DO YOU KNOW WHO I ONCE WAS?  by Cami  Richardson


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A debut memoir chronicles the life of a successful business executive who came out as transgender at the age of 63.

Raised in an Irish-Italian family, the author recounts a largely typical childhood in Poughkeepsie, New York—altar boy, talented athlete, diligent student, and spirited leader—with one exception: the persistent desire to wear women’s clothing. Richardson does a solid job of conveying the pleasure, fear, and confusion produced by this secret proclivity in the book’s early chapters. But as the focus shifts to the author’s wide-ranging career, brief references to buried feelings and the frequency of cross-dressing in private seem almost parenthetical in nature. Richardson deftly writes of harrowing and comical experiences as a firefighter and assesses triumphs and challenges as an executive, largely in the ski industry. Along the way, the author documents her two marriages and an impressive array of side jobs and business ventures as well as delivering a host of unique, engaging anecdotes. These vignettes include how Richardson managed to sneak into the epic U.S.–Russia hockey match at the 1980 Winter Olympics and to experience the same hurricane in Florida, Massachusetts, and Ireland. But some editing lapses can be both distracting and unintentionally humorous: “My sermons would have been kiss ass”; “buttoned down the hatches”; and “roar its ugly head.” Although the memoir overall reads more like an employment history than a search for identity, the author makes sporadic connections between the two, as when she asserts that the “animosity” faced while attempting to build affordable housing on Martha’s Vineyard helped prepare her for coming out much later. This process of accepting and revealing her true identity as Cami occupies the last 30 pages or so. She encountered acceptance from many but faced rejection from her in-laws, leading to a heartbreaking scenario in which the author and her wife, Teri, were unable to be together during a period of intense grief. Despite this setback, Richardson concludes on a hopeful note and ties together the loose strands of the book when she takes a post-retirement job as a hospitality worker at a ski resort: “My true success and finding self-actualization came from being a Greeter making $11/hour and being out in public as a proud transwoman and living my personal mission.”

A wide-ranging account explores identity, offering many compelling moments and a conclusion that is worth the wait.

Page count: 187pp
Publisher: manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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