Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague” by Joyce Brabner (Author) and Mark Zingarelli (illustrator)— Fighting AIDS

second avenue caper

Brabner, Joyce (author) and Mark Zingarelli (illustrator). “Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague”, Hill & Wang, 2014.

Fighting AIDS

Amos Lassen

Joyce Brabner gives us the true story of a tight-knit group of artists and activists living in New York City in the early 1980s who found themselves on the front lines in the fight against AIDS. They were struggling to understand the disease and how they could help so they made a deal with a bona fide goodfella, dressed in wonderful disguises, piled into an “A-Team” van, and set off for the border. They were determined to save their bedridden friends by smuggling an experimental drug into the United States from Mexico.

Their community was in crisis and the world looked away. So what were they to do? Here an impassioned gang of misfits never gave up hope as they searched for ways to raise awareness and beat the plague. This book is a heartfelt tribute to the generation that faced down AIDS.

“Second Avenue Caper” is set in Manhattan in the darkest early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Brabner’s vivid script tells the story of a band of friends – her friends – who plotted to smuggle illegal drugs from Mexico to help beloved comrades desperately ill and abandoned by the medical establishment. Ray, a male nurse and drag-show producer tells the story; his Jewish partner, Benny, becomes a collaborator. Much like what really happened, characters disappear and Brabner tells the story with no sentimentality and this makes it all the more powerful.

In addition to being a story about AIDS this is the story of the Lower East Side, where the book is set and is now a totally different place. At the time, it was full of people from Communist-led countries. Now it seems like all the buildings have been emptied out and put on hold for retail development and the spirit of neighborhood that was once there is gone.

The book captures the time and the pathos, the tragedy and the sweetness as well as the mania at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in New York City. This is a graphic novel that is also graphic in what it has to say. We are seeing more and more books coming out that are about the AIDS epidemic and this in one that pulls us in immediately.

Joyce Brabner and Mark Zingarelli document a recent moment in history that already seems so far away but it is important that we never forget what happened. The story is powerful, the artwork is wonderful and what happened with AIDS is anemblematic tale of our times and it is classically heroic and moving at the same time.

 We can never allow ourselves to forget that “At that liminal moment when it became clear that a pattern of infection threatened to become a deadly epidemic, heroes emerged from the ranks of the ordinary. They were motivated by the desire to help friends survive this pitiless disease, or, in many cases, to make sure they died loved and cared for.”

We meet some of those people right here and their stories are poignant and brilliantly told to us. Joyce Brabner  gives us a wonderfully crafted tale that is powerful in its depiction of the strength of the human spirit in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Mark Zingarelli’s artwork is spectacular with a brilliant cinematic quality to it.

“Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town” by Esther Newton— America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town

cherry grove, fire island

Newton, Esther. “Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town”, Duke U Press reprint, 2014.

America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town

Amos Lassen

Author Esther Newton discusses the importance of camp, gay theater and the intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality in America’s first gay and lesbian town. Newton is a lesbian and an anthropologist who spent five summers in Cherry Grove. She gives us a researched cultural history of the place, a LGBT summer retreat for many in New York state. She says that this is where gays “achieved American ideals of independence and citizenship.”

Newton’s work is based on interviews with 46 residents of Cherry Grove (some of whom have now left and moved on) and it is through what they say that we get the story of the development of Cherry Grove from a few isolated cabins to the thriving community it has become. There was a time that the place had Mafia-run discos and occasional police raids. Now the island’s theater, drag balls, athletic and campy events entertain residents and visiting celebrities alike. However the gay liberation movement during the ’70s and ’80s brought about friction among owners, landlords and businesses and it was then that there was influx of lesbian couples and lots of day-trippers, many of them who were black or Hispanic. We all are aware of how gay culture has changed since the ’80s yet the Grove remains a place where gays and lesbians still go “to be part of something unique.” We see here why that is so.

Cherry Grove is the oldest continuously inhabited resort on Fire Island and we see that the reason that it became a place gays were drawn to as well as “a ghetto into which they were pushed by the hatred and intolerance of straight society” beginning in the early 1930s. It is home to an affluent community, a “grand, fun, party” place even while punctuated by conflicts between renters and owners, gays and straights, and tourists and residents as well as those drawn along lines of class, gender, and race. We see the gay experience in Cherry Grove against the broader context of the history of 20th-century American lesbian and gay life.

 The book is a compilation of stories from over forty members of the Grove community and it reads like a novel when in effect it is an anthropological ethnography, leaving the reader wanting to turn page after page. We certainly feel author Newton’s passion for the Grove is. She balances the struggle and the beauty that went into creating Americans first gay and lesbian town off the coast of New York. Contemporary youth may take for granted the strides the generation before made in regards to gay rights, but “Cherry Grove” reminds its readers of the hardships homosexuals endured in the face of homophobia. Not only were Grovers (as Newton calls them) facing constant harassment from the mainland, but also within Cherry Grove they were faced with sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, day-trippers and the AIDS epidemic.

“For Grovers, the very existence of Cherry Grove was proof that, however badly gays have been mistreated, the American promise of freedom for all had some substance (page 284).”

“School’s Out: Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom” by Catherine Connell— Who They Are and What’s Expected of Them


Connell, Catherine. “School’s Out: Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom”, University of California Press, 2014.

Who They Are and What’s Expected of Them

Amos Lassen

Author Catherine Connell uses interviews and other ethnographic materials from Texas and California to look at how gay and lesbian teachers negotiate their professional and sexual identities at work; especially since there identities are constructed as mutually exclusive, even as mutually opposed. “School’s Out” explores how teachers struggle to create a classroom persona that balances who they are and what’s expected of them in a climate of pervasive homophobia. This is an examination of the tension between the rhetoric of gay pride and the professional ethic of discretion that insightfully connects and considers complicating factors, from local law and politics to gender privilege. We also see how racialized discourses of homophobia hinder and/or stop challenges to sexual injustices in schools. The book is necessary and essential reading for specialists and students of queer studies, gender studies, and educational politics.

What we see here is the lie that the closet is no longer relevant in American culture. Because they have often been seen as guardians of morality, teachers—particularly those who transgress gender norms—must carefully negotiate their private and professional identities. The book documents the difficulties they face in reconciling gay pride and professionalism.

We see how under the guise of ‘professionalism’—gay and lesbian teachers are subject to homophobically motivated discipline and dismissal. Connell issues a wake-up call, encouraging us to think about how we might change schools in order to make them safer educational environments for students and teachers alike.”

We see revealed the challenges and opportunities faced by lesbian and gay teachers. Important questions for educators, policy makers, scholars, and activists about what a gay- or queer-friendly school means and which strategies are truly transformative are raised here.

Below is a look at the Table of Contents:

List of Tables


  1. Pride and Professionalism: The Dilemmas of Gay and Lesbian Teachers
  2. “Like a Fox Guarding the Henhouse”: The History of LGBTs in the Teaching Profession
  3. Splitters, Knitters, and Quitters: Pathways to Identity Making
  4. Dangerous Disclosures: The Legal, Cultural, and Embodied Considerations of Coming Out
  5. “A Bizarre or Flamboyant Character”: Homonormativity in the Classroom
  6. Racialized Discourses of Homophobia: Using Race to Predict and Discredit Discrimination
  7. From Gay-Friendly to Queer-Friendly: New Possibilities for Schools

Appendix A: Methodology

Appendix B: Interview Schedule for Teachers




“Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond” edited by Mikko Tuhkanen— The Importance of Bersani

queer theory and beyond

Tuhkanen, Mikko (editor). “Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond”, SUNY Press, 2014.

The Importance of Bersani

Amos Lassen

Leo Bersani has been one of the major voices in literary criticism and theory for more than fifty years. He has challenged scholars in the fields of cultural studies, queer theory, psychoanalysis, and film and visual studies. This is the first book-length collection of writings about him and in the introduction we get a look at Bersani’s place in queer thought as well as a look at his complicated relationships with the fields of queer theory and psychoanalysis. Essays by scholars in the various fields show us how rich his work has been and we even the transcription of a new interview with him.

Bersani writes beautifully and he is provocative. The essays in the book give us important and unsettling insights into one of our thinkers who knows no fear. Below is the Table of Contents:




Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond, Mikko Tuhkanen

 Part I: Queer


  1. Bersani on Location, Heather Love


  1. Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption,  David Kurnick


  1. Queer Betrayals,  Jack Halbstam


Part II: Psychoanalytic


  1. Cinema a tergo: Shooting in Elephant, Ellis Hanson


  1. Reading Freud: Bersani and Lacan, James Penney


  1. Addressing Oneself: Bersani and the Form/Fold of Self-Relation,  Patrick French


  1. Monadological Psychoanalysis: Bersani, Laplanche, Beckett,  Mikko Tuhkanen


Part III: Aesthetic


  1. Is the Rectangle a Grave?, Michael D. Snediker


  1. Proust, Shattering: Aesthetic Subjects and Metonymies of Desire
  2. L. McCallum


  1. A Future for Henry James, David McWhirter


  1. Extreme Style: Firbank, Faulkner, and Perspectives on Modern Traditions,  Kevin Ohi


Part IV: Interview


  1. Rigorously Speculating: An Interview with Leo Bersani, Mikko Tuhkanen



“James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination” by Matt Brim— Looking at the Queer Baldwin

james bladwin

Brim, Matt. “James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination”; University of Michigan Press, 2014.

Looking at the Queer Baldwin

Amos Lassen

The single most important and central figure in black gay literary history is James Baldwin and he has become a familiar touchstone for queer scholarship in the academy. Matt Brim in this new study, examines both the contributions of queer theory and black queer studies to critically engage with and complicate the project of queering Baldwin and his work. Brim maintains that Baldwin “animates and, in contrast, disrupts both the black gay literary tradition and the queer theoretical enterprise that have claimed him.” Even when Baldwin’s fiction brilliantly succeeds in imagining queer intersections of race and sexuality, at the same time it shows striking queer failures, whether exploiting gay love or dealing with black lesbian desire. Brim therefore sees that Baldwin’s work “is deeply marked by ruptures of the “unqueer” into transcendent queer thought—and that readers must sustain rather than override this paradoxical dynamic within acts of queer imagination.”

Brim puts Baldwin at the center of his generation and in doing so upsets Baldwin’s place in both literary history and queer studies in very disturbing ways. ” He is a significant mid-twentieth century author who occupies a unique place in both of the literary traditions.

“Porn Archives” edited by Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky and David Squires— The Archive as Preserving a Distinct Genre

porn archives

Dean, Tim, Steven Ruszczycky and David Squires (editors). “Porn Archives”, Duke University Press Books, 2014.

The Archive as Preserving a Distinct Genre

Amos Lassen

Pornography is nothing new—sexually explicit writing and art have been around for millennia, pornography but looking at it as an aesthetic, moral, and juridical category is a modern invention. The contributors to “Porn Archives” look at how the production and proliferation of pornography has been alongside of “the emergence of the archive as a conceptual and physical site for preserving, cataloguing, and transmitting documents and artifacts. By segregating and regulating access to sexually explicit material, archives have helped constitute pornography as a distinct genre. As a result, porn has become a site for the production of knowledge, as well as the production of pleasure.”

 The essays in this collection deal with the historically and culturally varied interactions between porn and the archive. Topics range from library policies governing access to sexually explicit material to the growing digital archive of “war porn,” or eroticized combat imagery; and from same-sex amputee porn to gay black comic book superhero porn. Taken as a whole, “the pieces trace pornography as it crosses borders, transforms technologies, consolidates sexual identities, and challenges notions of what counts as legitimate forms of knowledge.” The collection concludes with a valuable resource for scholars: a list of pornography archives held by institutions around the world.

 Here is a list of contributors to the book: Jennifer Burns Bright, Eugenie Brinkema, Joseph Bristow, Robert Caserio, Ronan Crowley, Tim Dean, Robert Dewhurst, Lisa Downing, Frances Ferguson, Loren Glass, Harri Kahla, Marcia Klotz, Prabha Manuratne, Mireille Miller-Young, Nguyen Tan Hoang, John Paul Ricco, Steven Ruszczycky, Melissa Schindler, Darieck Scott, Caitlin Shanley, Ramon Soto-Crespo, David Squires, Linda Williams.

With its publication, this book will be the place to go for research on porn. It is important to emphasize that is a scholarly study and it has been written for important study and research. “It is an important book, notable for its compelling argument, stellar roster of contributors, intellectual heft, and broad theoretical scope. It is the most exacting and exciting statement about porn studies to date.”

Many see porn is private, ephemeral, and stigmatized, yet the archive makes permanent and publicly accessible officially approved records. But, as the contributors to this volume persuasively demonstrate, pornography, since the discovery of Pompeii, is archival. It has been sequestered and preserved and considered to be ‘archival dirt.’ After reading this, porn will never be looked at in the same way. “The many brilliant essays collected here, written by distinguished scholars from many disciplines that film, literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, law will quickly be recognized as constituting an indispensable text in cultural history and theory.”

“In Solidarity: Friendship, Family, and Activism Beyond Gay and Straight” by Lisa Tillman— Being an Ally

in solidarity

Tillman, Lisa. “In Solidarity: Friendship, Family, and Activism Beyond Gay and Straight”, Routledge ,2015 .

Being an Ally

Amos Lassen

“In Solidarity: Friendship, Family, and Activism Beyond Gay and Straight” we see what being an ally in this case to LGBTQ+ persons and communities requires, means, and does. This is shown to us in various ways— through prose, poetry, performance text, and film. As we read we are taken inside relationships across sexual orientation and see activist scholarship. The book makes a unique and compelling contribution to courses on LGBTQ+ studies, sexualities, gender, identity, relationships, or the family.

The book in, in fact, a call to be an ally in the struggle that the LGBT community faces with regard to racial, class, national, religious, “ableist”, gender and queer equality. It is a valuable resource for teachers, students, and activists in Communication, LGBTQ+ , Gender, and Women’s Studies, Cultural Studies and embodies the personal, relational, and political commitment to social justice that it seeks to inspire in us all.

We get explanations of qualitative methods such as autoethnography, interviewing, and participant observation. We are provided with compelling examples of each as well as cutting edge looks at poetry, friendship as method, and collaborative and activist scholarship. Qualitative research comes alive as we are taken into the author’s life and scholarship.

Tillmann’s focus is on the personal, familial, and cultural injustices that many LGBQ persons encounter in everyday life. Tillmann invites readers into the lives of actual families, friends, and romantic partners living the personal and political challenges of relationships spanning sexual orientations. She serves “a narrator, poet, character and fellow traveler, a vulnerable target of others’ responses, a partner, friend, diligent questioner, and always a reflective guide”. We see what it means to be a compassionate researcher and a cultural critic, and to maintain a solid and unwavering commitment to the struggle for social justice for LGBT people.

Below is a copy of the table of contents:

Part I: Going Home: Gay Men’s Identities, Families, and Communities

1: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Coming Out in an Alcoholic Family

2: Father’s Blessing: Ethnographic Drama, Poetry, and Prose

3: Passings

4: Revisiting Don/ovan

Part II: Loving Friends, Just Friends: Emotions, Ethics, and Politics of Ally-LGBTQ+ Relationships

5: Remembering a Cool September: Pain, Prejudice, and Patriotism

6: State of Unions: Politics and Poetics of Performance

7: Deadline: Ethics and the Ethnographic Divorce

8: Build a Bridge Out of Her

9: Wedding Album: An Anti-Heterosexist Performance Text

10: In Solidarity: Collaborations in LGBTQ+ Activism, co-authored with Kathryn L. Norsworthy

“As Kinky as You Wanna Be: Your Guide to Safe, Sane and Smart BDSM” by Shanna Germain— Kinky and Fun

as kinky as you wanna be

Germain, Shanna. “As Kinky as You Wanna Be: Your Guide to Safe, Sane and Smart BDSM”, Cleis Press, 2014.

Kinky and Fun

Amos Lassen

In “As Kinky as You Wanna Be” Shanna Germain does not teach us how to tie up our lovers. What she does is teach us how to become kinky and at the same time to enjoy safe and sane sexual experiences (that we have all thought about but usually never try). She gives us a quick tour of the various sexual activities that comprise BDSM and as we read we learn how to be kinky in the bedroom. We learn of tips and techniques about BDSM as we read.

The book contains interviews with experts in BDSM and there are stories throughout from writers of erotica. Unlike other self-help books this is more of a guide of safe and sane activities. We learn how to “discover new pleasures, talk about kink with our partner, and/or doctor, stay physically and mentally safe, handle the rough terrain of fears and concerns, and put kinky dreams into practice”.  Having the book is akin to having a mentor who is both a confidant and an expert.

One of the ways that makes this book so interesting and fun to read is the way that are stories are used to illustrate activities. The topics of bondage, submission, dominance, pain and pleasure are just a bit of what you will find here and it is really all you need to get started on new sexual adventures.

“Grace and Demion: A Fable for Victims of Biblical Intolerance” by Mel White— God Loves Us

grace and demon

White, Mel. “Grace and Demion: A Fable for Victims of Biblical Intolerance”, Lethe Press, 2014.

God Loves Us

Amos Lassen

So many of my Christian friends have told me horror stories about how they were raised in semi-religious homes by folks who misused the concepts of heaven and hell to scare them into believing that God will only love them if they are straight. Ideas like this get my blood pressure going because I came from a religious home (Jewish) where I was accepted and my parents never tried to scare me with religion.

In this book author Mel White is equally determined to use heaven and hell with the characters Grace and Demion to show the world that God loves people exactly as they are. He gives us a modern parable that reinforces love and self-esteem.

White is a LGBT activist, a theologian and his own story is amazing. He is a brave man to tackle an idea like this but he, like so many others, want to make sure that we are safe. It is hard to read this book without weeping but it indeed does give us a connection to God, a God who loves us all. Mel White brings welcome news to many wounded Christians.

Author Toby Johnson tells us “Gay people are not given myths through traditional culture with which we can explain our experience to ourselves. We have to create our own myths. Stories like Mel White’s Grace and Demion (which I had the blessed opportunity to assist with editing) is a delightful and wise example of how to rearrange the old stories in order to create deeply meaningful, satisfying and revelatory personal myths.”

This is a book that touches the heart in a wonderful way and to those that are struggling with this, it gives a sense of hope. “Every mother, father and gay person would be thoroughly blessed by reading this. It is worth it at any price and should be in every home”.

White gives us an important message via fable to both those who have been harmed by spiritual violence and those who may have been responsible for doing so.


A Personal Note: Some of you have remarked that I have not been reviewing books from Lethe Press and that is true, I have not. The reason is simple. I asked the owner of the press just to let me know that he had received copies of my reviews and I asked several times. When I was ignored, I sent him a letter saying that if that was the case, I would no longer be reviewing books by Lethe. His response was curt and short with them telling me that I wanted was to be thanked. At that point he unfriended me on Facebook and I did not hear from him again. Lethe was one of the first presses that I worked with when I began reviewing and I actually thought that the owner was a friend. I backed in many arguments that he was involved in and I reviewed almost every book in Lethe’s catalog. I have never once asked to be thanked—I do what I do out of love for our literature. I will not be maligned and I will not stay quiet. It has already been two years and I have friends who write for Lethe and I will not deprive them of my writing a review of their work.

“I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing” by Julia Mendenhall— A Videotaped Confession

ive heard the mermaids

Mendenhall, Julia. “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing”, (A Queer Film Classic), Arsenal Pulp, 2014.

A Videotaped Confession

Amos Lassen

Patricia Rozema’s “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing” became an instant LGBT classic film. It had its premiere at Cannes and won its Prix de la jeunesse. It was presented as a “videotaped confession that tells the story of Polly Vandersma, an unpretentious and introverted young woman who takes photographs as a hobby and works as a personal assistant to an elegant and sophisticated, but unsatisfied, art gallery director, Gabrielle St. Peres, whom she worships and adores. Author Julia Mendenhall presents a new close textual analysis of Mermaids that places this complex yet teachable film unquestionably within the global queer film canon while uncovering many of its complexities. The film has appeared on the Maclean’s “Top 10 Films of the 20th Century” and Toronto International Film Festival’s Best 10 Canadian Films of All Time.

Julia Mendenhall, a longtime fan of the film, places it in the context of the director’s life experiences and her filmic oeuvre, the production and reception history of the film within the mid to late 1980s and the 1990s era of “outing,” and the development of queer theory.

QUEER FILM CLASSICS is a critically acclaimed book series that launched in 2009, edited by Thomas Waugh and Matthew Hays, covering some of the most important and influential films about and/or by LBTQ people made between 1950 and 2005, and written by leading LGBTQ film scholars and critics.