Noted gay-studies scholar Faderman (To Believe in Women, 1999, etc.) crafts one of those rare autobiographies that conscientiously detail the temptations of destructive behavior while also celebrating the resilience of the human spirit.
Indeed, this is a classic tale of the child of an immigrant who gets to live the American dream that eluded her mother. Faderman was born in the Bronx in 1940, the only child of an unwed Polish immigrant who came to the Bronx with her sister Rae in 1923. Her father refused to marry her mother or acknowledge Lillian as his daughter, and Faderman soon accepted responsibility for her adored Mommy, woefully unprepared for either a career or maternity and subject to bouts of incapacitating depression, especially after she learned all her relatives had been killed in the Holocaust. Their only solace came from regular moviegoing, and after they joined Rae in Los Angeles in the late ’40s, Lillian decided that she would become a star and rescue her mother from a terrible job and unhappy life. Though she felt betrayed when Mommy married a nice (though odd) Jewish man who worked in a pathology lab, it lightened her burden; Faderman took acting classes and to make money began posing as a teenager for girlie magazines, though she was already cruising women at gay bars. Tempted to drop out of school, she was rescued by a marvelous counselor who pointed out the benefits of education. Though there would be some rough moments—an encounter with a tough lesbian pimp, a brief marriage to an alcoholic gay man, and work as a stripper to pay for her college fees—Faderman was essentially on the road to a distinguished teaching career, a lasting relationship with another female academic, and motherhood (by artificial insemination).
Relentlessly honest and perceptive, but also loving toward an emotionally frail parent.