Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Tommy Gun Winter: Jewish Gangsters, a Preacher’s Daughter, and the Trial That Shocked 1930s Boston” by Nathan Gorenstein— Love, Murder, Insanity and the Law

tommy gun winter

Gorenstein, Nathan. “Tommy Gun Winter: Jewish Gangsters, a Preacher’s Daughter, and the Trial That Shocked 1930s Boston”, ForeEdge, 2015.

Love, Murder, Insanity and the Law

Amos Lassen

“Tommy Gun Winter” is the true story of four people from Boston who were as notorious as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde and often shared the front page of newspapers with them. One of them was a beautiful minister’s daughter, another was an MIT graduate. They were led by the smart, persuasive and unbalanced Murt Millen. Their story is related to us by a veteran journalist who went after a family secret.   

Murt Millen was the son of a successful Jewish immigrant contractor who dreamt of becoming a racecar driver but instead had a criminal career. First he got his brother, Irv, to his side and then he managed to pull in Abe Faber, an aeronautical engineer and ROTC officer. Faber was brilliant but had a fatal flaw in that Millen was the only person he ever loved. Next to come aboard was Norma Brighton who at the age of 18 ran away to be with Millen after having met him at a dancehall two weeks prior.

Murt and Norman got married and then just three weeks later, someone died and then there was another and then came the bank robbery. The gang successfully escaped but only after Murt killed two policemen (Francis Haddock and Forbes McLeod). Very little evidence had been left at the scene and the eyewitnesses were unreliable. The license plate on the getaway car was a fake and the police had nothing to work with. However, there were two determined and zealous newspaper reporters and two clever detectives working the case and they were determined. The investigation took off and a trial that broke records followed. Friends, family, doctors and seventeen psychiatrists testified against this strange triangle that had gone bad.

This is quite a story of interfaith marriage, sex, insanity and bloodshed that made three men and a woman famous and infamous. Author Nathan Gorenstein had access to newly released

state police records, trial transcripts and he did meticulous research to explore the Millen, Faber, and Brighton families. We also meet the cops, psychiatrists, newspapermen and women, and ordinary citizens caught up in the winter of 1934.

This is one of those books that once you start reading, it is difficult to put it down. This is a true gangster story with real characters and with the amount of fine research done, they come to life on the page. Being new to the area, I had never heard anything about this crime or the people involved and as I read my mouth probably hung open as surprise after surprise appeared on the pages.

“The Making of a Man: Notes on Transsexuality” by Maxim Februari— Living as a Man

the making of a man

Februari, Maxim. “The Making of a Man: Notes on Transsexuality”, Reaktion Books, 2015.

Living as a Man

Amos Lassen

In the fall of 2012, Maxim Februari who had been known until then as writer and philosopher Marjolijn Februari—announced his intention to live as a man. Reactions were diverse and ranged from uneasiness to curiosity. However, there was something common to all the reactions and that is that most of us do not know how to think about transsexuality. This is what this little book is about. It is a meditation that is deeply personal as it examines briefly the profoundly universal aspect of our identities.”

 Februari looks at and thinks about the many questions that sexual transitions entail: “the clinical effects of testosterone, the alteration of sexual organs, and its effects on sexual intimacy; how transsexuality figures in the law; and how it challenges the way we talk about sex and gender, such as the seemingly minor—but crucially important—difference between the terms “transsexual” and “transgender.” He examines our impressions of effeminate men and butch women and how we separate acceptance and tolerance from actual prejudice, and he then critically examines the curious requirement in many countries that one must demonstrate a psychological disturbance—a “gender identity disorder”—in order to be granted sex change therapies. And this is just the start.

Most of us have not considered the endless minutiae that are affected by changing genders or sex from the small designations of the letters “m” and “f” to the way that testosterone can adjust physical features.

The author’s voice is clear and intimate awakens us to how our sex and gender affect everything that we do.

“Naked: A Cultural History of American Nudism” by Brian S. Hoffman— The American Nudist Movement

naked

Hoffman, Brian S. “Naked: A Cultural History of American Nudism”, NYU Press, 2015.

The American Nudist Movement

Amos Lassen

According to Brian S. Hoffman, the Nudist movement in American began 1929 when a small group of men and women at a New York City gymnasium threw off their clothes. Even though many Americans had been swimming and sunbathing naked for years, there had not been an organized movement and now they were ready to build a movement “around the idea that exposing the body corrected the ills of modern society and produced profound benefits for the body as well as the mind.” The new nudist movement was met with hostility and skepticism but they endured and enlisted the support of health enthusiasts, homemakers, sex radicals, and even ministers. At the same time they redefined what could be seen, experienced, and consumed in America of the twentieth century.

Hoffman presents us with a vibrant and detailed account of the nudist movement as it is and was within the larger cultural and societal context of this country. He begins with looking at nudity in a culture where the concept of shame and conflicting moral values play a part in the lives of the citizens of which many have conflicting views about the human body.

He looks at the anxieties about gender, race, sexuality, and age and how these influence our ideas about the naked body as he looks at the debates about “distinguishing deviant sexualities from morally acceptable display, the legal processes that helped bring about the dramatic changes in sexuality in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the explosion in eroticism that has increasingly defined the modern American consumer economy.” Hoffman has drawn much of his information from many varied nudist materials, films, and magazines and his book shows the social, cultural, and moral assumptions about nakedness and the body that is “normally” hidden from view and behind closed doors.

Not only does the book make a contribution to the history of nudism but also to the history of sexuality of the United States. Up until now the sexual movement within nudism has gone unstudied as well as have the legal and political responses to it. Hoffman focuses on the “rurality” of U.S. nudism thereby causing us to think about the “urban-centered biases” that are features in the studies of the history of sexuality. He sees the nudist movement as a legitimate American movement that is ideological as well as political.

“Strange Flesh: The Bible and Homosexuality” by Steve Wells— It All Depends on Who You Ask

strange flesh

Wells. Steve. “Strange Flesh: The Bible and Homosexuality”, SAB Books, 2014.

It All Depends on Who You Ask

Amos Lassen

Author Steve Wells attempts to answer the age-old question of what the Bible really says about homosexuality. He is irreverent as he gives us both the scriptural arguments that conservatives use to condemn homosexuality and the more liberal interpretations espoused by modern progressives. As one critic has said, Wells “disarms the most ubiquitous weapon in the arsenal against LGBT rights.”

The book is an entertaining and educational read and Wells has done his research well. He cites twenty-eight source authors and his bibliography contains forty-two entries. In the afterword, we learn that there are twice the number of believers in the LGBT community than in the overall total population and as a member of that community I can easily understand why that is—organized religion in many case has turned its back on the LGBT population and since that is so, many see no reason to believe. This is NOT like the question of what cane first, the chicken or the egg but rather the reason for this is very clear. Why would anyone subscribe to religion if religion tells him/her that he/she is a worthless human being?

What we must understand is that we are dealing with matters of faith and there is no proof whatsoever that the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible (the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings and the Christian bible (what is referred to as the New Testament) are the words of Go. They were written by men with the clear ulterior motives of forming a code of morality by which we are to be judged. The stories in the bible are fables with morals and not historical documents.

 Wells explores the nuances of homosexuality in the bible that and even if any individual story is still open to interpretation, he explains how homosexuality was evident and commonly existed during the time that the Bible was being written (not dictated, written). Homosexuality during biblical times was as common as it is today and as it has been in every other civilization. Once again, it is important to note that it was not always dealt with by anger and hatred as those who take the bible literally today. We especially see this by exploring the context, the social norms, language etc.

“Strange Flesh” is a comprehensive review and analysis of what the Bible has to say, or even might have to say, about homosexuality. It considers all the arguments and interpretations, from fundamentalist ones that claim with total assuredness that the Bible condemns gays and lesbians with abandon and to the gay and lesbian interpretations that show that the bible is a book of acceptance. The key word here is faith but that faith must come from the facts that are historically presented.

Wells writes what he has to say with wit, humor and grace and it is a pleasure to be able to laugh with the Bible instead of at the people who have come with ridiculous and abhorrent theories. Many of these people have not read the bible as it was meant to be read and get their ideas from the fire and brimstone preachers who are filling their bank accounts by espousing hatred for LGBT people. I especially like the way that the book includes the pros and the cons in each case.

The book is by no means perfect and I doubt there will ever be a perfect look at something that was written over 3000 years ago. Yet, there is a lot of food for thought and a banquet of ideas.

New In May from Bruno Gmunder— “The Art of Looking” and “Masculine Beauty”

bruno

New In May from Bruno Gmunder

 

Kevin Clarke
The Art of Looking – The Life and Treasures of Collector Charles Leslie

looking
Have you heard of Charles Leslie? Thomas Mann pinched his butt. He has the biggest penis collection in the world. He is one of the fathers of modern New York ’s SoHo neighborhood. And he is together with his partner Fritz Lohman … founder of the first museum for gay and lesbian art in the world. Best-selling author Kevin Clarke discovered this incredible life story. It is a contribution to gay (cultural) history, rich in variety, with many images of Charles Leslie’s art collection.

208 pages, full color, English
Hardcover with dust jacket, 8 ½ x 11 ¼“ (21, 5 x 28 ,5 cm)
€ 49,99 / US$ 59.99 / C$ 69.99 / £ 49.99
ISBN 978-3-86787-763-3

David Vance

Masculine Beauty

masc
Muscular bodies, expressive faces, aesthetic poses: these are the secrets of David Vance’s photography. His mastery in capturing the body’s play with dynamics has no peer. Masculine Beauty spotlights a large variety of male elegancy. David Vance’s works are displayed in the most noted galleries in the world.

128 pages, full color
Hardcover with dust jacket, 10 ¼ x 13 ½“ (26,0 x 34,0 cm)
€ 49,99 / US$ 89.99 / C$ 99.99 / £ 49.99
ISBN 978-3-86787-837-1

“If You Can Make it There” by Jason Lewis— A Survivor

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Lewis, Jason. “If You Can Make It There”, Jason Lewis, 2015.

A Survivor

Amos Lassen

 Raised in Tennessee, Jason Lewis had a rough childhood. He was bullied as he was trying to come to terms with and understand his sexuality. Tennessee is in the Bible belt so he had terrible thoughts about not being accepted. Moving on to higher education, Lewis had a useless degree in musical theater and he had no direction in life. He was estranged from his family because of his sexuality and he found himself homeless and jobless. He looked for love in places where he was sure not to find it and his story is a heartbreaker.

This is the author’s candid story about the sometimes terrifying, sometimes very funny journey of “a domestically-abused, cocaine-addicted drag queen determined to navigate his life’s rocky road and escape to the Big Apple by any means necessary, including a multiple-year stint as a full-time male escort.”

It is difficult to imagine how much abuse had been heaped on him. He shares that with us as well as tells us how he coped. He fought back and he saved himself and as we read, we both laugh and cry with him. His story is a look at how so many others have had to deal with such terrible events in their lives and that so many find themselves spiraling downward to drugs and wild sex. Lewis is candid and provocative yet he is also educational. We can all learn from what he went through.

 

“Dancing Bare” by Taylor Rigby— An Unconventional Man, an Unconventional Story


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Taylor, Rigby. “Dancing Bare”, ADS, 2015.

An Unconventional Man, an Unconventional Story

Amos Lassen

Set in the 1960s, we meet Taylor Rigby an impossibly innocent young man who swaps the suffocating confines of middle class New Zealand for love and liberation in nineteen-sixties London and Europe. He enjoys the freedom conferred by anonymity, he becomes an actor, stripper, rent boy, lover, teacher and dedicated traveler through Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, where travelers were uncommon and countries still retained many of the differences that made traveling so interesting. This was before the Internet and we did not know as much about foreign places as we do now.

Rigby meets many different kinds of people, life styles and customs, before he settles in Paris, a place where sexuality was not a crime. Rigby’s story is one of “hope and love, sex and sexuality, theatrical showmanship and artless innocence, laced with a little philosophical speculation as he wanders the world in pursuit of true love.” The 60s were a time now gone when one of the rites of passage for New Zealanders to go by sea to Great Britain which was referred to as the “Mother Country”. What we see here is what it had been like for a young man to be alone and exploring Europe.

 The prose is excellent even if the story is self-indulgent. During the entire book, Rigby could not help pointing out the physical and intellectual shortcomings of others, whilst preening and admiring himself in small thong underwear. I would like to believe that was a satirical look at himself although I do not think it was meant to be seen that way. He concentrated on writing about the young and good-looking which causes me to consider him as a very shallow person. He wrote of the cold stare that he gave to those who did fit her requirements for future bedmates. It is one thing to be narcissistic but it is somewhat cruel to write of others as he did.

 Even more upsetting is how Rigby condemns certain behaviors in others and then does the same acts that he condemned. He really thinks a lot of himself and that he appears “straight-looking” to others as if he finds his sexuality to be something of an embarrassment. He is most definitely not someone I would ever want to call a friend.

Rigby writes with great detail but because of his arrogance and pomposity, the book fell flat for me. Just as he wanted those he had sex with to feel beholden to him as he performed so I felt he wanted his readers to feel—that they have been given the great privilege to read his work (even though we have paid to do so).

 

“Pride: The Story of the First Openly Gay Navy Seal” by Brett Jones— The Journey and Struggle for Acceptance

pride

Jones, Brett. “Pride: The Story of the First Openly Gay Navy Seal”, Dog Ear Publishing, 2014.

The Journey and the Struggle for Acceptance

Amos Lassen

While “Pride” is the story of a gay Navy Seal, it is also so much more. This is the story of courage, integrity and overcoming odds. Brett Jones is a survivor in every sense of the word and his struggles make me very proud to have him as a member of the same community as myself and so many others.

As a child he struggled with ADHD and as an adult he struggled with being a gay man in a male-dominated military environment. He tells us his story with honesty and he does not hold back. We get a look into a life that many of us could never imagine, a society that accepted lies instead of the truth and now, because of the courage of Jones and others, those days are gone.

I cannot even imagine how much courage it took for Brett Jones to come out even when he had completed his tour of duty. It was not just that he was a gay man, he was also a man with psychological disorders and problems with authority and a man who little or no support as he dealt with his issues. It wasn’t just that he had to deal with problems about his sexuality, loneliness, shame, and exclusion in the Navy but in his own family as well. With this he never lost his openness nor his connection to God.

Throughout, Jones remained reverent to conservative values as a homosexual navigating the changes of current social instability in America. He shares with us his political and social perspectives while at the same time, he demands “the revaluation of mainstream American norms regarding the acceptance and placement of homosexuals in society, work, and national narratives.”

An interesting aspect of Jones’s life is that he had such love and admiration for the organization that threatened him. Now that is one of the marks o f a man. What he writes brings together the popularity of gay marriage and traditional values.

“Pride” is the story of a great man who was a victim of circumstance during his time in service and what led to his ultimate decision to leave the SEAL teams even though “they were the very thing that he cherished greatly, loved immensely and valued significantly”.

Jones’s story gives us descriptions of his classes and work with the SEALS but more that, it takes is on a journey with Jones as he deals with bureaucracy and challenges that many of us would find to be to arduous to deal with. It is his tenacity and code of personal and team-based honor that inspires. He writes well, with wit and grace and we become totally engaged by and with him.

As an update— today Brett Jones “lives in northern Alabama with his husband, former police sergeant Jason White, and their son. Together they founded and operate Riley Security, which continually raises the bar on private security in Alabama through its groundbreaking training program, exceptional hiring processes, and tireless dedication to their customers.”

“The Human Agenda: Conversations about Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity” by Joe Wenke— Speaking about Change

the human agenda

Wenke, Joe. “The Human Agenda: Conversations about Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity”, Trans Uber LLC, 2015.

Speaking about Change

Amos Lassen

LGBTI advocate Joe Wenke gives us a series of conversations that he has had with some of the leaders for change in our community. The book is essentially a look at those chats. Below is just a peek at what you will find here:

“In THE HUMAN AGENDA, LGBTQI advocate Joe Wenke speaks with some of the community’s leading change agents. In these wide-ranging and probing conversations, amazing people share their personal and professional stories along with their profound commitment to freedom and equality. GISELE ALICEA, (AKA GISELE XTRAVAGANZA) fashion model: “Transgender people are real people. We have mothers. We have fathers. . . .We have families. We have somewhere that we came from.” ASH BECKHAM, speaker and advocate: “It’s really hard to not empathize with someone that you have a human connection with.” IAN HARVIE, comedian: “It is brave to be yourself.” DR. CARYS MASSARELLA, emergency physician: “Being transgender is not biologically hazardous.” CARMEN CARRERA, performer and fashion model: “We are one human race. Some women have penises. Some men have vaginas. What’s the big deal?” ELEGANCE BRATTON, filmmaker: “There is such a massive gap in understanding between what has been sold as the gay life and what has been the experience of gay people of color.” ANDRE ST. CLAIR, actor: “You can refer to me as male or female. As long as you’re not doing it disrespectfully, I’ll respond.” Y-LOVE, hip hop artist: “You can only have unity through diversity. Otherwise, it’s just homogeneity.” ANDREW SOLOMON, author: “I think there is a tyranny of the norm. . . . But actually what science indicates is that diversity is what strengthens a society or a culture or a species.” Also featuring Kristin Russo, Aidan Key, Hida Viloria, Hina Wong-Kalu, Dr. Jonipher Kupono Kwong, Kevin Fisher-Paulson, Dr. John Allen and the Rainbow Support Group, Rabbi Amy Bernstein, Dr. Mark Maxwell and Timothy Young.”

There is a lot to be gleaned here especially when we consider the diversity in our community. All of the stories reflect our need for each other and for acceptance by the larger society.

“Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi Fabulous Life” by Topher Payne— Starting Over

necesssary luxuries

Payne, Topher. “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life”, Xlibris, 2015.

Starting Over

Amos Lassen

For Topher Payne, life was a bit difficult. His five year relationship died and the went to Scotland to get away for a while but he knew he would eventually have to face it all. Living on his own would not be easy once he went home to Atlanta. Humiliation seems to have become a way of life for him and nothing seems to work out for him. Topher knows that it will be hard to find another guy who will ne willing to deal with his chaotic life.

The book is made up of the author’s columns for “David” Magazine over a period of three to four years and while they seem to be somewhat off of the wall, the author tells is that you are relatively true with a little embellishment added. The essays are about searching for love, finding a place to live and drinking a lot of vodka. Topher’s life is divided into going to work, going out and having sex. The book does not really get going until one gets a bit into it but we do see, right away, that even though his little stories are interesting and easy to read, they do not have the benefit of a good editor.