Beth Ditto has been an inspiration to me for the better part of a decade. As a teenager I loved her band The Gossip, her positive body image, and her...moreBeth Ditto has been an inspiration to me for the better part of a decade. As a teenager I loved her band The Gossip, her positive body image, and her "fuck you if you don't like it" attitude. I never really knew much about her personal life and history, though, so I was super excited when I heard she was coming out with a memoir.
Beth has definitely had an interesting life and rise to fame. From growing up dirt poor in the middle of the Bible Belt, shuffled back and forth between various abusive relatives, to discovering punk music in high school and starting a band with friends just to kill some time, to touring with The Gossip, putting out major label records, and becoming an international celebrity.
This memoir is pretty short and doesn't go into the depth it could--for instance, Beth continually talks about how she comes from a huge family and has dozens of relatives, but we're only introduced to a few of them. Years of her life are glossed over at a time. Everything Beth wrote about I loved reading, but I just wish there was more!
Trigger warning for cutting/self-injury and rape.(less)
I've been somewhat familiar with Kate Bornstein's life and work since studying sections of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us in a colleg...moreI've been somewhat familiar with Kate Bornstein's life and work since studying sections of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us in a college Queer Theory class, so I was really eager to read her new memoir as soon as I heard about it. This definitely didn't disappoint, but it wasn't entirely what I expected. Though Bornstein struggled with gender identity since childhood, she transitioned fairly late in life, so relatively little of her memoir has to do with living as a transperson. That's okay, though, cause Bornstein has had a unique life even aside from her gender transformation.
The writing style makes this quite a light, entertaining read -- it's a bit chatty and rambling, with lots of jokes and tangents thrown in. Her likeable personality really shines through. Sometimes Bornstein will highly embellish an event and then 3 pages later will confess that the entire incident was all a lie. About the important stuff, though, she writes candidly -- even when telling the truth makes her look like less than a spectacular person.
So, I suppose a brief summary is in order. Bornstein was born (then Albert) into a fairly average, upper-middle class Jewish family on the Jersey Shore. His father was a super-macho doctor, and Al could never be masculine enough to please him. As a teenage hippie traveling the country, Al stumbles upon Scientology, where the concept of genderless "thetans" holds a unique appeal to the boy who has been hiding the belief that he's a girl for most of his life. He joins up, enlists in their Sea Org, and serves for a decade on a ship right alongside L. Ron Hubbard, until he's summarily kicked out (for reasons that are too convoluted to go into here, so read the damn book). Along the way, he marries three different women in an attempt to "pray the trans away", and has a daughter, Jessica, who he last saw when she was around five years old. He also struggles with depression, alcohol and drug addiction, anorexia, and self-injury. Eventually he sobers up, gets into therapy, starts living as a woman, gets genital reassignment surgery, and discovers she is a lesbian.
There's obviously a whole lot more to it than that, but it's a hell of a life story. There are some really hard parts to read, though. Bornstein's whole reason for writing the book is to reach out to her now-adult daughter in hopes that they will one day reconnect. It's heartbreaking. Additionally, this book should really come with a trigger warning for eating disorders and cutting/SI. I wish someone had warned me, and I'm not usually that sensitive to triggers. Finally, there's a section in the last third of the book that gets pretty heavily into BDSM, and is quite graphic. Just so's you guys know.(less)
The first time I heard about Locked-In Syndrome was on that episode of House. I almost didn't believe it was a real condition at first, it seemed so h...moreThe first time I heard about Locked-In Syndrome was on that episode of House. I almost didn't believe it was a real condition at first, it seemed so horrific. Being trapped in your own body like that, with a mind as sharp as ever but unable to control your body or communicate? It's the stuff of nightmares. Because of the nature of the syndrome and its rarity, doctors know very little about it. They do have this firsthand account to go on, though -- Jean-Dominique Bauby became "locked-in" following a severe stroke and being a journalist, decided to write about his experience. He never recovered, however, and his entire memoir was composed and memorized in his head and then dictated to an assistant through a special code consisting entirely of blinking his left eyelid -- the only part of his body he could control. Now that is impressive.(less)
I wanted to love this, especially after really enjoying the author's sex work memoir, Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire, but it w...moreI wanted to love this, especially after really enjoying the author's sex work memoir, Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire, but it was ultimately a little disappointing. Sarah Katherine Lewis's writing is so shameless and in-your-face that I expected this to be a manifesto, something that I would find myself reading passages aloud from, nodding and excited that someone GETS IT, but it just turned out to be a collection of lukewarm essays about, well, food and sex. Some were better than others, certainly: Earl Grey Tea, a "love story" of sorts about hooking up with a butch lesbian in a new city; Britney, in which the author espouses her love for the pop princess and why she considers Ms. Spears a feminist icon; Baby Ruth Man and Agapae, tales similar to those in her previous book about delightfully kinky clients. I loved the simplicity of The Bacon Quotient, because really, who hasn't been there? And I appreciated the body-love messages of Thin and Fat. The last section about heartbreak really began to grate on me, though. There's only so much wallowing in self-pity and cartons of ice cream as I can stand, and we've all been there, so she's not really saying anything original. (less)
"I don't care what Butterball.com says, the hardest part about cooking the perfect Thanksgiving dinner is avoiding the splinters of broken crack pipes that collect in the crevices of the kitchen floor. ... In our newfound resolve to be a normal couple, Jack and I had invited twenty-nine assorted hookers, drag queens, club promoters, drug dealers, and Mr. Beefeater to our Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Family Dinner."
Another from one of my favorite nonfiction genres: the zany, fucked-up, and probably highly embellished memoir. The person who inspired me to push this one up my TBR mountain was actually part of the 90's New York drag scene and totally remembers Aqua and her trademark clear plastic boobs with live goldfish swimming around in them. But as fun as the drunken club stories are, the real meat of this memoir is what goes on behind the scenes in Josh's personal life over the course of his first year in the city and his turbulent relationship with his boyfriend Jack, who just so happens to be a crack-addicted sadomasochistic escort.
There are hilarious parts (like the aforementioned Thanksgiving dinner) and heartbreaking parts (like the time Aqua gets rolled by a pair of brothers she tried to hook up with and ends up cutting her face more so she can tell people at work she was mugged). Definitely one of the best out of similar-themed memoirs I've read.(less)