Many years ago in Amsterdam, I knew a sweet gay couple I’ll call Tim and Daniel. When Tim made the decision to transition and become Tanya, they broke up. Although Daniel still loved Tanya, the change was too extreme for him to deal with. However, they remained close friends. Then Daniel became Dani, and the two women got back together. Had Tanya and Dani become a lesbian couple? I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept. It would make a fascinating story, I thought, albeit one too complex for me to tell.
Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall take the ubiquitous phrase “It’s Complicated” to a new level in their highly engaging memoir. “Let me tell you about a woman I once loved,” begins Diane. The woman was Suzy, and together they would become the perfect lesbian couple, sharing everything for fifteen years. Well, not quite everything. Jacob (Suzy) takes over and reveals the secret that could have shattered their happily-ever-after lives. How their relationship survived his female-to-male transition is a thought-provoking love story.
The book moves forward in the alternating voices of Diane and Jacob, a format that works like a conversation. It gives the narrative a depth of intimacy not often found in even the most personal memoirs. In the chapter “What Happens in Vegas,” Diane recounts the desperate measures she was willing to take in order to conceive a child, an episode as wickedly funny as it is shocking. Jacob then explains Diane never told him about any of this until she wrote about it for the book. The grace with which he forgives her indiscretion is both gallant and touching.
In one powerful section, Jacob makes his own chilling confession: “I’m a murderer. I consciously, deliberately caused a person’s life to end.” And once gone, he wonders if Suzy ever really existed at all? There are no easy answers to the difficult questions faced by this couple. Can Diane maintain her credibility as publisher of a popular lesbian magazine if she is perceived as straight? Must Jacob reform his feminist beliefs as a FTM guy? They tackle these and other issues with equal doses of seriousness and humor, wryly observant of all the attendant ironies, ambiguities, and contradictions. But it is unflinching honesty--with each other and the reader--that shines brightest. Ultimately, Queerly Beloved is a testament to their shared strength and passion.
David Swatling produced arts & culture documentaries for Radio Netherlands and is three-time winner of the NLGJA Excellence in Journalism Award. His debut novel Calvin’s Head, a psychological thriller set in Amsterdam, is due out in September. He writes about arts and LGBTQ issues at davidswatling.wordpress.com.