Intrigued after reading (and reviewing) a biography of Dina Jacobs’ life, I reached out to her to discuss some elements of the book. We had worked at F Bar at the same time; she performed in weekly drag shows and I was promotions director. I had seen my fair share of drag, but Jacobs was mesmerizing. She quickly built a following and an appreciation among Houston’s drag aficionados. Even at an advanced age (almost 70) she was a cut above. Her attention to every detail of drag from dress and gesture to song selection belied her vast experience. She was theatrical and yet sincere and could elevate any show with her performance.
Jacobs is quick to acknowledge the performers before her that she watched and imitated, eventually settling into her own style. She was well respected by fellow entertainers and was kind and gentle, but also capable of expressing her demands and displeasure. In fact, it was the latter that had the pompous F Bar owner screaming at her in the street when she announced she was quitting. His response, “Fuck you!” For Jacobs, that was the last straw. She left and immediately began work in various venues, which she continues to do at present.
I was curious if the book, Forever Her Mother’s Son: The Dina Jacobs Story by Larry Dwayne Ponder truly captured Jacobs’s story. I felt that time frames were unnecessarily condensed and passed over, and I did not get the feeling of the story as being told “in her own words.”
I pondered as to whether Jacobs thought her voice was conveyed by the author. She assured me that it was. “I was satisfied with the book. Larry told my journey as I had dictated it to him,” Jacobs said. “Several people who read the book told me that they could hear my voice in his writing.”
When I questioned some of the writing that I found awkward and a concern that my writing about it might be misconstrued, she told me frankly: “Write it. That’s your opinion and you are entitled to it.”
She also confirmed my sense of something missing from the storytelling when she offered further insight. “There is a lot that I didn’t tell Larry,” Jacobs said. “Incidents and people who remain unnamed. I didn’t think it was necessary to speak negatively about the past. The past is done. I believe in moving forward.”
I got a sense from her that she may have omitted pieces of her history for her own protection although in the book there are some brazen, matter-of-fact details. But when it comes to the cast of characters, she is generous and complimentary for the most part.
I was particularly taken with Jacobs’s talk of her mother and the acceptance she came to with her “son.” Jacobs understands and accepts that it was a journey that took its necessary course and could not be rushed.
“My love for my mother is the most important piece of my life’s puzzle,” Jacobs said. “Her love and acceptance of me is the bonus.”
To many the “bonus” is the presence of Dina Jacobs. She is a shining example as a transgender woman, a consummate entertainer and, as the book title states so nicely, “forever her mother’s son.”
Forever Her Mother’s Son: The Dina Jacobs Story Dina Jacobs: Forever Her Mother’s Son, a biography of the life of entertainer Dina Jacobs by Larry Dwayne Ponder, is a chronological account of a well-lived life, frankly told, if somewhat glossy and sterile at times.
Ponder is obviously a starry-eyed fan. Written from “collected notes” and hours of audio conversation, there are vivid details obviously provided by Jacobs that, either to her credit, or by Ponder, are sugarcoated. Periods of prostitution and theft in order to survive are added as matter-of-factly as the choices of costumes and musical numbers. Regardless of any imperfections, it is a quick (120 pages), interesting read, and especially pertinent if you have ever experienced the mega-talents of Dina Jacobs onstage.
In full disclosure, she and I share a bit of history working in the club F Bar in Houston, Texas. I was serving as promotions director when she came to perform in weekly drag shows.
If Ponder manages the details as given to him by Jacobs, there are still awkward phases and repetitive thoughts further highlighted by odd sentence structures and use of pronouns and the unnecessarily capitalized word “DRAG” every time it appears. The pronoun issue is one that might be forgiven considering Dina was born as “Clifford”, yet early on referred to himself with feminine monikers before permanently selecting “Dina.”
Ponder seems to have difficulty calling Jacobs out for bad behavior, referring to her repeated forays into accepting payment for sex as “servicing” men, while feeling free to call it prostitution when others commit the same act. He also skims over pieces of Jacobs’s story that included blatantly stealing from multiple men, never calling her out as a thief. There is an underlying protective quality that mars the full impact of an often times seedy lifestyle.
What Ponder does capture in his writing is much of the character-building loss and pain that Jacobs encountered during her 70-plus years. She feels deeply and there is, hidden among the mind-boggling dates and characters, a semblance of her decision-making dictated by her all-too-frequent unhappy circumstances. There are also moments of joy: the ability to travel all over the world, multiple pageant wins, and a close relationship to family (biological and extended) — especially her Mother, who came after some trial, to accept “Dina” as the forever “mother’s son.”
There are moments involving Jacobs’s decision to live as a transsexual and references to her HIV-positive status are all too brief. As important is the self-realization that Jacobs shares and, for me, could have been illuminated even more. I personally feel that it is the heart of the story and warrants more sentences, awkward or not, from a well-intentioned author.
I highly recommend the reading of _Forever Her Mother’s Son: The Dina Jacobs Story_ssw. Whether you are familiar with Dina Jacobs or not, it is a fascinating biography, often provocative and poignant, but may as easily leave a bibliophile like myself wanting more.
Forever Her Mother’s Son: The Dina Jacobs Story by Larry Dwayne Ponder is available from Amazon Books.