Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration” by Shawn Hitchins— A Modern Memoir

“Hitchins, Shawn. “The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration”, ECW Press, 2021.

A Modern Memoir

Amos Lassen

In The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration”, Shawn Hitchins brings us amodern gay memoir that looks at love, death, pain, and community— a story of love, loss, and recovery and human resilience. Due to sudden death, Hitchins loses two great loves, five months apart. He shares his life and gives a tender elegy that explores what it means to be alive alongside longing, desire, anger, grief — and healing he discovers when he lets his heart remain open. We feel his self-awareness as he deals with his past and being in the present. He confronts the stories that have shaped him and seeks connection in what he used to deflect with laughter  while being aware that death’s is always present.

There is grief, love, community, hope and celebration here. It is not just about loving what you want, but loving what you have. The main message that death is a phase of life and like life itself, Hitchins’ story is often disjointed. It is not only about hoping for the future, but also about living in the present. 

We need to appreciate the things that we have in abundance such as love, laughter, hope, faith and community.  Hitchins shares his life with us and this is what allows us to see the need  to appreciate what we have. This is an emotional reading experience and a breathtaking memoir of love and death, pain and healing. It hits hard.

“The Emphatically Queer Career of Artist Perkins Harnly and His Bohemian Friends” by Sarah Burns— From Nebraska to the World

Burns, Sarah. “The Emphatically Queer Career of Artist Perkins Harnly and His Bohemian Friends”, Process, 2021.

From Nebraska to the World

Amos Lassen

In Sarah Burns’ “The Emphatically Queer Career of Perkins Harnly”, we read thestory of Nebraska-born artist, Perkins Harnly (1901-1986),who during his life came into contact with famous and infamous personalities. He went to parties with Sarah Bernhardt, was friends with Paul Swan (“The Most Beautiful Man in the World”),  was the frequent houseguest of Rose O’Neill, the free-living artist who invented the Kewpie and corresponded with William Seabrook, author and occasional cannibal who introduced the zombie to America. 

We are with Harnly from Nebraska’s remote farmlands to silent-era Hollywood, post-revolutionary Mexico, Depression-era New York, wartime Hollywood, queer Los Angeles the repressive 1950s, and the rest of his life. He traveled in Europe and South America, where Harnly practiced his hobby of visiting the famous and infamous graves from Vladimir Lenin to Oscar Wilde, Queen Victoria, and Eva Peron.
Through archives of letters and interviews Harnly comes alive along with his circle of creative friends and he is a character who is unlikely to be forgotten.

“Baggage: Tales from a Fully Packed Life” by Alan Cumming— Who is Alan Cumming?

 

Cumming, Alan. “Baggage: Tales from a Fully Packed Life”, Dey Street Books, 2021.

Who is Alan Cumming?

Amos Lassen

Alan Cumming is a man, an actor, an advocate and a happy human being. He shares how that came to be in “Baggage”. “There is absolutely no logical reason why I am here. The life trajectory my nationality and class and circumstances portended for me was not even remotely close to the one I now navigate. But logic is a science and living is an art.

The release I felt in writing my first memoir, Not My Father’s Son, was matched only by how my speaking out empowered so many to engage with their own trauma. I was reminded of the power of my words and the absolute duty of authenticity.” He goes on to say that no one can ever fully come to terms with their past and to deal with it, it is necessary to “manage and prioritize it”. Once you have triumphed or overcome something, you have only decided “to stop being vigilant and embrace denial as your modus operandi.”

“Baggage” follows Cumming’s  life in Hollywood and how, since he recovered from a nervous breakdown at 28, work has taken him away from personal problems. Cumming writes about marriage(s): the break-up of my first (to a woman) and the second (to a man) with so much in between. He shows what he has learned and how he became who he is today.

“A Tale of Two Omars: A Memoir of Family, Revolution, and Coming Out During the Arab Spring” by Omar Sharif, Jr.— A Memoir of Self-Discovery

Sharif Jr., Omar “A Tale of Two Omars: A Memoir of Family, Revolution, and Coming Out During the Arab Spring”, Counterpoint, 2021.

A Memoir of Self-Discovery

Amos Lassen

 In “A Tale of Two Omars”, Omar Sharif, Jr. writes about the intersection of Arab and queer identity. He is the grandson of Hollywood royalty on his father’s side and Holocaust survivors on his mother’s and learned early on how to move between worlds. He was always protected by his famous and in the wake of the Arab Spring, he made the difficult decision to come out in the pages of “The Advocate”, knowing his life would forever change. However, he didn’t expect was the backlash that followed. 

Sharif’s life was one of bullying, illness, attempted suicide, sex trafficking and death threats by the thousands, revolution and never being able to return to the country he once called home. Yet he has managed to overcome tremendous challenges. Here he shares the process and the struggles and successes that come with a public journey of self-acceptance and a life dedicated to serving others.  As he learns to accept himself, he faces the difficult road of being gay, Muslim and Jewish. His story is a plea for the place calls home and equal rights for everyone. Holding nothing back, we share his life.

Sharif’s life is the story of freedom and accepting the challenges he faces. We see how important it is to live. This is a powerful and essential memoir of self-discovery. filled with beautiful memories of his grandfather and horrible stories of abuse and homophobia.

“Stroke Book: The Diary of a Blindspot” by Jonathan Alexander— Personal Trauma and Culture

Alexander, Jonathan. “Stroke Book: The Diary of a Blindspot”, Fordham University Press, 2021.

Personal Trauma and Culture

Amos Lassen

In “Stroke Book”, Jonathan Alexander shares his story of personal trauma and how a culture still toxic to queer people can reshape a body.In the summer of 2019, Jonathan Alexander had a minor stroke that his doctors called an “eye stroke.” The result was a permanent blind spot in his right eye. Alexander writes about the immediate aftermath of his health crisis and his experiences as a queer person who became. subject to medical intervention. 

He writes about the pressure that the queer ill feel is at fault for their conditions, of having somehow chosen illness as punishment for their queerness, even if subconsciously. Some queer people experience psychic and somatic pressures that both decrease their overall quality of life and can lead to shorter lifespans. We are taken on a personal journey of facing a health crisis while trying to understand how one’s sexual identity affects and is affected by that crisis. Written in the form of a  diary Alexander shares his experiences in lyrical prose. He struggles with his shifted experience of time as he addresses the aftermath of what he comes to call his “incident” and he meditates on how a history of homophobic encounters can be manifested in embodied forms. 

“The Isolation Artist: Scandal, Deception, and the Last Days of Robert Indiana” by Bob Keyes— Scandals and Rumors

Keyes, Bob. “The Isolation Artist: Scandal, Deception, and the Last Days of Robert Indiana”, David R. Godine Publisher, 2021.

Scandals and Rumors

Amos Lassen

When Robert Indiana died in 2018, he left behind dark rumors and scandal and an estate embroiled in lawsuits and facing accusations of fraud. He has been a reclusive, millionaire artist  Here, for the first time, are all the pieces to the strange true story of his final days, what happened afterwards, the deceptive world that surrounded him, art as very big business.Indiana refused to copyright his iconic LOVE sculpture in 1965. He was strange and tortured and he wanted to be both famous and a loner. Indiana surrounded himself with people to manage his life and work. Yet, he often changed his mind and often fired or made fun of those who worked with him. By 2008, when he created the sculpture HOPE(or did he?), he had signed away his work for others to exploit thus creating doubt about whether he had even seen artwork sold for very high prices under his name. 

At the time of his death, Indiana left an estate worth millions and suspicions. There were allegations of fraudulent artwork, of elder abuse, of caregivers who subjected him to terrible living conditions. There were questions about his inconclusive autopsy and rumors that his final will had been signed under force. There were also strong suspicions about the freeloaders who’d attached themselves to him. The people closest to him “covered their tracks and plotted their defenses.” 

With access to the key players in Indiana’s life, author Bob Keyes brings us the riveting story that gives us a rare inside look into the life of an artist as well as the often world of high-end art. We learn about art dealers, law firms, and local characters in Maine whose lives crossed his. 

This is a look into the life and death of a contradictory American artist whose work touched millions even as he lived and died in isolation, without love but with the loss of hope a great deal of money.

“Victor Grayson: In Search of Britain’s Lost Revolutionary” by Harry Taylor — A Puzzle Solved

Taylor, Harry . “Victor Grayson: In Search of Britain’s Lost Revolutionary”, Pluto Press, 2021.

A Puzzle Solved

Amos Lassen

Victor Grayson was a radical iron whose disappearance is has never been solved. His story is filled with conspiracy, scandal and socialism, a firebrand and Labour Party politician who rose to prominence in the early twentieth century. He was idolized by hundreds of thousands of Britons but despised by the establishment. After a life filled with tumult, he walked out of his London apartment in September 1920 and was never seen again. 

Now a century later, new documents have appeared and these include fragments of an unpublished autobiography, letters to his lovers (both men and women), leading political and literary figures including H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, and testimonies from members of the Labour elite such as Clement Attlee that the real Victor Grayson. New research has uncovered the true events leading up to his disappearance and suggests that he was actually blackmailed by his former Party. 

It was a time when homosexuality was illegal, and socialism was an international threat to capitalism. Grayson became a clear target for those wanting to stamp out dissent. Now, this new biography brings back a man who laid the foundations for a whole generation of militant socialists in Britain.

App Kid: How a Child of Immigrants Grabbed a Piece of the American Dream” by Michael Sayman— A Coming-of-Age Memoir

Sayman, Michael. “App Kid: How a Child of Immigrants Grabbed a Piece of the American Dream”,Knopf, 2021.

A Coming-of Age Memoir

Amos Lassen

In “App Kid”, Michael Sayman brings us his  personal coming of age memoir. Sayman is one of Silicon Valley’s youngest entrepreneurs and a second-generation Latino immigrant who taught himself how to code when he was thirteen-years-old. He then went on to get his share of the American dream.

Michael Sayman taught himself “how to code.” Within a year, he had launched an iPhone app that made thousands of dollars a month. He went from high school straight into the professional world, and by the time he was seventeen, he was Facebook’s youngest employee ever, building new features that surprised Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and are today being used by more than half a billion people every day. Sayman pushed Facebook to build its own version of Snapchat’s Stories and, as a result and it was brilliantly successful.

Snapchat’s parent company suffered a billion-dollar loss in value. Then just three years later, Sayman moved to Google. 

Sayman went on to become an inspiration to thousands of kids everywhere. In this memoir, Sayman shares the highs and lows, the successes and failures, of his journey.

“Gay, Catholic, and American: My Legal Battle for Marriage Equality and Inclusion” by Greg Bourke— A Memoir

Bourke, Greg. “Gay, Catholic, and American: My Legal Battle for Marriage Equality and Inclusion”, University of Notre Dame Press, 2021.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

  Greg Bourke’s moving memoir “Gay, Catholic and American” is about growing up gay and overcoming discrimination in the battle for same-sex marriage in the United States.

Bourke grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and lived as a gay Catholic. He shares his early struggles for acceptance as an out gay man living in the South during the 1980s and ’90s and his unplanned transformation into an outspoken gay rights activist after being dismissed as a troop leader from the Boy Scouts of America in 2012. He was one of the named defendants in the landmark United States Supreme Court decision Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. After being ousted by the Boy Scouts of America, Bourke became a leader in the movement to amend antigay BSA membership policies. The Archdiocese of Louisville, and its opposition to marriage equality blocked Bourke’s return to leadership despite his record as a distinguished boy scout leader. In Louisville, Bourke and his husband, Michael De Leon, have been active members at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church for more than three decades. Their family includes two adopted children who attended Lourdes school and were brought up in the faith. The two men have dealt with being openly gay while remaining part of their parish life community. Bourke is unapologetically Catholic, and it is his faith that provides the framework his story; the story of how the Bourke De Leon family struggled to overcome antigay discrimination by both the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church and fought to legalize same-sex marriage across the country.

The fight for marriage equality documented by Bourke is fascinating. He authenticates the legal commitment and process and speaks to his battle for recognition within the Boy Scouts of America as a gay man and a Scout leader.

 

“The Life and Times of the Legendary Larry Townsend” by Jack Fritscher— Remembering Larry Townsend

Fritscher, Jack. “The Life and Times of the Legendary Larry Townsend”, Palm Drive Publishing, 2021.

Remembering Larry Townsend

Amos Lassen

It has been fifty years since Larry Townsend published “The Leatherman’s Handbook” that became a text that showed us how to use S&M as empowering therapy against PTSD. Now Jack Fritscher has written a tribute to the man who changed the lives of many. Townsend was an activist who dared to put on paper a lifestyle that was different and in doing so, he also acted against the homophobia of the times. Before Stonewall, Townsend wrote 80 books and helped to bring about gay publishing as he wrote about our culture and politics. He created a persona while living a private life and was able to lead the battle for other writers as he rallied against the censorship that saw consensual sadomasochism as pornography and he took on a way to deal PTSD that homophobia brought about. In his exploration of the gay leather scene from within, he opened the eyes of many. Since I am not a member of the leather or S&M scene, I knew little about it aside of what I have read het I must admit that Townsend’s “The Leatherman’s Handbook” has a special place in my library as part of our history. Fritscher’s book fills in the gaps and illuminates that history.

The importance of Townsend’s “Handbook” cannot be overstated. It has influenced and educated gay culture internationally and represents gay diversity. Fritscher shows us just how widespread that it influence was while at the same time giving us a look into the man himself. For Townsend to challenge censorship and mainstream life when he did was a major event and he offered ways to challenge homophobia which was raging when the book was published. What many do not realize is that there was a “politically-correct” gay establishment that attempted to dictate behavior and it was necessary to bring the leather aspect into that establishment. This is what Townsend did.

 Fritscher is the perfect person to bring Townsend’s story to us. Not only were the two men close friends, they both worked to tear down the walls of constraint.   I found myself turning pages as quickly as I could and I smiled and wept as I read. We take a trip back in time when gay life was very different than it is today. As we explore the gay S&M leather scene through Fritscher’s wonderful prose, we read a candid memoir of lives that are now gone but should never be forgotten.

Through memories, anecdotes, Townsend’s own writing and Fritscher’s explanations, we see the impact that Townsend had on our world. For those of you who do not know Fritscher, it is time to learn about him. He was the editor of “Drummer magazine” and is the author of twenty books and was a muse to Robert Mapplethorpe. Personally, I rank his importance to our community right up there next to Townsend and the other men who heralded a new age of gay life. Jack Fritscher knew Townsend for many years and we feel his love for the man on every page.

Over the years, Jack Fritscher and I have corresponded about our mutual interest for the late and great Tennessee Williams and I have treasured that. I am so glad that he is the one to bring Townsend back to us in a way that we feel that we have found a friend and a major influencer of how we live.