Transitioning

Need some beach reads this weekend to take you from summer to fall? Try a trans memoir and E. Lynn Harris’ parting potboiler

Nina-Here-Nor-There-author-CREDIT-Melinda-Bagatelos
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS | Krieger’s memoir tracks his passage from Nina to Nick.

Maybe you’ve always hated your nose, or your ears make you look like you’re part elephant. Or your lips are too pouty, your thighs too big, your arms too fat and you hate your butt.

You can change all of that, and then some.

But would you have the courage to alter the very things that define you to the rest of society?  In Nina Here nor There, you’ll see why one young man did.

When writer-blogger Nina Krieger landed in San Francisco’s Castro district, she felt welcomed. Her lesbian friends, the “A-gays,” folded her into their circle with parties. Old pals were glad to see Krieger, and she was glad to find an apartment with roommates she could tolerate. She even found a job that allowed her to continue writing.

But Krieger wasn’t happy. For years, she’d struggled with gender identity: She was not a lesbian, not exactly a woman … but she was, at least biologically. Being in the Castro gave her hope, though, and unwittingly, she had surrounded herself with people who could give her guidance: Greg, with his newly-flat chest and eagerness for life, was willing to share his experiences with surgery and testosterone shots; Jess, one of Krieger’s roommates, was transitioning and taught Krieger about “packing” and binding; Zippy, a long-time close friend, gave optimistic support.

“Before moving to the Castro, I’d thought becoming a man was as realistic as growing wings,” Krieger writes.

But living with her community gave Krieger the courage to try. Deciding that breasts were the worst part of who she was, Krieger bought minimizers and purchased the other body parts that she lacked. Little by little, she allowed her family careful peeks into the person she knew herself to be. She convinced herself that she belonged, yet she was uneasy. What exists between girl and boy? “I didn’t fully relate to either anymore,” Krieger writes.

Despite a fear of needles, unfazed by a list of realities, and heartbroken by a paternal lack of understanding, Krieger knew she had to find out.

Nina Here nor There is a bit of a conundrum. On one side, Krieger takes his readers by the hand, allowing us to see what he sees. As he explores the gender spectrum, we do, too. At the same time he’s seeing the blurred lines of woman and not-woman, we see it as well. The journey is a good one.

But by the time I got to the latter third of the book, I was good and ready for Nina to make up her mind. By then — just before the culmination of the story — Nina Here nor There becomes a struggle, both in content and story. And it’s with great relief that you’ll find what happens.

You have 24 hours in a day. Over 1,400 minutes, around 86,000 seconds, and you still can’t do everything you need to get done. Some days, you just want to clone yourself. With two of you, maybe you’d get finished. Double you, and you might actually get ahead.

Cobi Aiden Winslow just found his doppelganger in the last place he’d ever think to look. And in No One in the World, it might be the last thing he ever does.

Cobi always had whatever he wanted … except for one thing. From the moment he was adopted, he had maid service in a mansion in the best Chicago neighborhood. He had nice clothes, a law-school education, cars and antiques, but he didn’t have his father’s acceptance. Cobi was gay, and his father hated it.

But acceptance was never going to come. Cobi’s parents were killed in a plane crash, but not before telling him that he had a twin brother… somewhere. Absent a father’s love, a newfound brother was all Cobi could think about.

Sissy Winslow learned about the family business at her father’s elbow. She thought it would be hers someday, so when her parents’ will was read and her brother got half the shares, she was stunned. Cobi didn’t know a thing about Winslow Products. He was a lawyer, not a CEO. Worse yet, the will stipulated that Cobi had to be married to a woman by his 34th birthday or his share of the stocks would be sold. A takeover is imminent: Cobi turns 34 in less than a month and there is no woman on the horizon.

Quickly thinking, Sissy devises a plan to save the business. As she searches for a stylish, smart, society-worthy woman who can be bought, Cobi searches for his twin brother. But as he is finally reconnecting with a part of him he never knew about, he is also inviting trouble. Though he’s been successful in hiding it thus far, there was suddenly too many people who know he is gay. And that knowledge is going to cost him.

E. Lynn Harris has been gone two years now, and in his preface, co-author RM Johnson says that he and Harris collaborated on this novel before Harris’ death.  So is this book reminiscent of Harris’ other books, or…?

No-One-in-the-WorldNo One in the World is spicier than Harris fans might be used to. There’s an underlying feeling of threat that’s irresistible and though you might think you know what’s going to happen, you’d be wrong. There were times when I thought the story briefly got a little silly, but I did like how it unfolded overall and how there were surprises in the creases.

If you’re looking for something quick to take to the beach for a three-day weekend, you can’t go wrong with this. No One in the World will grab you in a second, and you’ll want to read it all day.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Queen lantern

tube-1Texas native Zimmer Barnes is a real-life crime-fighter, bringing gay bashers to justice in the HBO doc ‘Superheroes’

Last year’s film Kick-Ass saw a high school comic book nerd don an improvised superhero outfit and take to the streets to fight crime (albeit, as the title indicates, getting his ass kicked plenty in the process). This year’s satirical movie comedy Super also saw an ordinary schlub take matters (and a wrench) into his own home-made costumed hands, playing heroic vigilante Crimson Bolt, with a psychotic Ellen Page as sidekick to boot.

However, director Michael Barnett and openly gay producer Theodore James learned that the concept of everyday folk taking to the streets as real-life crime fighters and altruistic guardians of justice isn’t altogether fictitious: There are several hundred real-life superheroes registered in online communities, almost a dozen of whom are profiled in the documentary, Superheroes, which debuts on HBO Monday.

One of the crime-fighters profiled is openly gay Zimmer Barnes, aka Zimmer, a member of the Brooklyn-based “fantastic foursome” New York Initiative (NYI), which is seen in the documentary attempting to bait and get righteous on local homophobes, helping patch up accident victims (Zimmer’s day job is as an EMT) and stop a would-be drunk— and we’re talking seriously wasted —  driver from getting behind the wheel.

Born in Victoria, Texas, in 1988, and having attended high school in Austin between 2003–06, Zimmer moved to Brooklyn in 2009 to form the NYI with roommates T.S.A.F, Z, and Lucid.

Zimmer spoke by phone about being part of the documentary, how this real-life superhero movement started (it was a group of LGBTs!), and whether “it gets better” when you fight back with a costumed alter-ego.

— Lawrence Ferber

tube-2
FETISH FOR JUSTICE | Zimmer, left, teams with other members of New York Initiative, though he refuses to wear a mask — he’s out of the closet, he says, why go back in by pretending to be someone else?

Dallas Voice: When did you first get inspired to become Zimmer the superhero? What triggered the epiphany? Zimmer: I read a news article in 2003 or so about another crime fighter, Terrifica. She’d been date-raped and didn’t want any woman to suffer that ordeal, so she would go into bars and interfere with guys trying to pick up drunk girls. She would get in the way and tell the guy, “This girl isn’t going home with you,” and she would do this in a gold sequined mask and red cape. She’d give that woman every chance she could to get away and in one interview, she said a lot of times girls would say, “I’m not being taken advantage of, I want to do this,” and then she would give them a condom and say, “At least make a bad decision not be a worse decision,” and leave them alone. That was amazing to me. In her spare time she was doing this incredible thing and that really resonated with me, and there were a lot of people doing their own thing in every corner of the world and it was something I wanted to be a part of.

How did you and the NYI become part of Superheroes? We were getting some media requests and turned down a lot of them. But I agreed to sit down with [the producers, Theodore James and Mike Barnett] and they convinced me they had good intentions. We met at a coffee shop in Brooklyn and at one point I left Mike and T.J. to talk amongst themselves, but what they didn’t know was that my NYI colleagues were sitting behind them listening to what they were saying. We learned that even when they had the opportunity to talk behind my back they didn’t say anything negative. So that’s the reason we decided to do the documentary.

What was the actual shooting process like, and what sort of accommodations did you have to make to let them bring cameras along on patrols and fag basher-baiting operations? We weren’t always patient with that process, but Mike was really innovative. His approach and how he was going to shoot these un-shootable scenes, it worked out for the best. There’s something actually called a HeroCam — it’s a waterproof HD cam — I had that on a chest strap for a lot of missions. It’s just about the size of a pager or cell phone. It was a unique experience.

What sorts of things didn’t make it into the documentary and what else is NYI up to these days? A lot of stuff ended up on the editing room floor. We do a lot of outreach to homeless organizations — there’s a tunnel people live underneath in the Bronx and we brought supplies to them, but that didn’t make it in. Because in New York it gets freezing during winter, we try to collect and hoard blankets and medical supplies throughout spring and fall and when it gets cold we try to hand out all that stuff. Today the NYI is undergoing several missions protecting the West Village from muggers and providing self-defense information and outreach to sex workers. We’ve got exciting stuff in the works but I can’t talk about it yet.

How does your being gay fit in to your being a superhero? In the documentary you say something to the tune of you choose not to wear a mask because you don’t want to be closeted.  I don’t think it fits in a huge way. It’s never been a secret. I came out in high school. I didn’t necessarily want to be an embodiment or speak for an entire community but it’s something I’ve never made a secret of.

How would you feel about a gay teen who takes on school bullies and fag bashers a la Kick-Ass instead of just the pacifistic ‘It Gets Better’ approach? While everyone’s situation is different, I strongly recommend to anyone who might be a victim of violence to have a strong education in self-defense. I’ve broken up dozens of fights and defended myself from blows without ever having to throw a punch — so far, anyway. But that doesn’t mean I don’t practice. Speak respectfully and pack a knock-out punch.

Which comic book superhero do you feel is the most inspiring for LGBTs? Chris Claremont’s 1970–80s run on X-Men is a great read for anyone feeling different or an outcast. There’s a lot to be said for geek culture being ahead of the curve, and Claremont really nails it on diversity as a strength, not a weakness. If you want to read greatly written LGBT characters, I highly recommend Ed Brubaker’s and Will Pfeifer’s run on Catwoman as well as Gail Simone’s Secret Six.

Are other LGBT people doing what you’re doing? Yeah, there are. The earliest [superhero group] we know of was actually a gay and lesbian group in San Francisco, the Lavender Panthers. There was a lot of gay bashing going on, and [a gay Pentecostal Evangelist named] Rev. Ray Broshears was being harassed. The police didn’t do anything so they formed their own group and looked around for gay-bashings and handled it. It’s not something I would believe, it sounds like a comic book, but Time Magazine did an article on these guys in 1973. They were around before the Guardian Angels. As far as I know they were the original group.

Do your friends and family know about your alter-ego? I don’t have an alter-ego: Zimmer is my real first name. I don’t have a lot of secrets with friends. My friends are pretty weird. My mother is an attorney and her mother was a police officer, so criminal justice as a career is part of the family. I think my mom was supportive of it.

And boyfriends? I was dating during the course of making the documentary. We broke up and [my work as a ­superhero] was one of the reasons why. They were really worried about what I was doing and the more dangerous aspects.

And what do you want people who watch Superheroes to come away from the experience with? I want people to realize that even a single person’s effort and passion can make a huge impact. There’s something exciting about using your time and energy to help other people.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Deadly vices

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, by Bill Clegg (Little, Brown and Company, 2010), $23.99

Portrait of an Addicat as a Young ManIn the new book Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, author Bill Clegg’s addiction was far from harmless. In the end, in fact, it almost killed him. And it all started out so innocently.

Like many college students, Clegg and his roommates enjoyed a good time. They smoked a little pot, drank and serial-dated women, pulled pranks, did cocaine, and got high again.

His introduction to crack came from the first man he ever had more-than-fleeting sex with. A hometown lawyer, a man he had known forever, invited Clegg to his apartment for a drink. They talked about the man’s kids and his wife, made out a little, and then the man disappeared into the bedroom. He came back with “milk-colored crystals” and a clear glass tube.

After his first gulp of crack, Clegg says of himself, “He misses the feeling even before it’s left him and not only does he want more, he needs it.” And from then on, he needed it all the time.

But that (the night of firsts) was all before Clegg repeatedly lied to his friends and family. It was before he left his boyfriend, Noah, at an important film festival in order to fly home to get high. It was before he slept with other men in seedy hotels. His first hit from the clear vial was before his business partner changed the locks.

And it was before Clegg nearly died from the drug that had ruined his life.

Reading Portrait is a different kind of experience. This book makes you squirm, and you’ll want to get through each page quickly, not because the story is good (which it is), but because reading about what Clegg lived is hard to endure.

Starting with a major binge, then moving back and forth between childhood memories and fuzzy recollections of being high, Clegg walks a tightrope between wry humor and wrung-out horror. Early memories are written in third-person, giving them a remote feeling and adding more tenseness to this already-raw memoir.

If you relish a tough-to-read story with edge, you’ll want this one. Like any craving, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man will be impossible to let go of.

— Gregg Shapiro

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas