Babette & the 2014 Rainbow Awards

Best Transgender Non-Fiction

1. Babette: The Many Lives, Two Deaths and Double Kidnapping of Dr. Ellsworth by Ross Eliot
Heliocentric Press (Portland, OR)
2. Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders by Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall
Bold Strokes Books (Valley Falls, NY)
3. An Unspoken Compromise by Rizi Xavier Timane
Hawkfish Publishing (Santa Clarita, CA)


Best Transgender Debut

1. If We Shadows by D.E. Atwood
Harmony Ink Press, (Tallahassee, FL)
2. Babette: The Many Lives, Two Deaths and Double Kidnapping of Dr. Ellsworth by Ross Eliot
Heliocentric Press (Portland, OR)
3. An Unspoken Compromise by Rizi Xavier Timane
Hawkfish Publishing (Santa Clarita, CA)

Best Transgender Book

1. If We Shadows by D.E. Atwood
Harmony Ink Press, (Tallahassee, FL)
2. Babette: The Many Lives, Two Deaths and Double Kidnapping of Dr. Ellsworth by Ross Eliot
Heliocentric Press (Portland, OR)
3. Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders by Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall Bold Strokes Books (Valley Falls, NY)

Ross Eliot-1-page-0

This was out of 520 submissions. The Rainbow Awards raised $11,500 for LGBTQ charities in 2014. Thanks so much to everyone who helped make this all come together. I have the most amazing and supportive friends in the world…

-Ross Eliot

Babette at PCC

Photo credit: Eric Smiley. Note RR signal lantern on left from Babette’s collection.

This November I was honored to be hosted by the Queer Resource Center at Portland Community College to give a quest lecture on Babette and her life. This was the most appropriate setting for such a talk so far, as my professor taught at PCC for over forty years and fiercely considered this career dedication as her true life accomplishment.

As visual aides, I brought a box of railroad spikes that Babette collected during her travels from every corner of the works, all carefully lacquered and labeled with location and dates, besides maps, the painting of her grand chateau in southern France and a slideshow. With this accompaniment, I documented her unique life from its mysterious origins in Yakima to youth in Europe and later adventures worldwide.

My audience mostly consisted of PCC writing students, whose professors brought their whole classes, as well as several others who either worked with Dr. Ellsworth over the decades or were influenced by her teaching. After my lecture was completed and I finished fielding questions, many of these old acquaintances came up to me and told me their stories, some funny, some tragic, but always emotional. Several of these individuals had seen a newspaper ad I took out promoting the event and were overjoyed to finally hear more about a beloved educator from their past. I was also humbled to hear from young queer students who found inspiration with Babette and her story. It’s those kind of reactions that make all the hard work it took bringing my book to life worthwhile.

Babette & Awadagin Pratt

After all the turns and twists my life took after moving into Babette’s pantry, the world famous pianist Awadagin Pratt provided a most usual conclusion. I first met the man following a 2000 performance in Yakima with their local symphony. My professor raved about his talent as we drove to central Washington from Portland and she was soon proved correct. Pratt’s playing at the Capitol Theater bowled us both over and Babette personally led a standing ovation after the first piece. Once everything concluded, we wended down to the lower levels where she forced her way through the crowd and extracted his signature on a cd cover.


That might have been it. Just another memorable road trip with my professor. However nothing with Babette was ever that simple.
Often writers describe finding an appropriate end to their works as the most difficult part. I never felt that way with my book about Babette. There was her sensational death in front of 40 students and subsequent second kidnapping. That seemed just about as perfect a stopping point as any.
Then I considered a nice postscript about Sartre’s masterpiece Nausea might be an even better note to finish on. It was Babette’s favorite book and when I finally read it years later while fishing in Alaska, the story made so much sense in light of my experiences with her.
It all seemed settled. Then, in October of 2011, I was walking out of the public library in Sitka during a shore leave, when I noticed a poster tacked by the entry. I pulled it down with sheer amazement.


Awadagin Pratt performing in Sitka? This was a man who has played the White House several times and hangs out in world class society. Not someone I’d expect in a town where, on the musical front, there are fewer rockabilly kids than actually play in the single local rockabilly band (Los Shotgun Locos). One day before the event I happened to walk into the P-Bar, a dive near the waterfront.
Here I’d like to make a public apology. In too much modern media, the Alaskan bar is a total stereotype. There’s always a fight going on as the characters enter and all kinds of drunken shenanigans ensuing. Therefore, it was a little embarrassing to write about the event later, because in fact, as I was entering, a fight broke out by the pool table. Let me assure everyone, that doesn’t always happen. Just as I settled down with some fishing comrades and a Rainier, who walked in, but Awadagin Pratt! It wasn’t exactly a classical music crowd and he probably hoped not to be recognized, but I had to talk with him. Pratt was very polite, considering being informed that he had played some small part in the story of a French-nazi-transexxual-atheist-Benedictine nun, and as we conversed, (sorry Alaska) the room was also filling up with additional smoke from the seal bombs that some patrons had elected to discharge in the bar toilettes.


Pratt generously comped me a ticket for the next days show and it was the best conclusion I could possibly have found to the Babette saga. Seeing him play would be a completely euphoric experience under any circumstances, but on a rainy Sitka evening as the winter unfolded, bringing an end our fishing season as well as my writing journey, his interpretations of Brahms brought me to tears. I cried for the memory of my dear friend Babette, who introduced me to his music, and in some strange way, allowed this final conclusion of our story together.

Babette’s Story & Howdy Doody, 1956


One October day in 1956, the grand house on Tolman street that I would later share with Babette, played host to a TV star. “Howdy Doody”, the first major American television program aimed at children, featured a mute clown named Clarabell, whose voiceless antics delighted viewers until the show went off air in 1960. Clarabell was played by a succession of actors in studio, but for live performances, a man named Edwin Alberian often donned the trademark suit, wig and greasepaint. For the TV show itself, he portrayed a comic character named Professor Gusbags.

Ed Alberian was an old Moravian college friend of Billie Shoemaker, later to become Babette’s second wife. When he came to visit Portland, Alberian brought his clowning gear and put on a show for the neighborhood children in Eastmooreland, by Reed College. In this photograph, he can be seen with Sallie, Billie’s daughter.


Babette Loved Cats



It’s a detail that didn’t make the book, but there’s no denying Babette was a cat lover. I never met her favorite, an orange tabby named Bad Cat. He died of old age several years before I took up residence the pantry of her grand house but she mentioned him often, with great fondness, and kept many photographs.


In her basement, I found an old cat carrier that she must have used transporting him on trips to the vet. Every side of it was covered in large black permanent marker notices. They read: THIS IS BAD CAT! BE GOOD TO BAD CAT! DON’T HURT BAD CAT! BE CAREFUL WITH BAD CAT!



While Babette could be very strict and impatient, Bad Cat nurtured her indulgent side. As you can see above, when this feline jumped up on the table being prepared for an elegant dinner party, instead of swatting him off, she reached for the camera.


This last picture of Bad Cat is from Babette’s immaculate guest bedroom, decorated with antique French 2nd Empire furniture. Here, her favored pet could truly recline like a king.


ROME – A Passage to Rhodesia



My website is not ordinarily used for record reviews, but after paying over $100 dollars for an album, I’d better have an opinion about it, and yes, this does involve Babette. First of all, this isn’t just a record. It’s a sensory explosion influenced by the bloody conflict surrounding Rhodesia’s 1964-79 transformation from white minority rule into what became the black majority controlled nation of Zimbabwe. A PASSAGE TO RHODESIA arrived in the mail with two CDs, a DVD, a hardback coffee table style book with pictures and lyrics, a 10” picture disc with two non-album tracks, two double sided posters, three reproduction vintage postcards plus one sticker and a unique metal medallion emblazoned with the seal of Rhodesia. The only missing thematic element might be scratch-and-sniffs that reek like AK-47 gun oil or a pack of mangy hyenas.



Barraged by all this paraphernalia, listening to the music almost seems like an afterthought. Because Jerome Reuter, the highly prolific musician behind ROME, has gone through many shifts since the first release in 2006, I wasn’t sure what to expect, from deathfolk electronics in earlier works to the more acoustic direction later, or even his discordant, personally angst ridden turn on the last full length release, HELL MONEY in 2012.

The first track, “Electrocuting an Elephant” provides several minutes of dark ambient atmosphere. No real variation there, as ROME albums usually open using similar material, often accompanied by sampled vocals to set a mood. What surprised me immediately afterward, however, was “Ballad of the Red Flame Lilly,” a rhythm heavy song that is probably the best dancefloor selection since “A Legacy of Unrest” off 2009’s FLOWERS FROM EXILE. High praise. Next up is “One Fire”, an even more brilliant stompy track, but afterward the discotheque closes down. The remaining songs are more sparse, similar in style to ROME’s first installment of DIE ÆSTHETIK DER HERRSCHAFTSFREIHEIT (A CROSS OF WHEAT) the triple album from 2012. With minimal acoustic hooks and tinkling piano keys, the later songs on RHODESIA hang together, memorializing the trauma of an unbalanced social order disintegrating.

One of Jerome Reuter’s greatest talents is combining insightful lyrics alongside sometimes awkward rhymes, but woven amidst melodies that make the listener turn away cynical ears. Consider, for instance, these lines from “A Country Denied”: This is no time for amnesia / And what glue could hold us together now / If not the soil of Rhodesia? It barely works on paper, but by the time Reuter sings: Now we’re sleeping in circles / On the stones of Silverstream / Under nectar-weeping trees / Through blood-curdling screams, I’m bound hand and feet under the spell of his guitar and deep, Luxembourg-accented voice.


Despite being focused around a particular historical event, as so many ROME albums are, A PASSAGE TO RHODESIA is quite non-specific lyrically. As my roommate Däv Oh, a fan of the band, pointed out following his first listen. “It’s kinda just, blah, blah, blah, Rhodesia…et cetera.” That’s a fair criticism. Besides various words that could be associated with Africa in general, such as mentioning leopards, crocodiles and jungles, the only difference between ROME songs about the Rhodesian Bush War and those off five previous albums inspired by the Spanish Civil War, is that here the word “Rhodesia” appears quite often. It is sometimes metaphoric, but never in ways that would preclude a real change in meaning had “Catalonia” been substituted and the song added to NOS CHANTS PERDUS from 2010.


But, here’s the difference. NOS CHANTS PERDUS is only one of five albums about the Spanish Civil War and almost nowhere among them occurs any specific mention tying songs to the actual conflict. The sole exception is A CROSS OF FLOWERS, from the final series of DIE ÆSTHETIK DER HERRSCHAFTSFREIHEIT, which contains: ich verblute in Spaniens Sand (I bleed in Spanish sand) but only stacked between twelve other lines mentioning geographic regions outside of Spain.


What Jerome Reuter succeeds at is glorious ambiguity within a masculine shaped universe. His songs speak to the tragedy of men at war– they question their cause, wish only for a quiet night of sleep, yet keep trudging, bloodshot eyes fixed ever forward. One could easily imagine old veterans from all sides of the Spanish and Rhodesian wars shedding tears at such poetry as: And we walk in stray shafts of light / To the pyre glade / The plea is still in your eyes / What a fine father you would have made, from “The Pyre Glade” off A CROSS OF WHEAT, just as much as: But we were fighting on the wrong side of a loosing war / And time has made orphans of us all / Has made cripples of us all, from “A Lullaby for Georgie” off A PASSAGE TO RHODESIA. The music on this record simply conveys raw nostalgia and regret. Reuter doesn’t want to pick sides and moralize. The closest he comes is through a photograph reproduced in the lyric book. It shows a white soldier’s arm tattoo with a cheerful cartoon elephant and the text: “RHODESIA is super.” One of the included posters slyly reworks it, now reading: “To some, RHODESIA was super.”


This sentiment reminds me of Babette’s perceptions, as someone who fondly remembered WWII-era Europe being the best time of her life. Indeed, much like Rhodesia’s past can be selectively recalled by European-Africans, my professor looked back on her youth in Vichy France as a grand time for idealistic individuals from around the world to join forces against the British Empire and Stalinism. Yet even Babette could sympathize with other sides in these conflicts, as her later associations with East German communists indicated. I suspect she might have appreciated A PASSAGE TO RHODESIA. In all these swirls of gray, sometimes the only thing that rings true is the timbre of Jerome Reuter’s guitar.

Babette and Yakima

On September 13th I was invited to Yakima for Inklings Bookshop’s 2014 Authors Fair. This was an exciting chance for me to visit Babette’s home town for the first time since our last trip there in 2001. We used to make overnight trips quite often, as Babette always bought season tickets to the Yakima symphony, plus loved maintaining contacts with Yakima’s historical society.


I look pretty grim, but that’s still me having fun.


The event turned out to be quite successful, not only because of decent book sales, but I also got to meet many fans of local history and other local writers. After the authors fair, I met with John Baule, who directs the Yakima Historical Society. He kindly took me and my partner out to the symphony, which was a fantastic tribute to his old collegue, Babette. The performances were fantastic and I was delighted to be inside the Capitol Theater once again, since it’s such a beautiful building.


All in all, it was a super trip. I’d like to give a big thanks to everyone who helped make it enjoyable. I won’t wait so long before returning to Yakima again.


Babette and World War One

One of Babette’s favorite themes in her classes was the First World War. She often bemoaned how otherwise educated Americans possessed very little knowledge about the conflict and was pleased that when I substitute taught one of her classes, I used the opportunity to lecture on it. Recently, the 100 year anniversary of WWI’s beginning has brought renewed attention to this hugely consequential clash of nations.


A favorite section of Babette’s library was devoted to a gigantic eight volume series titled “Le Panorama de la Guerre.” She described how it was originally published in magazine sized serials that could be bought weekly, and then bound up in book form for free to subscribers who acquired the whole set. “Of course, in 1914, no one imagined it would fill so many volumes!” she laughed.

One of these subscribers was Babette’s French aunt, who collected them all throughout the war and eventually gave the set to her husband, an officer who spent most of the war as a German prisoner. In fact, my professor recounted that her aunt claimed the poor man died in bed while reading it. Looking at the inscription from 1918 inside the first book’s cover, it’s interesting to note that Babette’s adopted mother, Germaine Bonnefont, also signed it.

The books remain an important testament to a war that even a century later, reverberates modern times, as borders drawn by imperialist victors through the Middle East disintegrate and tumult rocks Eastern Europe. Below I’ve reproduced some of the most fascinating illustrations.



Babette's French uncle in Ingolstadt POW camp during WWI.

Babette’s French uncle in Ingolstadt POW camp during WWI.


Serbian women drill with rifles in self defense batallions

Serbian women drill with rifles in self defense batallions

A caricature of the German Kaiser Wilhem II

A caricature of the German Kaiser Wilhem II

German soldiers advancing through Belgium are depicted abusing civilians

German soldiers advancing through Belgium are depicted abusing civilians, even kicking a dog!

The French augmented their troops with forced conscription throughout North Africa and Algeria in particular

The French augmented their troops with forced conscription throughout North Africa and Algeria in particular

An idealized battle scene

An idealized battle scene





The Official Babette Memorial Tattoo


Among the several generous donations from local businesses that assisted in promoting my release party for Babette, was a $160 gift certificate from Imperial Tattoo. The winner turned out to be my old friend Matt S. and amidst a host of other surreal interactions that evening, I remember him coming up afterwards, enthusiastically declaring: “Let’s take this and get matching Babette tattoos!” I agreed. He’d had several drinks already and probably wouldn’t even remember the idea later. After all, what the hell’s a Babette tattoo anyway?

However, the next day, Matt called me up, still excited about the plan. Still, neither of us were sure what a Babette tattoo might be. Gender symbols surrounding a swastika? A crucifix with her bushy wig crowning Jesus instead of a wreath of thorns? “What about Babette’s crematory intake number, 336994?” I suggested.

That seemed pretty appropriate, but a little bland. There was nothing boring about Babette in life, it would seem a shame to commemorate her that way. “What about a Tecate logo?” Matt asked. “The thieves who kidnapped Babette the second time left your car full of Tecate beer cans. And between wheat sheaves underneath the Mexican eagle, that could be her number!”

“Awesome!” I replied. “But how about we replace the T with a B?” With that, we had a plan.

In mid-April we went down to Imperial and got the pieces done. Afterward we walked down to a store and bought two Tecate’s. We drank them out behind on a loading dock, talking about Babette, who could never be forgotten, even by those without memorial tattoos.


Babette on Tour in Central Washington

A few weeks ago I got an e/mail from Emily Jaceks, the host of a central Washington television show called “Good Morning Northwest.” She invited me to come on air as a guest and be interviewed about my book. This seemed like a logical next step in promoting Babette as my professor loved the east side of both Oregon and Washington. We picked May 16th as the date and I made arrangements for a lecture later that same day at a bookstore called “Adventures Underground” in Richland.

I didn’t know what to expect, never having been on TV before. I drove down to the studio and was admitted by a harried looking technician. He ushered me into a waiting room with a huge flat screen against the wall. It was filled with commercials, then abruptly Emily Jaceks appeared to narrate a news story. Afterward she introduced the weatherman for a brief segment, followed by more commercials. Almost immediately the weatherman appeared in the doorway, hand outstretched in greeting. He offered advice to help me relax and suggested I sit down. Did I really look that tense? I probably did.

Before long I was escorted down a hallway to the studio. Emily Jaceks stood in front of a blue screen while I was positioned behind a desk with bookshelves as a backdrop. Before long she came over and began the interview. I don’t remember much of what I said, except at one point declaring: “I hope people get out of my book that, at the end of the day, people are still just people.” Awesome. Turn a camera on me and I start quoting Depeche Mode songs.


However, it seemed to go well. Afterward I gave Emily a copy of my book and one of the cameramen snapped a photo of us. Here’s a link to the interview

IMG_0278Later that afternoon I drove down to Adventures Underground, where not only had they put up posters promoting the event, but sidewalk chalk even! I can’t say enough good things about that place. It’s a book/record/comics/gamer/event space with an awesome staff and super personable owners. Check them out if you’re in the tri-cities! I’d write more about the rest of the trip but it involved a burned out clutch, tow truck, closed repair shops and unexpected delays. Let me just say, the tri-cities are a lot more fun if your vehicle doesn’t self destruct.