No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life
In the 1970s, the battle of the sexes was literally played out on the tennis courts. The emerging feminist movement was galvanized by Billie Jean King's high-profile defeat of Bobby Riggs in 1972. Three years later, male-to-female transsexual Renée Richards rose to national attention, battling for her right to compete as a woman on the tennis circuits. Richards ultimately won, and in 1983 she authored a memoir, Second Serve, which was subsequently made into a Golden Globe-nominated TV movie starring Vanessa Redgrave.
Inexplicably, Richards neglects to mention both the movie and the political impact of her victories in the latest volume of her memoirs, No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, and the omissions only beg the question of what else she forgets to tell us in this hodgepodge of revisionist history and dirty laundry. In the right filmmaker's hands, this volume could quickly become the Mommie Dearest for the Trans Generation.
The haughty tone and Freudian hang-ups that stylistically defined her first book return stronger than ever, and this time around her celebrity name-dropping is so unbridled that she includes an index. It makes it easy to cross-reference semianecdotes about Rasputin, Gurdjieff, and Spalding Gray. Roy Cohn even appears briefly as the lawyer who heroically works out a behind-the-scenes deal so that Richards can play in the U.S. Open as a woman, but even that story takes less than a page.
A few interesting and relatively complete stories are to be found in this memoir, like how she went on to coach Martina Navratilova to Wimbledon victories, and how she became her own general contractor to build a log house. But it seems early on that even if Richards has run out of stories to tell, she's still got some big concerns on her mind. She makes it painfully clear that after living half her life as Renée Richards and half as Dick Raskind, she's still not quite sure which one is still in control. To help us witness her continued consternation, throughout the book she refers to herself in the third person--sometimes as Dick and sometimes as Renée--and the pretense is exhausting.
Richards claims from the outset that her memoir explores new territory: the long-term consequences of a sex-change, as if no other author has addressed the topic before. Except that more eloquent authors like Sandy Stone, Jan Morris, and Aleisha Brevard have begun to explore that very subject, and while there is certainly a great deal more to be written on the topic, Richards completely fumbles.
Furthermore, Richards desires little, if any, connection or respect for her predecessors or progeny. She repeatedly dismisses gender nonconformists of all stripes with backhanded insults, and this contempt for her core audience is simply puzzling.
In interviews past, Richards was said to have regretted her sex change, and the finale of the memoir attempts to refute this claim by listing the regrets that she actually does possess. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to discern the difference between current and past regrets. At the time when Richards could begin to be celebrated as the grande dame of gender nonconformity, she has chosen to walk away into the sunset muttering about the things she should have done instead.