Review: 'My Government Means to Kill Me' a Powerful Portrait of History

by Christopher Verleger

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 7, 2022

Review: 'My Government Means to Kill Me' a Powerful Portrait of History

Author Rasheed Newson has combined genres and crafted a brilliant, captivating, ferociously entertaining debut novel. "My Government Means to Kill Me," the fictitious autobiography of Trey Singleton, a privileged, 17-year-old Black, gay male from Indianapolis who runs away to New York City in 1985.

From the opening sentence, the book reads like a first-person account of actual events, complete with footnotes that reference notable people and places from the era (like New York City Mayor Ed Koch, artist Sylvester, and the City Lights Bookstore). Despite having a six-figure trust fund, Trey arrives in the Big Apple with a meager $2,000 and takes up residence at the renowned Chelsea Hotel, where he meets Gregory, a hustler, who eventually becomes his roommate in a SoHo studio, as well as his best friend and confidante.

Trey proudly proclaims that he is noticeably, shamelessly gay, and his hearty sexual appetite makes him a fixture at the Mt. Morris Baths in Harlem. When he's not working odd jobs as a bike messenger or lawn mower, he manages to cross paths with the likes of Bayard Rustin and Marvin Liebman (if those names aren't familiar to you, fret not — Newsom never fails to keep his readers in the know). Soon enough, Trey and Sylvester go broke, which indirectly gives Trey the idea to stage a rent strike and go face-to-face with the building's owner, Fred Trump (yes, that Fred Trump).

If the story sounds contrived, it's easy to forgive the author. It is a work of fiction, after all, but also because to know Trey is to love him. While he isn't always a model of the most admirable behavior, his sincerity and brutal honesty make him a compelling narrator and an exquisite storyteller. His adventures serve not only as lessons in life experience (as indicated by the titles of each chapter), but also important reminders of the past.

Trey's battle with his landlord ignites his inner activist, and soon he finds himself on the frontline of ACT UP protest events and volunteering at a home hospice for men with AIDS. Now, I have read and watched countless descriptions and portrayals of the AIDS crisis — and it never gets old or any less powerful. Newson brings us right back to the beginning, raising intense feelings of anger, desperation and helplessness that are as fresh and potent as they were four decades ago.

When Trey first meets his friend, Peter, from the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), Peter asks what drives him. Early on, Trey mentions that his younger brother, Martin, had died, but when the circumstances of his death are revealed, it paints a much broader picture of Trey than just a spoiled, horny, formerly rich kid.

Given the multitude of coming-of-age stories and even greater number of memoirs available on bookstore shelves, clearly there is demand and affinity for these types of written works. "My Government Means to Kill Me" is an impressive, poignant piece of work that educates, enlightens and inspires.

"My Government Means to Kill Me" is now available from Flatiron Books.

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.