Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“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.”

“No Sanctuary: Teachers and the School Reform That Brought Gay Rights to the Masses” by Stephen Lane— Protecting LGBTQ Youth in School

Lane, Stephen. “No Sanctuary: Teachers and the School Reform That Brought Gay Rights to the Masses”, ForeEdge, 2018.

Protecting LGBTQ Youth In School

Amos Lassen

As we know all too well, school can be a nightmare for LGBTQ youth, who are often targets of verbal or physical harassment and they do not have anywhere to turn for support. “No Sanctuary” shares the inspiring story of a mostly unseen rescue attempt by a small group of teachers who led the push to make schools safer for these students. Their efforts became the blueprint for Massachusetts’s education policy and a nationwide movement, resulting in one of the most successful and far-reaching school reform efforts in recent times. Stephen Lane looks at these critical series of reforms and places the Safe Schools movement within the context of the larger gay rights movement. He also highlights its key role in fostering greater acceptance of LGBTQ individuals throughout society.

This is a detailed account of how LGBTQ and progressive teachers, along with students, organized and fought to defend the rights and safety of LGBTQ students. Lane gives us a century-long historical overview of sex panics, educational theory, sexology, attitudes about youth, and gender myths as well as accounts of on-the-ground organizing in schools across the nation. The book captures how a bottom-up policy change progresses “in bite-sized increments in a political arena to achieve safety and equity for both teachers and students.” 

This is the largely untold story of how courageous public and private school educators and students both paved the way and fought to support and protect LGBTQ youth in schools. We clearly see how students and teachers can use their voices and leadership “to personalize and frame an issue, educate administrators and those in power, and ultimately effect policy, culture, and large-scale change, not only in schools, but also in society.”

Here is a look at the Table of Contents:

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: The Path to Reform
  • Out of the Shadows and into Parades
  • Fears of a Petticoat Regime: Character and Education in the United States
  • Postwar Hysteria: The Red Menace and Lavender Lads
  • Oranges, Banana Cream, and Beauty Queens: The Fight over Gay Teachers Comes out of the Closet
  • Homosexuality Enters the Classroom: Shining a Light on the Problem
  • Reforms Go Public
  • Pulpits, Pink Triangles, and Basement Meetings: Private Schools Join the Movement
  • Teaching, Learning, and Moving up the Hierarchy: School Leadership Joins the Movement
  • Promises, Promises: The Movement Goes Political
  • An Enormous Pressure to Succeed: From Promises, Promises to a Statewide Policy
  • The Massachusetts Model Goes Nationwide
  • Now What?
  • Acronyms and Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Index

Coming Out of Communism: The Emergence of LGBT Activism in Eastern Europe” by Conor D’Owyer—LGBT Political Rights in Post-Communist Europe

O’Dwyer, Conor. ‘Coming Out of Communism: The Emergence of LGBT Activism in Eastern Europe”, NYU Press, 2018.

LGBT Political Rights in Post-Communist Europe

Amos Lassen

While LGBT activism has increased worldwide, there has been strong backlash against LGBT people in Eastern Europe. While Russia is the most prominent anti-gay regime in the region, LGBT individuals in other post-communist countries suffer from discriminatory laws and prejudiced social institutions. Conor O’Dwyer combines an historical overview with interviews and case studies in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. He analyzes the development and impact of LGBT movements in post-communist Eastern and Central Europe.  

 O’Dwyer states that “the backlash against LGBT individuals has had the paradoxical effect of encouraging stronger and more organized activism, significantly impacting the social movement landscape in the region.” As these Eastern and Central European countries try for inclusion or at least recognition in the increasingly LGBT-friendly European Union, activist groups and organizations have become even more emboldened to push for change. Often it takes antagonism to create pressure. Via fieldwork in five countries and interviews with activists, organizers, and public officials, O’Dwyer looks the intricacies of these LGBT social movements and their structures, functions, and impact. This is a unique exploration of LGBT rights groups in Eastern and Central Europe and their ability to serve as models for future movements attempting to resist backlash.  

This is an important and significant work in the study of LGBT politics, European politics, and social movements and looks at why LGBT rights activism have flourished in some post-communist states and floundered in others following the accession to the European Union.

For some, joining the EU was accompanied by increasingly intolerant public attitudes toward sexual minorities. O’Dwyer stresses the role of homophobic backlash in provoking stronger organizing for LGBT rights in the region. We see how backlash can paradoxically benefit the domestic organizing capacity of LGBT rights advocates.

O’Dwyer has meticulously documented contention around those rights in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe. He shows us the great potential that the often-ignored study of LGBT politics offers for understanding many theoretical debates.

“Old Futures: Speculative Fiction and Queer Possibility” by Alexis Lothian— Imagined Futures

Lothian, Alexis. “Old Futures: Speculative Fiction and Queer Possibility”, (Postmillennial Pop), NYU Press, 2018.

Imagined Futures

Amos Lassen

In “Old Futures”, Alexis Lothian looks at the history of imagined futures from the 1890s to the 2010s and brings together speculative visions of gender, race, and sexuality from literature, film, and digital media.

We explore the social, political, and cultural forces that “feminists, queer people, and people of color invoke when they dream up alternative futures as a way to imagine transforming the present.” Lothian shows how queer possibilities tend to come out when we practice the art of speculation: of imagining things otherwise than they are and creating stories based on that impulse. With queer theory we get creative ways to think about time, breaking with the straight and narrow paths toward the future that are laid out for the reproductive family, etc. Up until now, it has rarely been thought that, instead of a queer present reshaping the ways we relate to past and future, the futures imagined in the past can lead to queer the present. 

These narratives of possible futures provide frameworks through which we understand our present. The discourse of “the” future has never been a singular one. “Imagined futures have often been central to the creation and maintenance of imperial domination and technological modernity”; Lothian offers a counter history of works that have sought to speculate otherwise. Examining speculative texts from the 1890s to the 2010s, from Samuel R. Delany to Sense8, Lothian looks at the ways in which early feminist utopias and dystopias, Afro-futurist fiction, and queer science fiction media “have insisted that the future can and must deviate from dominant narratives of global annihilation or highly restrictive hopes for redemption.”

Each chapter chronicles some of the means by which the production and destruction of futures both real and imagined takes place: through eugenics, utopia, empire, fascism, dystopia, race, capitalism, femininity, masculinity, and many kinds of queerness, reproduction, and sex. Gathering stories of and by populations who have been marked as futureless or left out by dominant imaginaries, Lothian offers new insights into what we can learn from efforts to imaginatively redistribute the future.

“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.

“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.