2012/11/13 by rmstrong1980
Ingrid Holm-Garibay, a transsexual German-Mexican-American, was incarcerated on INS charges in 1999 for, of all things, working in a Las Vegas photo studio (and paying taxes, and, by at least her accounts, being a productive member of society) while her case for fighting deportation on humanitarian grounds was still pending. Due to a paper work issue (her passport still had “M” under “Sex”); she was placed in the male population of the detention center. Because of her high intelligence, her physical sex (she had gone through the reassignment surgery by this time) and other issues that were not made entirely clear, she was placed in the maximum security wing of the detention center. This is where she met Frank, the homegrown, “American Terrorist.”
The point of her book, she states in the forward, was to help point out some of the factors that caused Frank to walk down the path that he did. In the light of post-9/11 society, being able to spot terrorists wherever they might be hiding and whatever skin they may be wearing would, she posits, save lives.
In this, she falls short. The book, the vast majority of which is just transcriptions of the letters written back and forth, usually without even any consideration to the reader by giving background on some of the incidents of prison life described in the book. However, very little, even in the afterward, is mentioned about not only Frank’s “Terrorist activities” only four are mentioned—a theft of ancient art; an arson where, fortunately (by even Frank’s own admission), no one was hurt; a mail bomb to then-President Clinton (which exploded prematurely); and a failed attempt to send a mail bomb to the ATF in Las Vegas. None of these, despite the titillating title, have anything that would resemble having a prominent part in the “story.” Many times, Frank urges us to keep reading by saying things like, “I have never shared this with anyone else and I never will.” This, of course piques the interest of the reader, thinking, “I know he said that there would be some things he would never tell anyone but his priest on his death bed, but maybe he’s going to slip…” But no, there are no astonishing admissions out of nowhere.
Even the mitigating factor that the Ms. Holm-Garibay attributes to Frank becoming a “Terrorist,” namely being physically abused by grandfather and sexually abused by his mother, are only mentioned seldom and while I do not doubt that his growing-up years were scarring and horrible, he does not necessarily attribute his actions to this.
Instead, Frank himself attributes his actions to his desire to rise up in the church of the occult, which both he and Ingrid follow. Ingrid, we are told, follows the “Light” or “Right-hand path” while Frank follows the “Dark” or “Left-hand path”. Both, however, find biblical scriptures to support their world view.
The vast majority of the letters, however, are not filled with theology or talk of what had landed them in the situation they were in. Instead, the vast majority—at least 60% of the word count—is filled with extensive, vivid, and sometimes pornographic descriptions of their sexual exploits. Frank, at times, seems to regret some of his decisions in partners and lifestyle. Ingrid, however, is unabashedly unashamed. It makes this monogamous wife and mother—who both Frank and Ingrid say in their letters say is missing out—thankful that she is a monogamous, “boring,” woman who is faithful to only one man, who, in turn, is faithful to her. They both also talk candidly about their drinking and drug use.
The only reason I kept reading the book was because, as a psychology junkie, I found both of their stories—the sexual exploits notwithstanding—fascinating… and I was waiting to hear what, exactly, made Frank a terrorist. Ingrid grew up as the only son of a Mexican mother and German father. When he (we never learn her male name) was young, he would dress up in his sister’s clothing. As an adult, while still a man, he ran afoul of the Mexican government and was imprisoned for speaking out against the government (we are not told exactly how) as well as for his sexual orientation—transgendered bisexual. He was eventually exiled from Mexico and, after wandering Europe, moved to Canada and then the US. We are not told, exactly, when he underwent reassignment surgery as Ingrid always uses the feminine pronoun, even when describing herself as a child. As someone who claims transsexuals in her circle of friends, even a family member, this mentality was fascinating to me.
In turn, Frank was the product of his mother’s profession (prostitute), went to live with his grandparents at an early age, and then was a sexual slave to his mother for five years, until he joined the army. He, also, spent years overseas in the French Foreign Legion and as a merchant marine.
All of the psychological vignettes, however, do not make up for the lack of a basic story. This is not even a good biography. This is a dialogue, a way for both Ingrid and Frank to pass time in prison with someone who lived and thought as they did themselves.
Ms. Holm-Garibay fashions herself as a journalist. The first rule of journalism, however, is to find the “story.” People read fiction to escape. People read non-fiction to learn. People read biographies to get to know someone they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Unfortunately, while I’m sure they can be perfectly nice people, neither Frank nor Ingrid are people who I would want to get to know, given the chance.
The book falls far from the author’s stated purposes. The Kindle version is rife with formatting issues, making it even more difficult to read. Most of the book is written in an italic typeface (denoting the difference between a letter and Holm-Garibay’s descriptions of life).
The only reason I think Ms. Holm-Garibay wrote the book is because Frank basically begged her to. At least ten times in the book, he mentions giving her back all of her letters so that one day she could write a book.
Shame on you, Frank, you should not have given her the idea.