Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Heaven” by Emerson Whitney— Understanding Relationships

Whitney, Emerson, “Heaven”, McSweeney’s, 2020.

Understanding Relationships

Amos Lassen

At the center of Whitney Emerson’s “Heaven” is their desire to  understand their relationship to their mother and grandmother. These were Whitney’s first look at  womanhood and all of its consequences. Emerson retraces a roving youth in prose that is deeply observant and  psychedelic but using the work of thinkers like Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and C. Riley Snorton to unite transness and the nature of selfhood. 

This is an expansive examination of what makes us up, looking at what kind of role childhood plays in who we are. Is it possible to exclude causality and whether or not our bodies really belong to us. Emerson moves between theory and memory in order to explore these.

Emerson Whitney traces intellectual and emotional research, writing, and observations on gender and bodies through their family history. They make statements about femininity needing to include more and that gender really does not belong to anybody any longer.  We explore what’s ‘natural’ about the ‘unnatural’ and all the problematics of that. Whitney is rigorous with their mind and soul and asks how much of heredity is suggestion and how can anyone pinpoint the impact of nature or nurture when examining a human being. Emerson asks if it is better to simply listen and exercise unconditional acceptance as well as love. This is the story of the generational links between mothers and daughters. 

 Whitney is totally aware of the texture of moments that describe their own history in a way that holds back on what wasn’t understood at the age when something happening or isn’t remembered, or isn’t the focus; and yet, what they write makes everything important. 
Emerson includes many personal moments that become essential and public as their story mixes with theory on gender, sexuality, childhood, and psychology. 

Whitney turns coming-of-age inside out as they examine selfhood in relation to their mother, adds a layer of theory, and delivers a memoir that will stay with the reader long after the book is closed.

This is a frank and absorbing examination of transness, brokenness, mothering, femininity, embodiment and truth. 

“Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary” by Tom Rastrelli— Living a Double Life

Rastrelli, Tom. “Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary”, University of Iowa Press, 2020.

Living a Double Life

Amos Lassen

Tom Rastrelli shares  the clandes­tine inner workings of the seminary and gives us an intimate and unapologetic look into the psychosexual and spiritual dynamics of celibacy.  He writes of  the “formation” system that perpetuates the cycle of abuse and cover-up that continues today. 

While at college, he came under the guidance of a charismatic college campus minister as he was trying to reconcile his homosexuality and childhood sexual abuse. He felt called to the priesthood and so be­gan the process of “priestly discernment.” Priests welcomed him into a confusing clerical culture where public displays of piety, celibacy, and homophobia hid a closeted underworld in which elder priests preyed upon young recruits. Rastrelli went deeper into the seminary system seeking healing, hoping to help others, and striving not to live a double life. He had been trained to treat sexuality as an addiction yet he and his brother seminarians lived in a world of cliques, competition, self-loathing, alcohol, hidden crushes, and closeted sex. The “for­mation” intended to make Rastrelli a compliant priest and this what helped to liberate him. By demanding celibacy and damning homosexuality, the Catholic Church condemns its best and brightest priests to lives of hypocrisy and shame. Rastrelli shares his struggle with heart, wit, and courage.

“Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary” lets us know what to expect and it is quite an emotional read.  I became angry at the Church hierarchy that allowed the things described here to continue to go on for decade after decade. Those at the top, the only people who could have possibly stopped the kind of abuse described by Rastrelli, allowed it to continue and covered up for the criminals by transferring them from parish to parish or seminary to seminary every time it appeared that the truth was in any danger of being exposed. I am simply unable to understand how anyone can remain a member of the church knowing his. At the beginning of my teaching career, I taught at a Christian Brothers boarding school in Louisiana where the brothers were quite proud of the fact that they had hired a Jew. I will never forget some of the things I saw there going on between the brothers and between some of the brothers and their students. The story finally broke and two of the brothers are now serving life sentences in prison.

This is Rastrelli’s personal story. He was a naïve gay teenager who called to the priesthood. He’s a handsome man, and as a young man he was targeted by an authority figure in his parish church that was eager to take advantage of his confusion about his sexuality and the role of gay men in the Church. Having survived that relationship, Rastrelli was immediately targeted by a mentor-priest of authority at the seminary where he would spend the next four years of his life. During these four years, Rastrelli struggled to live up to the Church’s celibacy requirement while being sexually abused and exploited by some of the very people responsible for his physical and mental well-being as a seminarian. 

Somehow, Rastrelli managed to survive the seminary experience and become a Catholic priest. Father Rastrelli began to question the hypocrisy of the church elders and came to understand that the corruption and cover-up of the predatory sexual nature of some of his fellow priests came from the top down and went all the way to Rome. He received no support from his Archbishop when he exposed what he had witnessed and what happened to him personally. Rastrelli’s desperate cry for help left him suicidal and facing a nervous breakdown.
This is a sad story that does not end well for Rastrelli or the Church even though Rastrelli has a new career. What is so infuriating is the way that the church hierarchy continued/continues to hide the sexual abusers in its ranks and create thousands of new victims year after year.  

Rastrelli writes with a commitment to hon­esty understanding about the meaning of faith. I was not shocked about what I read aside from being surprised that Rastrelli has put it down in print.

“Witches Sabbath” by Maurice Sachs— Maurice Sachs— 1906-1945

Sachs, Maurice. “Witches’ Sabbath”, translated by Richard Howard, Spurl, 2020.

Maurice Sachs— 1906-1945

Amos Lassen

“Witches’ Sabbath” is the autobiography of French gay Jewish author Maurice Sachs (1906-1945). Sachs felt that this was “a statement of account, a moral memo. Or should I say immoral?” He shares how, as a young man, he was a friend of Jean Cocteau and Coco Chanel, both of whom he stole from, just as he stole from many others in his life (Sachs proposed writing a book entitled “Confessions of a Thief”). He tells of when, in 1925, he converted to Catholicism and entered a seminary but was expelled because of his homosexuality. He tells of drifting through America, of when he nearly drank himself to death, of his many failed love affairs. While this is a compelling, honest portrait of a unique character, “Witches’ Sabbath” is also an engagement with literature. Every period of Sachs’ life is marked by his dialogue with living and dead authors including members of the French literary elite— Charles Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, Stendhal and others. His lifelong obsession with literature let Sachs developed a style all his own— his writing is of acerbic portraits of his contemporaries, sometimes picaresque, introspective and filled with irony.

Sachs’s character sketches are filled with of venom. The translator, Richard Howard, had a rough job but has accomplished it admirably. This English version will interest those who desire to recapture the intellectual and artistic life of Paris in the Twenties.

We read of the competing and often contradictory currents of between-the-wars France. Originally published after the Second World War, Sachs was shot on a forced march from a German concentration camp.”

I must admit that I anticipated something much eviller that what this is. Yes, Sachs lived a wild life. He was born to non-religious Jewish parents in Paris, went to school in England where he discovered, enjoyed and enthusiastically practiced his homosexuality. Returning to  France, he converted to Catholicism and started training for the priesthood until he was kicked out after his sexuality was discovered. Later on, he went to the United States, converted to Protestantism, and was married for a short time to the daughter of a preacher. He returned to Paris with a steady American boyfriend  and hit bottom. He describes the seedy hotel where they were staying at the time  and made me itch as I read. Throughout, Sachs was involved in several shady business schemes and suffered from alcoholism. Yet, he managed to write and befriend a number of famous writers. During the war, a period not covered by the book, he worked for the Gestapo for some time before being sent to a concentration camp himself and was killed during a forced march to another camp in 1945. 

He was just 39 when an SS bullet entered his neck. His life ended as a Hollywood
fantasy. He was a self-destructive French charmer, cad, deceiver, thief who had no morality whatsoever. This memoir and his other writings make him an infamous underground literary figure.

Sach’s  memoir was finished in 1942, the year before he was arrested by the Gestapo. Reportedly an informer, Sachs even double-crossed the deadliest thugs .  When he was just 15 years old he helped his mother (his  father deserted them years earlier) flee to England after she bilked a friend out of thousands. He never saw her again. In his teens, he became involved in the literary/art scene and used relatives and male sex workers to gain a place. He always seemed to be out on the town with his pals. Men were his pleasure.
Meeting Maritain, he decided to convert to Catholicism and become a priest. He gives an intense explanation of his need for Godliness. Then, feeling religious pressures, he’s off to see Glenway Westcott and Rebecca West at Juan-les-Pins. He claimed that kneeling at a long Mass, he explains, gave him an erection. 

When finding himself hungry, he goes to work for Coco Chanel, creating a library for her. He makes money, wastes it and owes Chanel who fires him. For consolation he goes to a male brothel that was furnished by Proust.

He goes to America and marries the daughter of a minister in Smalltown, USA but rushes back to France – with a boyfriend right after the honeymoon.  He began his downward spiral into alcohol and soon his life was over being shot as a Jew, the religion he left.
His autobiography is fascinating and disturbing.

Parts of this read more like a novel than an autobiography. Sachs lived life to excess, drank too much, had sex too much and stole too much. He actually wrote much deeply about his interest in Catholicism than he did about his time of “vice”. During his most decadent periods, he never really seemed to enjoy himself, He had alcoholism but succumbed to it. He went from having lots of money to being very poor. Yet it was during his time of poverty and living with the man that he really loved that his book shines. I could not help but wonder if his despair came from his being a queer Jewish man living in a prejudiced society. I also wonder, knowing the extent of his lies, how much of Sachs’s story is actually true.

Motherland: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing” by Elissa Altman— Mother and Daughter

Altman, Elissa. “Motheland A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing” Ballantine , 2019.

Mother and Daughter

Amos Lassen

Elissa Altman survived a traumatic childhood in New York in the 1970s  and a young adult she lived in the shadow of Rita, her flamboyant mother, a makeup-addicted former television singer. Somehow, she  has managed to build a very different life, now living in Connecticut with her wife of nearly twenty years.  It was not easy and took a lot of “time, therapy, and wine”. She feels that she is finally in a  safe and healthy place. She keeps her far enough away so that Elissa can have a stable, independent world  and career— she is a writer and editor. But then Rita, a “flaneur” who flits around Manhattan fell and becomes completely dependent upon Elissa making her confront their differences. Rita yearns for beauty and glamour; she sees the world through her days in the spotlight. Her money has gone to her preserving her youth. Now, forced to sustain their fragile mother-daughter bond, Elissa must deal with their shared lives and the challenges of caregiving for someone who refuses help, is a  narcissist “and the mutual, frenetic obsession that has defined their relationship.”

To read this is to be touched by it. We see a great deal about maternal love, moral obligation, the choices women make about motherhood, and the possibility of healing. Altman writes with tenderness and irreverence about herself, her mother and unforgettable characters as she explores leaving the past behind and then having it return. Her book shows the power of family and love,

The story is  an intimate and fascinating look at complex mother-daughter attachments. The relationship is codependent. We read of role reversals in parent-child relationships that are entertaining and painful.

“The Archive of Alternate Endings” by Lindsey Dragger— Looking at Stories

Drager, Lindsey. “The Archive of Alternate Endings”, Dzanc Books , 2019.

Looking at Stories

Amos Lassen

In “The Archive of Alternate Endings”, writer Lindsey Drager follows the evolution of Hansel and Gretel at seventy-five-year intervals that correspond with earth’s visits by Halley’s Comet. The book looks at how stories are disseminated and shared, edited and censored, voiced and left untold.

Drager imagines past happenings and fictionalizes historically-based stories from the lives of Johannes Gutenberg, Edmond Halley, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Ruth Coker Burke. The book is written with two themes: the story of Hansel and Gretel and homosexuality. The author brings both of them together seamlessly and in amazing ways. We see that the potential dissonance between considering a fairy tale and pondering sexual orientation is erased completely.

Visually, the book is gorgeous and filled with great historical tidbits. It jumps back and forth between characters, settings and time periods and every combination is filled with more emotion than the next. It comes in at just 168 pages, and can be read quickly but I reread it over and over because of its poignancy.

For anyone who enjoys being challenged to think or who loves beautiful writing, this is the book for you. The ideas presented here are meaningful. Drager does a wonderful job of illuminating the darker concepts and human relationships  as she gives us her take on connectedness and purpose and the immensity of existence.  Drager shows that our stories are related, our narratives are interlocking and we are never alone. Poetically she investigates queerness and gives us a philosophical meditation on the nature of stories.. by bringing together fairytale archetypes, astronomical phenomena and queer history.

The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America” by Eric Cervini— The Secret History of the Fight for Gay Rights

Cervini, Eric, “The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America”,  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020.

The Secret History of the Fight for Gay Rights

Amos Lassen

You will have to wait until June, 2020 to read Eric Cervini’s “The Deviant’s War’ but take my word for it, you will be glad to get a copy of this very important book.
In 1957, Frank Kameny was a rising astronomer who worked for the U.S. Defense Department in Hawaii. He was summoned to report immediately to Washington, D.C. to learn that the Pentagon had reason to believe he was a homosexual, and after several humiliating interviews, Kamen, like so many other gay men and women before him was promptly dismissed from his government job. Unlike so many others, Kameny fought back.

Eric Cervini’s gives us the story of what followed. Kameny became an early champion of gay liberation and he fought for the right to serve his country in the wake of Joseph McCarthy’s Lavender Scare. Cervini lets us Kameny as he explores the underground gay scenes of Boston and Washington, D.C., where he planned his arguments against the U.S. Government’s classification of gay men and women as “sexual perverts.” It was at this point in history that staying in the closet was the default yet Kameny exposed the hypocrisies of the American establishment, bringing to the fore a broader revolution in sexual morals. As he did this, he invented what today is known as Gay Pride.

Cervini’s research is stunningly amazing. He bases his book on firsthand account that were recently declassified in FBI records, and forty thousand personal documents. The story takes place over the course of the 1960s, as the Mattachine Society of Washington, the group Kameny founded, became the first organization to protest the systematic persecution of gay federal employees. We see the forgotten ties that existed between the gay community and  the Black Freedom Movement, the New Left, lesbian activism, and trans resistance.  While this is the story of gay liberation, it is also the story of this country as she sat at a cultural and sexual crossroads; of shocking public battles with Congress; of FBI informants; murder; betrayal; sex; love; and finally victory.

Kameny’s battle with the federal government to secure respect, dignity and equality for gays and lesbians was tenacious and courageous. He was a pioneer who helped open a path to a new and better world for LGBTQ Americans and for America.   Kameny’s firing opened the door for the gay community to use their cause for freedom. For the fifty years following that event, Kameny was found on the front lines and on every front line of the gay rights movement. He is responsible for government employees being able to live without the fear of being discovered and losing their jobs because of their sexuality. They could not earn their livings and serve their country. Kameny’s name is known to many but I doubt many know all that is included here.

We do not always remember that before there was a struggle for gay rights, there was the battle for Gay Liberation and even before that there was the Homophile Movement, a “foundational political formation reveals that highly alienated individuals―whose gifts and talents were rejected because of their homosexuality―found the courage to demand change”. They did so through direct confrontation with the state and it cost them. They tolerated stigma, poverty and anti-social labels and they forced the country to change and transform.

Not only is the book about that struggle; it is also a guidebook for activism. Frank Kameny’s legacy is the fight for human rights and we see here how he did what he did. He left behind a model for the rest of us. Here is what it means to live and survive in a world that doesn’t want gay people.

“My Real Hue” by Daniel Yves Eisner— Finding Understanding and Acceptance

Eisner, Daniel Yves. “My Real Hue”, Page Publishing, 2017.

Understanding and Acceptance

Amos Lassen

Daniel Yves Eisner’s “My Real Hue “ is the story of his journey to fully understand and accept himself despite his family. Covering some fifty years, we are reminded that adult life is affected by childhood. When we meet Eisner at a young age, we become immediately aware that his relationship with his parents is stormy and dysfunctional. Eisner soon learns that the only way to save himself is to cut off ties with them. Through Eisner’s journey , familial ideas are shattered and we see that it is the individual and not the family that comes first. He fights self-destruction, self-loathing, guilt, depression, stress and thoughts of suicide. We also see that, in some cases, separation from the family is the better road to a happy and fulfilling life.  

Eisner is a deeply sensitive person who is tormented by the ever-present pain of a domineering and denigrating mother and a passive indifferent father. His struggle to fully realize his homosexuality, is filled with colorful and very funny anecdotes – and memories that are bittersweet.  His relationship with Matthew, his partner is deep and caring.

That relationship brings about his identity and leads him to help others though friendships and working with. Disadvantaged students at a community college.  He is also the mentor of a gay writers group. Professionally he has been quite an achiever but he sees his personal relationships as the important aspects of his life.

Eisner’s parents are Holocaust survivors who came to New York to begin fresh lives. Having been raised Jewish, Eisner’s relationship with Judaism is strengthened by being involved in a congregation of a major Christian denomination.

After several humiliating escapades, Eisner confronts his mother demanding reconciliation. They reconcile through the obituary he wrote about his father that honors his family.

Not all parents are equipped to be nurturers and Eisner tried for many years as an obedient son to live up to the expectations of his narcissistic mother but realized that to do was an impossibility and not healthy. This is a story of overcoming heartache, pain, and life in general that is written bravely and in vivid prose.

Eisner understands that his mother negatively affected his life that his father did nothing to protect him. His attempts at freedom and liberation from his mother only came when he moved to a different state, owns his sexual orientation, finds love, and works at a successful career.

It was his parent’s 50th anniversary party that became the final straw and caused him to break the bond of family. It was after this party that he realized that his mother was sick and not  going to change and whose life would become one of pain and drama if he did not get out of the situation. 

In order to become his true self, Danny has to leave his dysfunctional family and refuse to be manipulated by his mother if he is to become the person he was meant to be. Eisner realized that his mother was incapable of loving him. He forced himself to made this hardest  decisions so that he could live  a true and honest life, create a supportive family of his own, and realize the happiness that he had not been privy to.

“Blame It On Blake: A Memoir of Dead Languages, Gender Vagrancy, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso & Carr” by Jacob Rabinowitz— Literary Gossip and its Fun

Rabinowitz, Jacob. “Blame It On Blake: A Memoir of Dead Languages, Gender Vagrancy, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso & Carr”, Independently Published, 2019.

Literary Gossip

Amos Lassen

Jacob Rabinowitz’s “Blame It on Blake” is a memoir of the Beat generation authors that he knew, and his own explorations of Witchcraft, Egyptology, Voodoo, gender confusion and mind-altering drugs, authorized (more or less) by William Blake.

Literary histories do not always include the later years of the beat movement  and in fact they are often omitted in literary histories. This memoir fills an important role in fleshing out what it looked like to be in those circles in the later ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Rabinowitz mentions all the big names with his personal, original and valuable observations and insights. Even Ginsberg is revealed here in ways no one else has done. But the memoir is more than literary gossip about famous folks. It is also Rabinowitz’s own life, with its ups and downs and is perhaps the “truest” description of the beat generation as it has evolved after the ‘80s. There is something affirming and liberating here.

When Rabinowitz ( who is later known as Jonathan Robbins) was a handsome teenager growing up in the suburbs, he sent Allen Ginsberg letters proposing a tempestuous kind of Verlaine/Rimbaud relationship, and Ginsberg was intrigued and he adored the charms of young men so he took him up on it. The result was one of Ginsberg’s poem, “Contest of Bards,” which painted the precocious young man as a charming tempter and friendly nemesis. It was here that Rabinowitz began his journey through the world of Ginsberg’s Beat and post-Beat comrades— poet Gregory Corso and novelist William Burroughs, to lesser-known but equally interesting historical figures like Harry Smith, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Andy Clausen, and Peggy Biderman. Rabinowitz’s observations and fine prose make this a pleasure to read. Many of his portraits are definitive, as when he describes Corso, after shooting up, spraying “the blood left in his syringe across the wall with an arcing flourish and [saying], ‘I have used my blood like an extravagance.'”

Rabinowitz also writes about suburban paganism, Jewish mysticism, and the pre-AIDS gay subculture of New York City. He blends the sacred and profane like when he writes of reading the Mahabharata in a room at the old St. Mark’s Baths, with the sounds of guys having sex all around him.

This is not a book for everyone; it is often irreverent and might offend some readers. 40 years ago it was very difficult to be seriously Jewish and seriously gay (Rabinowitz was bisexual), there was still a lot of work to do. Some probably people dealt with it by emphasizing one side and closeting the other, but Rabinowitz is too honest to do it that way. He comes to an emotionally effective solution that, it’s safe to say, no one else in the world could have come up with, and which was fun to read about. Rabinowitz founds his own “joke religion,” and organizes the “Committee to Restore Sodom and Gomorrah.”

There is  a chapter that begins with seventeenth century Kabbalah ends it with sex outside leather bars and how Rabinowitz’s sees “religion” is very funny.  Anyone who is interested in the Beat Movement and values literature will love this book. It is well written and totally engaging.  Aside from the Bet poets, this is a memoir about being gay in NYC in the ‘70s— the days before the aids crisis and it is quite nostalgic.  

“Every Grain of Sand” by David P. Wichman— Finding Purpose and Meaning

Wichman, David P. “Every Grain of Sand”, W. Brand Publishing, 2020.

Finding Purpose and Meaning

Amos Lassen

David P. Wichman has lived through childhood sexual and physical abuse, foster care, homelessness, survival sex work, and drug and alcohol addiction. Yet even with this, he was able to find a sense of purpose and meaning In life. Focusing on sex and as a hustler, he found an approach to sex work that transcended common shame-based belief systems. He brought compassionate intimacy to many marginalized men, including the elderly, disabled, and traumatized and showed the universal need for true connection with another person.

White-collar crime and addiction to crystal meth got him sent to jail and Wichman became determined to face and deal with the brokenness in his life and the despair and self-destruction that came with it. This is his memoir in which he shows how his recovery and spiritual journey have brought him wholeness and worth. He has written a message of love and belonging that he shares with all of us. “Every Grain of Sand” celebrates healing and his restoration to a life of joy, gratitude, and aw

To say that this is an easy read would be a lie. Just reading about the cringe-worthy episodes wore me out, especially the way people who were supposed to love him did not do so. We get to the healing and redemption but it takes a while. This is a story that is both dark and uplifting. We read about the people who were supposed to love and care for him and we see how he treated himself. Once he finds himself, Wichman’s story is about healing and hope. He won me over soon after I began reading his memoir and there were times I wanted to knock him out and other times that I wanted to smother him with love.

Those of us who have lead marginalized lives will identify with David Wichman and that is what makes this such an important read. It is raw and brutally honest. You will want to yell at Wichman and you will want to hold hm tight. As he is renewed, so is the reader.

It is difficult to relive a past of pain so I completely admire what the author did here. Wichman is lucky in that he has the capacity to forgive and to admit his mistakes. Wichmanis an excellent writer and storyteller and as we read of his memories, we gain understanding of the courage it took to write this as I am sure his memories came back to him as he wrote.

I may never think about a male escort the same way again. Wichman provided so much more than a warm body and willing orifices. He helped men leave their lonely existences when they were with him. I have really never thought much about thanking an author for what he has written but I do want to say thank you to David Wichman for allowing me into his life and to listen to what he has to say.



“Failure To Appear: Resistance, Identity and Loss: A Memoir” by Emily L. Quint Freeman— Finding True Self

Freeman, Emily L. Quint. “Failure To Appear: Resistance, Identity and Loss: A Memoir”, Blue Beacon Books by Regal Crest , 2020.

Finding True Self

Amos Lassen

Emily Freeman’s “Failure to Appear: Resistance, Identity and Loss”  is the story of “a lesbian of conscience who became a fugitive, on the run for over nineteen years using several identities.”

Those of us who lived through the period that Freeman writes about remember it as quite a time in history; a time when those of us on the college campuses really cared about what was happening in the world. Many of us were not just students but activists as well. It was a time when we could not openly be who we were yet there were those of us who dared do so even if it meant separation from family and society.  Freeman and myself experienced the same backdrops—, the assassination of a President, civil rights battles, the war in Vietnam, the Nixon and Reagan administrations (I was out of the country), the coming of the women’s and gay liberation movements and the AIDS epidemic. We need to be reminded of these events as we think about this country today.

This is a memoir about finding self and identity at a time when it was extremely difficult to do so. Freeman shares her story with a sense of immediacy and vulnerability that I had almost forgotten. Parts of the memoir are written by the name she used at the time and this is a story of survival because of the need to survive so that others would never have to go through what we all had to deal with.

Freeman was an idealist back then and she had to face rejection from her family, lost idealism, life underground and the reality of renewal. As a college student, she was a peace activist and fighter for social justice. Her journey was the kind we read of but never really knew anyone involved. It was not a short journey but one that lasted almost two decades.

She grew up as Linda J. Quint in 1950s Los Angeles, but by 1965 when she was a sophomore at Berkeley and becoming radical. Along with others from her generation, she was dealing with what she saw as the wrongs— especially civil rights and the Vietnam War.” Just those two issues would have been enough to upset her parents but Quint also shared that she was in love with another girl and the result of this was that her father stop assuming financial responsibility for his daughter. After she graduated from Berkeley, she vanished and reappeared as a member of Chicago’s activist left. She helped destroy 50,000 selective service records and was soon on the run with a new ID (Margaret Wilzbach). She hid out in places like Detroit and Birmingham, Alabama and became increasingly  feeling increasingly disillusioned with “the Revolution.” She then became Judith Jablonski and found sanctuary in Atlanta. It was also in Atlanta that she found a lover. Eventually she became Alexa Emily Freeman and got to San Francisco, where the work of liberation was just beginning. It took several identities, several cities and two decades for Freeman to become “a soldier for the cause of freedom–a cause that itself wore many guises” just as she had done. 

Freeman stuck it out, Unlike her I fled this country looking for the freedom I sought in the quickly growing nation of Israel, having had enough of the apathy of the American people. Freeman, on the other hand, has come to represent the tumultuous years of coming of age in the 60s and dealing with the many problems that America was facing. Her story is indeed made up of notes from the underground and if we think about what that means, it is quite shocking. Citizens of the greatest democracy in the world were forced to live underground so that the democratic ideals could be preserved. Identity became fluid and ever-changing and individual pasts disappeared; living in safe houses became a way of life.

Politics and individuality merged and the Freeman that we meet here is one who dared to revolt. We gain a look at the person and the times; of a subculture that we have not seen the likes of again. Freeman devoted everything to the cause and she was changed and shaped by it. We, too, were changed by it.

I must admit that I wept through parts of the book. The idea of a brave soul who really believed in what she was doing emerges as heroic. She had been sentenced to prison for her part in a non-violent protest against the Vietnam war not to forget that she had been rejected by her parents, who refused to acknowledge her sexuality when she came out to them as a lesbian. I cannot help but admire her resilience as she fought to survive and be who she was.  

There is humor here as well but there is a lot of heartbreak and emotion. How lucky as we to have this story! The prose is well-written story an is reflective and deep and above all totally compelling.  Freeman survived and has been able to build a successful life for herself on the surface but she has the scars of those years of being lost.   Freeman gives us an amazing look at identity, sexuality, loss and underground life that I will not forget.