Author: Todd Peterson
I am not so sure as to how Todd's Peterson's fictional novel, My Razzle Dazzle: An Outsider's True Story, which in fact is his autobiography, would have been received ten or fifteen years ago when audiences were not exactly receptive reading a memoir about a gay character. Today, fortunately, most of us have come to accept gay characters be they within works of fiction or non-fiction as they certainly comprise part of the multifaceted worlds they are creating or reflecting.
An essential ingredient of these stories is that they be written with authenticity permitting readers to have a deep inside peek into the author's struggles living as a gay person and ultimately his or her accomplishments. And this is exactly what Peterson has realized with his self-portrait and coming-of-age story that takes us along on a physical, spiritual, and emotional journey that earnestly details the complexities of his situation. It is one where we learn about Peterson's searches for love, enlightenment, and a place to belong where he isn’t defined by his sexual orientation.
Filled with heartbreak and even a little naughtiness, this is a memoir that doesn't leave any stone upturned. We read about Peterson's growing up in Wisconsin where his first encounter with bullying occurred in the fifth grade when his classmates taunted him calling him faggot, homosexual, queer, sissy, girlie, and even beating him up particularly when he would skip rope with girls. In fact, Peterson didn't even know what these words meant but concluded they must be unspeakable. It was when he escaped to his local library that he discovered a book entitled The Official Manual of Mental Disorders, which at the time, had classified homosexuality as a mental disorder and a sexual deviation. (In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disease). Applying the description to himself, Peterson was crushed and began to question himself if he was in fact gay and he ultimately came to the conclusion that this is why people made fun of him and wanted to hurt him.
In his early twenties Peterson moved to San Francisco, where he now lives, and it was here that he freed himself from the prison of self-hate. Peterson reminds his readers that in the 1970's and 80's finding a place in the world included fighting for the right to simply earn a living as the moral majority placed unimaginable strain on gay people.
It was also in San Francisco where Peterson managed to endure pain and isolation as he found solace in other activities and thrills. One of these was roller derby, which he felt he could excel in and eventually he did participate in this sport that requires a good deal of speed, strategy, athleticism, and is certainly not meant for the faint -hearted or “sissies” as he had been called by some of his peers.
In the end what we have is an author that knows how to tell a story making the most of his own personal life that involves an insecure gay kid who succeeds as successful software engineer developing important software for the health care industry, an athlete and even someone that was able to fund his own American Roller Derby League. It is a voyage representing a specific experience, but also one that is relateable. And as Peterson ends his book: “Todd Peterson represents many people living in the shadows all across our world. I've written this story simply to say to you, my outsider friend, The best is yet to come.”