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New trans memoir ‘Fairest’ full of unexpected intersections

Beautiful, riveting autobiography full of pathos, humor



Fairest: a memoir book review, gay news, Washington Blade
(Image courtesy Viking)

‘Fairest: A Memoir’

By Meredith Talusan


May 26


320 pages

“I contain multitudes,” queer poet Walt Whitman famously wrote in his poem “Song of Myself.”

Meredith Talusan, author of the recently released “Fairest: A Memoir,” who is a Filipino-American, trans and has albinism, contains more multitudes than most anyone you’ll ever meet.

In “Fairest,” a coming-of-age story, Talusan, the founding executive editor of “them,” Condé Nast’s LGBTQ digital platform, takes us on a journey from the Philippines to California.

Talusan toggles between moments in her life — from her childhood as a boy in the Philippines to her arrival as a woman at her Harvard queer alumni reunion. This could have been a muddled mess, but “Fairest” has the beauty and the gender-bending of Virginia Woolf — if Orlando were attuned to our ideas of race, sexuality, disability and gender.

Talusan was born as a boy with albinism named Marc in a village in the Philippines. Her people believed pregnant women shouldn’t spend too much time in the sun, she writes, “for fear that their baby would be born anak araw, a sun child, the strangest creature whose skin was so pale it glowed, and who … destined to be nearly blind, an affront against nature.”

Yet, Talusan’s grandmother Nanay Coro believed her albinism was a blessing, not a curse. Because, “I was destined to live in America, the richest of countries, where Mama’s father, Lolo Bert, had settled, full of people who looked like me,” Talusan writes.

In some cultures, people with albinism are shunned or killed. Yet, though, Talusan knew early on that she was different, she wasn’t shunned. When Spain and the United States colonized the Philippines, racism flourished. Because of internalized colorism, Talusan was seen as special because her skin is so light. Her grandmother assured her, “that I was meant for a better future than her and our ancestors, farmers who had tiled soil in the fields surrounding our village for generations,” she writes.

“This is because you are fair and beautiful,” her grandmother told Talusan.

As a boy called Marc, Talusan has crushes on other boys. At 11, Marc is “hopelessly smitten” with Sammy but knows that most boys don’t love other boys. At the same time, Talusan is enthralled by the singer Lea Salonga who performs in the musical “Miss Saigon.” Marc thinks how wonderful it would be to be a woman like Salonga’s character Kim in “Miss Saigon” who is “capable of getting a rugged and kind (American} man to fall in love with her.”

“Fairness” is a complex tale of passing, performance and revelation. As a young boy, Talusan learns English and American mannerisms by watching Ricky Schroder in the 1980s sitcom “Silver Spoons.” Soon, Talusan, age 7, is appearing as the son on “Bisoy: Ang Daddy Kong Baduy,” a Filipino sitcom.

At 15, Talusan and her family immigrate to California. Her father isn’t around much and her mother spends most of her time gambling. A scholarship to Harvard is Talusan’s escape from poverty and parental negligence. At Harvard from 1993-1997, Talusan is an out gay man. Talusan takes seminars that deconstruct queer literature, participates in a “kiss-in” against the religious right and engages in the irony of cool gay 1990s men.

Yet Talusan is aware that she’ll often encounter racism and prejudice if people realize she’s Asian or feel she’s too feminine. “Our looks determined our place in the pecking order and…our lack of attractiveness had so much to do with our race and femininity,” she thinks when she’s at her 1997 Harvard queer alumni reunion.

Talusan finds love and commitment with Ralph, an MIT professor. The most poignant moment in “Fairest” is when Ralph and Talusan break up when Talusan begins to transition. Though they’re still friends, Ralph told her that he “didn’t see the person he fell in love with when he looked at me,” Talusan writes.

Despite this sad moment, Talusan doesn’t regret her transition. She becomes open about being trans.

“I had a hunch that becoming a woman would end up being better and turned out to be right,” she writes.

“Fairest” is a beautiful, riveting read. Perfect for these times.



New book explores ‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’

The benefits of coming out at work



(Book cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’
By Layla McCay
c.2024, Bloomsbury
$24/240 pages

You can see the CEO’s office from the outside of your workplace.

You’ve actually been in that office, so you know what it looks like inside, too. Big, expansive desk. Cushy, expensive chair. Ankle-deep carpet. The CEO got there through regular means over the course of his career – something you’d like to do, too. But as you know, and as in the new book, “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” by Layla McCay, you’ll have to take a different path.

Of all the thousands of board seats and C-suite occupiers in American businesses, only a very tiny number – less than one percent – are occupied by people who identify as LGBTQ. In London, says McCay, no one on the Financial Times Stock Exchange identifies as such. Just six of the world’s leaders, past or current, have come out as LGBTQ.

The reasons for this are many, from discomfort to a sense of a lack of safety or just plain mistrust. Employees often don’t talk about it and employers can’t or don’t ask, which can lead to a lot of issues that cis, heterosexual employees don’t have to think about.

LGBTQ employees make less money than their straight co-workers. They experience discrimination ranging from sexual violence on one end, to micro aggressions on the other. Discrimination can be found in educational settings, and networking events, in a lack of mentorship, and the feeling that one needs to “code-switch.” Even an overseas job offer can be complicated by identifying as LGBTQ.

And yet, says McCoy, there are benefits to coming out, including a sense of authenticity, and feeling as if a load has been removed from one’s shoulders.

If you are an employer, McCoy says, there are things you can do to help. Include LGBTQ people in your diversity programs at work. Insist on it for recruitment. Make sure your employees feel safe to be themselves. Make all policies inclusive, all the time, from the start. Doing so benefits your business. It helps your employees.

“It’s good for society.”

Pretty common sense stuff, no? Yeah, it is; most of what you’ll read inside “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” is, in fact, very commonsensical. Moreover, if you’re gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or queer, you won’t find one new or radical thing in this book.

And yet, inside all the nothing-new, readers will generally find things they’ll appreciate. The statistics, for instance, that author Layla McCay offers would be helpful to cite when asking for a raise. It’s beneficial, for instance, to be reminded why you may want to come out at work or not. The advice on being and finding a mentor is gold. These things are presented through interviews from business leaders around the world, and readers will find comfort and wisdom in that. You’ll just have to wade through a lot of things you already know to get it, that’s all.

Is it worth it? That depends on your situation. You may find nothing in “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling,” or it may help you raise the roof.

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‘The Other Olympians’ explores the making of modern sports

New book highlights Fascism and queerness



(Book cover image courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

‘The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports’
By Michael Waters
c.2024, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$30/368 pages

He’s going to win.

It’s apparent: much as you’re trying, hard as you’re running, as much as your lungs burn, he’s ahead by two paces. You had a good start but he’s the better athlete. You know this now. He’s going to win this competition and you’re going to lose. But, as in the new book “The Other Olympians” by Michael Waters, there may be another outcome.

Young Zdnek Koubek avoided sports as much as possible.

Born nearly seven years before the creation of the Czechoslovakian state, he always understood that he was “different”: in school, he had a fierce reputation for fighting, but he couldn’t relate to rough-and-tumble male classmates or their games. The world of girls was also baffling to him, even though, “To the world, he was a girl.”

At eight years old, Koubek participated in his first organized sporting event, a sprint he lost by “a second” that he never forgot. Seething with years-long anger, “his contempt for sports only grew” as he matured but in the fall of 1927, he had a change of heart: he’d landed a ticket to a track and field sporting event, at which he noted how “free” it must feel to run.

“In the following months,” says Waters, “Koubek couldn’t get enough of track and field.” He began competing in – and winning – women’s events, unaware that ” he wasn’t alone” in his differences.

In the early 1930s, in fact, several world-class athletes were quietly questioning their own gender; meanwhile, coaches and second- and third-place finishers cried foul over losses to “manly” women. Some athletes, assigned as female at birth, “could not evade the gender anxieties of the era.” Others lost their chance to be an Olympic competitor due to politics, and some just quit.

For other athletes with Olympic dreams, the 1936 games loomed large as they rose to celebrity status. They did so, even though Adolph Hitler and his followers had “launched a campaign to crush Germany’s queer community.”

If a book starts out with a long list of acronyms, pay attention. Take that as a sign that you may be in for a deep look and some confusion.

Indeed, author Michael Waters seems to leave no pebble unturned in this story, which tends to drag sometimes. Readers of “The Other Olympians,” for example, may wonder why long pages are sometimes devoted to people who are never mentioned again in the narrative. Were those individuals imperative to the history here? You may never know.

And yet, there’s that depth.

Waters takes his audience back to a time when heterosexuality was the absolute norm and LGBTQ people were considered to be anomalous and intriguing. The turn-around from that perception doesn’t end well, and its causation feels particularly familiar here – in more ways than one.

This is probably not anyone’s true idea of a beach read; instead, it’s timely, relevant, serious and interesting – but only if you study it fully. Don’t, and you’ll be lost. With patience, though, “The Other Olympians” is a win-win kind of read.

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Ever taken a cross-country drive in the back seat?

Then ‘Here We Go Again’ is the book for you



(Book cover image courtesy of Atria)

‘Here We Go Again’
By Alison Cochrun
c.2024, Atria
$17.99/368 pages

Can you do me a solid?

Just one little favor, a quick errand, it won’t take long. You can do it next time you’re out, in fact. Consider it your good deed for the day, if it makes you feel better. A mitzvah. An indulgence to a fellow human. As in the novel, “Here We Go Again” by Alison Cochrun, think of it as a life-changing thing.

She couldn’t remember the woman’s first name.

Did Logan Maletis really ever know it? Everybody at her job – administration, students, other teachers – called everyone else by their last name so the colleague she’d been hooking up with for weeks was just “Schaffer.” Whatever, Logan didn’t care and she wasn’t cold-hearted but when Savannah broke up with her in public, she did wonder if maybe, possibly, the awful names she called Logan were fair or true.

Rosemary Hale would’ve agreed with every last one of those nasty names.

Once, she and Logan were BBFs but after a not-so-little incident happened the summer they were 14, she hated Logan with a white-hot passion. Every time Rosemary ran into Logan at school, she regretted that they worked in the same place. Seeing her old nemesis, even just once in a while, was an irritation she could barely stand.

They had nothing in common at all, except Joseph Delgado.

He’d been their English teacher years ago, and they both followed in his footsteps. He kept them from going stir-crazy in their small Oregon town. He was friend, father figure, and supporter for each of them when they separately came to understand that they were lesbians.

They loved Joe. They’d do anything for him.

Which is why he had one favor to ask.

With a recent diagnosis of incurable cancer, Joe didn’t want to die surrounded by hospital walls. Would Logan and Rosemary drive him and his dog to Maine, to a cabin he owned? Would they spend time crammed side-by-side in a used van, keeping Joe alive, coast-to-coast? Could they do it without screaming the whole way?

Can you avoid laughing at this convoluted, but very funny story? Highly unlikely, because “Here We Go Again” takes every nightmare you’ve ever had of busted friendship, bad vacations, and long-lost love, and it makes them hilarious.

It’s not the story that does it, though. The story’s a bit too long and it can drag, but author Alison Cochrun’s characters are perfectly done, each one of them. Logan is profane in all the right ways and yes, she’s a jerk but an appealing one. Rosemary is too prim, too proper, too straight-laced, but Cochrun lets her be unlaced in a steamy passage that’s not misplaced. You’ll love how this story moves along (although sometimes slowly) and you’ll love how it ends.

If you’ve ever endured a cross-country trip stuffed in the back seat of a hot car for miles and miles, sharing a seat with an abrasive sibling, this is your book. “Here We Go Again” is a solid vacation read.

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