Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen” by Arin Andrews— A Transgender Teen

some assembly required

Andrews, Arin. “Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen”, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014.

A Transgender Teen

Amos Lassen

All of us have at some time felt uncomfortable as to who we are. Arin Andrews did also and when he was just seventeen he underwent gender reassignment while still in high school. He shares that with us in this poignant memoir. Seventeen-year-old Arin Andrews shares all the hilarious, painful, and poignant details of undergoing gender reassignment as a high school student in this winning memoir. We are taken on is journey from female to male while he was a junior in high school.

The first thing we learn is his decision he made that was going to change his life forever as he explains the challenges he faced as a girl, the humiliation and anger he felt after getting kicked out of his private school, and all the changes—both mental and physical—he experienced once his transition began. We are reminded that “self-acceptance does not come ready-made with a manual and spare parts. Rather, some assembly is always required.”

 Andrews was always happy to be called a tomboy as a child; even though his body was that of a female, he felt like a boy, and his mother’s insistence that he wear dresses and take part in pageants was painful. His first girlfriend, a lesbian, helped him become aware of the fluidity of gender and sexuality and realize that it wasn’t so bad to be different. His mother, however, his mother saw his girlfriend as a terrible influence and forbade her child from seeing her. Andrews became depressed and harbored suicidal thoughts. He was plagued with questions of who he was and why did he always feel out of place. Then he saw a video on YouTube video that introduced him to the idea of being transgender. With the help of a family therapist specializing in gender dysphoria and an adolescent LGBT support group, Andrews began the journey toward transition and taking on his true identity.

Now he has decided to write it all down and he does candidly and bravely. This is a nonfiction account from an actual transgender teen author and while the tone tends to be journalistic and not so personal, the book has a lot to say. The reader gets a sense of what being transgender really feels like and we admire Andrews’ determination to live he way he feels he should.

Andrews was named Emerald when he was born and at a very young age and was reborn into his true self, Arin. I have always had a rough time understanding transgender issues especially with regard to my own nephew who had been born as my niece.

Reading this book really opened my eyes as it discusses modern society and that we must learn to accept people who were born into a body that they feel is wrong. was a giant eye-opener into our modern society and how we can learn to accept people who were just born in the wrong body.

Arin does not hold anything back and he is an excellent writer at a very young age. It is his sincerity that makes this such an interesting and educational read.

“Young Man From The Provinces: A Gay Life Before Stonewall” by Alan Helms— A Sex Object

young man from the provinces

Helms, Alan. “Young Man From The Provinces: A Gay Life Before Stonewall, University of Minnesota Press Reprint, 2003.

A Sex Object

Amos Lassen

In 1955, Alan Helms left his childhood home in the Midwest for New York. He was young, intelligent, and handsome. He was not granted a Rhodes scholarship because he was gay but he soon became an object of desire in a gay underground scene frequented by, Noel Coward, Leonard Bernstein and Marlene Dietrich, among others. Here he shares with is what it was like being a sex object and its psychological and physical toll. He was a privileged guy but he was also self-destructive and the height of his career he was “the most celebrated young man in all of gay New York.” The Manhattan of the 1950s and ’60s embraced him as a “universal type,” or “someone everybody wants.” He was photographed by Avedon, directed by Edward Albee and pursued by any number of men. Repudiating the drab miseries of his Indiana boyhood, Helms pursued those who pursued him: his more celebrated lovers included Anthony Perkins, Larry Kert and Luchino Visconti. Leonard Bernstein wooed him ardently, and chum Noel Coward helped Helms reconcile with a lover. But the relationships were doomed to fall apart. Helms had been held high by adoration, alcohol and drugs but he soon crashed because of his excessive lifestyle that resulted in bulimia; alcoholism; joylessness and promiscuity. He became a college professor and did counseling with from the Harvard psychologist Robert Coles. As he grew older, Helms was better able to distance himself from the past. His name-dropping has more charm than the somber self-reproaches that accompany his sobriety. And he saw himself as a “D” student ion the school of life.

His memoir is poignant and picaresque and it vividly captures with humor and insight the chronicle of his journey: unhappiness of his abusive, alcoholic family life in Indianapolis and an overwhelming need for acceptance that seemingly was fulfilled by his becoming a regular in the world of the beautiful people. His careers as a model, actor, and writer were aborted.

The names he drops here should interest all of us—at least all of us in Helms’ age group. He tells us about his friends and lovers but not in a gossipy way; in fact, I would say that he is restrained in what he tells us. His prose is lyrical and his stories are fascinating—he is the kind of guy we want to meet but rarely do. Perhaps now that I am in Boston and so is he this could happen. I remember reading this when it first came out and I would dream of a life like the one Helms led.

Helms tells us what it was like to live as a young, attractive gay man living in New York in the 1950s and ’60s. For Alan Helms, it was glamorous, sexy and intriguing but that is only part of his story. He experienced some extraordinary things, but his search for self-awareness and ordinary happiness is one many gay men will recognize. find familiar and insightful. In the first third of the book we get a powerful story of abuse and a lonely childhood. This is followed by his telling us of his glamorous period and he does so with discretion. but even there, the author is discreet about details–disappointingly discreet, perhaps, to some readers. The only names he drops are those that are necessary to establish the author’s credentials. He did not write this book to record social highlights or sexual high jinks, but to share his evolving thoughts and feelings. In the final third of the book we get the story of his crash and hitting bottom and his efforts to come to terms with who he was/could be, and to build a new adult life.

I found that the memoir seesawed between Helms’s agonies and ecstasies. He was a man with deep wounds who was totally unprepared for life in New York City. Even with the drugs and the alcohol, sex and travel, he felt empty and suffered, from insomnia, bulimia, and suicidal thoughts. The ecstasy was the thrill of that same lifestyle. The temptations surrounding him were thrilling and irresistible but they cost him. He was lucky to survive all his excesses; many of his contemporaries did not. Some of his recovery was due to that nascent part of him; he wanted to be whole and sought out therapy, a twelve-step program, and a teaching career outside New York. A lot of this was simply to do with the result of the diminishing opportunities that come with middle age. We see that so many of the forces that compel us through life are not those that we choose: family background, sexual orientation, our physical and intellectual capabilities, the era in which we come of age all greatly influence how we live. We see that in Helms’ case, we never get enough what we really do not need. Helms had the courage, grace and luck, and learned to live a life that is more authentic and he came to respect himself afterwards. He brings together the emotions that go together with homosexuality, alcoholism, substance abuse and even aging. The memoir is written with elegance, something you would not think to find in the biography of a man like Helms.

This is a book that dares to discuss what being an object is like. We put people on high pedestals and that means that whatever they do, they are liable to be judged. In this in-depth look at what a man of intelligence went through as a object is frank, sweet, unusual and hopeful. We can also learn something here.

Helms had been the most attractive and sexiest gay man in New York but he was also an emotional wreck but few people know that about him. The abusive childhood is only a part of it. He was considered a sinner, a criminal, and mentally (usually at the same time). We just have to consider how we would react if others thought us to be dirt. It was Helms’ beauty that led him into the roller-coaster life that he lived in New York; yet we must remember that beauty fades and he had to deal with his lost looks and to try to find a way to lead a normal life. He was lucky enough to have been able to do so.

 This is an autobiography that shows us what happens in almost every gay male (to some degree). So many of us have suffered with feelings of isolation and the understanding that there may be the love of another that will last forever. While gay life is good but, as we see here, it can also be hell on earth.

 

 

“Thoughts and Things” by Leo Bersani— The Oneness of Being

thoughts and things

Bersani, Leo. “Thoughts and Things”, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

The Oneness of Being

Amos Lassen

For more than fifty years Leo Bersani has exerted influence on the way we live and he has done so through various fields—French studies, modernism, realist fiction, psychoanalytic criticism, film studies, and queer theory.  In his new book, Bersani looks at different aspects of connectedness and he does through among other areas looking at movies by Claire Denis and Jean-Luc Godard and fiction by Proust and Pierre Bergounioux, Bersani considers various kinds of connectedness. We, at first, think that Bersani is looking at the gap between what we think and the world—our thoughts are the human subject and things are the world. He speculates on the oneness of being—of our intrinsic connectedness to the other that is at once external and internal to us.  He looks at the problem of formulating ways to consider the undivided mind, drawing on various sources, from Descartes to cosmology, Freud, and Genet and succeeds brilliantly in diagramming new forms as well as radical failures of connectedness. This is a book for philosophers, film theorists, literary critics and for anyone else who is interested in knowing more about how we think.  

Leo Bersani is a thinker above all else and here the tackles disjunctions in the self and the intractability of violence. He is able here to present this theory on connectedness of the relations that unite us in the oneness of being. He looks at the nonrelation of negativity rather than oppose it rests not on a simple opposition to negativity and through this we see a thinker at work.

We are presented with a meditation on the oneness of being and we see this through the critique of those dualisms that separate the individual from the world that he lives in.  But that is not all—he also looks at what separates mind from body, consciousness from the unconscious, and past from present.  He presents conceptually dense formulations that only he can do so it is wise to prepare yourself by reading other writings by Bersani. In the meditation he gives us are readings in books, essays and films that add to the provocative account of conception. Here is the table of contents as it appears in the book:

Against Prefaces?

  1. Father Knows Best
  2. Illegitimacy
  3. “Ardent Masturbation” (Descartes, Freud, Proust, et al.)
  4. “I Can Dream, Can’t I?”
  5. Far Out
  6. Being and Notness

“The Queerness of Native American Literature” by Lisa Tatonetti— Indigenous Queer Literature Since Stonewall

the queerness of Native-american lit

Tatonetti, Lisa. “The Queerness of Native American Literature”, University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Indigenous Queer Literature Since Stonewall

Amos Lassen

 “The Queerness of Native American Literature” is a comprehensive view of Indigenous queer literature since Stonewall. In it, Lisa Tatonetti recovers ties between two simultaneous renaissances of the late twentieth century: queer literature and Native American literature. Throughout the book she says that queerness has been central to Native American literature for decades and she shows how queer Native literature and Two-Spirit critiques challenge understandings of both Indigeneity and sexuality.

She provides a genealogy of queer Native writing after Stonewall. This is the first overview and guide to queer Native literature from its rise in the 1970s to the present day.

We see how Indigeneity intervenes within and against dominant interpretations of queer genders and sexualities and we get the recovery of unfamiliar texts from the 1970s as well as fresh, cogent readings of well-known works. Tatonetti juxtaposes the work of Native authors (including the longtime writer–activist Paula Gunn Allen, the first contemporary queer Native writer Maurice Kenny, the poet Janice Gould, the novelist Louise Erdrich, and the filmmakers Sherman Alexie, Thomas Bezucha, and Jorge Manuel Manzano) with the work of queer studies scholars and proposes resourceful interventions in foundational concepts in queer studies while also charting new directions for queer Native studies.

Below is the table of contents as it appears in the book

Introduction: Two-Spirit Histories

 A Genealogy of Queer Native Literatures 


The Native 1970s: Maurice Kenny and Fag Rag 


Queer Relationships and Two-Spirit Characters in Louise Erdrich’s Novels 


Forced to Choose: Queer Indigeneity in Film 


Indigenous Assemblage and Queer Diasporas in the Work of Janice Gould

Conclusion: Two-Spirit Futures

Acknowledgments 


Notes 


Bibliography 


Index

“Just One of the Guys?: Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality” by Kristen Schilt— Inequalities

just one of the guys

Schilt, Kristen. “Just One of the Guys?: Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality” University Of Chicago Press, 2011.

Inequalities

Amos Lassen

Women are not treated equally as man as we all know and this has always been contentious for politicians, the media, and scholars. There are common explanations for this and they range from biological reasons between the sexes to those conscious unconscious biases that seem to have been used for ages.

“Just One of the Guys?” looks at other reasons for this and it dies so by looking at the way transgender men live their lives. Author Kristen Schilt uses personal in-depth interviews and observational data to show that while individual transmen have varied experiences, their stories nonetheless show gender inequality. We read of the reactions of employers and coworkers to transmen and these reveal that the ways innate differences between the genders and are used as justification for discrimination. We see, according to Schilt, that some transmen gain acceptance—and even privileges—by becoming “just one of the guys” and that some are coerced into working as women or marginalized for being openly transgender. We also learn that there are other forms of appearance-based discrimination that influence opportunities. The social processes that foster forms of inequality are presented to us here and they effect all of us.

Schilt uses “an ethnographic and interview-based approach to understanding the workplace inequalities facing a highly understudied population, and the results are sobering and unexpected.”

“The American Isherwood” edited by James Berg and Chris Freeman— Isherwood in America

the american isherwood

Berg, James and Chris Freeman, editors. “The American Isherwood”, University of Minnesota, 2015.

Isherwood in America

Amos Lassen

“The American Isherwood” is a collection of essays that considers Christopher Isherwood’s diaries, his vast personal archive, and his published works. It gives us a many-layered appreciation of the writer who spent more than half of his life in southern California. “The editors have brought together the most informative scholarship of the twenty-first century to illuminate the craft of one of the singular figures of the twentieth century.” Isherwood was a novelist, memoirist, diarist, and gay pioneer. He left us with a plethora of writings written in his unique crisp style and emphasis on detail.

Initially Isherwood gained fame for his “Berlin Stories” that became the source material for the hit stage musical and Academy Award–winning film Cabaret. Of late, his experiences and career in the United States have received increased attention. His novel “A Single Man” was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film; his long relationship with the artist Don Bachardy, with whom he shared an openly gay lifestyle, was the subject of an award-winning documentary, “Chris & Don: A Love Story”; and his memoir, “Christopher and His Kind”, was adapted for the BBC. His letters to Bachardy and Bacardy’s letters to him was also recently released in book form.

He had quite a colorful life having left England, his mother country, to live in Germany during under the Weimar regime and then ultimately to California and Los Angeles during the beginnings of gay liberation. And he wrote about it all. All of these adventures are included in his diaries that cover fifty years and are made up of more than a million words. It is these diaries that really allow us to see the influence he exerted. Yet we have more than entries about the diaries—these are also selections that look at his personal archive and his published works of which there are many. The emphasis here is on Isherwood in America and editors Berg and Freeman bring us the most informative scholarship of the twenty-first century so that we can better understand of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. While Isherwood was English by birth, he was also a significant force in late twentieth-century American culture and his legacy continues today. Below is the table of contents of this volume.

 Contents

Foreword: Outside the Frame 
Stephen McCauley

Introduction: An American Outsider 
James J. Berg and Chris Freeman

 Part I. A Single Man and Los Angeles Culture in the 1960s 


  1. A Single Man and the American Maurice 
Lois Cucullu 

  2. Labor of Love: Making Chris & Don 
Tina Mascara and Guido Santi 

  3. Working through Grief in the Drafts of A Single Man 
Carola M. Kaplan 

  4. Writing the Unspeakable in A Single Man and Mrs. Dalloway 
Jamie Carr 

  5. A Whole without Transcendence: Isherwood, Woolf, and the Aesthetics of Connection 
William R. Handley 

  6. Ford Does Isherwood Kyle Stevens
  7.  A Real Diamond: The Multicultural World of A Single Man 
James J. Berg and Chris Freeman

Part II. The Religious Writer

 8. Isherwood and the Psycho-geography of Home 
Victor Marsh 


  1. Isherwood and Huxley: The Novel as Mystic Fable 
Robert L. Caserio


10. Down Where on a Visit?: Isherwood’s Mythology of Self 
Rebecca Gordon Stewart 


  1. A Phone Call by the River 
Paul M. McNeil


12. “Give me devotion . . . even against my will”: Christopher Isherwood and India 
Niladri R. Chatterjee 


  1. Spiritual Searching in Isherwood’s Artistic Production 
Mario Faraone

Part III. A Writer at Odds with Himself in Cold War America 


  1. Christopher Isherwood and Edward Upward 
Benjamin Kohlmann 

  2. Huxley and Isherwood: The California Years 
Peter Edgerly Firchow 

  3. The Celebrity Effect: Isherwood, Hollywood, and the Performance of Self 
Lisa Colletta 

  4. A Writer at Work: The Isherwood Archive 
Sara S. Hodson 

  5. Pulp Isherwood: Cheap Paperbacks and Queer Cold War Readers 
Jaime Harker 

  6. Not Satisfied with the Ending: Connecting The World in the Evening to Maurice 
Joshua Adair

Acknowledgments


Contributors 


Index

Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal” by Michael Mewshaw— The Public Gore Vidal

sympathy for the devil

Mewshaw, Michael. “Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal.” Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. T

The Public Gore Vidal

Amos Lassen

Michael Mewshaw brings us an intimate look at Gore Vidal, “a man who prided himself on being difficult to know.” He was detached as well as ironic and he was as much the master of the put-down as he was enigmatic and impossible to get to know. This is a look at the public Vidal and the image of himself that he created and reinforced his entire life.

I loved Vidal and I love the way he behaved to others. I was fortunate enough to meet him and speak with him twice and the image that I have of him is almost identical to that of writer, Michael Mewshaw. He claimed to be just the same as he appeared to others. He freely admitted that inside f him did not exist a man who was filled with love but once one is able to pierce the personality of Gore Vidal, we see that there was nothing there aside from “ice cold water.”.

Nothing about Vidal from this point of view ever allows us to see Capote but we see that after he changed, he was disappointed  and by the time he was at the end of his life, he was often cruel and very lonely.

There is a lot of humor in the book as well as spicy anecdotes about expatriate life in Italy. This is really an inside look at Vidal and yet even with his negative image (We learn just how, he could not be resisted.

“Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry” by Bill Jones— A Gay Athlete

alone

Jones, Bill. “Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry”, Bloomsbury, 2015.

A Gay Athlete

Amos Lassen

It was in 1976 when the world watched John skate to Olympic glory at an ice rink in Austria. On that night, he became on the most famous men in the world and by himself he changed skating from a marginalized event for men to what we refer to as high art. Men’s skating had been the sport of muscular men and not of the sensual and ambiguous sexuality that Jones was. He dazzled the world with his beautiful movements and yes privately he was a man who was tortured often with his own complexities. “Alone” looks at Jones and his life that was troubled and ended much too soon.

As a child, he suffered from nightmares and homophobia. He was bothered by the politics of the Cold War, his finances were not good and he had more than his share of deep personal tragedy.
 This is not a regular biography of a sportsman but rather this is the story of a man who was restless and impatient and he possessed a dark soul yet a man whose skating moved people. Like so many others of our gay greats, he died at the age of 44 suffering from AIDS and a severe heart attack.

The book is a reminder of how close art and sports are and how much courage it takes to follow a dream and how much mettle it takes to be a gay athlete and sportsman. One cannot read this and not be moved by the book’s sensitivity and emotion.

“Certainty” by Victor Bevine—the Newport Navy Vice Scandal of 1919

certainty

Bevine, Victor. “Certainty”, Lake Union Publishing, 2014.

The Newport Navy Vice Scandal of 1919

Amos Lassen

“Certainty” is based on a true story that shocked the United States at the end of the First World War. Almost overnight Newport, Rhode Island was home to twenty-five thousand rowdy recruits ands they were preparing to enter the war. Drinking, prostitution and other activities came with the sailors who transformed the town, as many resides felt, into a place filled with vice. A young lawyer, William Bartlett, whose genteel family has lived in Newport for generations was outdone with what he saw.

The sailors accused a beloved local clergyman of sexual impropriety and Bartlett felt he had to find back by defending the minister not realizing what the consequences might be. When the trial grew to become sensational, it was learned that there were other revelations in store and the case made its way from Newport to the federal government and Bartlett had to face more than just the truth but also the nature of good and evil as well. The line between right and wrong became blurred. We meet a cast of characters who have to rethink their own identities and reconsider the rules of society and the nature of prejudice and judgment. The novel explores a real event that occurred under the direction of then Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt that forces us on a journey of self-discovery while answering to a higher power about our own personal awareness of the meanings of right and wrong.

We are pulled into the plot immediately as we read of the social dynamics of our country at the close of WWI and right before Prohibition. At the end of the war, Newport was a mix of wealthy summer residents who owned the famous and fabulous homes there and thousands of Navy men who suddenly had nothing to do but get rowdy. The Navy worried about containing their men and consequently it enacted a new rule that said that certain “deviant” behaviors were not allowed within a small radius of a Naval base. Homosexuality was considered a “deviant” behavior and it is the catalyst for this story to take place.

For the general American public at this time, homosexuality was terrible and it was an unspeakable deviant behavior. The military and the government took enforcement of the sodomy laws seriously ( with the penalty being as much as thirty years in military prison). In addition to looking at the social dynamics of the period, this is also a legal thriller and courtroom drama. There were those who were suffering with he Spanish flu that ran rampant but there was also boredom during the demobilization of the Navy. Many were waiting to

be discharged and as they waited they tried to find ways to occupy the time. There was a rise in the crime rate and prostitution and drinking took off. The Navy was particularly worried about the “crime of homosexuality” and looked at it as depraved, unnatural and an indication that a man had no moral fiber. The Navy were set on stopping the homosexual crime and established an investigative team to discover those engaged in it. The team was made up of sailors who were tricked or agreed to the perks to entice other men to engage in sex, and then to turn them in to military justice.

Samuel Kent, a local member of the clergy was caught up in the witch-hunt. He was loved for the work he did with the ill from the flu and he was truly a kind man. However, he was lured into a trap and the government quickly used him as an example. Bartlett represented him in court and because he adamantly believe in Kent’s innocence, he agreed to take on the case.

The case was known as the Newport Navy Vice Scandal of 1919. Since FDR was at the time Assistant Secretary of the Navy, what happened is regarded as his darkest hour in American government. I feel it is important to note that this was less than a hundred years ago and at a time when gay sex was considered wrong and criminal and those who were different were ostracized and penalized for whom they chose to love. Victor Bevine gives us quite a story and when we think about how it is today for gay people in this country, it is hard to accept how it was once.

“Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco” by Clare Sears— The Law and Cross-dressing

arresting dress

Sears, Clare. “Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco”, (Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe), Duke University Press, 2014.

The Law

Amos Lassen

Many of us are aware that in 1863, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a law that criminalized appearing in public in “a dress not belonging to his or her sex.” It was adopted as part of a broader anti-indecency campaign, the cross-dressing law became a useful and flexible tool for policing multiple gender transgressions and by the end of the century there had been over one hundred arrests. Other U.S. cities (some forty) passed similar laws during this time, yet we know little about their emergence, operations, or effects. The book contains archival material that looks at anti-cross-dressing laws that were handed down in municipal courts and codebooks, newspaper scandals, the theater of vaudeville, freak and side-show performances and other venues and shows that “the law did not simply police normative gender but actively produced it by creating new definitions of gender normality and abnormality.”

We also get the story of those who dared defy the law and spoke out when they were sentenced and spoke about variations of gender and various gender possibilities.

Author Clare Sears offers a fresh look into how individuals targeted by cross-dressing law manipulated gender boundary logics to make public claims or evade unwelcome scrutiny. The volume is written clearly, extensively documented, and intelligently and vigorously argued as it explores how policing gender conformity has had quite far-reaching impacts.

The subtitle is bit misleading in that this book looks at more than San Francisco and contains many large ideas about various places and what is considered the norm and we get generative and the disciplinary function of the law as well as the historical “transience of gender categories as well as the persistence of transgendering practices”. Sears connects the exclusion of gender non-conformers “from the public sphere with similar exclusions of raced and disabled bodies.