Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens” by Eddie Izzard— A Very Singular Life

Izzard, Eddie. “Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens”, Blue Rider, 2017.

A Very Singular Life

Amos Lassen

“Izzard is one of the funniest people alive, a talented actor, a sharp cross-dresser, an experienced marathon runner, and a great writer. You will have to read this if only to find out what a jazz chicken is.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer.

This is the first time in my years of reviewing that I have opened a review with a quote and that is because it says so much and so much better than I can. 
Eddie Izzard is an intelligent comedian who uses intelligent humor about everything from

world history to historical politics, sexual politics, mad ancient kings, and chickens with guns. He has a very large fan base and one that transcends age, gender, and race. Izzard’s writing is much the same in its candor and insight. He takes us into his life, writes about his mother’s death, going to boarding school, his sexuality, philanthropy, politics and acting in the movies.

Izzard’s mind is quick and he thinks about several things at the same time so it takes a bit of patience to follow him but once you get into it, you have a fascinating reading experience. He is a unique person who has led a singular life.

Beginning with his childhood, we understand that the early death of his mother became the defining moment of his life. He has tried to bring her back and we really see how this affects him.

As a student he struggled at school and used comedy to get through as he constantly looked for inspiration in his life. His career did not come easily and he did whatever necessary to focus attention on himself. He also explored his gender and his sexuality early on. He writes with honesty and openness and shares his relationship challenges, his feelings about his family, and the great moments of his career, and his addiction to sugar, his marathon running, health issues, and his regrets. Before I read this, I was not a fan and quite honestly I must say that I knew very little about Izzard. I feel like I have made a new friend and a very good one at that.

 

“Gay Slayer : The True Story of Colin Ireland” by Scott Farrell— A Criminal Life

Farrell, Scott. “Gay Slayer : The True Story of Colin Ireland”, CreateSpace, 2016.

A Criminal Life

Amos Lassen

Colin Ireland was called a serial killer “wanna-be” who deliberately murdered five gay men just to see if he could do so. as part of a New Year’s resolution. His extreme planning and attempts to hide evidence made investigators’ jobs more difficult. He would call police stations and give little hints thereby taunting the police. Ireland chose homosexual males because he figured that they would be less sympathetic victims and if he did not succeed, he thought that gay man would be less likely to go to the police.

Ireland had had a terrible childhood and seemed to be always be involved in some kind of criminal activity. I just do not understand why anyone would consider writing a book about this. It certainly demanded more research and we barely get a full story here.

 

 

“The One Who Taught Me Everything” by John Harris— Accepting Onseself

Harris, John. “The One Who Taught Me Everything”, (True To Myself Memoir Book 1), CreateSpace, 2017.

Accepting Oneself

Amos Lassen

In “The One Who Taught Me Everything”, we meet John, a man in the Midwest young man who is unsure of where his life is taking him. He has a girlfriend he doesn’t love, and he works for his father but he would he’d rather be writing. He tells his story through his diary and we see him face a bad period when everything seems dark. But then he meets Richard, a caring, smart, and good looking gay man and everything changes. Richard shows John that he may just be gay himself and John gives in to his true desires, and his relationship with Richard makes him a new person and he man he believes he was meant to be. He goes to college with plans to become a writer, and he and Richard seemed destined for a long and wonderful life together. However, Richard doesn’t want to keep their relationship a secret, and John isn’t willing to come out to anyone. When tragedy strikes, John realizes that a man always has things that are expected of him, even if they’re at odds with the things he wants for himself.

As we read we feel the entire range of emotions and truths. John understands that though he is in love with Richard he’s not ready to be public about it. For John it was a step harder in figuring out he was gay and what is he suppose to do finding this out.

John learns from Richard, and the two men fall in love but there is oppressive heartache in their relationship. John is afraid to be openly gay in the small town where they live, knowing that his father would be furious. He is expected to take over his father’s business, but John wants to be a writer.There are moments of happiness and moments of sadness. It is important to remember that this was written in 1964-65 and it was difficult to be openly gay.When his father dies, John has to make a decision to sell the business or take it over as his father wanted. He chose the latter and stopped his dreams of becoming a writer and being with Richard. The two men broke up. John wasn’t strong enough to accept himself openly and lost Richard even though both men were deeply in love with each other.

Today, John Harris, a 28-year-old bisexual man currently single and living in a small apartment in New York City who sees the world as a community united by feelings. I do not know it this is a memoir of his own life but surely there is part of him in the book.

 

 

“My Life, In and Out: One Man’s Journey into Roman Catholic Priesthood and Out of the Closet” by Charles Benedict— Choicws

Benedict, Charles. “My Life, In and Out: One Man’s Journey into Roman Catholic Priesthood and Out of the Closet”, Purple Spekter TM Press, 2017.

Choices

Amos Lassen

Charles Benedict shares the confusion he felt growing up as he struggled with his sexuality and his desire to become a Roman Catholic Priest. He devoted the first thirty-three years of his life and studies to serve the Church and then discovered the life he loved and the beliefs he taught were in conflict with his hidden secret of his life that kept him from accepting his true self and potential.

Benedict grew up in a religious family that made it seem like he didn’t belong or fit in because something was wrong with him. His parents discovered he had a secret boyfriend at sixteen but Charles denied he was gay and gave into strong fears of rejection and disappointing those he loved. He lied to the world and buried his sexuality inside his soul. There was nothing wrong with Charles to begin with. Fourteen years passed before he finally accepted his homosexuality and came out—nearly four years after he had been ordained a Roman Catholic Priest. He voluntarily left the priesthood and rebuilt his life as he discovered the happier man within. Today, after al rough period, he is happily married to his wonderful husband and has supportive friends and family to share his life with. Now he wants everyone who struggles with their sexuality to know that even though it took him thirty-three years to love himself, the truth set him free. He clearly shows that no matter what any religion says, God loves you.

“How to Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Sex and Teenage Confusion” by David Burton— A Memoir

Burton, David. “How to Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Sex and Teenage Confusion”, Text Publishing, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

“How to Be Happy” is David Burton’s memoir of his life at high school and beyond. As a youngster, he felt out of place and convinced and that he was not normal. He wanted a girlfriend, but his first date was a disaster. He did not like sports and was unlucky with friendships. He only found solace in drama classes with the creation of ‘Crazy Dave’, and he built a life where everything was fine. However, everything was not fine.

In reading about the real David, we also read about  depression, friendship, sexual identity, suicide, academic pressure, love and adolescent confusion.

Most of us would think that a book like this might be a heavy read but it is just the opposite. It is filled with humor and is for anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t fit in.

Burton gives us wonderful descriptions of his anxiety and depression and is able to take us from humor to devastation in the same paragraph. As he does he attempts to break down the stigmas that surround mental illness. This is a short and intense look at depression, family issues and sexuality. We see that not everything is in our own control and that things can change quickly. Growing up, Burton has to deal with two brothers with Aspersers, being bullied at school, worrying about a self-harming friend and his own spirals into depression and anxiety. He explored

his problems in such a self-deprecating way at a time when they were not openly discussed by society. This is also a celebration of the friendships he formed and the trials he overcame

 

“Husband: My 40-Year Marriage to a Gay Man” by Joanne Blackwelder— A Complicated Relationship

Blackwelder, Joanne. “Husband: My 40-Year Marriage to a Gay Man”, Xlibris, 2016.

A Complicated Relationship

Amos Lassen

When Joanne and Steve began their relationship, Joanne was aware that he was interested in bisexuality yet she trusted him and their love for each other. They married in the 60s, a time of sexual revolution and they wrote screenplays together and had an exciting life together. Gradually problems developed; Steve drank too much and wandered into dangerous neighborhoods, looking for sex. He was involved in dangerous liaisons, and lied to Joanne about his secret life, which repeatedly put the family in danger. Meanwhile, JoAnne was dealing with her recurring breast cancer and her parents were critically injured in their house fire. As she became convinced her husband was gay, JoAnne prepared for divorce, but neither she nor Steve really wanted to separate. They were best friends and continued living together. They remained close, loving their daughters and feeling rooted in the house. When Steve died, JoAnne sought to understand their strange and troubled relationship by drawing on her memories and Steve’s journals about his gay encounters and fantasies. This is her memoir and it is an honest account of a troubled but enduring love that lasted nearly 40 years.

JoAnne met Steve at the University of Wisconsin, where both were employed as Teaching Assistants while they studied for graduate degrees in English. After they married and moved to New York City, Steve wrote screenplays and was hired as a story editor for Warner Bros. They had two daughters. So that Steve could stay home to write a novel, JoAnne worked in Manhattan, first in publishing, later in typesetting and printing.. In 2007, she and Steve retired to Ocean City, NJ, where he died suddenly.

We read about the complicated relationship of a gay man married to a straight woman and it is more common than many realize, especially among gay men of another generation. This was at a time when people didn’t come out and let everyone know they were gay. There were many couples that tried to stay married and keep up the facade of marriage. Here we feel the anguish and confusion that Joanne dealt with as she tried to make things work. I found it fascinating to read how Steve and Joanne dealt with their marriage and remained together for 40 years.

 

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“The Mothers’ Group: Of Love, Loss, and AIDS” by Suzanne Loebl— Mother’s Standing By Their Children

Loebl, Suzanne. “The Mothers’ Group: Of Love, Loss, and AIDS”, ASJA Press, 2006.

Mothers Standing By Their Children

Amos Lassen

There were parents who turned against their children once they had been diagnosed with AIDS but there was also those ho stood by their children. When Suzanne Loebl’s son David was sick with the disease, she joined a support group that came to be known as the Mothers’ Group. In this book we read about the brave women who were members of that group. They had to somehow ignore their own grief, confront a hostile world, and deal with complex medical issues and watch their sons die. They also tried to help their children enjoy whatever time they had left on earth and be strong as they dealt with their own fear and despair. At their Tuesday night meetings, they let their terror, grief and frustration flow. Loebl here shows how illness did not change David’s love of life and how he could be productive and happy even though there was to be no future. This book, Loebl’s memoir about David, is also a look at the gay world as it was transformed by AIDS from its newly liberated days after Stonewall.

The Mothers’ Group was made up women of diverse backgrounds sharing virtually identical difficult situations to share support and tears. While emphasizing these common bonds between strangers. Through them we insight into the symptoms, treatment and heartbreak of AIDS in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We see the almost universal sense of guilt shared by parents and families of children facing death.

This is a book about courage — both Suzanne Loebl’s and her son’s as well as the courage of the other women she meets in the Mother’s Group she joins of women coping with a child with AIDS. Loebl, realized her son’s days were numbered and took every opportunity to share in her son’s life and enjoy his presence for as long as she could.

Loebl shares her story, her pain and her strength. It is both touching and heartbreaking to read about her relationship with her son and how she deals with his death. All the mothers in the group have a story to share, and by sharing helped each other. They now help us to understand how it was.

 

“The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism” by Jason Tougaw— Growing Up Gay

Tougaw, Jason. “The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism”, Dzanc, 2017.

Growing Up Gay

Amos Lassen

Jason Tougaw brings together neuroscience and family lore in “The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism”, his story of growing up gay in 1970s in Southern California. He was raised by hippies who had “dropped out” in the late sixties and couldn’t seem to find their way back in. The family seemed to believe that there was something wrong with their blood,” the family mantra ran, “and it affected our their brains and they used this as catchall answer for incidents such as Tougaw’s schizophrenic great-grandfather directing traffic in the nude on the Golden Gate Bridge, Jason’s dyslexia and hypochondria, and the near-death experience of his notorious jockey grandfather, Ralph Neves.

You do not have to understand any of this to enjoy this wild read. The story is honest and unexpected but it is true. It deals with powerful questions that are never quite answered but that is okay. This is an intelligent memoir that is very funny at times as it tells the story of a very peculiar and unconventional family.

It is also the story of a boy growing up in California during the final years of a waning counter culture. Tougaw brings together reflections on the brain science of human memory and development and “the ongoing mystery of why some of us survive a chaotic and brutal childhood and others don’t.”

The self here is a mysterious and strange accident that yearns to be understood by its possessor and it is great fun seeing how that happens.

 

 

“Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words” by Michael Ausiello— A Memoir

Ausiello, Michael. “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words”, Atria Books, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

Michael Ausiello is a respected TV columnist and founder and editor-in-chief of “TVLine.com” who in this memoir writes about his late husband and the experiences, love, and laughter that they shared throughout their fourteen years together.For over ten years, fans have depended on Ausiello’s insider knowledge to get the scoop on their favorite shows and stars. He has established himself as THE go-to expert when it comes to our most popular form of entertainment. What Ausiello’s fans did not know was that he was dealing with a personal tragedy: his husband, Kit Cowan, was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of neuroendocrine cancer. During eleven months, Kit and Michael did their best to combat the deadly disease, but Kit died in February 2015. In this memoir, we are taken into

the harrowing and challenging last year with Kit while also revisiting the thirteen years that preceded it. We read of the powerful bond between the two men and see that Kit carried them through all manner of difficulty with laughter as the core of their relationship. Knowing that this is about the death of a loved one might lead you to believe that this is a story of sadness and loss but it is so much more than that—- it is an unforgettable, inspiring, and beautiful testament to the resilience and strength of true love.

“Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir” by Marl Olmsted— Nine Months in Prison

Olmsted, Mark. “Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir”, Nuance Titles, 2017.

Nine Months in Prison

Amos Lassen

“Ink from the Pen” is the story of Mark Olmsted, an educated, HIV positive gay man who faced nine months in prison in 2009 for dealing the crystal meth he’d become addicted to during the worst of the AIDS epidemic. Olmsted is a fine writer who discovered his love of words would get him through the experience. He learned that creativity is one of the most powerful survival tools there is.

This is a brutally honest account of his incarceration. Olmsted takes us on a journey through our emotions as we accompany him on his personal journey. He brilliantly captures the emotions each inmate will feel as they serve their sentences. We het an idea about the sense of the other prisoners and their stories and while this is set in a prison, it is also about the culture that allows for prisons like this to exist.

Olmsted shares his joy of getting a Papermate pen that he uses to write down the details of his prison stay. He leaves nothing to the imagination sharing with which he sets down the details of his days and the taste of the food, the layout of the bunks, the fear of known and fellow prisoners.

Olmstead also writes about what it feels like to be gay where physical appearance is so important and every move and gesture means something. In prison a movement can an invitation. By using humor as a survival tool, Olmsted survives in an atmosphere where others are eaten alive as they deal with prisoners who have nothing in their past or cultures that could have possibly have prepared for incarceration. Humanity becomes the leveler of disparate men of every imaginable background.

Olmsted’s story is sad and frightening and it keeps us reading. He paints unforgettable portraits of some of his fellow inmates and shares what he learned about them and he brings together his life on the outside with his new life on the inside and it is mesmerizing. This is a real learning experience about what goes on in our prison system.