I've been reading the new biography of Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr. and I'm finding it as good a read as everyone else is. It raises similar questions for me as if does for a lot of other people. It does something very valuable. It complicates things in ways that make them seem more...like everyday life.
I knew the outlines. The doctorate in psychology, the sitting down and writing a story and selling it under the male pseudonym, sui generis so to speak. The outing. The murder/suicide. What I didn't know was the tortured complications, the equivocations, the false starts, the early writing, the years of thrashing about from art, to journalism, to intelligence, to a late college career. I thought she was this cool, competent, ex-CIA, woman of the world. And she was in many ways, but she was also not-so-competent, not-so-worldly, given to exaggeration, never able to figure out what to do with her college education, cushioned by a bit of privilege, normal messy human being. Who like so many of us in science fiction, thought she was an alien, and never figured out that almost everybody thinks they're an alien.
Was she a lesbian, or did she want to be a man? Sure. No. Yes. All of the above. I think she might have considered sex reassignment today. I don't know that she would have gone through with it. She might have been a lesbian today. She might have stayed bisexual. We're almost as screwed up with our absolutes (you're straight OR gay OR bi) as she was with her lack of choices.
Tappen King once said to me, while we were talking about pseudonyms, that he felt they could do harmful things to a person, and that he felt the Tiptree pseudonym contributed to Sheldon's eventual suicide. (This was twenty years ago and I may be doing violence to what he said.) Talking at World Fantasy to Beth Meacham, she pointed out to me that being Tiptree allowed Sheldon to write, and that once she was outed, she pretty much stopped writing.
I think that the pseudonym was a mixed blessing for Alli Sheldon. It allowed her a voice, but a voice she felt in many ways was not her real self. I think that Sheldon's suicide might have been averted had she had access to better medication for bipolar disorder. She said one time, describing how she felt during an acute depressive episode that she felt as if she was viewing events through the wrong end of the binoculars, that everything was so distant and unconnected. I felt a strange and nervous thrill because I've used exactly that analogy with my therapist. But I'm thinking is acute disassociation is a symptom of depression, wearing a persona can't help but have contributed to worsening depression.
The book has had the strange effect of knocking Alice Sheldon off her pedestal and making me think so much more of her. If you haven't read it, and you have any interest, I recommend it.