Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“The Ultimate Fan Guide to RuPaul’s Drag Race” by John Davis and illustrated by Paul Borchers— A Celebration

Davis, John. “The Ultimate Fan Guide to RuPaul’s Drag Race’, Illustrated by Paul Borchers, Smith Street Books, 2019.

A Celebration

Amos Lassen

Here is a RuPaul’s Drag Race “herstory” lesson like no other. Her book celebrates all the queens from seasons 1 to 10 and so much more! Here is the dish on a great reality show and a guide that celebrates all the queens that have attacked  the runway from seasons 1 to 10 and All Stars seasons 1 to 3. This means that all 127 fierce performers are included. Author John Davis also gives the reader an insider’s guide to drag terms, and includes inspiring quotes from RuPaul, and stats and facts on all the “lip-sync battles, the mad fashion moments and the feuds and friendships that make this series so exceptional.”

John Davis is an Australian nightclub DJ and event promoter with loves RuPaul’s Drag Race. Since he constantly works with drag royalty, he has learned the true importance of these performers to mainstream culture as well as to queer history. He can easily recite the chronological order of elimination of every Drag Race contestant while debating the importance of a winner’s sewing skills over comedic ability. Paul Borchers is a New Zealand born, Dutch artist based in San Francisco. He’s been working on a variety of art and commercial projects since early 2000, collaborating with artists from all over the world. Paul is also an illustrator and graphic designer and has created editorial and covers for Rough Trade, Men’s Health, Demon Records, Virgin, Avantgarde Magazine and many more. Recently he has embarked on more animation work and produced animated videos promoting Stephen King’s It and the Justice League for Village Roadshow.

“Homosexuality, Transsexuality, Psychoanalysis and Traditional Judaism” edited by Alan Slomovitz and Alison Feit— Jewish Orthodoxy and the LGBTQ Community

Slomowitz, Alan and Alison Feit (editors). “Homosexuality, Transsexuality, Psychoanalysis and Traditional Judaism”, (Psychoanalysis in a New Key Book Series), Routledge, 2019.

Jewish Orthodoxy and the LGBTQ Community

Amos Lassen

I did not think that I ever would see a book like “Homosexuality, Transsexuality, Psychoanalysis and Traditional Judaism” that so  explores “the often incommensurable and irreconcilable beliefs and understandings of sexuality and gender in the Orthodox Jewish community from psychoanalytic, rabbinic, feminist, and queer perspectives.” But more than that, this book explores how seemingly irreconcilable differences might be resolved. 

The book is divided into two separate but related sections. The first section examines the divide between the psychoanalytic, academic, and traditional Orthodox Jewish perspectives on sexual identity and orientation, as well as the acute psychic and social challenges faced by Orthodox Jewish gay and lesbian members of the Orthodox world. We are asked to engage with them in a dialogue that allows for authentic conversation.

The second section looks at gender identity, especially as experienced by the Orthodox transgender members of the community as well as highlighting the divide between theories that see gender as fluid and traditional Judaism that sees gender as binary only. The contributors share their views and experiences from both sides. They also ask us to engage in true authentic dialogue about these complex and crucial emotional and religious challenges. 

I understand that this book is meant to be of great interest to psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists. As an active member of the Reform Jewish community and a gay male, I found it to be fascinating. I worked to make our religion more welcoming to LGBTQ people so while I did not really read anything new, I am so glad to have all if this information in one place and as a way to opening the conversation.

We have articles from psychoanalysts, feminists, rabbis, and a writers on queer life and theory. They have come together to provide  a crucial conversation with one another. The editors have brought together a group of writers who share their clinical, theoretical, and spiritual resources to bear on questions that have never before been seriously and simultaneously considered.

Here we have an ancient religious and hermeneutical tradition engaging with a very current situation that is changing traditional assumptions about identity.

 “Trying to pretend to be something I am not in front of you all is becoming more trying by the day as I’m not the heterosexual being I portray for you. I wish I could have told you guys everything and I know you would have understood, but deep down, I know our relationship would have changed.” These are the words of a South African teenager who committed suicide while on a trip to Israel with his friends. It is heartbreaking but it is also very real and frightening. It’s crucial that Jewish institutions and leaders give visibility to the conversation on LGBT identities in Judaism, rather than avoiding them. Only through open discussions on the matter will we be able to try to live in an environment in which no teenager will ever be so afraid to reveal their sexual identity that they prefer to death.

Some modern Orthodox communities are slowly starting conversations about “inclusiveness, plain ignorance about the way LGBTQ Jews are harassed or dismissed in communities seems to be one of the main obstacles that queer Orthodox Jews face. But as long as Orthodox leaders frame sexual orientation and gender identity as choices, it can be difficult to advance a discussion on the matter.”

“Coming Together: The Cinematic Elaboration of Gay Male Life, 1945-1079 by Ryan Powell— The First M/M Films

 

Powell, Ryan. “Coming Together: The Cinematic Elaboration of Gay Male Life, 1945-1079, University of Chicago Press, 2019.

The First M/M Films

Amos Lassen

Ryan Powell’s “Coming Together” looks at c the social and political issues of the first wave of movies made by, for, and about male-loving and desiring men in the United States between World War II and the 1980s. He explores the  underground films of Kenneth Anger and the Gay Girls Riding Club as well as the gay liberation-era hardcore films and domestic dramas of Joe Gage and James Bidgood illuminating how central filmmaking and exhibition were part of  gay socializing and worldmaking. Powell has found films and film-related ephemera and shows how they unsettle popular histories that see Stonewall as a ground zero for gay liberation and visibility.  This  “generation of movie-making—which defiantly challenged legal and cultural norms around sexuality and gender—provided, and may still provide, meaningful models for living.”

 Covering over three decades of American history. Powell gives a fresh perspective, making experimental cinema, community-based spectacle, mainstream features, and hard core porn all become part of each-other as male-desiring worldmaking. Powell uncovers both utopias and contradictions onscreen and off. This is a “meticulously researched account of the development of the collective self-fashioning of gay men from the end of World War II to the late 1970s, and of the central role filmmaking and filmgoing played in that process.” It simultaneously urges us to examine key historiographic issues (what counts as part of film history beyond the films themselves; the role of film analysis in social history; and the idea that history may be understood in terms of sudden turning points [as Stonewall is so often perceived]). Powell explores the terms used by and about gay men; of being ‘underground’ and coming ‘out’; and the implications of ‘coming together’ as a “historical process, a social practice, and an erotic ideal.” Powell gives us an elaboration of gay male life owes to the storytelling power of all types of films.”

 Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction

1 Picturing the Underground
2 The Cinematic Authoring of Gay Life
3 Toward a Gay Mainstream
4 Liberation Porn

Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Filmography
Index

“People I’ve Met From the Internet”— Queer Coming of Age

Van Dyck, Stephen. “People I’ve Met From The Internet’, Ricochet Editions, 2019.

Queer Coming of Age

Amos Lassen

Stephen van Dyck’s “People I’ve Met from the Internet” is “a queer reimagining of the coming-of-age narrative set at the dawn of the internet era.” It was in 1997 when AOL is first entered suburban homes just as thirteen-year-old Stephen was coming into his sexuality, constructing selves and cruising in the fantasy world of the internet. Through strange, intimate, and sometimes perilous physical encounters with the hundreds of men he finds there, van Dyck explores the pleasures and pains of growing up, contends with his mother’s homophobia and early death, and ultimately searches for a way of being in the world. “Spanning twelve years, the book takes the form of a very long annotated list, tracking Stephen’s journey and the men he meets from adolescence in New Mexico to post-recession adulthood in Los Angeles, creating a multi-dimensional panorama of gay men’s lives as he searches for glimpses of utopia in the available world.”

“Mr.” by Ferry Van Der Nat— The 200 Best

Van der Nat, Ferry. “Mr.”, Lannoo Publishers, 2016.

The 200 Best

Amos Lassen

While investigating some new publications, I wrote to a distributor who suggested that I have a look at “Mr.” by Ferry Van de Nat but he also told me that it might be a bit too expensive for my readers. I explained to him that knowing my readers, if they read a review and liked what they read, nothing was too expensive and because of saying that I was able to see a copy of this beautiful  book and recommend it totally to my readers. I had no idea what to expect from “Mr.” and I had no idea who Ferry Van der Nat was. I learned that he is a photographer, stylist and fashion editor who has worked for numerous fashion magazine and brands. Under the name Mr. Polaroid, Van der Nat began taking strong sculptural polaroids of male models. This began as a personal project that evolved into a great collection of images and a celebration of male beauty. This is Mr. Polaroid’s first ever monograph and contains over 200 of his best photographs along with contributions by Gert Jonkers (“Fantastic Man”) and Alan Prada (“l’Uomo Vogue”).

I was actually expecting to see provocative and scandalous photos so I was surprised to see photos that evoked the pure beauty of man. There is little nudity yet this is a celebration of the male body in a very unique way which I find quite difficult to explain. This is quite the opposite of male nudity in the way the body while clothed radiates sexiness and passion. The male form is highlighted and while the male nude is fascinating, it is also fascinating to see how men take care of their bodies. While we often see vulnerability in the nude male, we also see it here in the clothed male. Perhaps the only way to explain it is to see for yourself and hopefully you will do so with “Mr.”.

“Drags: Photographs by Gregory Kramer Essays by Charles Busch, Sasha Velour, Linda Simpson, Goldie Peacock, Sweetie”— The Drag Queens and Kings of New York

“Drags: Photographs by Gregory Kramer Essays by Charles Busch, Sasha Velour, Linda Simpson, Goldie Peacock, Sweetie”,  KMW Studio, 2016.

The Drag Queens and Kings of New York City

Amos Lassen

“Drags” is a fun collection of drag kings and queens from New York and while I really enjoyed the photos and writeups, I realize that if I were a New Yorker and more familiar with those included, I would have enjoyed this so much more.

This a beautifully designed coffee table book documenting the drag queens and kings of New York City, shot by director/photographer Gregory Kramer. The models are presented in the style of classic fashion portraiture and features legends  and up-and-coming legends  in glamorous black and white, full-length studio portraits. Each photo brings out the spirit of the performer through subtle pose, gesture and facial expression.

Included are five stories written by icons of drag. Charles Busch writes about how it feels to be in drag and his utmost respect for female role models, Sasha Velour speaks about the magic and transformative power of drag as an art form, Linda Simpson comments on the generational shift in the community, Goldie Peacock presents a distinct point of view from a drag king, while Sweetie pays homage to the queens who’ve come before.

We become aware that the world of drag deserves endless appreciation. Photographer Kramer called upon New York’s drag community to come and pose in front of his camera thus giving us a sumptuous monograph with 80s black and white portraits “that take in the full glamour and glory of New York’s finest.” Drag “is like an act of magic, a way of casting spells. If a spell is meant to change the living world through the constitutive powers of language, then I think drag is meant to change it through fashion, gesture, and effect.” We gain a rare insight into how the flamboyantly-dressed performers behind the wigs, heels and make-up really feel on stage.

Gregory Kramer is a New York City-based photographer and director whose ability for creating expressive images has quickly made him a highly sought-after photographer and director. His editorial work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Australian Cleo, Poster and Oyster. His advertising clients include Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Worth New York.

 

“Good Hot Stuff: The Life and Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau” by Marco Siedelmann— A Filmmaker With a Vision 

 

Siedelmann, Marco, “Good Hot Stuff: The Life and Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau’, Editions Moustache, 2019.

A Filmmaker With a Vision

Amos Lassen

During the Golden Age of Porn (1969-1984), Jack Deveau and his production company Hand In Hand were lauded by audience and critics as the perfect coming together of legit feature films, underground avant-garde and explicit all-male adult movies. Hand In Hand was an essential and acclaimed part of the New York art circles and its Independent film scene. Deveau’s death in 1982 and the AIDS epidemic along with the revolution brought on with video changed the porn film industry forever. All this happened almost together but the legacy of Deveau and Hand In Hand heritage is an important chapter of the upcoming queer film movement although today it has been  almost forgotten. “Good Hot Stuff” brings personal interviews with most of the remaining people who worked as cast and crew members on Hand In Hand films and with those who were close to Jack Deveau to give us the story of a studio that changed the way we look at porn. The story is told in fragments and from many different  perspectives and memories. Deveau’s story is a story about a filmmaker who had a vision way ahead of his time. He had the freedom to develop an individual auteur style within the limitations of the early gay adult film industry. Aside from the actual conversations, we read and learn about the production process and the history of the films. The book is filled with hundreds of images, most of which were never publicly published including original artworks, company ephemera, behind the scenes footage, private snapshots, and numerous magazine articles.

Deveau’s first film was “Lefthanded” (1972) and was followed quickly by several others, all of which explored the everyday life of gay men in post-Stonewall New York. Stonewall legitimated the promise of sex in all of its forms and without repression and harassment. While Deveau made porn films, they were also films depicting free and wonderful sex and explored the impact of sex availability as it had never been before as well as the difficulties and problems of a new sexual subculture in which the possibility of romance and relationships were indeed possible.

It is important to note the sex in these movies always occurred in context and the focus while on the sex we see is also on the way it is presented or framed. Granted many gay porn films are filled with gratuitous sex and here is where Deveau’s films differ. This is not to say that they sex scenes are not hot… they are but the focus is different and we see that the physical context, the lighting and the characters are what make the sex as hot as it is. What we see is real everyday sex making it all the more exciting.

Today we have  difficult time looking at such sex as seen in early porn without realizing that it very well led to the AIDS epidemic that was to change our lives so drastically. Deveau’s treatment of casual sex and promiscuity was as a problem that complicated the daily lives of gay men. He saw the conflict between casual sex and emotions as partly a comic problem but this was at a time before anyone knew about the epidemic that was to come.

I cannot even begin to share how much information there is here in this book. There are over 500 pages of essays, memories and photographs and it is very easy to lose yourself in all that is here. I took a week off to spend with this book and I feel I have only touched the surface but then that is the beauty of having this book— it is always there when you are ready for it. Marco Siedelmann has produced a treasure and one that he can be very proud of. It also makes me proud to have had the opportunity to review it.

“Fire Island: Photographs” by Alex Geana— Timeless Beauty

Geana, Alex. “Fire Island: Photographs”, Glitterati, 2019.

Timeless Beauty

Amos Lassen

I do not have many regrets but I do regret not yet getting to Fire Island. Since I do not see myself getting there any time soon, I am lucky to have this gorgeous book of photographs of Fire island by Alex Geana. Geana wonderfully captures the spirit of gay life that is almost unique to The Pines on Fire Island—- there is a uniqueness to the place that find nowhere else. The photographs were taken over a three year period and, in their own way, tell the history of the island and what make it so special. We go to the famous pool parties and all night dancing and see and sense the fun and joy that the participants feel.

Geana, who is by profession a fashion photographer, documents Fire Island from the Pines Party to the Meat Rack and, as if that is not enough, goes on to show how global warming is affecting the experience, bringing attention to the preservation needs of this special place. It is frightening to know, climate change is affecting the island and eroding part of gay history yet that does not stop the active community there nor does it deter visitors. This beautiful book can serve as a way to make people aware of what is happening geographically there and help save it.

As one if the residents of Fire Island has stated, “… captures the essence of FIP, documenting the iconic pool parties, raucous boys, and delicate nature of our little getaway so near, yet so far from reality.”

For sheer physical beauty, Fire Island is very special. It blurs lines “between fantasy and reality, order and chaos, rural and urban life.

This is quite a difficult book to review in that there are so few words in the volume but who needs words when we have such glorious photos. In his introduction, you literally meet Alex as he takes you to his special place. It is as if a new friendship is beginning  and a private invitation to partake of Fire Island.

“Camp TV: Trans Gender Queer Sitcom History” by Quinlan Miller— Camp Currents of TV in the 50s and 60s

Miller, Quinlan. “Camp TV: Trans Gender Queer Sitcom History”,  Duke University Press, 2019.

Camp Currents of TV in the 50s and 60s

 Amos Lassen     

Television in the 50s and 60s was very different than what it is today and looking back, many people see depictions of gender roles and attitudes toward sex as conformist but now we have a different take from Quinlan Miller who presents a new look at television history in this country and shows that camp was there and evident. He looks at the iconic shows such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the more obscure sitcoms such as “The Ugliest Girl in Town”. He shows that shifts in the industry along with the coalescence of straightness and whiteness became visible when vaudevillian camp began its decline and the sitcoms of the period were full of gender nonconformity and queer representation. Characters appeared in supporting roles or as guests  and camp became highly regarded and in fact played a very important role in queerness on TV (Remember Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly who got away with a lot more than what we see on TV today—-we could laugh back then but to do so today makes us politically and behaviorally incorrect. Miller gives us new ways to see how popular media which was supposedly repressive actually used queer, genderqueer and transgender characters thus giving them representation on the small screen.

This is a valuable rethinking of the way things were both theoretically and historically. We get a more nuanced sense of the social world that was being made visible on television—”one in which trans figures were a significant element—than previous media scholarship has allowed.”

This is also a  very  corrective account of the multiple gendered and erotic sounds and images that made up the sitcom and a “powerful study of the camp currents of 1950s’ and 1960s’ American television comedy.” Quinlan Miller argues passionately for wants a corrective account of the many gendered and erotic sounds and images that made up the key evolutionary moment in the show that  we now know as the sitcom.

“Categorically Famous: Literary Celebrity and Sexual Liberation in 1960s America” by Guy Davidson— Baldwin, Sontag, Vidal

Davidson, Guy. “Categorically Famous: Literary Celebrity and Sexual Liberation in 1960s America”, Stanford University Press, 2019.

Baldwin, Sontag, Vidal

Amos Lassen

As far as I know, “Categorically Famous” is the first book length study of the relationships between the celebrity of literature and queer sexuality. We look at James Baldwin, Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal as celebrities and their relation to the LGBT liberation movement of the 1960s. While none of these three writers ever “came out” or were publicly out as we know the term “out’ today yet all there in their own way contributed “through their public images and their writing to a greater openness toward homosexuality that was an important precondition of liberation.”  Their fame was not only important, it was crucial. We had to deal with the idea that people saw homosexuals as an oppressed minority and as individuals with psychological problems. Writer Guy Davidson here challenges scholarly orthodoxies and asks us to think again about the usual opposition to liberation and to gay and lesbian visibility within queer studies as well as standard definitions of celebrity.

I find that when I think back to how it was and then look around while living in Massachusetts, I am stunned by the progress that has been made and sometimes I just need to pinch myself.  The conventional ban on openly discussing the homosexuality of public figures back then meant that media reporting at that time did not focus on protagonists’ private lives. Yet, the careers of these “semi-visible” gay celebrities really need to be seen as an important and crucial halfway point between the days of “the open secret” and today’s post-liberation era in which queer people, celebrities very much included, are enjoined to come out.

Last night I was at a reading at my local bookstore (yes there are still some) and there were two readers, a lovely female with a novel about straight female MFA students and a gay writer with his novel about Tennessee Williams and his lover Frank Merlo. There was a full house of what I think was basically straight readers. Each writer spoke about his/her book and then asked each other questions and then opened the floor. The reception for both novels was the same, the praise for the gay novel was a bit higher simply because it had been out longer and more had read it. Otherwise it was an evening about sexuality without mentioning it. And it was wonderful!!!!

What we really have here is a detailed look at how it was before Stonewall, after Stonewall and after marriage equality. We get new information about liberation and the celebrities who helped make it happen. I love this book because I love that Davidson has found new and important things to say three literary icons and queer politics. I would love to see the look on Gore Vidal’s face as he reads this. (But then I knew him and have stories).