First an obituary, then a review. Don’t worry, they’re connected.
While I was at Saints and Sinners this year, I learned of the death of my good friend Matt Kailey. Writer, teacher, lecturer, and trans activist, Matt represented much to many people. I was lucky enough to work with him at Out Front Colorado where he was managing editor, and I was even luckier to be invited to join a writer’s critique group he was in. I learned some valuable lessons over pizzas and soft drinks in Matt’s small Capitol Hill apartment in Denver with our friends Peter Clarke, Drew Wilson, Chris Kenry, John Brandstetter, and the late Sean Wolfe among others. Matt was also directly responsible for my first publication and, thus, my entry into gay literature. He was an incredibly unselfish individual who would answer nearly any question about his transition, no matter how boorish, as long as it was well-intentioned. He influenced an enormous number of people through his personal appearances and his autobiography, Just Add Hormones. One of those people Matt reached was Jacob Anderson-Minshall, then doing research preparatory to his own transition. Matt, however, was single. Jacob (then Suzy) was already in a lesbian relationship when he began his process. The story of how Jacob and his wife, Diane, coped with that decision and its aftermath forms the basis for their latest book, Queerly Beloved.
Told in both Diane and Jacob’s voices, their experiences are distinct as well as melded. Diane has her problems with the transition (one of which is her position in the community as a lesbian activist and journalist), and Jacob has his. That they are both able to step back and understand each other’s issues is a testament to their willingness to be together. Queerly Beloved, then, is less a story about Jacob’s transition than it is a tribute to commitment and prolonging a lifelong relationship despite its permutations.
Jacob’s sections do, indeed, deal with his transition, but not so much as you might suppose. Again, he takes a broader view of how he affects and is affected by others during this period. Looking to find out which set of genitalia he has? Look somewhere else. Jacob is detailed where he needs to be and knows how to write lines which can be read between. Diane’s chapters are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but more often she uses her subtle wit and keen observation to make her point. But as with most barbs, their sharpness hides her vulnerability.
Both Diane and Jacob bravely expose parts of themselves and their relationship, but at some point they stop and close the curtain. And rightly so. Putting this much of your life and experience out there for judgment requires both personal and artistic courage, and each author must determine where to draw the line in the sand. I wonder if or how this story would have been different had Diane and Jacob chosen to tell it through fictional characters. Perhaps it would have been too voyeuristic. In the end, they made the right choice. What’s in Queerly Beloved is both frank and informative, as readable as it is important.
And to the authors, I apologize for pairing your review with an obituary–worse, an obituary with another book title in it. However, Matt Kailey’s Just Add Hormones (original title: Tranifesto) is a wonderful book that also mines some of the same territory regarding the joys and difficulties of transitioning. I know it was not intended as Matt’s final word on the subject, and Queerly Beloved adds to and enriches what he’s done. Our stories create community. And the more stories we hear, the more we understand where everyone fits in.
© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler