Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Insomniac City” by Bill Hayes— Life with Oliver Sacks

insomniac-city

Hayes, Bill. “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me”, Bloomsbury, 2017.

Life With Oliver Sacks

Amos Lassen

Oliver Sacks was one of my heroes. He was a man who loved life and was a genius. Here is Sacks as seen through the eyes of Bill Hayes, the man who he spent his last years with. It was 2009 when Bill Hayes came to New York City from San Francisco. He had no idea of what to expect yet he only bought a one-way ticket and had no job or prospects of one.. He was forty-eight years old and had spent much of his life in California where his partner had recently died. It did not take long before he was caught up in the rhythms of the city. He knew he needed change and the loss of the love of his life grieved him. He was able to find some consolation in the beauty of the city’s skyline at night and in some of the New Yorkers. Hayes had been an insomniac his entire life and he met kindred souls in New York as he took late night walks. Bill Hayes unexpectedly fell in love again— with neighbor and friend, noted author and neurologist, Oliver Sacks.

Hayes shares his life in New York and with Sacks in wonderful slices of life and this all starts with Sacks telling him that he fears wasting life more than he fears death. We see Sacks at his sweetest and dearest. He fell in love when he was seventy-five years old and facing his last few moments on earth. He died not long after in August, 2015. What Bill Hayes gives us here is a meditation on death alongside of a celebration of life. He has written a love song to his adopted New York City and to those who fall under its magic. For those who have been to New York City, you are aware of all it has but here we get the bonus of also learning about Oliver Sacks. While this is Hayes’ memoir it could also be Sacks’ as well. The part of Oliver Sacks’ life that has been missing is his last years and we see here that they were years of love and happiness. We also see that it is never too late to fall in love. As I read, I kept hoping that the book would not end the way history has it and that the two men would have more time together. Yet it is good to know that they enjoyed the moments that they had together and the love that they shared flows off of the page. We read about life, soul mates, and love and I found myself both tearing up and smiling as I turned the pages.

Hayes recreated New York for me through the use of journal entries, photos and recollections of his daily activities and I love his story of meeting Oliver who fell in love with him as he faced illness and death. We see the living Oliver here and he is glorious even in his last days. Mixing “memory with desire”, Bill Hayes gives us a wonderful story that is beautifully written with tenderness and very open eyes showing us that humanity indeed has soul, something we so badly need to know.

 

“Unclobber” by Martin Colby— What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say

unclobber

Martin, Colby. “UnClobber”, Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.

What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say

Amos Lassen

There has been, of late, an unprecedented fracturing in churches in America because of the ways they look at and have attitudes for the LGBTQ community. The ammunition is only six passages in the Bible (often known as the “clobber passages”) and this is the traditional Christian position and has been one that stands against the full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Colby Martin’s “UnClobber” reexamines each of those frequently quoted passages of Scripture and he alternates this with his own story of being fired from an evangelical megachurch when they discovered his stance on sexuality. With Colby Martin’s new interpretations, we get some new life out of some outdated and inaccurate assumptions and interpretations.

What many do not understand is that many feel a disunite between head and heart. Using their heads they understand that both God and the Bible hate gay people. However in their hearts they know that they have friends and family who are gay and they have a difficult time excluding and/or condemning them. “UnClobber” has another option and it presents us with a different way of looking at Scripture. Martin gives us a new and accessible way to look at the holy writings that affirms and includes LGBTQ people. By combining thoughtful-theological-study with a compelling-pastoral-memoir, we get a powerful progressive Christian manifesto that challenges “all Christians to love better and without condition.”

For many, this book will shed light on the topics of truth and love. Many have been taught that the bible is very clear on homosexuality. “UnClobber” is a beautifully written, relatable memoir of Colby’s journey to find truth. He provides a brilliant theological breakdown of scripture particularly, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

We are taken on a family’s journey from hurt to healing with a defense against “clobbering” gained through a fresh re-reading of the texts. Martin’s story of reconciling his belief in a loving God with the teachings of his church is a message of hope, wholeness, and healing for anyone who believes that the church is for everyone and anyone.

Colby Martin mixes his own story into the narrative as he goes through each of the “clobber” passages in Scripture and he poses questions to how each of these passages are used through translations interpretations, cultural context interpretations, and descriptive/prescriptive language interpretations.

“This book is for those who believe the church has been wrong to reject the LGBTQ community but believe the Bible is clear on condemning homosexuality, those who want a more inclusive Christian faith but are held back by what they have been taught, affirming Christians who seek to articulate views on the Clobber passages, those who are LGBTQ and want to be a person of faith but believe that the Bible clearly condemns it, or those who are “curious about how a straight, white, formally conservative evangelical pastor came to an affirming position”.

Martin uses information that scholars have researched and studied, and gives it to us in clear language that we can all understand.

 

“Fundamentals of LGBT Substance Use Disorders: Multiple Identities, Multiple Challenges” by Michael Shelton— The LGBT Community and Drugs

fundamentals-of-subsance-use-disorders

Shelton, Michael. “Fundamentals of LGBT Substance Use Disorders: Multiple Identities, Multiple Challenges”, Harrington Park Press, 2016.

The LGBT Community and Drugs

Amos Lassen

In “Fundamentals of LGBT Substance Use Disorders: Multiple Identities, Multiple Challenges” “Michael Shelton looks at and reviews the empirical literature and synthesizes what we know about the prevalence of LGBT substance use, abuse, and treatment availability, emphasizing the need for affirmative therapeutic practices”. He explains and assesses the principles of trauma-informed and culturally competent treatment/intervention as well as the challenges of minority stress and microaggressions experienced by the LGBT population. In separate sections he focuses on the sub-populations of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender individuals and in separate chapters the focus is on LGBT youth, the elderly, family constellations and concerns, criminal justice issues, and rural LGBT substance abuse. This is an introduction to the field that will be useful both as a primary textbook and as a handbook/reference for LGBT-focused and general substance-use disorder clinics and their administrators, clinicians, trainees, allies and volunteers.

As a clinician, Shelton is deeply aware of the need to utilize current research, evidence-informed practices, and culturally fluid approaches. He wonderfully united his knowledge with his writing skills as a writer and presents his findings to his readers. There is a significant health issue that is tied to substance use in the LGBT community. This is another resource to assist in meeting the challenge.

We get an in-depth look at the best and evidence based practices. Two of the main issues here are minority stress and trauma, which are important to the understanding and the treatment of problematic substance use in sexual minorities.

 

“Queer Theory: The French Response” by Bruno Perreau— The French Reaction

queer-theory

Perreau, Bruno. “Queer Theory: The French Response”, Stanford University Press, 2016.

The French Reaction

Amos Lassen

Many French citizens openly demonstrated against the bill on gay marriage and denounced its damaging effects but they also claimed that the origins of the bill came from “gender theory,” an ideology which had been imported from the United States. For the French, “gender theory” meant queer theory in general and, more specifically, they meant the work of Judith Butler. With support from the Vatican, the French attacked school curricula that explored male/female equality and they claimed that this is further proof of gender theory’s growing empire. There was fear that “this pro-homosexual propaganda will not only pervert young people, but destroy the French nation itself”.

It is ironic that queer theory is seen as a threat to France in that it was basically inspired by French thinkers. Writer Bruno Perreau looks at changes in the idea of national identity in France and the United States and examines mutual influences in both countries. As he does, he offers a new theory of minority politics and gives an ongoing critique of norms that bring about a feeling of belonging, the very foundation of citizenship. This analysis of queer theory’s controversial arrival on the French scene considers the full range of repercussions of this cultural encounter and translation. We see how debates on sexuality, gender, and parenthood hit at the basis of national belonging. We get a demonstration that queer theory becomes something new and foreign in France. There is reason to be upset but there is also a lot to learn here. Looking into “the ‘straight mind of the nation’ and the parochialism of ‘homonationalist’ critiques connect fantasies of sovereign geographies to demonization and systemic violence”.

Perreau’s work breaks down the fears that of the French in their opposition to the “marriage for all. This is a deconstruction of queer theory’s “return” to France along with a diagnosis of the cultural fantasies at play. Below is the table of contents:

CONTENTS

Introduction

1 Who’s Afraid of “Gender Theory”?

2 The Many Meanings of Queer

3 Transatlantic Homecomings

4 The Specter of Queer Politics

Conclusion

“The Better Blow Job: Everything You Need to Know About Oral Sex” by Alex Neustaedter— A Little Book with a Lot of Information

the-better-blow-job

Neustaedter, Axel. “The Better Blow Job: Everything You Need to Know About Oral Sex”, Bruno Gmunder , 2016.

A Little Book with a Lot of Information

Amos Lassen

Ever since Monica Lewinsky met President Bill Clinton, blowjobs have been fashionable but I never thought we would get a book on how to give one. Once, blowjobs were only considered a part of foreplay but now they have become centerpieces of great sex. We certainly see this as we look at online dating sites but we also know that not everyone who claims to be a deep throat expert is such: the art of sucking and licking must be learned. “The Better Blow Job” is a great read for anyone who wants to be a blowjob champion. Axel Neustädter shares the secrets of deep throating: “why you shouldn’t eat chilies before blowing; what’s so great about gaggling; and why a powerful blow job can bring tears to your eyes. This richly illustrated guidebook answers these questions and many more with personal stories, interviews with experts and lots of photographs”.

“Axel Neustädter is a freelance writer living in Berlin. He has edited the gay erotica series Loverboys, to which he also contributed three novels. After his successful sex guidebooks Gayma Sutra, Play With Me! and The Bigger Bang, The Better Blow Job is his standard reference work about oral sex”.

“Out of the Ordinary: A Life of Gender and Spiritual Transitions” by Michael Dillon/Lobzang Jivaka— An Extraordinary Life

out-of-the-ordinary

Jivaka, Michael Dillon/Lobzang. “Out of the Ordinary: A Life of Gender and Spiritual Transitions”, Fordham University Press, 2016.

An Extraordinary Life

Amos Lassen

Michael Dillon/Lobzang Jivaka (1915-62) was a the British doctor and Buddhist monastic novice chiefly known to scholars of sex, gender, and sexuality for his pioneering transition from female to male between 1939 and 1949, and for his 1946 book “Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology”. Now available for the first time and more than fifty years after it was written is his memoir. We read of

Dillon/Jivaka’s various journeys–to Oxford, into medicine, across the world by ship and we do so within the major narratives of his gender and religious journeys. Written chronologically, Dillon/Jivaka begins with his childhood in Folkestone, England, where he was raised by his spinster aunts, and he shares his days at Oxford where he was totally immersed in theology, classics, and rowing. He writes of his hormonal transition while working as an auto mechanic and firewatcher during World War II and his surgical transition under Sir Harold Gillies while Dillon himself was attending medical school. He writes about his worldwide travel as a ship’s surgeon in the British Merchant Navy and shares detailed commentary on his interactions with colonial and postcolonial subjects, followed by his “outing” by the British press while he was serving aboard The City of Bath.

This is the record of an early sex transition as well as a unique account of religious conversion in the mid-twentieth century. Dillon/Jivaka shifted from Anglican Christianity to the spiritual systems of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky to Theravada and ultimately to Mahayana Buddhism. He attempted ordination as a Buddhist monk in India and Tibet but and with a great deal of controversy. He died before becoming a monk but his ordination as novice made him the first white European man to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. His book gives a distinct and powerful voice to the history of the transgender movement.

The memoir was blocked from publication in the 1960s and hidden in a warehouse in London for years. It is suspenseful and heart-breaking tale that ends with a mysterious death in the Himalayan Mountains. Dillon, here, finds new answers to enduring questions about gender. At the same time, he was never able to solve the puzzle of his own identity and died in trying to gain transcendence. Dillon’s memoir deserves a place alongside the great spiritual narratives, from Augustine to Merton. This edition contains an introduction and notes supplied from a trio of scholars who have become part of Dillon’s life history.

We can only imagine how important this book is to the transgender community as well as to the general history of sexuality. It is an intense and captivating story of spiritual and gender conversions.

 

 

 

 

 

“Righteous Rebels: AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Crusade to Change the World” by Patrick Range McDonald— The AIDS Heathcare Foundation

righteous-rebels

McDonald, Patrick Range. “Righteous Rebels: AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Crusade to Change the World”, Raymond Press, 2016.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation

Amos Lassen

 Patrick Range McDonald brings us a thought-provoking portrait of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest HIV/AIDS medical care provider. It began as a grassroots organization during the 1980s AIDS crisis in Los Angeles and today it as an aggressive, global leader in the seemingly unending fight to control HIV and AIDS. McDonald shows us the motivations behind the organization’s life-saving efforts, its battles against and alliances with various governments and political establishments, and its work today. It provides free HIV treatment and prevention services to vulnerable, lower-income people in more than thirty countries.

McDonald follows AFS for a year and it is that year in which it experienced as clashes with the Obama administration, the state of Nevada, and the World Health Organization. He recorded interviews AHF’s key players, including president Michael Weinstein. He shares the reports of AHF outposts around the globe, from Miami to Uganda, Cambodia to Russia, Estonia to South Africa. His most significant discovery is that AHS is a “passionate, smart, and tenacious ‘people power’ organization that brings hope and change to nearly all corners of the world”.

We come to see the AHF as “a blueprint for every kind of righteous rebel who wants to make the world a better place”.

 

“Gay Men at the Movies: Cinema, Memory and the History of a Gay Male Community” by Scott McKinnon— Gay in Sydney

gay-men-at-the-novies

McKinnon, Scott. “Gay Men at the Movies: Cinema, Memory and the History of a Gay Male Community”, Intellect LTD., 2016.

Gay in Sydney

Amos Lassen

In many cases and places, cinema has l played a major role in the formation of community among marginalized groups. “Gay Men at the Movies” is a look at that process for gay men in Sydney, Australia from the 1950s to the present. Writer Scott McKinnon uses a variety of sources, including film reviews, media reports, personal memoirs, oral histories, and a range of films to show and to understand “cinema-going as a moment of connection to community and identity”. We see here how the experience of seeing these films and being part of an audience helped to build a community among the gay men of Sydney. I do not have much information about this book and I am waiting for my copy but is sounds fascinating.

 

“When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones— Words from a Participant in the Struggle for Gay Rights

when-we-rise

Jones, Cleve. “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement”, Hatchette Books, 2016.

Words from a Participant in the Struggle for Gay Rights

Amos Lassen

The new ABC television mini-series “When We Rise” was inspired by this book by Cleve Jones and it is a book we have been waiting to read. Here is the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights written by one of the key participants in it.

Cleve Jones was born in 1954 and became one of the last generation of gay Americans who grew up wondering if there were others out there like himself. He learned that there were and that he was not alone. Jones moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s where he and many others were drawn. It was a city that was politically progressive and was known for the sexual freedom that was there. Jones was able to almost immediately find a community and it existed in strange places— hotel rooms and apartments that were shared by other young adventurers and in the city’s bathhouses and gay bars like The Stud. The Castro was becoming a gay district and Harvey Milk who has come to San Francisco from New York opened a camera shop and began his term as America’s most outspoken gay elected official. It was with Milk’s encouragement that Cleve Jones dove into politics and found his place in the new gay rights movement. When Milk’s assassination in 1978, Jones took up where Milk left off and soon saw the AIDS epidemic devastate our community and he was transformed yet again. Now he tells us his story in his own words and he reminds us of what it was to lose so many to the terrible epidemic that became our holocaust. Jones almost died himself and more than once.

Cleve Jones was the co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation during the early and fearful years of the epidemic. He is responsible for the AIDS Memorial Quilt that became the largest community art project in history. Jones’s story is the story San Francisco in the 70s and how it became the destination of many. His story is also the story of thousands of young gay people and others misfits. He shares his personal relationships with friends and lovers during a time of “unprecedented freedom and possibility, and prejudice and violence alike”.

Jones is one of the heroes of our community and his memoir is a work of beauty as it looks at how America was transformed then. He is still working for the movement. The mini-series comes to us from Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, executive producer Gus Van Sant, and stars Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Carrie Preston, and Rachel Griffiths. With the book you can double your pleasure by reading about what you are going to see.

 

“Going to Strasbourg: An Oral History of Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights” By Paul Johnson— Oral Histories

going-to-strasbourg

Johnson, Paul. “Going to Strasbourg: An Oral History of Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights”, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Oral Histories

Amos Lassen

“Going to Strasbourg” brings us unique oral histories of European Convention on Human Rights and it presents a socio-legal analysis of cases against the United Kingdom relating to sexual orientation discrimination. We read of the account of legal and social changes during sixty years of British history. Since the beginning, the European Convention on Human Rights has offered hope to gay men and lesbians in Europe and we clearly see here how individuals in the United Kingdom have used the Convention, by way of making applications to its organs in Strasbourg in order to challenge sexual orientation discrimination.

Along with an analysis of Strasbourg case law we also get with nineteen unique oral histories of applicants, legal professionals, and campaigners. This is the definitive history of the role that ‘going to Strasbourg’ has played in erasing and eradicating discrimination and establishing legal equality on the grounds of sexual orientation in the United Kingdom.