Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians” by Austen Hartke— Shedding Light on Gender

Hartke, Austen. “Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians”, Westminster John Knox Press , 2018.

Shedding Light on Gender

Amos Lassen

For those of you who do not yet realize it, transgender issues have become the next civil rights frontier. Yet many people, including LGBTQ allies still do not have an understanding of gender identity and the transgender experience. Austen Hartke here brings us a biblically based, educational, and affirming resources that further explain gender issues.

“Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians” is certainly a book I would never have thought I would see even a year ago. It takes us into the transgender community that has been so underrepresented and misunderstood community and without a doubt, about faith and about the future of Christianity. Author Hartke introduces transgender issues, language and stories of both biblical characters and real-life narratives from transgender Christians living today. In this way we can easier see and be part of a more inclusive Christianity with the confidence and tools to change both the church and the world. Now most of you know that I am an observant Jew so why would a book of this kind be important to me? The answer to that is relatively simple. The Hebrew Bible is the backbone of almost all active religions today and I am curious to see how both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible can work together to give us more understanding about what we do not know. Incidentally, Joy Ladin is in the process of finishing her transgender look at Hebrew scripture and I believe that her book will be as important to Christians as Hartke’s book is important to Jews. We must remember that holy writings do not stand alone.

Hartke is a white, bisexual, committed Christian transgender man who happens to be a committed Christian yet he admits that when entering an unfamiliar church, he feels a bit nervous. The reason for this is very clear in that many churches in America are less than welcoming to the 1.4 million transgender adults in their midst. We surely cannot forget that of that large number of people , 41 percent will have attempted suicide. This is surely one of the reasons that a supportive faith community is so important. Hartke shares his own search for a place like this and also gives us how pothers have dealt with finding their places.

There is so much more discussed here as well. Hartke writes definitions of gender identities and how our gender identities are partially constructed by society and what may be biological. He finds answers to some very difficult questions in the Bible, sometimes surprising ones and one of the ways that he does this is to equate today’s transgender people with eunuchs who were the gender-nonconforming people of the ancient world. This is something I never thought of and I plan to read a great deal more about. I always have had the impression that becoming a eunuch was imposed on someone and did not arise out of the discomfort one feels with his birth gender (but that is also a hot question). Hartke then goes into something I know very little about but plan to learn more and that is the corporeal nature of Jesus and he is able to find a discussion or theology here.

Above all else, it seems to me, at least, is the way to find a community that is welcoming and accepting keeping in mind that tolerance is no longer enough. Aside from the text that is filled with information, the book also has an appendix of further reading and resources.

Let me say this—the road to finding that community is not an easy one. I know because I have walked it before and more than once. Having been raised in a strict Orthodox household, I lived in fear of discovery until I finally forced myself to come out and deal with the consequences. With my family it was not so bad but with Judaism it meant that I would have t leave the Orthodox community that I had grown up in and loved deeply but where I could not be accepted for who I am. For many years I was a secular Jew and felt like I did not belong anywhere. Then I found Reform Judaism that invited me in and where I now make my home. But it is interesting that modern Orthodox Judaism has begun to accept us and I suspect it will not be that long before we are universally accepted, at least, to a degree.

Austen Hartke has given us a powerful and deeply moving read here in his book that cries out to be read. Here is the terminology, the sociological studies, and biblical and theological perspectives that transgender Christians have to deal with along with personal stories from the real world. Hartke explores trans identity through the lens of Scripture and through real life and he brings it to us so that we can better share in the understanding. The trans person is no longer going to be the forgotten child.

“Unbound: Transgender Men and the Remaking of Identity” by Arlene Stein— A New Generation

Stein, Arlene. “Unbound: Transgender Men and the Remaking of Identity”, Pantheon Books, 2018.

A New Generation

Amos Lassen

It seems to me that for the first time I have seen a large number of transmasculine individuals and I often wonder if I just never noticed before or that there is great deal more visibility than ever before. Probably both reasons are true. Admittedly, I have a difficult time understanding all that FTM trans people have to deal with and what has made this interesting to me is that my niece transitioned to become my nephew about eight years ago at the age of nearly 40.

Award-winning sociologist Arlene Stein takes us into the lives of four strangers who happened to be together at a surgeon’s office in Florida. They had traveled from across this country in order to have, what is commonly known as top surgery, or in the words of the book to masculinize their chests. We meet Ben, Lucas, Parker, Nadia who, along with their friends and family, “hope that the surgery, along with hormone treatments, will make them more comfortable in their bodies and more masculine in appearance.” 

 Transgender men make up a large, growing proportion of the trans population, yet they remain largely invisible (Perhaps they seem more visible to me because of Boston’s freedoms). Stein has done extensive research here including dozens of interviews with transgender people and with medical and psychological experts and activists and what we see is that a younger generation of trans men are challenging our assumptions about gender and they do so despite personal costs. We now much change the way that we understand the concepts of make and female in this country.

I have noticed that here in Boston when I attend meetings within the LGBT community, we begin by introducing ourselves and state the pronouns we want to use regarding our gender. This has helped me to better understand how we see ourselves and how we want the world to see us.

Our four transpeople are patients of Dr. Charles Garramone and they are preparing for the surgery that he is to perform on them. Once it was over, they and many others spoke to Stein about how they see themselves and their sexuality, how they decided to transition and how they were accepted by their families and communities. We can be sure that they have faced skepticism, ignorance, confusion and sadly, violence. Yes, the world has changed a great deal yet transpeople live at risk of violence and hate.

We read in intimate and raw detail about the lives of transgender people and we understand that as a group they were invisible in the past but are now coming into their own. They have also changed the way we, as a country, see gender, sex and identity. This is a book that will be especially welcome to those who are considering or in the process of transitioning and it is a great resource for parents, teachers and friends. Found answers to the questions I have been unable to answer and hopefully, I will become a better uncle to my nephew.

The Routledge History of Queer America” edited by Don Romesburg— A Comprehensive Synthesis

Romesburg, Don, editor. “The Routledge History of Queer America”, Routledge, 2018.

A Comprehensive Synthesis

Amos Lassen

It seems that every year we get a new “comprehensive” gay history and each claims to be what the others are not. Such is what living in the free world allows. But then the same is true for any history—there are always newer and more comprehensive being written every year. So what makes “The Routledge History of Queer America” special? It gives us the first comprehensive synthesis of the rapidly developing field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer US history. Featuring nearly thirty chapters, each by a different writer, on essential subjects and themes from colonial times through the present, this collection covers such topics as:

  • Rural vs. urban queer histories
  • Gender and sexual diversity in early American history
  • Intersectionality, exploring queerness in association with issues of race and class
  • Queerness and American capitalism
  • The rise of queer histories, archives, and collective memory
  • Transnationalism and queer history

The history is a coming together of authorities in the field who define the ways in which sexual and gender diversity have contributed to the dynamics of American society, culture and nation making “The Routledge History of Queer America” an excellent overview of the history of the queer experience in US history. Here is a look at Table of Contents:

Introduction: Having a Moment Four Decades in the Making

Don Romesburg


Times1 Colonial North America (1600s–1700s)

Richard Godbeer

2 Revolutionary Sexualities and Early National Genders (1770s–1840s)

Rachel Hope Cleves

3 Centering Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Queer History (1800s–1890s)

Clare Sears

4 Modern Sexuality in Modern Times (1880s–1930s)

Elizabeth Clement and Beans Velocci

5 Sexual Minorities at the Apex of Heteronormativity (1940s–1965)

Amanda H. Littauer

6 Gay Liberation (1963–1980)

Whitney Strub

7 AIDS and Action (1980–1990s)

Jennifer Brier

8 Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times (1970–2010s)

Margot Weiss


Spaces and Places

9 Queer Archives: From Collections to Conceptual Framework

Kate Eichhorn

10 Bodies

avid Serlin

11 Organizations

Marcia M. Gallo

12 The End of Urban Queer History?

Kwame Holmes

13 Rural

Pippa Holloway and Elizabeth Catte

14 Queer and Nation

Eithne Luibhéid

15 Thinking Transnationally, Thinking Queer

Emily K. Hobson



16 Language, Acts, and Identity in LGBT History

Jen Manion

17 Transgender History (and Otherwise Approaches to Queer Embodiment)

Finn Enke

18 Lesbian History: Spirals of Imagination, Marginalization, and Creation

Julie R. Enszer

19 Bisexual History: Let’s Not Bijack Another Century

Loraine Hutchins

20 Queer of Color Estrangement and Belonging

Nayan Shah

21 Families

Daniel Rivers

22 Sickness and Wellness

Katie Batza

23 Criminalization and Legalization

Andrea J. Ritchie and Kay Whitlock

24 Law and Politics: “Crooked and Perverse” Narratives of LGBT Progress

Marc Stein

25 Labor

Sara R. Smith-Silverman

26 Consumerism

Stephen Vider

27 Queer Performance and Popular Culture

Sharon Ullman

28 Public History and Queer Memory

Lara Kelland

“History of Violence: A Novel” by Edouard Louis— An Autobiographical Novel

Louis, Edouard. “History of Violence: A Novel”, translated by Lorin Stein, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.

An Autobiographical Novel

Amos Lassen

  1. Edouard Louis’s “History of Violence” autobiographical novel about surviving a shocking sexual assault and coping with the post-traumatic stress disorder of its aftermath has been an international bestseller and now is available in English.

On Christmas Eve 2012, in Paris, the novelist Louis was raped and almost murdered by a man he had just met. For Louis that was a shattering act of violence that made him a stranger to himself, so much so that it caused his return to the village, the family, and the past he had sworn to leave behind.

The story moves back and forth between past and present and between Louis’s voice and the voice of an imagined narrator. We read of the casual racism and homophobia of French society and the subtle effects these have on lovers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. We see the suffering that cones f from exclusion, domination, and poverty. Having grown up in poverty, we are taken back to the first book that Louis wrote, “The End of Eddy” in which he described growing up gay in a working class village in the north of France. We read of the harassing incidents that followed the rape as the novel examines guilt, homophobia and racism and we get a close look at the nature of violence and the dynamics that bring about an escalation of such violence. At times, it as if we are reading a police report. Louis is a masterful writer and an emotional force. We see that when one is confronted with violence, it is usually then reproduced against others and that the cult of masculinity often arises because of it.

This is not an easy book to read because it is so real yet it is an important book and a wonderful addition to the canon of LGBT literature and literature in general. The novel gives a give a voice to those affected by violence and reveals the sentiment of invisibility that strikes the dispossessed as well as critiques the values of the culture of violence.

“The Athiest in the Attic” by Samuel R. Delany— Finally!!!

Delany, Samuel R. “The Atheist in the Attic”, PM Press, 2018.


Amos Lassen

“The Atheist in the Attic”  appears for the first time in book form for the first time. It is a narrative that is filled with suspense while at the same time giving us a vivid historical narrative that recreates the top-secret meeting between the mathematical genius Leibniz and the philosopher Spinoza. Both were caught between the horrors of the cannibalistic Dutch Rampjaar and the brilliant “big bang” of the Enlightenment. This is a meditation on class and ethnic antipathies in the overlapping territories of poetry and philosophy. Multiple readings add much more to this.

Included is Delany’s “Racism and Science Fiction”, an essay written in 1998 that combines scholarly research and personal experience in the unique true story of the first major African-American author in the genre. The essay combines anecdote and analysis in a well-measured, original, and historically insightful look at black authorship and reception in science fiction and its progenitors.

Finally there is an original interview between Delany and the editor of the Outspoken Authors series, Terry Bisson. The interview is a bit unfocused but gives a good overview of Delany’s recent and major engagements, projects, etc. and looks at biographical inaccuracies.


“The Path to Gay Rights: How Activism and Coming Out Changed Public Opinion” by Jeremiah J. Garretson— How Opinion Has Changed

Garretson, Jeremiah J. “The Path to Gay Rights: How Activism and Coming Out Changed Public Opinion”, NYU Press, 2018.

How Opinion Has Changed

Amos Lassen

I am most definitely not a data person. When I was a graduate student in education, I had to take a statistics course and it was a disaster. However, we live in a country that seems to be obsessed with data and I have learned that it can be fascinating to read every once in a while and that brings me to this new book, “”The Path to Gay Rights” which is an

innovative, data-driven explanation of how public opinion shifted on LGBTQ rights. I am sure that many of you are like me when you think how everything has changed for the LGBTQ community. So much has happened and many of us have to pinch ourselves to realize we are not dreaming. Here we have the data to prove the facts and it is very important to look at it.

“The Path to Gay Rights” is “the first social science analysis of how and why the LGBTQ movement achieved its most unexpected victory—transforming gay people from a despised group of social deviants into a minority worthy of rights and protections in the eyes of most Americans.” Writer and researcher Jeremiah J. Garretson brings together a narrative of LGBTQ history with new findings from the field of political psychology so that we can better understand how social movements affect mass attitudes in the United States and globally. 

Garretson has collected data from as far back as the 1970s to argue that how we understand how social movements change mass opinion (through sympathetic media coverage and endorsements from political leaders) does not and cannot provide an adequate explanation for the success of the LGBTQ movement at changing the public’s views. He confirms what I have always thought and that is that our community’s response the AIDS crisis was an important and major turning point for public support of gay rights. It took the death of many members of our community for things to change and what a price we paid! ACT-UP and other AIDS organizations went after political and media leaders in order to normalize news coverage of LGBTQ issues and AIDS. We were told, as if we did not already know, that our lives are important and valued. From this we saw an increase in the number of LGBTQ people who came out and lived open lives and with increased contact with gay people, public attitudes began to change. But to talk about gay rights, we must go beyond them to develop “an evidence-based argument for how social movements can alter mass opinion on any contentious topic.”

It is important to note that support for gay rights has followed a different path than support for any other minority group’s rights— that support grew slowly but once it began to accelerate, it took off. We see rapidly and markedly lately. Garretson explores the shift in public opinion and follows it back to Americans’ increased contact with gay and lesbian individuals both directly and characters on television. Garretson looks at activism, interest group activity, and political campaigns through careful analyses of survey data, online searches, and Congressional votes. The dynamics of public opinion concerning gays and lesbians and social change are closely examined here. This is a book that is suitable for scholars yet it also belongs in every LGBT person’s library so that we can be reminded of how we got to where we are.

“Given Up for You: A Memoir of Love, Belonging, and Belief” by Erin O. White— Yearnings

White, Erin O. “Given Up for You: A Memoir of Love, Belonging, and Belief”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.


Amos Lassen

Erin O. White in her candid memoir this candid and revelatory memoir tells us of her desire for both romantic and divine love, and how this transformed her life. In the late 1990s, she spent Saturday nights with her girlfriend and on Sunday mornings she went to Catholic confirmation classes. Then when the Church closed its doors to her, she faced a serious question— What does a lesbian believer do with her longing for God? She shares her feelings with conviction, as she explores heart and soul. Her memoir is candid and intimate and puts forth

 complex questions about the world and how we fit into it. White’s struggle to reconcile desire and belief reminding us, yet again, the loss we encounter when the church refuses our entry. Her story is the story of denied faith. What really hits us hard is the onus that comes with such carnal and spiritual denial.

She believes that “there may be no act more subversive than surrender, no prayer more devout than desire itself.” As she deals with the competing and rivalries of same-sex denial and Roman Catholicism, she shares very personal thoughts. She attempted to juggle these two desires and as we read we often find ourselves feeling exactly the same yet White decided to put his down on paper. White’s prose here is beautiful and heartbreaking in its honesty.

“Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal” by Anthony Daly— A Shocking Memoir

Daly, Anthony. “Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal”, Mirror Books, 2018.

A Shocking Memoir

Amos Lassen

“Playland” is a shocking and important new memoir from Anthony Daly and I must say that as one who is not easily shocked, I was indeed shocked and surprised as I read this book. This is Daly’s voice as he relates to us from being part of a dark scandal in the heart of London’s Soho in the 1970s. Daly came to London as a way of escaping the trials of living in his native Northern Ireland. He got a job at Foyles Bookshop and began a new life in England. However, because he was naïve, he was soon dealing with predators who were looking for young men to blackmail and sexually exploit. The irony is that he left Ireland in hopes of a better and freer life and found one that was so much worse than he could have ever imagined. He was victim to sexual and mental abuse by some the most influential men in England and he was forced to hide it. However, as time passed, the trauma of it all became harder to contain as he witnessed other revelations of historic abuse coming to light on TV and in newspapers. Ultimately, the voice he though he had lost was heard. For forty years, he had been silent and what he had to say was politically explosive. He has managed to tell all and to do so stylishly and with feeling (a feeling that I hope I never have). This is a haunting true story of a young man’s descent into a “hell designed to satisfy the powerful. A world which destroyed the lives of everyone involved. `[This is my] journey into a world of drink and drugs, a world of gangsters, rent boys, businessmen, politicians, pimps and pedophiles. Because of what happened to me and the fact that I kept a diary at the time, I am in a unique position to tell the real story of Playland.”

“Sleep Demons: An Insomniac’s Memoir” by Bill Hayes— With a New Preface


Hayes, Bill. “Sleep Demons: An Insomniac’s Memoir”, University of Chicago Press, 2001, reprint 2018.

With a New Preface

Amos Lassen

Some of you might recognize the name Bill Hayes from another book that he wrote, “Insomniac City” which I recently reviewed. It is a memoir of his years with the great Oliver Sacks. This book was originally written seventeen years ago and I suspect it has been reissued because of the success of the later book.

“We often think of sleep as mere stasis, a pause button we press at the end of each day. Yet sleep is full of untold mysteries—eluding us when we seek it too fervently, throwing us into surreal dream worlds when we don’t, sometimes even possessing our bodies so that they walk and talk without our conscious volition.” Bill Hayes explores the mysteries of his own sleep patterns and has decided, “I have come to see that sleep itself tells a story.

Hayes has been plagued by insomnia his entire life. The science and mythology of sleep and sleeplessness form the backbone to Hayes’s narrative of his personal battles with sleep and how they colored his waking life. He shares stories of fugitive sleep through memories of growing up in the closet, coming out to his Irish Catholic family and then watching his friends fall ill and die during the early years of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco and finally finding a lover. His stories are an erudite blend of science and personal narrative and they serve as an introduction to the topics for which Hayes has since become famous, including art, Eros, city life, the history of medical science, and queer identity. 

 The book is part reflection on his own lifelong turmoil with sleep and part inquiry into the worlds of sleep research, psychology, medicine, mythology, aging, and mental health.” Hayes brings memoir, history, and science together and pulls them apart again in a book that switches genre and subject. We have fascinating research and memoir of a gay man who grew up in a household filled with Ireland, Catholicism, and the military. Hayes brings together

his coming-out and queer-sex stories within the overarching theme of sleeplessness and in doing so he pushes the borders of gay autobiography, giving new life to a powerful genre. We might say that this is an “obsessional autobiography”.

“Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality” edited by Goran Stanivukovic— For Shakespeare Scholars

Stanivukovic, Goren (editor). “Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality”, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

For Shakespeare Scholars

Amos Lassen

“Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality” is a collection of 13 essays, which provide a major reassessment of the criticism of desire, body and sexuality in Shakespeare’s drama and poetry. Those included are some of the most prominent critics who are working at the intersection of Shakespeare criticism and queer theory and what we see here is a new vibrancy of queer Shakespeare studies. These essays look at “embodiment, desire, sexuality and gender as key objects of analyses, producing concepts and ideas that draw critical energy from focused studies of time, language and nature. The Afterword extends these inquiries by linking the Anthropocene and queer ecology with Shakespeare criticism.” Works from Shakespeare’s entire canon are featured in essays that explore such topics as glass, love, antitheatrical homophobia, size, narrative, sound, female same-sex desire and Petrarchism, weather, usury and sodomy, male femininity and male-to-female crossdressing, contagion, and antisocial procreation.

Table of contents:

Introduction: ‘Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality’, by Goran Stanivukovic, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada

1.’Which is worthiest love’ in Two Gentlemen of Verona?, by David L. Orvis, Appalachan State University, USA

  1. ‘Glass: The Sonnets’ Desiring Object’, by John Garrison, Carroll University USA
  2. ‘The Sport of Asses: A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘, by Kirk Quinsland, Fordham University, USA
  3. ‘As You Like It or What You Will: Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Beccadelli’s Hermaphroditus‘, by Ian F. Moulton, Arizona State University, USA
  4. ‘The Queer Language of Size in Love’s Labour’s Lost‘, by Valerie Billing, Knox College, USA
  5. ‘Locating Queerness in Cymbeline‘, by Stephen Guy-Bray, University of British Columbia, Canada
  6. ‘Desiring H: Much Ado About Nothing and the Sound of Women’s Desire’, by Holly Dugan, George Washington University, USA
  7. ‘“Two lips, indifferent red:’ Queer Styles in Twelfth Night‘, by Goran Stanivukovic, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada
  8. ‘Queer Nature, or the Weather in Macbeth‘, by Christine Varnado, State University of New York, Buffalo, USA
  9. ‘Strange Insertions in The Merchant of Venice‘, by Eliza Greenstadt, Portland State University, USA
  10. ‘Male Femininity and Male-to-Female Crossdressing in Shakespeare’s Plays and Poems,’ by Simone Chess, Wayne State University, USA
  11. ‘Held in Common: Romeo and Juliet and The Promiscuous Seductions of Plague’, by Kathryn Schwarz, Vanderbilt University, USA
  12. ‘Antisocial Procreation in Measure for Measure‘, by Melissa E. Sanchez, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Afterword by Vin Nardizzi, University of British Columbia, Canada