Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“She Wants It: Desire, Power and Toppling the Patriarchy” by Jill Soloway— A Memoir of Personal Transformation

Soloway, Jill. “She Wants It: Desire, Power and Toppling the Patriarchy”,  Crowne Archetype, 2018.

A Memoir of Personal Transformation

Amos Lassen

Jill Soloway’s memoir takes us on an emotional journey of patriarchy that began when Jill’s parent came out as transgender and pushed Jill to break through male-dominated Hollywood to create the groundbreaking and award-winning Amazon TV series “Transparent”The series explores identity, love, sexuality, and the blurring of boundaries through “the dynamics of a complicated and profoundly resonant American family” and it has brought about a new cultural consciousness. As she worked on the show and defied mainstream ideas about gender, Soloway began to erase the lines on their own map and found a new voice as a director, show creator, and activist. 

This is a candid look at Soloway’s evolution from straight, married mother of two to identifying as queer and nonbinary. It is a change and metamorphosis that reflects shifting power dynamics that continue to shape the worldview. We gain a look at the inside workings of the #metoo movement and what followed and it is a look at the generation that has new ideas about gender, inclusion, desire, and consent. Not only do we get a look at Soloway’s life but we also get a portrait of the larger human struggle in which the creation of a revolutionary TV show influenced a revolution in our culture. We learn what it means to be a woman and what it takes to be a creator. We are very aware of the passion, the vulnerability and the fierceness that is Soloway as we read the story of changing worlds. Soloway’s life has become something of a revolution that is both cultural and personal. What began as a memoir becomes something of a manifesto. If you did not realize how much “Transparent” has brought this country toward acceptance, you will see that here. Indeed entertainment can change us and the culture we live in and as we are entertained, we learn.

Soloway writes with brutal honesty. Compassion and courage. We read true stories here and they share the difficult painful revelations, triumphs, and failures of life. We also get wonderful gossip, revelation and we are called upon to act.

Of course, we also read of Soloway’s self-doubt, self-discovery, and self-actualization. As we read we get a better understanding of what it means to be Other and what it means to discover who we are and understand that each of us deserves happiness. “Soloway’s perspective on sexuality and family is both candid and timely “and urges us to question society’s view of gender and define it for themselves.”

Now Soloway has embarked on a grand mission and is determined to see it through.Today, we live in a world where gender doesn’t mean what it used to and if you really want to understand that, this is a book for you.

“Southern Discomfort” by Tena Clark— Coming of Age and Coming Out in Mississippi

Clark, Tena. “Southern Discomfort: A Memoir, Touchstone, 2018.

Coming of Age and Coming Out in Mississippi

Amos Lassen

The moment I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. After all, I am from the South and although geographically I am now a Yankee, I will always be a southerner in my heart. “Southern Discomfort” is a memoir “set in rural Mississippi during the Civil Rights era about a white girl coming of age in a repressive society and the woman who gave her the strength to forge her own path—the black nanny who cared for her.”

Tena Clark was born in 1953 in a small Mississippi town close to the Alabama border, where the legacy of slavery and racial injustice was everywhere. At first glance, her childhood sounds wonderful. Her father was one of the richest men in the state; her mother was quite a beauty. The family lived on a large farm and had the only swimming pool in town. Tena was a child of privilege. Looking deeper into the family, we see that Tena’s life was lonely and filled with chaos. chaotic. By the time she was three, her parents’ marriage became an alcoholic swamp filled with infidelity and guns. Tena also learned quite early that she was different from her three sisters and that she liked women. Her sisters had had been beauty queens and majorettes. “Tena knew she didn’t want to be a majorette—she wanted to marry one.” (I love this line).

On Tena’s tenth birthday, her mother left her father because of his cheating and Tena was left in the care of her black nanny, Virgie, who became Tena’s surrogate mother and confidante. Virgie always had time for Tena even though she was raising nine of her own children. Because of Virgie’s acceptance and unconditional love, Tena gained the courage to stand up to her father, believe in her mother’s love, and the strength to be her true self. As I read, I could not help but see the similarities between Tena’s life and my own (and the lives of many people that I know).

Tena’s family is more than just dysfunctional and we learn from it. We really see the complexities of people here and how the “old” South became the “new” South. Clark’s debut is an entirely original story in which she shares her deeply personal, private struggles and the painful, shameful struggles she was witness to in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era.

We see that even when one lives in fear, anger, and hate that there can be tolerance, forgiveness, and love. Clark grew up in the Jim Crow South and really tried to be the person her family wished her to be but it wasn’t who she is. It was her strong sense of social injustice that compelled her to behave in ways that could have been dangerous, specifically for those whom she feels have been mistreated. I have to say that I love this book with the themes of racism, sexuality, family, and Southern complexities of the South. Tena Clark gives me the faith to believe that the legacy of Tennessee William’s South is still alive.

“A Politically Incorrect Feminist: Creating a Movement With Bitches, Lunatics, Dykes, Prodigies, Warriors, and Wonder Women” by Phyllis Chesler— A Memoir About the Pioneers of Modern Day Feminism

Chesler, Phyllis. “A Politically Incorrect Feminist: Creating a Movement With Bitches, Lunatics, Dykes, Prodigies, Warriors, and Wonder Women”, St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

A Memoir About the Pioneers of Modern-Day Feminism

Amos Lassen

Phyllis Chesler was a pioneer of Second Wave Feminism. Between 1972-1975, feminists integrated the want ads, brought class action lawsuits on behalf of economic discrimination, opened rape crisis lines and shelters for battered women, held marches and sit-ins for abortion and equal rights, famously took over offices and buildings, and pioneered high profile Speak-outs. Likewise, they began the first-ever national and international public conversations about birth control and abortion, sexual harassment, violence against women, female orgasm, and a woman’s right to kill in self-defense.

Like any movement, the feminist movement has changed over the years. Chesler knew some of its first pioneers, including Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, Flo Kennedy, and Andrea Dworkin and these women were forces of nature and action heroes in real life. They were changing the world and becoming major players in history. Chesler tells us about them.

This is a survey of the Women’s Movement from the viewpoint of one feminist who was involved in the Movement from its beginning and, after the publication of her groundbreaking “Women and Madness,” participated in women’s actions across the country and the world. She takes us inside the and shares what was happening in a movement that started as scattershot grassroots, with small groups of women forming with no contact yet finding one another. We read of the arguments, the infighting, and backstabbing, some of which perhaps she contributed to, but she also shows us the sense of commitment and the passion to see justice done for women.

She knows those feminists whose contributions are generally unrecognized but without whom there would have been no Movement and she has included them all. Chesler is a revolutionary poet, a social scientist, a radical feminist, and a controversial warrior and an excellent writer.

The Feminist Movement has changed American culture profoundly especially when it re-emerged in the 1970’s. This is the most extensive, richly-detailed and well-written account of that historic movement and is a personal life-trajectory of one of the central early leaders of feminism, an analysis of many of the key concepts of the movement, and an inside look at its major conferences and events. It is also an honest and informative celebration of the hundreds of women who created the movement. Chesler names some 600 women and they are both the well known and the unknown.

Through Phyllis Chesler’s eyes, we get the history and the experiences that were part of the movement. She recounts her involvement with almost every aspect of the struggle, and gives an intimate introduction to the many players, sharing their strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and yes, madness.

The book shows that indeed, “the movement was created by “bitches, lunatics, prodigies and warriors,” as the book subtitle describes. Yet, overall, they were Wonder Women, because they lurched our society forward into the changes of the late 20th century and early 21st century—and to what we are now experiencing as the “third-wave feminism.”

Tom of Finland Foundation presents Diary of a Puerto Rican Porno Book Signing and The Classic Porn of Phil St. John

Tom of Finland Foundation presents Diary of a Puerto Rican Porno Book Signing and

The Classic Porn of Phil St. John

 Documentary Feature Screening Sunday, September 23, 2018 5-9PM

at Tom of Finland Foundation

1421 Laveta Terrace

Los Angeles, CA 90026 (Echo Park) 

The only fellow of The American Film Institute ever inducted into The Gay Porn Hall of Fame, Phil St. John, presents a double header on September 23rd at the Tom of Finland Foundation with his book signing of Diary of a Puerto Rican Porno followed by the world premiere of his documentary feature film The Classic Porn of Phil St. John that chronicles St. John’s legendary 25 years directing porn all over the world. 

“Breathlessly paced, colorful, and just a little scary, the book tells us the almost hallucinatory insanity of making porn.  And it’s real.”  -Christopher Harrity, The Advocate Magazine 

 Diary of a Puerto Rican Porno is an action-adventure, sexually outrageous filmmaking odyssey. St. John takes his boyfriend and a porn star bottom to the land of the “big tops” to make Foreskin Island and Return to Foreskin Island, two tropical dick movies shot back-to-back in the jungles near San Juan. The moviemaking is fraught with knife fights, sexual intrigue, nervous breakdowns, tropical depressions, secret marijuana smuggling, and true cinematic, pornographic love. 

Tom of Finland Foundation’s  TOM House at 1421 Laveta Terrace, Los Angeles, CA 90026, will host a book signing and film screening event. Phil St. John will autograph copies of Diary of a Puerto Rican Porno and show a 70- minute edit of his film, The Classic Porn of Phil St. John. Also on display will be framed photographic prints from some of St. John’s movies. A donation of $5 is suggested. 

Book Signing/Film Premiere Event Page:  facebook.com/events/307691786479819/

Diary of a Puerto Rican Porno is available in the Tom of Finland store: tomoffinlandstore.com, on Amazon.com and at  bookstores, like Circus of Books.

 

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR “DIARY OF A PUERTO RICAN PORNO’

“Phil St. John has stripped the pornmaking experience bare, so to speak, and in Puerto Rico no less. But it’swhat’s not on camera that truly titillates in this madcap adventure of a scrappy little crew filming on the fly asthey dodge drug dealers, thugs, cops, STDs, mosquitoes and even heterosexual romance in addition to all the gaylove tenting one pair of shorts after another. And let’s not forget the difficult and impudent models and the crew’sown unstable personalities, all of which require drugs, alcohol, bribes, and lots of ad hoc psychotherapy, not tomention quite a bit of creativity. And then to top it all off, there’s young godlike Duro, who’s poised to wreck St.John’s heart if he doesn’t wreck another part of his body first!”    – Trebor Healey, Lambda Literary Award winner and author of Sweet Son of Pan and Faun

“Phil St. John’s first novella gives us a glimpse of what happens, not just on the other side of the camera, but before it is set up. A great story of creativity, commerce, conquests, and capturing sex on film.”   – Steven Reigns, author of Inheritance and editor of 3-Pack Jack

“In a voice that is alternately flippant, funny, compassionate, and wise, St. John takes the reader on a one-of-a-kind adventure in guerrilla filmmaking where the thrills of lust and danger run neck and neck.   – Aaron Tilford, editor-in-chief, Spunk

Author / Director

“Phil St. John,“ a nom de porn, acted in gay adult movies while attending film school in San Francisco. Later, in Manhattan’s East Village, he read scripts for United Artists by day while making porn loops for the Mob’s Times Square peep shows at night.   St. John’s first blockbuster Getting It, was distributed by Falcon Films.  In 2009,  St. John became the first fellow of the American Film Institute ever inducted into the Gay Porn Hall of Fame.  Phil Tarley aka Phil St. John is a member of the Photographic Arts Council and an artist member of the Los Angeles Art Association.  He curates exhibitions in Los Angeles and writes about contemporary art.  His writing and photography have also appeared in the LA Times, the LA Weekly, The WOW Report and American Photo Magazine. Tarley’s collection of queer political-ethnographic video is housed in the permanent archives of the New York Public Library and has screened in film festivals and venues including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

 

“In a Spider’s Room” by Muhammed Abdenabi— Gay in Cairo

Abdenabi, Muhammed. “In the Spider’s Room”,  translated by Jonathan Wright, Hoopoe, 2018.

Gay in Cairo

Amos Lassen

Hani was out for an evening stroll near Cairo’s Tahrir Square when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder. It seems that he had been identified by an informant and he was thrown into the back of a police truck. At this point, Hani began a seven-month nightmare as he was swept up, along with fifty other men, in the infamous Queen Boat affair that targeted Egypt’s gay community.

Today, Hani is finally free, but traumatized into speechlessness. He has writes down the events of his life—his first sexual desires, his relationship with his mother, his marriage of convenience, and his passion for Abdel Aziz, the only man he ever truly loved.

“In the Spider’s Room” is a sensitive and courageous account of life as a gay man in Egypt. It is so good to have these stories now and we certainly see that the world is a different place than just a few years ago. Yet, Egypt has not changed its views on homosexuality and its treatment of its gay citizens.

 

“Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs” by Bill Cunningham— An Untold Story Until Now

Cunningham, Bill. “Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs”, Penguin, 2018.

An Untold Story Until Now

Amos Lassen

Bill Cunningham loved New York City and saw it as a land of freedom, glamour, and, above all, style. He grew up an Irish suburb of Boston and spent his evenings after school in the city’s boutiques. He dreamed of a life dedicated to fashion with which his family did not agree and saw as a source of shame. He dropped out of Harvard and had to fight to pursue fashion.

Arriving in New York City, he loved watching people. He spent his nights at opera openings and gatecrashed extravagant balls, where he paid attention to what people wore. He became famous as a photographer for The New York Times. Two style mavens took Bill under their wing and his creativity thrived and he made a name for himself as a designer. He adopted an alias, alias William J.–because designing under his family’s name would have been a disgrace to his parents. Bill became one of the era’s most outlandish and celebrated hat designers, catering to movie stars, heiresses, and artists alike. His self-appointed mission was to bring happiness to the world by making women an inspiration to themselves and everyone who saw them.

This is the story of a young man striving to be the person he was born to be: a true original. Although he was one of the city’s most recognized figures, Bill was also one of its most guarded. Before he died, his memoir was polished, neatly typewritten, and safely stored away. He held off on sharing it–and himself–until his passing. Cunningham was an enigma flying down Fifth Avenue on his bicycle, documenting New York City.

“Fashion Climbing” is a record of Bill’s early years that was found  after among his papers  he died in 2016. The backdrop is postwar retail, high society and fashion. Cunningham’s, unpretentious voice guides the reader through the postwar period of Manhattan glamour. Having got the measure of retail, he starts a millinery business using the name William J. (The omission of the last name was an attempt to avoid the complaints of his conventional family.) During this period, Cunningham concocts surreal and demented costumes for himself and his friends. The demise of hats leads to a career in fashion reporting. The book concludes with two rip-roaringly opinionated essays: “On Society” and “On Taste.”

Cunningham’s world is the glamorous world of 20th-century fashion Bill Cunningham was probably known for his candid shots of fashion in the New York Times, more than any other part of his art. His work as a self-taught photographer who changed the way the Times looked at fashion.

His memoir gives us the facts, and a little bit about his life. However, most of it is wrapped up in his business life, and his personal life is not realty discussed. He learned his craft by observing and doing. He was an individual, and he is best known as one of those treasured figures of New York. The book is not as open and as personal as other memoirs, but it is a fun read.

“Pink Ink” by Harry Cook— A Life

Cook, Harry. “Pink Ink”, Finch Publishing, 2018.

A Life

Amos Lassen

Harry Cook was born in the UK but moved to Australia when he was 10. He began acting in his early teens and soon landed a breakthrough role opposite Academy-Award winner Geena Davis when he was just 17. He has since starred in various TV shows, films and theatre productions. In 2013, at age 22 and after years of struggling with his sexuality, Harry came out publicly to his fans on YouTube. At the time, Harry was afraid that this could affect his career, but knew he had to be true to himself. The video went viral overnight and Harry became front-page news in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Since coming out, Harry has been at the forefront of LGBTQI Activism both nationally and internationally.

“Pink Ink” is Cook’s memoir. He writes openly about his career in show business, his intense battle with addiction and ultimately his resilience and push to find acceptance within himself. The book covers his life from moving to Australia to landing his first major film role, traveling to the Maldives to shoot a surf thriller movie (without being able to surf), attending the Tribeca Film Festival for his first world movie premiere. He also writes about the darker days of coming out, his severe battle with alcoholism and addiction and his time in a rehab facility at age 19. Harry found love just a month after getting out of rehab and he has rebuilt his career, getting married, and is now fighting for equality back home in Australia. This is an honest read and it is also filled with humor and is a great book for anyone who is struggling with the angst of adolescence, facing adversity, questioning their identity or wants to know what life is really like behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and show-business.

“Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez” by Jose Baez— The Inside Story

Baez, Jose. “Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez”, Hatchette, 2018.

The Inside Story

Amos Lassen

Jose Baez shares the revelatory inside story of the trial and final days of New England Patriots superstar Aaron Hernandez. It all began when renowned defense attorney Jose Baez received a request for representation from Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez was the disgraced Patriots tight end was already serving a life sentence for murder. Defending him in a second, double-murder trial was probably a lost cause but Baez accepted the challenge, and their partnership culminated in a courtroom victory, a race to contest his first conviction, and ultimately a tragedy, when Aaron killed himself just days after his acquittal.

This is an account of Aaron’s life and final year and is based on countless intimate conversations with Aaron, and told from the perspective of a true insider. It has been written with the support of Hernandez’s fiancée and it takes us inside the high-profile trial, and gives us a dramatic retelling of the race to obtain key evidence that would exonerate Hernandez, and later play a very important role in appealing his first conviction.

We get revelations about Aaron’s personal life that weren’t shared at trial and an exploration of the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy diagnosis revealed by his autopsy. Baez gives us a startling courtroom drama and an unexpected portrait of a fallen father, fiancé, and teammate.

Baez was the attorney who got Hernandez acquitted of a 2012 double murder and he squashes the rumor about the jailhouse letters and presents fascinating new details about Hernandez’s trade request to Bill Belichick. Baez describes Hernandez’s final days as an inmate and suicide victim. Living in Boston, it was almost impossible not to follow the trial but even having one so, I learned a great deal from this book. In my opinion this is the best resource on the Hernandez case.

Hernandez was secretive and his family and friends have said very little. We have not been privy to his thoughts and decisions and reasons. Baez became very close to Aaron and became one of his few confidants. As a result, we see Hernandez in a new way. We get answers to questions that have not been publicized including about Hernandez’s sexuality to the full text of his suicide notes to the lifestyles of the Cape Verdeans he was accused of murdering. Baez writes about things that were unaddressed.

Baez took what could have been a very sleazy exercise and makes it feel almost like Hernandez himself might have written this if he was ready to tell his story himself. Baez remains true to his loyalty to his client and his love of Hernandez makes him human. In a sense, Baez gives us something of a primer on how to try a criminal case and I felt that we learned as much about Baez as we did about Hernandez.

 

 

Hernandez’s troubles started at Florida University and are well documented… along with his coach Urban Meyer whose team had more arrests and suspensions than any team in the country. Hernandez was not only suspended for weed but because he was always in trouble about something. This is a well-written and interesting book that fills in some of the mystery but lays bare others.

“No Ashes in the Fire” by Darnell L. Moore— Queer and Black in Camden

Moore, Darnell L. “No Ashes in the Fire”, Nation Books, 2018.

Queer and Black in Camden

Amos Lassen

Darnell Moore’s “No Ashes in the Fire” is both memoir and social commentary. What we gain here is a deep understanding of being black and gay. Moore not only claims this double identity, he both suffers and revels in it. The idea of blackness has crafted by generations of white supremacy and is paralyzing and narrow. Black Americans have struggled to free themselves of these limited expectations, to transcend being seen simply as other, as “the brutish thug on the corner, the sassy and strong black woman, the cheerfully selfless mammy, or the mindless entertainer.” There is an invisibility of black people that denies the complexity of who they really are as human beings and it has constantly threatened sense of self and undermined ability to realize full potential; it has allowed a justification for centuries of societal and institutional abuse and exploitation.

For LGBTQ black people, it has been worse. They have to deal with racism, disabling as it is for all black people, and their identities as queer and trans living in a patriarchal and dominantly heterosexual world is an extra burden, including one often imposed by their own communities; yet another assault on the psyche.

Thirty years after having been assaulted by three boys when he was fourteen, Moore is a leading Black Lives Matter activist, and an advocate for justice and liberation. In “No Ashes in the Fire”, he shares his journey with us from having been a bullied teenager to finding his calling in the world. He has transcended over many forces of repression and shows us that if we dream, we can create futures in which we can thrive. This is a story about “beauty and hope-and an honest reckoning with family, with place, and with what it means to be free.”

Moore has struggled against bullying, bigotry, and self-loathing and we see his vulnerability. He finds his way to LGBTQ activism and self-acceptance through faith and family. He has dared to call into question the truths we assume about ourselves and those among us.

Moore grew up as a queer black man in Camden, New Jersey in the 1980s. He was loved by his family and cast out by his peers as he his faith, his sexuality and his own self-loathing and self-acceptance. He writes analytically and he is aware and compassionate. He takes us in to his family and his life as if we have always been there. We see how he faced “anti-Black racism, neoliberalism, queer and trans antagonism, inequities in education, the ills of U.S. housing markets and so much more”.

“Yes, You Are Trans Enough: My Transition from Self-Loathing to Self-Love” by Mia Violet— Not Fitting In

Violet, Mia. “Yes, You Are Trans Enough: My Transition from Self-Loathing to Self-Love”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.

Not Fitting In

Amos Lassen

Mia Violet shares her deeply personal and witty account of growing up as the kid who never fitted in. Now at age twenty-six at 26 she has come to understand that she was ‘trans enough’ to be transgender. She had never before had the language to understand why. Her childhood and early adulthood were filled with bullying, heartache and a botched coming out attempt, counseling, Gender Identity Clinics and acceptance. Here she faces the ins and outs of transitioning and she explores the major questions in the transgender debate and confronts what the media has gotten wrong. She takes us step by step through her quest to obtain personal acceptance and realness.

Mia Violet is brutally honest in this memoir and gives us a look into the lives of trans people. As she does, she corrects the mistakes and misinformation of the media. She shares her story by talking about the ups and the downs and we see that transitioning can be a life long process with many life-changing experiences that can lead up a happy existence. Violet is a good writer and knows how to use humor to tell her stories.

This is a book that cries out to be read. I was totally amazed at the amount of information here and there were moments that I was moved to tears.