Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

”The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats” by Allen Ginsberg— The Creation of a Course

Ginsberg, Allen. ”The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats”, Grove Press, 2017.

The Creation of a Course

Amos Lassen

In 1977 some twenty years after he published his landmark poem “Howl,” and Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road” hit the stores, Allen Ginsberg decided it was time to teach a course on the literary history of the Beat Generation. After creating the course, he taught it five times and through it he was given the chance to present the history of Beat Literature in his own way. Now compiled and edited by Beat scholar Bill Morgan, and with an introduction by Anne Waldman, “The Best Minds of My Generation” gives us edited lectures with their notes. We also get a look at the Beats as Ginsberg knew them as friends, confidantes, literary mentors, and fellow revolutionaries.

Ginsberg was responsible to the creation of a public perception of Beat writers and he knew all of the major figures personally. This made him uniquely qualified to be the historian of the movement. In this book, he shares stories of meeting Kerouac, Burroughs, and other writers for the first time and he explains his own way the importance of music to Beat writing. He discusses visual influences and the cut-up method, and introduces us to the group who led a literary revolution. This is a personal and critical look at one of the most important literary movements of the twentieth century.

Like many liberal arts courses getting to the end of the information that needs to be presented in the time allowed for the class rarely happens. The overwhelming amount of information is a limiting factor and different areas tend to be given more attention than others. By putting the course into book format, the information is preserved in detail and the reader is free to take in the information in any order..

Ginsberg insists that it was Kerouac who led the Beats and he is given the biggest section of the book. Ginsberg analyzes several books and gives first-hand information on Kerouac’s life and writing experience. Most of Kerouac’s books are at least semi-autobiographical and Ginsberg gives the behind scene look. William S. Burroughs is covered next and part of this section are Burroughs letters to Ginsberg while he was in South America. Ginsberg explains Burroughs cut-up style including the theory behind it. The idea is that we are presented with information in such a way to hide the real message. The cut-up reveals the true method. The idea was that you could take a speech, cut it up, rearrange the pieces, and find the true meaning.

William Carlos Williams had a great influence on Ginsberg and is praised throughout the book, Gregory Corso, Hubert Huncke, John Clellon Holmes, Carl Solomon, Peter Orlovsky, and of course Neal Cassady all have small sections of the book. Ginsberg does include himself and it is informative and very humble. As the central figure and historian of Beats, Ginsberg plays the role of the narrator rather than a major player. The introduction is by Anne Waldman poet and a member of the Outrider experimental poetry community and she provides and excellent introduction. “The Best Minds of My Generation” provides a detailed examination of the beat movement and its members. Small chapters with descriptive titles let the reader pick and choose their interests if they do not want to read the book cover to cover.

It is fascinating to read Ginsberg explaining his own development as a writer. We so often read about his literary influences and it is here that he gives concrete examples of the importance of William Carlos Williams throughout the book, and later of Christopher Smart. His description of his own transition from polished poems in a classical style to “Howl” is wonderful. So many critics seem to think of the Beat writers as wild, unrestrained, or even untalented artists but what we see here is that their mastery is quite clear. Ginsberg chose to use a particular piece of work and take it apart to explain why it works. He picks works from across each writer’s career to show development and change, and he sets it all within the literary historical framework, showing where each piece of work originated. This is what makes the book more than not just a valuable reference book for scholars. It is, in fact, a very readable text.

“My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story of a Town and its People in the Age of AIDS” by Dr. Abraham Verghese— A Memoir

Verghese, Abraham. “My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story of a Town and its People in the Age of AIDS”, Scribner, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

Johnson City, Tennessee sits in the Smoky Mountains eastern part of the state. In many aspects it seemed frozen in time and without the anxieties of modern America but then the local hospital got its first AIDS patient and modern times seemed to enter the town.

Abraham Verghese was the local doctor whose specialized in infectious diseases and he, by necessity, became the AIDS expert. It did not take very long before he found himself besieged by a shocking number of male and female patients whose stories came to occupy his mind, and even take over his life. Verghese is a doctor who is unique in his abilities. Even as an outsider, he could talk to people who were suspicious of local MDs and he is a man of grace and compassion who saw that what was happening in this conservative community not just a medical emergency but a spiritual one as well. He gives us here a somewhat shocking portrait of small town America as it faces and eventually overcomes prejudices and fears.

In fall 1985 Verghese with his wife and newborn son returned to Johnson City, Tennessee, the place where he had done his internship and residence. As he watched AIDS infect the small town, he and the community learned the power of compassion. He was an AIDS expert who, at first, had no patients. Soon he met with gay men and then eventually others who were struggling with AIDS which in 1985 was anew disease. Verghese’s patients include a factory worker confronting her husband’s AIDS, bisexuality, and her own HIV status and a religious couple infected via a blood transfusion attempting to keep their disease secret from their church and their children. Written as a novel, this nonfiction, detailed story gives us a sincere perspective on the American response to the spread of AIDS. It is so important to have stories like this; I have feared that once AIDS could be controlled it would fade into history like polio did and we cannot think for a moment that there is no longer a disease called AIDS.

Verghese came to Johnson City in 1985, he came as a newly-accredited infectious diseases specialist to treat veterans, most of whom had lung cancer and emphysema, and to spend one day a week in the town medical center he learned to call the “Miracle Center”. When the center’s first AIDS patient entered the hospital, it was the beginning of the plague that soon spread across the country, not just in the big city locales where the majority of homosexual men and drug abusers lived. Many of those infected with AIDS began coming home to die. Verghese is such a caring doctor, he felt a strong push to help. He is a man who has the ability to tolerate human differences and he loved his patients as people, and as when they began to die, he mourned with the families. His patients were always on his mind constantly, even when he was home with his wife and sons to the point and he put his marriage and home at risk because of his devotion to the pace and people that often excluded those patients because they had AIDS.

At that time there were doctors who would not care for AIDS patients and this separated the medical profession. They let their fear of the disease take precedence over their intellect. Dr. Verghese shared an emotional connection to those infected patients even though this is discouraged strongly during medical training and this came at great personal cost. The doctor desired to fit into the community but in doing so he becomes more and more isolated from his family and his colleagues. Dr. Verghese is a brilliant diagnostician and a men who has his great empathy for his patients. He is nonjudgmental in his approach to the gay lifestyle and he is a decent man who is easily approached. As I read I was often intensely moved as his patients began to die and even more important is that I felt the tremendous waste, once again, that the disease brought about.

Dr. Verghese’s struggle to understand the process of dying became a struggle for so many of us. This is a wonderful read; Verghese writes with compassion and humor and as he introduces us to his patients, we feel we get to know them. We need to remember that in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic began, people judged those with the disease and there were doctors who refused to treat it or those that had it. We also forget that not just those who had AIDS were judged but their families and communities were judged as well. Here we get the entire picture and see that Verghese was interested in the patient, the disease, and learning about the gay culture. He did so without prejudice and we all have something to learn from him.

This is the “simple tale of a doctor and his patients, told with quiet compassion and an eye for the small details of human experience”. He shares his fight to keep people alive and we see how just regular and ordinary Americans confronted this new disease with courage.

Having been raised in the South, I can tell you that all too often, Southern Americans are portrayed as bigoted religious homophobes and in some cases this is true. I would have thought that people in Arkansas were more liberal then they are, for example, but I learned differently when I lived there for some seven years. Dr. Verghese tells us of how the close knit families confront and accept their dying sons and husbands and some of you might be very surprised with what he has to say.

We also become very aware of what he faced as he practiced medicine. While this is quite basically a book about AIDS, it is also a book about families, culture, and especially about the life of ordinary physicians who everyday face issues of sickness and mortality.

“Queer” by Matt Calumet— “Queer” is Who We Are

Calumet, Matt. “Queer”, illustrated by Sarina Darwin, CreateSpace, 2016.

“Queer” Is Who We Are

Amos Lassen

How well equipped are you to define the word “queer”? I remember that a couple of years ago, Harvard University Press published a book entitled, “How To Be Gay” and I thought to myself why would anyone need an almost 500 page book to tell him how to be gay if he was, indeed, born that way. It is true that we are born with our sexuality but the rest of everything is learned behavior and while those of us who live in metropolitan centers can pick these things up from others, it is not the same for someone from, say, Rogers, Arkansas. Here we get a look at the word queer and see that it has a lot of sex but is not pornographic; it is not “political commentary but it does say a lot about society. Queer is not a travel monologue but it does have a lot of travel”. Queer is the story of growing up gay small town America, and going out into the world where many people would not consider living or traveling. “Queer can be brash, loud, in your face and funny, but it is also poignant, revealing and touching”.

“Queer” is a compilation of stories from America, Israel, Poland, Greece, France, the Czech Republic, Greenland, Denmark, Korea, Japan, Norway, the Republic of Georgia and Egypt. These are personal stories related without shame and we learn of adventures, acceptance, denial and life. We meet a guy who takes a boy to the prom, an openly gay non-Jew living on a kibbutz, falling in love and loss, a broken heart, ghosts in Greenland, ridiculous life moments, lasting relationships, and friends who are no longer with us. We learn from many others just what it means to be queer and how we live with that.

“If I’d a Knowed: A Gay Writer Writes About Writing and Other Stuff” by Tom Beattie— A Personal Journey

  • Beattie, Tom. “If I’d a Knowed: A Gay Writer Writes About Writing and Other Stuff”, whatdoesitprofit Press, 201
  • A Personal Journey
  • Amos Lassen 
  • Tom Beattie, a man I do not know but should takes us on a personal journey of his self-discovery in self-publishing as he shares thoughts about the world and events he did see and of people he does not know. Since he does not know me either, I can feel free to say whatever I want about him and he will never know. I love his approach to writing especially since I get copies of so many self-published works that should never have been published but we live in a time when everyone writes a book and half of those actually do without realizing that they have no literary talent. I will go out on a limb and state that Tom Beattie does have such talent and I hope that he gets picked up by a legitimate publishing house one day.

The title “If I’d a Knowed” reminds me of the level of English of some college students I taught in Arkansas with the exception that here it has been written in fun. The book is basically a collection of nonfiction memoirs and essays written by Tom Beattie. Beattie always felt he was destined to be a writer and have his works published, but he was certainly ill prepared for what happened when he did publish “Ad Majorem: A Gay Man’s Spiritual Testament”, his autobiographical account of growing up in the shadow of his iconic hero and role model, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Reactions to his autobiography ran from being considered visionary to fanciful and Beattie looked at it in as a learning experience. With his own experience behind him, he chooses to let others know what to expect from the writing and publishing a book. Rather than being appreciative of his look at St. Ignatius , the Jesuits discredited the book. Beattie shares what seemed to work and what didn’t for him. We also get a look at how he feels about contemporary social issues as well as a delightful commentary courtesy of Mark Twain. Beattie concludes with questions over what the next four years may bring for LGBTQs and other minorities in this country.

Beattie is a good writer and I really enjoy the way he seems to make friends with the reader and draws him in. He has a lot to say and he says it well.

 

“Transitioning Together: One Couple’s Journey of Gender and Identity Discovery” by Wenn B. Lawson— Surviving Against the Odds

Lawson, Wenn B. “Transitioning Together: One Couple’s Journey of Gender and Identity Discovery” , Jessica Kinglsley Publishers, 2017.

Surviving Against the Odds

Amos Lassen

“Transitioning Together” is the story of a relationship that survived the odds. There is a difference of twelve’s years between Wenn and Beatrice Lawson, born almost twelve years apart in different countries with different cultures. They were both assigned female gender at birth. However, after nineteen years of marriage and four children, Wenn became part of a same-sex relationship with Beatrice. Beatrice did not know that twenty-two years later, Wenn would transition from female to male. This is a memoir that is unique and honest as it relates the story of Wenn’s transition and Beatrice’s journey alongside him.

Co-written by Wenn and Beatrice, who are both on the autism spectrum, this story gives us a rare look into an older couple’s experience of transition, with particular emphasis on how Beatrice really felt about the changes. We read the true and candid story of the conflicts, challenges and growing celebration can occur when a couple transitions together. Not much research about autism includes aspects of gender and sexuality. This book is a many-layered account of discovering sexuality, exploring gender identity and living with autism. It is the story of overcoming obstacles of two people to find each other and to find themselves and a way to move forward together. This is the love story of Wenn and Beatrice that, through the years, became an exploration of gender and identity. This is the story of Beatrice and Wenn overcoming personal battles to come together as a lesbian couple in the mid-80s (a time when such things were unaccepted); then years later they faced coping again when Wenn realizes that he is a trans man. With the trans movement gaining steam so quickly, this is a very relevant story. This is a candid and beautiful look at the evolution of a relationship.

 

“The Secret Life of a Black Aspie: A Memoir” by Anand Prahlad— Quite a Memoir

Prahlad, Anand. “The Secret Life of a Black Aspie: A Memoir”, University of Alaska Press, 2017.

Quite a Memoir

Amos Lassen

Anand Prahlad was born on a former plantation in Virginia in 1954. He shares his story in this powerful and lyric memoir. Living in silence for the first four years of his life when he didn’t speak, he managed to communicate with the world in which he lived in his own way. Ordinary household objects came to life and the spirits of long-dead slave children were his best friends. He lived in a magical interior world in which “sensory experiences blurred, time disappeared, and memory was fluid”. He emerged slowly, learned to talk and eventually became an artist and educator. His journey took place at the beginning of the consolidated civil rights movement and a turbulent time in America. Here we experience the heights of the Civil Rights Movement and the West Coast hippie movement with Prahlad and we get to a college town where he continues to struggle with racism and its border state legacy. Prahlad’s life is rooted in black folklore and cultural ambience. He gives us new perspectives on autism and more and his book is enlightening and inspiring as we learn what it means to live in the margins of human existence.

“Queer Difficulty in Art and Poetry: Rethinking the Sexed Body in Verse and Visual Culture” edited by Jongwoo Jeremy Kim and Christopher Reed— A New Look at Gender and Sexuality in the Arts

Kim, Jongwoo Jeremy and Christopher Reed (editors). “Queer Difficulty in Art and Poetry: Rethinking the Sexed Body in Verse and Visual Culture”, Routledge, 2017.

A New Look at Gender and Sexuality in the Arts

Amos Lassen

“Queer Difficulty” takes is to a new phase of queer scholarship in this quite expensive volume ($127.50). The editors look at silence, misunderstanding, pleasure, and the effects of phobia in artworks and texts in essays that propose new and surprising ways of understanding the difficulty and even failure of the epistemology of the closet. Instead of treating “queer” as an identity, the writings here see it as an activity and gives us a divergence from previous approaches associated with Lesbian and Gay Studies. The authors here refute the interpretive ease of binaries such as “out” versus “closeted” and “gay” versus “straight,” and see a more opaque relationship of identity to pleasure. The essays range in focus from photography, painting, and film to poetry, Biblical texts, lesbian humor, and even botany. In evaluating the most recent critical theories and introducing them in close examinations of objects and texts, this book looks at the study of verse and visual culture in new and exciting ways.

“Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes about LGBT Rights” by Brian F. Harrison and Melissa R. Michelson— Identity Politics

Harrison, Brian F. and Melissa R. Michelson. “Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes about LGBT Rights”, Oxford University Press, 2017.

Identity Politics

Amos Lassen

During the last thirty years, public support for gay marriage has gained a lot of support having risen from almost nothing to more than a tenth of the population of this country but we must be very careful because American public opinion tends to be impermanent. Although the news cycle might temporarily affect the public’s mood on issues such as abortion, the death penalty, or gun control, public opinion toward these issues has remained constant over decades. There are notable exceptions, however and these are particularly with regard to divisive issues that highlight identity politics.

Do we really understand why people’s minds have changed so quickly and so dramatically on the issue of gay marriage? It isn’t that just that older, more conservative people died and were replaced in the population by younger, more progressive people; people actually changed their minds.

“Listen, We Need to Talk” gives us a new theory, what Brian Harrison and Melissa Michelson call The Theory of Dissonant Identity Priming, about how to change people’s attitudes on controversial topics. Harrison and Michelson conducted randomized experiments all over the United States, many in partnership with equality organizations, including Equality Illinois, Georgia Equality, Lambda Legal, Equality Maryland, and Louisiana’s Capital City Alliance. What they found was that people are often willing to change their attitudes about LGBT rights when they learn that others with whom they share an identity (sports fans or members of a religious group) also support those rights, especially when told about support from a leader of the group, and if they find the information somewhat surprising.

“Fans of the Green Bay Packers football team were influenced by hearing that a Packers Hall-of-Famer is a supporter of LGBT rights. African Americans were influenced by hearing that the Black president of the United States is a supporter. Religious individuals were influenced by hearing that a religious leader is a supporter. And strong partisans were influenced by hearing that a leader of their party is a supporter.” This book provides us with a blueprint for thinking about how to bring disparate groups together over political issues that are contentious. This new theory shows that opponents of issues can change their minds when they listed to persuasive messages regarding disadvantaged groups. “Common social identities can reduce mutual alienation”. Harrison and Michelson give us a powerful explanation for why and how attitudes on same-sex marriage changed so rapidly.

 

“Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community” by John Chaich and Todd Ohlman— Moving Through Labels

Chaich, John and Todd Ohlman. “Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community”, AMMO Books, 2017.

Moving Through Labels

Amos Lassen

John Chaich and Todd Ohlman introduce us to twenty-nine artists who move through labels through the use of fiber and textile. They pay no regard to sexuality, society and the demands of art. Because the fiber-based handicrafts and filled with gender notations and power hierarchies, they are a perfect place to examine taste, role and associations with gay and lesbian culture. Here we look at crochet, embroidery, knitting, macramé, quilting, and sewing provide as the crafts and we check our relations to the traditional home and cultures in which we were raised.

The idea for this book came from an exhibition of the same name, that John Chaich curated in 2014 at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art in New York City. Leslie-Lohman is the first museum in the world that is dedicated to LGBTQ and has a mission to exhibit and preserve that art and foster the artists who create it. This exhibit at the Leslie-Lohman exhibition was the first time these works were shown together and with the purpose of specifically examining the queerness of the collection.

In order to examine how queerness informs each featured artist’s work in fiber and textiles, or vice versa, we have interviewers and interviewees from the worlds of music, fashion, media, dance, museums, and scholarship who are the makers and thinkers themselves. Many of these are members of the queer community and also powerful allies. The dialogues that we read are as fun, challenging, personal, and universal.

 

 

“Dear Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, And Transgender Teacher: Letters Of Advice To Help You Find Your Way” edited by William DeJean and Jeff Sapp— The Voices of Teachers

DeJean, William and Jeff Sapp, editors. “Dear Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, And Transgender Teacher: Letters Of Advice To Help You Find Your Way”, Information Age, 2017.

The Voices of Teachers

Amos Lassen

InDear Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, And Transgender Teacher: Letters Of Advice To Help You Find Your Way” we get the voices of queer educators and calls for educational leaders to be allies in their social justice leadership roles. Answering the prompt of “What have you learned as a queer educator that you believe is essential to the success of current or future gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered educators?”, queer professionals write personal letters to junior queer colleagues and what they write is thoughtful, powerful, poignant, and direct.

The collection of letters includes senior queer professionals, pre‐service teachers who were currently in university courses at the very beginning of their careers, PreK‐12 professionals at the beginning, middle, and end of their careers, administrators, counselors, teacher‐educators at the university level, community educational leaders, lawyers, and heterosexual allies. We hear from early childhood teachers, elementary teachers, middle school and high school teachers representing nearly every content area, special education teachers, GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) leaders, school counselors, university professors of education across various fields of specialization, and activists. Many races and ethnicities are represented as well as eight countries. There are rural professionals and urban professionals. There are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender educators represented. This group of letters represents the intersectionality of queerness in all of its rich splendor.

Table of Contents:

Series Editor’s Preface, Jeffrey S. Brooks

Introduction and Overall Framework, Jeff Sapp and William DeJean.

Queer Leadership, Jeff Sapp.

PART I: PRESERVICE CREDENTIAL CANDIDATES.

Introduction, Jeff Sapp.

Studying to Become a Teacher in a Rural Area: The Obstacles That Get in the Way, Michelle Butters.

The First, Frightening Moment I Came Out: A Diary Entry on a Cold and Rainy Day, Bernie Davern.

Out in the Staffroom, Erin P. Greaves.

PART II: PRE‐K–12 EDUCATORS.

Introduction, Jeff Sapp and William DeJean.

We Are Family: The Role of GLBTIQS Activism in Human Rights Education, Geoff Allshorn.

Coming Out Again, and Again, and Again, Melissa Ash‐Balá.

Transparency, Visibility, and Belonging, Hau Bui.

Come Out, Come Out, Where You Are: Bringing LGBT Matters Out of the Early Childhood Education Closet, Kathy Cloughessy.

From a School Leader of the 21st Century to a Child of the Past and Teachers of the Future, Shaun Dellenty.

On Being a Teacher First and Transgender Second, Itsuki Doi. Know and/of Established Rules, Practices, and Policies, Dora J. Dome.

No More Schoolyard Bullies, Raul Duque.

I Am Free, Lorelei Estrada.

Ten Years of Inqueeries, Tara Goldstein. Advice From Beyond the Closet, Janna Jackson.

That Gay Teacher, Rebecca Langham.

The School Production and Queer Objects of Amusement, Jack Migdalek.

Find Your Bottom Line, Elizabeth Miline‐Kahn.

To Come Out or Not to Come Out: Is it Worth the Risk? Paul Chamness Miller.

Sleeping With a Mosquito, Olivia Noto. Confidence Is the Key, Ginny Taylor.

PART III: COUNSELORS AND MEDIATORS.

Introduction, Carol Sullivan.

Be All of Whom You Are Early and Often, Stuart Chen‐Hayes.

A Toast for Amber and Lauren, Erwin “Sino” Donato.

Coming Out With a Whisper, Osvelio C. Lastre.

PART IV: HIGHER EDUCATION. Introduction, Jeff Sapp.

Queer‐Care, Oxygen Masks, and Other Insights Into Caring for Yourself and Your Queer Students, Fiona J. Benson.

Some Reflections on Working Around Anger and Change for New Queers, Michael Crowhurst.

Who You Are Matters, William DeJean.

Delusions of Mediocrity: Queer Teachers and Business as Usual, Anne Harris.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Learning New Perspectives Around Diverse Genders, Sexes, and Sexualities, Terence Humphreys.

Crossing the Pacific Ocean: A Queer Man of Color’s Journey of Crossing Cultural Borders in Higher Education in the United States. Mitsunori Misawa.

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World: Telling Our Stories With Integrity and Passion, Mara Sapon‐Shevin.

I Wish I Had Read the Faculty Manual: Tips for Queers in the System, Jeff Sapp.

Queers Are Pioneers: Keeping an Open Mind About Education, Paul Venzo.

PART V: ALLIES, ACCOMPLICES, AND COCONSPIRATORS.

Introduction: Acts of Solidarity—Reflections of Ally Work Within Queer School Movements, Elexia McGovernReyes.

From Antiracist to Antiracist Racist, From Ally to Accomplice, Christine Clark and Doris L. Watson.

I Felt the Breeze as You Sprinted by Me, Paul Gorski.

Make Allies, Sonia Nieto.

Answering the Call: We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, Lorri J. Santamaria.

Conclusion, Jeff Sapp and William DeJean.

About the Editors.