queer memoirs from a gal who won The Gong Show,
a guy who used porn to chasten bad drivers, and a
woman who survived an axman's murder attempt
By Regina Marler
memoirs could be classified as champagne or lemonade.
Gay memoirs have traditionally been of the lemonade
variety, like Quentin Crisp's The Naked Civil Servant:
The author crafts a life of dignity, grace, or hilarity
despite sour circumstances.
a strong lemonade undertaste, three gay memoirs appearing
this month offer champagne too. The fizziest is Hillary
Carlip's giddy, girl-powered Queen of the Oddballs.
A Los Angeles native, Carlip won The Gong Show
with a risqué juggling routine, founded a girl
band, and appeared on Oprah, among other feats.
Carlip describes an adolescence unique to Southern
California: baking banana bread for Carly Simon, stripping
naked with her consciousness-raising group, and spending
one high school summer locating Carole King's Laurel
Canyon house. (King asked her inside for a cold drink
and continued with her Lamaze breathing exercises.)
of the charm of Carlip's memoir lies in her whimsical
surrender to celebrity culture, balanced by her awareness
of how silly it all is. One day, Carlip writes, she
was in a public sauna when Jodie Foster walked in:
"I stay an additional half hour and nearly suffer
from heat stroke just to watch Jodie talk to her friend.
Burroughs can also be seen completely naked, though
only metaphorically, in his new collection, Possible
Side Effects. Replete with his characteristically
ruthless self-analysis, these essays cover a wide
emotional range. "Little Crucifixions" describes
the author's shame at his perpetually cracked and
bleeding fingertips, which occasionally bloody the
books he signs for fans. At the other extreme, "Moving
Violations" recounts a friendship in his youth
with a woman who corrected bad drivers on the road
by flashing hard-core porn images with phrases printed
underneath, like USE YOUR BLINKERS WHEN CHANGING LANES!!!
"But because we grabbed the pictures quickly
and without looking," Burroughs recalls in the
book, "often a tailgater would get a cum shot
with the words NO PASSING ON A SOLID LINE printed
beneath it. The system wasn't perfect. But the point
Jentz's Strange Piece of Paradise is poised to become
one of this season's big books. In 1977, on a summer
break from Yale, Jentz set out on a cross-country
bike trip with a friend but wound up as national news.
While she and her friend, called "Shayna"
in the book, were sleeping in Cline Falls State Park
in central Oregon, a stranger drove his pickup over
their tent, pinning Jentz underneath; he then took
an ax to both girls. Shayna lost most of her vision
in the attack, while Jentz was also severely injured.
They survived because the axman, whose face Jentz
never saw, suddenly broke off the attack-as capriciously
as he had begun it. The crime was never solved.
Jentz needed to talk about what had happened, her
friend Shayna refused to discuss the attack, letting
their friendship lapse soon afterward. Jentz's memoir
recounts her return to Oregon in the 1990s to investigate
the crime and in a sense complete the conversation
that Shayna wouldn't allow.
early childhood I was obsessed with victimization,"
Jentz tells The Advocate. "I used to draw these
pictures of tortured bodies
is a big theme in my life. It's shaped me and will
continue to." She feels at peace with Shayna
now, and she credits her editor with recognizing,
in an early draft, that the relationship with Shayna
was central to the book: "He had the wisdom to
recognize what I needed to do -- I had to grow in
my psyche to write this book."
work shares this therapeutic quality, especially Running
With Scissors and Dry, the latter based on a journal
he began keeping the day he got out of rehab. "When
I came home from rehab I was highly motivated,"
he says, "but also very confused and afraid.
I started writing that evening, and it quickly became
an obsession for me. I was in effect writing my own
road map to sobriety."
recent memoirists have worried that the James Frey
brouhaha throws the entire genre into question. How
true does memoir have to be? "I don't know if
memoir has to be completely true," says Jentz,
''but for me, it has to be. I wanted to find the truth
of what happened. I set a very high standard for myself."
Burroughs, it's a matter of point of view: "I
don't write about other people. I write about my life,
which happens to include other people. And the story
is always told from only one perspective: mine."
think there can be minor wiggle room," Carlip
remarks. "But remembering that you wore a blue
sweater when it was actually green is quite different
than saying you were in jail for three months when
it was really only several hours."
what about sexuality in gay memoirs? Does a "true"
book lave to be completely open? Carlip's memoir chronicles
her love affairs alongside her other adventures, since
she thinks it's "extremely important to be out."
"I have always been completely up-front about
my sexuality without necessarily shining a spotlight
on it," she says.
Jentz's memoir is dedicated to her partner, filmmaker
Donna Deitch (Desert Hearts) -- who plans to make
a film of Strange Piece of Paradise -- Jentz left
her romantic life out of the book. She felt that if
she stressed her sexuality, she would complicate the
narrative -- and perhaps suggest that the attack was
an antigay hate crime rather than a crime against
women. "I was gay before this happened,"
she says. "It didn't seem relevant to the story."
she was open with Oregon law enforcement officials
when she began her investigation and with many of
the people she interviewed. "Even people [in
Oregon] who I knew were highly religious, they didn't
take an issue with my sexuality," she remembers.
"That's a real success story. They saw me for
just me, Terri."
describing her own ideals, Jentz recalls that May
Sarton said the following about serious writers needing
to see themselves as "an instrument for experiencing";
"Life -- all of it -- flows through this instrument
and is distilled through it into works of art. How
one lives as a private person is intimately bound
into the work. And at some point I believe one has
to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary
reader or real relative or friend, and come out with