Review by David Lovejoy
The elements in question are being sexually attracted to men and being temperamentally attracted to God (God being shorthand for the ultimate meaning of life, the universe and everything).
Most people have desires in some degree for sex and for spiritual fulfilment, but the achievement of this book is to make the two quests seem both polarities and identities.rowing up in WA in the fifties would be hard enough for anyone.
Victor Marsh, whose memoir The Boy in the Yellow Dress has just been published by Clouds of Magellan Press, also had to struggle with two elements of his personality, apparently disparate but in his mind closely connected.
For straight people the quest for sex does not usually set up personal and societal tensions, but for young gay people the odds have always been stacked against any chance of simple emotional development.
Marsh’s account of his growing up without permission to be himself is both harrowing and familiar: take all the normal adolescent angst and then add an atmosphere in which you are expected to hate yourself for being different.
The arts, and theatre in particular, can be a refuge from a father’s disapproval and society’s casual cruelties, and love affairs are also shields and distractions. Still unsure of his orientation, for a while the young Marsh undertook an on-and-off heterosexual relationship and later there was a son from this union.
He is coy about his son’s mother. She is now a public figure and hence deserves anonymity, or at least requests and receives it. The reader may speculate about her identity, and also calculate that whatever public career is involved must be well past its zenith and unlikely to be damaged by this book.
When the contradictions in his life became too overwhelming to bear Marsh abandoned WA and tried his luck as an actor in Melbourne’s Pram Factory. Then, although the role of actor seemed the closest fit to his mercurial personality, he left that too and became a follower of the young guru Maharaji when he visited Australia in 1972.
This was the connection that enabled Marsh to make sense of at least one of the concerns in his life and he spent a decade as an instructor of the techniques of meditation in Maharaji’s ashrams, both in Australia and in many other countries. After this he became involved in television work in Melbourne and Los Angeles.
Perhaps achieving a degree of inner peace was the spur to tackling the social and personal aspects of his sexuality, as Marsh has since written with insight on Christopher Isherwood (Mr Isherwood Changes Trains, Clouds of Magellan, 2010) and edited a book of perspectives on same-sex marriage (Speak Now, Clouds of Magellan, 2011).
This is the life of an actor, writer, television presenter and producer, devotee of Indian mysticism, academic, father, grandfather, gay rights author and teacher of mindfulness. The scope of the book is ambitious, seeming to touch most of the fabric of the material world while being, essentially, a drama of unfolding spiritual perception.
No lack of incident then, but also no lack of reflection on what it all means. Marsh has experienced desperate oppression and soaring freedom, and presents both conditions in well-written and colourful detail.
Disclosure: The reviewer is a friend of the author and shares one of his polarities. Victor Marsh will be participating in ‘Memoir: What Gets Left Out?’, 10.15am–11.15am, at the writers festival Saturday.