who take the difficult but rewarding journey of caring for a frail loved one.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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