Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic” by Richard A. McKay— Following An Idea

McKay, Richard A. “Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic”, University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Following An Idea

Amos Lassen

 “Patient Zero” is popularly understood to be the first person infected in the AIDS epidemic and has been the key to media coverage of major infectious disease outbreaks for more than three decades. Yet the term itself did not exist before the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. We have wondered how quickly this idea came to exert such a strong grip on the scientific, media, and popular consciousness. Richard A. McKay in “Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic” interprets a wealth of archival sources and interviews to demonstrate how this seemingly new concept drew upon centuries-old ideas—and fears regarding contagion and social disorder.

This is a carefully documented and sensitively written account of the life of Gaétan Dugas, a gay man whose skin cancer diagnosis in 1980 took on very different meanings as the HIV/AIDS epidemic developed. He also received widespread posthumous infamy when he was incorrectly identified as patient zero of the North American outbreak. McKay shows how investigators from the US Centers for Disease Control inadvertently created the term inadvertently when they were researching the term amid their early research into the health crisis at the beginning and how an ambitious journalist amplified the idea in his determination to reframe national debates about AIDS. Many people struggled with the notion of patient zero by adopting, challenging and redirecting its powerful meanings in order to try to make sense of and respond to the first fifteen years of an epidemic that was unfolding before their very eyes. This book untangles the complex process by which individuals and groups create meaning and allocate blame when faced with new disease threats. In effect, McKay gives us revisionist history.

Below is the Table of Contents:


List of Abbreviations

Introduction: “He Is Still Out There”

  1. What Came Before Zero?
  2. The Cluster Study
  3. “Humanizing This Disease”
  4. Giving a Face to the Epidemic
  5. Ghosts and Blood
  6. Locating Gaétan Dugas’s Views

Epilogue: Zero Hour—Making Histories of the North American AIDS Epidemic

Appendix: Oral History Interviews



“The Videofag Book” edited by William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill— Four Years

Ellis, William and Jordan Tannahill, editors. “The Videofag Book”, Bookthug, 2017.

Four Years

Amos Lassen

In October 2012, gay lovers William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill moved into a former barbershop in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighborhood. They turned the shop into an art space called Videofag which. Over the next four years became a hub for counterculture in the city. They hosted performances, screenings, parties, exhibitions, and all kinds of queer activates. Eventually William and Jordan broke up and closed the space for good in June 2016. The time they spent there had taken its toll and the men were exhausted and their love seemed to be worn out.

This is a chronicle of those four years and is related through multiple voices and mediums. It is a “personal history by William and Jordan; a love letter by Jon Davies; a communal oral history compiled by Chandler Levack; a play by Greg MacArthur; a poem by Aisha Sasha John; a chronological history of Videofag’s programming; and a photo archive curated by William and Jordan in full color.”

“David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music” by David Bullock— A History of LGBT Music

Bullock, David. “David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music”, Overlook Press, 2017.

A History of LGBT Music

Amos Lassen

LGBT musicians seem to have always shaped the development of music over the last century. They have provided a sexually progressive soundtrack in the background of the gay community’s struggle for acceptance. With the beginning of recording technology, LGBT messages were for the first time brought to the forefront of popular music. This is the first book to deal with the entire history of recorded music by and for the LGBT community and it shows how those records influenced the evolution of the music we have today.

We read about the lives of the people who made these records, we journey through the scarcely documented history of LGBT music-makers. Writer Darryl W. Bullock shows how gay, lesbian, and bisexual performers have influenced Jazz and Blues and continue to do so. Almost forgotten is the Pansy Craze during between the two World Wars (when many LGBT performers were feted by royalty and Hollywood alike) and we get a chronicle of the dark years after the depression when gay life was forced to go underground and we read of the re-emergence of LGBT performers in the post-Stonewall years with special attention to out-gay pop stars such as Elton John, Boy George, Freddie Mercury, and George Michael.

Bullock gives us a comprehensive history of LGBT music from the earliest records in the pre–jazz age to the 21st century and we see it as both a cultural and sociological aspect of the history that is impacted by diverse artists and music styles. He looks at their lives, their lyrics, and their struggles, both in society and within the music industry making this a fascinating read.

In reading about the LGBT community’s influence on music historically, we see how society moved between acceptance and persecution. We read of the contributions from many artists who have been forgotten and/or unappreciated and we see that not only were there LGBT recording artists since the beginning of recorded music and they did not hide their sexuality.

The history of LGBT music is the history of one hundred years of social change. “Music is sexy, and sex is better with the right music and LGBT people have been pushing the boundaries of music and sex for decades.” Music is also the soundtrack of our lives. In the prologue to “The Glass Menagerie”, Tennessee Williams wrote that the play is memory and memory always happens to music.

“Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man” by Chike Frankie Edozien— A Memoir

Edozien, Chike Frankie. “Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man”, Team Angelica Publishing, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

Nigerian journalist Chike Frankie Edozien shares a personal stories of gay Africans who he sees as great men who live and love in the face of great adversity. He explores the worsening legal climate for gay men and women on the continent; the impact of homophobic evangelical American pastors, the dangers of political populism and the pressures placed on those living under harshly oppressive laws that are the legacy of colonial rule. These pressures sometimes lead to seeking asylum in the West. Nonetheless, he is hopeful and his memoir is a tribute to Africa, especially Nigeria and the city of Lagos.

This is a powerful look at what it means to be a gay Nigerian man and a tender and insightful study of the complicated and unspoken bonds that exist in most intimate relationships. In effect, this is a study of how the human heart survives against great odds.


“A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back” by David Hallberg—“The Most Exciting Male Dancer in the Western World”

Hallberg, David. “A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back”, Touchstone, 2017.

“The Most Exciting Male Dancer in the Western World”

Amos Lassen

David Hallberg was the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet as a principal dancer. “The New Yorker” described as “the most exciting male dancer in the western world” and his new boo, “A Body of Work” takes us on an intimate journey through his artistic life up to the moment he returns to the stage after a terrible injury almost cost him his career.

His childhood is an all-American story that was hurt by intense bullying. Hallberg’s memoir takes us deep into his life as an artist as he wrestles with ego, pushes the limits of his body, and searches for ecstatic perfection and fulfillment.

Quite basically, this is a book about creativity. Hallberg shares themes of inspiration, self-doubt, and perfectionism and we are with him as he attends daily class, goes through rigorous rehearsals, and triumphant performances and searches for new interpretations of ballet’s greatest roles. He also shares the loneliness he felt as a teenager leaving America to join the Paris Opera Ballet, the ambition he had to tame as a new member of American Ballet Theatre, and the reasons behind his decision to be the first American to join the top rank of Bolshoi Ballet and working with an artistic director who would later be the victim of a vicious acid attack. Later as Hallberg performed throughout the world at the apex of his abilities, he suffered a crippling ankle injury and unsuccessful surgery leading to an agonizing retreat from ballet and a reexamination of his entire life. It is the emotional intensity that makes this such a fascinating read and the artistic insight that we get here is amazing. Here is a story with all of its passion, wisdom and vulnerability.

“The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men’s Communities” edited by Damien W. Riggs— Privilege and Marginalization

Riggs, Damien W. (editor). “The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men’s Communities”, (Critical Perspectives on the Psychology of Sexuality, Gender, and Queer Studies), Lexington, 2017.

Privilege And Marginalization

Amos Lassen

“The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men’s Communities” deals with complexity of mapping out the operations of “racialized desire” as it exists among gay men. In order to explore this, the contributors to this volume examine the intersections of privilege and marginalization in the context of gay men’s lives, and in doing so argue that as much as experiences of discrimination on the basis of sexuality are shared among many gay men, experiences of discrimination within gay communities are just as common. By focusing specifically on race, the contributors give insight as to how hierarchies, inequalities, and practices of exclusion strengthen the central position for certain groups of gay men at the expense of other groups.

In considering how racial desire operates within gay communities, the contributors connect contemporary struggles for inclusion and recognition with ongoing histories of marginalization and exclusion. The book disputes the claim that gay communities are primarily organized around acceptance and homogeneity and shows us instead that there are both considerable diversity and ongoing tensions that affect gay men’s relationships with one another.

This is a very timely account of gay white racism, with much needed attention to Islamophobia, homonationalism, and sexual racism in today’s’ digital age. We see the continued importance of contesting libertarian accounts of racialized sexual desire by looking at the lines between individual subjectivities and the power structures that shape them. Besides acknowledging the continuities between racism in general and gay racism, in particular, it looks at specific articulations, enactments, and effects in diverse gay men’s communities and these include resistance to and even appropriations of racism.

We hear from new voices that give new life to discussions on racism in gay men’s communities. We are reminded of the difficulties many face when race and sexuality come together.

“Original Sin” by Gianluigi Nuzzi— Underage Gay Sex at the Vatican

Nuzzi, Gianluigi. “Original Sin”, 2017.

Underage Gay Sex at the Vatican

Amos Lassen

 Gianluigi Nuzzi, the journalist who was put on trial over the “Vatican Leaks” has written and published a new book that alleges Catholic sins at the Vatican. The book hit Italian bookstores on November 9 of this year.

The book reproduces documents from the Vatican’s scandal ridden bank showing multimillion-dollar accounts in the names of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II and their private secretaries. It also alleges that hidden powers in the Vatican were blocking the reforms of Pope Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI and looks deeply into the 1983 mystery of the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee.

The new claims about gay sex concern the Vatican’s St. Pius X pre-seminary for middle and high school students who are considering a possible vocation to the priesthood.

Nuzzi has reproduced a letter and testimony from a gay ex-seminarian who recounted how an adult, now a priest, used to come into his dorm room and had oral sex with his roommate.

The book reproduces a 2014 letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the ex-seminarian, saying it had determined that no sexual abuse of a minor had occurred but that it was referring the case to the Vatican’s office for clergy.

Nuzzi told reporters Thursday that the roommate was indeed younger than 18 when the encounters began. Neither the roommate nor the priest were identified.

Nuzzi and fellow journalist Emmanuele Fittipaldi were put on trial in a Vatican court in 2015 after both published books based on leaked documents that exposed greed, mismanagement and corruption at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. In July 2016, after an eight-month trial, the Vatican’s criminal court declared that it had no jurisdiction to prosecute them. The court did, however, convicted two other people for conspiring to leak the documents, and absolved a third.

A top church official revealed gay sex within the Vatican has ‘never been worse.’ According to the National Catholic Register, this has been happening since the start of Pope Francis’s term as Pope began in 2012. He also reports a ‘huge homosexual underground in the Church.’

Friar Dariusz Oko discovered the underground community in 2013 and said back then that they know well, however, that this might be exposed and embarrassed and the participants shield one another by offering mutual support. They build informal relationships and aim at holding particularly those positions in the Church which offer power and money. This year police broke up an alleged gay orgy  in the apartment of a Vatican cardinal.

“Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans” by Howard Philips Smith— What Was Once

Smith, Howard Philips. “Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans”, University of Mississippi Press, 2018.

What Was Once

Amos Lassen

This is one book that I am anxiously waiting for and I am very surprised that no one has written on this before. As a gay New Orleanian and a Mardi Gras lover, I am sure that there is a lot to be learned and enjoyed here.

Traditional Mardi Gras in New Orleans has been studied and written about a great deal but very little has come to the printed page about gay Mardi Gras (or Carnival as many locals refer to it. There is a great deal of history in gay Mardi Gras and finally someone is giving it to us. Howard Philips Smith does so along with beautiful photographs and clear understanding. The only problem is that we have to wait until January to read it.

Gay krewes (the name for all Mardi Gras organizations) came into being for the first time in the late 1950s. They simply grew out of costume parties held by members of the gay community. Soon their tableau balls were often held in clandestine locations to avoid harassment. Even by the year 2000, gay Carnival remained a hidden and almost lost history. Much of the history and the krewes themselves were devastated by the AIDS epidemic. Whether facing police raids in the 1960s or AIDS in the 1980s, these krewes always came back each season. “Unveiling the Muse” places one of the most important aspects of the New Orleans Carnival season where it belongs. It took more than twenty years of research to write this book.

Smith bases his writing on detailed interviews and each of the major gay krewes is represented by an in-depth historical sketch. We read about the founders, the themes that the krewes used to stage their productions and we get a list of all the balls, themes, and royalty along with the “colorful ephemera” that is associated with the gay tableau balls. Included are reproductions of never-before-published artistic invitations, large-scale commemorative posters, admit cards, and programs as well as sketches of elaborate stage sets and costumes and photographs of ball costumes and other rare memorabilia.

This is a comprehensive history of New Orleans’s gay Carnival organizations and a look at the places, people, and non-Carnival annual calendar of events that are go along with that history.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras has for many years been elite-driven. It is the time when the upper class presents its debutantes to the public. Here we get the alternative history and see Mardi Gras as libidinal and sexually dissident. Filled with fascinating stories and beautiful tableaux, we see the role of the gay community in shaping Mardi Gras as a time for all to have fun.

“A House of Prayer for All People: Contesting Citizenship in a Queer Church” by David K. Seitz— Race, Gender and Religion

Seitz, David K. “A House of Prayer for All People: Contesting Citizenship in a Queer Church”, University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Race, Gender and Religion

Amos Lassen

David K. Seitz in “A House of Prayer for All People: Contesting Citizenship in a Queer Church” studies “the affective dimensions of the politics of citizenship at one large LGBT church, focusing on debates on race and gender in religious leadership, activism around police–minority relations, outreach to LGBT Christians transnationally, and advocacy for asylum seekers.” He shows the reparative encounters with citizenship and religion through cultural geography, queer of color critique, psychoanalysis, and affect theory.

In doing this, Seitz complicates the common narrative about the natural divide between LGBT people and religion. By examining the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto and its Pastor, Rev. Brent Hawkes, he looks at questions of sexual orientation, race, gender, and religion as they come together with social justice activism and the nature of citizenship. He creates a conceptual framing in order to fix religion and religious spaces for queer people. His idea is to open a space for possibilities that go past contemporary identity. He presents the politics of refuge as they are within a faith community in Toronto and his work is bold and challenging.

“After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images” by Avram Finklestein— Never Forgetting

Finklestein, Avram. “After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images”, University of California Press, 2017.

Never Forgetting

Amos Lassen

The AIDS epidemic is our Holocaust and we are beginning now to look back, albeit with tears in our eyes, and remember how things once were. In the last couple of years, there have been some wonderful writing about the terrible time and now we have a visual remembrance. In the 1980s when the epidemic was in its early years, one of the most important, iconic and lasting image was created by six gay activists, the pink triangle with the words “Silence=Death” below it came to symbolize our movement and the way we felt. I still have the same sensation today that I had back then when I see this. Avram Finklestein was back then co-founder and a member of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury. In “After Silence”, he shares the story of how his work and other protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic came to be. He gives us a different view of the traditional HIV/AIDS history and he does so by writing about “art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process”. It is a little over 25 years later and he uses the AIDS epidemic as a way to give us “ a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how to save lives through activism and making art”.

Finklestein’s story is personal as he sees what happened through the eyes “of a key designer of a crucial political movement and [he]demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis.”

This is a first-hand account of the beginnings and the use of the Silence = Death graphic and Finklestein shows how it was used by the AIDS Action Committee (that later became ACT UP). We also get a look inside of the collective Gran Fury and the various strategies and challenges that formed and informed their most successful campaigns such as “Read My Lips” and “Kissing Doesn’t Kill”. By reading this book, we better understand the politics of resistance and the impact of ACT UP in building a movement.

Avram Finkelstein was a central figure in the image strategies that were developed and used by ACT UP and he is able to provide insights for the next generation of artist-activists who hope to transform our political landscape. This is an honesty and heartfelt look at defining our history with all of the complexities that are found in social movements.

After the threat of AIDS began to subside, many writer were unable to write about it and didn’t. It is only now that those writers have decided to use their voices to tell how it was. This is a “one-of-a-kind book about the history of AIDS through its images that the world needs and has waited for.”