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Book Review: Disarmingly Painful

by Martin Maassen in Films & Books , 25 maart 2013

Who talks about the Dutch weekly “Elsevier” in the seventies and eighties of thelast century, mentions a pronounced right-wing medium. Nonetheless, during these years of politically polarized relationships, Rex Brico (1928) was this magazine’s talked-about, leftist (religion) reporter. He survived several editors-in-chief and conflicts and seized the opportunity to conduct important interviews.

With Mother Teresa, the conservative bishop Gijsen and Desmond Tutu, to name just a few people. Brico also had the very last interview with the first female minister of the Netherlands, Marga Klompé. He mentions this in his sometimes disarmingly painful but extremely readable memoirs “De odyssee van een journalist” [The Odyssey of a Journalist]. In this book Brico sways between the several periods of his life. But above all he makes it clear to the reader that behind the well-known journalist lies hidden a struggling, often desperate human being. When he is fifteen he realizes he’s homosexual. What follows are periods of compensation (“missionary activities” for the Catholic Action), misery (denial, shock therapy, a suicide attempt) and intriguing partner choices (all Brico’s partners decided for a straight life eventually).

His “first and deepest love experience” was “literally” “burned from [his] body.” So it doesn’t come as a surprise that Brico uses phrases such as “my deviant sexual proclivity” and “the company of like-disposed.”

Brico relates ebulliently about his many travel experiences. He resides for some time as a journalist in Australia, for example. There, he’s falsely accused of rape by a criminal youngster whom he was presumed to have plied with liquor. To be safe for the police, Brico had himself admitted in a psychiatric clinic. When Brico returns to Australia a few years later, he realized that he was registered with the Australian police as KAMP, “Known As Male Pervert”.

But James Dean (as Brico consequently refers to his then object of desire) and Brico would pull through. A coming out wasn’t really an option in the early sixties. Or, as the writer expresses it: “We didn’t talk about it and others didn’t ask about it. In public the subject of my proclivities was as a matter of fact completely unmentionable. That was only newsworthy when once again a well-known foreigner was picked up because of ‘indecent exhibitionism’ in a public toilet.”

Extraordinary are also Brico’s descriptions of his contacts with the ultraconservative Bishop Gijsen (who was looking for a multiple socket between Brico’s legs) and student pastor and Jesuit Jan van Kilsdonk (who experiences God “amidst the immoral minority”).

In the end Rex Brico summarizes his earthly existence concisely: “My life has been a long search for lovers and buddies. But essentially, I think nowadays, this was the same search as the one for God.” After he turned fifty Brico didn’t have sex anymore. Years later followed the final farewell from God.

The title of Brico’s book suggests a homecoming. After finishing the last page of the book one wonders where that will be.

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In the New Issue of Gay News, 311, July 2017

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