Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Accidental Activists: Mark Phariss, Vic Holmes, and Their Fight for Marriage Equality in Texas” by David Collins

Collins, David. “Accidental Activists: Mark Phariss, Vic Holmes, and Their Fight for Marriage Equality in Texas”, University of North Texas Press, 2017.

Winning Marriage Equality

Amos Lassen

In early 2013 the Supreme Court’s decision in “United States v. Windsor” appeared to open the door to marriage equality. In Texas, Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes who were then together for sixteen years wondered why no one had yet challenged the state’s 2005 constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in the state of Texas. They agreed to join a lawsuit being put together by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLD.

It took two years and tense legal battles in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas and in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, oral arguments at the Supreme Court of the United States in “Obergefell v. Hodges” for the two men to win the right to marry in Texas. “Accidental Activists” is their story.

Author David Collins tells Mark and Vic’s story in the context of legal and social history and explains the complex legal issues and developments surrounding same-sex marriage in terms that all of us can clearly understand. Throughout the LGBTQ rights movement, we have seen “accidental activists” come to the fore.

Collins has wonderfully captured the two men’s lifelong struggles with shame and self-loathing and their personal triumph of facing the public “to claim their right to love in the country they love.”—

“Accidental Activists” tells the story of two men who wanted to live their lives together as married men. We read of the pains of growing up gay, the humiliation and embarrassment of the closet, the courage to use the inner strength necessary to come out, falling in love, and the refusal live as second-class citizens.

While this is a book about changing the law in Texas, it is also a look at overall struggle for marriage equality how it was won nationwide. It also shows that the Texas challengers were attempting only to have American society treat them as it treats all other couples, to allow them to live the same lives, with the same respect and dignity like all other citizens. And yes, it is a personal look at the lives, love and experiences of Vic and Mark. Collins shares the smallest details from Vic and Mark’s lives as they struggle through the fight.

“A Brief History of Oversharing: One Ginger’s Anthology of Humiliation” by Shawn Hitchens— Irreverent Fun Essays

Hitchins, Shawn. “A Brief History of Oversharing: One Ginger’s Anthology of Humiliation”, ECW, 2017.

Irreverent Fun Essays

Amos Lassen

Comedian Shawn Hitchins explores his irreverent nature in this debut collection of essays. He writes about his younger self, the effeminate ginger-haired kid with a competitive streak. He shares the ups and downs of being a sperm donor to a lesbian couple, his love for actress Shelley Long, his hatred of musical theatre, and the he summer spent in Provincetown working as a drag queen. Nothing is sacred here and he takes on his mother who planned the murder of the family cat, his difficult relationship with his father, becoming an unintentional spokesperson for all redheads, and his first breakup.

Hitchins is “blunt, awkward, emotional and ribald and he totally humiliates himself as we laugh. If you are in need of a laugh, here is where to find one.

We see that is quite okay to laugh at sacred cows and there is something quite beautiful in the bawdiness we read here. Hitchins relies on his emotions and his “dirty mind” to get his ideas across and we eat them up. He gives us a play-by-play on masturbation (something we usually do not discuss with others and while we are shocked at first, by the time it is over, we have laughed ourselves silly. Maybe he does “overshare” but that is fine with me.

If everyone wrote a book like this, I would be quite a jolly reviewer. Reading this made me feel that the air suddenly freshened all around me and I cannot recommend it highly enough. After all, if we cannot laugh at ourselves, why is it that we can laugh at others?

 

 

“Fighting Proud: The Untold Story of the Gay Men Who Served in Two World Wars” by Stephen Bourne— Gay Men of War

Bourne, Stephen. “Fighting Proud: The Untold Story of the Gay Men Who Served in Two World Wars”, I.B. Tauris, 2017.

Gay Men of War

Amos Lassen

Stephen Bourne, in his new history of Britain at war, brings us the fascinating stories of the gay men who served in the armed forces and at home. He shares their unheralded contribution that they made to the war effort. Royal Air Force hero Ian Gleed was twice honored for bravery by King George VI. There were – gay infantry officers serving in the trenches on the Western Front in World War I and there were those gay soldiers that led the charges into machine-gun fire only to find themselves court-martialed for indecent behavior after the war. Bourne acknowledges Alan Turing’s work on breaking the “enigma machine”. We get stories here of persecution as well as stories of love and courage in London during the blitz. Bourne’s sources include wartime diaries and letters that have been brought to light for the first time. “Fighting Proud” also includes long-suppressed wartime photography that was ignored by mainstream historians.

This book is a tribute to the bravery, sacrifice and honor from a persecuted minority who contributed so much during Britain’s hour of need.

“LGBTQ Politics: A Critical Reader” edited by Marla Brettschneider, Susan Burgess and Christine Keating— An Anthology of Essays

Brettschneider, Marla, Susan Burgess and Christine Keating (editors). “LGBTQ Politics: A Critical Reader”, NYU Press, 2017.

An Anthology of Essays

Amos Lassen

“LGBTQ Politics” is a collection of original essays on queer politics. In the last twenty years, the LGBTQ community has seen tremendous political changes  regarding their civil rights. The essays included here analyze both the successes and obstacles to building the LGBTQ movement over the past two decades. They cover a range of topics, including activism, law, and coalition building, and draw on subfields such as American politics, comparative politics, political theory, and international relations. We get the gamut of methodological, ideological, and substantive approaches to LGBTQ politics that exist in political science. The analyses here focus on mainstream institutional and elite politics and we see them alongside contributions that have come out of grassroots movements and critical theory. Some of the essays celebrate the movement’s successes and prospects while others show the concerns that these successes have been “undermined by a focus on funding power over people power, attempts to fragment the LGBTQ movement from racial, gender and class justice, and a persistent attachment to single-issue politics.”  

  • In the past, LGBTQ and sexuality politics have been sidelined. They have been deemed to be less important, less respectable, or even less necessary research topics in political science. This anthology responds to those ideas. We see here just how important these questions are to our discipline. They give us the chance to hone our methodological concerns and substantive analysis, and they provide a means to integrate the subfields of political science. We see the
  • importance of LGBTQ politics and the ways that understanding LGBTQ politics challenges and strengthens the discipline of political science.
  • LGBTQ politics today are at the center of the American discipline’s concerns.

 

“You and Your Gender Identity: A Guide to Discovery” by Dara Hoffman-Fox— Questions and Answers

Hoffman-Fox, Dara, “You and Your Gender Identity: A Guide to Discovery”, Skyhorse Publishing, 2017.

Questions and Answers

Amos Lassen

Of late, gender has become the topic of conversation all over the world as we wrestle with questions about it. Here are some answers that just might help. Do you want answers to questions about your gender identity, but aren’t sure how to get started?

Dara Hoffman-Fox, an accomplished gender therapist and thought leader helps us deal with those questions as we try to find our ways. She states that there are three approachable stages: preparation, reflection, and exploration that we must deal with as we travel on our journey trying to finds our own gender identities. Here are some of the topics covered:

Why understanding your gender identity is core to embracing your full being

How to sustain the highs and lows of your journey with resources, connection, and self-care

How to uncover and move through your feelings of fear, loneliness, and doubt

Why it’s important to examine your past through the lens of gender exploration?

How to discover and begin living as your authentic self

What options you have after making your discoveries about your gender identity?

This is a book for anyone who wants to explore gender more deeply. It accelerates the process of awareness and self-understanding. We are given a detailed walkthrough of the process of more firmly establishing one’s gender.

We get all the tools to necessary to deeply explore the questions of gender identity. Dara Hoffman-Fox breaks down every thought & emotion that could bother someone who is struggling with gender identity, and then shows how to navigate. We have no idea as to how many thousands of people question their own gender identity to some degree. What we do know is that it is difficult to do so. Here is so much what one needs to get personal answers to so many questions. We see choices that are yet to be made and how to wisely make them.

“Not Straight from Germany: Sexual Publics and Sexual Citizenship since Magnus Hirschfeld” edited by Michael Thomas Taylor, Annette Trimm and Rainer Herrn— Hirschfeld’s Legacy

Taylor, Michael Thomas, Annette Trimm and Rainer Herrn, editors. “Not Straight from Germany: Sexual Publics and Sexual Citizenship since Magnus Hirschfeld”, University of Michigan Press, 2017.

Hirschfeld’s Legacy

Amos Lassen

Magnus Hirschfeld founded his Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin in 1919 as a place of research, political advocacy, counseling, and public education. He had been inspired by the world’s first gay rights organizations and his institute was closely allied with other groups fighting for sexual reform and women’s rights. It was destroyed in 1933 as the first target of the Nazi book burnings. “Not Straight from Germany” examines the legacy and history of the institute through a combination of essays and visual materials. Scholarly essays investigate the ways in which sex became public in early 20th-century Germany and how these contributed to a growing awareness of Hirschfeld’s influence on histories of sexuality. We get a larger perspective on identity politics. This is basically a look at the modes of visual representation that Hirschfeld employed by re-imagining the public visibility of his institute but from a contemporary perspective. We see never-before-published images from Hirschfeld’s institute that challenge ideas and explore collaboration and dialogue as methods of research and activism.

“True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century” by Emily Skidmore— Assimilation

Skidmore, Emily. “True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century”, NYU Press, 2017.

Assimilations

Amos Lassen

As we moved into the twentieth century, there was nothing exceptional about trans men. They led ordinary lives, aligning themselves with the expectations of their communities. There was nothing exceptional about then. Now we have the stories of eighteen trans men who lived in the United States between 1876 and 1936. Even though they were led “unexceptional” lives, Emily Skidmore in “True Sex”, tells us that their lives were surprising and moving and, indeed, challenge much of what we think we know about queer history. Writer Skidmore has traced the narratives surrounding the moments of “discovery” in these communities, looking at reports in local newspapers to medical journals and beyond and has found “complex narratives concerning rural geography and community, persecution and tolerance, and how these factors intersect with the history of race, identity and sexuality in America.”

 There was no designation as “trans men” and we see just how complex their stories are and there are surprises and revelations.

  • According to Skidmore, newspaper revelations about trans men invited debate about queer embodiment and the shifting boundaries of the gender binary. There were trans men living, loving, working and dying in rural locations throughout the United States around the turn of
  • and many transmen were accepted by their communities, both in life and in death,. This is counter to what we may have believed—the idea that LGBT people were persecuted and that they went to urban centers to be part of a larger community. Small towns and rural areas were queerer than commonly thought.

 

“Drags” by Gregory Kramer— A Photo Series

Kramer, Gregory. “Drags”, KMW Studio, 2017.

A Photo Series

Amos Lassen

Gregory Kramer’s “Drags” is a photo series that documents the drag queens and kings of New York City, through glamorous black-and-white photographs and it does so in a beautifully designed coffee table book. The photographs are presented in the style of classic fashion portraiture and features legends and up-and-coming legends in black and white, full-length studio portraits. Each photo brings out the spirit of the performer through subtle pose, gesture and facial expression.

Included are five stories written by vital pillars of the scene. “Charles Busch writes about how it feels to be in drag and his utmost respect for female role models, Sasha Velour speaks about the magic and transformative power of drag as an art form, Linda Simpson comments on the generational shift in the community, Goldie Peacock presents a distinct point of view from a drag king, while Sweetie pays homage to the queens who’ve come before.”

 This is a stunner of a book that allows each of the drag stars to author their own look and is one of those books that can be looked at over and over again.

“Queer Dance” edited by Clare Croft— The Challenge of Dance

Croft, Clare (editor). “Queer Dance”, Oxford University Press, 2017.

The Challenge of Dance

Amos Lassen

The various ways that people are together have an influence on choreographic practices and help us to imagine the ways groups assemble in more varied ways than just pairing another man with another woman? We can ask, “How might dancing queerly ask us to imagine futures through something other than heterosexuality and reproduction? How does challenging gender binaries always mean thinking about race, thinking about the postcolonial, about ableism? What are the arbitrary rules structuring dance in all its arenas, whether concert and social or commercial and competition, and how do we see those invisible structures and work to disrupt them?”

 

In “Queer Dance”, Clare Croft brings together artists and scholars in a multi-platformed project-book with an accompanying website, and live performance series that ask just how dancing queerly progressively challenges us. The artists and scholars who have contributed to the book and whose performances and filmed interviews appear online give us a range of genders and sexualities that challenge and destabilize social norms. Through what we read here, we engage with “dance making, dance scholarship, queer studies, and other fields” and we are asked how identities, communities, and making art and scholarly practices might consider what queer work the body does and can do. There is a great deal power in claiming queerness in the press of bodies touching or in the exceeding of the body best measured in sweat and exhaustion. We look at how queerness exists in the realm of affect and touch, and we are led to look at what then might about queerness should come next via the complex bodily ways of knowing.

It is important never to take ‘queer’ or ‘dance’ for granted as stable terms. We become very aware of how the contributors manipulate them to render visible the ways in which “dance is a queer praxis and queerness is a dancing analytic”.

The book goes beyond the currently accepted registers of queerness to bring the subjects it finds into convergence— feminism, race, and queerness, are simultaneously distinct and integrated and this reveals an amplified understanding of queer dance and provides new areas for engagement.

 

 

“The Life and Death of ACT UP/LA: Anti-AIDS Activism in Los Angeles from the 1980s to the 2000s” by Benita Roth— A History

Roth, Benita. “The Life and Death of ACT UP/LA: Anti-AIDS Activism in Los Angeles from the 1980s to the 2000s”, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

A History

Amos Lassen

ACT UP/LA was part of the militant anti-AIDS movement of the 80s and 90s that went against the neglect of the AIDS epidemic, engaging in multi-targeted protest in Los Angeles and nationally. The members faced the government and brought about tremendous change at a time that our community was dying. medical, and institutional. We see the appeal of direct action anti-AIDS activism for people across the United States. The group argued about “the need to understand how the politics of place affect organizing, and how the particular features of the Los Angeles cityscape shaped possibilities for activists.” Through a feminist perspective we see “social inequalities as mutually reinforcing and interdependent, to examine the interaction of activists and the outcomes of their actions.” The united us in a struggle against AIDS and homophobia, and gain a voice in our own healthcare.

This is a “dense and meticulously annotated” history of an organization that gained the power that was necessary to bring about change. Writer Betina Roth shows us that members of ACT UP/LA were often scared and frightened to participate in actions but did so anyway because lives were at stake and no one really seemed to care.