Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Trunky: Transgender Junky” by Samuel Peterson— A Tragic Comedy

Peterson, Samuel. “Trunky: Transgender Junky”, Transgress Press, 2016

A Tragic-Comedy

Amos Lassen

Samuel Peterson’s ‘Trunky” is a modern day tragic-comedy about the struggle of human addiction and recovery. After a decade of sobriety and relentless devotion to becoming a writer, Trunky finds himself on the brink of success but then he spirals down into depression and begins using heroin again. This relapse is different from those that came before and Trunky ends up institutionalized in a recovery center in the south among a other dopers who are thugs, criminals, white supremacists, professional athletes and business men who are all looking for something they’re terrified of finding. As Trunky navigates his struggle from addition to recovery and from female to manhood, he finds himself on an unexpected journey into the human soul where he discovers that those fundamental flaws and the redemption we experience requires courage.

This is an look at addiction and recovery without self-pity. Peterson’s honesty about what leads to addiction is relatable and moving. His account of the added problem of being trans in an institutional setting, and the lack of transitional housing when it was time to leave, is very disturbing and an important addition to public discourse on addiction treatment.

Through his use of detail, Peterson captures the anguish of addiction and provides insight into his struggle for redemption and visibility as a man. We begin to understand the devastation of addiction, the struggle for gender authenticity and the culture within a Federal Bureau of Prisons Residential Drug Abuse Program.

Big topics are covered here including trauma, the body, gender, addiction and Peterson writes about them honestly and with wit and style self-deprecation. Peterson is aware of the ways in which we create narratives and personae that then allow us to find a place in the world. At the same time, he shows how us these narratives can set us apart from others and hurt our ability to know who we really want or need to be. By exploring his experiences of addiction, recovery, and relapse as well as dysmorphia and transition, Peterson is able to say that it is through persistent critique of our own personal narratives and engagement with those of others, that we can get better and become better.

It is Peterson’s honesty about what kind of thought leads to addiction that allow us to relate to what he has to say. His is fresh and he shares many ideas with us.

“Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day’ by Peter Ackroyd— A New Look at London

Ackroyd, Peter. “Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day’, Chatto & Windus. 2017.

A New Look at London

Amos Lassen

Peter Ackroyd is an eminent chronicler of London. In “Queer City”, he gives us a look at London through the history and experiences of its gay population. In London under the Romans, for example, the penis was worshipped and homosexuality was considered admirable. The city had many “lupanaria” (‘wolf dens’ or public pleasure houses), “fornices” (brothels) and “thermiae” (hot baths). Under the Emperor Constantine’s rule cane the first laws against queer practices, probably because of the influence of bishops and clergy, monks and missionaries. His rule was accompanied by the first laws. Following that were periods that alternated permissiveness and censure (from the notorious Normans, whose military might depended on masculine loyalty, and the fashionable female transvestism of the 1620s) and as London moved toward the 19th century there were executions for sodomy in the early 1800s and then what was known as the ‘’”gay plague” in the 1980s.

Ackroyd takes us through the London of history and does so by celebrating its diversity and thrills on one hand and reminding us of its very real terrors, dangers and risks on the other. He maintains that it is perhaps this endless sexual fluidity and resilience that epitomize London.

Some have referred to this as a” nimble, uproarious pocket history of sex in his beloved metropolis”. It is Ackroyd’s encyclopedic knowledge of London, and his poet’s instinct for its strange drives and urges that makes this such a fascinating read.

The chapter headings are evocative or salacious and totally encapsulate what was London and the queer experience. We know that there have always been gay people but we really do not know much about gay life in earlier periods. Ackroyd changes that about London with this book. He gives us some wonderful and fascinating revelations about London’s secret gay past dating all the way back to the Roman age. Here are just a few:

After Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 and 54 BC during the Gallic Wars, Roman men raped defeated British soldiers with vegetables. to Ackroyd says that “The defeated were sometimes penetrated by radishes; that may not sound too painful but in fact the long white icicle radish has always been grown in southern England to a length of just under six inches.”

Restoration “boy player” actor Edward Kynaston was rumored to have an “arse [that] knows its own buggerer,” meanwhile the poet Earl of Rochester once bragged about an argument he had with his mistress about “whether the boy f*cked you, or I the boy.”

Male rape was common throughout London’s history. Ackroyd writes about the case of Captain Edward Rigby, who was prosecuted in 1698 after asking a naive 19-year-old man named William Minton, “Should I f*ck you?” When Minton replied, “How can that be?” Rigby proceeded to demonstrate and was quickly arrested.

In 1822, the Bishop of Clogher went after and solicited a soldier, John Moverley for sex. He was arrested, posted bail, and then fled to France and ended up living incognito in Edinburgh until he died 21 years later.

Ackroyd shares that in the 16th century, gay men were referred to as “the loathsome Ganymede,” lesbians were called “rubsters,” and people had some pretty bizarre ideas about how these people behaved. He tells us that in 1709, a man named Ned Ward wrote about “sodomitical wretches” (gay men) who referred to one another as “sisters” and “husbands,” and who “speak, walk, tattle, curtsy, cry and scold…[like] lewd women.”

Of course, in reading about London we want to know about the royals. Ackroyd’s writes about all the allegedly gay monarchs, including William Rufus, Edward II, Richard II, James I, and William III and how and what they called their “favorites” (a.k.a. male tricks). 

If you want to be enlightened about gay London, here it is and it is great fun.

 

“The Secret History: The London Gay Men’s Chorus” by Robert Offord— Singing for Liberation

Offord, Robert. “The Secret History: The London Gay Men’s Chorus”, Robert Offord, 2017.

Singing for Liberation

Amos Lassen

We are not always sure that we want to revisit our past lives simply because not all past memories are good ones. Such is the case with Robert Offord and the London Gay Men’s Chorus. In London, 1988 was a difficult time for gay men with the AIDS epidemic and Clause 28 legislation that caused the media to embark on a homophobic witch-hunt. At the same time, “a few foolhardy idealists met in a derelict basement and began to dream of a better future”. This is the story of what happened when pride and prejudice met rock and roll. If you have ever known anyone who is a member of a gay men’s chorus, then you know that the chorus becomes a surrogate family as the singers bond together. In this case, the bond came from events outside of their control. You get a real sense of history as you read this book that so wonderfully re-erects an era.

 

 

“The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture” by Heike Bauer— Violence and Queer Culture

Bauer, Heike. “The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture”, (Sexuality Studies), Temple University Press, 2017.

Violence and Queer Culture

Amos Lassen

Magnus Hirschfeld, the influential sexologist and activist, founded Berlin’s Institute of Sexual Sciences in 1919 as a home and workplace to study homosexual rights activism and support transgender people. The Nazis destroyed it in 1933 and now Heike Bauer asks if violence is an intrinsic part of modern queer culture. That question is answered here through the examination of violence which has shaped queer existence in the first part of the twentieth century. Hirschfeld, himself, managed to escape the Nazis and many of his papers and publications survived. Bauer examines Hirschfield’s accounts of same-sex life through his published and unpublished writings, as well as books, articles, diaries, films, photographs and other visual materials. Bauer then shows how violence (including persecution, death and suicide) shaped the development of homosexual rights and political activism. The Hirschfeld Archives reveal many unknown and interesting accounts of LGBTQ life in the early twentieth century and we see that the rights of homosexuals were politically haunted from the beginning by racism, colonial brutality, and gender violence.

“Sex Rules!: Astonishing Sex Roles from Around the World” by Janice Z. Broadman— Sex Roles, Sex Rules and Sexual Practices

Brodman, Janice Z. “Sex Rules!: Astonishing Sex Roles from Around the World”, Mango, 2017.

Sex roles, Sex rules and Sexual Practices

Amos Lassen

Stop for a moment and think about how much you really know about sex and sexual activity customs and behavior around our world. We can all agree that sex is great but we really do not know much about other peoples’ sexual habits and in many cases we tend to stereotype the sexual practices of others. With this new book by Janice Brodman, we learn a lot about other nations and it is great fun and even outrageous at times. We deal with the issue of normal and what that means.

Brodman has lived, worked or traveled in 35 countries and founded the Center for Innovative Technologies. We see that she has had the chance to observe sex in many places and now shares that with us. She researched hundreds of sources for this book and while some of what she writes might seem weird, bizarre, and unreal, it’s all absolutely true. Her goal is to delight people who reject the notion that “there’s only one way to be sexually moral,” and in doing so, she “gives tolerance a fun place to grow”.

 

 

 

“Straight Expectations: The Story of a Family in Transition” by Peggy Cryden— A Memoir

Cryden, Peggy. “Straight Expectations: The Story of a Family in Transition”, Jessica Kingsley, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

We have watched how the definition of family has changed in the last few years and how it keeps changing. Peggy Cryden is a mother who noticed early on that her children’s gender expressions did not correspond with society’s expectations of their biological gender. In this sensitive memoir, we see with brutal honesty how Peggy Cryden struggled with the experiences and challenges of raising both a gay son and a gay, transgender son. She shares her family’s journey of adversity and growth (and it helped her professionally in her work as a psychotherapist).

In each chapter, we explore a particular year in the family’s life as we follow the children from birth to adulthood and through their numerous experiences of coming out, depression, hate crimes, relationships, school and various aspects of transitioning (legal, physical, medical, social) as well as their appearances in the media as a family. We learn of aspects of life that are new to us and new to the concept of family. It is a provocative meditation on reality and the story is told with insight and humor thus making this an unforgettable read. It is also a new look at parenting that is out of the conventional ways that we think about it and should be read by everyone who brings children into this world.

 

 

“So Famous and So Gay: The Fabulous Potency of Truman Capote and Gertrude Stein” by Jeff Solomon— Understanding Capote and Stein

Solomon, Jeff. “So Famous and So Gay: The Fabulous Potency of Truman Capote and Gertrude Stein”, University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Understanding Capote and Stein

Amos Lassen

Having spent most of my life involved with literature and the philosophy of literature, I am amazed that I never recognized the similarities between two of the most famous gay writers of our time, Gertrude Stein and Truman Capote. But I do have a confession to make here. I believe that my appreciation for Capote comes from my having been a New Orleanian for the first thirty years if my life and the fact that he and Tennessee Williams are the “saints” of New Orleans literature. As for Stein, my appreciation came from simply reading and appreciating her writing so much that as a graduate student in philosophy and literature, I decided to channel my research into her contributions to our literary world. That all came to a full stop several years ago when it was discovered that she had been a Nazi collaborator so that she could save her and Alice B. Toklas’s lives and Stein soon found herself to be no longer a part of my world.

Disregarding that last fact, I am fascinated by Jeff Solomon’s new study in which he looks at how and why, in a time of homophobia and closeted homosexuality, Stein and Capote, two openly gay writers become mass-market celebrities. They achieved this while other gay public figures were censored. Writer Solomon “traces the construction and impact of the writers’ public personae from a gay-affirmative perspective. He historically situates archival material to explain how the writers expressed homosexuality and negotiated homophobia through the fleeting depiction of what could not be directly written”.

Solomon balances biographical accounts with readings of a number of their works and he presents us with some very interesting and intelligent insights into the ways in which both writers achieved cultural prominence in spite of the homophobia that kept other openly gay writers of the period away from mainstream literary culture. Not only is this daring, it is profoundly interesting. Neither author should have become famous yet they did so between the Oscar Wilde trial and Stonewall at a time when homosexuality meant criminality and perversion. They were both openly and exclusively gay and built their reputations on works that directly featured homosexuality and a queer aesthetic.

Celebrating lesbian partnership, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” was published in 1933 and celebrates the lesbian partnership of Stein and Toklas. It gave Stein, a Jewish lesbian intellectual avant-garde American expatriate, international stardom and a mass-market readership. Then just some fifteen years later,” Capote published Other Voices, Other Rooms”, a novel of explicit homosexual sex and love, and he not only became famous but his fame itself became famous. Through original archival research, Solomon traces the construction and impact of the writers’ public personae from a gay-affirmative perspective. He then historically situates author photos, celebrity gossip, and other ephemera to explain how Stein and Capote expressed homosexuality and negotiated homophobia what could not be directly written in ways that other gay writers of the time (i.e. Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, and James Baldwin) could not manage. Solomon shows what Capote’s and Stein’s literary debuts (“Other Voices, Other Rooms” and “Three Lives”), held for queer readers in terms of gay identity and psychology and for the gay who followed them.

Solomon has built quite an archive of literature, reviews, biographies, photographs, and interviews and through these, he examines the gayness, strangeness, and celebrity that combusted to create the queer manifestations of Truman Capote and Gertrude Stein. We see Stein’s and Capote’s

strategies for politicizing questions of sexual identity that included the manufacture of public personae as queerly flamboyant ‘geniuses’ and the exploitation of their author photos. He stretches each writer’s scope and boundaries.

Below is the Table of Contents:

Prologue: Beneath the Mask

Introduction: Stein and Capote in Theory

Part I

  1. Young, Effeminate, and Strange: The Debut of Truman Capote
  2. Capote, Forster, and the Trillings: Homophobia and Literary Culture at Mid-Century

Part II

  1. Gertrude Stein, Opium Queen: Notes on a Mistaken Embrace
  2. Gertrude Stein in Life and TIME: A Respectable Commodity
  3. Three Lesbian Lives: A Map of Same-Sex Passion

Coda: Janet Malcolm and Woody Allen Adrift in the Past

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index

“Sex and Sensibility in the Novels of Alan Hollinghurst” edited by Mark Mathuray— Hollinghurst and Queer Politics

Mathuray, Mark, editor. “Sex and Sensibility in the Novels of Alan Hollinghurst”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Hollinghurst and Queer Politics

Amos Lassen

Alan Hollinghurst is one of our seminal gay writers and master stylist. His books are examples of literary art and have often crossed over from gay readership to mainstream. He is a leader in the world of British fiction and his work is influential and beautifully written.

This is a challenging and engaging collection of original essays on the novels of Alan Hollinghurst, that engage the precarious and shifting relationship between sex and literary sensibility in novels and, therefore they also attempt to establish the parameters of a “new critical discourse for future research on Hollinghurst’s novel, queer theory and the contemporary literary representations of masculinity and sexuality”. We look at Hollinghurst’s aesthetics and his sensuously evocative style and see it as an interrogation of the social, political and sexual currents in his texts. The contributors to this anthology provide distinctive and clear interpretations of his novels from Hollinghurst’s uncovering of a gay artistic heritage to his re-signification of earlier English literary styles. We recognize his engagement with the Symbolist fin de siècle and his critique of aestheticism, etc., while at the same time pay close attention to the formally innovative qualities of his texts. We do not often get a chance to read an author of his caliber writing what is so important to the way we live, gay or straight and for that he is to be treasured.

“Pride & Joy: LGBTQ Artists, Icons and Everyday Heroes” by Kathleen Archambeau— Out and Happy

Archambeau, Kathleen. “Pride & Joy: LGBTQ Artists, Icons and Everyday Heroes”, Mango, 2017.

Out and Happy

Amos Lassen

There was a time in LGBT American history that gay youth had no role models. We grew up being afraid of our sexuality being discovered by parents, friends and society but today we are very lucky that this is no longer the case. In “Pride and Joy: LGBTQ Artists, Icons and Everyday Heroes”, LGBTQ activist Kathleen Archambeau, uses the stories of out and happy gay people to empower today’s queer youth to do more than survive regardless of challenges, losses and risks. By looking at other out and happy gay people, they are encouraged to live openly. The stories we have here are powerful and they help to recognize and fortify the strength of our community and our individuals. These are diverse stories of those living good lives all over the world. We read, for example “why playwright Tony Kushner quit cello and how writer Colm Toibin found his voice, how choreographer Bill T. Jones got the best advice from his mother, how being an inaugural poet changed Richard Blanco’s life and how Ugandan activist “LongJones” escaped death threats and gained asylum”.

Many of these stories are appearing in print for the first time and we see that they are universal and inspiring. We read about and how a Mormon who was raised in the bravery of a Uruguayan author who was rejected by her immediate family even as she began a family of her own, how a Mormon who was raised in Utah went on to become executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and how one NBA sports executive found the courage to come out. We have stories that are set in a Methodist church, London, Harlem, New Zealand and how these locations impacted the lives of those living there.

This is a look into the LGBTQ community and is a wonderful read not only for gay youth but also for straight friends, allies, parents and families.

 

“Love on Trial: Our Supreme Court Fight for the Right to Marry” by Kris Perry and Sandy Stier— Two Women

Perry, Kris and Sandy Stier. “Love on Trial: Our Supreme Court Fight for the Right to Marry”, Roaring Forties, 2017.

Two Women

Amos Lassen

“Love on Trial” is the story of two women who took their struggle for marriage equality all the way to the Supreme Court and won. Kris Perry and Sandy Stier were the lead plaintiffs in the team that sued the state of California to restore marriage equality. By 2008, when Californians voted in Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, Kris and Sandy had been a couple raising their four sons for almost ten years.

Living in Berkeley, They were a modern family living in Berkeley but they did not have the protections of legal marriage. In alternating voices, Love on Trial” tells the story of each woman’s journey from her 1960s childhood to the US Supreme Court. The women share their stories of growing up in rural America, coming out to their parents, falling in love, and finally becoming a family. They changed from being typical teenagers to having careers, going through the various changes that life brings to the Supreme Court. We get an honest and amusing look at a family that landed in the middle of one of the most important civil rights battles of our time.

Not only is this the captivating story of a family, it is also a look at a profound and important moment in American history. We do need another book on the subject and Kris and Sandy did not need to write one but America needed them to write this book. It is a powerful look at what has become one of the landmark cases about love and marriage. The two women give us a look at why the fought so hard to have the right to marry. It is all about love and equality and the power of ordinary people to change the world.