Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Before Pictures” by Douglas Crimp— A Story of a Life

Crimp, Douglas. “Before Pictures”, University of Chicago Press, 2016.

A Story of a Life

Amos Lassen

Douglas Crimp is an art critic whose work profoundly influenced a generation of artists. “Before Pictures” is the story of Crimp’s life as a young gay man and art critic in New York City during the late 1960s through the 1970s. Crimp participated in all aspects of what made the city so stimulating and he weaves his professional and personal life into the history of New York City at that time. He begins with his escape from his hometown in Idaho, and we quickly find Crimp writing criticism for “ArtNews” while he worked at the Guggenheim. At Chelsea Hotel Crimp helped “the down-on-his-luck couturier Charles James” organize his papers and he was a moviegoer until the art journal “October” was founded and where he was a central figure for many years. As he was developing his reputation as a critic, he also enjoyed the New York nightlife and this included drugs and late nights with the Warhol crowd at the Max’s Kansas City to discos. He casual sex with famous (and not-so-famous) men. As AIDS began to destroy the art and gay communities, Crimp eventually turned his attention to activism dedicated himself to rethinking AIDS. He here brings together biography and cultural history to give us a courageous account of an exceptional period in both Crimp’s life and the life of New York City. At the same time, this is a deeply personal and engaging way to get into important issues in contemporary art.

The book focuses on when Crimp curated a show called “Pictures”. He was a critic who was/is interested in how the arts merge into pop culture. He has a fascinating look at the disco era and the world of ballet. His memoir hits a lot of issues including his love for Manhattan. This is important gay cultural literature that gives us an insider’s view of the arts during the 1970s and through the 1980s.

“The Gay Preacher’s Wife: How My Gay Husband Deconstructed My Life and Reconstructed My Faith” by Lydia Meredith— A Personal Memoir

Meredith, Lydia. “The Gay Preacher’s Wife: How My Gay Husband Deconstructed My Life and Reconstructed My Faith”, Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing, 2016.

A Personal Memoir

Amos Lassen

Lydia Meredith, a woman spent almost thirty years married to a preacher and then her husband, Dennis left her for another man. —only to have her husband leave her for a MAN —and how her life becomes a testimony of tolerance and a theology of love and acceptance. Here she speaks for the first time about how that revelation shattered her world and strengthened her faith. This incident changed her life, to say the least and she struggled to put her life in order as a result. She enrolled in theological study in order to find a way to put her family back together and learned that Jesus’ ministry and teachings were really about teaching tolerance and love for people who are considered and labeled as different.

In 2013, Eddie Long, then a Memphis pastor was arrested for sexual battery on a minor. He had been allegedly sexually abusing a sixteen-year-old member of his church for two years. The teen reported the abuse to adults in the church. Instead of turning the pastor in to the authorities, the parishioners only prayed for the pastor. This caused public outrage and we then understand that this denial was not new and had actually been going on for years. We became aware of the abuses like this in the Catholic Church and Vatican not only turned a ignored the pedophilia among its ranks and it also covered up the crimes and protected the perpetrator.

We just know more about the scandals because of social media and a twenty-four-hour news cycle that demands information and this is certainly better than when children were not listened to. Men in powerful positions felt that they could get away with anything and many did.

What is so amazing here is Lydia’s ability to forgive. Each chapter of this book is its own story.

When they were dating, Lydia has already realized that Dennis was not for her but she married him anyway and things were basically okay until the birth of their third son at which point she noticed changes in him but was not sure what these changes were. When she found gay porn and confronted Dennis, he claimed to be bisexual. She did not know that he had already been having sex with many men as she went into denial and avoidance until she could no longer do so. She left him. Lydia is quite a person. She is both outraged and outrageous (sometimes in the same paragraph) and I just wished there was not so much useless information here. Yet there is also a lot of drama and it is fascinating to read.

 

“Are You in a Hurry, Dear?”: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Fabulous Hair” by Milton A. Buras— From New Orleans to New York

Buras, Milton A. “Are You in a Hurry, Dear?”: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Fabulous Hair”, CreateSpace, 2017.

From New Orleans to New York

Amos Lassen

While coming of age in New Orleans, Milton A. Buras knew he was different. While the other boys in his neighborhood were chasing after girls, he was looking at men. He couldn’t vocalize how he felt because in New Orleans in the 1950s, homophobia was everywhere.

However, when he discovered the French Quarter everything changed. It was there that Buras found a vibrant, supportive community of drag queens, hustlers, friends, and lovers all of who helped him in some way to accept himself. They gave him the courage to follow his dreams. Buras gained the courage to move to New York where he became famous as a hair stylist to the stars. He shares the New York of the AIDS epidemic and how that changed the world and what was to come later. This is a personal story as well as a look at a time that was and a song of hope for what is yet to come.

 

 

“Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs” by Dave Holmes— An Outsider Who Wants to Be Inside

Holmes, Dave. “Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs”, Three Rivers Reprint, 2017.

An Outsider Who Wants To Be Inside

Amos Lassen

Former MTV VJ Dave Holmes, brings us his very funny memoir of a perpetual outsider searching for self-acceptance set against the music of the ’80s, ’90s, and today as his soundtrack. It seems that

 Dave Holmes has spent his life on the periphery, wanting to get inside. Growing up, he was the artsy son in the sporty family. At school and college, he was the closeted gay kid surrounded by crush-worthy straight guys. And in his twenties, in the middle of a disastrous career in advertising, he accidentally became an MTV VJ overnight when he finished second in a contest.  Holmes even went so far as to constantly change who he was— a music geek but then he finally accepted himself. This is a book especially for those who have found their place in the world and it is both very, very funny and deeply nostalgic; a story about never fitting in, never giving up, and “letting good music guide the way”. We once again see the importance of that line in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” about memory and music.

All of us have at some times in our lives tried to fit in. Remember how we struggled in high school to be a member of the “A-List” groups only to discover that once we made it there was also an “A-list” plus group. If one has the right amount of human

human humility plus self-doubt, then this is a book for you. By reading about someone else’s hard times, we are helped with dealing with our own.

Holmes has the ability to immediately make friends with the reader and we remain right by his side during the read. Every time we open the book it is like having a reunion. What Holmes says here is smart, funny, self-deprecating and raw.

Reading his struggle to find himself when he was a teen helps others. The stories are filled with cultural references from the 80’s and 90’s and they are touching and thoughtful. He gives a voice to that younger, lonelier person that none of us have ever forgotten.

I didn’t watch MTV in the 90’s or at anytime as it was in its prime while I was living out of the country so that is not a measurement for me here. What is, however, is the relationships we form with each other and Holmes. Regardless of background or personal story, growing up and becoming an adult is difficult and we all experience it. Dave Holmes captures that beautifully and by sharing shared his own problems, he helps pave the way for other outsiders who want to be on the inside (and that is about 99% of us). However, I must say that this is a very specific book written for a specific audience. I do love that being gay is no longer the issue that it once was. Also, Holmes has the ability to slow moments and life down and thereby examine them to expose a but of truth. Holmes doesn’t shy away from discussing his early struggles with his sexuality as a closeted gay teen and he does so self-effacingly.

 

 

“Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression” by David Leite— A Candid Memoir

Leite, David. “Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression”, Dey Street, 2017.

A Candid Memoir

Amos Lassen

One of the wonderful advantages of being a review is that it opens me to books I perhaps would never have read. I have, until now, read very few books about food so reading “Notes on a Banana” was a complete revelation to me. David Leite keeps the website Culinaria and has been universally lauded as a chef but that is not what this memoir is about. Rather it is a look at a man who happens to be a chef and who now shares with us his candid story about family, food, mental illness, and sexual identity.

Leite was born into a family of Azorean immigrants and he grew up in the 1960s in a Catholic, blue-collar Portuguese home in Fall River, Massachusetts where food and the family really mattered. As a child he was a dreamer with determination, imagination and a flair for the dramatic. His mother nicknamed him “Banana” and called him as such. Leite dreamt of living in a middle-class house with a swinging kitchen door and fell in love with everything French and this he attributes to his Portuguese and French-Canadian godmother. He struggled with being a manic depressive and it seemed that the only way he found a sense of relief was through food— learning about it, watching Julia Child cook and his own cooking for others. In this book we read of his young years and self-acceptance and how he turned his love of food into a career that has brought him many awards. He writes of the people who helped to shape him and his career and at the ups and downs he encountered. He very bravely writes of the rejection he experienced because he is gay and his attempts and aspirations to becoming straight. He shares his experiences with Aesthetic Realism, a cult in Manhattan that claimed to be able to get others to accept their straight selves. Leite went on to become a writer, cookbook author, and web publisher. He writes of “The One”, Alan and their twenty-four year relationship. What I love here is that Leite never loses site of how he got to where he is and as we read, we see that he returns to his family and this keeps him grounded.

There is so much to enjoy here and I feel that I know David Leite now. Through his writing, he has become my friend. I am sure that this has to do with his braveness to speak out on mental disorder and sexuality. There were times that I laughed aloud as I read and there were times when I held back tears. This is what a memoir should be. The book will not hit stores until April and I suggest you look for it.

 

 

“You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Stories and Pictures” by Alan Cumming— Picture Essays

Cumming, Alan. “You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Stories and Pictures”, Rizzoli, 2016.

Picture Essays

Amos Lassen

In his own words and pictures, Alan Cumming takes us into his life that seems to use every adjective possible. “The New York Times: says that Cummings is a “a bawdy countercultural sprite” and “Time” has said that he is one of the most fun people in show business, Alan Cumming is an award-winning star of stage, television, and film, as well as a best-selling author. His personality is on every page of this book. “You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams” is made up of forty-five picture essays in which Cumming shares his life with us (even the decadent parts). He illustrates what he says with photographs and we learn of a strange bonding session he had with Elizabeth Taylor and all about his family and friends. We learn what Oprah had to say to him (that became the title of this book) and we are totally entertained. This is a rare self-portrait by an actor in an era when most are nervous about sharing too much.

What makes this such an interesting read is that it reads like gossip. It is filled with entertaining anecdotes, as well as personal reflections and we get an insightful commentary on how Cumming feels about America. It is also a poignant story of his journey through his life and Cumming does not hesitate in sharing intimate moments of his life.

 

 

“Rad Families: A Celebration” by Thomas Moniz— The Way Wd Create Family

Moniz, Tomas, editor. “Rad Families: A Celebration”, PM Press, 2016.

The Way We Create Family

Amos Lassen

There have been many books written about the family and I remember when I was an undergraduate that I took a Sociology course on the topic. The family was very different back then and so was the way we thought about family, This collection of essays does not tell us how we should raise children or be prefect parents. Instead the writers included here try to be both honest and vulnerable in sharing their stories and experiences as well as their failures and their regrets. The anthology brings together parents and writers from diverse communities as it explores the process of getting pregnant from trans birth to adoption, deals with issues of racism and police brutality, probes raising feminists and feminist parenting. We look at empty nesting and letting go. Some of the contributors are recognizable authors and activists but most are everyday parents who work, love and trying to build a better world. We are reminded that we are not alone and that community can help us get through difficulties and that we can become better people.

Contributors include Allison Wolfe, Ian MacKaye, Burke Stansbury, Simon Knaphus, Artnoose, Jennifer Lewis, Carla Bergman, Rachel Galindo, Dawn Caprice, Shawn Taylor, D.A. Begay, Airial Clark, Jeremy Adam Smith, Frances Hardinge, Jonathan Shipley, Bronwyn Davies Glover, Amy Abugo Ongiri, Mike Araujo, Craig Elliott, Eleanor Wohlfeiler, Scott Hoshida, Plinio Hernandez, Madison Young, Carvell Wallace, Dani Burlison, Brian Whitman, scott winn, Kermit Playfoot, Chris Crass, and many more. I found no recognizable names here but I did see recognizable and common situations. This is a collection for all families and it reminds us of what intimacy is.

“Transitioning Together: One Couple’s Journey of Gender and Identity Discovery” by Wenn B. Lawson— Surviving Against the Odds

Lawson, Wenn B. “Transitioning Together: One Couple’s Journey of Gender and Identity Discovery” , Jessica Kinglsley Publishers, 2017.

Surviving Against the Odds

Amos Lassen

“Transitioning Together” is the story of a relationship that survived the odds. There is a difference of twelve’s years between Wenn and Beatrice Lawson, born almost twelve years apart in different countries with different cultures. They were both assigned female gender at birth. However, after nineteen years of marriage and four children, Wenn became part of a same-sex relationship with Beatrice. Beatrice did not know that twenty-two years later, Wenn would transition from female to male. This is a memoir that is unique and honest as it relates the story of Wenn’s transition and Beatrice’s journey alongside him.

Co-written by Wenn and Beatrice, who are both on the autism spectrum, this story gives us a rare look into an older couple’s experience of transition, with particular emphasis on how Beatrice really felt about the changes. We read the true and candid story of the conflicts, challenges and growing celebration can occur when a couple transitions together. Not much research about autism includes aspects of gender and sexuality. This book is a many-layered account of discovering sexuality, exploring gender identity and living with autism. It is the story of overcoming obstacles of two people to find each other and to find themselves and a way to move forward together. This is the love story of Wenn and Beatrice that, through the years, became an exploration of gender and identity. This is the story of Beatrice and Wenn overcoming personal battles to come together as a lesbian couple in the mid-80s (a time when such things were unaccepted); then years later they faced coping again when Wenn realizes that he is a trans man. With the trans movement gaining steam so quickly, this is a very relevant story. This is a candid and beautiful look at the evolution of a relationship.

 

“The Secret Life of a Black Aspie: A Memoir” by Anand Prahlad— Quite a Memoir

Prahlad, Anand. “The Secret Life of a Black Aspie: A Memoir”, University of Alaska Press, 2017.

Quite a Memoir

Amos Lassen

Anand Prahlad was born on a former plantation in Virginia in 1954. He shares his story in this powerful and lyric memoir. Living in silence for the first four years of his life when he didn’t speak, he managed to communicate with the world in which he lived in his own way. Ordinary household objects came to life and the spirits of long-dead slave children were his best friends. He lived in a magical interior world in which “sensory experiences blurred, time disappeared, and memory was fluid”. He emerged slowly, learned to talk and eventually became an artist and educator. His journey took place at the beginning of the consolidated civil rights movement and a turbulent time in America. Here we experience the heights of the Civil Rights Movement and the West Coast hippie movement with Prahlad and we get to a college town where he continues to struggle with racism and its border state legacy. Prahlad’s life is rooted in black folklore and cultural ambience. He gives us new perspectives on autism and more and his book is enlightening and inspiring as we learn what it means to live in the margins of human existence.

“Good Night, Beloved Comrade: The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver” edited by Daniel J. Murtaugh— “Thrilling and Tormenting Gay Love”

Murtaugh, Daniel J. (editor). “Good Night, Beloved Comrade: The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver”, (Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies), University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

“Thrilling and Tormenting Gay Love”

Amos Lassen

Denton Welch (1915–48) died at the age of thirty-three after a brief but brilliant career as a writer and painter. As a novelist he was praised by the literati and critics in England and he inspired others. What makes him even more interesting is that he suffered from debilitating spinal and pelvic injuries incurred in a bicycle accident at age eighteen. Welch’s life was one lived in pain.

Even though England was beset by German bombs, Welch wrote about the idyllic landscapes and local people he observed in Kent. It was there, in Kent, in 1943, that he met and fell in love with Eric Oliver, a handsome, intelligent, but rather insecure agricultural worker with the wartime Land Army (a “landboy”). Oliver would become a companion, comrade, lover, and caretaker during the last six years of Welch’s life. In this volume, we have all fifty-one letters that Welch wrote to Oliver and they are annotated here for the first time. What we see in the letters is a historical record of life with its hardships, deprivation, and fear of World War II. They are “a timeless testament of one young man’s tender and intimate emotions, his immense courage in adversity, and his continual struggle for love and creative existence”.

This book shows us the value of letters—and this is something I think about a great deal. There was a time when letters were a source of history and I am afraid that with email we will not have access to the past as we once did. Considering when these letters were written and the feelings toward gay people back then, we are so lucky to have them and especially because of the picture that we get of a gay love affair that was in torment for so many reasons but primarily because people just could not accept two men in love with each other. We also get a look at disability and we see that it was not easy being Denton Welch. He died when he was just thirty-four years old and his death deprives us of so much that we might have read.

I love what William Burroughs had to say about Welch— “Whenever a student tells me he has nothing to write about I refer him to Denton Welch. It is time that Denton received the attention he deserves.” What I really find to be so amazing is the beauty of the letters that were written probably as Welch suffered great pain. In fact, his entire life from age eighteen was one of pain.