Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Love Falls On Us: A Story of American Ideas and African LGBT Lives” by Robbie Corey-Boulet— Not the Same in Africa

Corey-Boulet, Robbie. “Love Falls On Us: A Story of American Ideas and African LGBT Lives”, Zed Books, 2019.

Not the Same in Africa

Amos Lassen

 Robbie Corey-Boulet’s “Love Falls on Us,” looks at the complicated relationship between African LGBTQ activism and American foreign policy and its shifts on gay rights which have often exacerbated their difficulties simply by giving a global spotlight to ways of living that might have been unnoticed. Corey-Boulet keeps his focus the three countries of Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Liberia and on activists and individuals there rather than attempting to take on the entire continent. He looks at the peculiarities of these countries’ respective political and cultural contexts.

With the major changes regarding LGBTQ rights in this country, there is little consensus on how to advance those rights beyond the United States and Europe. LGBT activism and allies have created international winners and losers. This is especially true in Africa where  those who easily identify with the identities of the global movement find support, funding and care. Those whose sexualities do not match up and left out in the cold.

Corey-Boulet shows that LGBT liberation does not look the same in Africa as it does in the United States or Europe. We are now at a time when there is great interest in LGBT life in Africa and there are actual attempts at reversing LGBT rights across much of the “developed” world, we see that there have been failures in the past. There must be a right way to come together on LGBT issues in Africa and it is in this book that we begin to learn how to do so. Reading this helps us to understand those who do not have the same rights as the free Western world.

Corey-Boulet has great knowledge of LGBT rights in Africa and a deep connection with local activists. He understands “the complex relationship between well-intended outside human rights groups and the local activist community.” He is both sensitive and connected to the people whose lives and struggles he writes about giving him a great advantage.  

When Hilary Clinton gave her speech on International Human Rights Day in December 2011, announcing that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights”, it was, in part, directed at the African countries where homosexuality was and, in some places, still is a crime punishable by death. She was lauded in the West due to growing popular support for LGBTQ issues. However, in Africa, the speech might have had negative consequences for LGBTQ communities that had gone underground and away from public view.

Corey-Boulet makes it clear that his book is a series of looks and not a “single, generalized picture of gay life across an often maligned and misunderstood continent.” He is very much aware of the common mistakes that are made by writers and journalists make about Africa and that is basically “the mistake inherent in conceiving of sexual minorities in one city, or one country, or anywhere, as a kind of monolith”. Therefore, he avoids hierarchical language and stereotypes choosing to humanize his subjects by showing the complexities and differences among LGBTQ lives, closeted or not.

We gain. understanding of lives “beyond the persecution described in Western media.” We see the importance of awareness to avoid sensationalizing minority life, and to show its full range. The writers and the activists that we meet here are critical of those from the West who seem to be looking at this issue that a colonial mindset which simply means not allowing Africans “to discuss the issue on their own terms, but instead to respond to what Westerners were doing and saying.”  What we really see is the challenge that exists when we attempt to raise the regularity of LGBTQ life in Africa to those who simply want to live peaceful lives free of persecution in the countries of their choice.

“Space Between: Explorations of Love, Sex, and Fluidity” by Nico Tortorella—Their Personal Story

Tortorella, Nico. “Space Between: Explorations of Love, Sex, and Fluidity”, Crown, 2019.

Their Personal Story

Amos Lassen

In “Space Between”, Nico Tortorella explores love, sex, gender, addiction, family, fame, and fluidity through their personal story and the lens of their nonbinary identity
 
Nico Tortorella is an LGBTQ activist who was raised on Ram Dass and raw food and is a person who has always been interested in the more spiritual aspects of life. Their desire for fame and fortune  once took over their journey toward enlightenment and sent them into addiction and self-destructive behavior. Nico has examined the fluidity of both their sexuality and gender identity so that they could be comfortable with who they are and maintain sobriety from alcohol. They became part of an unconventional marriage with the love of their life, and also fully embraced a queer lifestyle that afforded them the opportunity to explore the world outside the gender binary. It was in that space between that Nico met the very diverse community of open-minded, supportive peers they’d always dreamed of having.
 
They share the intimate details of their romantic partnerships, their dysfunctional yet loving Italian family, and the coming together of their feminine and masculine identities into one multidimensional, sexually fluid, nonbinary individual. Nico has become one of the leading voices of the fluidity movement through encouraging open dialogue and universal acceptance. Here they share their story and also give us a manifesto for both the labeled and label-free generations as well as a personal memoir about love, identity, and acceptance.

“Space Between” is so much more than an autobiography; it is a peek into a world that so many off us know so little about. We meet a family that is filled with love for all of its members regardless of the lifestyle they participate in. We read of the daily struggle that Nico has to deal with because they are different.  Nico strives to make this world a better place for everyone in this book about addiction, familial trauma, and gender but more importantly it is about living an authentic life.

As I read, I thought about my own feelings about gender fluidity and sexual fluidity and I realized that I really did not have a position and that in actuality, I had never really thought about these topics before even though I have a transgender nephew who is pansexual.

Tortorella’s journey from the early days of feeling loved to becoming an adult and feeling more comfortable about who they are and what they want is amazing and enlightening.
Their journey is both spiritual and personal. Tortorella is candid about gender identity, addictions, homophobia, biphobia, sexual fluidity, relationships, Hollywood and almost everything else. “Space Between” is honest, inspirational, insightful, and beautifully lyrical.

“Understanding John Rechy” by Maria DeGuzman— Rechy On Another Level

DeGuzman, Maria. “Understanding John Rechy”, University of South Carolina Press, 2019.

On Another Level

Amos Lassen

John Rechy is best known for his novel, “City of Night” is also an essayist and playwright. He is recipient of PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, ONE Magazine’s National Gay and Lesbian Cultural Hero Award, the William Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Luis Leal Award for Excellence in Chicano/Latino Literature, and the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement, Rechy has written fifteen novels, at least three plays, and several volumes of nonfiction.

Maria DeGuzman in “Understanding John Rechy” gives us a short biography and then begins to trace his work and craft through his major works. She looks at “central issues, recurring situations and characters, styles, and special techniques and examines the complexities of his representation of identity, the subjectivity in his male homosexual odyssey and identity quest novels, and his experimentation with genre.” She presents us with “an intricate analysis of the major organizing paradigms and themes, genres, modes, styles, and handling of the gay Chicano’s oeuvre.” The real concentration is on the ways in which Rechy’s works are a cultural critique challenging mainstream values in a deep-structure manner.

“She situates the writer’s synesthetic prose, his embrace of sexual and social outcasts within U.S. conformism, as well as his contribution to women-centered narratives and the Chicana feminist canon. DeGuzmán underscores Rechy’s experimental methods given to transform experience into visionary novels, true fictions, and mixed-media memoirs into works imperative for understanding our nation in the present.”

“No Place Like Home: Coping With the Decline and Death of Toxic* Parents: *Wounding/Absent/Narcissistic/Traumatic” by Nick Nolan— A Death in the Family

Nolan, Nick. “No Place Like Home: Coping With the Decline and Death of Toxic* Parents: *Wounding/Absent/Narcissistic/Traumatic”, Independently Published, 2019.

A Death in the Family

Amos Lassen

It is hard to believe that it has been some 18 years since I reviewed “No Strings Attached”, Nick Nolan’s first book and, in fact, one of the first books I reviewed. I remember being blown away by the lyrical language and character developed and I often return it when I need a bit of a pickup. That book was followed by two, equally as good books and the three made up “Tales of Ballena Beach” but since the publication of the third volume, Nolan has been quiet. He’s back now and dare I say, better than ever. Moving away from fiction Nolan tackles the very difficult topic of aging, death and a bit more.

In “No Place Like Home” he shares professional perspectives on “the dying parent who was seldom – if ever – emotionally supportive of their child.” He gives us a very intense look at his violent father’s decline and death from diabetes and probable Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (Concussion Syndrome). Nolan interviews three adult survivors of child abuse, as well as eight licensed clinicians who specialize in family systems, women’s issues and Christianity, People of Color, LGBT clients, military PTSD, child sexual abuse, and neurology. In turn, we get diverse and multiple views on  anger, guilt, and resentment that those who survive  familial abuse and neglect deal with as they help the offending parent.

We forget that death is a fact of life and it must be dealt with like any other fact of life. Most of us face death with fear and it remains the great unknown. The way we deal with a parent who is ailing and declining health wise is a rough topic to pursue and to talk about. Yet, as we get older, death becomes realer. For many people, the first time they face death as an issue is with the death of their parents. We can ask ourselves what about parents that are toxic? What about abusive parents who were cruel to a child and his/her siblings? How about parents who were parents only in name and did nothing to provide a loving home for their children? How are the children of such parents to deal with their ill heath, their declining years and ultimately their death?

Nolan takes on this issue and as a survivor himself, he knows the steps that are taken and he shares them with emotion and in doing-so gives us a self-help guide. He takes us through the events of his childhood and as he reflects on them, he pulls us in. I am sure that he wrote this with many tears. Through interviews with eight clinicians he looks at the major issues of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, narcissism, abuse (of any kind). We also have interviews three adults who are survivors of child abuse. 

You might think that this all sounds depressing but as you read you will find that the way Nolan deals with these topics is full of feeling and quite interesting. Yes, it is depressing at times but so is life and we get over depression if we want to.

I find it fascinating to find written on the page the fact that abuse can be the result of an injury and that a hit on the head while a child can result in brain damage that could cause someone to become abusive.

There is a lot of information here and it is presented in ways that are easy to understand.  Nolan takes us on a journey of his personal story and what he has learned in the interviews. I think what really pulled me  is the sincerity and honesty of Nolan and the fact that he is completely open with one he says. I have always enjoyed the chats we have shared and the emails we have exchanged and these gave me a heard start because I already knew something about Nolan. I clearly remember that after reviewing his first book, we had a chat about how he came to write it and he even shard some information about his background and the kind of work he was doing then. I could tell that he felt comfortable speaking to me and vice versa and not only did I read a good book but I made a new friend as well. He is sensitive and moral, compassionate and humble and a wonderful writer.

He shares valuable information that guides us to make a choice of either forgiving or walking away. But walking away from Nick Nolan’s literature is not an option. I believe that once you read him, you will come back for more.

“Everybody’s Doin’ It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917” by Dale Cockrell— A History

Cockrell, Dale. “Everybody’s Doin’ It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917”. W.W. Norton, 2019.

A History

Amos Lassen

Dale Cockrell’s “Everybody’s Doin’ It” is the story of popular music’s seventy-year rise in the brothels, dance halls, and dives of New York City. We read about the birth of popular music, including ragtime and jazz, in convivial meeting places for sex, drink, music, and dance. Whether coming from a single piano player or a small band, live music was a nightly feature in New York’s dive bars where men and women, often black and white freely came together and this presence shocked the elite.

This drove the development of dance music that would soon span the world. The Virginia Minstrels, Juba, Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin and his hit “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band all played a part in beginning making new sounds and making them popular.

Musicologist Dale Cockrell recreates this underground world by researching tabloids, newspapers, court records of police busts, exposés, journals, and the reports of undercover detectives working for social-reform organizations who were gathered evidence against such places. “Everybody’s Doin’ It” illuminates the how, why, and where of America’s popular music and its journey from the dangerous Five Points of downtown to the interracial black and tans of Harlem. The book contains 30 illustrations. It also exposes the interracial and underworld origins of popular song and dance in the United States by taking is us into nineteenth-century concert saloons, cabarets, dives, and dance halls.
we are reminded that  prostitution was everywhere back then and was one of the ways that women could survive and it was an integral part of New York’s  music scene.”
Cockrell’s uses an archivist’s gaze to open  a new world for readers, showing how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

“Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition” by Melissa E. Sanchez— Queer Logics of Postmodern Religious and Secular Texts

Sanchez, Melissa E. “Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition”, (Sexual Cultures), NYU Press, 2019.

Queer Logics of Premodern Religious and Secular Texts

Amos Lassen

“Putting premodern theology and poetry in dialogue with contemporary theory and politics, Queer Faith reassess the commonplace view that a modern veneration of sexual monogamy and fidelity finds its roots in Protestant thought.” If we suppose that this narrative of “history and tradition” suppresses the queerness of its own foundational texts, what becomes the result. “Queer Faith” looks at key works of the prehistory of monogamy (from Paul to Luther, Petrarch to Shakespeare) and shows that writing assumed to promote fidelity actually speaks about the affordances and benefits of promiscuity, both in its sexual sense and in the designation of all that is impure and disorderly. Writer Melissa E. Sanchez does not see promiscuity as the ethical, queer alternative to monogamy and she instead shows how ideals of sexual liberation are themselves attached to nascent racial and economic hierarchies. Because discourses of fidelity and freedom also deal with racial and sexual positionality, understanding the complex historical entanglement of faith, race, and eroticism is not only necessary but urgent to contemporary queer debates about normativity, agency, and relationality.

We see new conceptual frameworks at the juncture of secular and religious thought, political and aesthetic form  and this is because the assembly of these ideas have been deliberately unfaithful to disciplinary norms and national boundaries. The contexts, objects, and authorized genealogies of queer scholarship are enlarged and retracing a history that did not have to be. In doing so, Sanchez recovers writing that “inscribes radical queer insights at the premodern foundations of conservative and heteronormative culture.”

“Sage Sapien: From Karma to Dharma” by Johnson Chong— A Gay Asian-American

Chong, Jonathan. “Sage Sapien: From Karma to Dharma”, Kohler Books, 2019.

A Gay Asian-American

Amos Lassen

It is a lot easier to be gay today than it was even five years ago. Each ethnicity has its own set of ideas about homosexuality and gay people and we see that with so much emphasis on family life among Asians Asian -Americans, it can be very difficult for one to be his/her/self.

Writer Johnson Chong looks at and writes about the obstacles and triumphs of being a second-generation Asian American gay man. It is not easy to be split between a conservative upbringing and living his truth. We are with him as he journeys through the pangs of youth to developing self-awareness and life-changing lessons in India and abroad. This is not a new story— we shifting old attachments of self-rejection and shame into a new paradigm of peace and unconditional love. We can never expect anyone to accept us if we cannot accept ourselves. To do so, we must love our emotional problems, mistakes and errors and self-deprecating tendencies and use them as ways to become stronger. These problems give us opportunities for strength and growth. Chong brings spirituality, memoir and self-help together, to give us a universal story of the “underdog who steps into their authentic expression” and shows us how to do likewise.

There is another reward in reading this. Johnson Chong is an international yogi, meditation teacher and Self-Mastery Guide. He also the created  Exodus Retreats, where he leads transformational retreats to sacred places around the world. Here he integrates his love of storytelling to empower life changing shifts in consciousness and he is available for speaking engagements and group coaching. Johnson runs a holistic self-mastery podcast, “Sage Sapien” and offers guided meditation audios and online and live coaching programs. This is his first book.

“Queer Troublemakers: The Poetics of Flippancy” by Prudence Bussey-Chamberlain— Poetry and the Troublemaker

Bussey-Chamberlain, Prudence. “Queer Troublemakers: The Poetics of Flippancy”, Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

Poetry and the Troublemaker

Amos Lassen

The “queer troublemaker” seem to have been with us since the beginning of time and as yet remains so. He/She/They is irreverent and provoking and a disruptive force both poetically and politically. Prudence Bussy-Chamberlain traces the genealogy of this figure in modern avant-garde American poetry through innovative close readings of the works of Gertrude Stein, Frank O’Hara, Eileen Myles and Maggie Nelson. She explores how these writers play with identity, gender, sexuality and genre and constructs a queer poetics of flippancy that can “subvert ideas of success and failure, affect and affectation, performance and performativity, poetry and being.”

Table of Contents:

List of Figures

 

Table ofContents
Acknowledgements

Introduction 
1 The Poetics of Flippancy 
2 He Cannot Understand Women. I Can’: Gertrude Stein and the Camp Butch 
3 ‘There’s Nothing Metaphysical About It’: Frank O’Hara’s Flippant Manifesto and the Poetry of Tight Trousers
4 ‘Who Are These Idiots Writing These Poems?’: Eileen Myles’ Pornographic Tone and Mutable Categories 
5 ‘Was Harry a Woman? Was I a Straight Lady?’: Tensions of Heternormativity, Assimilation and the Second Person
Conclusion 

References
Index

 

 

“Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition” by Melissa E. Sanchez— Textual Queer Logic

Sanchez, Melissa E. “Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition”, (Sexual Cultures), NYU Press, 2019.

Textual Queer Logic

Amos Lassen

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that religious texts that predate the modern era contain queer logic just as do secular texts. Melissa Sanchez brings premodern theology and poetry into dialogue with contemporary theory and politics and reassesses the idea that the modern veneration of sexual monogamy and fidelity comes from Protestant thought. What if this narrative of “history and tradition” suppresses the queerness of its own foundational texts? Sanchez examines key works of the prehistory of monogamy including from Paul to Luther, Petrarch to Shakespeare—to show that writing assumed to promote fidelity in fact speaks of promiscuity, both in its sexual sense and in its larger designation of all that is impure and disorderly. Sanchez does not show promiscuity as the ethical, queer alternative to monogamy, but rather shows how ideals of sexual liberation are themselves attached to nascent racial and economic hierarchies. We understand that discourses of fidelity and freedom are also discourses on racial and sexual positionality thus making it necessary and urgent to excavating the historical entanglement of faith, race, and eroticism and include them in contemporary queer debates about normativity, agency, and relationality.

This might sound like it is a heavy read but it is not. As she looks at erotic accountability, procreation and orgasms and human sexuality’s many manifestations, Sanchez keeps us smiling with her unique kind of humor She is “deliberately unfaithful to disciplinary norms and national boundaries” as she presents new conceptual frameworks at the meetings of secular and religious thought, political and aesthetic form. And thus enlarges the contexts, objects, and authorized genealogies of queer scholarship. Sanchez has recovered writing that “inscribes radical queer insights at the premodern foundations of conservative and heteronormative culture.”

. “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me, and Ended Up Saving My Life” by Ryan O’Callaghan— The Struggle

O’ Callaghan, Ryan and Cyd Ziegler. “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me, and Ended Up Saving My Life”, Edge of Sports,  2019.

The Struggle

Amos Lassen

In this country, LGBTQ athletes face varying degrees of acceptance. Ryan O’Callaghan, a former offensive tackle for the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, shares his struggle as a closeted gay man in the very masculine world of professional football and his story is about love and acceptance, honesty and truth, integrity and hope. O’Callaghan could have kept his sexuality to himself but instead he offers us all of himself in these pages. By his doing this, he will change lives, save lives, and continue to forge path ahead so that it will be much smoother for those who bravely follow in his footsteps.”

 O’Callaghan details the fear and pain of a lifetime spent hiding who he really is. His story is “a suspenseful and cathartic look at a man on the edge, whose salvation could only come from admitting his truth and finding acceptance.” By doing so his story will change the lives of young men and women who are struggling to come out and with their sexuality and help those around them who may not know how they’re contributing to a loved one’s pain and silence. This is an intense book as it looks at the reality of life in the NFL and it is told with gripping honesty and courage.

We learn that O’Callaghan’s plan was always to play football and then, when his career was over, kill himself. He grew up in a politically conservative corner of California and the messages he heard as a young man from his family and from TV and film claimed that being gay was a disease. He could not tell people his darkest secret. Under the surface of Ryan’s entire NFL career was a collision course between his secret sexuality and his hidden drug use. When the league caught him smoking pot, he turned to NFL-sanctioned prescription painkillers that quickly sent his life into a tailspin. As he suffered more injuries, his daily iuse of opioids reached a near-lethal level and he wrote a suicide note to his parents and planned his death.

A member of the Chiefs organization stepped in, seeing the signs of drug addiction. O’Callaghan reluctantly sought psychological help, and it was there that he revealed his lifelong secret for the very first time. He was already nearing the twilight of his career when he faced the ultimate decision: “end it all, or find out if his family and football friends could ever accept a gay man in their lives.”

O’Callaghan  spent a lot of time cultivating a self-accepting identity that he spent so much time trying to escape. He didn’t fit the gay stereotypes, but O’Callaghan had spent a lot of time cultivating a self-accepting identity that he spent so much time trying to escape. 

O’Callaghan knew that his life would change forever when he made the trip to Los Angeles was about to sit on a bench with one camera in front of him, and one behind, and publicly tell the story that for years he struggled with privately.

Sitting in front of those cameras, telling an account that would be broadcast to millions unnerved him. He said in an interview, “My reasons for wanting to do this have always been the same… to help people in my position. Hopefully someone could relate to my story.”

 “I waited so long, because I don’t think you go, in my case, 29 years, not planning on living, not accepting living as a gay man. You don’t go from everything I did to normal and ready to speak and be an example overnight. I had to work on me. It took a while.”

The significance of O’Callaghan’s story can be seen in its unique nature among professional male athletes. On its own, it is an inspiring story of a man who used football to mask his identity. A story of a man who planned to kill himself following his career, but  who accepted help when higher-ups in the Chiefs organization offered it. 

There’s a slow yet continuous trend of more acceptance of homosexuality in the athletic world yet O’Callaghan’s story was courageous. It showed that the Chiefs’ handling of the situation should be the norm, not an anomaly and it also served as a reminder that players coming out is still extremely rare.

 “I spent my whole life trying to avoid the spotlight,” O’Callaghan says. “Football was a great place to hide. Now I don’t have 50 other guys to hide behind. I realized this was going to get some attention. That’s the point. Get the word out there, spread awareness, make people feel accepted. They’ve got to know. I’m fine with that. I’m ready.”

 “I had to learn how to love myself,’’ he said. “I’m not looking to be a sloppy straight guy anymore.’’

 “Life’s great now,’’ he said.