'Secrets…' author to visit OutLoud! June 3

Rich Merritt, the Atlanta attorney who was out-ed in The Advocate as “The Marine Who Was Also a Porn Star,” will start his summer-long book tour in Nashville at OutLoud! Friday June 3 at 8 pm.

The book, “Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star,” reveals a lot about the American military, the behind-the-scenes operation of the adult film industry, as well as the nature of gay people’s relationship within and without our community.

To simplify the story in this memoir is nearly impossible. To assume it’s only the story of a ‘gay marine porn star’ would be a fault, as well.

Rich Merritt grew up in a fundamentalist household in Greenville, South Carolina where he was educated behind the “Fortress of Fundamentalism,” the Bob Jones Christian education system. Eventually expelled from Bob Jones University, Merritt joined the Marines where he came out, acted in a couple adult films and was eventually granted an honorable discharge, always outpacing the scrutiny of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rules.

This new memoir, all 468 pages, maintains a consistent conversational tone. It’s easy to feel as though Merritt is simply recounting his story to you over a drink or the phone. With so much experience squeezed into such a short amount of time – much less an entire book – there seems little time for reflection.

Merritt doesn’t take too much time aggressively analyzing why he made the choices he did but, given all that takes place, doing that isn’t so much a requirement. “Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star” ultimately becomes a document of youth: what would any one of us do, given his situation? We’re all responsible for simply living our lives as we come out, as much as we’re responsible for coming out while we simply live our lives.

Just as he was about to leave the Marines, Merritt was approached by a writer from the New York Times Magazine. Mistakenly believing it was a profile of not only him but a few gay friends he’d made inside the military as well, he agreed to recount his experience under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” regime. A transcript of that article can be found here: http://www.richmerritt.com/pdf/nytimesmag.pdf (note: this is a pdf file).

He told writer Jennifer Egan about the network of gay marines and sailors that developed underground in and around San Diego, where he was stationed. In the book he elaborates about the chain of command in the military, that demanded officers and enlisted people not socialize, even casually and off-duty, and why the gay members broke that hierarchy.

A perfect storm of sorts occurred upon his honorable discharge from the Marines. Merritt’s friends, one by one, discovered their friend on the television screen when they sat down to watch various adult films. The New York Times Magazine article revealed far more about him than he’d originally assumed (though the article called him only “R”). He was applying to law schools and jumping too many hurdles at once.

Though he was proud to represent members of his community in the Times Magazine article, the subsequent investigation and story in The Advocate had a diametrically opposite effect. In pdf form, that article can be found here: http://www.richmerritt.com/pdf/advocatecover.pdf

Though it is dubiously critical of Merritt’s non-disclosure to Jennifer Egan and the New York Times Magazine, the article raised questions (unasked) about the role of gay media and the divisiveness that comes with one individual representing us all.

Merritt’s response to this, along with his sometimes strained relationship with his family, takes up the last quarter of the book. Given the last entry is from less than a year ago, “Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star” leaves with a sense that we’re meeting Rich Merritt only partway through his journey.

The book is scheduled for release on June 7 but, with special permission from his publisher, Rich Merritt will have copies of “Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star” available when he reads from the book and signs copies at OutLoud! on the eve of Nashville’s pride festival, Friday June 3 at 8pm.

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