Author Archives: Amos

“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask)” by Brynn Tannehill— What We Need to Know and More

Tannehill, Brynn. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask)”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.

What We Need to Know and More

Amos Lassen

A book like “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask)” is very difficult to review in that it is very much a collection of questions and answers. I believe that it was designed to destroy the falsities about trans people and to answer the questions so many of us have.

Author Brynn Tannehill is a leading trans activist and essayist and tells us everything we ever wanted to know about transgender issues. The book breaks down deeply held misconceptions about trans people across all aspects of life including politics, law and culture, through to science, religion and mental health and we gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be trans. Tannerhill starts with the basics by defining what transgender means and then we move into the more complex issues and topics. These include growing up trans, dating and sex, medical and mental health, and debates around gender and feminism. Brynn also challenges deceptive information about transgender people being that has reached the public and transphobic myths are and biased research are cast out along with bad statistics and bad science.

By reading this, it is possible and even probable that we become more informed. The book is heavily footnoted so all information comes from a place of importance and the entire book is highly readable… and recommended. A very valuable bibliography is also included.

 

“Raising Rosie: Our Story of Parenting an Intersex Child” by Stephani Lohman and Eric Lohman— The Title Says It All

Lohman, Stephani and Eric Lohman. “Raising Rosie: Our Story of Parenting an Intersex Child,”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.

The Title Says It All

Amos Lassen

Eric and Stephani Lohman are the proud parents of Rosie who at birth put them into a situation that they were not prepared for. Rosie was born intersex, “a term that describes people who are born with a variety of physical characteristics that do not fit neatly into traditional conceptions about male and female bodies “. The Lohmans were pressured to agree and consent to normalizing surgery on Rosie. They were concerned but were given no alternatives to the procedure. Now they have written about what they went through in a book that is both a memoir and a guidebook.

We read of their experience of refusing to have Rosie operated on and how they raised a child who is intersex. We read how they spoke about the condition to friends and family, to Rosie’s teachers and caregivers, how they plan on explaining it to Rosie when she is older. This story is powerful and uplifting and is most certainly a very important book.

We can only imagine the many decisions that the Lohmans have had to make and will continue making. They see Rosie and her body as hers and she is the only one who has control over it.

The Lohmans fought for Rosie and continue to do continue to fight for their child. They faced many doubts but they agree that they are doing the right thing. Because of their love for their child, they listen to what she says and allow her to grow. They teach her that her body is nothing to be ashamed of.

There is a great deal of emotion in the text and I found myself tearing up several times as I read. It is not only the fascinating aspects of the story that kept me reading but the prose with which it was written. I could actually feel love in each sentence.

“Queer Sex: A Trans and Non-Binary Guide to Intimacy, Pleasure and Relationships” by Juno Roche— Starting the Conversation

Roche, Juno. “Queer Sex: A Trans and Non-Binary Guide to Intimacy, Pleasure and Relationships”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.

Starting the Conversation

Amos Lassen

I believe that one of the most difficult topics to talk about with regard to transgender people is sex and I also believe that the power of sex is underestimated. Yet, one of the first questions many have about trans people is how do they have sex and it is either unasked or squelched. In “Queer Sex”, transgender activist Juno Roche discusses sex, desire and dating with leading figures from the trans and non-binary community. She calls out prejudices and inspires readers to explore their own concepts of intimacy and sexuality, gives first-hand accounts that “celebrate the wonder and potential of trans bodies and push at the boundaries of how society views gender, sexuality and relationships.” What we really see is that all trans people deserve to feel brave, beautiful and sexy.

This is the first book I am reviewing from the Jessica Kingsley Press on trans issues and I have another five others waiting their turn. This press has published and will be publishing a great many trans books.

Juno Roche has written about gender non-conformity issues and cisgender privilege and she is not afraid to be deeply personal to make her point. She sees that we are all individuals able to encourage each other towards authenticity. I do think it is wonderful that we have “Queer Sex” and it is certainly an audacious and inspiring challenge to a system that shames trans bodies and desires.” The interviews are fascinating and captivating. They give us a look at how our thoughts around intimacy and sex are constantly changing and evolving. Roche writes with humor and heart and it is interesting that sex is such a talked about subject everywhere yet it is not talked about openly in trans circles. Roche has conversations about bodies, intimacy and sex that many have wanted to hear. We also learn about elements of transitioning that many are unaware of.

Roche explores her own relationship to her post transition sexuality through interviews with other trans, non-binary, and queer people giving us a groundbreaking exploration of the ways nonconforming people reframe and redefine sex. I do think it important to note that Roche’s main focus is on relationships between trans couples or non-binary couples and there is no information on trans relationships with cisgenders. This is also incorrectly titled in that this is not a guide but rather a collection of details from interviews. Most of the people interviewed were either transwomen or non-binary and there is very little about transmale sexuality. Roche has a lot to say about her vagina which while interesting does not have anything to do with the word “guide”. It is, however, interesting and gives some insight into intimacy. However, there is too much emphasis on Juno herself and on older trans people and I just do not think it will bring much to the younger generation. Hopefully other books from this publishing house will do that.

I understand that Roche wrote this book as a way of working through her own issues around sex after having had bottom surgery in Great Britain. She was struggling with dating and what sex and relationships “should” be for her, so she turned to journaling and interviewing others. It was her hope that her book would serve to help others also struggling with the same issues. There is a great deal of missing information and “poorly integrated personal emotion” yet there is some really fascinating information here— it is just incomplete but it is a start to an important conversation.

“Jewish, Gay & Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany: Uncle Alfred Flechtheim’s Unexpected Legacies in Art, AIDS & Law” by Michael Hulton— A Look Back, A Look Forward

Hulton, Michael. “Jewish, Gay & Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany: Uncle Alfred Flechtheim’s Unexpected Legacies in Art, AIDS & Law”, Kieran Publishing, 2018.

A Look Back, A Look Forward

Amos Lassen

Michael Hulton brings together two fascinating eras and gives the reader a new perspective with which to address art and the law. As Hulton recounts the life of his great uncle and art dealer Alfred Flechtheim, a gay Jewish man in the decadent avant-garde movement during the Weimar Republic through to Nazi Germany, he gives us a look at homosexual history, how it was recognized in society from the end of the 19th century through its “coming out phase” in the 1960s.

He finds parallels between the denial of the holocaust and AIDS skepticism. Hulton is a medical doctor who was personally involved fighting for AIDS recognition and treatment. We also gain details about economic spoliation in Nazi Germany and his own pursuit of art restitution on behalf of his late uncle’s family. We get an unexpected legacy of law and art that gives Hulton the means to donate his share of his restitution inheritance to HIV research and Jewish organizations.

Hulton’s parents were Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who met in wartime London. His father came from a well-off background. His aunt had married an eminent art-dealer, despite his homosexuality, which his father recalled with evident disapproval. Hulton became intrigued by this, and by his parents’ backgrounds. He graduated from Cambridge University as a doctor and settled down to a career in anesthesia in Toronto, until the eighties, when the AIDS epidemic surfaced. He found that the parallels with the Holocaust were overwhelming and began a part-time medical practice that led to AIDS activism and relocation to San Francisco. Unexpectedly, lawyers contacted him about his long dead great uncle, explaining the potential for restitution of his property lost in the Nazi persecution. Thus began a new career. The book traces the biography of his enigmatic flamboyant great uncle, and his own autobiography, with the amazing parallels of his own story and his newly discovered family history.

“Key to the Locked Garden: Learning to Enhance the Shabbat Experience” by Simcha H. Benyosef— Observing and Loving the Sabbath

Benyosef, Simcha H. “Key to the Locked Garden: Learning to Enhance the Shabbat Experience”, Menorah Books, 2018.

Observing and Loving the Sabbath

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Isaac Luria was known as the Ari and was a Chasidic master who had the ability to bring divine service to an experiential level. His descendant Rabbi Moses Luria also did the same and spent much of his life passing those teachings on. Simcha H. Benyosef was asked by Luria to make his teachings public and available in English and this book is the result of that request. We learn that Rabbi Luria once shared with Rabbi Yoel Benharrouche that he came to the world to transmit through his writings the teachings of the Inner Torah that the holy Ari could not do since his death deprived him on that. The Ari’s teachings originate in the Zohar and Rabbi Moses Luria’s explanations illuminate the complexity of those teachings as well as the Zohar and those of the Ari.

Luria, the younger, has added allegorical explanations that are based on human relationships that enable one to relate to these lofty concepts. Benyosef’s intention it to further amplify these teachings in order to make them available to Torah scholars who are able to understand the original writings, but to the community of Israel. This is quite a difficult task when we consider all of the various levels of the community regarding knowledge and insight. Benyosef so brilliantly brings the Kabbalistic concepts to life for both the layperson, that even for a Kabbalist who is familiar with them and there is a great deal of new information here.

Benyosef shares that his intention in writing this book was to bring the reader that “spiritual darkness is an optical illusion and that all we need to do to dissolve it is to draw to ourselves the Shabbat consciousness.” When Shabbat is over, the consciousness of the day leaves as well and we see here in “Key to the Locked Garden” how to unlock our inner garden and keep Shabbat consciousness to ourselves during the weekdays. The book gives us the teachings and instructions for Shabbat observance that once were available only to an elite few.

The book’s chapter headings go with each part of the eve and Shabbat being with the idea that Shabbat gives us a taste of the world to come and illuminates the darkness that is such a part of so many lives. There are three appendices, one of which is a collection of mystical readings for the Shabbat table. I found myself experiencing Shabbat differently this week by concentrating on some of what’s here and it was quite a welcome from the rest of the week.

“We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century” by Erwin Chemerinsky— A Progressive Guide

Chemerinsky, Erwin. “We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century”, Picador 2018.

A Progressive Guide

Amos Lassen

How many of us know what the Bill of Rights of this country says? I am quite sure that the number is quite high especially among Republicans (or so it seems).

“We the People” is a progressive guide to recognizing and understanding the power and promise of the Preamble and the Constitution to protect and defend our individual human rights and liberties against the conservative assault on our founding text. If we ever needed to understand this, the time is now. University of California Berkeley Dean and respected legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky shows us with expertise and finesse how conservatives are using the Constitution to advance their own agenda especially with regards to favoring business over consumers and employers, and government power over individual rights.

We must understand that exposure is not enough. “Progressives have spent too much of the last forty-five years trying to preserve the legacy of the Warren Court’s most important rulings and reacting to the Republican-dominated Supreme Courts by criticizing their erosion of rights but have not yet developed a progressive vision for the Constitution itself.” Looking at the promise of liberty and justice for in the Preamble we see that it is necessary to read the Constitution progressively and see that the it can lead us forward in the fight (that need not be) ensuring democratic rule, effective government, justice, liberty, and equality. To make it easy to do this, the book contains the Complete Constitution and Amendments of this country.

Author Chemerinsky in his various chapter shows us the false claim of the conservatives regarding value-neutral judging and then takes us through a progressive reading of the Constitution looking at what it says and the misinterpretations that have come out of it.

The liberals in this country have been devastated by the Trump presidency and many of us are afraid of what can happen with the xenophobic policies on immigration. We have seen how the Trump administration has legitimized racism whereas since 1930, every president that came before him denounced Nazism and white supremacy. We also need to consider what this presidency can mean for the future of both the Constitution and the Supreme Court. That we now have a conservative majority on the court for the first time since the end of the Warren Court and it will be with us for many years to come since the appointment of a Supreme Court justice is for life. We still have two justices who are nearing eighty-years-old and if another retires…..

We now need to develop and defend a progressive vision for the Constitution of this country. Today we have a president who is not committed to the values of the equality of racial minorities, of sexual minorities, of the poor and of the immigrant. The Supreme Court will also likely be hostile to these groups.

This is not permanent and like everything else it will change but for now we must find a way to make things work. We MUST focus on every elected official in the government of this country and since they have all taken oaths to defend the Constitution they must understand what it says and means.

“DUCK BUTTER”— The Stages of a Relationship

“DUCK BUTTER”

The Stages of a Relationship

Amos Lassen

“Duck Butter “ is about Naima (Alia Shawkat) and Sergeo (Laia Costa) who begin a passionate affair that reflects all the various stages of a relationship. Naima is an actress trying to make the transition from commercials to indies and gets a bit part in a film by Mark and Jay Duplass—an opportunity she blows by being uncooperative on set. Later, while drinking at a bar, she harangues a trio of middle-aged women about global warming. One of the performers, Sergeo, interrupts Naima’s diatribe and asks her to dance and then they go back to Sergeo’s place. By the way, the expression “Duck Butter” is a crude Spanish term for vaginal discharge and it is up to you to see how it befits this film that is an earnest, genuine attempt to show the familiar hardships of a relationship, specifically one between two women. It’s with sincerity and formal banality Director Miguel Areta approaches his subject with both sincerity and banality and shoots the film in handheld medium shots with very little regard for composition or framing. In this way, he allows the actresses to be the center of attention.

The film’s sex scenes feel intimate and real and we see that the director respects his subjects and his actresses, shooting the sex scenes simply and unglamorously. It’s an honest portrait of sex with its complications and messy qualities and we hear women speaking openly and casually about their orgasms.

Even though the women have just met, they want to spend 24 hours together and that means sex every hour, doing everything together, and no sleep. This is a very intimate, radical idea based on the belief that we waste our best moments in a relationship getting comfortable with someone, and letting feelings build up. If we have it all at once, would it be any different?

We are never quite sure if this film is a satire or a self-indictment but we are sure that this is quite a free-spirited film. Shawkat and Costa have clear chemistry, and individually they create curious, challenging characters. Together, they provide a subtle picture of a bond that can work whether they’ve known each for a few hours or even a few years.

“Duck Butter” is easy to understand if you consider Naima’s anxieties (and her fighting them) as the film’s primary interest, instead of anything revelatory about relationships. As she faces her emotional fears, Naima certainly has a strong counterpart with the more liberated Sergio, who uses singing, painting, and anything else to make sure she is heard. There is an unshakable theme here about two artistic women trying to find their voices.

“THE BREEDING”— An Obsession

“The Breeding”

An Obsession

Amos Lassen

Daniel Armando’s erotic thriller “The Breeding” about a young artist whose obsession with a taboo fetish leads to life altering consequences is not a usual gay themed film and it is hard to decide whether its eroticism or its thriller aspects define it more. Dane Harrington Joseph wrote the screenplay about obsession and race relations.

I watch a lot of LGBTQ films and I must say that “The Breeding” pushes the envelope about as far as it can go. This is an edgy film that dares to go where others are not ready to do so, In fact this film embraces it’s going farther and is perhaps a sigh of things to come.

Set in Harlem, sex-positive queer cartoonist Thomas (Marcus Bellamy) gets his inspiration from his erotic adventures that his partner and boyfriend Amadi (David J. Cork) knows nothing about. While involved in a chance restroom encounter with Lee (Joe MacDougall), a recently divorced financier, Thomas becomes curious about exploring the taboo fetish of race play.

However when the game becomes too real, actions that will forever change the trajectory of these men’s lives come into play. While I cannot say too much about the plot, I can say that this is a film that is loaded with drama, sex, and suspense and is “a raw examination of sexuality and cultural identity for the post-Obama era.”

“Queering the Kitchen: A Manifesto” by Daniel Isengart— Reclamation

Isengart, Daniel. “Queering the Kitchen: A Manifesto”, Outpost 19, 2018.

Reclamation

Amos Lassen

There are many publishers today who are publishing gay themed books and/or books by gay authors. Many of them are familiar with my work are regularly send me books and then there are others like Outpost 19 who send their books to the people on their list and are reluctant to add new names but let’s face it, publishing is an expensive business and while the only reason they have ever given me for not sending me review copies is that they only have a limited few of such copies and I have to accept that or do without reading some very good books. Once such book is Daniel Isengart’s “Queering the Kitchen” (and the second Isengart book in recent times). Because I wanted to read this, I actually bought a copy and it was a wise purchase.

Isengart says that this is a “manifesto for reclaiming the lost history and influence of gay men in the culinary arts” and he goes on to explain that “gay identity has long been openly linked to the decorative and performing arts — fashion, interior design, dance, opera, and theater and he adds the kitchen to that list.

It is well known that gay men widely populate America’s food industries yet “their role and impact remain firmly in the closet.” In “Queering The Kitchen”, Isengart makes a case for coming-out industry-wide.

Many gay men felt safe cooking at home behind closed doors because at home, they could be themselves. Isengart explores the hidden histories and customs while also mentioning those gay men who were out of and in the kitchen— Dean & Deluca, James Beard, Craig Claiborne and many others. With the rise of gay identity, there has been a concurrent counter – Emeril Live and other media phenomena that replaced culinary with a lowbrow kitchen activities. Isengart also mentions the kitchens of Anthony Bourdain and many lesbian chefs. You might very well be surprised at what you read here.

Daniel Isengart is a writer, cabaret entertainer and private chef living in New York City.

“LAST DANCE”— A Way to Grieve

“Last Dance”

A Way to Grieve

Amos Lassen

Director Brian Pelletier’s “Last Dance” is a sensitive and beautiful film about dealing with the death of a lover. We each deal with grief in our own way and here we see a dancer expressing how he feels with his lover’s death.

The film has no dialogue but it needs none. Dancers Tom Difeo and Jonathan Breton show their feelings through movement. Be prepared to be affected.