Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Against Citizenship: The Violence of the Normative” by Amy L. Brandzel— Is Citizenship Redeemable?

against citizenship

Brandzel, Amy L. “Against Citizenship: The Violence of the Normative”, (Dissident Feminisms), University of Illinois Press, 2016.

Is Citizenship Redeemable?

Amos Lassen

In “Against Citizenship”, author Amy L. Brandzel shows that despite numerous activists and scholars appealing for rights, inclusion, and justice in the name of “citizenship” there is nothing redeemable about citizenship and nothing worth salvaging or sustaining in the name of “community,” practice, or belonging.

She sees “citizenship as a violent dehumanizing mechanism that brings about the comparative devaluing of human lives”. Her argument is that “whenever we work on behalf of citizenship, whenever we work towards including more types of peoples under its reign, we inevitably reify the violence of citizenship against nonnormative others”. Brandzel’s focuses on three legal case studies–same-sex marriage law, hate crime legislation, and Native Hawaiian sovereignty and racialization and then exposes how citizenship confounds and obscures the mutual processes of settler colonialism, racism, sexism, and heterosexism. By doing so, Brandzel maintains that citizenship requires anti-intersectionality— strategies that deny the mutuality and contingency of race, class, gender, sexuality and nation–and how, as often happens, the progressive left activists and scholars follow suit.

This is a book that will ultimately be regarded as one of the most important books in queer and feminist theory of its generation. I realize that this statement is bold Brandzel is deftly skilled at bridging feminist and queer studies with critical ethnic studies and critical Indigenous studies that present a model for the kind of intersectional analysis needed to understand and challenge the violence of normativities.

Brandzel explores queer, feminist, Indigenous and critical race studies to expose the irredeemable violence of U.S. citizenship. By bringing together case studies rarely considered within the same frame, she shows the kind of intersectional alliance building that is required. The ideas here can be used “as a springboard for building coalitions that reject faith in citizenship and instead create other kinds of affinities and attachments.”

For those who are invested in challenging the limits of inclusion that lie within the normative frameworks of U.S. law, this is a must read. Brandzel documents the violence of anti-intersectional politics, epistemologies, and citizenship practices that exist within cases of hate crime legislation, same-sex marriage, and the tensions between civil rights and indigenous rights.

Brandzel presents a incisive, critical analysis of normativity that is crucial to understanding how power works today. We see clearly that multiple bodies of scholarship demonstrate how the anti-intersectional strategies of the state work against any real address of inequality. The book

reframes what it means to do transnational intersectional analysis and adds to our collective scholarly understanding of transnational critique by tracing settler colonial forces through nuanced examinations of gay marriage law, We are challenged to consider what is required for unsettling, or denaturalizing, the” settler logics of normative citizenship’s racialization, gendering, and sexualizing”. What is most threatening to normative citizenship, occurs when we forge and exercise accountable alliances. By reading this we can more easily understand critiques of the concepts of citizenship (and understandings of sovereignty) from feminist, queer, critical Indigenous, and legal perspectives.

Brandzel presents her arguments clearly and whether we agree or not, we are provoked to think about what she has to say. Most of us have never thought about citizenship in the way that it is presented here and it is time that we did.

“Vitium” by Mat Lambert and Jannis Birsner—- Must Be Seen

v1p

Lambert, Matt and Jannis Birsner. “Vitium”, Bruno Gmunder, 2016.

A collaboration between Matt Lambert and Jannis Birsner, Vitium was born in Berlin and captures the fraternal, intimate, nihilistic and sexually-charged energy of the youth of the city.

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This 56 page book is an homage to the Queer-core zine culture of the 80s and is just larger than pocket-size, printed in black and white.

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 A3 poster in full color included.

Press Clipping
 
“This fraternal, sensual subculture uses sexuality as a wrapper, but it’s a medium that speaks to mutual love, respect and friendship—mirrored in the manifesto found on the pages of the zine.” – Dazed

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“The Art of Living: An Oral History of Performance Art” by Dominic Johnson— An Oral History of Performance Art

the art of living

Johnson, Dominic. “The Art of Living: An Oral History of Performance Art”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

An Oral History of Performance Art

Amos Lassen

“The Art of Living” is a collection of interviews with a variety of artists and as whole it presents us with an oral history of performance art. Each artist addresses his/her work, providing insights into their artistic, personal and political concerns. For me, the main thought that comes out of this book is that performance art is a life-changing experience and a life long practice who those involved in presentation. Author Dominic Johnson asks the right questions to show us this. He does so compellingly and simply.

For so long performance art has been underground and ephemeral of which many of the performances exist only orally and in the oral tradition. Here Johnson goes to the artists and lets them reminisce about their performances and lives. As they remember, we learn that not all of them are queer but they all use queer strategies in order to deal with and break down gender binaries, show disdain for biology and question gentrification and capitalism. We hear from twelve American and British performance artists about their everyday lives and learn that their lives are their art. The boundaries between performing and living come together.

Johnson asks different questions of each artist with the exception of one question of whether their work is performance art or live art.

“Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity” by Reverend Elizabeth M. Edman— “Christianity is Inherently Queer”

queer virtue

Edman, Rev. Elizabeth M. “Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity”, Beacon Press, 2016.

“Christianity is Inherently Queer”

Amos Lassen

At the very beginning of “Queer Virtue”, Reverend Elizabeth M. Edman writes that “LGBTQ people are a gift to the Church and have the potential to revitalize Christianity”. Edman is an openly lesbian Episcopal priest and professional advocate for LGBTQ justice and has spent her career struggling with the core tenets of her faith. She has reached the conclusion that her queer identity has taught her a great deal about how to be a good Christian than the church.

She says that Christianity, at its scriptural core, challenges its adherents to do away with false binaries that “pit people against one another”. Edman therefore maintains that Christianity is in no way hostile to queer people and that it is inherently queer in itself. By queering Christianity (“disrupting simplistic ways of thinking about self”) can illuminate contemporary Christian faith. She moves past the notion that “Christian love = tolerance,” and gives us a bold alternative: “the recognition that queer people can help Christians better understand their fundamental calling and the creation of sacred space where LGBTQ Christians are seen as gifts to the church”.

She further shows how the realities of queer life demand a response of high moral caliber and that queer experience should be celebrated as “inherently valuable, ethically virtuous, and illuminating the sacred”.

Edman takes us to the depths of Christianity as she examines its history, mission, and core theological premises. Using personal examples she shows that being queer can tell people about Christianity and will provide for productive interaction and community building. She shows just how to make this happen. Edman challenges us to look once again at spiritual interconnection, harmony, and progressive inclusion in modern religion.

Edman takes us back to the radical roots of faith, yet shows how relevant its teachings still are. She cites words that we are familiar with (“scandal,” “pride”, “queerness”) and asks us to reconsider their meanings based upon what she writes here. And she writes with elegance and style giving us a great deal to think about.

“Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement” edited by Jennifer Patterson— Hearing Our Voices

queeering sexual violence

Patterson, Jennifer, editor. “Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement”, Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016.

Hearing Our Voices

Amos Lassen

Members of the LGBT movement have been working at organizing anti-violence since the very beginning of the unification of the movement. In “Queering Sexual Violence” we learn that they have been creating a space for their voices to be heard. The book takes us beyond dominant narratives and the traditional “violence against women” framework and gives us a multi-gendered, multi-racial and multi-layered look at what has been done and what is being done today.

The volume contains thirty-seven pieces about sexual violence and connects them to “disability justice, sex worker rights, healing justice, racial justice, gender self-determination, queer & trans liberation and prison industrial complex abolition through reflections, personal narrative, and strategies for resistance and healing”. We become very aware that systems, institutions, families, communities and partners have failed them and here we see them looked at carefully and respectfully. We see the radical work that is being done outside mainstream anti-violence and the non-profit industrial complex. 

By now, we should know that when there is outrage, we react and here is a look at how that takes place. Editor Jennifer Patterson has worked on this book for six years and it is an important contribution to our canon. It is also an answer to “the non-profit industrial complex,” that has continually and consistently overlooked and undervalued the experiences and insights of queer survivors of sexual violence and trauma. The goal here is to challenge reductive narratives that package sexual violence solely as violence against women. This simply reinforces and perpetuates “lessons about who experiences [sexual assault], who perpetrates it and who can heal from it.”

Basically, this book is a collection of diverse voices sharing the worst moments of their lives and often doing so with all the horrible details. That is not to say that there are selections without hope and there is some beautiful writing here. We are reminded of the power of being understood alongside descriptions of brutality that explore the honesty and resilience of living life as an “other”.

We read of those who are frequently subjected to direct and indirect homophobia in heteronormative social spheres and isolated incidents of violence often become inextricably tied to complex feelings about their outsider status and self-worth. We read the myths about who is and isn’t a victim, or what does and doesn’t qualify as sexual violence are routinely challenged by LGBT survivors in various stages of grief and healing. Each contributor to the collection offers valuable insight. Patterson makes the strongest case for her thesis that “the unique nature of queer experiences with violence requires a better-developed and more nuanced approach to treatment and support”. 

“Queering Sexual Violence” allows those who know that queer sexual violence happens everywhere and is killing our community. We see here that speaking up and hearing each other is a way to resist and allows us to do away with shame, silence and isolation.

“Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World” by Gregory Woods— The Gay Shaping of Western Culture

homeintern

Woods, Gregory. “Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World”, Yale University Press, 2016.

The Gay Shaping of Western Culture

Amos Lassen

Gregory Woods brings us an ambitious study of the ways in which homosexuality has helped shape Western culture. This study spans continents, languages, and almost a century from the trials of Oscar Wilde to the gay liberation era and looks at the time of in increased visibility that made acceptance of homosexuality one of the ways that modernity could be measured.

There were diverse, informal networks of gay people in the arts and other creative fields that were somewhat hidden from the larger society. These were referred to as “the Homintern” (an echo of Lenin’s “Comintern”) by those who were suspicious of an international homosexual conspiracy and these networks brought together such networks connected gay writers, actors, artists, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, politicians, and spies. They, to a degree, provided some defense against dominant heterosexual exclusion and fostered solidarity, celebrated talent, and, by doing so, invigorated and changed the majority culture. Having worked with gay men who were involved in the arts in the 60s, I was aware of these networks but never saw anything.

Woods introduces us to a large cast of gifted and extraordinary characters, most of whom operated openly. Woods here looks at “artistic influence, the coping strategies of minorities, the hypocrisies of conservatism, and the effects of positive and negative discrimination”. We get quite a look at twentieth-century gay culture and the men and women who both redefined themselves and changed history. We read stories of interlocking, international gay and lesbian networks that may surprise some and reinforce—- these were places where gay liberation was born and really began to take hold. There were many gay men who “affected, influenced and restructured world culture for over a hundred years and this is the place to look to learn about the rise of gay poetics. I certainly was not expecting this to be a fun read— Woods sprinkles stories, gossip and anecdotes throughout and we see that it was gays and lesbians that actually were responsible for the liberation of the modern world. One reviewer says that the book is both hilarious and horrifying in that we read of the terrible persecution that gay people suffered and the pervasiveness and viciousness of homophobia and also of those gays and lesbians who were totally outrageous.

“Fragmented Citizens: The Changing Landscape of Gay and Lesbian Lives” by Stephen Engel— Moving Toward Equality

fragmented citizens

Engel, Stephen. “Fragmented Citizens: The Changing Landscape of Gay and Lesbian Lives”, NYU Press, 2016.

Moving Toward Equality

Amos Lassen

June 2015 was a significant date for the LGBT community with the legalization of the right of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court and it is seen as a major victory for gay and lesbian rights in this country. Gone are the days that some states allow for same-sex marriage and some do not and today members of the LGBT community enjoy full legal status for their marriages wherever they travel or reside in the country. For many, the ruling means that gay and lesbian citizens are one step closer to full equality with the rest of America.

Stephen M. Engel looks at the present time as regards LGBT rights and shows that we are living in a time of considerable advancement and change—but that there is still much to be done in shaping American institutions to recognize gays and lesbians as full citizens. Using fascinating examples, Engel traces the relationship between gay and lesbian individuals and the government from the late nineteenth century through the present. We see that gays and lesbians are more accurately described as fragmented citizens. Even with the marriage ruling, Engel argues that LGBT Americans still do not have full legal protections against workplace, housing, family, and other kinds of discrimination and that there is still a continuing struggle of the state to control the sexuality of gay and lesbian citizens as they continue to live as fragmented citizens. By understanding that the gays and lesbians are regarded as less than full citizens, we see the resistance of the American government to grant equality even though public opinion has changed.

It was once for the state to identify and control the lives of its gay and lesbian residents and to take care of all of the citizens regarding matters of immigration, labor relations, and even national security. The struggle for gay and lesbian rights, then has affected not only the lives of those seeking equality but also the very nature of American governance itself.  “Fragmented Citizens” is an account, politically and historically of how today’s policies came into being. The idea of fragmented citizenship opens the door for new ways of talking about where the civic status of LGBT people stands.

The LGBT movement becomes a way to focus on American political development and from this we get new ways of looking at what exists. We also can better understand the limits of state recognition and the quest for social justice. We can no longer think of LGBT citizenship as just a way of “vindicating constitutional rights”. Engel says that what we actually have is a fragmented citizen that shows that rights do not operate independently of institutions and time. We must be aware of and attuned to the ways in which public and private institutions often haphazardly, tenuously, unexpectedly and even inconsistently recognize certain features of citizenship while denying others. American LGBT citizenship provides a timely framework from which this argument can be developed.

Publishing Triangle Announces Winners for Best LGBT Books of 2015

Publishing Triangle Announces Winners for Best LGBT Books of 2015

The Publishing Triangle, the association of LGBT publishing, has announced the winners for its 28th Annual Triangle Awards in LGBT Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Debut Fiction as well as (for the first time) Trans and Gender-Variant Literature.

Winners marked by three asterisks below. Those with a black asterisk have been reviewed at reviewsbyamoslassen.com

Finalists for the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature

*The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf Press)

Debridement, by Corrina Bain (Great Weather for Media)

The Middle Notebookes, by Nathanaël (Nightboat Books)***

*Trans/Portraits: Voices from Transgender Communities, by Jackson Wright Schultz (Dartmouth College Press)

Finalists for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction

Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Arsenal Pulp Press)

*The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman (Simon and Schuster)

Honor Girl, by Maggie Thrash (Candlewick Press)

“No One Helped”: Kitty Genovese, New York City, and the Myth of Urban Apathy, by Marcia M. Gallo (Cornell University Press)***

Finalists for the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction

*Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage, by Barney Frank (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)*** TIE

*A House in St. John’s Wood: In Search of My Parents, by Matthew Spender (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

*It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, by Michelangelo Signorile (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)*** TIE

*Visions and Revisions: Coming of Age in the Age of AIDS by Dale Peck (Soho Press)

Finalists for the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry

Bodymap, by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Mawenzi House/TSAR)

Fanny Says, by Nickole Brown (BOA Editions)

Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life, by Dawn Lundy Martin (Nightboat Books)

No Confession, No Mass, by Jennifer Perrine (University of Nebraska Press)***

Finalists for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry

Boy with Thorn, by Rickey Laurentiis (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Chord, by Rick Barot (Sarabande Books)***

Farther Traveler, by Ronaldo V. Wilson (Counterpath Press)

The Spectral Wilderness, by Oliver Bendorf (Kent State University Press)

Finalists for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction

Blue Talk and Love, by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan (Riverdale Avenue Books)

Bright Lines, by Tanwi Nandini Islam (Penguin Books)

*Hotel Living, by Ioannis Pappos (Harper Perennial)

One Hundred Days of Rain, by Carellin Brooks (BookThug)***

Finalists for The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction

*After the Parade, by Lori Ostlund (Scribner)

JD, by Mark Merlis (Terrace Books/University of *Wisconsin Press)

*A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday)

*A Poet of the Invisible World, by Michael Golding (Picador)***

*Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

 

“The Family Next Door: The Adventures of Two Dads and Their Daughter” by Kevin Montgomery-Duban— Two Dads and a Daughter

the family next door

Montgomery-Duban, Kevin. “The Family Next Door: The Adventures of Two Dads and Their Daughter”, Kevin Montgomery, 2015.

Two Dads and a Daughter

Amos Lassen

In 1992 Dennis and Kevin had been together for 10 years as a gay couple. Three different people during one week suggested that they become parents; something neither man had really ever thought about and this inspired them to begin a new journey. Kevin Montgomery-Duban shares how they conceived, reared and loved their daughter into adulthood and how she is now sharing her passion to change the world.

At the time the two men decided to have a child, this was a new idea for many in the LGBT community. We read their compelling story and fell what they went through to bring their Chelsea into the world. The story here is one of love and the challenge of parenting as well as a beautifully written memoir about family.

“Now What?: For Families with Trans and Gender-Nonconforming Children” by Rex Butt— Looking at Gender Variance in the Home

now what

Butt, Rex. “Now What?: For Families with Trans and Gender-Nonconforming Children”, 2013.

Looking at Gender Variance in the Home

Amos Lassen

Now that the transgender movement is full steam ahead, people are looking for reading material about handling a family member who is gender non-conforming. While there are many books on the subject, what is missing are books about families and dealing with a trans-family member. “Now what?” is one book that helps to fill that gap.

It provides a comprehensive approach to the issues and challenges that families must confront. Author Rex Butt defines terms, discusses options, names resources, explains the history of gender variance and looks at the issues that families deal with. The book is practical in the way it discusses issues and it looks at the issues for people of all ages. Perhaps the most important thing that we have here is it totally relatable as it deals with the major emotions of parents— confusion, anxiety, fear, frustration and guilt that are a major part of the entire issue and it does so in ways that easy to read and understand. Butt’s discussion of coming out makes issues that once seemed to be complex easier to understand. Chapter Three alone is worth the cost of the book with its definition of terms and their usefulness will make a contribution on its own. There are extensive reading lists provided. Concepts about family are wonderfully explained and Butt also deals extensively with the blame game.

The emphasis is on communication – both with the child and with others and since when a child transitions, many are affected.