Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Sissy!: The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture” by Harry Thomas— The Feminization of the American Male

Thomas, Harry. “Sissy!: The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture”, University of Alabama Press, 2017.

The Feminization of the American Male

Amos Lassen

Harry Thomas takes us on an innovative exploration of postwar representations of effeminate men and boys in “Sissy!: The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture”. Of late, we have had cultural criticism about the ways that men and boys who are thought to be feminine have been treated in this country and by that I mean condemning them because of their actions and behavior. There is truth in this but it is only part of the situation. There is also the fact that an American artistic tradition celebrates and affirms of effeminate masculinity. Effeminate males of all ages have been “generally portrayed using the grotesque, an artistic mode concerned with the depictions of hybrid bodies”. Thomas maintains that this grotesque imagery used to depict effeminate men brings about a slew of different emotions array of emotions from revulsion and non-acceptance to fascination. It is interesting that it was not that long ago when effeminate men were considered to be gay. Then the gay movement eschewed feminine behavior and while there are effeminate gay men, they are generally looked down upon by their butch counterparts.

Looking at literature, Thomas turns to the novels of Truman Capote and Carson McCullers and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”. In entertainment, he looks at Liberace and the prophetic queens of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” as well as to others who demonstrate how effeminate men have often been adored because they are seen to be the promise of a different world that is freed from the bounds of heteronormativity. We get a new and in depth look at the cultural and artistic attitudes towards male effeminacy in post–World War II America that reinterprets the “sissy” figure in modern art and literature.

We are living in a time when gender is an important topic and things are changing quickly. Never has the trans movement been so openly discussed. In this book we see both the nature and consequences of effeminacy and understand that they are relevant and timely. By looking at femininity is society, we gain a welcome explanation as to the ways that mainstream American culture and gay culture continue to blur the lines between gender and sexuality “in constructions of nonnormative and, as Thomas usefully calls them, ‘hegemonic’ masculinities.”

“New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture AND Queer Politics In Neoliberal Times” edited by Oishik Sircar and Jain Dipika— Queer Rights in Neoliberal Times

Sircar, Oishik and Dipika, Jain (editors). “New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture AND Queer Politics In Neoliberal Times”, Zubaan Books, 2017.

Queer Rights in Neoliberal Times

Amos Lassen

In the last fifteen years, we have made great strides in advancing the rights of LGBT people. In the same period that these victories have been secured by queer movements, we have also seen the “rise of crony capitalism, violent consequences of the war on terror, the hyper-juridification of politics, the financialization of social movements, and the medicalization of non-heteronormative identities and practices”. Do we know how to critically read the celebratory global proliferation of queer rights in these neoliberal times?

“New Intimacies, Old Desires” is a collection of answers to this question. The book analyzes laws, state policies, and cultures of activism to show how new intimacies between queer sexuality and a neoliberalism that celebrates modernity and the birth of the liberated sexual citizen, are in fact, a reproduction of the old colonial desire of civilizing the native. By paying particular attention to race, religion, and class, the essays here “engage in a rigorous, self-reflexive critique of global queer politics and its engagements, confrontations, and negotiations with modernity and its investments in liberalism, legalism, and militarism—all with the objective of queering the ethics of global politics”.

 

“Queercore: Queer Punk Media Subculture” by Curran Nault— The Movement

Nault, Curran. “Queercore: Queer Punk Media Subculture”, (Routledge Research in Gender, Sexuality, and Media), Routledge, 2017.

The Movement

Amos Lassen

Queercore is a queer and punk transmedia movement that came into being in 1980s Toronto through the pages of G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce’s underground fanzine “J.D.s”. Jones and LaBruce declared “civil war” on the punk and gay and lesbian mainstreams and brought together likeminded filmmakers, zine writers and editors, musicians and performers who formed a subculture that was in pointed opposition to the homophobia of mainline punk and the lifeless sexual politics and exclusionary tendencies of dominant gay and lesbian society. Now some thirty years later, queercore and its troublemaking productions are still culturally and politically alive.

In his new book, author Curran Nault explores the homology between queer theory/practice and punk theory/practice that is at the heart of queercore media making. He gives us analyses of key queercore texts and explains the tropes central to queer core’s subcultural distinction. These include unashamed sexual representation, confrontational politics, and

“shocking” embodiments, including those related to size, ability and gender variance. Nault’s research is based archival material, ethnographic interviews, theoretical argumentation and close analysis. In effect, what we get here is a new answer to the old question of what it means to be queer. By doing so, queer studies are returned to the cutting edge as we are reminded of the inherently political and radical aspects of queerness.

“Self-Made Woman: A Memoir” by Denise Chantrelle Dubois— Becoming

DuBois, Denise Chantrelle. “Self-Made Woman: A Memoir”, (Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiography), University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

Becoming

Amos Lassen

I chose to use only one word to entitle this review simply because it connotes an ongoing practice. I do not believe that we ever finish “becoming” and every day that we are alive, we “become” a little more. I think this is especially true for gay people and trans people since we never come out just once. Every time we meet someone new, we must decide whether or when to come out to them or not.

Denise Chantrelle DuBois had a rough time transition from Dennis to who she is today. She was born in Milwaukee to a working class Polish American family. He father was domineering and in the 1960s when she was growing up, the idea of gender conformity had not yet but something to speak open about especially in a neighborhood where people worked in order to survive. There was very little money in Denise’s family and there would have been no compassion for a boy who wanted to be a girl back then. Throughout school, Denise faced bullies and teasing and when she got home, the sense of deprivation was so strong that she rarely felt good about herself. She tells us, “For decades I kept Denise in the closet. Then I kept Dennis in the closet”. We can only imagine how terrified she was and she fought that by resorting to alcoholism, drug dealing and addiction and these often led to dangerous sex and eventually to prison time. She barreled from Wisconsin to California, Oregon, Canada, Costa Rica, New York, Bangkok, and Hawaii in search of some kind of peace. Somehow she managed to survive. When she was finally able to accept herself as a woman, things changed but it was a long and arduous road to get to that point.

Now that trans people are receiving the acceptance they deserve, there are a tremendous number of books about self-acceptance and transitioning and the theme always seems to be the same—- the person who was born into the wrong body and gender and who has to struggle to find the true self. In the last year, I read many but I must say that Denise’s book really got to me and had me turning pages as quickly as possible. I think that is because it is so brutally honest and so filled with both pain and joy. Yes, it is a book about transformation but it is also a book about survival. Sometimes we have to go through terrible pain to reach happiness and we see that so clearly and powerfully here. We often forget that in order to make peace with the future, we must also confront the past and that is what Denise does so beautifully here. Denise also happens to be a fine writer whose story I will not likely forget anytime soon.

 

“Queer European Cinema: Queering Cinematic Time and Space” edited by Leanne Dawson— At the Movies

Dawson, Leanne, editor. “Queer European Cinema: Queering Cinematic Time and Space”, Routledge, 2017.

At the Movies

Amos Lassen

Leanne Dawson’s “Queer European Cinema”, opens with an overview of LGBTQ representation throughout cinematic history. This is interwoven with the socio-political reality in Europe and beyond. It goes on to consider trends including the boarding school film, the gay road movie, and queer horror before presenting case studies that analyze what Dawson refers to as the ‘low culture’ of pornography and then moving to the ‘high culture’ of art house cinema.

The book is a collection of essays explores “borders and boundaries of geography, temporality, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and desire in a range of European films at a time when both LGBTQ politics and the concept of Europe are under intense scrutiny in representation and reality, to demonstrate how LGBTQ film can serve as a political tool to create visibility and acceptance as well as providing entertainment”.

We have an analysis of both trans and femme identities in “Boys Don’t Cry”, an Academy Award winner alongside the German film, “Unveiled”; the intersection of lesbian visibility and the notion of nation on the Croatian screen at its point of entry into the European Union and during the gay marriage referendum; music and its relation to camp in Italian transnational cinema; European lesbian feminist pornography; and an analysis of limited spaces and citizenship in queer French-language road movies.

“The Gang’s All Queer: The Lives of Gay Gang Members” by Vanessa Panfil— Gay Gang Members

Panfil, Vanessa. “The Gang’s All Queer: The Lives of Gay Gang Members”, NYU Press, 2017.

Gay Gang Members

Amos Lassen

I have never thought about the possibility that there are gay members but if we are everywhere, as we now Know, it should be no surprise. The real surprise is that this has never really been studied before. Most of, I would venture to say, think that gangs are made up of violent thugs who are in and out of jail, and who are hyper-masculine and heterosexual. But then again there were the Kray brothers In England so I am not so sure that we should be surprised. Vanessa Panfil takes us into the world of gangs and we immediately see that for most of us, it is quite a different world than the one we live in. The gay gang members are sometimes referred to as “homo thugs” and their gay identity complicates criminology’s portrayal and representation of gangs, gang members, and gang life.  Panfil shows us in great detail and understanding provides an in-depth how gay gang members “construct and negotiate both masculine and gay identities through crime and gang membership”.  

Panfil conducted interviews with over 50 gay gang- and crime-involved young men in Columbus, Ohio. The majority of these are men of color in their late teens and early twenties and she conducted on-the-ground ethnographic fieldwork with men who are in gay, hybrid, and straight gangs. We see how even members of straight gangs are connected to a same-sex oriented underground world.  She states that most of these young men present a traditionally masculine persona and hold other members of their gangs in great affection. They also fight with their enemies, many of whom are in rival gay gangs. The majority are come from impoverished, ‘rough’ neighborhoods, and seek to break the negative stereotypes of gay and Black men as deadbeats and sometimes they have to do this through criminal activity Of course, there are still those who remain in the closet to their families and to their fellow gang members and families but there are also those who fight to defend members of the gay community, even those who they see as “fags,” and for whom they harbor distaste for these flamboyancy. And then there are those gang members that perform in drag shows or sell sex in order to survive.

What is so clear and surprising is that these  men both respond to and resist societal marginalization. We see just how much we have to learn here as the concept of gay as victims of the crimes is shifted and we here see them as agents and offenders who challenge troubling racist stereotypes of queer and Black masculinities. The idea that members of gangs are heterosexual is also challenged and it is fascinating to read what is included in this very intelligent and well written book.

“The Gay Jungle: A Beginner’s Guide to Navigating Life as a Gay Guy” by Dan P. Schaefer— Diffiucult Questions

Schaefer, Dan P. “The Gay Jungle: A Beginner’s Guide to Navigating Life as a Gay Guy”, Independently Published, 2017.

Difficult Questions

Amos Lassen

I never needed a guide to being gay, it just kind of happened and it was great fun. However, there are those who have no idea how to make their way through the jungle of gay life— especially those who live in rural areas where there are few, if any, role models. Dan Schaefer proposes these questions—“How do you make your way through this strange and unfamiliar territory? What’s in there anyway? And what’s on the other side? Will you survive, and maybe even end up thriving as a happy, healthy, well-adjusted gay person?”

He then looks at what lies ahead and how to deal with it and he does so by sharing humorous and not-so-humorous stories from his own life so that it will all seem to be a lot less unusual and scary. But there are more questions: “ Can I change this? Am I going to Hell? What happens when I come out? How do I meet other gay people? Do gay relationships work like straight relationships? How does my orientation affect the rest of my life? What about my legal rights? Can I still live a long and happy life?”

This is in part a self-help guide for the freshly aware gay person as well as an autobiographical exploration of the gay American experience making it all sound so easy.

 

“The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism” by Jason Tougaw— Growing Up Gay

Tougaw, Jason. “The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism”, Dzanc Books, 2017.

Growing Up Gay

Amos Lassen

In,“The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism”, Jason Tougaw tellshis story of growing up gay in 1970s Southern California in “The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism”. He had been raised by hippies who had “dropped out” in the late sixties and couldn’t seem to find their way back in. They used the expression, “There’s something wrong with our blood and it affects our brains” as a catchall answer for incidents such as Tougaw’s schizophrenic great-grandfather directing traffic in the nude on the Golden Gate Bridge, the author’s own dyslexia and hypochondria, and the near-death experience of his notorious jockey grandfather, Ralph Neves.

This is an honest and unexpected true story that seals with the big questions of “Where did I come from,” “How did I become me,” and “What happens when the family dog accidentally overdoses on acid?”

This is a wonderfully funny read but it is also sensitive and very moving in that we read about a family that is both particular and universal. It is also the story of a boy growing up in California during the years of a waning counter culture and it brings together reflections on the brain science of human memory and development and the mystery of why some of us survive a chaotic and brutal childhood while there are others that do not do so.

We read of the terrifying bonds that make a family and also see that these bonds are wonderful as well. By using social theory and neuroscience, Tougaw looks at what makes the “self” as he tries to determine how we become who we are.

 

 

“Travels with Penny: True Travel Tales of a Gay Guy and His Mom” by David Alan Morrison— A Different Kind of Family

Morrison, David Alan. “Travels with Penny: True Travel Tales of a Gay Guy and His Mom”, Dam Publishers, 2017.

A Different Kind of Family

Amos Lassen

David Alan Morrison has written a very funny memoir about family dynamics. When his father died suddenly, his life changed totally. He was a single, middle-aged gay guy struggling with his own mortality and he does so by reminiscing about travels with his gregarious mother and discovering a new dimension to his relationship with himself, his parents and his regrets. “Travels With Penny” is a candid look at the transformation of relationship between children and their parents. It seems that just when his relationship with his family became steady, his father died and he had to deal with both that and his mother. Be prepared to laugh loudly as she read and you might want to make sure that there is no one else around so people will not think you lost it.

 

“Learning What Love Means” by Mathieu Lindon— Mathieu and Michel

Lindon, Mathieu. “Learning What Love Means”, translated by Bruce Benderson, Semiotext(e) / Native Agents, 2017.

Mathieu and Michel

Amos Lassen

In 1978, Mathieu Lindon was 23 years old when he met Michel Foucault. Lindon was part of a small group of jaded but innocent, brilliant, and sexually ambivalent friends who came to know Foucault. At first they were the caretakers of Foucault’s apartment on rue de Vaugirard when he was away but they eventually shared their time, drugs, ambitions, and writings with the older existential philosopher. Lindon’s friend, the late Herve Guibert, was a key figure within this group. Lindon was the son of the renowned founder of Editions de Minuit and Lindon grew up with Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Samuel Beckett as family friends. Much was expected of him but it was through his friendship with Foucault (who was simply an older friend) that he found the direction that would influence the rest of his life.  

The book is a collage of free-associated episodes and interpretations that together teach about how to love. It is “a story of conversion testifying to an author’s radical change of viewpoint, which leads to his invitation into the social world through lessons about love.” It is also a meditation on friendship that gives insight into a part of Foucault’s life and work that until now, remained unknown.

“I loved Michel as Michel, not as a father. Never did I feel the slightest jealousy or the slightest embitterment or exasperation when it came to him.  … I was intensely close to Michel for a full six years, until his death, and I lived in his apartment for close to a year. Today I see that time as the period that changed my life, my cut-off from a fate leading to the precipice. In no specific way I’m grateful to Michel, without knowing for exactly what, for a better life.” — from  “Learning What Love Means”.