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Wasting away

Gay author shares horrifying memoir

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My Thinning Years, gay news, Washington Blade
My Thinning Years, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy Hazelden)

‘My Thinning Years: Starving the Gay Within’

 

By Jon Derek Corteau

 

Hazelden

 

$14.95

 

240 pages

 

“You look great!”

When you’re dieting, there are no sweeter words. Losing weight is work, sacrifice and lots of self-control. For sure, it’s not for wimps.

But how much is too much? Can you shed your past while you shed pounds, too? In “My Thinning Years” by Jon Derek Croteau, you’ll read about gains and losses that have nothing to do with a scale.

From a very young age, Croteau feared his father.

A salesman who traveled a lot, the man was loud, controlling and abusive to the entire family, both physically and mentally. Croteau remembers when he was small and his father screamed at him for singing in front of family friends. When Croteau confessed to playing dress up in preschool, his father withheld food. Years later, after the family moved from Ohio to the Boston area, Croteau’s father forced him into sports, vowing to “make … a real man” of him.

Croteau fiercely hated sports but played anyhow. He desperately wanted his father’s approval; football, basketball and baseball seemed the way to get it.

But the older Croteau got, the more relentless the abuse became. He started staying with friends as much as possible, avoiding his own home. By then, he’d “internalized” his father’s homophobia and, in doing so, began to fear his own feelings and confusion about his sexuality. He prayed to God to deliver him from being gay. He developed an unrequited crush on his best guy friend.

Disgusted with himself, loathing his father but unable to stop trying to win his love and approval, Croteau became depressed and considered suicide.

He couldn’t, so he began running. When he realized that exercise and weight were things he could control, he ran even more. He cut fat from his diet entirely, then avoided almost all foods and began to starve.

“I knew that my father would rather I be dead than be gay,” he says. “There was nothing I could do but obey the orders I was given, until I disintegrated into nothingness … and no one was going to stop me.”

In his preface, author Jon Derek Croteau (who obviously lived to tell the tale) says he almost didn’t write this book, until he realized that “My Thinning Years” might inspire others to “let hope in” when faced with abuse for being gay.

For sure, victims who start this emotional rags-to-riches story will know they’re in the company of a kindred spirit because of what Croteau bravely shares. Those heartbreaking recollections make this a hard book to read for anyone (including LGBT allies, who will be horrified) but, at the same time, it’s also hard to turn away from the firm promise of triumph we’ll get in the end. “It Gets Better” was never more apt than here.

If you’ve taken an anti-bullying stand this year, you will surely appreciate what’s inside this book. It may not exactly be a pleasure read, but “My Thinning Years” is thick with meaning.

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A balanced look at whether to have children

New book, ‘So When are You Having Kids?’ makes no judgments

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(Book cover image courtesy of Macmillan)

So When are You Having Kids?
By Jordan Davidson
c.2022, Sounds True, Macmillan
$28.99/356 pages

Your mother lingers way too long in the children’s department.

She sighs over tiny suits and little sneakers, running her fingers along soft blankets, hugging plush animals. You know what she wants but you’re not ready; she might be sure but you’re not. Maybe baby for you or, with the new book “So When are You Having Kids?” by Jordan Davidson, maybe not.

It’s the thorniest of decisions, “one of the biggest you’ll ever make.” It’s personal, but even strangers want to know; the questions start in your 20s and end when you’ve acquiesced or aged, although having kids is not a given or a thing-by-committee. So how do you quiet the busybodies and make the right decision for yourself?

First, says Davidson, ask yourself if you even want children, and after you’ve looked inward, “it’s worth looking outward” at expectations, culture, and things that “shape our understanding of parenthood.” Ask around, to see why others had children but don’t be surprised if you get cliches. Throw out the idea that children fulfill you or that they’ll take care of you when you’re old. Know that genetics, religion, and your parents’ parenting styles will affect you; and that if you’re queer or Black, there’ll be other factors involved in having and raising a child.

Should you decide to the positive, you may still have reservations.

Don’t give in to the romance of having kids; it’s hard work, and expensive in both money and time. Remember that perceptions of good parenting have “shifted over time” and that having a childhood exactly like yours probably won’t be an option for your kids. If you have a partner, communicate your thoughts, hopes, and divisions of household labor and childcare.

Finally, decide how you’re going to become a parent. Will you give birth, choose IVF, adopt, foster, or kick the decision down the road?

Says Davidson, the mere ability to ask these questions and decide “is in many ways a privilege.”

Chances are that if you hear a screaming baby, you have one of two reactions: you cringe and look for an exit, or you notice and shrug. Either way, “So When are You Having Kids?” is a book for you.

There are many, many parenting books on miles of shelves, and a number of books on being childless, but author Jordan Davidson pulls the two subjects together here with thoughtfulness, candor, inclusiveness, and a refreshing lack of judgment. This is a book that doesn’t promise answers, though: it’s meant to give readers – whether they want kids, don’t, or are ambivalent – an in-one-place, balanced look at myths, truths, pros, cons, and rarely-considered points for an informed decision. It also, perhaps most importantly, offers comforting reminders that there is no right or wrong, no matter what Mom says.

“So When are You Having Kids?” is like having a big sister to bounce ideas with, or a break-out session in your living room. It’s like asking Baby Maybe questions you didn’t know you had. It’s help when you need it in that department.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Books

Hoover is a conflicted, flawed human in new biography

‘G-Man’ explores how he created an unrivaled personal fiefdom

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(Book cover image courtesy of Viking)

‘G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century’
By Beverly Gage
c.2022, Viking
$45/837 pages

“We’re sorry we can’t be in the front row to hiss — no kiss you,” two fans wrote in a telegram to Ethel Merman in the 1930s when they couldn’t make the opening of one of her shows.

The Merman friends were J. Edgar Hoover and his “right-hand man” Clyde Tolson.

“G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century” by Yale historian Beverly Gage is the first biography of Hoover to appear in 30 years. Gage has done the unimaginable. She makes you want to read about J. Edgar Hoover. “G-Man” won’t make you wish you were one of Hoover’s BFFs. It’ll compel you to see Hoover, not as a villainous caricature, but as a conflicted, flawed human being.

“G-Man” is not only a fascinating bio of Hoover, who directed the FBI from 1924 until the day he died on May 2, 1972 at age 77. It’s a page-turning history of the United States in the 20th century.

Hoover, who played a key role in the “lavender scare” of the 1950s, hated and harassed Martin Luther King, Jr. and engaged in an anti-Communist crusade, has “emerged,” Gage writes, “as one of history’s great villains, perhaps the most universally reviled American political figure of the twentieth century.”

In “G-Man,” Gates, drawing on recently released files, tells the story of how Hoover came to power and used the tools of the “administrative state,” to, as Gage writes, “create a personal fiefdom unrivaled in U.S. history.”

But, Gage makes clear, it’s a misreading of American history to think that Hoover was a lone, evil rouge.

During his time as FBI director, Hoover had the support of eight presidents (four Democrats and four Republicans) and of Congress. Gage documents how much of the American public, for most of Hoover’s 48 years as FBI director, shared his racist, homophobic and rabidly anti-Communist views. 

Hoover, a life-long D.C. resident, “embodied conservative values ranging from anti-Communism to white supremacy to a crusading and politicized interpretation of Christianity,” Gage writes.

“Far from making him a public scourge,” she adds, “these two aspects of his life garnered him the admiration of millions of Americans, including many of the country’s leading politicians, for most of his career.”

Hoover never openly identified as gay. He sent FBI agents out to warn anyone gossiping that he was gay to stop spreading rumors. Once, Hoover learned a D.C. bakery employee  had said he’d “heard the director is a queer,’” Gage reports. Hoover dispatched FBI agents, Gage writes, “to threaten and intimidate him into silence.”

There’s no evidence of Hoover having sex with another man. A story (told in an earlier bio) of Hoover wearing a dress at a gathering lacks credibility, Gage says. Because the woman who told the anecdote had been arrested for perjury.

But, using sources that weren’t available to previous biographers, Gage argues persuasively that Hoover and Tolson were for decades what we would call, today, a same-sex couple.

Beginning in 1935, Hoover and Tolson plunged into a whirl of nightlife – going to nightclubs and hanging with celebrities, Gage reports. 

Hoover kept some things about his relationship with Tolson private, Gage writes, “yet what is most striking about their budding relationship is not its furtive quality but its openness, vitality, and broad social acceptance.”

Hoover and Tolson vacationed together yearly in Florida and California.

Officially, their friends and colleagues, said the couple was “too masculine” to be queer, Gage writes, “reflecting a mid-century view of male homosexuality as something for ‘sissies’ and outliers.”

But, “Everybody knew about J. Edgar Hoover,” Gage reports Ethel Merman recalled decades later of Hoover in the 1930s. “A lot of people have always been homosexual. To each his own.” 

Neither Tolson or Hoover married or thought about marrying a woman. When Hoover died, he left most of his estate to Tolson. We don’t know what they did in the bedroom, Gage says, but Hoover and Tolson behaved like spouses.

Unfortunately, Hoover’s feelings for Tolson didn’t stop him from playing a crucial part in the “lavender scare” or from having the FBI monitor the D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society.

“G-Man” documents Hoover’s racism in sobering detail. Gates doesn’t downplay Hoover’s racism, role in the 1919 or 1950s red scare; lavender scare; or  harassment of Vietnam war protesters.

In “G-Man,” Gage helps us understand how Hoover’s views were formed: from his shame at having a mentally ill father to the “muscular, masculine” Christianity of his childhood to his life-long connection to Kappa Alpha, a racist George Washington University fraternity that believed in the “Lost Cause” of the South.

“G-Man”is an illuminating and engrossing read – with movie stars, history, gangsters and a humanized villain. 

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Books

New book ‘Mad Honey’ packed full of surprises

Teen relationships, family secrets explode in story you will savor

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(Book cover image courtesy of Ballantine Books)

‘Mad Honey’
By Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
c.2022, Ballantine Books 
$29.99/464 pages

You’ve never been one to follow all the buzz.

Gossip is not very reliable anyhow, and you have better things to do than celebrity watch. This star does that, and that star’s embroiled in scandal, nobody has any privacy anymore. Nah, that ho-hum has never been your thing. As in the new novel “Mad Honey” by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, the hive is rarely right.

If you move slow enough and don’t make any sudden moves, honeybees are generally peaceful creatures. Olivia McAfee knows this, and that’s why she often visits her hives without a protective suit: she’s relatively sure she won’t get stung.

That’s not the case when it comes to her son, Asher. A senior in high school, her 18 year old can be prickly sometimes, and sometimes, stings are part of parenting a teenager. This, Liv knows, is one of those times: Asher’s in love, and it’s not going well.

Nineteen-year-old Lily Campanello arrived in town with her mother at the end of the summer and she and Asher have had a stormy relationship since they started going out. Liv hates to see Asher so upset, but she knows that love is complicated. She loved Asher’s father, despite that she spent too much time hiding the bruises she got from him.

Asher knew he’d messed up.

When he found Lily’s father, a man she hadn’t seen in years, he’d meant to surprise her but the surprise was on Asher: Lily was angry and she wouldn’t exactly say why. She just walked, almost ran, away and she wouldn’t talk about it. She wouldn’t even answer Asher’s texts and now he was getting angry. Should he worry about her, or just go to her house?

He chose the latter.

It was the middle of the night when the police came for him. They handcuffed Asher before they gave him his shoes, and hauled him away without a coat on a freezing night.

Olivia McAfee knows that mad honey is the result of bad foraging. It should be sweet, but it’s deadly. By the time you realize that, there’s no going back.

You know how your mind tries to figure out the ending of a book long before you’re even a third of the way there? Curiously, that doesn’t happen with “Mad Honey.” The story is too enjoyable not to savor and besides, you know what’s going to happen anyway, right?

Or not.

Nope, authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan sneak a two-fer surprise inside this book: the first one explodes with the force of a beehive full of nitroglycerin. The second is that you’ll still be left feeling smug enough to think you know how this culminates. Or not, but still: more distractions, more mini-explosions unspool with the right frequency to keep you happily eager to see how wrong you were.

This is one of those novels that’s done before you’re ready for it, leaving you slack-jawed when you close the back cover. “Mad Honey” is pretty sweet. Read it, and you’ll bee very happy.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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