Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Road— Tommy and David Nutter, Brothers

Richardson, Lance. “House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row”, Crown Archetype. 2018

Tommy and David Nutter, Brothers

Amos Lassen

Lance Richardson shares the strange, illuminative true story of Tommy Nutter, the Savile Row tailor who changed men’s fashion—and his rock photographer brother, David, who captured it all on film.

 Tommy and David Nutter grew up in an austere apartment above a café that catered to truck drivers and they both boys seemed to be headed to lead rather humble lives in post-war London. Tommy became a civil servant and David was a darkroom technician. However, the strength of their imagination (and a little help from their friends) changed them into unlikely major players in a swinging cultural revolution.

 In 1969, when he was just twenty-six, Tommy opened an unusual new boutique on Savile Row. While shocking a haughty establishment resistant to change, “Nutters of Savile Row” became an immediate sensation among the young, rich, and beautiful and it charmed everyone from Bianca Jagger to the Beatles who wore Tommy’s designs on the album cover of “Abbey Road”. At the same time David’s across the Atlantic to New York City, where he found himself stars (Yoko Ono, Elton John) who enjoyed his dry wit almost as much as his photography.

This is quite a story about two gay men who influenced some of the most iconic styles and pop images of the twentieth century. Richardson uses interviews with more than seventy people and unparalleled access to never-before-seen pictures, letters, sketches, and diaries to give us a dual portrait of brothers improvising their way through fifty years of extraordinary events as their personal struggles played out against backdrops of the Blitz, an obscenity trial, the birth of disco, and the devastation of the AIDS crisis. Brothers Tommy and David

Tommy had no formal education as a fashion designer, and no advanced training as a tailor aside from his own “in-built feeling for clothes.” Nonetheless, he immediately found himself outfitting everyone from rock stars to members of parliament, Twiggy to Diana Ross. Within a few years, the “Evening Standard” pronounced Tommy “as established and as important as any British tailor or designer.” He gained quite a following in America that stretched from New York to Los Angeles. People raved about his Savile Row suits and his legacy is in menswear today.

 Today, his suits are now safeguarded in the Victoria & Albert Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tommy was friendly with Princess Margaret and joined her at galas in Venice and Munich. He was a gay man who managed to pull himself out of the working class using nothing more than his own imagination.

 Tommy Nutter was obsessed with his public image and was also gay. He personalized forty years of critical gay history. Tommy’s focus on outward appearances might have been a way for him to take control and overcome the more challenging aspects of his own experience. Tommy ultimately died from AIDS-related pneumonia in August 1992. The lives of many artists, performers, and designers were lost pre- maturely to the plague and have since been unfairly marginalized in the collective memory.

Tommy and David were two gay brothers, two halves of a larger, stranger whole and the book about them is an analysis of the British class system and the fashion industry, gay liberation and the Aids crisis, and it is written with flair and erudition.

It is the story is of two brothers who rose from modest north London origins to the fringes of international stardom.

What is unique here is that we are frequently reminded of the unremarkable humanity of celebrities and the variety of experiences in the book.

“The Art of Gay Cooking” by Daniel Isengart— Gay Cooking?

Isengart, Daniel. “The Art of Gay Cooking: A Culinary Memoir”, Outpost 19, 2018.

Gay Cooking?

Amos Lassen

Daniel Isengart is a cabaret performer and private chef in New York City who knows how to deliver one delectable meal after another with ease. Isengart sees home cooking as an essential part of living a creative life. Now Isengart has decided to share his life with readers in a very witty and well-written memoir that takes us from his grandmother’s kitchen in southern Germany to his formative childhood years in Paris to the attic apartment in Brooklyn Heights where he lives with his husband and to the fancy and posh homes of his clients in Manhattan and the Hamptons. He moves back and forth through intimate anecdotes and wry observations about the culinary world and over 250 easy-to-follow recipes. As he does, he explores his rich, gay life that is devoted to beauty and art where the home kitchen is always the focal point.

Isengart cleverly composed his memoir as an homage to “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook” and it apes Toklas’s idiosyncratic style and echoing her eccentric tone. He shows us that home cooking is not a lost art. This is also a memoir of his life in present-day New York. In sharing his various adventures and experiences as a European-born bohemian artist-performer who lives a double life as a private chef to the very rich, he has created a fascinating and delicious book that features experimental writing, anecdotes of the artistic life, queer theory as it explores the nature of love and devotion. However, this is first and foremost a book of instruction, with some very sound kitchen advice and recipes for people interested in doing a better kind of cooking. Having read it, I wanted Daniel J. Isengart and his husband to come spend a weekend with me. (Justin Spring is quite an erudite intelligent man that makes me want to write a cookbook so I can spend weekend with him). Isengart manages to give us a memoir of New York in the 1990s with all of its gossip and drama. “Daniel Isengart’s The Art of Gay Cooking is hugely entertaining, provocative, and useful–an Alice B. Toklas Cookbook for a new generation. I love this book.” – Luke Barr, author of Ritz and Escoffier and Provence, 1970. We explore if there is such a thing as “gay cooking”?

Gertrude Stein held her famous Parisian salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, where Pablo Picasso, who claimed various annoying eating restrictions, and Francis Picabia liked eggs. But to the next best thing, is in Brooklyn Heights where Alice B. Toklas is Daniel Isengart, 48, a former cabaret singer and a personal chef. He lives out his peculiar romantic culinary fantasy daily in the attic apartment he shares with his partner, Filip Noterdaeme, a conceptual artist.

Isengart writes things down and this is how he was able to write his memoir, “The Art of Gay Cooking.”He began performing in New York in the 1990s at Bar d’O and other places. He certainly knows the difference between himself and Toklas. Isengart wants us to live in a time when domesticity, or “dough-mysticism.”

The book is something of a blueprint “for kindling this love flame of dough-mysticity in your own home.” He includes recipes from Gertrude Stein, Toklas as well as many of his own. He teaches us about giving, gratitude and identity.

 

“Returning to Reims” by Didier Eribon— Sexuality and Class

Eribon, Didier. “Returning to Reims”, Alan Lane, 2018

Sexuality and Class

Amos Lassen

Didier Eribon tells us how sexual identity can clash with other aspects of a person’s identity from his own personal experiences. He does so by using the tools of sociological inquiry and critical theory. He grew up in a working class family in Reims, France but became a Parisian intellectual. His family was conservative, as is the case many times in provincial France yet he became one of France’s leading writes despite his humble beginnings.

After the death of his father(in Reims), Eribon returned home where he again met the working class world that he had known as youth but pushed into the back of this mind. He had moved to Paris some 30 years earlier. Eribon had always considered his father to be a homophobe; an intolerable bigot but with his father death, he began intense self-reflection and realized that his father, like others in Reims, was the product of the intersection of domination and culture. He begins to investigate his own past, his family’s history and the road that he had personally journeyed on. Eribon comes to the conclusions about the class system in France, the role of education in the creation of self, how sexual and cultural identities are formed and the latest history of French politics which allowed for the shifting voting patterns of the working class as seen in his own family who had moved from the Communist Party to the National Front.

This personal reflection is also a look at the direction that leftist politics have taken in today’s contemporary world. Eribon’s own questions about social class, sexuality, and intellectual community show us a “ complex, frequently conflicted confluence of social and psychic identities.”

I remember when the book was first published in France in 2009 and the enthusiastic reception it received but it took us almost five years until an English translation was available. We are lucky to have a very readable and very beautiful translation which makes this not only a fascinating and compelling read but one that is totally educative. The following quote by Eribon himself summarizes briefly what you will find here:

“On thinking the matter through, it doesn’t seem exaggerated to assert that my coming out of the sexual closet, my desire to assume and assert my homosexuality, coincided within my personal trajectory with my shutting myself up inside what I might call a class closet”.

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

Lesbian Fiction

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado, Graywolf Press

Gay Fiction

After the Blue Hour, John Rechy, Grove Press

Bisexual Fiction

The Gift, Barbara Browning, Coffee House Press

Bisexual Nonfiction

Hunger, Roxane Gay, HarperCollins

Transgender Fiction

Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, Bogi Takács (ed), Lethe Press

LGBTQ Nonfiction

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Haymarket Books

Transgender Nonfiction

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity, C. Riley Snorton, University of Minnesota Press

Lesbian Poetry

Rock | Salt | Stone, Rosamond S. King, Nightboat Books

Gay Poetry

While Standing in Line for Death, CA Conrad, Wave Books

Transgender Poetry

recombinant, Ching-In Chen, Kelsey Street Press

Lesbian Mystery

Huntress, A.E. Radley, Heartsome Publishing

Gay Mystery

Night Drop, Marshall Thornton, Kenmore Books

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Flatiron Books

Gay Memoir/Biography

Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man, Chike Frankie Edozien, Team Angelica Publishing

Lesbian Romance

Tailor-Made, Yolanda Wallace, Bold Strokes Books

Gay Romance

Love and Other Hot Beverages, Laurie Loft, Riptide Publishing

LGBTQ Erotica

His Seed, Steve Berman, Unzipped Books

LGBTQ Anthology

¡Cuéntamelo! Oral Histories by LGBT Latino Immigrants, Juliana Delgado Lopera, Aunt Lute Books

LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult

Like Water, Rebecca Podos, Balzer + Bray

LGBTQ Drama

The Gulf, Audrey Cefaly, Samuel French

LGBTQ Graphic Novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Emil Ferris, Fantagraphics Books

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Tor Books

LGBTQ Studies

Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness, Trevor Hoppe, University of California Press

“Thirty Years a Dresser” by Dennis Milam Bensie— Behind the Scenes

Bensie, Dennis Milam. “Thirty Years a Dresser”, Coffeetown Press 2018.

Behind the Scenes

Amos Lassen

As a teenager in the early 1980s, Dennis Bensie knew he wanted to be in theater. Early on, he realized that becoming an actor was a goal he would not reach and so he began to work with costumes. He did this at first with summer stock companies and then with union houses. He was ready to work wherever he could find it. He soon learned that a dresser in the theater was also a nurse, a psychologist, a tailor, a personal shopper, a magician, a bodyguard, a maid, a scout, and a confidant.

Bensie takes us behind-the-scenes and shares the dish and drama during a wide range of productions including Metamorphoses, The Light in the Piazza, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion–The Musical to The Sound of Music (three times). He has stories about Lynn Redgrave, Rosie O’Donnell, Freddy Kruger’s mother, and a nameless Tony Award winner. Having once worked backstage as dramaturge for a major production of Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer”, I have to agree with Bensie that the best seat in the house is backstage. You not only get to see the show but you get all the gossip as well.

Bensie shares many unique behind the scenes moments and fun perspectives making everyone trying to get a job backstage. This is so much morethan a memoir of behind the scenes. It is a look at what happens back stage and if anyone should know that it is Dennis Bensie who has been backstage (as a dresser) for more than thirty years. I have no idea how he can remember all that he includes but I am glad that he has.

Bensie has worked on some of the great (as well as some not-so-great shows. A dresser has the job of getting the actor(s) changed quickly and ready for the next scene. Most of the time, costume changes move smoothly but not always and we see that were times when parts of costumes were overlooked or left behind. Bensie gives us some wonderfully funny examples having to do with missing underclothing.

We forget that it is possible to see the audience from backstage once in a while and we have stories here of people in the audience who did not behave as they should have. Cell phones add to these, for example. Backstage cell phones can be problems as well and there are actors who seem to not have the ability to hang up. But cell phones are only part of the issue about the behavior of the actors themselves. For those stories, you will have to get a copy of the book.

Bensie’s stories are just fun and we actually learn a bit bout human behavior by reading them. Whether it is the person or the situation that leads to the humor, it makes no difference since it is all in fun.

“Excuse Me While I Slip into Someone More Comfortable” by Eric Poole— Looking Back

Poole, Eric. “Excuse Me While I Slip into Someone More Comfortable”, Rosetta Books , 2018.

Looking Back

Amos Lassen

I firmly believe that we all should be able to laugh at ourselves yet for whatever reason, we do not enjoy doing so. Nonetheless Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris who not only are able to do but to also have a career doing just that. Eric Poole is ready to join them and in “Excuse Me While I Slip into Someone More Comfortable”, he shares both the happiness and pain he endured during his childhood years and yes, and a lot of it is very funny.

We go back to 1997 when Poole was a very talented high school trumpet player with one ear that worked fine. He was the target of the bullies in his world. His mother seemed to always be busy cleaning whatever she could with Lemon Pledge. Poole wants to be a star and he doesn’t care what kind of star— he just knows that is what he wants. He worships Barry Manilow, Halston, Tommy Tune, and Shirley MacLaine. He emulates these celebrities in hopes of becoming anyone but himself. Living in St. Louis does not situation as we can well imagine. As an adolescent he looks around trying to see where would be the best place to bring and use his talents (and we must understand these are the talents that HE thinks he has. He is not sure what he wants to be and his choices are “oh so” gay— A trumpet soloist (not so gay by oral sex lovers), perhaps an actor who can sing and dance or maybe a fashion designer. These are certainly not the kinds of jobs that are always out there. He also would like to be the son that brings his parents’ joy and pride. He ultimately learns that in order to succeed at anything, he must figure out who he really is. Here is his story— it is a

“journey from self-delusion to acceptance is simultaneously hysterical, heartfelt, and inspiring.” And as we read, we laugh and cry along with him. He stays in the closet of his won making until he is finally ready to come out and never return. His stories are real and from the heart and the heartland. We do not get a lot of gay memoirs about the Midwest so this is a special treat and the fact that it is fun read makes it much more special.

There is also great sensitivity here and there are moments that you will tearing up at the same time that you are grinning. There are not many books that can do that. Writer Poole has no problem saying things that we think but will probably never say and just for that, this is a book worth reading… but be prepared, you will find so much more.

“Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death” by Lillian Faderman— A Gay Icon

Faderman, Lillian. “Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death”, Yale University Press, 2018.

A Gay Icon

Amos Lassen

I did not know Harvey Milk (like everyone else claims— well, maybe not everybody, just those thousands who claim that they were at Stonewall and Woodstock, etc.). I was already living out of the country when he came to be known and he was gone before I returned to this country. What I do know about Milk comes from reading and the excellent films about him. I cannot think of anyone who I would rather have tell me the story of Harvey Milk than Lillian Faderman since I have enjoyed all of her books… and besides we are both Jewish and gay (but she is famous).

Harvey Milk was an elegant, eloquent and charismatic gentleman who had managed, practically on his own, to be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Unfortunately for him and for us, he had not even been a full year in office when he was shot by a homophobic fellow supervisor. He was only 48-yeard-old and his death made him the most famous gay man of modern times. Milk was certainly influential and deeply loved and his loss of life was our loss of a very important friend. He had not set out to be a politician. He had been a teacher, a securities analyst, had worked on Broadway as a theater assistant and in politics for the election of Barry Goldwater.

Milk opened a camera store in San Francisco and soon became a leader in his community. He let go of organized religion and rejected Judaism yet remained “deeply influenced by the cultural values of his Jewish upbringing and his understanding of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust”. He decided to run for public office as a champion of the LGBT community, racial minorities, women, working people, the disabled and senior citizens— those who were marginalized in American life. He worked very hard to become a successful public figure with a distinct political voice.

This biography is part of the Yale “Jewish Lives” series and writer Faderman places emphasis on Milk’s Jewish cultural identity. He was twice an outsider— once for being gay and once for being Jewish. It is important to realize that his politics were influenced heavily by his family history and the basic tenets of Jewish liberalism just as they were by his sexual identity. Faderman did outstanding research to write this and then wrote the story in her beautiful prose, showing how his Jewish identity deeply informed his experiences and his politics.

Faderman introduces us to a Harvey Milk as part of the larger LGBT community so we actually get two histories here. We read of political contradictions, “human peculiarities” while gaining an analytic look at the LGBT movement overall thus making this a comprehensive history of gay rights.

“Body to Job” by Christopher Zeischegg— An Adult Film Career

Zeischegg, Christopher (Danny Wylde). “Body to Job”, Rare Bird Books, 2018.

An Adult Film Career

Amos Lassen

Former porn star, Christopher Zeischegg (aka Danny Wylde) has written a wonderful memoir of his adult film career and the life that came after he exited the movies. While this is not the first memoir by an ex-porn star I have read, it is by far the best and I suspect that this is because Zeischegg took the time to hone his writing in two other novels (reviewed here). Zeischegg writes about youthful naiveté, sex worker love, pro-porn activism, disenchantment, and violence and he does so as a man who knows how to write. I first must tell you that the book is quite explicit in the way it looks at vulnerability, longing, terror, and life. It is also unforgettable.

I have always thought that those who become porn stars are condemned to be jaded for the rest of their lives and I am glad that this is not true, especially for Chris Zeischegg who shows us how we remain human in spite of, and because of, our experiences. The read here is a journey that takes us through periods of “lust, numbness, love, and the feeling that comes from ‘somewhere just as deep as love”. Zeischegg emphasizes that a porn star begins as a person and ends as a person.

Knowing the quality of the author’s writing, I decided that I would read the entire book in one sitting and if you can do the same, I recommend doing so. For one thing, we get an excellent deconstruction of the sex trade and of the stigma of the sex worker the and bisexual male stigma. We immediately sense the author’s vulnerability and confidence.

I have always believed that to work in the sex trade is to live a life that is very dark and it is so here but with the author lighting up that world so that we can what the darkness hides.

Zeischegg came to the world of porn where (and I quote this because it is beautifully written) “the dark, rapey landscape of homophobic, sexist porn culture where intimacy is ill-advised and the human heart aches eternal.” We meet a man whose desires are pushed aside in a world where sex is work and not an expression of love. Sex was a mean to survive financially; it was a paycheck that changed it from an emotion to a routine. Christopher was a crossover performer (bisexual porn performer) who found no place in either gay and straight groups and we are with him as he moves from paying john to girlfriend to boyfriend and to performer on screen. I immediately saw that there was nonsense of direction but there was almost non-stop movement. He experienced a life of fluid sexuality that was as naked as he was.

I think what surprised me most about Christopher Zeischegg is that he is not only a fine writer but he has a sense of awareness about who he is and the world in which he leaves, In a way this invalidates how we usually think of porn stars (although I have to hand to Stormy Daniels especially if she is able to bring down the President). As I mentioned earlier, this is not the first book that I have read by

Zeischegg so I already knew that I liked his writing. What really drew me to this book is his honesty about his life and about who he is. He has the ability to bring together fact, fiction, poetry, art, violence, love, humor and magical realism and he does so with style and grace (not a word commonly used on porn stars). Zeischegg sees the sex industry as just another option for the smart, educated, and aimless until he realizes differently.

When I first read Chris Zeischegg I knew that he is special. His voice is fresh and original and I knew that there were stories that would come out that would surprise us by their quality. I love that he can make the personal become universal and global.

We see the raw humanity behind porn where I doubt we consider that reality even exists. Porn is a fantasy world that thrives almost entirely on what is not real. Zeischegg shares that dark word with fearlessness. I do not usually read porn (although there are a couple of writers that write what I call literary porn that I am always ready to read). This too is porn or at the very least very bold. But what we have here is so beautifully written and so sincere that I am okay saying that it is XXX but I am willing to call it porn.

There are shocks and revelations aplenty here and there is sorrow, boredom, desperation, happiness and craziness. Here is one little story that I love. “Of course, there were all the practical reasons for doing porn: money, validation, trying to get through school, etc. But in regards to my desire to write, porn gave me material to explore. I didn’t need to go out and research something. I was living it. The research was my life.”

The book blurs the line between memoir and fiction making the reader guess what is real and what isn’t and this was fun for me. Even though I do not give stars or ratings to the books that I review, I am making an exception by giving this book five big fat shiny stars and totally recommend it.

“Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality” by Sarah McBride— Identity and Equality

McBride, Sarah. “Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality”, Crown Archetype, 2018.

Identity and Equality

Amos Lassen

Sarah McBride is the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention and she did so in 2016 at the age of twenty-six. She had struggled with the decision to come out and not just to her family but also to the students of American University, where she was serving as student body president. She had known she was a girl from her earliest memories, but it wasn’t until her Facebook post announcing the truth went viral that she then understood realized just how much impact her story could have on the United States.

Now, four years later, McBride is one of the nation’s most prominent transgender activists. She advocates inclusive legislation, and addressed the country in the midst of a heated presidential election. She has also found her first love and future husband, Andy, a trans man and fellow activist, who complemented her in every way but that’s another story. . . . or is it?

I was filled with emotion as I read and I realized that McBride is the kind of hero that the trans community needs. Her story is one of love and loss and what it means to be transgender.

“Tomorrow Will Be Different” is McBride’s story of love and loss and a powerful entry point into the LGBTQ community’s battle for equal rights.  Important political and cultural milestones are also part of McBride’s personal journey into a personal journey and she reminds us that: “We must never be a country that says there’s only one way to love, only one way to look, and only one way to live.” We must agree that even with all of the freedoms that the LGBT community has achieved that the fight for equality and freedom has only just begun (especially when we see who is running this country today).

The story is touching yet it also makes us think and there were times that my eyes filled with tears. Only those who have been born into the wrong body can possibly understand what a trans person has to deal with and this book really knocked it out. In the lest few years, McBride has experienced enough for several lifetimes and she shares both the highs and the lows with us. This book is more than a memoir, it is also a thoughtful analysis of contemporary political issues including bathroom access and trans health care.” It is a brave and moving story that will inspire and galvanize readers to fight for LGBTQ rights. McBride defines what is at stake, and how we can do better.

McBride deftly balances her life story with revolutionary fervor. With a leader like her, we can believe that it indeed tomorrow will be different for not just the LGBT community but for everyone.

“History of Violence: A Novel” by Edouard Louis— An Autobiographical Novel

Louis, Edouard. “History of Violence: A Novel”, translated by Lorin Stein, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.

An Autobiographical Novel

Amos Lassen

  1. Edouard Louis’s “History of Violence” autobiographical novel about surviving a shocking sexual assault and coping with the post-traumatic stress disorder of its aftermath has been an international bestseller and now is available in English.

On Christmas Eve 2012, in Paris, the novelist Louis was raped and almost murdered by a man he had just met. For Louis that was a shattering act of violence that made him a stranger to himself, so much so that it caused his return to the village, the family, and the past he had sworn to leave behind.

The story moves back and forth between past and present and between Louis’s voice and the voice of an imagined narrator. We read of the casual racism and homophobia of French society and the subtle effects these have on lovers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. We see the suffering that cones f from exclusion, domination, and poverty. Having grown up in poverty, we are taken back to the first book that Louis wrote, “The End of Eddy” in which he described growing up gay in a working class village in the north of France. We read of the harassing incidents that followed the rape as the novel examines guilt, homophobia and racism and we get a close look at the nature of violence and the dynamics that bring about an escalation of such violence. At times, it as if we are reading a police report. Louis is a masterful writer and an emotional force. We see that when one is confronted with violence, it is usually then reproduced against others and that the cult of masculinity often arises because of it.

This is not an easy book to read because it is so real yet it is an important book and a wonderful addition to the canon of LGBT literature and literature in general. The novel gives a give a voice to those affected by violence and reveals the sentiment of invisibility that strikes the dispossessed as well as critiques the values of the culture of violence.