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Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton
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Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  421 ratings  ·  45 reviews
The jazz pianist Billy Tipton was born in Oklahoma City as Dorothy Tipton, but almost nobody knew the truth until the day he died, in Spokane in 1989. Over a fifty-year performing career, Billy Tipton fooled nearly everyone, including Duke Ellington and Norma Teagarden, five successive wives with whom Billy lived as a man, and three children who he "fathered." As Billy Tip ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 16th 1999 by Mariner Books (first published May 1st 1998)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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 ·  421 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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May 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
The author is extremely offensive in her refusal to consider that her subject may not have been "playing a role" or "deceiving" anyone. It is easy enough to imagine a person dressing up as a different gender in order to obtain access to worlds not easily attainable in their present gender presentation. But to live for all of one's adult life in a single gender presentation without revealing the sex assigned at birth to anyone, including your own wife or child, is a strong case for believing that ...more
mr. kate
Jul 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to mr. kate by: Someone who wants to interogate the ideas of trans narrative
This book is totally Judith Halberstam discusses in "In a Queer Time and Place". Tipton's life as a jazz musician is interesting and colorful. Middlebrook makes a choice to use both male and female pronouns and flips back and forth between the pronouns and birth name and chosen name like she's writing two characters. She also tends to argue that Tipton lived as man because it was easier to be a jazz musician that way. Middlebrook cannot let gender be complicated, even though she ...more
Aug 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: never-finished
First off, I didn't read the whole thing. I just couldn't. I had to keep giving myself a quick pep talk before picking it up, telling myself that it had to get better, that the story would pick up, that the author would let go some of her ignorant assumptions and just tell the story. It never got better. I gave up after chapter 9.

The first sentence of the Preface made my blood boil. "This is the story of a woman named Billy Tipton, a jazz musician who lived as a man from the time she was ninetee
Chelsea Starr
Aug 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
i loved this book. but i sort of didn't like how the author offered billy's musicianship and need to fit into a man's world the main reason behind his trans-identity. the cause/effect of that was annoying to me. how about he was trans because he was a man? anyway, besides that i loved the book.
Caidyn (BW Reviews; he/him/his)
Okay but "fooled nearly everyone"??

Fuck off.
Sep 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
I thought Billy's story was compelling and presented with compassion for the most part. However, I couldn't get on board with the way the author continued to question Billy's motives for his double life, rather than accepting that he identified as male.
May 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
The story is incredible but the author is transphobic.
Aug 09, 2010 rated it liked it
I was disapppointed that the author of this book could take such an amazing life story and make it boring. The writing itself is problematic - the author uses both he and she pronouns for Billy at different times that I think only make sense to her, and also occasionally inserts herself into the work in first person. I found this jarring and couldn't quite figure out why she did it, since she never actually knew Billy.

The info contained in the book feels thin and padded, which I would like to t
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An incredible story, both sad and inspiring. The nagging question we are left with is, How much of Billy's choices were due to societal constraints, and how much to self-determination? The interplay between these two forces is the heart of the story.
Allison Streeter
Jul 25, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 20, 2020 rated it liked it
The book is exhaustively researched, and Billy's life was fascinating. I didn't like the pronoun flipping though, and the constant curiosity about why Billy lived as he did, and the way the author framed it as deception or a charade. It's pretty obvious that Billy identified as a man - was a man, and also a musician, and there isn't a whole lot of mystery about it. This book is from 1998, and I wonder if the author would make the same choices if she was writing it today.

I'm giving this three sta
Sheri Lutz
Jul 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Given that it was written in 1998, *21* YEARS AGO, the language is dated. However, it's scrupulously researched and thoughtful.
Aug 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
In spite of my interest in Billy Tipton, this was absolutely unbearable to read. The constant switching of pronouns was jarring to say the least, and the whole thing felt bordering on transphobia
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting book about Billy Tipton, a musician in the jazz/swing era who was born a woman but passed as a man almost his entire adult life. It's both fascinating and frustrating trying to dig into how that was possible, and who knew what and when, because he didn't confide in anyone at all.

Nevertheless, the fact that Dorothy Tipton (as Billy was named at birth) started dressing as a man to pursue a career as a musician was definitely known in her home state of Oklahoma and surro
Mar 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
Diane Middlebrook is a great biographer. Sadly, I found out about her because I stumbled across her obituary on Stanford's webpage several months ago. RIP.

The story of Billy Tipton as she wrote it is very compelling. I'm quite sure the truth about Billy being Dorothy first made news in the tabloids. True to form, when I told people about the book I was reading, their first questions all revolved around sex. While the book does answer some of those questions, it is an in-depth exploration of gend
Mar 27, 2012 rated it liked it
I found this book fascinating, although sometimes frustrating. Middlebrook attempts to delve into Billy's reasons for "passing" without any evidence, really, except for what other people in Billy's life felt to be the cause and the cultural climate. Ultimately, it felt a bit cobbled-together--part musical biography and part gender journey. I also found Middlebrook's use of pronouns confusing, in spite of her explanation in the forward. It did not seem consistent to me, and sometimes felt denigra ...more
Aug 29, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David Horney
Sep 02, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: my-41st-year
Billy Tipton began life a little girl named Dorothy. She started passing as a man to be accepted in the jazz world. Ultimately he lived his entire life as a man and no one, apparently including most of his wives knew the difference.

Billy Tipton's life story is fascinating, unfortunately a huge portion of this book is "we can only imagine". The whole point of his "secret" is that it was a secret and he left no explanations behind. The actual facts in this book would make a good sized (albeit rive
Very interesting bio of a peculiar figure in American music history; the writing on gender issues was definitely stronger than that on music. It might be difficult to keep readers who are not up on country swing or jazz of the Depression or pre- and post-War era engaged. More should have been written as well about the reception of the revelation of Billy / Dorothy's biological gender after his death. Also, the writer inserts too many subjunctive clauses ("... he would have ..."); while evidence ...more
Mar 13, 2010 marked it as abandoned
The oh-so-juicy and intriguing 1992 Middlebrook book on Anne Sexton prompted me to get "Suits Me", a biography of thrice wed jazz musician Billy Tipton. Billy was born Dorothy Tipton and this book chronicles discussions with family members, friends and acquaintances about his life, yet the juicy intrigue is not there as it was with Anne Sexton (Anne's hook = brilliance, psychosis and a touch of incest).
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Billy Tipton, a trans man who came of age in the 1920s, managed to keep his birth gender a secret from his wives and his friends. He didn't keep a journal. There are no medical records and few recordings left of his long career as a jazz entertainer. Without little to go on from Billy himself, Middlewood pieces together anecdotes from those who knew him into a compelling narrative that is punctured with her own musings and framed beautifully in the era's mid-American jazz scene.
Jan 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is about a female jazz/blues muscian who couldn't play in the clubs (1930s) because she was female so she "became" a man. Billy Tipton married twice and both wives claim to have never known "Billy's: true gender. The book is super interesting for a bunch of reasons: women's issues, particularly in the South and in the music world, Billy herslf/himself, etc.
Jun 22, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating biography of a jazz musician who "passed" as a man in the years of vaudeville and the Great Depression. Drawn to this because I have read Middlebrook's biographies of Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes and Anne Sexton, and because Billy/Dorothy Tipton shared my birthdate, it was a curious snippet of history, although it leaves most questions still unanswered.
Cathy Scholtens
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
I too was seriously disappointed that, although well researched, this book failed to answer ANY of the obvious questions one would ask... how did Billy get away with hiding her gender all those years, what was the transformation started by? Someone must have been given more clues. The book spent a lot of time on the "boys being boys" life of musicians, and not much on the psychological issues.
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Really cool book. REal life. Oklahoma history. About a wo/man. Even got a band in it! This is the real story of a woman who felt it necessary to become a man to play music in a time where women couldn't do as much as men. Haven't you always heard of that mythical person and wanted to "know"? Read this book! It has interviews and pictures too!
Jan 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: i-own
I happen to come across this book on thrift books so I ordered it. It tell the story of Billie Tipton the jazz musician who everyone though was a man, in actuality he was a female. Billies name was actually Dorothy Tipton and he was born a female.Billie's 2 cousins knew his secret but treated him with respect for who he was.He just wanted to live his life but some people treated him as a freak.
Oct 17, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: gender
This book is very much a "biography", and it plays up the drama of the DOUBLE LIFE. I'm a fan of gender as performance, but I fear this book is in danger of oversimplifying it. It is, however, doing an excellent jo of putting Tipton's jazz persona in historical perspective.
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Middlebrook does a great job of telling the story of Tipton's life while being sensitive to her/his family. She also reminds readers that we can't impose our modern perspectives and beliefs on Tipton's time.
May 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012, non-fiction
"A biography of Billy Tipton-an American jazz musician active in the Midwest, South and Northwest. "
read more (including my misgivings)at:
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Middlebrook, who taught at Stanford for 35 years, was perhaps best known for Anne Sexton: A Biography. Its intense scrutiny of the poet's life made it "one of the turning points of late 20th-century biography," according to the newspaper. Middlebrook published several other well-received biographies and works of criticism, and was known for funding various arts organizations and literary salons f ...more

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