Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Lou Sullivan: Daring To Be a Man Among Men” by Dr. Brice Smith— A Pioneer

Smith, Brice D, Dr. “Lou Sullivan: Daring To Be a Man Among Men”, Transgress Press, 2017.

A Pioneer

Amos Lassen

Transgender pioneer Lou Sullivan (1951-1991) is one of the most overlooked people in LGBT history. Thanks to Brie D. Smith that will no longer be the case. Smith has written a heart-wrenchingly inspirational biography about the person who “marched for Civil Rights, embraced the 1960s counterculture, came of age in the gay liberation movement, transformed medical treatment of trans people, institutionalized trans history, forged an international female-to-male (FTM) transgender community and died from AIDS at the epicenter of the crisis”. Sullivan overcame tremendous obstacles to be who he was and dedicated his life to helping others do the same. He was an activist throughout his entire life and inspired a generation to rethink gender identity, sexual orientation and what being human means.

Lou Sullivan was a native of Milwaukee and founder of the trans movement. Writer Brice uses Sullivan as a way to understand what it means to be transgender. Here we read about Lou’s life in a way that gives understanding and filled in gaps about being transgender. Smith puts his lens in the community in the 70s and 80s when the transgender issue was rarely spoken about and we see just how all of this has changed.

Smith uses Lou’s diaries and letters to give us his story that is actually a tribute to one who did so much for the trans movement. He especially is wonderful at placing Lou Sullivan within the context of the LGBT movement moments and “capturing Lou’s contribution to the development of an international female to male collective consciousness and the burgeoning community of men mentoring men”.

“Coming of Age: The Sexual Awakening of Margaret Mead” by Deborah Beatriz Blum— A Coming-of-Age Story

Blum, Deborah Beatriz. “Coming of Age: The Sexual Awakening of Margaret Mead”, Thomas Dunne, 2017.

A Coming-of-Age Story

Amos Lassen

Anthropologist Margaret Mead’s radical ideas challenged the social and sexual norms of her time. Here her story begins in 1923, when she was twenty-two years old and living in New York City. She was then engaged to her childhood sweetheart and on the verge of graduating from college. She marries but decides to keep her maiden name shocking her friends and family. After starting graduate school at Columbia University, she becomes involved in a relationship with a female colleague and then becomes part of an all-consuming and secret affair with a brilliant older man. She discovers it is possible to be in love with more than one person at the same time.

At the same time that her personal explorations were just beginning, her interest in distant cultures took her into anthropology. Mead ignored the constraints put on women and traveled alone to Samoa to study the sexual behavior of adolescent girls. Returning home some nine months later, a chance encounter changed the course of her life forever.

Drawing on letters, diaries, and memoirs, Deborah Beatriz Blum researched letters, diaries and memoirs to reconstruct the five transformative years of Margaret Mead’s life before she became famous and we get the story that Mead hid from the rest of the world.

This is the story of how Margaret Mead became her own person in a world that frowned individualism from its women. Mead wanted to live her life as she chose to live it. As she strove for personal fulfillment, she upended the academic world and changed the ways researchers were viewed. These five years were packed with success and failure as well as disappointment and joy. They were also a turning point in Mead’s self-perception allowing her to be the woman she wanted to be.

This is such wonderful read but I suggest that before you begin it, clear your day since it is very difficult to stop reading. There were moments that I felt like I was reading fiction instead of biography and this shows me the expertise of author Blum.

 

 

“Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home”, By Nicole Georges— A Memoir

Georges, Nicole J. “Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home”, Mariner Books, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

When Nicole Georges was sixteen-years-old, she adopted Beija, a dysfunctional shar-pei/corgi mix. Beija was something of a combination of tiny and attack, much like Nicole herself and for the next fifteen years, Beija would be the one constant in Nicole’s life. They were together through depression, relationships gone awry, and growing up in the Portland punk scene.

This is a graphic novel that follows the symbiotic, codependent relationship between woman and dog and it probes what it means to care for and be responsible to another living thing. There was one problem however and that was that Beija was not when we would call a nice dog. Nicole turns to vets, dog whisperers, and even a pet psychic for help, but it is the moments of accommodation, adaption, and compassion that sustain them. While Nicole was never able to teach her dog to do something successfully yet Beija taught Nicole a great deal.

This is the story of a beautiful and incomparable friendship that shows the bond between humans and animals.

This was a difficult book for me since I just had to give up Sophie, my Jack Russell “terrorist” who has been with me for twelve years and I really miss her. Sophie barks a lot and while there have been a few complaints over the five years that Sophie and I have lived in an apartment in Boston, one of the tenants complained daily about the barking and I was told that if I wanted to continue to live here, I would have to give her up and that was perhaps the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

Nicole Georges gives us a gorgeous graphic novel that is “part grief memoir, part coming-of-age story and part feminist manifesto”. We are with her as she goes from teen to adult and “from feral child to leader of the pack”. The drawings of animals add a very strong nonverbal element to the narrative. We see that Nicole is a survivor who has been through constant disappointments and she has faced and survived the challenges of owning a rescue dog.

It was when Beija came into Nicole’s life that she finally learned what love is really all about. We see the impetuousness of youth and its inevitable consequences. We also see the depth of a hard forged relationship between human and canine, along with the comfort it can provide.

Here is the story of unhappy childhood, struggles with depression and self-harm, and the search for her sexual identity while at the same time it is the story of a bad dog.

Beija was far from the perfect pet but she was good for Nicole and she wonderfully captures that here.

 

 

“Empire Made: My Search for an Outlaw Uncle Who Vanished in British India” by Kief Hillsbery— Love Found and Loyalties Left Abandoned

Hillsbery, Kief. “Empire Made: My Search for an Outlaw Uncle Who Vanished in British India”, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Love Found and Loyalties Left Abandoned

Amos Lassen

Kief Hillsbery’s “Empire Made” is the story of a 19th century English gentleman in British India that has been lost in time for generations. It has been a source of family mystery” of love found and loyalties abandoned” that can finally be told.

In 1841, twenty-year-old Nigel Halleck left for Calcutta to clerk in the East India Company. He went on to serve in the colonial administration for eight years before suddenly and abruptly leaving the company under suspicion and disappearing somewhere in the mountain kingdom of Nepal and was never heard from again. Most of the hints of his life were destroyed in the bombing of his hometown during World War II, Nigel was never quite forgotten and he remained the myth of the man who headed East and disappeared. This story was carried down in the family for generations.

Author Kief Hillsbery is Nigel’s nephew many times removed and he embarked on his own expedition, spending decades researching and traveling through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal in the footsteps of his long-lost relation hoping to find out what happened to his uncle. We are taken back to a moment in time when the British Empire extended around the world. Hillsbery’s book is both a powerful history and a personal journey that brings together a clash of civilizations and the search to discover one’s own identity as well as the emotional tale of one man against an empire. We see through Nigel’s story how difficult it was to escape one’s preordained class and societal expectations in Victorian England. Gossip never really helps anything and it was gossip about the homosexual life style that drove Nigel to disappear as he did.

The book is part travelogue, part family memoir and a wonderful story all the way through. We know that Nigel wrote many letters home and it was from these that Hillsbery was able discern Halleck’s jobs and journeys. Added within the tale of Halleck, Hillsbery shares his own fascination with India and his travels which he began as a student in the mid-1970’s. On that first trip, he traveled through present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India and looked for the places mentioned in Halleck’s letters. Some he found while others no longer exist anymore. He was also trying to find Halleck’s gravesite and the cause of death. There had been some speculation that Halleck ended up being eaten by a tiger, after having given up his British identity in Nepal.

We get an incredible look at the Raj, with the politics, economics, and societal factors written from primary sources. Hillsbery dwells on topics from personal identity to the sexual habits of male Pashtuns. Some of these are unnecessary yet fun to read. Because Nigel’s story is so mixed up, it is often difficult to follow so I do not recommend this to be bedtime reading. The narrative moves back and forth between the uncle’s story, the author’s personal story, historical background of the times, and whatever else the author wanted to write about.

 

“My Father’s Closet” by Karen McClintock— Learning About Dad

McClintock, Karen. “My Father’s Closet”, Trilium, 2017.

Learning About Dad

Amos Lassen

Whenever I read something like Karen McClintock’s “My Father’s Closet”, I realize just how far we have come in this country regarding the LGBT community. Karen never really knew her gay father and as she searches for information about him some thirty years after his death, we are pulled into the story as a family deals with secrets, losses and infidelities yet there is still love there.

McClintock’s parents fell in love and married, while overseas in Germany and the man whom Karen believes became her father’s lover was concealing his Jewish and gay identities in order to escape to America. Through a set of her father’s journals and correspondence between her mother and father during World War II as well as by way of a painting, we find a secret.

Children yearn for the parents that are not there for them and sometimes this leads to complex feelings of abandonment. We see the McClintocks as resilient even with hidden lovers, nosey neighbors, and surprise lovers. On the outside, the McClintocks looked to be a wholesome and Midwestern in Columbus, However, on the inside, “a bewildering emotional vacuum” was coming into being and “taking a complicated toll”. We learn of the details of her father’s double life as Karen writes from a loving heart and an open mind. She shares the pain that was a result of her father’s “closet” life and she writes with compassion. She understands how it must have been for her parents and that together with her love for them, allowed her to reach a place of forgiveness.

For much of her life, McClintock thought her father, Charles, might be gay, even though he remained married to her mother. Karen tells us that she never really knew the man she called my father. In writing this memoir she attempts to discover her father’s hidden side using his journals and speaking with those who knew him. Many men and women live these secret lives, hiding their sexual orientation–even from themselves–until the attraction to someone of the same sex can no longer be denied.

We must remember that at the time this all took place, the world was quite different. There were very few public images of gay men and the word “gay” was still new in the vocabulary. Karen’s father, Charles was in college during the McCarthy era’s when communists and homosexuals were considered as subversive and there were few people who were open about their sexuality. The gay life that took place back then was underground and hidden from public view.

When he was 19, Charles wrote in his journal that he thought that life with Alice would always be “lovely and uncomplicated.” However, many of our most important decisions are made without enough information. We want to know, as did Karen, when the change came from women to men but there was not a specific date or event. This sexuality happens when sexual desire, sexual behavior and sexual identity come together that one discovers his true sexuality or so I have been told. For a married man to deal with this is quite serious. Does one break the marriage vow (remember the time) and leave the family? Is it better to remain married and essentially live a lie?

When attraction, desire and behavior come together and do not remain static, evolution into something complex begins. What makes this different than other books written by “betrayed” spouses is that this comes from an adult child of a parent who comes out.

Karen McClintock writes with her heart as she struggled to understand and become close to her father, the man who kept her at a distance in order to protect necessary illusions. We see here the price our society has brought from its gay people (and their families) who “refused to marginalize themselves simply because the absolute truth of their hearts did not fit the accepted mold.” 

Here is a book with both sadness and love that beautifully explores the fears of being different and where those fears often lead. The book is beautifully written and we feel the pain and the sadness that Karen McClintock has had to deal.

 

 

 

“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