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Described in the New Yorker as “the greatest cabaret artist of v’s generation” NYC’s own Mx. Justin Vivian Bond is nothing short of a legend within queer theater circles the world round. V is a Tony nominated, Obie, Bessie and Ethyl Eicrhelberger Award winner who has delighted audiences with over a decade worth of dynamic avant-garde musical and performance work. V has now expanded into the literary world with the release of a memoir: Tango: My Childhood Backwards and in High Heels (Feminist Press). Like many I was extremely excited about the release of this book, and the opportunity to learn more about the childhood of one of the communities most talented and daring performance artists. Unfortunately, and much to my own surprise and disappointment, Tango quite simply fell short of my expectations.
The book promises to offer readers a look into the life of a trans child struggling to come to terms with identity, sex, discrimination, and the quest for art and community. In reality, readers are left primarily with a disconnected story whose potential power is lost behind surprisingly staid descriptions and unfocused tangents, especially v’s ramblings about an attention deficit disorder
I made an appointment to go see a doctor. Psychiatrists, I learned, can be well-educated, compassionate, and caring people, whose main goal is to come up with a quick diagnosis of your psychological infirmity, be it chemical or emotional. Within an hour, the psychiatrist I visited had determined that I do have attention deficit disorder and probably mild depression, and had offered to prescribe medication.
The strongest moments in the text come when v drops the wayward asides and simply tells the story of their childhood. This is particularly evident when Bond talks about v’s violent romantic relationship with a boy in the neighborhood.
Our prepubescent sex life was dangerous and exciting. This combination of attraction and revulsion was extremely confusing. I really did hate him but there was something irresistible about our ongoing physical relationship. I felt what we were doing was wrong and I’m pretty sure he did too, but between us, we found ways of acting out fantasies and exploring identities we never would have gotten to discover otherwise.
It is this story, not the editorializing, that as a reader I felt the most captivated by, but those stories were unfortunately few and far between.
Ultimately, what makes a compelling memoir is not even so much having an interesting life, but the ability to convey with passion the unusual and mundane. Strong memoir pulls in readers, leaving them invested in the lives of the author and thinking differently about their own lives as well. Unfortunately this is an instance where despite Bond’s incredible talent as a performer and artist v doesn’t seem to have yet mastered the same skills as an author. Tango for me was profoundly conventional, lacking the wit and insight audiences have come to expect from Bond.
Tango: My Childhood Backwards and in High Heels
by Justin Vivian Bond
Paperback, 9781558617476, 144pp.