book reviews

Repost: Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton

I originally posted this review on on March 4, 2012. It’s being reposted as/is.

A couple of months ago, I happened to see a Dr. Phil rerun about three adopted brothers who were estranged because the youngest brother had screwed the two older brothers out of an inheritance.  At first, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention.  The subject matter seemed to be very typical for a Dr. Phil show and I generally find Dr. Phil and his ilk annoying.  But after the brothers started to elaborate on their story, I sat up and took notice.  It turned out this particular episode of Dr. Phil was about much more than just squabbling siblings and inheritance money. 

These three men were the adopted sons of jazz musician Billy Tipton and his “wife” Kitty, a former stripper.  Kitty Tipton was one of several women who had married Billy Tipton, who was a moderately successful entertainer in the first half of the 20th century.  By most accounts, Billy Tipton appeared to be a somewhat short but entirely heterosexual man.  What almost no one knew until the day of Billy’s death in Spokane, Washington on January 21, 1989, was that Billy Tipton was actually a woman! 

Though I was around in the 1980s, somehow I missed all the talk show hype about this case that came out after Billy’s death.  I was just hearing about the case for the first time as I watched that episode of Dr. Phil.  I immediately went to to see if anyone had written a book about Billy Tipton.  Indeed, in 1998, Diane Wood Middlebrook published Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading about Billy Tipton’s remarkable life and death through reading Middlebrook’s very thorough and well-written book.

Why she became he…

Born in Oklahoma City in 1921, Dorothy Lucille Tipton grew up Kansas City, Missouri.  Dorothy’s parents had split up, so she was raised by an aunt who insisted that she learn how to play the piano. Dorothy turned out to be very musically talented.  She could sing, play saxophone, and play the piano.  She was also a very capable bandleader and entertainer.  Unfortunately, at the time Dorothy was coming along, women were not commonly accepted as jazz musicians. 

At age 19, Dorothy initially started dressing as a man so she could play the kind of music she wanted to play.  Noting that movie star Joan Crawford’s real name was Lucille and people had called her “Billie” as a nickname, Dorothy was inspired to use her middle name Lucille as the basis for changing her name to “Billy”.  At first, some of her fellow musicians knew that she was just dressing in uniform so she could play jazz with them. 

As time went on, Dorothy’s original gender identity went by the wayside and she lived as a man 24/7.  She totally passed as a man, mainly because she was careful never to let anyone see her naked, and dazzled her paramours by being suave and debonair.  The different women who had relationships with Billy over the years somehow instinctively understood that Billy treasured his privacy and knew that they weren’t to touch him or barge in on him when he was in the bathroom.  Indeed, Middlebook reports that “Billy Tipton” was so convincing that even his several “wives” never knew the secret after their unofficial unions were consummated.  They were all shocked when the truth came out after Billy’s death because they had all had sex with him.  Naturally, the lights were always off.  One woman even called Billy “the love of her life”.

My thoughts

This book is absolutely fascinating.  Diane Wood Middlebrook does a great job writing Billy Tipton’s story and explaining all the angles of Tipton’s life.  Her writing is very readable and conversational.  I had no trouble falling into this book and getting engrossed in Billy Tipton’s amazing story.  Middlebrook also includes pictures, which I think are essential to this particular book.  Every time I ran across photos, I stopped and studied them just to examine how the people in Billy’s life were fooled.  Personally, I think Billy looked quite feminine, but I guess I can see how people fifty or sixty years ago would just take his word for it that he was a man.  People didn’t talk about such personal things back then as much as they do now… or so my mother often scolds me!

I will warn that there are a few topless photos in this book.  They aren’t of Billy Tipton, though, who never let anyone see his chest, which he had bound with bandages.  Tipton explained the bandages were there because he’d had injuries from an accident that had never healed properly.  As I look down at my own D sized breasts, I couldn’t help but wonder about how Billy handled the more personal aspects of being a female… like menstrual periods!  How on earth did Billy sustain marriages to other women and keep his periods a secret?  This is just one of many questions I pondered as I read this incredible true story.


Sometimes you really can fool all of the people all of the time.  This is a fascinating book for music buffs, show biz mavens, psychology fans, and people who just love outrageous stories.  I happen to fall into all four categories.  If you do too, I definitely recommend reading Diane Wood Middlebrook’s book, Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton.

A video about Billy Tipton.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

politicians, politics, true crime

Terrorism isn’t the answer.

This morning over breakfast, I read yet another news story about someone who is in trouble with the law for cyberstalking a public official. A 40 year old man from Virginia took it upon himself to threaten Tulsa, Oklahoma Mayor George T. Bynum. The Virginia man, name of Adam Maxwell Donn, sent dozens of menacing emails and made as many abusive phone calls to the mayor, warning him to cancel Donald Trump’s rally last June.

Donn implied to Mayor Bynum that harm would come to him and his family if he didn’t put a stop to the event. He also threatened to publish the official’s home address, cellphone numbers, and computer passwords. According to The New York Times:

“You are putting everyone in Tulsa at risk so Im gonna put your family at risk,” Mr. Donn wrote in one email, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa. “Maybe show up to meet at your next bible study??”

The threats began on June 11th and police were summoned June 18th. In most of the emails Donn sent, there were vulgarities and insults. Donn wrote that he hoped Bynum and his family were infected with the coronavirus. The family eventually moved to a different location because they were so rattled by Donn’s continued harassment.

Trump’s planned rally event, held on June 20th, went on as scheduled. Most of the attendees dispensed with wearing face masks. We all know how that turned out for the unlucky among them who got COVID-19.

By now, a lot of people have already read about how six men in Michigan and Wisconsin, angry with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to shut down businesses due to COVID-19, plotted to kidnap her, try her, and leave her alone in a both in the middle of Lake Michigan. There was also discussion about kidnapping Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Ralph Northam, who has similarly pissed off people over COVID-19 restrictions.

Just yesterday, a man in Maryland was arrested for plotting to kidnap and kill Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. 42 year old James Dale Reed decided to leave a threatening note at a home in Frederick, Maryland which had many Biden signs in the front yard. Fortunately, the homeowners had a doorbell camera and managed to get a picture of the unhinged man, who now faces up to five years in prison for threatening a major political candidate. Reed’s note read, in part:

“We are the ones with these scary guns, we are the ones your children have nightmares about,”

And finally, a woman in Wichita, Kansas was arrested for threatening Wichita’s Democratic Mayor Brandon Whipple with kidnapping and murder. Meredith Dowty, aged 59, sent the mayor a descriptive and detailed note vowing to locate him, slit his throat, hang him and turn him into fertilizer.

Although I’m sure that threats against politicians aren’t anything new, especially during election years that involve changing the presidency, they seem to be a lot more widespread this year. People are decidedly unhinged. There are a lot of reasons for people to be on edge. We have a global pandemic that has been poorly handled, resulting in many thousands of deaths and even more people who are sick and may stay sick for a long time. We have a lot of people who are hungry and unemployed, and a president who doesn’t seem too concerned about them. At the same time, a group of people are fretting about the idea of a new president, who will do his best to roll back the changes brought forth by Trump.

I know a lot of people like Trump, for whatever reason. I’ve found that a lot of the people who like Trump the most are folks who can’t stand the idea of more taxation and what they see as “government overreach”. A lot of them are people who don’t travel. They don’t see a need to visit other places and see how other countries work. They believe the United States is as good as it gets. To them, that is reality, and Joe Biden represents changing something they think is the best. They ignore Donald Trump’s obvious shortcomings because they see him as the best way to change the country to what they think it should be, even if cheating, threatening, and outright sabotage is unfair and unAmerican.

While I personally believe that travel is the best way to erase prejudice and expand one’s perspective, I get that not everyone likes traveling. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is threatening to harm or kill people who are running for office because you think they’re a threat to your way of life. I understand the frustration that comes with the power public officials have. But is the satisfaction of threatening them really worth going to prison? Because those threats are going to be very difficult to carry out, especially when they are made against people like Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

2020 has definitely been a strange and somewhat horrible year. It hasn’t been entirely horrible for me, personally– but a lot of it has really sucked for many people. People are pissed off, fed up, and some are just plain mentally ill and have no way of getting any help or finding hope. So they lash out in extreme ways. I’m sure some of the people who have been arrested are not entirely bad people. They probably think, on some level, that making these threats are reasonable and even heroic. They might believe that stopping “evil” leaders from ruining the country is worth the risk of losing their freedom.

While I’m not at the point of desperation myself, I can empathize somewhat with how some people might be feeling right now. There have been times in my life when I’ve been broke and scared. I’ve been frustrated and felt like I’ve had no options. I’ve never gotten to the point of sending threatening letters to anyone, but I’ve definitely had fantasies. I think a lot of people have. But ultimately, I’ve always concluded that no person was worth going to prison. Besides, I am not a violent person. I’m just cranky.

I’ve heard from my friends and a few family members in the United States who tell me I’m lucky to be in Germany. I have to agree with that. It’s been great to be spared the political shitstorm that always spins this time of year and hits a fever pitch when the race includes new candidates for president. I’m sure it’s way worse this year than it’s ever been. I just think it’s a shame that people are sinking to threats, intimidation (vote for a certain candidate or you might lose your job), and outright efforts to cheat (burning collection boxes for votes). Those measures will not amount to anything good.

I think we should try to have more faith… I know it’s hard, given what happened the last time America voted for a new president. But taking matters into your own hands won’t work and may even land you behind bars. Take a deep breath and go do something that isn’t illegal. If you have to write a note, write one you’ll never send. Then burn it or delete it or otherwise destroy it. Terrorizing people isn’t the answer.

Unfortunately, I think that no matter who wins in November, things will probably get worse before they’re better. I have to admit, sometimes I think my cousin’s spouse, Dustin, was the lucky one getting to “peace out” a few days ago rather than continue to endure the weird dystopian times we’re in right now.

On the bright side, thanks to The New York Times, I just discovered jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett… but sadly, I discovered him because of an article about how he can’t play piano anymore due to recently suffering two strokes that have left him partially paralyzed on his left side. He can now only play piano with his right hand. His left hand can barely hold a cup of water. Sigh… well, at least I can listen to his older recordings, even if his days of making new music are probably over. That brings me a little bit of joy.

If you like jazz and don’t know Keith Jarrett, I recommend checking him out. He’s inspired me on many levels this morning… and in ways that are more positive and hopeful than sending threats to public figures. Lots of videos are on YouTube.