Thursday, July 19, 2012

Suits Me- Diane Wood Middlebrook

Suits Me-Diane Wood Middlebrook

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 281
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 1998
Non-fiction, Biography

A biography of Billy Tipton-an American jazz musician active in the Midwest, South and Northwest.

This is not a spoiler-Billy was born Dorothy Tipton but ze lived as a man all zir life as a bandleader and performer on stage. Ze was married to multiple women. This is a fascinating life story that provides a snapshot into a transgendered individual in early American history. I mean, Billy was born in 1917 and was in the public eye all throughout the 50s and 70s and I know of no other such biography or memoir that I can access through my local library system that covers such a life.

My main problem though was of pronouns. All throughout the book I'm stuck thinking WHY THE SWITCHING!? Billy seems to never have switched-he lived as man. One justification given is that ze wrote letters to zir family who never seemed to really accept zir as a man which doesn't strike me /at all/ as a good justification. Ze wanted to keep in contact with the family ze loved? To me, what.a.surprise. instead of “perfect excuse to remind you that ze was once a little girl.” (I'm writing this review in this modern, new-fangled neutral pronoun but I wish Middlebrook had stuck to male pronouns.)

But even that wasn't as irritating as the fact that I saw no justification for the assertion that Billy wanted a dramatic reveal when ze died and the whole “Billy's life was all a performance” talk really, really bugged me. I felt like it was a dismissal of Billy's life as a performance. Sure Billy never seemed to identify as transgender but he acted in all ways (except the occasional family time) as a man during a time when transgenderism wasn't really a thing which doesn't merit mixed pronouns that felt disrespectful.

I found myself asking constantly why Middlebrook felt such.a.need to simplify what is actually incredibly complicated.

I recommend this to people who can see beyond the somewhat dated interpretations who is interested in queer history.

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