Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Unmaking ‘The Making of Americans’: Toward an Aesthetic Ontology” by E.L. McCullum— Reading Differently

McCallum, E.L. “Unmaking ‘The Making of Americans’: Toward an Aesthetic Ontology”, SUNY University Press,2018.

Reading Differently

Amos Lassen

As a graduate student, I fell in love with the writings of Gertrude Stein and unlike so many others, I felt she had something to say. Then the news leaked that se had been a Nazi collaborator and my respect for her work was diminished considerably. Regardless of her political views, she did have something to say and E.L. McCullum shows us that in her epic novel, “The Making of Americans”, she taught us how to read differently. To do so we have to change the way we read now. In “The Unmaking of Americans”, each chapter “works through close readings of Stein’s text and a philosophical interlocutor to track a series of theoretical questions: what forms queer time, what are the limits of story, how do we feel emotion, how can we agree on a shared reality if interpretation and imagination intervene, and how do particular media shape how we convey this rich experience?” We become aware of Stein’s agenda and epistemological drive and see her thought experiments that bear on questions that are central to some of the most vibrant conversations in literary studies today.” Of late, we have had ongoing debates about the practices of reading, the difficulty of reading, and even the impossibility of reading and we now face the fact that the time has come to have a fuller critical engagement with reading and this book shows how.

Here is the Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations


What to Make of The Making of Americans: An Introduction to Reading


  1. It Takes Time to Make Queer People: Heidegger through Stein


  1. Why Should Any One Keep on Going?: Feeling the Story


  1. A Real Aesthetic Aspiration: Body-Maps of Emotion’s Narrative


  1. I Write for Myself and Strangers: Kant with Stein


  1. Still Narrative: Matisse, Deleuze, and Stein

Works Cited


“Sexual Identities: A Cognitive Literary Study” by Patrick Colm Hogan— Identity, The Diversity of Sexuality and the Scope of Gender

Hogan, Patrick Colm. “Sexual Identities: A Cognitive Literary Study”, (Cognition and Poetics), Oxford University Press, 2018.

Identity, The Diversity of Sexuality and the Scope of Gender

Amos Lassen

In “Sexual Identities”, Patrick Colm Hogan extends his work on identity to examine the complexities of sex, the diversity of sexuality, and the limited scope of gender. He uses a diverse body of literary works and illustrates a rarely drawn distinction between practical identity (the patterns in what one does, thinks, and feels) and categorical identity (how one labels oneself or is categorized by society). Using that distinction, “he offers a nuanced reformulation of the idea of social construction, distinguishing ideology, situational determination, shallow socialization, and deep socialization.” His argument is for “a meticulous skepticism about gender differences and a view of sexuality as evolved but also contingent and highly variable. The variability of sexuality and the near absence of gender fixity–and the imperfect alignment of practical and categorical identities in both cases–give rise to the social practices that Judith Butler refers to as “regulatory regimes.” Hogan explores the cognitive and affective operation of such regimes.” The book turns to sex and the question of how to understand transgendering in a way that respects the dignity of transgender people, without reverting to gender essentialism.

Hogan delivers the foundations of what we really need to understand about the ways that we “exist as situated sexual beings in the world.” Hogan adds to and deepens the major intellectual traditions that inform sexuality and gender studies. He “presents a brilliant, insightful and nuanced investigation of sexuality and gender. Considering the role of affect and emotion in shaping sexual identities, among other innovations and modifications, it is a provocative and significant contribution to the burgeoning field of cognitive cultural study.”

“Drawing on cognitive science, post-structuralism, feminism, discourse analysis, and queer theory, Hogan demonstrates that we cannot fully understand what drives sexual and gender dimorphism unless we inquire into the specific cognitive biases that structure our notions of identity. Coming from the humanities and remaining committed to the rich interpretive tradition of literary studies, Hogan is poised to transform both the sciences and the humanities.”-Lisa Zunshine, Bush-Holbrook Professor of English, University of Kentucky

“Open Love: The Complete Guide to Open Relationships, Polyamory, and More” by Axel Neustadter— Love

Neustadter, Axel. “Open Love: The Complete Guide to Open Relationships, Polyamory, and More”, Bruno Gmunder, 2018.


Amos Lassen

Axel Neustadter answers some fascinating questions out love such as who do we love and who can we love and how many? With “Open Love,” Neustädter explores the possibilities and reveals the secrets of non-monogamous gay love. Some of the possibilities include fuck buddies, platonic friendships, spiritual partnerships and the open relationship which has always posed special challenges for people willing to step outside of monogamy template. Neustädter looks at all the important questions asked by anyone who’s desired a relationship with that certain extra quality.

We read about relationships without drama, jealousy, fidelity and safe sex practices. We also look at polyamory through a gay perspective. The book is actually “a guide to the freedom and joy of alternative relationships.” It also explains about expectations and failures.

“The Mudd Club” by Richard Boch— The Famous and the Soon-To-Be Famous

Boch, Richard. “The Mudd Club “, Feral House, 2017.

The Famous and the Soon-To-Be Famous

Amos Lassen

In 1976, Richard Boch graduated college and moved to Greenwich Village. Two years later, he was working The Mudd Club door. As he tells it, The Mudd Club was filled with the famous and soon-to- be famous, along with an eclectic core of Mudd regulars who gave the place its identity. These included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, and Robert Rauschenberg to Johnny Rotten, The Hell’s Angels, and John Belushi: “passing through, passing out, and some, passing on.” Marianne Faithful and Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, William Burroughs, and even Kenneth Anger are just a few of the names that were there with No Wave and Post- Punk artists, musicians, filmmakers, and “writers living in a nighttime world on the cusp of two decades.
Boch gives us memories and images, and shares how this downtown club attained the status of midtown and uptown. There was nothing else like it; he everyone, and his job quickly defined him.

Boch was not only the well known doorman of the Mudd Club; he also played a pivotal role in why it was the coolest club in the world back then. He was the crowd curator, carefully only letting in the right mix of the wildly creative downtown movers and shakers who made it to the club and he kept the squares and the unhip outside. In this book he tells us about the who’s who and all the fun that was had at the club. Reading about the cast of characters is like reading a fantasy tale filled with decadence and dance.

Boch’s prose is simple yet filled with detail and he leaves nothing unsaid. While some may see his prose as rambling, I see it as a man telling stories that we can’t wait to share. The Mudd Club was downtown Manhattan’s last important site of cultural experimentation before it became too expensive to live there. This is a fun read that is also beautifully written.

“Night Class: A Downtown Memoir” by Victor Corona— New York Nightlife

Corona, Victor. “Night Class: A Downtown Memoir”, Soft Skill Press, 2017.

New York Nightlife

Amos Lassen

NYU sociologist Victor P. Corona wanted to learn about New York City nightlife and so he partook of night classes held in galleries, nightclubs, bars, apartments, stoops, and all-night diners and he about love, loss, and the possibilities of identity. He transformed himself from an academic professor into a club-goer as he immersed himself into downtown New York where there are “dazzling tribes of artists and performers hungry for fame.”

In “Night Class: A Downtown Memoir”, Corona investigates the glamour of New York nightlife. He interviews and goes out with party people and those who influence them including Party Monster and convicted killer Michael Alig. He exposes downtown’s drugs, ambition, and power. He was a closeted, undocumented Mexican boy who became an Ivy League graduate and a nightlife writer and he shares “the thrill and tragedy of downtown and how dramatically identities can change.”

This is an original memoir about Victor Corona’s transformation from nerd to NYU’s celebrated ‘professor of nightlife ’ as well as a cultural history and ethnographic exploration of New York nightlife and the concept of self. A scholar by day and party goer by night, Corona takes sociology to the streets to show us a little known scene that takes place every night in the Big Apple. Here is the glamorous and dangerous world of downtown New York circa 2011.

Corona reminds us “of the power and primal immediacy of real, live night life.” We read of the seductive magic of the downtown club scene and those who participate in it,. This is part-memoir, part-oral history, and part-academic analysis yet it is intimate in the way it looks at the attraction of nightlife and particularly the possibility of self-fashioned identities. He examines the drive to ‘make it’ in these small subcultural scenes, writing about the heights and the pitfalls of Downtown nightlife.

Corona interviews members of Andy Warhol’s Factory, some not long before their deaths. He worked with perhaps Michael Alig after Alig was released from prison for his part in a brutal killing. He sees Alig as a man whose personality could be divided into four parts: The Thinker, the Addict, the Child and the Manipulator and the profound Thinker was overshadowed by the more dangerous other sides. We also read Corona’s own story from being illegal immigrant to becoming college student to learning to make his way around clubs and parties. He shows us a world that most of us would be uncomfortable in.

Corona takes a hard look at the people who come out to play at midnight in downtown Manhattan and shares stories of the bright and ugly sides of nightlife. He knows the scene firsthand. He is reinvented from someone who could not past the velvet rope to an insider with backstage access. Thus it is a portrait of a person and a city. Corona’s story is both prescient and poignant and always interesting. “Night Class” is a fascinating read and a compelling journey.

“House Built on Ashes: A Memoir” by Jose Antonio Rodriguez— Memories

Rodriguez, Jose Antonio. “House Built on Ashes: A Memoir”, University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.


Amos Lassen

In 2009, José Antonio Rodríguez, a doctoral student at Binghamton University in upstate New York, was packing his suitcase and getting ready to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with his parents in South Texas. He soon learned from his father that a drug cartel has overtaken the Mexican border village where he was born and because of the violence there, he won’t be able to visit his early-childhood home. Instead, he will have to rely memories to take him back.

With this, Rodríguez takes us on a meditative journey into the past. Through a series of vignettes, he gives the details of a childhood and adolescence that were filled with deprivation yet often offset by moments of tenderness and beauty. He remembers when he was four years old and his mother fed him raw sugarcane for the first time. With the sweetness of the sugar still in his mouth, he ran to a field, where he fell asleep and all was good.

When conditions of rural poverty were too much for his family to bear, Rodríguez and his mother and three of his nine siblings moved across the border to McAllen, Texas. He experienced the luxury of indoor toilets and television commercials that showed more food than he had ever seen but he also realized that there was no easy passage to gain a brighter future.

Rodriguez writes about the promises, limitations, and contradictions of the American Dream and even though this is a personal story, we see the larger issues of political, cultural, and social realities. He writes about what America is and what it is not. We see this world as one of hunger, prejudice, and too many boundaries. Rodriguez also writes of the “redemptive power of beauty and its life-sustaining gift of hope.”

“House Built on Ashes” is Rodríguez’s account of a creative, sensitive, intelligent child who grew up “not quite here and not quite there”. When he realizes that he is gay, he begins to question the traditional and antiquated customs up against a culture 0f machismo and learning “that dignity is essential but costly.”

The book has a unique and atypical structure. It isloosely chronological with the story being told in lyrical and spare prose and with great detail.

As he packed for that Thanksgiving trip, he is reminded of the world that he once lived in and states, “I think of what we lose when we win.” Reading this, we all win.

“Drama Club: A Memoir” by Mikel Gerle— Coming of Age

Gerle, Mikel. “Drama Club: a Memoir”, CreateSpace, 2017.

Coming of Age 

Amos Lassen

Coming of age is never easy but it is that much more difficult in a small town and in a family stepped in religious traditions. Here is Mikel Gerle’s story of finding a way for him and others like him to live among “the heteronormative mating rituals of small town early 80s America.”

Mikel Gerle has had quite a life. He has been a pineapple picker, ballet dancer, International Mister Leather, government bureaucrat, and yoga teacher. He has ridden his bike 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles four times to raise money to combat HIV, the virus he has survived since 1987. Today, he and his husband live in West Hollywood, California and share their lives with the family they have chosen.

Gerle’s “Drama Club” is a collection of essays that take us into his journey navigating prejudice, religious oppression, joy, triumph, and sexual discovery. We laugh, we cry and we smile as we read and we become curious as to what his next book will share with us.

Gerle is a excellent storyteller as he takes us to places such as Nebraska, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. His characters are real and powerful and identifiable since so many of us have been through the kind of experiences we read about here. We have all felt alone and different, and we have all wanted to connect with others. Gerle’s personal journey through young adulthood was quite an adventure, filled with heartache and love.

We read of the struggles of growing up while being in a family that is concerned with religion, family and outlaw sexuality. It is bit easy to run away from such a life but we manage to do so.

“Creep: A Life, A Theory, An Apology” by Jonathan Alexander— Confronting Creepiness

Alexander, Jonathan. “Creep: A Life, A Theory, An Apology”, Punctum, 2017.

Confronting Creepiness

Amos Lassen

Jonathan Alexander brings us a study that is something of a memoir, a theory, and a manifesto. He bases this on his experience as a victim of homophobia and suggests that labeling someone creepy may be the creepiest move of all. He confronts the idea of creepiness theoretically and with wit. He maintains that we are surrounded by creeps. Being creepy has taken on new forms and what defines a creep is so broad that nearly anyone can be a creep at times. For many, the idea of the creep is not just threatening, but exciting (in the possibility of threat). We do get “creeped” out but we are also fascinated by creeps, probably because we all sense the potential inside ourselves for creepy behavior.

Alexander brings together personal narrative and cultural analyses to explore what it means to be a creep. He uses his own experiences growing up gay in the deep south, while also looking at examples from literature and popular film and media with the idea of finding some sympathy for the creep. He confesses his own creepiness while also explaining to us what being creepy can show us in turn about our culture. He uses famous “creeps” from the past, to explore what makes a creep creepy, and how even the best of us succumb at times to being creeps. What we really get here is a study of creepiness that gives us critical insight into the fundamental perversity of how we live. Yes, this is a creepy read but we are living in creepy times.

“William Hutt: Soldier, Actor” by Keith Garebian— A Classical Actor

Garebian. Keith. “William Hutt: Soldier, Actor”, Essential Prose Series, 2017.

A Classical Actor

Amos Lassen

I must honestly say that before I picked this book up I had never heard of William Hutt. I learned something new here and that is one of the beauties of reading. Of course, reading this made me want to learn more but that does not seem to be a lot about Hutt around.

William Hutt showed that it was possible to be a great classical actor without sacrificing his Canadian accent or cultural identity. His roles created “imperishable portraits of Tartuffe, King Lear, Lear’s Fool, Feste, Khlestakov, Duke Vincentio, Titus Andronicus, Timon, Argan, Lady Bracknell, James Tyrone, Sr., and Prospero” and these guaranteed that he will be remembered as long as there is cultural memory. I understand that when he was not on stage, he could be charming and witty or moody and “oppressively grand.” He remained

the Duke of “Dark Corners” to many who wished to know him more intimately. In this detailed biography, Keith Garebian gives us Hutt’s “private and public lives, his most intense conflicts, deepest yearnings and anxieties in order to show how Hutt brought his life to his work and work to his life in a manner that left him vulnerable to wounds of the heart yet open to radical re-invention as an actor.”

“I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well” by James Allen Hall— Queer in Florida in the 80s

Hall, James Allen. “I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well”, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2017.

Queer in Florida in the 80s

Amos Lassen

When James Allen Hall’s parents lost their once-thriving family business in the pre-crash 2000s, they moved into a two-bedroom student apartment that James had previously shared previously with just his brother. His mother routinely attempts or threatens suicide, his father is depressed. Hall lives alongside, and through his family’s meth addiction, mental illnesses, and incarcerations, and weighs “his own penchants for less than happy, equal sex with an agility, depth, and lightness that is blissfully inconclusive.”

This is a collection of harrowing essays that are not only powerful but that also reveal the author’s sensitivity to find beauty and value in places where most of us do not look. He shows his vulnerability in language that is rarely spoken and we see him as a

witness, a seeker, a survivor and someone who’s earned the right to judge but who withholds doing so because he believes that we are all together and help by restraints that we see as compassion.

Hall journeyed through a youth that was violent and homophobic yet he managed to both exist and persist., manages to exist and persist. His writing expresses the pains that we endured and he persevered because he dared to accept himself as flawed. His writing is honest and compelling and for those of us who have ever had a broken heart will understand what he has to say. When all of his essays are taken together we see that we have his memoir written in the language of poetry. At times he disturbs us with what he writes but there is also humor here and he ranges from being serious to using camp to express how he feels. He discusses suicide frankly and openly and we love that he is honest about that. He knows the difficulties of being responsible and he knows that guilt can set boundaries. Through all of this we watch him take form as a gay male. He rises above the pain of his family and takes his own emotional risks. The risk he did not have to take is this absolutely gorgeous book.