Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“My Father’s Closet” by Karen McClintock— Learning About Dad

McClintock, Karen. “My Father’s Closet”, Trilium, 2017.

Learning About Dad

Amos Lassen

Whenever I read something like Karen McClintock’s “My Father’s Closet”, I realize just how far we have come in this country regarding the LGBT community. Karen never really knew her gay father and as she searches for information about him some thirty years after his death, we are pulled into the story as a family deals with secrets, losses and infidelities yet there is still love there.

McClintock’s parents fell in love and married, while overseas in Germany and the man whom Karen believes became her father’s lover was concealing his Jewish and gay identities in order to escape to America. Through a set of her father’s journals and correspondence between her mother and father during World War II as well as by way of a painting, we find a secret.

Children yearn for the parents that are not there for them and sometimes this leads to complex feelings of abandonment. We see the McClintocks as resilient even with hidden lovers, nosey neighbors, and surprise lovers. On the outside, the McClintocks looked to be a wholesome and Midwestern in Columbus, However, on the inside, “a bewildering emotional vacuum” was coming into being and “taking a complicated toll”. We learn of the details of her father’s double life as Karen writes from a loving heart and an open mind. She shares the pain that was a result of her father’s “closet” life and she writes with compassion. She understands how it must have been for her parents and that together with her love for them, allowed her to reach a place of forgiveness.

For much of her life, McClintock thought her father, Charles, might be gay, even though he remained married to her mother. Karen tells us that she never really knew the man she called my father. In writing this memoir she attempts to discover her father’s hidden side using his journals and speaking with those who knew him. Many men and women live these secret lives, hiding their sexual orientation–even from themselves–until the attraction to someone of the same sex can no longer be denied.

We must remember that at the time this all took place, the world was quite different. There were very few public images of gay men and the word “gay” was still new in the vocabulary. Karen’s father, Charles was in college during the McCarthy era’s when communists and homosexuals were considered as subversive and there were few people who were open about their sexuality. The gay life that took place back then was underground and hidden from public view.

When he was 19, Charles wrote in his journal that he thought that life with Alice would always be “lovely and uncomplicated.” However, many of our most important decisions are made without enough information. We want to know, as did Karen, when the change came from women to men but there was not a specific date or event. This sexuality happens when sexual desire, sexual behavior and sexual identity come together that one discovers his true sexuality or so I have been told. For a married man to deal with this is quite serious. Does one break the marriage vow (remember the time) and leave the family? Is it better to remain married and essentially live a lie?

When attraction, desire and behavior come together and do not remain static, evolution into something complex begins. What makes this different than other books written by “betrayed” spouses is that this comes from an adult child of a parent who comes out.

Karen McClintock writes with her heart as she struggled to understand and become close to her father, the man who kept her at a distance in order to protect necessary illusions. We see here the price our society has brought from its gay people (and their families) who “refused to marginalize themselves simply because the absolute truth of their hearts did not fit the accepted mold.” 

Here is a book with both sadness and love that beautifully explores the fears of being different and where those fears often lead. The book is beautifully written and we feel the pain and the sadness that Karen McClintock has had to deal.

 

 

 

“My Mourning Year: A Memoir of Bereavement, Discovery and Hope” by Marshall Andrews— Dealing with Death

Marshall, Andrew. “My Mourning Year: A Memoir of Bereavement, Discovery and Hope”, Red Door Publishing, 2017.

Dealing with Death

Amos Lassen

In 1997 Andrew Marshall’s partner died as the result of a debilitating illness. Marshall struggled not only to make sense of his loss but to even imagine what a future without Thom might look like. He collected his thoughts in his diary and he wrote about what set him back including becoming involved in a new relationship while rebounding, encounters with psychics and gurus and how his job as a journalist provided him with the chance to talk about death with others among whom there was a forensic anthologist and a holocaust survivor. Slowly, he was able to deal with what he felt and to get his life back into order.

He never planned on publishing his diary but he did share some of it with others who were dealing with the death of a loved one and since they found that it helped them, so as a way to mark the twentieth anniversary of Thom’s death, he decided to let everybody read it. The diary became this very frank and honest look at grief and mourning that followed Thom’s death. The line that really got to me was when Marshall said that he lost the love of his life and he felt nothing. I prefer to think of that not as “nothing” but as a void. Marshall says that at times he felt that Thom was having an affair with his illness since it took so much of his time and thoughts.

We learn here that we are not taught about how to accept death and how to move on after dealing with it. Marshall wonders if it is better to know that a loved one is going to die to prepare for their death or to have them swept away from life in an instant. We see that mental health is indeed a struggle. Marshall endures failed counseling sessions, spontaneous vacations, and romantic dates as he tried to get past Thom’s death. Perhaps what was the most difficult for him was his own family, who, even after Thom died, did not yet fully accept Marshall’s sexuality and validate his relationship with Thom. It’s not until after Marshall’s emotions reach their worst point that he finds the courage to confront his family’s absence of support.

Thom was very lucky to have been loved by Andrew. Before we begin to read, we know what to expect from this book just by reading the title so there are no surprises here.

 

“Gay Slayer : The True Story of Colin Ireland” by Scott Farrell— A Criminal Life

Farrell, Scott. “Gay Slayer : The True Story of Colin Ireland”, CreateSpace, 2016.

A Criminal Life

Amos Lassen

Colin Ireland was called a serial killer “wanna-be” who deliberately murdered five gay men just to see if he could do so. as part of a New Year’s resolution. His extreme planning and attempts to hide evidence made investigators’ jobs more difficult. He would call police stations and give little hints thereby taunting the police. Ireland chose homosexual males because he figured that they would be less sympathetic victims and if he did not succeed, he thought that gay man would be less likely to go to the police.

Ireland had had a terrible childhood and seemed to be always be involved in some kind of criminal activity. I just do not understand why anyone would consider writing a book about this. It certainly demanded more research and we barely get a full story here.

 

 

“My Life, In and Out: One Man’s Journey into Roman Catholic Priesthood and Out of the Closet” by Charles Benedict— Choicws

Benedict, Charles. “My Life, In and Out: One Man’s Journey into Roman Catholic Priesthood and Out of the Closet”, Purple Spekter TM Press, 2017.

Choices

Amos Lassen

Charles Benedict shares the confusion he felt growing up as he struggled with his sexuality and his desire to become a Roman Catholic Priest. He devoted the first thirty-three years of his life and studies to serve the Church and then discovered the life he loved and the beliefs he taught were in conflict with his hidden secret of his life that kept him from accepting his true self and potential.

Benedict grew up in a religious family that made it seem like he didn’t belong or fit in because something was wrong with him. His parents discovered he had a secret boyfriend at sixteen but Charles denied he was gay and gave into strong fears of rejection and disappointing those he loved. He lied to the world and buried his sexuality inside his soul. There was nothing wrong with Charles to begin with. Fourteen years passed before he finally accepted his homosexuality and came out—nearly four years after he had been ordained a Roman Catholic Priest. He voluntarily left the priesthood and rebuilt his life as he discovered the happier man within. Today, after al rough period, he is happily married to his wonderful husband and has supportive friends and family to share his life with. Now he wants everyone who struggles with their sexuality to know that even though it took him thirty-three years to love himself, the truth set him free. He clearly shows that no matter what any religion says, God loves you.

“Husband: My 40-Year Marriage to a Gay Man” by Joanne Blackwelder— A Complicated Relationship

Blackwelder, Joanne. “Husband: My 40-Year Marriage to a Gay Man”, Xlibris, 2016.

A Complicated Relationship

Amos Lassen

When Joanne and Steve began their relationship, Joanne was aware that he was interested in bisexuality yet she trusted him and their love for each other. They married in the 60s, a time of sexual revolution and they wrote screenplays together and had an exciting life together. Gradually problems developed; Steve drank too much and wandered into dangerous neighborhoods, looking for sex. He was involved in dangerous liaisons, and lied to Joanne about his secret life, which repeatedly put the family in danger. Meanwhile, JoAnne was dealing with her recurring breast cancer and her parents were critically injured in their house fire. As she became convinced her husband was gay, JoAnne prepared for divorce, but neither she nor Steve really wanted to separate. They were best friends and continued living together. They remained close, loving their daughters and feeling rooted in the house. When Steve died, JoAnne sought to understand their strange and troubled relationship by drawing on her memories and Steve’s journals about his gay encounters and fantasies. This is her memoir and it is an honest account of a troubled but enduring love that lasted nearly 40 years.

JoAnne met Steve at the University of Wisconsin, where both were employed as Teaching Assistants while they studied for graduate degrees in English. After they married and moved to New York City, Steve wrote screenplays and was hired as a story editor for Warner Bros. They had two daughters. So that Steve could stay home to write a novel, JoAnne worked in Manhattan, first in publishing, later in typesetting and printing.. In 2007, she and Steve retired to Ocean City, NJ, where he died suddenly.

We read about the complicated relationship of a gay man married to a straight woman and it is more common than many realize, especially among gay men of another generation. This was at a time when people didn’t come out and let everyone know they were gay. There were many couples that tried to stay married and keep up the facade of marriage. Here we feel the anguish and confusion that Joanne dealt with as she tried to make things work. I found it fascinating to read how Steve and Joanne dealt with their marriage and remained together for 40 years.

 

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“The Mothers’ Group: Of Love, Loss, and AIDS” by Suzanne Loebl— Mother’s Standing By Their Children

Loebl, Suzanne. “The Mothers’ Group: Of Love, Loss, and AIDS”, ASJA Press, 2006.

Mothers Standing By Their Children

Amos Lassen

There were parents who turned against their children once they had been diagnosed with AIDS but there was also those ho stood by their children. When Suzanne Loebl’s son David was sick with the disease, she joined a support group that came to be known as the Mothers’ Group. In this book we read about the brave women who were members of that group. They had to somehow ignore their own grief, confront a hostile world, and deal with complex medical issues and watch their sons die. They also tried to help their children enjoy whatever time they had left on earth and be strong as they dealt with their own fear and despair. At their Tuesday night meetings, they let their terror, grief and frustration flow. Loebl here shows how illness did not change David’s love of life and how he could be productive and happy even though there was to be no future. This book, Loebl’s memoir about David, is also a look at the gay world as it was transformed by AIDS from its newly liberated days after Stonewall.

The Mothers’ Group was made up women of diverse backgrounds sharing virtually identical difficult situations to share support and tears. While emphasizing these common bonds between strangers. Through them we insight into the symptoms, treatment and heartbreak of AIDS in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We see the almost universal sense of guilt shared by parents and families of children facing death.

This is a book about courage — both Suzanne Loebl’s and her son’s as well as the courage of the other women she meets in the Mother’s Group she joins of women coping with a child with AIDS. Loebl, realized her son’s days were numbered and took every opportunity to share in her son’s life and enjoy his presence for as long as she could.

Loebl shares her story, her pain and her strength. It is both touching and heartbreaking to read about her relationship with her son and how she deals with his death. All the mothers in the group have a story to share, and by sharing helped each other. They now help us to understand how it was.

 

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

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

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

Michael Ausiello is a respected TV columnist and founder and editor-in-chief of “TVLine.com” who in this memoir writes about his late husband and the experiences, love, and laughter that they shared throughout their fourteen years together.For over ten years, fans have depended on Ausiello’s insider knowledge to get the scoop on their favorite shows and stars. He has established himself as THE go-to expert when it comes to our most popular form of entertainment. What Ausiello’s fans did not know was that he was dealing with a personal tragedy: his husband, Kit Cowan, was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of neuroendocrine cancer. During eleven months, Kit and Michael did their best to combat the deadly disease, but Kit died in February 2015. In this memoir, we are taken into

the harrowing and challenging last year with Kit while also revisiting the thirteen years that preceded it. We read of the powerful bond between the two men and see that Kit carried them through all manner of difficulty with laughter as the core of their relationship. Knowing that this is about the death of a loved one might lead you to believe that this is a story of sadness and loss but it is so much more than that—- it is an unforgettable, inspiring, and beautiful testament to the resilience and strength of true love.

“Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir” by Marl Olmsted— Nine Months in Prison

Olmsted, Mark. “Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir”, Nuance Titles, 2017.

Nine Months in Prison

Amos Lassen

“Ink from the Pen” is the story of Mark Olmsted, an educated, HIV positive gay man who faced nine months in prison in 2009 for dealing the crystal meth he’d become addicted to during the worst of the AIDS epidemic. Olmsted is a fine writer who discovered his love of words would get him through the experience. He learned that creativity is one of the most powerful survival tools there is.

This is a brutally honest account of his incarceration. Olmsted takes us on a journey through our emotions as we accompany him on his personal journey. He brilliantly captures the emotions each inmate will feel as they serve their sentences. We het an idea about the sense of the other prisoners and their stories and while this is set in a prison, it is also about the culture that allows for prisons like this to exist.

Olmsted shares his joy of getting a Papermate pen that he uses to write down the details of his prison stay. He leaves nothing to the imagination sharing with which he sets down the details of his days and the taste of the food, the layout of the bunks, the fear of known and fellow prisoners.

Olmstead also writes about what it feels like to be gay where physical appearance is so important and every move and gesture means something. In prison a movement can an invitation. By using humor as a survival tool, Olmsted survives in an atmosphere where others are eaten alive as they deal with prisoners who have nothing in their past or cultures that could have possibly have prepared for incarceration. Humanity becomes the leveler of disparate men of every imaginable background.

Olmsted’s story is sad and frightening and it keeps us reading. He paints unforgettable portraits of some of his fellow inmates and shares what he learned about them and he brings together his life on the outside with his new life on the inside and it is mesmerizing. This is a real learning experience about what goes on in our prison system.

 

“Born Both” by Hida Viloria— Gender Identity, Self-Acceptance and Love

Viloria, Hida. “Born Both: An Intersex Life”, Hachette Books, 2016.

Gender Identity, Self-Acceptance and Love

Amos Lassen

Hida Viloria was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that her body looked different. Her home was a place of turbulence when she was a kid and she often was scared and alone especially when she recognized that she was attracted to other girls. endured an often turbulent home life as a kid, there were many times when I felt scared and alone, especially given my attraction to girls. Unlike most people in the world who are born intersex (having “genitals, reproductive organs, hormones, and/or chromosomal patterns that do not fit standard definitions of male or female”), her parents, unlike others , did not have her sex characteristics surgically altered at birth.

It was not until she was twenty-six-years-old that she came across the term “intersex” and was able to understand that her differences actually had a name. It was then that she began exploring what it means to live in the space between genders–to be both and neither. She tried living as a feminine woman, as an androgynous person, and even for a short period as a man. Her gender fluidity was exciting but it was also isolating.

When she finally found an intersex community to connect with she was shocked and it was upsetting to meet people who were to learn that most of the both physically and psychologically scarred. Many had had surgeries as infants and hormone treatments to “correct” their bodies. She understood that because intersex people have no visibility in he larger society, these practices were used. She decided that she would come out as intersex at a national and then international level. This is Hida’s story of finding her identity and love as she fought for human rights and equality for intersex people.

This is a well-written and important book about a condition most of us know very little about. Today it is spoken about openly but this is new and has only happened in the recent past. Hida helps us to understand what intersex is and shares the issues that intersex people face. We see “what it means to live not just as both a man and a woman but also as a third gender that eventually emerges as the right one.” While this book is about one intersex person’s journey, it also affirms the right that all those who do not fit into the gender binary need to dignity and respect from others.

 

“Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary” by Jonathan Lerner— A Contemplative Memoir

Lerner, Jonathan. “Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary”, OR Books, 2017.

A Contemplative Memoir

Amos Lassen

Jonathan Lerner was a founding member of the militant Vietnam-Era group the Weathermen. Hid memoir is an important addition to literature about the New Left in the Sixties and Seventies and the famous Weather Underground as well as essential reading for progressives struggling with how to act and survive in the Age of Trump.

Lerner gives us a very powerful account of idealism undercut by submission to a rigid ideology but there is also something else her. Lerner is a gay man and Weather Underground. At this point you might ask how could Lerner have hidden his sexuality for so long?

Lerner is a brutally honest, worldly, self-reflective gay raconteur who had once been an officer in an underground guerrilla army that was dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government of the United States. He has unbelievable true stories from the ‘revolution’ of fifty years ago. His short book chronicles the rise and fall of one of America’s most notorious radical groups of the Vietnam Era. Today, Lerner is a journalist specializing in environment and urbanism and chair of Hudson Valley’s Conservation Advisory Council but he had been the minister of propaganda for the Weather organization as well as the editor of its publication “Fire!”. He has changed and today he speaks out against the group’s misogyny and violence, but agrees with its rejection of the Vietnam War and endemic racism.

Today he lives a quiet, small-town life with his husband. He came to radicalism, like so many others of his generation as a result of the Vietnam War. In 1967 he was a student at Antioch University, a product of a liberal Jewish family. He fell in love with the shock tactics of guerrilla street theater but realizes that doing something like what he did is objectionable. The members of his underground went on to rob banks and bomb draft boards. He seems himself as a revolutionary “compromised by the desire to keep out of trouble”. He was once willing to endorse the most drastic actions but was not willing to dirty his hands.

As he gained awareness of himself as a gay man who had other battles to fight (“in those days admitting to being gay was an enormous humiliation” and in some cases illegal and considered a mental illness), Lerner distanced himself from the Weather movement that ultimately disintegrated in the mid-1970s.

Lerner’s dishes about now-well-known radicals and probes the impulses that led a small group of educated, privileged young Americans to turn to violence as a means of political change. He also tells the true story of “an intellectually adventurous but insecure gay man immersed in the macho, misogynistic and physically confrontational environment of the Weathermen”.

Sometimes known as the Weather Underground, the Weathermen, or Weatherman, the group unleashed a series of bombings across the United States, attacking the Pentagon, the Capitol Building, and the U.S. State Department, among many other places. At its height, the organization consisted of several hundred people, all committed to violent change and toe-to-toe battles with the police.

Lerner invented himself first as “minister of propaganda” for the movement and participated in the Venceremos Brigade in Cuba and he saw the Native American uprising at Wounded Knee. He then became an expensive gay hustler (My mother have said, “What a tragedy for a Jewish guy”), and shares American journey from idealism to destruction and beyond. There have been other memoirs from Weatherpeople but this is the only one that explores the painful history of the group with such brutal honesty. This is “A powerfully written account of idealism undercut by submission to a rigid ideology” and it is “As emotionally bruising as it is beautiful.”