Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Before I Do” by Elizabeth C. Schwartz— Considering Marriage

before I do

Schwartz, Elizabeth F. “Before I Do: A Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay and Otherwise”, The New Press, 2016.

Considering Marriage

Amos Lassen

I knew it would only be a matter of time until someone wrote a book like this and it is a welcome addition to our literature. Whenever someone considers marriage, looking at the pluses and minuses is a good thing to do. After all, marriage is a legal contract.

The dos and don’ts for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people include the laws that affect relationships. Elizabeth Schwartz explains these clearly and gets to the main point of each so that there us no problem understanding what one is getting into. Hey, we are still new at this and now that we can marry openly there are some things that we need to know. For one thing, we are now legal and we have to know what that means. There are many gay and lesbian couples who have been accustomed to living together as if they were married. Now they want to make that legal and have the benefits of marriage and they jump into it without really understanding what they are getting into.

Schwartz introduces us to the considerations that we need to be aware of before we commit to each other legally. She looks at the rights marriage provides and those that it does not. We also hear from some of the most prominent LGBT professionals as Schwartz explains all of the implications of marriage (name changes, getting a license, taxes, insurance, Social Security, and so much more. We have important chapters on estate planning, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, and finance organization to take care of and she reminds that just because he can marry does not mean that we should marry.

This is a book that we really never thought that we would ever need but we have learned just how important it is. The decision to marry is a very important one and we need to get the answers to the legal questions in order to know how to react to them. Schwartz manages to explain all that we need to know. She uses real cases from her own files to explain what we need to know.

“Spinning the Record” by Robert Hyers—- Connection, Fulfillment and Redemption

spinning the record

Hyers, Robert. “Spinning the Record”, Lethe Press, 2016.

Connection, Fulfillment and Redemption

Amos Lassen

Life is all about knowing who we are and being loved. So often, young gay people look for connection, fulfillment, and redemption and they do so inside gay clubs and raves as they try to understand just where they fit. Robert Hyers looks at these young LGBT people in his debut collection of young voices. What he finds is very real and he shares that human ability of being trapped and the need and desire to feel human and part of the larger world. Regardless of age and station in life, all of us are constantly emerging and as LGBT people we understand that coming-out is not just a one-time issue. Many of us come out several times a week. It is in this thought that this book becomes so important. It s beautifully written and it talks with care and responsibility.

“Transgender, Intersex and Biblical Interpretation” by Teresa J. Hornsby and Daryl Guest— A Call for ‘Trans Literacy’ within Biblical Scholarship

transgender,intersex and biblical interpretation

Hornsby, Teresa J and Daryn Guest. “Transgender, Intersex and Biblical Interpretation”, (Semeia Studies, SBL Press 2016.

A Call for “Trans-literacy: Within Biblical Scholarship

Amos Lassen

We certainly do not think about the Bible when we speak about trans people but after reading this, I am convinced that we should. One of the wonderful things about the Bible is that it has something to say about everything.

Writers Hornsby and Guest explain the terms for the various identities of trans people and how the Bible can be an affirmation of those who are considered sexually other by communities. This book offers readings of well known (Genesis 1; Revelation) and some that are not so well known (2 Samuel, Jeremiah 38). These narratives show that the Bible has been translated and interpreted with a bias that makes heterosexuality and a two sex, two gender system natural, and thus divinely ordained. We get examples that show gender was never a binary, and in the Bible gender and sex are always dynamic categories that do, and must, change with the times.

 We are provided with definitions of key terms, including transsexual, transgender, cissexism, heterosexism, intersex, and eunuch. This is a critique of how biblical texts are used in Christian positional statements on transsexuality and the book presents statistics concerning rates of violence against trans persons.

”More Sex, Drugs & Disco” by Mark Abramson— As It Was

more sex drugs and disco

Abramson, Mark. ”More Sex, Drugs & Disco”, Wilde City, 2016.

As It Was

Amos Lassen

Mark Abramson follows “Sex, Drugs & Disco,” with the second volume in his diary about life in San Francisco. Here we begin on January 1, 1980 with optimism for the new decade. In the 80s, San Francisco represented freedom for gay men from around the world, and he was there to write down the details of many of his tricks, love affairs as well as everything else that he can remember.

Many had no idea that these times were special or that the AIDS epidemic was going to devastate our community. The gay men of San Francisco lived a hedonistic life style and this is Mark Abramson’s personal look at the city as it tried to fight the rising death toll. Abramson’s diary entries are similar to those in his previous books. Abramson gives his own conclusions along with his feelings of fatigue and fear as the party that was once San Francisco became a funeral for many in his community.

We meet the characters from his life, learn about sexually transmitted diseases and businesses that could have been run so much better. This is quite a valuable document of the day-to-day life of a gay man at a time that it seemed that everything was on the verge of crashing.

“Free to be Me: Celebrating 21 Years of Freedom Youth” by Lori Streich and Rosa Fanti— An Anniversary

free to be me

Streich, Lori and Rosa Fanti. “Free to be Me: Celebrating 21 Years of Freedom Youth”, Tangent Books, 2016.

An Anniversary

Amos Lassen

The Heritage Lottery Fund generously agreed to fund an oral history project to tell Freedom Youth’s story in the words of the people who set it up and of those who have been or are its members, and who have worked for Freedom over the years. Lori Streich and Rosa Fanti interviewed twenty-five people and heard from many others via surveys and they all spoke about the difference that being a part of Freedom has made in their lives, and how it has supported and enabled young people to be out, and to feel comfortable with their sexuality and identity., Freedom has always been a place where young people can just enjoy themselves as themselves – whoever they are and whatever their identities. We are all well aware of identity as an important issue for young people, and for Freedom as a whole. Over its 21 years, the whole question of identity has changed and Freedom has changed with it. Initially, Freedom Youth defined itself as an LGB group (lesbian, gay and bisexual) but then by 2006, it was an LGBT group (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). In 2016, it is an LGBTQ+ group, widely inclusive and including those who are queer/questioning and others. This change is seen throughout “Free to Be Me”. The group has tried to use the right abbreviation (LGB, LGBT, LGBTQ+) in the appropriate time period as Freedom’s story is told here. While the abbreviations have changed, the purpose of Freedom has not. On every Tuesday for now twenty-one years, there have been and still are sessions in Bristol, England. Freedom is one of the oldest, and possibly the longest continuously running social and support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people in the UK.

“Gay Modernity: Essays on Gender and Culture” by John Jervis— Changes in Attitude

Jervis, John. “Gay Modernity: Essays on Gender and Culture”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Changes in Attitude

Amos Lassen

We live in changing times so it should come as no surprise that attitudes have also changed and that is the pith of John Jervis’ new book on gay modernity. I am quite sure that most of us never thought we would see the tremendous changes toward LGBT and societal changes that we are now experiencing.

Jervis looks at those changes toward and representations of gender and sexual identity in modernity. He argues that “artifice is an unavoidable consequence of modern culture and that identity politics and gender relations have become increasingly implicated in questions of style and desire”. He uses the word “gayness” as a key to open up a wide-ranging set of issues in our understanding of masculinity and femininity as well as to show their relationship to modern popular culture and the arts.

 

“Queen Called Bitch: Tales of a Teenage Bitter-Ass Homosexual”— Finding His Place

queen called bitch

Goode, Waldell. “Queen Called Bitch: Tales of a Teenage Bitter-Ass Homosexual”, Wilde City Books, 2016.

Finding His Place

Amos Lassen

One of the topics that is so notably missing in LGBT literature is being gay and black in America. I have really never understood why this is the case but there are very few fiction or nonfiction accounts of Afro American gay life when we compare it to what is available about other groups.

Here Waldell Goode writes about a loud-mouthed, black, gay teenager who struggles to find himself in rural America. After he realized that he would not be able to go to top-choice college, he sets out on a journey to understand his life and himself. He learns that as much as he can control his nonexistent love life, there are other factors that aren’t as easily to deal with. He, eventually, comes to terms with his peculiar relationship with his mother and faces the inevitable heartbreak that he is unable to avoid. The voice of God also has something important to teach him.

We cannot help but notice that the color of his skin is not nearly as serious as he thinks. It is really all about who he is and how he sees and deals with himself. This leads me to understand that life for black gays is really no different than it is for others and everything depends upon how a situation is faced. Goode is a new voice for me but I see that what he says has a lot to say about so many of us. I believe we will be hearing a great deal more from and about him.

Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Realities” by Lee Harrington— Answering Questions

traversing gender

Harrington, Lee. “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Realities”, Mystic Productions Press, 2016.

Answering Questions

Amos Lassen

Just in case you have not noticed, we live at a tile of gender identity and transgender awareness. There are questions and there are questions that no one dared to ask publicly until now. There are those who have never heard of transgender, transsexual, or gender variant people and they can feel lost or confused. There is information out there but it can be hard to find and in many cases it is biased, fragmented or both and can be hard to find. Today trans people are finally being heard and they are getting to talk to each other and the world is finally listening. Often the topics that trans people are intimate and how writer and trans advocate Lee Harrington makes some of these conversations available for everyone to understand. On a personal level, this book is very important to me as I have a trans nephew and before reading this, I really did not understand any of this except that trans people need equal rights like everyone else. Among the topics that Harrington covers are understanding the terms (“trans” and “transgender”), sex, gender and orientation, trans experiences, networking, emotional support systems for trans people, navigating health care. We also learn about what “transitioning” looks like, from a variety of different approaches, how legal systems deal with gender and trans issues, other challenges and becoming an ally.

It is necessary for us to understand all of these and this book helps with that in that is written for the man/woman on the street. Perhaps the biggest problem with the trans issue is knowledge about it and the fact that so many trans people have chosen to be basically invisible. Books like this will certainly help with that because acceptance and understanding go hand-in-hand.

Writer Lee Harrington has divided his book into four sections and then each of these are further broken down:

“Journeys” includes “Sex Gender and Orientation”, “Diversity of Transgender Journeys”, “Time Periods of Transition”. Under “Health” we get “Social Health”, “Medical Health”, “Sexual Health” and “Mental Health”. “World at Large” included “Transgender and the Law”, “Challenges and Communities” and “Being a Trans Ally”. Harrington concludes what we have here in a final chapter, “The Journey Ahead” and there is a glossary and a list of resources. This is a very complete and needed book that is sure to make the journey much easier for those who are involved in the gender process. As I see it and as Harrington so wonderfully explains is that he main issues are understanding and acceptance and his book certainly helps us with these.

“Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: a History, 1880-1945” by Clayton Whisnant— Gay Rights Activism in Germany

queer identities and politics in germany

Whisnant, Clayton. “Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: a History, 1880-1945”, Harrington Park Press, 2016.

Gay Rights Activism in Germany

Amos Lassen

There was an emergence of various “queer identities” (‘what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender”) in Germany from 1880 to 1945 as well political strategies pursued by early gay and lesbian activists. In his book Clayton Whisnant looks at English and German research of late to add to the ongoing argument as to whether science contributed to social progress or persecution during this period. He presents new information on the Nazis’ preoccupation with homosexuality.

What many do not know is that during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Germany, there were important developments in LGBT history. These included the world’s first homosexual organizations and the first gay and lesbian magazines. There was also an influential community of German sexologists and psychoanalysts. We get details about these from as we learn of the German gay social scene through the Nazi persecution during which many members of the LGBT communities were sent to the camps.

While Berlin was the center of German gay life there were several other cities that had vibrant gay communities and these included Munich, Hamburg, and Cologne. Gay men such as Thomas Mann, Klaus Mann, Stefan George, Wilhelm von Gloeden and others are introduced to us here and we are also taken into the lesbian world to read what so many others have not covered. The end of the book shows how Germany’s past connects with its gay life of today.

I cannot even begin to imagine how much research went into this book. It is reader friendly and both for the academic and lay reader. As I read I found interesting fact after interesting fact and I found myself still reading during the early morning hours when I usually sleep.

Queer German history has a great deal of relevance for American readers interested in LGBTQ issues. Some of what you will learn here includes:

  • The first writer to coin the term “homosexual” was a German-speaking Hungarian in 1869.
  • The first homosexual activists were German, in the 1890s.
  • The world’s first gay bar, one that catered entirely to–vs. one that was favored by or tolerated–homosexuals) opened in Berlin in 1880.
  • Berlin’s gay life became internationally renowned/infamous, by the mid-1920s supporting nearly 100 gay and 50 lesbian bars and nightclubs. Police harassment was a regular occurrence, however.
  • By the end of the decade, a national organization of underground gay social clubs in Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart had over 48,000 members.
  • The first periodicals addressed to gay men, lesbians, and transgender people were all German. Dozens of gay and lesbian magazines flourished, though furtively and under various names, from the 1890s to 1928, when the Law to Protect Youth against Trash and Smut shuttered all but a small handful.
  • The first Institute of Sex Research was opened in 1919 in Berlin. As well as being a research library and housing a large archive, the Institute also included medical, psychological, and ethnological divisions, and a marriage and sex counseling office.
  • A German scientist coined the term “transvestism,” paving the way for the distinction that we make between homosexual and transgender.
  • The first step toward something like rights for cross-dressers came when the Berlin police agreed to issue “transvestite passes.”
  • The first sex reassignment operation was done by a German doctor in 1920.
  • The pink triangle attached to the inmate uniforms of homosexual men in the Nazi concentration camps has been transformed since the 1970s into one of the internationally recognized symbols of LGBTQ politics.

“Cogent, well-researched and readable. Useful as a reader in a first year undergraduate course in the history of sexuality or alternatively as a reference work for a course on the Racial State or the Holocaust. This book is certainly also of interest to LGBTQ community groups and LGBTQ Resource Centers.” – Jennifer Evans, author of Queer Cities, Queer Culture: Europe Since 1945 (Continuum, 2013) with Matt Cook, Carlton University

“This is an outstanding survey book in all respects: intelligible to a wider readership while still pursuing an intellectual ambition, knowledgeable and precise, including stories and telling details while also offering interpretative food for thought and never losing the red thread. Different aspects and layers of queer history in Germany c. 1880-1945 are expertly covered, from Sexualwissenschaft to media scandals, from literary life to urban space. Recommended with enthusiasm.” – Moritz Föllmer, former reviews editor, German History, University of Amsterdam

“Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream” by Eileen Truax— Fighting to Be Legal

dreamers

Truax, Eileen. “Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream”, Beacon Press, 2015.

Fighting to Be Legal

Amos Lassen

Of the approximately twelve million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, as many as two million of them came here as children. They have grown up here, gone to elementary, middle, and high school but the country they call home does not and will not, in most states, offer financial aid for college and they’re unable to be legally employed. In 2001, US senator Dick Durbin introduced the DREAM Act to Congress, an initiative that would allow these young people to become legal residents if they met certain requirements. Today, some fifteen years later, this has not been passed and as a result the young people have begun organizing and using the slogan, “Undocumented, Unapologetic, and Unafraid”. These same young people have become they are the newest face of the human rights movement. Author Eileen Truax, in her new book “Dreamers” shares the stories of these men and women who are proof of a complex and sometimes hidden political reality that has us question what it truly means to be American.

Here are the stories of the undocumented young people who came to the United States as children, with their parents who came illegally. They really only remember living in the United States and identify as Americans and are culturally American. Because of their status they cannot get drivers’ licenses, they cannot work, they cannot get financial aid for college. Their circumstances vary, but they share a commitment to political activism and they all have faced the realization that while everyone else is planning their future they may not be able to go to college and can’t work legally.

What will happen to these people is dependent on two issues— the potential passage of the DREAM Act, and the desires of the local authorities. Some have already been deported. but many have turned to political activism, and seem to be having some degree of success. Now with politics as they are, the numerical significance of Latino votes means that politicians who favor hard-line, deportation-focused policies, are afraid of the bad press that can come with mass deportations. Therefore many immigration raids and forced “repatriations” happen in secret. Young activists understand that the more publicity they get, the more likely will be successful. The young men and women that we read about here in this book are using that threat of public embarrassment to work for legislative change. In fact, the book itself is political activism and author Truax is clearly a supporter of the DREAM Act. We cannot deny that these young people have made valuable contributions to the United States but their activism also causes limitations. The young people that we meet here are largely good students and want to pursue college. However, it must be clear that not every undocumented teenager is going to fit this profile, though they do face many of the same challenges. Truax deep feelings for her subject matter and the people she has followed lead to a show of emotions and prose that is sometimes overblown but that is the price to be paid.

Truax shows that many of these young people live with two identities that go against the accepted norm. She shares the experiences and struggles of a Dreamer, Jorge, who had to come out as undocumented and queer. 

Jorge lives in El Hormiguero, a community center in the San Fernando Valley in northern Los Angeles, where students, activists, and other members of the community hold meetings on various topics. It was a space where gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites, and transgender people could share their experiences and talk about what it’s like to live with not just one but two identities that go against the accepted norm. They shared their struggles to get ahead or just keep going, explaining it takes a lot of work that is often overwhelming.

Jorge was the special guest at this session. The meetings at El Hormiguero usually have ten to fifteen participants, sometimes more and at each one, someone is invited to share an experience in a particular area that he or she has had to deal with every day or perhaps just relate a success story. Jorge’s area of struggle was definitely coming to terms with his identity as an undocumented gay man.

He was born in El Cora, a ranching area in Mexico. His family was poor and made their living by farming. His father grew papayas, mangos, cocoa, and avocados to feed the family and to sell. As the children got older, they helped out with the crops but his parents had a far from perfect relationship and his own childhood showed signs of abuse and violence. Jorge is now twenty-eight-years-old yet he remembers his first confrontation with injustice. When he was six or seven, he already knew he was different by the way he played with the other children but at the time he didn’t understand exactly what it was. His parents also noticed it too but they never talked about it with him. One day Jorge was playing with a little girl, and he remembers very well that it was something that irritated his father when he came home from work and saw them. His father yanked Jorge by his shirt and violently yanked him up, then threw him onto the floor and told him that he did not want any faggots in his house.

“Ever since then, I knew I was different.”

For Jorge, his journey across the border was a good and happy experience. Since his uncle was documented and had a car, they had worked it out to cross over with him and an aunt was waiting for them. Thus began Jorge’s new life in Orange County, about forty miles south of Los Angeles. Jorge recalled it as a positive time. Although it marked the beginning of his life as an undocumented immigrant, it also put an end to his father’s physical and emotional abuse.

Jorge knew he was gay, but he could not say it openly. He wanted to tell my mom, but was afraid she would react the same way my father did. He remembers, “A woman on her own, an undocumented immigrant, who only went to school until the second grade, challenging the system, fighting machismo, and homophobia, and relying on her love for me as a mother said: This is my son, and I’m going to protect him. In that moment all the pain that my father caused started to melt away, little by little, and I started to enjoy being gay. I told some of my friends, even some teachers at school, and I began to feel supported and loved,” he said.

Though Jorge took an important step forward by accepting himself, there was another bitter pill left to swallow with his immigration status”. These are stories that we need to know and we are lucky to have them thanks to Eileen Truax.