Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Travels with Penny: True Travel Tales of a Gay Guy and His Mom” by David Alan Morrison— A Different Kind of Family

Morrison, David Alan. “Travels with Penny: True Travel Tales of a Gay Guy and His Mom”, Dam Publishers, 2017.

A Different Kind of Family

Amos Lassen

David Alan Morrison has written a very funny memoir about family dynamics. When his father died suddenly, his life changed totally. He was a single, middle-aged gay guy struggling with his own mortality and he does so by reminiscing about travels with his gregarious mother and discovering a new dimension to his relationship with himself, his parents and his regrets. “Travels With Penny” is a candid look at the transformation of relationship between children and their parents. It seems that just when his relationship with his family became steady, his father died and he had to deal with both that and his mother. Be prepared to laugh loudly as she read and you might want to make sure that there is no one else around so people will not think you lost it.

 

“Learning What Love Means” by Mathieu Lindon— Mathieu and Michel

Lindon, Mathieu. “Learning What Love Means”, translated by Bruce Benderson, Semiotext(e) / Native Agents, 2017.

Mathieu and Michel

Amos Lassen

In 1978, Mathieu Lindon was 23 years old when he met Michel Foucault. Lindon was part of a small group of jaded but innocent, brilliant, and sexually ambivalent friends who came to know Foucault. At first they were the caretakers of Foucault’s apartment on rue de Vaugirard when he was away but they eventually shared their time, drugs, ambitions, and writings with the older existential philosopher. Lindon’s friend, the late Herve Guibert, was a key figure within this group. Lindon was the son of the renowned founder of Editions de Minuit and Lindon grew up with Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Samuel Beckett as family friends. Much was expected of him but it was through his friendship with Foucault (who was simply an older friend) that he found the direction that would influence the rest of his life.  

The book is a collage of free-associated episodes and interpretations that together teach about how to love. It is “a story of conversion testifying to an author’s radical change of viewpoint, which leads to his invitation into the social world through lessons about love.” It is also a meditation on friendship that gives insight into a part of Foucault’s life and work that until now, remained unknown.

“I loved Michel as Michel, not as a father. Never did I feel the slightest jealousy or the slightest embitterment or exasperation when it came to him.  … I was intensely close to Michel for a full six years, until his death, and I lived in his apartment for close to a year. Today I see that time as the period that changed my life, my cut-off from a fate leading to the precipice. In no specific way I’m grateful to Michel, without knowing for exactly what, for a better life.” — from  “Learning What Love Means”.

“After Andy: Adventures in Warhol Land” by Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni— An Insider’s Account of Warhol

Fraser-Cavassoni, Natasha. “After Andy: Adventures in Warhol Land”, Blue Rider Press, 2017.

An Insider’s Account of Warhol

Amos Lassen

Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni gives us an insider’s account of working in Andy Warhol’s studio and “Interview” magazine and as she does, she explores Warhol’s impact on the art world, pop culture, society, and fashion and shows how his iconic status gave rise to some of our most influential tastemakers today.

Fraser-Cavassoni met Andy Warhol when she was sixteen, and then on and off over the years before moving to New York City and coming to “Warhol Land” as she calls his studio. She take us deep into Warhol’s world and also into that place in the stratosphere where socialites, fashion icons, film stars, rock legends, and art world powerhouses could be found orbiting the artist. This was where she was and where she worked with Fred Hughes, Brigid Berlin, Vincent Fremont, and others who were once part of the Factory clan and she was the last person hired at the studio before Warhol died in 1987. Fraser-Cavassoni saw firsthand the end of an era and the establishment of a global phenomenon. She witnessed the behind-the-scenes disagreements and the assessment of his estate, which included the magazine and his art inventory and the record-breaking auction of his belongings and the publication of his diaries. Now she examines the immediate aftermath of Warhol’s death and his impact, which ranged from New York to Los Angeles and throughout Europe. She includes interviews with key figures of the art world and dozens of Warhol intimates. She tells all about Warhol and his inner circle and does so in some very funny anecdotes and some serious and hard-hitting interviews while she “ explores Warhol’s indelible impact on the art world and pop culture.” This is an expose of the glamour of Warhol’s world. Fraser-Cavassoni pays sharp attention to detail and the fashion, interiors, conversation of the time is all here showing us that as she searched for herself, she found Warhol land.

The prose is filled with grace, hilarity and enthusiasm as the book moves between past and present looking at the author’s own social and professional life. This is a candid and fascinating look at a society that we will never see again.

 

“Hung Like a Seahorse: A Real-Life Transgender Adventure of Tragedy, Comedy, and Recovery” by Quinn Alexander Fontaine— Why We Are Here

Fontaine, Quinn Alexander. “Hung Like a Seahorse: A Real-Life Transgender Adventure of Tragedy, Comedy, and Recovery”, Babypie Publishing, 2017.

Why We Are Here

Amos Lassen

This is certainly an interesting title for a book and I must admit that I really never thought about seahorses having penises so I intrigued right away and then disappointed that the issue never came up. Actually this is a book about who we are and why we are here. ”We each have a story, and we are not our story. So many of us get trapped by thinking we are less than others or unlovable or that we should not be taking up space altogether”. Writer Quinn Fontaine reminds us that we are here for a reason and shares his journey of healing work to recover from childhood trauma and multiple addictions, and his full acceptance of being transgender. We read about the rough times he has had and how he was able to gain a sense of freedom and to be inspired to be more “out”. He shows us that we need to not only set ourselves free but to inspire others to do so as well. Life is about sharing who we are and there are ways to do so as we read here. Fontaine’s journey is authentic and fascinating and by reading about it, we learn a bit about ourselves.

This is not a book that is just the transgender experience, “it is about the human experience and how we can move beyond our limitations to understand each other better.” It is an insightful tale of a trans child coming of age with all of the challenges and it is inspiring.

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

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

Remembering

Amos Lassen

Michael Ausiello has written a gorgeous memoir “about his late husband and throughout their fourteen years together”. Ausiello’s insider knowledge on people’s favorite TV shows and stars has made him a celebrity who is now editor-in-chief of the wildly website “TVLine.com”. He is the Michael go-to expert when it comes to television entertainment.

What many of his fans do not know is that while his professional life was in full swing, Michael had to deal with the fact his husband, Kit Cowan, was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of neuroendocrine cancer. Over the course of eleven months, Kit and Michael did their best to combat the deadly disease, but Kit lost the battle to his illness in February 2015. Now we have the memoir that is both heartbreaking and hilarious by which Michael tells the story of his last year with Kit while revisiting the thirteen years that preceded it, and how the beautiful and powerful bond between the two men carried them through all of the difficulties and always with laughter at the heart of their relationship. This is not a tale of sadness and loss but rather “an unforgettable, inspiring, and beautiful testament to the resilience and strength of true love”.

Ausiello has turned a story of loss into story of hope that is witty and wise. It is “grounded in the realities of modern relationships and the grim fate of mortality”.

 

 

“Oh, Bob! I Thought It Was Curtains! Survival and Transcendence in a Homophobic” by Rob Lawrence Russo— Finding Oneself

Russo, Rob Lawrence, “Oh, Bob! I Thought It Was Curtains! Survival and Transcendence in a Homophobic”, Booklocker.com, 2017.

Finding Oneself

Amos Lassen

In his teens and well into his twenties, Rob Lawrence Russo doubted that he would ever be a happy, independent, financially solvent adult. He had been raised by a hateful father and a passive-aggressive mother so that when Rob entered adulthood he was emotionally fragile, not knowing who he really was or what career path was best for him.

Psychologically, Rob spent years coming to terms with his homosexuality and the homophobic world that he lived in. His mother who once told him she would kill a son who was gay and he was surrounded by anti-gay rhetoric from religious leaders, politicians and even from some mental health professionals. Somehow he has not only survived and now he shares his story with us in “Oh, Bob! I Thought It Was Curtains,” and hopefully it will provide a bit of sanity to anyone who is or has been the product of a traumatic childhood. It is also a good book for queer youth who are attempting to find their way. Rob’s personal narrative can help others avoid some of the mistakes that his parents made.

We get a fine picture of Russo who is now older and worldlier as he looks back on his life from a gay man’s viewpoint. The book is a collection of well written remembrances that captures the past and his personal experiences as a gay man living at a time when AIDS first struck the gay community.

“In the Province of the Gods” by Kenny Fries— A Journey of Self-Discovery

Fries, Kenny, “In the Province of the Gods”, (Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies), University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

A Journey of Self-Discovery

Amos Lassen

Kenny Fries embarks on a journey of profound self-discovery as a disabled foreigner in Japan and Japan is known as a society that is historically hostile to difference. As he visits gardens, experiences Noh and butoh, meets artists and scholars, he also discovers disabled gods, one-eyed samurai, blind chanting priests, and A-bomb survivors. When he is diagnosed as HIV positive, all of what he assumed about Japan, the body, and mortality are shaken, and he must find a way to live on new terms.

This is an intense look at a man who is trying to keep himself alive. Everything is at stake here—health, affection, culture, trauma, language and we are surprised to discover what thrives in the midst of suffering. We see that the best and surest way “to discover the self is to look out at the world, and second, that the best way to teach others about something is to tell them not ‘what it is,’ but what it means to you”. Fries’s prose is full of compassion and curiosity, and what he learns about himself is as fascinating and compelling as what he learns about Japan. Having read other works by Fries in the past, I knew that he is a wonderful writer and he tackles issues of cultural and physical difference, sexuality, love, loss, mortality, and the ephemeral nature of beauty and art with aplomb here.  This is also a love letter to Japan and we see that Japan embraced him at a time when he needed acceptance the most. However, the real message of book is that it gives us a “profound sense of what it means to be truly alive.”

 

“AutoFellatio: A Memoir” by James Maker— Everything Changes

Maker, James. “AutoFellatio: A Memoir”, Inkandescent, 2017.

Everything Changes

Amos Lassen

James Maker is a very funny guy who gives us pearls of wisdom in his memoir, “AutoFellatio” which I understand is a remastered version of an earlier edition. Maker fronted such bands as Raymonde and RPLA in the 80s and 90s (both of which I am totally unfamiliar). This memoir will have you scratching your head trying to determine if what is written here is true or not. “We follow our hero from Bermondsey enfant terrible to Valencian grande dame, a scenic journey that stops off variously at Morrissey confidant, dominatrix, singer, songwriter and occasional actor, and is literally littered with memorable bons mots and hilarious anecdotes that make you feel like you’ve hit the wedding-reception jackpot of being unexpectedly seated next to the groom’s flamboyant uncle”. (Maker says it so much better than I could ever). As for the title, forget trying to figure out if it means what you think it does and whether Maker can do so.

The book (unfortunately only available on Kindle in the U.S.) is filled loaded with wonderful one-liners and Maker’s observations on “life, music and the meaning of good hair.” It is a quick read but one that will keep you laughing. It is also totally relatable.

 

“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.