Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

Ben is the new Spartacus Ambassador

spartacus header

spartacus

Ben is the new Spartacus Ambassador

The international travel guide for gay and bisexual men: the Spartacus International Gay Guide, now in its 45 year, offers tourists not only a worldwide list of bars, hotels, saunas, beaches and self-help groups but also provides an overview of the applicable laws on homosexuality around the world.

For the 26-year-old Ben the classic among the gay travel guides already had a special significance for him as teenager: when he discovered and bought his first copy of the Spartacus in his home town of Villingen-Schwenningen it was an important step in his coming-out.

Today he is the face on the new edition of the Spartacus. Ben travels a lot and enjoys being on the move. Even the love of his life: his Irish partner, he met on Mykonos. Those who travel around so much in the world are also often asked for travel tips from their circle of friends. “With friends I sometimes feel like I am myself an international gay guide,” says Ben. “Spartacus suits me.”The Spartacus International Gay Guide 2016 is published by Bruno Gmünder and offers on 970 pages around 21,000 useful listings: from bars and hotels as well as saunas to trendy shops in over 135 countries. All the tips, where gay and bisexual men can feel at home on their travels were researched and updated.

“The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book” by Jacinta Bunnell— An Activity Book

the big gay alphabet

Bunnell, Jacinta and Leela Corman. “The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book”, (Reach and Teach), PM Press, 2016.

An Activity Book

Amos Lassen

One of the new trends in publishing are adult coloring books and it is great that we have one about the LGBT community. “The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book” is an activity book for adults that highlights memorable victories and collective moments in our history. On each page is a

framed line drawing with beautiful typography that reminds us of those vintage children’s coloring books but there is something more— the book aims to bring greater understanding of gender fluidity, gender diversity, and sexual orientation. With over fifty different pages we get a look at history that makes it easy to remember those moments that are important to the LGBT community. We get both education and inspiration at the same time.

“Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities” by Jerome Pohlen— A Comprehensive History… For Kids

gay and lesbian history

Pohlen, Jerome. “Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities”, (For Kids series), Chicago Review Press, 2015.

A Comprehensive History

Amos Lassen

I am always a bit worried that the younger LGBT community is unaware of our history and the struggles and the heartache we went through to get to where we are these. Just as I have respected and honored those who came before us, I hope that the same will be true for future generations. I have much about our past history but there were some facts I never did see. This book gave me what I had missed. Some of the interesting tidbits to be found here include:

“Who transformed George Washington’s demoralized troops at Valley Forge into a fighting force that defeated an empire? Who successfully lobbied the US Congress to outlaw child labor? And who organized the 1963 March on Washington? These are just some of the things that our community has done in the past and in some cases have gone unheralded.

However there is something much more important here and that to some it might seem that  the campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality is a recent development when it fact it is the final act in a struggle that started more than a century ago. The history is told here through personal stories and firsthand accounts of the movement’s key events such as the “Lavender Scare” of the 50s, the Stonewall Inn uprising, and the AIDS crisis. Youngsters will learn about civil rights advocates like “Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the first gay rights organization; Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who turned the Daughters of Bilitis from a lesbian social club into a powerhouse for LGBT freedom; Christine Jorgensen, the nation’s first famous transgender; and Harvey Milk, the first out candidate to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors”.

We also read of the historic contributions of famous LGBT individuals, from General von Steuben and Alan Turing to Jane Addams and Bayard Rustin, among others. We have the latest information about the landmark Supreme Court decision-making marriage equality the law of the land. Included also are twenty-one activities that enliven the history and demonstrate the spirited ways the LGBT community has pushed for positive social change.

 The book looks at everything from Sappho, the Daughters of Bilitis, and the Lavender Menace to Dan Savage, Gladys Bentley, and Ellen DeGeneres and this is a very comprehensive history. We get a multifaceted perspective, emphasizing gay and lesbian figures’ places in history. We gain an understanding of the scope of LGBTQ erasure that has occurred from the way Jerome Pohlen discusses how in Emily Dickinson’s love poems the words were changed. Pohlen discusses two transgender individuals of color who were present at Stonewall (both were teens at the time), Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and he emphasizes that while the Stonewall Riots were an important turning point in American history, they were not the only time that the queer community has stood up for its rights.

The text is upbeat, conversational, and often humorous in tone. We also get biographical sidebars, and interactive activities. I know that the title is “for kids” but one thing I will never forget being told is one is never too old to learn. I am reminded of when I lived in Israel and saw all these speaking Hebrew as I was learning the language. We can hope that the same will be true for our community—that the kids know it better than those who lived through it.

Physically this is a gorgeous book with thick glossy pages that hold-up to frequent referrals during family discussions about gay and lesbian history.

“Hal Fischer: Gay Semiotics: A Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men” by Hal Fischer— A Replica of the Original

gay semiotics

Fischer, Hal. “Hal Fischer: Gay Semiotics: A Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men”, Cherry and Martin, 2015.

A Replica of the Original

Amos Lassen

semiotics1

“Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics: A Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men (1977)” has become one of the most important publications associated with California conceptual photography in the 1970s. This new edition is a reproduction that maintains the look and feel of the original volume. However, this new edition has been reconfigured into a book format the 24 text-embedded images of Fischer’s 1977 photographic series “Gay Semiotics”.

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The photographs present the codes of sexual orientation and identification that Fischer saw in San Francisco’s Castro and Haight Ashbury districts. They vary and range from such sexual signifiers as handkerchiefs and keys to depictions of the gay fashion “types” of that era that range from “basic gay” to “hippie” and “jock.” We also get Fischer’s critical essay, which is marked by the same clever anthropological tone that we find in the image/text configurations.

semiotics5

 

Fischer’s book circulated widely, had a worldwide audience in both the gay and conceptual art communities. Fischer’s insistence on the visual equivalence of word and image is a hallmark of the loose photography and language group that included Fischer, Lutz Bacher, Lew Thomas and others working in the San Francisco Bay Area. This was f first published as an artist’s book in 1978 by NFS Press and this was a time when gay people had been forced to both evaluate and defend their lifestyles which caused “Gay Semiotics” to  gain substantial critical and public recognition. Thirty-seven years later, the book still remains a proactive statement from a voice within the gay community from a moment in history just before the devastation wrought by AIDS. 

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“Hal Fischer (born 1950) grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. He arrived in San Francisco in 1975 to pursue an MA in photography at San Francisco State. Through his work as an art reviewer and photographer, he soon became embedded in the Bay Area’s artistic and intellectual scene. He continues to live and work in San Francisco”.

semiotics7

“Alvin Baltrop: The Piers” edited by James Reid and Tom Watts– Looking Back at Gay New York City

the piers

Reid, James and Tom Watts (editors). “Alvin Baltrop: The Piers”, TF Editions, 2015.

Looking Back at Gay New York City

Amos Lassen

Alvin Baltrop’s photographs of the piers are a groundbreaking exploration of clandestine gay culture in New York in the 1970s and 80s. During that time, the derelict warehouses beneath Manhattan’s West Side piers became a lawless, forgotten part of the city that played host to gay cruising, drug smuggling, prostitution and suicides.

Baltrop has documented this scene candidly and the photographs capture everything from fleeting naked figures as they meet in the architectural for scenes of explicit sex and police raids on the piers. His work is little known and under published and this id because of the subject matter.

the piers1

Baltrop photographed the city’s gritty flipside; his work is an important part of both gay culture and the history of New York itself. This is a powerful tribute to a long-forgotten world at the city’s seedy margins.

“Alvin Baltrop (1948-2004) was born in the Bronx, New York, and spent most of his life living and working in New York City. From 1969 to 1972, he served in the Vietnam War and began photographing his comrades. Upon his return, he enrolled in the School of the Visual Arts in New York, where he studied from 1973 to 1975. After working various jobs–vendor, jewelry designer, printer–he settled on the banks of Manhattan’s West Side, where he would produce the bulk of his photographic output”.

These gritty but moving photos gave a view into the past of the gay community. As gay civil rights continue to improve, we must never forget that it wasn’t too long ago that people had to take great risks just to connect with one another.

“Cursed Legacy: The Tragic Life of Klaus Mann”— A Dislocated Life

cursed legacy

Spotts, Frederic. “Cursed Legacy: The Tragic Life of Klaus Mann”, Yale University Press, 2016.

A Dislocated Life

Amos Lassen

Klaus Mann was the son of Thomas Mann and he was also a homosexual, drug-addicted, and forced to flee from his fatherland. He was also a gifted writer who had quite a short and dislocated life. His literary output, however, is amazing. He was the author of author of “Mephisto” and regarded by many as the literary enfant terrible of the Weimar era. He wrote seven novels, a dozen plays, four biographies, and three autobiographies of which one was one of the first in Germany to deal with issues of being gay. He also wrote against the Nazis and because of this he was blacklisted and denounced as a dangerous half-Jew and his books were burned in public squares around Germany. Another result was the revocation of his German citizenship. Mann served with the U.S. military in Italy. He was undone by anti-Communist fanatics in Cold War-era America and Germany and he died in France when he was just forty-two. He did not commit suicide as many thought.

This is the first biography of Klaus Mann to appear in English and in it we see the results of reactionary politics on art and literature. This is the story of a great talent that was destroyed by personal circumstance and the world-shaking events of the twentieth century.

“Boy Erased” by Gerrard Conley— Identity, Love, Understanding

boy erased

Conley, Garrard. “Boy Erased: A Memoir”, Riverhead Books, 2016.

Identity, Love, Understanding

Amos Lassen

I lived in Arkansas for seven years and learned the mentality and the perspective of many Arkansans yet to this day how I survived those seven years. I still cannot imagine how a young man could deal with being gay in a state filled with born-again Christians. Garrard Conley managed to do so and he was raised in the small town of Mountain Home. Living in Little Rock and/or Fayetteville would have easier no doubt but he did have that opportunity. I think what surprised me the most was that when I would sit and speak with many of the gay population was that they knew nowhere but Arkansas. That was why I began reviewing. I wanted the gay community to know that there was a big gay world out there but since they would not go to it, I brought to them.

Conley was the son of a Baptist pastor and therefore he was deeply into the church life of small town Arkansas but as a young man he knew who he was and he was filled conflict and fear. He tells in raw but compassionate prose about being outed to his parents as a college student. He had to decide whether to go through conversion therapy from a church-supported program that supposedly would cure him of his desire to be with men or lose his family and friends as well as being told that God would longer find favor in him.

He tried the therapy that consisted of an institutionalized Twelve-Step Program that concentrated on Bible study. When he finished it, he and his parents were told that he was supposed to emerge heterosexual, ex-gay. All impure urges would be gone and he would have stronger faith in God because he had chased sin away. Nonetheless, he found the strength to break away and look for his true self elsewhere. He first had to face his past and in doing so was forced to deal with having lived in a dark world and try to find a way to face his family, his friends and his faith. It is very difficult to read this with dry eyes—we feel his pain throughout. I thought to myself that if it is so hard to read this, it had to be unbelievably difficult for Conley to write it. Yet he has managed to do and in the process write in all in beautiful prose. (That is also something for someone from Arkansas. I taught several writing classes at one of the universities near Little Rock and I was constantly amazed at the lack of ability of many of my students to write a decent sentence. Should I have expected more from a state that elected Mike Huckabee as their governor? I know, I know, Bill Clinton had also been governor but his education took place past the border of the state).

The description of Memphis’ “Love in Action” conversion therapy techniques made me sit up straight and try to understand how anyone thought this could possibly work. It has been a long time since I read something with such emotional vulnerability. The boys there were told by their counselors that they were broken inside and something very important was missing from their lives. It is hard to imagine how this sounds to someone who feels that something is not right. The twelve steps that they had to deal with involved sins of infidelity, bestiality, pedophilia, and homosexuality as well as addictive behavior, such as alcoholism or gambling. The guys were already broken and adding this to their problems had to really devastate them. They were told that God was angry with them because of their homosexuality. Conley shares what they were to do in group sessions and taught to take a moral inventory of their lives. They were given statistics about LGBTQ teen suicide and rejection by parents as if this was what they need to know.

In his group were guys from all over the south and they had all been given ultimatums—to change or else and that “else” depended on person and situation. The ultimatum caused fear and Love in Action became known for the use of fear. There is one story that I have to share:

“In fact, several years before I arrived, the facility had been responsible for staging a funeral for a would-be ex-gay defector, a young man of nineteen or twenty who felt he might benefit from an openly-gay life outside the facility. The other members of his group were instructed to stand before his reposing body, read mock obituaries that described his rapid descent into HIV, then AIDS, and cry over him, until he was fully convinced that his sinful behavior would lead him to a death without any hope of resurrection, his only consolation that he might be buried in his Sunday Best with a Bible tucked beside him, no other traces of his former self preserved. It was our fear of shame, followed by our fear of Hell, that truly prevented many of us from committing suicide”.

There is not much that I can say after that.

Conley reminds us of how much work there is left to be done and we have to make sure that his words are believed and used. This is one of the most enlightening books that I have read in a very long time and it really brings home what we have to know about this bogus therapy that has been outlawed in this country. That does not mean that we do not have to know about it.

It is not enough just to read this book—we need to think about it. We are lucky to have it and to have it so beautifully written is a blessing. (Yes I use the word blessing because I still believe like so many others that there is good in people—we just need to find it).

” Philip Sparrow Tells All: Lost Essays by Samuel Steward, Writer, Professor, Tattoo Artist” edited by Jeremy Mulderig— Remembering Samuel Steward

philip sparrow tells all

Steward, Samuel.” Philip Sparrow Tells All: Lost Essays by Samuel Steward, Writer, Professor, Tattoo Artist”, edited by Jeremy Mulderig, University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Remembering Samuel Steward

Amos Lassen

Samuel Steward (1909–93) was a man of many talents: English professor, tattoo artist for the Hells Angels, sexual adventurer who shared the considerable scope of his experiences with Alfred Kinsey, and a prolific writer whose publications ranged from scholarly articles to gay erotica (the latter appearing under the pen name Phil Andros).

He was also a monthly contributor between 1944 and 1949 to the “Illinois Dental Journal”, a trade publication for dentists, where writing as Philip Sparrow he concocted a series of “charming, richly allusive, and often quirky essays on a wildly eclectic assortment of topics”.

Editor Jeremy Mulderig has collected thirty of these columns and, prefaces them with revealing introductions that relate the essays to people and events in Steward’s life as well as to the intellectual and cultural contexts in which he wrote. Steward wrote about some of his famous friends including Gertrude Stein, André Gide, and Thornton Wilder. He shares his stint as a holiday sales clerk at Marshall Field’s (where he met and seduced fellow employee Rock Hudson), of the roles he played as an opera and ballet extra in hilariously shoddy costumes, of his tendencies to hoard and his disappointment with the drabness of men’s fashions, and his dread of turning forty. There are essays about a bodybuilding competition and a pet cemetery, the boulevards of Paris and the alleys of Algiers. Mulderig carefully explains the gay context and the allusions present in these essays and highlights what we now see as a kind of private game that Steward played with his mostly oblivious audience of Midwestern dentists.

This is the first collection of any of Samuel Steward’s writings to be republished since his death in 1993 and is a major step in documenting his important place in twentieth-century gay literature and history. Steward was a once-neglected figure in queer history and recently we have learned a great deal about him thanks to Justin Spring’s wonderful biography.Steward’s essays were well constructed and sarcastically funny and probably misunderstood by the dentists who read the journal. We can be positive that they did not catch the coded gay references.

Steward dared to experiment “with the comic, personal and confessional modes of the casual essay in ways that might have been difficult to risk otherwise.”The essays were written at a time of censorship and homophobia.Steward’s skill, intelligence, and wit allowed him to get away with the many gay references. Muldering has gone a wonderful job in editing and annotating the essays and even today they are great fun to read.

How Queer!: Personal Narratives from Bisexual, Pansexual, Polysexual, Sexually-Fluid, and Other Non-Monosexual Perspectives” edited by Faith Beauchemin— The Power of Sexuality and Gender

how queer

Beauchemin, Faith (editor).“How Queer!: Personal Narratives from Bisexual, Pansexual, Polysexual, Sexually-Fluid, and Other Non-Monosexual Perspectives”, On Our Own Authority Publishing, 2016.

The Power of Sexuality and Gender

Amos Lassen

 “How Queer!” is a collection of “fourteen short autobiographical essays written by ordinary bisexual, pansexual, and sexually-fluid people from diverse backgrounds, sharing their experiences and telling their own stories”. In these personal narratives, we explore themes of bisexual and pansexual visibility, activism, confrontations with homophobia, and non-monosexual experience in the LGBT community.

Editor Faith Beauchemin gives commentary in the form of an introduction and five reflective essays that show the contributors’ experiences in the context of broader movements for radical social change. Beauchemin argues that the common trend toward bisexual erasure in LGBT activism functions only to serve the interest of patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia. The stories here help to subvert oppressive hierarchies by highlighting the perspectives of people who refuse to fit neatly into categories like “gay” or “straight.”

The book and the study that came to be what is here is a rightfully unapologetic refusal to assimilate to heterosexist and homophobic societal standards. We feel what the writers here feel— a consistent feeling of hope throughout the stories as each author demonstrates the courage it requires to live and love as our authentic selves. What the book really does is call upon us to dismantle the systemic forms of oppression, namely capitalism and patriarchy, which are a result of colonization and are therefore responsible for the denial and erasure of gender and sexual fluidity in modern American society.

“How Queer” is an important book not only because it s a fascinating read but also because it centers on the experiences of bisexual and pansexual people.

“Sexual and Gender Diversity in the Muslim World: History, Law and Vernacular Knowledge” by Vanja Hamzic— Islam on Gender and Sexuality

sexual and gender diversity

Hamzic, Vanja. “Sexual and Gender Diversity in the Muslim World: History, Law and Vernacular Knowledge”, I.B. Tauris, 2016.

 Islam on Gender and Sexuality

Amos Lassen

We are taken on quite a journey into Islam in Vanja Hamzic’s scholarly look at the religion and its views on sexuality and gender. International human rights law forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Yet we see something quite different when looking at Islamic law. Writer Vanja Mamzic gives us an historical and

anthropological analysis of the discourses on sexual and gender diversity in the Muslim world. In doing so, we get new information about diversity and resistance to how Muslim societies see “self”. Mamzic looks at contemporary Pakistan and at the hijra community there whose pluralist sexual and gender experience are in defiance of international and state law with new archival research and he examines Islamic jurisprudence this book provides a unique mapping of Islamic jurisprudence, court practices and social developments in the Muslim world.

He also gives is a look at how sexually diverse and gender-variant Muslims are seen by themselves and by others and within the context of Islam’s legal tradition. There are millions of members of Muslim communities who suffer from discrimination and prejudice only because of because of their perceived or actual gender and/or sexual diversity. We see here that the systemic oppression of ‘queer Muslims’ runs against the fundamental principles of both analyzed global legal systems and that the notions of gender identity and sexual orientation, as pronounced in the Yogyakarta Principles, should be upheld in framing the related legal, religious, social and human rights claims. I often think about academia and the LGBT community and this book makes, unintentionally, a case for a gay academic discipline and that s because we see here how sexuality is a major part of life

Hamzic’s book rests on three interrelated premises. One is to give a critical and comparative look into the history of international human rights law and Islamic law. By doing so we can see “uncharted legal and social landscapes and reach a conceptual interpretation of the law. Secondly we look at “the shadow of the law” and thirdly is the result of what one can find in the study of international human rights law and Islamic law.

The book is written by the use of an interdisciplinary theoretical approach and pays careful attention to critique and its value as well as critical studies of law, gender and sexuality. These include but are not limited to post colonial Marxist feminist and legal realist views. Hamzic leaves no stone unturned and after a chapter of introduction, we go right into the issues. Human rights law speaks volumes to Islamic law about sexual minorities in the Muslim world but here Hamzic turns the tables with what he gathered doing fieldwork in Lahore, Pakistan. Many of us will be surprised at what he learned and found regarding the salvational agency of the law. We are made to think and consider how we deal with sexual and gender difference.
This is a not a book for the layman—it is scholarly and expensive ($99) but for the serious study of law and LGBT citizens, it is a must read.