Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Mamaskatch” by Darrel J. McLeod— Building a Life

McLeod, Darrel J. “Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age”, Douglas and McIntyre, 2019

Building a Life

Amos Lassen

 

Darrel J. McLeod is immersed in his Cree family’s history, passed down in the stories of his mother, Bertha. Her stories were tales of joy and horror, of the strong men in their family, of her love for Darrel and of the cruelty she and her sisters endured in residential school. There are stories of McLeod’s many siblings and cousins, and the smells of moose stew and wild peppermint tea. From these stories the young  Darrel learned to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that will guide him throughout his life.

After a series of tragic losses, Bertha turns wild and unstable, and their home life becomes chaotic. Darrel being sweet and eager to please, struggles to maintain his grades and pursue interests in music and science while changing homes, witnessing domestic violence, caring for his younger siblings, and suffering abuse at the hands of his brother-in-law. He also questions and struggles with his sexual identity and this is complicated by the repercussions of his abuse and his sibling’s own gender transition. “Mamaskatch” is a series of vignettes and a heartbreaking look at how traumas are passed down from one generation to the next; yet it is the uplifting story of one individual who overcame tremendous obstacles as he pursued a fulfilling and adventurous life.

 

 

This is a beautiful memoir of growing up in a world of violence and family trauma. McLeod’s writing is lyrical and gives us a powerful examination of contemporary issues, from sexual self-identification to the scars of residential school to the contemporary search for reconciliation. The word “mamaskatch” means “shared dream” in Cree, and while there are unavoidable nightmares along the journey, there are also dreams of hope, at times of exquisite beauty and renewed pride.

The book is a series of linked, story-like intervals that weave together Darrel and his family’s wounded lives. We read of her individual and collective traumas, the tragic flaws that shatter trust and dissolve relationships, the attempts to hold on to family and culture, the mysterious presence of birds and ancestral stories.

In spite of the traumas of Darrel’s childhood, deep and mysterious forces handed down by his mother helped him survive and thrive: her love and strength stayed with him so he could build the foundation of what be a very fulfilling and adventurous life. “Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age” takes us into such topics as  gender fluidity, familial violence, and transcultural hybridity. A fast-moving, intimate memoir of dreams and nightmares—lyrical and gritty, raw and vulnerable, told without pity, but with phoenix-like strength.”

This is a beautiful memoir of growing up in a world of violence and family trauma. McLeod’s writing is lyrical and gives us a powerful examination of contemporary issues, from sexual self-identification to the scars of residential school to the contemporary search for reconciliation. The word “mamaskatch” means “shared dream” in Cree, and while there are unavoidable nightmares along the journey, there are also dreams of hope, at times of exquisite beauty and renewed pride.

The book is a series of linked, story-like intervals that weave together Darrel and his family’s wounded lives. We read of her individual and collective traumas, the tragic flaws that shatter trust and dissolve relationships, the attempts to hold on to family and culture, the mysterious presence of birds and ancestral stories.

In spite of the traumas of Darrel’s childhood, deep and mysterious forces handed down by his mother helped him survive and thrive: her love and strength stayed with him so he could build the foundation of what be a very fulfilling and adventurous life. “Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age” takes us into such topics as  gender fluidity, familial violence, and transcultural hybridity. A fast-moving, intimate memoir of dreams and nightmares—lyrical and gritty, raw and vulnerable, told without pity, but with phoenix-like strength.”

This is a beautiful memoir of growing up in a world of violence and family trauma. McLeod’s writing is lyrical and gives us a powerful examination of contemporary issues, from sexual self-identification to the scars of residential school to the contemporary search for reconciliation. The word “mamaskatch” means “shared dream” in Cree, and while there are unavoidable nightmares along the journey, there are also dreams of hope, at times of exquisite beauty and renewed pride.

The book is a series of linked, story-like intervals that weave together Darrel and his family’s wounded lives. We read of her individual and collective traumas, the tragic flaws that shatter trust and dissolve relationships, the attempts to hold on to family and culture, the mysterious presence of birds and ancestral stories.

In spite of the traumas of Darrel’s childhood, deep and mysterious forces handed down by his mother helped him survive and thrive: her love and strength stayed with him so he could build the foundation of what be a very fulfilling and adventurous life. “Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age” takes us into such topics as  gender fluidity, familial violence, and transcultural hybridity. A fast-moving, intimate memoir of dreams and nightmares—lyrical and gritty, raw and vulnerable, told without pity, but with phoenix-like strength.”

This is a beautiful memoir of growing up in a world of violence and family trauma. McLeod’s writing is lyrical and gives us a powerful examination of contemporary issues, from sexual self-identification to the scars of residential school to the contemporary search for reconciliation. The word “mamaskatch” means “shared dream” in Cree, and while there are unavoidable nightmares along the journey, there are also dreams of hope, at times of exquisite beauty and renewed pride.

The book is a series of linked, story-like intervals that weave together Darrel and his family’s wounded lives. We read of her individual and collective traumas, the tragic flaws that shatter trust and dissolve relationships, the attempts to hold on to family and culture, the mysterious presence of birds and ancestral stories.

In spite of the traumas of Darrel’s childhood, deep and mysterious forces handed down by his mother helped him survive and thrive: her love and strength stayed with him so he could build the foundation of what be a very fulfilling and adventurous life. “Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age” takes us into such topics as  gender fluidity, familial violence, and transcultural hybridity. A fast-moving, intimate memoir of dreams and nightmares—lyrical and gritty, raw and vulnerable, told without pity, but with phoenix-like strength.

McLeod’s writing style is lyrical and powerfully examines contemporary issues.

 

“How a Gay Boy Became a Straight Man: My Story” by David Robinson— Garbage

Robinson, David. “How a Gay Boy Became a Straight Man: My Story”. Independently Published, 2018.

Garbage

Amos Lassen

I received a tip today that Amazon was still carrying anti-LGBT books and this was one if the titles. I immediately went to Amazon to see this book and found this notice:

“Effective July 2, 2018, this book has been rewritten, updated, and re-titled. Its new title is Orientation and Choice: One Man’s Sexual Journey.” However the remarks and reviews were still on the book’s Amazon page and the notice that the book is available exclusively on Amazon as is this plea: “Please buy the new title. Type the new title in the Search box. Thank you.”

Author-lawyer David Robinson, is now 66-years-old and admits that he had homosexual urges from ages 14 to 16. At 16 he had to choose: date girls or boys. He chose girls. It wasn’t always easy for him. Eventually he married a woman and is very happy with her.  Then we have these questions: “Did his sexual orientation change from gay to straight? Or did he deceive himself? Does it matter? Is it possible to satisfy homosexual urges with heterosexual behavior? What, exactly, is the difference between homosexual and heterosexual urge?” This book is  (as he says) and a look inside his sexual mind every step of the way from age 14 (1967) to today. He says, “that religion had nothing to do with it.” He tells about his college years (B.A. 1974, George Washington University) and law school years (J.D. 1977, Washington University in St. Louis). And then he says, “many people say sexual orientation isn’t a “choice.” But everyone must make a choice: date a male or female. David discusses laws banning conversion therapy. He tells about an impromptu conversion therapy session he experienced in a gym locker room when he was 15 or 16. Did the therapy work? Read his book and decide for yourself. It is a lively, true memoir. If you want to contact David, his email address is davidr225@comcast.net.” And he dares to give his email.

David A. Robinson is a lawyer in Connecticut. He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1953. and practiced law in Springfield from 1977 to 2008. He was a general practitioner from 1977 to 1991. From 1992 to 2008, he practiced exclusively in the area of labor and employment law, usually on the side of the employer. In 2002 he became a resident of Connecticut. In 2006 he was admitted to the Connecticut Bar. He gradually closed his Massachusetts law practice and now practices in Connecticut. He was an adjunct professor at Western New England University (WNEU) School of Law from 1979 to 1982, WNEU School of Business from 2001-2005, and the University of New Haven (UNH) School of Business from 2005 to 2014. At UNH he taught business law, business ethics, human resource management, criminal justice procedure, and law of communications. He lives in the New Haven area with his wife. 

Amazon tells authors, “The Author Page is your chance to tell readers something interesting about yourself.” Here are two interesting–not very interesting, but somewhat interesting–things about David. He is one of a small handful of people, and probably the youngest, alive today who attended a Beatles concert, an Elvis Presley concert, and a Frank Sinatra concert. A number of people alive today saw one or two of those legendary musical acts. David saw all three. He attended a Beatles concert in Boston in 1966, when he was 13 years old; a Sinatra concert in Washington, D.C. (actually, Landover, Maryland, a D.C. suburb) in 1974; and an Elvis concert in Springfield, Mass., in 1976. The other interesting thing about David is he is probably the youngest lawyer alive today whose name appears as counsel in published appellate cases (e.g., N.E.2d, F.3d) in each of five decades: 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s.

All that is fine but what about his claims? Why did he feel he had to pull his book back, rewrite it and rename it. Let’s hear from his readers:

David Robinson’s views are very much a product of their time. But like many products of their time, they are perishable and have since rotted.”
“When I read the description, I was fully expecting to read about the author’s struggles with homosexual urges throughout his life and his attempts to rid himself of them or deal with them. Instead, the concept is glossed over, downplayed, and not even linked. Spoiler alert, homosexual urges don’t play an active part of his life per the lack of mention in his book. Instead, his book has focused on his views on the LGBT community. Actually, in his young adult and adult lives, he seems to be more afflicted by pornography (Playboy skewing his perception of women to the point of him breaking off relationships with women because they didn’t look a certain way) and his issues relating to the “chase” of women (At one point claiming that he wanted what he couldn’t have and didn’t want once he had). If anything, that whole part of the book felt completely unnecessary, and offensive, to his point about conversion therapy.” Are you able to follow this?

“Going back to that idea of being a product of its time, Robinson’s overall attitude toward the LGBT community is misguided and detestable. “Homosexual urges” are compared to drinking, smoking and overeating and are labelled as “vices.” Though Robinson points out that he doesn’t want to call them “evil” (He “doesn’t know if he would”) but still uses a word that has a negative connotation to it (Since semantics is another theme). At certain points, such as in the first few pages (Accessible through the preview), he repeats the same talking points about homosexuality being linked to HIV/AIDS, religious disparity, unnatural reproduction (Remember, if your mother had a c-section, she had you or that particular child unnaturally) which support conversion therapy. The problem is his understanding of conversion therapy in the book, stating that an impromptu encounter with, presumably (Because he doesn’t remember), an authority figure reminds him of where his erect penis is supposed to go. Even though this doesn’t even compare actual conversion therapy as a pseudoscientific construct, Robinson uses it as a means to qualify him to discuss conversion therapy. His argument falls apart, though, when he highlights more so about the language of the law and that it would prevent teaching heteronormative sex education. Jumping between that, comparing homosexuality to vices such as smoking (And then linking his smoking habit to homosexual urges), and his idea that he’s pointing out some conspiracy (Though not directly labelled as such), we have a dangerous ignorance on LGBT people and their struggles regarding different sexualities (And gender identity. Though, this book doesn’t discuss transgender people or gender identity).”

“As for the writing itself, it leaves much to be desired and Robinson spends much time talking about a combination of his love life in his early years, his stance on conversion therapy, and the fact that this is just his opinion and that he’s not an expert, but it’s how he sees it. And that’s what ends up diluting the writing with him reminding his readers that he isn’t qualified to talk about this short of anecdotal evidence and pulling hairs on semantics. He tries to reduce people to semantics, to simplify an argument that is as complicated as it is, and then plays it off as it just being an opinion or that he isn’t qualified, while speaking with authority on the subject. There’s a reason why conversion therapy support tends to be anecdotal, because there is nothing to back it up. Bonus points for giving an unattributed quote to an unnamed therapist who practices as well as citing old law dictionaries to define sexual intercourse (Which gets debunked by simple search on Merriam-Webster’s Online dictionary which provides two definitions so as to include non-vaginal intercourse), or using Freud, who has been debunked and is viewed as somewhat laughable in terms of sexual development, to back his notion up. Other than that, it’s really easy to get lost in the constant use of short sentences and clarification. It’s a written conversation with someone obsessed with his own voice.

Robinson’s sexuality then and now is something I am personally not concerned with, nor should his readers be concerned with. It’s his dangerous ignorance that is echoed by many others who support conversion therapy that is problematic. Though he doesn’t directly say it (And he doesn’t have to), his claims strongly suggest a fear of the LGBT community and attitudes related to that. The fear is unfounded as the community wants to create an environment for his hypothetical 15 year old boy to actually think about what is going on in his head rather than being told point blank about what is “natural” and him thinking there is something dearly wrong with him. After submitting this review, I’ll have put the book on my shelf to collect dust, maybe pulling it off the shelf to remind me that this way of thinking is still prevalent, and that ignorance isn’t necessarily religious bound either (Though it’s evoked a couple times in Robinson’s book). Personally, if you’re someone struggling with your sexuality, this book is not the answer. It’s not even a response. There are much better resources to peruse and people to hear from.”

“ Robinson claims he experienced same-gender attraction as a teenager and is now in a happy opposite-gender marriage. That’s great, I am, too! It’s called being bisexual – and by some accounts half the LGBTQ+ community identifies as bi. Robinson has every right to share his own personal experiences. However, he is a lawyer – not a psychologist, therapist or social worker – and when he starts to use his experience to justify conversion “therapy” of any kind he is advocating hate. This book is showing up in my queer and queer-friendly friends’ Facebook feeds as a sponsored post. I shudder to think that it may be appearing in gay and questioning teens feeds, too. Any message to queer youth that is not based in acceptance, pride and love is morally and ethically wrong.”

“This book makes it seem as if a person’s orientation or attraction can be changed, however, it is a matter of semantics. One would think a lawyer would know better. This is a man who is attracted to men and women and has found happiness in a monogamous marriage with a woman. How is that any different than a person attracted to many women who makes a monogamous commitment to one woman? Yes- that is a choice in behavior- not attraction or orientation. If someone is attracted to men and women, one could certainly choose to identify as straight rather than bisexual. But this entire book is clickbait for the idea that it is a choice over attraction and orientation (identity). If this man had only experienced attraction to men and had zero attraction to his wife, would he have lived a full happy life with his choices?”

“Possibly the most ridiculous and harmful thing I’ve ever read.”

“The title of the book and synopsis on its Facebook ad leads you to believe that this book might have some psychosocial/research backing in its nature/nurture claims, but it does not. It’s merely a first person account. I find the title and the marketing misleading.”

“This author has no credentials to write about this subject other than his own anecdotal evidence of denying his own sexuality. This is irresponsible and dangerous garbage. Amazon should not be giving this author a platform to spread his bigotry. Conversion therapy is nothing short of mental and emotional abuse against children, and David Robinson is promoting it.”

“Shame on Amazon for selling this book. Shame on David Robinson for continuing this abuse.”

“What a fantastic piece of garbage!”

“…feels less autobiographical and more like propaganda. The author writes as if he was still trying to prove he is a happy heterosexual. Don’t bother.”

 

“Disgusting that you are selling this bigoted garbage.”

“This is a dangerous book for people that have questions about their sexuality. Furthermore, this is not based in accepted science. Based on the description, the author has to force himself to be intimate with a woman to this day. Imagine if your mate had to force themselves to be intimate with you. It sure would ruin the mood, if you ask me.
I am sad this author has made the decision to not live his best life and will never experience TRUE love.”

“Irresponsible, dishonest garbage. It isn’t worthy of even one star.”

“This is a bunch of trite. How our ‘parts fit together’ is not a measure of anything. The same faulty logic could be used to justify bestiality, cause ‘ hey it fits’, It would fit in a honey dew mellow too David.”
“barely deserves one star for the graphic masturbation sequences.”

I can’t believe I wasted my time dealing with this.

“Mercury and Me” by Jim Hutton and Tim Wapshott— Freddie and Jim— A Love Story

Hutton, Jim and Tim Wapshott. “Mercury and Me”, Independently Published , 2019.

Freddie and Jim— A Love Story

Amos Lassen

“Mercury and Me” is the story of rock’s oddest couple—  the relationship between Freddie Mercury and Jim Hutton that evolved over several months in 1984 and 1985. Even when they first slept together Hutton had no idea who Mercury was, and when the star told him his name it meant nothing to him. Hutton was a simple man who worked as a barber at the Savoy Hotel and retained his job and his lodgings in Sutton, Surrey, for two years after moving in with Mercury, and then worked as his gardener. He was never fully part of Mercury’s jet-setting lifestyle, nor did he want to be, but from 1985 until Mercury’s death in 1991 he was closer to him than anyone and knew all Mercury’s closest friends: the other members of Queen, Elton John, David Bowie and Phil Collins to name a few. Jim was always present at the countless Sunday lunch gatherings and fancy parties, Hutton has many stories and a deep understanding of, Mercury’s life. He nursed Mercury through his terminal illness and often held him throughout the night in his final weeks and was with him as he died. This is the accurate story of the last few years of Mercury’s private life from one of the two people who experienced it.

As we read, we surely sense the love between Jim and Freddie, but we can only wonder if there had not been AIDS, would their relationship have been different? This fascinating memoir of Jim Hutton’s years as Freddie Mercury’s boyfriend or “husband,” as Freddie called him, shares intimate moments in a rocky relationship. We get Hutton’s take on some events that are documented on film, and others that weren’t. He struggled with Freddie’s fame and he shares Freddie’s bravery in dealing with AIDS, as well as his fears and need for discretion. The British tabloid treatment was horrible and saddening. Hutton died in 2010 and this adds to the bittersweet memoir’s tone. Hutton’s mostly hidden role in supporting one of the greatest rock musicians of all time is revealed here.

This is a portrait of a man that is told in a beautiful, honest and compelling way. Hutton gives us a picture of a man who was tortured and inspired and always a decent guy. By the end, my eyes were filled with tears and I became angry. Freddie had final wishes bit they were not legally recorded. It is very sad to read about the final treatment of Hutton and the other housemates of Freddie’s, his closest friends who had been with him for years and sat with him to the end are treated shamefully.

I read this after seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and it helped me with some of the inaccuracies from the film. I went into the film not knowing much about Queen or Freddie Mercury, but I was curious to learn more. Freddie and Jim were already in a relationship before Live Aid and Jim visited  Freddie while he was in Munich. It made me feel very disappointed that the film acted as though Freddie still was fixated on Mary at this point, when instead he seemed to be falling in love with Jim. It must have been so hard for Jim to be treated as invisible in so many situations because gay couples were so much less accepted at that time. I was amazed time and again by his patience with Freddie’s mood swings yet in spite of Freddie’s moodiness, they both seemed to have a deep love for each other. The end of the book is heart-breaking, particularly with Jim having to be forced so quickly from the home he and Freddie shared. This is a story about what true love is.

There is insight into Freddie Mercury as a person and some insight into his music as well, particularly into what he was working on in his later years and observations about his work ethic, and musicians who inspired him.

Freddie Mercury had a heart as big as his voice and I believe he fell for Jim and genuinely loved him. Even though I knew the ending, I had tears in my eyes during the final chapters. Jim Hutton was just a hairdresser making 60 pounds a week when he met Freddie Mercury at a bar/club. After one night together Freddie told Jim, “I’m a singer.” Jim had never heard of Freddie Mercury. An unlikely love story begins. So many times during this book I recognized the love between Freddie and Tim.

There were no salacious stories or intimate moments mentioned in detail but rather we learned  about the relationship between two people who obviously cared deeply for each other.

“I: A Memoir” by Isaac Mizrahi— A Self-Portrait of the Designer

Mizrahi, Isaac. “I: A Memoir”, Flatiron Books, 2019.

A Self- Portrait of the Designer

Amos Lassen

Those of us who were around in the 1980s are aware of Isaac Mizrahi. He was known as a designer, cabaret performer, talk-show host, a TV celebrity. He has also been regarded as closed referring to his personal life. That just changed with the publication of his memoir.

Now he gives us a poignant, candid, and touching look back on his life so far. Mizrahi up gay in a sheltered Syrian Jewish Orthodox family and if you are familiar with a family like this then you are aware of what he had to deal with. He possessed unique talents that ultimately drew him into fashion and later into celebrity circles and he seems to either know or have known every one of the “beautiful people”— Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, Anna Wintour, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Meryl Streep, and Oprah Winfrey, to name just a few. 

Mizrahi shares his his lifelong battles with weight, insomnia, and depression and he tells what it was like to be an out gay man in a homophobic age and to witness the ravaging effects of the AIDS epidemic. His book is filled with intimate details and sharp wit. We read of the glamour of his world and the “ grit beneath the glitz”. We have wonderful stories from in and out of the spotlight as

While Mizrahi is not dressing the A-List crowd as much anymore, he is still involved in the fashion world. He has also found a place in front of the camera on various tv shows. He is still creative and very, very candid.

His childhood growing up as a gay male in a Syrian Jewish family was certainly fascinating but there were parts that dragged a bit for me but that is probably because this is not a new story for men and I have a good many friends who are gay Syrian Jews. His relationship with his parents and his siblings and their families is fascinating and yes, his mother is a Jewish mother. I am very glad that he included the AIDS epidemic in his narrative. As hard as it is to read about it, we cannot let ourselves ever forget how it was. It was a scary and very sad time and we need to keep it alive.

Mizrahi lived through world-struggles and he always felt that he did not really fit in anywhere. He brought  sewing and clothing into his life and used them as coping mechanisms. He wanted to carve out his own life & leave behind the pretenses and strictures of an upbringing in old-school religion. This is not easy and is in fact a process, but no matter how far one goes, it is impossible to fully shake some of the upbringing. Mizrahi says that he is now comfortable with the hardships he has faced and with & sadness he has had to deal. Mizrahi successfully knocked down a wall about how we feel about celebrities and I think that we often forget that they are people just like us.

While this is a book about fashion, it is also about owning who we are and the struggle for self-acceptance. The book addresses the very real internal fight that comes when insisting to the world at large upon ownership of oneself. This is not the hot gossip book that you might have been expecting. It is heartfelt and very introspective. I especially liked the length the book goes to the way people reacted to gay people back then (and it was not so far back). Reading this makes us appreciate where we are today on equal rights.

Not really serving up the scalding hot tea I was hoping for. More heartfelt and introspective. I did appreciate his whole “Kids, in the late 80s, the general population was scared of and mean to gay people” thing. It wasn’t that long ago, Aquaria. 

The second half of the book is full of famous names and brands, which is a large part of the fashion industry, but this section of the book loses the intimacy we had in the first half. the more intimate, deliberate feel of the first half.

Mizrahi wrote in the way that I imagine he speaks to others and I enjoyed that conversational aspect of the memoir. We approach the designer from two different ways—from the career aspect of his life and from the personal, learning about a man who preferred playing with dolls as a young boy and doing female impersonations. He did not like his body or even who he was.

In revealing his upbringing as a Sephardic Jew, whose family was religious, observing traditions regarding foods, and most importantly, being Syrian, we get a different picture of the man we thought we knew.

“Soar, Adam, Soar” by Rick Prashaw— “Coming Out. Coming In. Coming Home”

Prashaw, Rick. “Soar, Adam, Soar”, Dundrun Books,  2019.

“Coming Out. Coming In. Coming Home.”

Amos Lassen

From the moment that Adam Prashaw was born, his life was filled with surprises. He was assigned female at birth and spent years living as “Rebecca Danielle Adam Prashaw” before coming to terms with being a transgender man. He captured hearts with his humor, compassion, and intensity. A tragic accident cut his life short, yet he left a legacy of changed lives and many social media posts documenting his life, relationships, transition, and struggles with epilepsy and these were candidly and truthfully written. Adam’s father, Rick, shares his “Soar, Adam, Soar” with us. A former priest, retells Adam’s story alongside his son’s own words. From early childhood, through coming out first as a lesbian and then as a man, and his battles with epilepsy and refusal to give in. We are witness to  Adam’s drive to define himself, his joyful spirit, and his love of life. which continues to conquer all.

Adam directly influenced why Canada has legal same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. It is a beautiful experience to  have a father write about his transgender son and we see so much here about love, family, gender, sexuality, illness, and spirituality and just life in general. There were moments that my eyes filled with tears because of both the sensitivity of the subject and the writing. Because his father wrote this book, we get the sense that he is sitting right besides us validating everything we read. This is the story of life and death and of truths, of courage and hope.

Rick Prashaw found a unique approach to writing this with his late son. He beautifully brings everything together through the themes of  “non-conforming gender identity, the varied pressure of academia, and the lonely-yet-public stage of social media offers instructors multiple opportunities to bring theory to life.” We become very aware of the challenges of young adulthood with being transgender and adding to the burden.

Prashaw shows us that a fathers love for his child knows no bounds. He stuck by his son as he  transitioned from female to male at age 20. When Prashaw and his wife divorced, Adam stayed with his father. Adam was both a fascinating and resilient son. Using Adam’s social media posts gives us a unique insight into his struggles with growing up and epilepsy, and his journey to transitioning. There is no question that Prashaw loved and respected his son and gave him as much freedom as possible allowing him to become the wonderful person he was in his short life.

“Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future” by Pete Buttigieg— An Inspirational Story

Buttigieg, Pete. “Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future”, Liveright, 2019.

An Inspirational Story

Amos Lassen

“Shortest Way Home is mayor Pete Buttigieg inspirational story of a Midwest city that has become nothing less than a blueprint for the future of American renewal. The Washington Post has described him as “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of.” Pete Buttigieg is the thirty-six-year-old Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has emerged as one of the nation’s most visionary politicians. He was first elected in 2011; Buttigieg left a successful business career to move back to his hometown, which had been tagged by Newsweek as a “dying city”. It was a challenge to the McKinsey-trained Harvard graduate. Whether meeting with city residents on middle-school basketball courts, reclaiming abandoned houses, confronting gun violence, or attracting high-tech industry, Buttigieg has transformed South Bend and it is now a model of urban reinvention.

The book brings together two once-unthinkable success stories— one of an Afghanistan veteran who came out as a gay man and found love and acceptance while in office, and that of a Rust Belt city so thoroughly transformed that it shatters the way we view America’s so-called flyover country.

 The book is personal and sensitive in the way the author talks about coming out and getting married. We get an idea that Buttigieg might be the nation’s first openly gay president without it sounding like a crazy idea.

Buttigieg explains what mayors do and offers ideas for the country as a whole and we see that his memoir is also a policy manual . It positions a candidate nationally as we understand just who he is— gay, military veteran, liberal, first-generation American, etc.) and this suggests an interesting political future. We read of the events that shaped Buttigieg’s biggest decisions and share a typical day in the mayor’s office; we relive Buttigieg’s tour of duty in Afghanistan (while he was still acting mayor); and we understand his angst over being a young, gay public figure trying to get a date. The story is extraordinary and filled with great insights into the politics of this country. The writer is candid and compassionate with a clear understanding of how government can be more effective. We see  that Pete Buttigieg is not only a key political figure in his generation, but also an appealing and even funny writer. “His work is an important entry in the American political tradition for the twenty-first century. “He has given more to his community and country before his 40th birthday than most of us can do over the course of our lives. At every crossroads, he has turned towards service and leveraged his energy and intellect to help his neighbors and fellow citizens.” Joe Kennedy III says that we “not  only learn about what brings him home, but also what drives him towards his vision of a better, kinder nation.”

“Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins by Artemis Leontis— A Visionary Performer

Leontis, Artemis. “Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins”,  Princeton University Press, 2019.

A Visionary Performer

Amos Lassen

Artemis Leontis brings us the first biography of Eva Palmer Sikelianos, a visionary twentieth-century American performer who devoted her life to the revival of ancient Greek culture. She was a director, composer, and weaver best known for reviving the Delphic Festivals. Yet, as Artemis Leontis reveals, Palmer’s most spectacular performance was her daily revival of ancient Greek life. For almost half a century, she dressed in handmade Greek tunics and sandals and looked to make modern life freer and more beautiful through a creative engagement with the ancients. She was in contact with other modern artists including Natalie Clifford Barney, Renée Vivien, Isadora Duncan, Susan Glaspell, George Cram Cook, Richard Strauss, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Nikos Kazantzakis, George Seferis, Henry Miller, Paul Robeson, and Ted Shawn.

Not only was Palmer a style creator, she was brilliant ad beautiful. She had been a wealthy New York debutante who studied Greek at Bryn Mawr College before leaving “conventional society” to live a lesbian life in Paris. She later followed Isadora Duncan’s brother Raymond and his wife to Greece and married the Greek poet Angelos Sikelianos in 1907. With her single-minded purpose set out, she re-created ancient art forms, staging Greek tragedy with her own choreography, costumes, and even music. When she had exhausted her inheritance, she returned to the United States in 1933, was blacklisted for criticizing American imperialism during the Cold War and was barred from returning to Greece until just before her death.

Writer Leontis based her research on hundreds of newly discovered letters and previously unpublished photographs that are included in the book. What we get is a fascinating look at a fascinating women written in a fascinating way. I have always loved the stories and history of Isadora Duncan so I was quite surprised to realize that I had never heard of Palmer before reading this. It is almost like finding a new subject to pursue and learn about.  Palmer was, without doubt, a remarkable nonconformist.

 Of course to make this book the read that it is took a larger than life character as subject and a remarkable storyteller to share that character’s life. I have always loved learning and to have a chance to read a book with all new information is a real treat.
Palmer’s life work influenced the cultural direction of modern Greece and changed and “queered American culture in ways we have yet to recognize.”―Eleni Sikelianos, poet and great-granddaughter of Eva Palmer Sikeliano.

“Bed 26: A Memoir of an African Man’s Asylum in the United States” by Edafe Okporo— A Powerful Memoir Debut

Okporo, Edafe. “Bed 26: A Memoir of an African Man’s Asylum in the United States”, Xlibris,  2019.

A Powerful Memoir Debut

Amos Lassen

“My life, as you will read, has taken me from one place to another. “Bed Number 26” is the story of how I fought my way out of constant persecution and reclaimed my freedom. It is my hope that by sharing my experience and my pain, you will begin to understand why people are forced to immigrate.” Those are the words of a Nigerian letting us see what people like him are forced to go through. This book is a revealing memoir and empowering manifesto, with contributions from other asylees, refugees, and Nigerians.

Based on a true life story, “Bed 26” narrates the experiences of Nigerian and West African gay, bisexual men and the reason they are forced to flee from their home country. It is alos about the experiences of immigrants in an immigration detention, and the gap between the perceived American dream and the reality of racism, discrimination and phobia for people of color in America.

Okporo stresses why people should not be categorized based on accepted norms “that are created to suit people who created them.” He encourages to looking beyond labels and stereotypes such as “refugees” and “citizens” and looking inward into human character and behavior. We have been aware of the stigma in today’s society but now it has become overbearing. We must learn to accept people the way they are and love them just the same.

We are to be more compassionate and caring for people around us, our loved ones and people who are close to them. We  should not judge people without knowing how far they have come and this is why Okporo reminds about forgiveness for people who have wronged us in the past, and resilience for young and old people to challenge the norm.”

This is Okporo’s first book and he is far from being a polished writer but I must commend him for taking the stand that he does and putting himself available for public to criticize or agree with. The story jumps but it is powerful. He relates truths that most Americans need to understand about how critical it is for our country to continue to represent a land of welcome and refuge from countries filled with traditionalism and violence.

Reading about growing up in Nigeria as a gay man is very difficult to do with dry eyes. We read of injustices on both sides of the Atlantic  and we see our author move “from trust to distrust and from shame to autonomy while making sure he knows his own identity.

The story is captivating and gut wrenching. We are helped to frame our own challenges with a worldwide perspective and to  see the anguish experienced by members of the LGBTQ community in countries where there are laws that foster, facilitate and even promote oppression and violence against sexual minorities. In many cases they face physical violence just because of who they are. Okporo shares with us his struggles and the struggles of LGBTQ Nigerians and he gives us a message of hope and redemption as he advocates for others who have similar experiences. Okporo, continues to fight for the LGTBQ community around the world.

 

 

“Dugan’s Bistro and the Legend of the Bearded Lady” by Owen Keehnen— How It Was

Keehnen, Owen. “Dugan’s Bistro and the Legend of the Bearded Lady”, OutTales, 2018.

How It Was

Amos Lassen

Owen Keehnen, Jeffrey Mark Bruce and Richard Knight Jr. remind us of how it once was at the hottest disco in Chicago. Dugan’s Bistro was the place to be for gay men who love to dance.

From 1973-1982, the sign above the door and on the club’s matchbooks read: “Dugan’s Bistro, the Home of the Bearded Lady.” “The Bearded Lady” was a celebrity unique to Chicago who for over ten years was covered in the LGBT magazines and in the gossip columns of the “Chicago Tribune” and “Sun Times” as well as several national and international publications. Even though he was quite famous as the Bearded Lady, his life story was mysterious and it was not until Owen Keehnen published this book that we learn anything about him. (Let me tell you that his little book is quite a treat and I relished every word as I read).  We see how time and place came together to allow the rise of both the LGBT community and the Bearded Lady. This is a story of the decadent nightlife and the exuberance that epitomized the “lost” generation.

Dugan’s Bistro was a genuine nightlife phenomenon as well as the “Home of the Bearded Lady.” This was long before Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest wearing a dress and having a beard. The Bearded Lady was every bit a star and he faced the press head-on and loving the limelight. He was truly a celebrity at a time when so many of us dared not leave what we thought was the safety of the closet. He loved everyone and everyone loved him. I love that he dared to be who he felt he was.

He was audacious and lived by his own rules and was paid well to perform and “carry on” at private parties yet he always made it back to the Bistro before midnight. He seemed to be everywhere but he always came back to the Bistro. He loved attention and do what was necessary to get it even if it meant posing with a pig next to his face. Bearded Lady always dressed for the occasion like in the 1976 Chicago Pride Parade when he wore a mini-sundress, a hat and veil and satin opera gloves. Going to a rock concert, he wore an enormous polka dot ante-bellum gown with a zebra print shawl, and a huge hat with ermine tails hanging from the brim. Over the hat was a surfeit of black bridal netting that he tied beneath his chin in an oversized bow. He sparkled with glitter.

He seemed to become more outrageous in every subsequent photo. He was always over the top and read to raise a ruckus. He even made it into Time Magazine in 1977 in a piece showed him waiting in line at a concert wearing silver platform shoes with black and gold ankle ribbons, silvery hose with garters, a leopard print hot pants/top combo, gold workout belt, black coat, pink sunglasses and a biker hat with a pink floral purse slung over his shoulder. The leopard print top was open to his waist, revealing two slabs of meat fashioned into a bra. When Time hit the stands he was ecstatic and came onto the Bistro stage that night wearing a red, white, and blue sequin outfit with lit sparklers in his hair screaming, “Your Mother has made Time Magazine!”

It is so good that we have people who are concerned with recording our history. Imagine how much we would have lost without this wonderful look at a time that is gone forever. Writer Owen Keehnen book gives us an in depth  description of Dugan’s Bistro and it’s founder and his entourage. It does not then take much thought to imagine how it was once. This is a quick and short read at less than 150 pages and at times it is as audacious as its subject and I am sure the same kind of fun.  And there are bonuses—-we have “My First Gay Bar” by Richard Knight Jr. and wonderful photographs. We also learn that Jeffrey Mark Bruce made contributions to the text but there is no index. “The only time a gay person goes straight is when they go straight to the Index to check the names”… The Bearded Lady

“The Wrong Side of the Room” by Norman Matthews— To Be Himself

Matthews, Norman. “The Wrong Side of the Room: A Life in Music Theater”, Eburn Press , 2018. To Be Himself Amos Lassen In “The Wrong Side of the Room”, Norman Matthews tells us that he was born in the wrong town during the wrong era and with the wrong name. Therefore he was forced to conjure a more enticing, yet imaginary, world to better deal with the perils of childhood. In this imaginary world, he had self-assurance and dreams of romance and fame. He had not, like in the real world, been psychologically abused by a priest nor did he have to deal with psychotherapy over his sexuality. He did not attempt suicide. In the real world, he survived all of this and much more. His autobiography not only details his honesty and humor but shares it with us and we see  how Mathews resolved to build a meaningful life led him to the life of his dreams. He began as a magazine editor and eventually became a Broadway and film dancer he worked with Barbra Streisand, Gene Kelly, Dorothy Lamour, and Michael Bennett. His star seemed to be rising until an injury cut his career as a performer  short and forced him to look elsewhere. He reinvented himself as a pianist, composer, and playwright and “was able to create award-winning works for the concert stage, Tony-Award winners, and opera luminaries.” Now he has written his autobiography and it is filled with passion and inspiration as well as very dark humor, gossip, and backstage intrigue. It has a lot about musical theater but it also tells the story of goes so far as to tell about the grisly murder of a Broadway conductor, gives an inside look at the embezzlement of a famed Broadway producer, and shares a never-reported rehearsal argument involving a famous choreographer. We read of Matthew’s triumphs and heartbreaks, and his road to love and life.  We learn what it means to live a life in which one’s passion guides him. Matthews is a fine writer and he writes with wit, humor, openness and self-deprecation. He faced repeated challenges and setbacks but never gave up it paid off. This is the fascinating and inspiring true story of a man who struggled just to be himself and to find success in life and it is a delightful read.