Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Never Turn Your Back on the Tide: (Or, How I Married a Lying, Psychopathic Wannabe Murderer and Kinda Lived to Tell)” by Kergan Edwards-Stout— The Ideal Life or So He Thought

Edwards-Stout, Kergan. “Never Turn Your Back on the Tide: (Or, How I Married a Lying, Psychopathic Wannabe Murderer and Kinda Lived to Tell)”,  Circumspect Press, 2020.

The Ideal Life or So He Thought

Amos Lassen

As a writer shares his life during the AIDS crisis, Kergan Edwards-Stout also writes about his husband’s double life in this memoir, “Never Turn Your Back on the Tide: (Or, How I Married a Lying, Psychopathic Wannabe Murderer and Kinda Lived to Tell”. It is just the book I needed to get me through the dark days we are going through.

As Edwards-Stout reads his “civil-union” husband’s (aka Eyes) email in 2001, he learns that he was about to be left for  someone else. Then we move in a different direction. We read of the author’s growing up in Southern California as a gay man in the 1970s and hoping to find a career as an actor. He writes of the people he met including Loni Anderson, Jennifer Beals, and Darren McGavin, Mariska Hargitay and Jack Black. Becoming an activist, he worked for AIDS Project Los Angeles as the epidemic raged. He took care of his lover Shane while he died from the disease in 1995 and these words are hard to read with dry eyes. The writing here is sensitive and poignant and beautiful.  It does not take long before the mood shifts again to some of the funniest writing I have read in a long time in whch Edwards-Stout shares what he learned on his journey through life thus far.  We read about Eyes and what was going on with him.

 He was having affairs and lying about his health. What we have really are two different novels in the same book. I thought I would be reading about a no-count liar; a psychopath so I was surprised to be part of the emotional roller-coaster of remembering what we suffered during AIDS.

Most of us who lived through the epidemic had experiences with dealing with someone who was dying and I firmly believe that this is something that we should not be allowed to forget. (Neither do I want to forget the way this memoir reminds us of that terrible time. It is part of who we are today).

While accepting his sexuality was easy for Edwards-Stout, it was his time in Hollywood that really made him awareof the intolerance toward gay people. He saw his gay friends die of AIDS and especially felt the pain of losing Shane. The care for Shane was beautiful but unfortunately, it was not replicated in his relationship with Eyes and it took him a long time to realize that his relationship was, to say the least, one-sided.

The two men adopted a son yet even with the happiness that a child could bring, his years with Eyes and afterwards were filled with distrust and heartbreak. He became the father to another adopted son and we see what a wonderful and caring father that he is.

I doubt that I can put down on paper how much this book means to me. I laughed, I cried, I cursed and I beamed as I read. Edwards-Stout has developed a beautiful style that was becoming evident in his previous books but that now completely took me to a new place. I am so glad that, of late, we are getting more gay memoirs since it is so important to remember from where we came in order to reach where we are today. There is gorgeous sincerity here. By bringing together the horrors of AIDS with the suffering on an untrustworthy husband, we really get to know the writer and want to give him the biggest hug possible.

“United Queerdom” by Dan Glass— LGBTQ Activism

Glass, Dan. “United Queerdom”, Zed Books, 2020.

 LGBTQ Activism

Amos Lassen

During the 1970s the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) led an anarchic campaign that permanently changed the face of Britain. It was inspired by the Stonewall riots in the United States and its demand was for a global “Queer Nation.” Now, some fifty years later, we still have LGBT+ inequality even as we understand that complete LGBT+ liberation means housing rights, universal healthcare, economic freedom and more. Even though there are some who believe that we are free now and should behave and assimilate and become part of the larger society. However, only with full liberation can we really expect further discrimination and harassment.

This is a provocative read from a man who helped change the world and who maintains that protest is necessary and essential to queer identity. Glass shares the hard work of fighting injustice. He gives us his ideas about life-changing activism and methodologies to attain it making this something of a manual for those who want to change the world.  He is both outrageous and controversial but he writes from deep within his heart.

This memoir lets us feel his “rage, solidarity, and tactical hope.” We immediately sense that his reason for being is to make a difference and we see that he has. We can see this as a manifesto to fight back yet it is a memoir that is historical and a how-to-guide. We are called upon to act and to act now.

We are experiencing a “Second Silence” with budget cuts, rising HIV transmission rates, and a belief that AIDS is history. We read of those who have “been beaten, deported and marginalized by bigotry, patriarchy and fascism across the planet” and see his as a call to action.

 

“The Fixed Stars” by Molly Wizenberg— Identity, Sexuality and Family

Wizenberg, Molly. “The Fixed Stars”, Abrams Press, 2020.

Identity, Sexuality and Family

Amos Lassen

While serving on a jury, thirty-six-year-old Molly Wizenberg realized that she was drawn to a female attorney she hardly knew. At the time, she was married to a man and had been for ten years and the couple had a child. Wizenberg tried to return to her life as she knew it, but something inside her had completely changed. She learned that how we live our lives is not always as logical as we would think.  She understood that we are born with our

sexual orientation and it is part of who we are. Her life story soon became complicated and began to deal with this aspect of her life by accepting this new change.

In “The Fixed Stars” she explores important questions about who she was and who she is. She looks at desire, identity, and the limits and possibilities of family. She writes beautifully of her journey through  separation and divorce, coming out to family and friends, learning to co-parent a young child, and realizing a new idea of love.  She has let go of definitions that once seem fixed and ideals that had once been part of her but had changed as she came to terms with who she really was.

She writes candidly and that were times that I felt that we were sitting opposite each other as she shared her story. She became a friend who confiding in me in a very personal way, holding nothing back. Because she is so personal, I find it difficult to say how what she says has affected me.

Wizenberg has the ability to describe and express feelings while examining gender and sexuality and the way we speak about these and their meanings. She includes what others have previously written on the subjects and the differences among them. We see that sexuality is fluid. I am quite sure that this was not easy to put down on paper yet she is able to do so eloquently especially as she writes of

“her marriage; the love, care, and mutual respect they had for one another, along with the complexities that can bring relationships to an end.” The way we change is often unplanned and unexpected.  

 

“Like Crazy: Life with My Mother and Her Invisible Friends” by Dan Matthews— Mother and Son

Matthews, Dan. “Like Crazy: Life with My Mother and Her Invisible Friends”, Atria, 2020.

Mother and Son

Amos Lassen

Dan Matthews’s “Like Crazy” is both a very funny  and heartbreaking memoir about an outlandish mother and son on a voyage of self-discovery, and the wild community that came together to help them as the mother was in the final phase of her life.

Mathews knew that Perry, his mother, who was witty, bawdy, unhinged mother, Perry, was unable to maintain her independence at seventy-eight so he flew her across the country to Virginia to live with him in an 1870 townhouse that was falling apart. Dan was soon overwhelmed with two fixer-uppers: the house and his mother. 

Together, Dan and Perry formed a fun life together of  costume parties, road trips, after-hours gatherings, and a wonderful sense of humor as they dealt with hurricanes, blizzards, and Perry’s decline. They got help from a large group of friends including  Dan’s boyfriends (past and present), ex-cons, sailors, strippers, deaf hillbillies, evangelicals, and grumpy cats and with them they were able to change the parent-child relationship. 

It was with a trip to the emergency room that Dan learned the cause of his mother’s unpredictable and sometimes caustic behavior— Perry had lived her entire adult life as an undiagnosed schizophrenic. 

Filled with emotion and irreverence, this is darkly comic story about the perils and rewards of taking in a fragile parent without losing life in the process. We read about about mental illness with an uplifting conclusion and see the remarkable growth that takes place when a wild child settles down to care for the wild mother who raised him. Matthews gives us a beautifully written celebration of familial love. He tells his mother’s story in a way that shows the seriousness of severe mental illness while capturing the absurdity and humor that was part of caring for his mother and loving her. We have humor, tenderness, and compassion as we read about the author’s journey to self-acceptance and finding love.

 

“Born to Be Public” by Greg Maina— Life as a “Pariah Prodigy”

Mania, Greg. “Born to Be Public”, Clash Books, 2020.

Life as a “Pariah Prodigy”

Amos Lassen

There have been many coming-out memoirs over the years so in order to have something new and different, it is not easy. Greg Mania succeeds wonderfully with “Born to Be Public”. He brings us a unique and vert funny look at his life as what he calls a “pariah prodigy”. He came out to his Polish immigrant parents without meaning to do so and then jumped into the New York nightlife scene where we was able to find a place in the world of comedy and his own identity. We read how he did this as he explored himself through sex, mental health and various relationships. This was not easy as his life was filled with both mistakes as well as successes. He holds nothing back and he is raw as he is relevant and relatable.

Mania is a fine writer and I was soon turning pages as quickly as possible. He was born near Trenton, New Jersey and from an early age he knew that he was special and different. When he entered the New York scene, he did so with is special ideas about the world and at first, he was a hair stencil artist, then a go-go boy  and a studious student. New York then was changing and he discovered that there was more than just one Manhattan.

Yet he was self-assured and confident as he tried to find himself (he claims to be still trying to do so).  He exudes charm on every page and is very, very funny. Mania shares how he was able to reach self-expression and how to make people laugh. It seems that he can make people laugh about anything and he certainly had me laughing as I read. I was reminded how when in high school, we often try to break into the “A” group and when we finally do, we discover that there is an “A+” group.

“Born to Be Pubic” is a poignant memoir on self-reflection that is filled with ideas that we all can use.

 

“Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment” by John Giorno— A Memoir of New York

Giorno, John. “Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

A Memoir of New York 

Amos Lassen

John Giorno (1936-2019) was a New York-based poet and performance artist who was the founder of Giorno Poetry Systems. He was a longtime member of the Lower Manhattan art scene and an AIDS activist and Tibetan Buddhist whose work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, among other institutions. His memoir, “Great Demon Kings” is a sexy look at his “becoming” in New York in the ‘60s.

Giorno graduated from Columbia in 1958  and was a “handsome, charismatic, ambitious” guy who wanted to enjoy as much of Manhattan’s art and culture as possible. Because poetry gave him almost no income, he worked on Wall Street and spent his nights at the happenings, underground movie premiers, art shows, and poetry readings of the city. He was involved in an intense romantic relationship with Andy Warhol who had not yet become a global superstar. This relationship exposed Giorno to even more of the downtown scene, but after starring in Warhol’s first movie, “Sleep”, they drifted apart. Giorno was then involved with Robert Rauschenberg and later Jasper Johns with both relationships fueling his creativity. He quickly became a renowned poet in his own right and he at the intersection of literature and technology, freely crossing genres and mediums as did William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. 

“Great Demon Kings” was completed shortly before Giorno’s death in 2019. Giorno was a singular cultural pioneer especially as an openly gay man at a time when many artists remained closeted and avoided gay subject matter. He was a devout Buddhist whose faith steered and sustained him through highs and lows. The memoir includes the “it-people” of the downtown scene and a sensitive look at his long friendship with  Burroughs. Here is quite a sensational look at New York City as seen through the eyes of one of its most singular characters. There was creative ferment in the 1960s and 1970s in New York City and we see this through Giorno’s relationships with Warhol, Gysin, Rauschenberg, Johns and Burroughs, and his friendships with many others. Giorno wrote this with sensitivity and tenderness as he shares his enthusiastic openness to the full range of human experience as he pursued “bliss and great clarity”. We read of the“creativity and debauchery” of gay artists and writers in this posthumous memoir and it is  over the top at times but always sincere.

Giorno’s life was “ shocking, joyous, and raw”. His eternal search for inspiration and love made him a great poetic voice and he wrote with “beauty, forgiveness and truth.” 

“Son of the Cornfield: A Story of Faith and Sexuality” by Alexandru Lupu— Faith and Sexuality

Lupu, Alexandru. “Son of the Cornfield: A Story of Faith and Sexuality”,  Independently Published, 2020.

Sexuality and Faith

Amos Lassen

In “Son of the Cornfield: A Story of Faith and Sexuality”, writer Alexandru Lupu share how his “sexual abuse, for all its devastation and debilitating force, put me on a path of self-discovery and self-acceptance.” 

When the hateful words of his parents brought him almost to suicide, Alexandru heard a voice that completely changed him and his existence. He left his home in Romania to move to the Netherlands and later on to Australia, something he could have never thought about before.

He set out on a journey to understand how to bring his sexuality to his faith. He had thought that his identity lay in finding the right person to live with for the rest of his life. Moving from one relationship to another, one day he found a man who taught him that his selfhood resides in the love of his God.

“Son of the Cornfield” exposes a childhood that was formed by abuse, loneliness, and faith. Alexandru’s story is his raw and we feel his vulnerability. He becomes an inspiration as a man who has found his true identity.

“A Sojourn in Paradise: Jack Robinson in 1950s New Orleans” by Howard Philips Smith— New Orleans Life and the Early Career of Fashion Photographer Jack Robinson

Smith, Howard Philips. “A Sojourn in Paradise: Jack Robinson in 1950s New Orleans”, University of Mississippi Press, 2020.

New Orleans Life and the Early Career of Fashion Photographer Jack Robinson

Amos Lassen

Jack Robinson was a sought-after fashion and celebrity photographer during the 1960s and early 1970s. His work was everywhere it seemed— from Vogue to the New York Times and Life Magazine. His personal life, however, was an enigma. Howard Philips Smith means to change that with “A Sojourner in Paradise” in which he studies Robinson and his work concentrating on his early life in New Orleans. It was in the Crescent City that Robinson found his passion for painting, photography, and the Bohemian life of the French Quarter. The book features more than one hundred photographs taken by the artist with a detailed commentary about Robinson’s life in New Orleans as well as excerpts from interviews with the people who knew him there.  What we see here are the beginnings of the first gay Carnival krewes who made their own unique contributions to the rich cultural history of the city and read about the formation and beginnings of the Orleans Gallery, one of the earliest centers of the contemporary art movement that came into being America of the 1950s..

Jack Robinson dealt with inner struggles that brought him to New Orleans. The city became a haven for him and he was able to find himself, for a time, free from societal pressure. He was allowed to explore life on his own terms. New Orleans has that ability for people and I say that as a person who was born and raised there. Unlike many other American cities, New Orleans rests upon the joy of life grip and the diversity of the city allows for self-exploration.

For as long as I can remember, New Orleans has been a gay destination for many just for that reason. It takes a writer like Howard Philips Smith whose own love affair with gay Mardi Gras to  tell us Robinson’s story and provide us with previously unseen photographs of prominent New Orleanians and of Carnival in that period. We see a portrait of a city and an era that is gone forever but whose influence extends to the present day. I do not remember much about New Orleans of the 1950s but the memories I have were reinforced by what we have here. By the time I was finally able to live in the French Quarter, many of the personalities that we read about here were already gone but their stories lived on and in some cases still do today.

Robison was a member of a group that included artists, writers, designers, musicians, preservationists, illustrators, restaurateurs, travel agents, and antiquarians. New Orleanians will recognize the names of George Dunbar and Robert Helmer, Dusti Bongé, Jean Seidenberg, Katherine Choy, Lee Bailey, Leonard Parrish, Tilden Landry, Clay Shaw, Yvonne Fasnacht, Ella Brennan, Jack Beech, Bruce Butterworth, Claire Evangelista, Elmo Delacroix Avet and of course Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and New York art dealer Betty Parsons. “A Sojourn in Paradise” is a visual feast that is filled with wonderful tidbits of the period.

“I Have Something to Tell You: A Memoir” by Chasten Buttigieg— Growing Up Gay

Buttigieg, Chasten. “I Have Something to Tell You: A Memoir”, Atria Books, 2020.

Growing Up Gay

Amos Lassen

Chasten Buttigieg’s “I Have Something to Tell you” is an honest and moving memoir by the husband of former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. He shares what it was to growi up gay in his small Midwestern town, his relationship with Pete, and his hopes for America’s future.

In the past year,  Chasten Glezman Buttigieg has come on to the national stag. He left his teaching job in South Bend, Indiana, to travel cross-country supporting his husband during Pete’s groundbreaking presidential campaign. During the campaign we read his social media posts and got a behind-the-scenes look at his life with Pete  and the moments he shared were both surprising and mundane, but above all, they always came from his heart.

Chasten recounts his journey to finding acceptance as a gay man. Growing up, he knew he was different and he indeed he felt different from his father and brothers. He tells us his coming out story and shares how he’s healed from telling his secret to his family, friends, community, and the world. Here is the story of meeting his boyfriend, whom he married and who becomes a major and important Democratic leader. His story is an inspirational look atgrowing up in America and finding and accepting embracing his true self.

Chasten writes with humor, heart, and humility as he shows how one person’s story and his active engagement in fighting for change can be so important in mobilizing others to see themselves in their future. We are reminded that by telling our stories and being there for one another, empowers others to shre their stories.

“The Italian Invert: Intimate Confessions of a Homosexual to Émile Zola” edited by Michael J. Rosenfeld and William Peniston— Telling the Story

Rosenfeld, Michael and William Peniston (editors). “The Italian Invert: Intimate Confessions of a Homosexual to Émile Zola”, Harrington Park, 2020.

Telling the Story

Amos Lassen

In the late 1880s, a young Italian aristocrat told his life story to the famous novelist Émile Zola. He described his seduction as a teenager by one of his father’s (male) friends, his first love affair with a sergeant in his military regiment, and his “extraordinary” personality. Zola felt that the story was too controversial and gave it to a young doctor, Georges

Saint-Paul, who published a censored version in 1896 in a medical study on sexual perversion. A few months later, the Italian found his story in a bookstore and was shocked to see that the doctor censored and distorted the most daring parts of his text so that he could support his own theories. The Italian protested in a long, unapologetic, and letter to the doctor in which he defended his right to lead his own life.

“The Italian Invert” is based on the newly discovered manuscript of the letter to the doctor and additional It is is the first complete, unexpurgated version in English of this famous gay autobiography. Here is the uniquely nineteenth-century experience of a privileged young man, in which he expressed his desires and defense of his right to pleasure. Included are two analytical essays—one by Michael Rosenfeld on the relationship between Zola, Saint-Paul, and the Italian “invert,” and the other by Clive Thomson on the doctor’s career. They give us further context to this amazing text.

The original autobiography is the story ofa gay man describing his desires, loves and life at the end of the nineteenth century. Written in French and previously published in censored versions only, recently discovered manuscripts give us the opportunity to discover for the first time in English the complete story. It is an excellent read fir those interested in the history of homosexuality, queer identities or gender diversity. We also read the author’s revelations about his Jewish mother and her family and we learn about medicine, psychology, and sexology at that time.

Here is the context in which conscious writing about homosexuality came into being in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. Filled with critical notes, “The Italian Invert” adds to the primary documents available in English along with essays that provide its place in history. It is “relevant as a manifesto protesting medical dogma and defending the right to happiness and love between men”.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue by Cyrille Zola-Place

Foreword to the French Edition by Alain Pagès

Foreword to the American Edition by Vernon A. Rosario 

The Ménage-à-trois of Zola, Saint-Paul, and the Italian “Invert” by Michael Rosenfeld with Nancy Erber

The Confessions of a Homosexual
Preface – by Émile Zola
The Novel of an Invert
The Sequel to the Novel of an Invert

 
The Italian Man’s Family Tree by Michael Rosenfeld

Dr. Georges Saint-Paul: Man of Science by Clive Thomson

Selected Works – by Dr. Saint-Paul

Acknowledgements

Bibliography