Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Born Both” by Hida Viloria— Gender Identity, Self-Acceptance and Love

Viloria, Hida. “Born Both: An Intersex Life”, Hachette Books, 2016.

Gender Identity, Self-Acceptance and Love

Amos Lassen

Hida Viloria was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that her body looked different. Her home was a place of turbulence when she was a kid and she often was scared and alone especially when she recognized that she was attracted to other girls. endured an often turbulent home life as a kid, there were many times when I felt scared and alone, especially given my attraction to girls. Unlike most people in the world who are born intersex (having “genitals, reproductive organs, hormones, and/or chromosomal patterns that do not fit standard definitions of male or female”), her parents, unlike others , did not have her sex characteristics surgically altered at birth.

It was not until she was twenty-six-years-old that she came across the term “intersex” and was able to understand that her differences actually had a name. It was then that she began exploring what it means to live in the space between genders–to be both and neither. She tried living as a feminine woman, as an androgynous person, and even for a short period as a man. Her gender fluidity was exciting but it was also isolating.

When she finally found an intersex community to connect with she was shocked and it was upsetting to meet people who were to learn that most of the both physically and psychologically scarred. Many had had surgeries as infants and hormone treatments to “correct” their bodies. She understood that because intersex people have no visibility in he larger society, these practices were used. She decided that she would come out as intersex at a national and then international level. This is Hida’s story of finding her identity and love as she fought for human rights and equality for intersex people.

This is a well-written and important book about a condition most of us know very little about. Today it is spoken about openly but this is new and has only happened in the recent past. Hida helps us to understand what intersex is and shares the issues that intersex people face. We see “what it means to live not just as both a man and a woman but also as a third gender that eventually emerges as the right one.” While this book is about one intersex person’s journey, it also affirms the right that all those who do not fit into the gender binary need to dignity and respect from others.

 

“Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary” by Jonathan Lerner— A Contemplative Memoir

Lerner, Jonathan. “Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary”, OR Books, 2017.

A Contemplative Memoir

Amos Lassen

Jonathan Lerner was a founding member of the militant Vietnam-Era group the Weathermen. Hid memoir is an important addition to literature about the New Left in the Sixties and Seventies and the famous Weather Underground as well as essential reading for progressives struggling with how to act and survive in the Age of Trump.

Lerner gives us a very powerful account of idealism undercut by submission to a rigid ideology but there is also something else her. Lerner is a gay man and Weather Underground. At this point you might ask how could Lerner have hidden his sexuality for so long?

Lerner is a brutally honest, worldly, self-reflective gay raconteur who had once been an officer in an underground guerrilla army that was dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government of the United States. He has unbelievable true stories from the ‘revolution’ of fifty years ago. His short book chronicles the rise and fall of one of America’s most notorious radical groups of the Vietnam Era. Today, Lerner is a journalist specializing in environment and urbanism and chair of Hudson Valley’s Conservation Advisory Council but he had been the minister of propaganda for the Weather organization as well as the editor of its publication “Fire!”. He has changed and today he speaks out against the group’s misogyny and violence, but agrees with its rejection of the Vietnam War and endemic racism.

Today he lives a quiet, small-town life with his husband. He came to radicalism, like so many others of his generation as a result of the Vietnam War. In 1967 he was a student at Antioch University, a product of a liberal Jewish family. He fell in love with the shock tactics of guerrilla street theater but realizes that doing something like what he did is objectionable. The members of his underground went on to rob banks and bomb draft boards. He seems himself as a revolutionary “compromised by the desire to keep out of trouble”. He was once willing to endorse the most drastic actions but was not willing to dirty his hands.

As he gained awareness of himself as a gay man who had other battles to fight (“in those days admitting to being gay was an enormous humiliation” and in some cases illegal and considered a mental illness), Lerner distanced himself from the Weather movement that ultimately disintegrated in the mid-1970s.

Lerner’s dishes about now-well-known radicals and probes the impulses that led a small group of educated, privileged young Americans to turn to violence as a means of political change. He also tells the true story of “an intellectually adventurous but insecure gay man immersed in the macho, misogynistic and physically confrontational environment of the Weathermen”.

Sometimes known as the Weather Underground, the Weathermen, or Weatherman, the group unleashed a series of bombings across the United States, attacking the Pentagon, the Capitol Building, and the U.S. State Department, among many other places. At its height, the organization consisted of several hundred people, all committed to violent change and toe-to-toe battles with the police.

Lerner invented himself first as “minister of propaganda” for the movement and participated in the Venceremos Brigade in Cuba and he saw the Native American uprising at Wounded Knee. He then became an expensive gay hustler (My mother have said, “What a tragedy for a Jewish guy”), and shares American journey from idealism to destruction and beyond. There have been other memoirs from Weatherpeople but this is the only one that explores the painful history of the group with such brutal honesty. This is “A powerfully written account of idealism undercut by submission to a rigid ideology” and it is “As emotionally bruising as it is beautiful.”

29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

Those with an asterisk have been reviewed here at reviewsbyamolslassen.com

 

Lesbian Fiction

  • Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Liveright Publishing Corporation

Gay Fiction

  • *The Angel of History, Rabih Alameddine, Atlantic Monthly Press

Bisexual Fiction  

  • Marrow Island, Alexis M. Smith, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Bisexual Nonfiction 

  • Black Dove: Mama, Mi’jo, and Me,Ana Castillo, The Feminist Press

Bisexual Poetry 

  • Mouth to Mouth,Abigail Child, EOAGH

Transgender Fiction

  • Small Beauty, jia qing wilson-yang, Metonymy Press

LGBT Nonfiction

  • *How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS, David France, Knopf

Transgender Nonfiction

  • Life Beyond My Body: A Transgender Journey to Manhood in China, Lei Ming, Transgress Press

Lesbian Poetry (TIE)

  • play dead, francine j. harris, Alice James Books
  • The Complete Works of Pat Parker, Julie R. Enszer, Sinister Wisdom/A Midsummer Night’s Press

Gay Poetry

  • Thief in the Interior, Phillip B. Williams, Alice James Books

Transgender Poetry

  • Reacquainted with Life,KOKUMO, Topside Press

Lesbian Mystery

  • Pathogen, Jessica L. Webb, Bold Strokes Books

Gay Mystery

  • Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery, J. Aaron Sanders, Plume

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

  • The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde, Dr. Gloria Joseph, Villarosa Media

Gay Memoir/Biography

  • *When We Rise, Cleve Jones, Hachette Books

Lesbian Romance

  • The Scorpion’s Empress, Yoshiyuki Ly, Solstice Publishing

Gay Romance

  • *Into the Blue, Pene Henson, Interlude Press

LGBT Erotica

  • Soul to Keep, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Bold Strokes Books

LGBT Anthology

  • The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care,Zena Sharman, Arsenal Pulp Press

LGBT Children’s/Young Adult

  • Girl Mans Up, M.E. Girard, Harper Teen

LGBT Drama

  • Barbecue/Bootycandy, Robert O’Hara, Theatre Communications Group

LGBT Graphic Novels

  • Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal, Ed Luce, Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal, Fantagraphics Books

LGBT SF/F/Horror

  • The Devourers, Indra Das, Del Rey

LGBT Studies

  • *Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display,Jennifer Tyburczy, University of Chicago Press

“Gerry Studds: America’s First Openly Gay Congressman” by Mark Robert Schneider— Remembering Gary Studds

Schneider, Mark Robert. “Gerry Studds: America’s First Openly Gay Congressman”, University of Massachusetts Press, 2017.

Remembering Gerry Studds

Amos Lassen

Representative Gerry Studds served the Massachusetts South Shore, Cape Cod, and New Bedford congressional district from 1973 to 1997. During his first ten years in office in the House, he helped pass legislation that protected American fishermen from overfishing by international boats and limited President Ronald Reagan’s wars in Central America. However, Studds will be remembered for what happened to him in 1983 when he was censured by the House for having had an affair with a page ten years previously. Studds confessed to having behaved inappropriately and then announced on the floor of the House that he was a gay man and thus became America’s first openly gay member of Congress. Nonetheless, he defied expectations and was reelected in quite a nasty campaign. During the rest of his career, he remained loyal to his constituents’ concerns fought for AIDS research and care and led the effort in Congress to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military and opposed the Defense of Marriage Act. Studds suffered many personal conflicts yet he was able to balance his public service and his private life.

Author Mark Robert Schneider give us an in-depth look at Studds’ personal and political life and especially political context of his dramatic career. He showed us that a congressman could be gay and proud and ultimately he became an inspiration for members of the LGBT community.

“The Pox Lover: An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris” by Anne-Christine D’Adesky— A Personal History

D’Adesky, Anne-Christine. “The Pox Lover: An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris”, (Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiography), University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

A Personal History

Amos Lassen

Anne-Christine is a pioneering American AIDS journalist, lesbian activist, and daughter of French-Haitian elites who now shares her personal history of the turbulent 1990s in New York City and Paris in her memoir “The Pox Lover”. She makes sure that we can never forget “’the poxed generation’ of AIDS—their lives, their battles, and their determination to find love and make art in the heartbreaking years before lifesaving protease drugs arrived”. I have long hoped that the women who were activists and caretakers during the AIDS epidemic would put their stories in writing and this is finally happening. Tim Murphy in his spellbinding novel, “Christodora” gives us the women’s view of what was happening and now we have this memoir that takes us into the East Village of Manhattan where we are part of protests and civil disobedience to bring awareness to the world that our community was shrinking quickly because of a disease that our governments turned its back on. The writing will haunt you long after you have closed the covers of the book.

That is not all we have here, however.. we read about the good times back then as well. There were all night parties, the Lesbian Avengers and ACT UP. Going to France as a journalist, a whole new world of adventure awaited. Anne-Christine D’Adesky remembers walking along the Seine late at night (or early in the morning and meeting exiles from the Balkans, Haiti and Rwanda. She was in France when the last of the French Nazis was on trial and when the new National Front began its rise to power and we see her as one who not only lived a life but took part in that life. She tells us to do the same—life is about connecting with others, fighting for what is right and remembering. Her family was one of privilege and colonialism and there were questions to be asked and answers to be found. D’Adesky was very aware of politics and she tells us that the way one responds to politics shapes lives. She loves her life and shares that love with us. Seeing her life played out against the AIDS epidemic made her aware of its value and so she decided to live each day anew. Most of us will never have the opportunity to see and do what D’Adesky has, so we do so through her and we realize how great it all is.

 

 

“Housman Country: Into the Heart of England” by Peter Parker— A Cultural History

Parker, Peter. “Housman Country: Into the Heart of England”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

A Cultural History

Amos Lassen

When A. E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad” was first published in 1896, it was somewhat unnoticed yet today it is one of the most-loved collections of poetry in the English language. “Shropshire” evokes the English countryside, unrequited love, and a hunger for things lost. Even though it was written over a hundred years ago, it has never been out of print. As “Housman Country” explores the lives of A. E. Housman and his most famous book, we see how much it has permeated English life and culture since its publication. In fact, during wartime, soldiers carried it with them so that could have England with them while doing service, composers used it to create new music and it has had major influence on literature in all of its form and continues to do so today. Writer Peter Parker looks at that influence as he explores England and her countryside which for Housman was more than topographical; it is also historical and emotional. In exploring Housman, Parker also shares the intellectual climate of his day, and the senses of “pride, resentment and tragedy that was to haunt the England of his time”. He also shares the atmosphere that brought about the poetry in the collection. He gives us a cultural history that is literary just are the books that came out of that history. “Englishness” is unique in that it focuses the rural and the elegiac.

This beautiful study is made up of three separate books rolled into one volume. We get a biography of the poet, a critical look at his poetic output and its influence on the culture of the time and on the culture of today and the entire “A Shropshire Lad” included as part of the appendices.

I still remember the first time I read “To an Athlete Dying Young” and its influence on me. I have never forgotten a line of the poem and whenever I am feeling a bit down, I simply recite it or reread it and I am sure that is true for many others. Peter Parker explains why this is so and his explanation for “Athlete” is the same for Housman’s other poems as well. After reading this and learning more about Housman, the person, it all becomes much more special and we see the universality of what he wrote.

We understand that Housman County is not just a physical place but a place in the mind where literature and the other arts such as music come together to give us a landscape of emotion and a beautiful one at that.

 

 

 

“The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered” by Benjamin Taylor— A Memoir of a Year

Taylor, Benjamin. “The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered”, Penguin, 2017.

A Memoir of a Year

Amos Lassen

A few months ago I posted that we would soon be having a new book from one of my favorite authors and I am very happy to tell you that “The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered” is now out. It is a memoir of one year of Taylor’s life and is quite a read. That year includes November 22, 1963 when eleven-year-old Benjamin Taylor and his mother waited to get a chance shake hands with President John F. Kennedy at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth. Just a few hours after that, Taylor’s teacher called the class in from recess and told he students that the president had been killed. It is from this starting point that Taylor traces his life. He looks back at the tension that had come into his family and his childhood friendships, summer camp, family trips, he shares the influence that the story of America had on his life and himself.

What I have always loved about Taylor is his beautiful prose and he once again charms with his words and lyricism. While this is the memoir of just one year, we see that it represents a lot more and what we might thing is unique to a specific year is actually part of other years because of the implications that are part of it. He says, “Any year I chose would show the same mettle, the same frailties stamping me at eleven and twelve.”

I want to believe that he shares everything with us—the ups and the downs and he doe so with almost brutal clarity and incredible nostalgia. He uses humor to keep us grinning on the outside as we digest and think about that year and as we do we try to remember similarities in our own lives. If you read Taylor’s book on Proust, you are quite aware of the influences on Taylor’s writing.

Taylor was able to shake Kennedy’s hand that November morning and it was quite the experience for him. Since Kennedy was his hero, the president’s death affected him profoundly (as it did to most of us who were alive and remember that day). His writing takes the form close to a universal elegy of a hero taken from us and it took years to recover from it. One reviewer remarked that this book is part of the “literature of loss” that is both “classical and impassioned”. This is the story of a gay Jewish boy who comes into his own with the shadow of the assassination hanging over him. There was other experiences that hold significance in his life but what really grips the reader is the emotion and wisdom with which this book was written. As soon as I finished reading this book, I wanted more so I sit down and read it again… and, again. I did not want to miss a single word.

It was from the moment that Taylor heard that the President was dead that he began his search within himself, hoping to learn who he really is. We see that his youthful years were very important to the shaping of the man he is today and it is wonderful that he is willing to share what he learns. Through his elegant and stylish prose, Benjamin Taylor introduces us to him and we feel that we have gained a new friend.

 

 

“The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life “ by Karin Roffman— The First 28 Years

Roffman, Karin. “The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life “, Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 2017.

The First 28 Years

Amos Lassen

John Ashbery has won every major American literary award yet his early years have remained a mystery to us… until now. Karin Roffman has written the first biography of Ashbery concentrating on the first twenty-eight years of his life. Ashbery has used his early years as a source for his poetry and it is that period of his life that brought such originality and unpredictability to his writing. Roffman went to the poet himself to learn about that his youth and there were more than 100 hours of interviews along with his unpublished letters and childhood journals that are the basis for this beautiful book. She maintains that it was those first twenty-eight years that brought him to Ashbery’s debut collection “Some Trees” in 1955 which W.H. Auden’s selected him for that year’s Yale Younger Poets Prize.

We see here that Ashbery’s poetry is a product of what he learned on his family’s farm and his experiences in New York City in the 1950s when he lived “a bohemian existence that teemed with artistic fervor and radical innovations inspired by Dada and surrealism as well as lifelong friendships with painters and writers such as Frank O’Hara, Jane Freilicher, Nell Blaine, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and Willem de Kooning”.

It seems that Ashbery has been something of a mystery man to many and this can be seen in his elusiveness and for many this makes him all the more interesting. I feel in love with this book on the first page but I would have been surprised if I had not since I love Ashbery’s poetry so much. I would not say that his life is as fascinating as his poetry but it is very interesting and there is a lot to be learned here. Karin Roffman has done a wonderful job of bring the poet to all of us.

Ashbery is on every page and the preface tells us that he was interested in this book being written that he introduced Roffman to four of his close friends. In his diaries, Roffman found that the poet’s voice was already there and she found humor and patience, impatience and experiences in them. Even in the earliest of his writings, we find Ashbery being drawn to moments that transform understanding and we see that he his early poems about loneliness also deal with how people think. I have heard others refer to Ashbery as a poet’s poet and that he is along with being a gentleman scholar.

 

 

 

“Inside Shadows: A Memoir” by Thomas Pfeifer— Thirty Years with HIV

Pfeifer, Thomas. “Inside Shadows: A Memoir”, Thomas Pfeifer, 2017.

Thirty Years with HIV

Amos Lassen

Thomas Pfeifer has been waging a nearly thirty-year war with HIV and this is memoir that chronicles that period. He provides a sense of hope for others in similar situation. The summer of 1985 was supposed to be the best time of his life. He had just come out and was accepting himself as a gay male and was having a great time. Then friends began to disappear and panic set in as rumors about a strange disease became public. The disease came to Minneapolis where Pfeifer lived and he soon discovered that he was HIV positive and everything he did was studied carefully. He knew he had changes to make if he was going to survive.

“Inside Shadows” looks at Pfeifer’s transformation as he moves from fear to acceptance. This was at a time when hype and hatred was dominant in the media. He quietly takes a stand by joining forces with other supportive community members. Over the years he has learned that by following his inner wisdom, and listening to the advice of other trusted individuals, he is able to deal with the deadly virus.

It was a time when hate and fear was everywhere but he knew he had decisions to make and he proved that adaptation is essential to survival even in the face of his HIV diagnosis. It was a time also when the verdict for HUV was death but he has beaten it by persistent searching for and adapting to new ways of thinking. He was willing to rebuild his life and find out how to live in a world that was in the process of changing. Now he wants to share with others what he has learned and he does so beautifully providing inspiration and hope to those who feel lost.

“Overcoming: Alone Against the World” by Hamid Zaher— A Gay Afghanistani

Zaher, Hamid. “Overcoming: Alone Against the World, Lulu, 2017.

A Gay Afghanistani

Amos Lassen

Hamid Zaher brings us his personal story as a Afghanitsani gay man. This is a story that we have too few off and it is so important that those who are persecuted in their countries come forward and tell the world what that is. As he grew up in Afghanistan, Hamid did not feel like a man and was more comfortable in the company of women. He eventually realized he was a gay and he knew that this was not only punishable but also taboo in his country. Homosexuality in Afghanistan was never discussed or even spoken of. Here he tells us about trying to leave his country, only to experience an additional discrimination based on his national origin. However, he was able to overcome the worldwide prejudice gay Afghanistani men face. He did manage to escape the religious and traditional homophobia and then had to face refugee-bashing when no country or the United Nations would admit him, It took a lot of time and work but Zaher made enough trouble and eventually succeeded in becoming recognized as a refugee by the UN when he settled in Canada. This is the story of how one man set goals, persevered, and attempted to overcome discriminations which were tied to his sexual orientation and nationality. In sharing his personal story and experiences, Zaher hopes to help others gain rights.