Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Times Square Red, Times Square Blue” by Samuel Delaney— Remembering 42nd Street

times square red

Delany, Samuel R. “Times Square Red, Times Square Blue”, NYU Press, 2001.

Remembering 42nd Street

Amos Lassen

42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in New York City is one of the most famous streets in the world. It was once known for its sleezy peep shoes, corner hustlers and tacky movie houses. Today it is unrecognizable with its Disney store, children’s theater and restaurants. Today it is a family tourist attraction. Author Samuel R. Delaney looks at not just the disappearance of the old Times Square but also the disappearance of the complex social relationships that developed there: the points of contact between people of different classes and races in a public space. “Times Square Red, Times Square Blue” looks at the question of why public restrooms, peepshows, and tree-filled parks are necessary to a city’s physical and psychological landscape. Delaney argues that starting in 1985, New York City criminalized peep shows and sex movie houses to clear the way for the rebuilding of Times Square and his critique reveals how Times Square is being “renovated” behind the scrim of public safety while the stage is occupied by gentrification. This is a look at a society taking down the “institutions that promote communication between classes, and disguising its fears of cross-class contact as ‘family values’.” This will be replayed in cities across America.

Samuel Delany is regarded as one of America’s keenest observers. He was also a longtime habitué of many of the sex theaters in New York City’s Times Square, spending, by his own estimate, “thousands and thousands of hours” at the Capri, Variety Photoplays, the Eros, and the Venus. He reminds us that in the 1990s all of these theaters were shut down through new restrictive zoning laws that was part of a combined effort by the Walt Disney Corporation and the administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani to gentrify the area and replace the

memorable institutions with antiseptic, innocuous architectural and cultural creations in the name of health safety. However, Delany tells us that the decision to clean up Times Square had little to do with public health, and everything to do with corporate greed.

The book is comprised of two essays in which Delany grieves for the loss of this strip of sexual release. He is careful not to romanticize or sentimentalize the peep shows and porn theaters but he does illuminate the way in which these venues crossed class, racial, and sexual orientation lines, providing a delightfully subversive utopia–and a microcosm of New York life. In the first essay, “Times Square Blue,” Delany writes of his erotic and conversational encounters with working-class and homeless men in the theaters (which primarily showed straight porn films) and the genuine friendships that resulted. These provide a social history of late-20th-century Times Square. Drawing on historical and theoretical resources in the second essay, “Three, Two, One, Contact: Times Square Red,” Delany builds a passionate argument against the gentrification of the area and the classist, characterless direction in which he sees New York heading. The two essays taken together are heartfelt homage to a beloved city and lament for a quirky vitality that was phased out by encroaching capitalism.

This is Delaney’s personal history and it is complete with Delany’s sociological and anthropological observations of the men who live, work and socialize in the area. He further lauds the virtues of a society that not only tolerates but values a public sexual culture. Delany says that because urban areas like Times Square promote relationships across class boundaries, they are not a blight but foster an environment of safety, empathy and social coherence. His most dramatic argument is not about public morality, safety or health but he states that this simply serves corporate and private economic interests.

“Why Drag?” by Magnus Hastings— Answering the Question

why drag?

Hastings, Magnus. “Why Drag?’, Chronicle Books, 2016.

Answering The Question

Amos Lassen

There are several themes running through photographer Magnus Hastings’ new coffee table book. ”Why Drag?” is a comprehensive collection of photographs of the time he has spent taking pictures of drag queens. He has captured serene moments that include “the most prominent of which include the promise of endless possibility and the allure of creative expression to break the rules”. In the introduction by Boy George, he says that “drag is about the art of performance, the joy of entertaining and, perhaps most importantly, the transformative journey from self-exploration to self-confidence to, finally, self-acceptance”.

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Hastings set out to further expose the counterculture phenomenon that the late Divine made more visible from the 1960s to ’80s through prolific imagery. After having had a successful 2014 New York City exhibition of select drag queen portraits, he developed the idea of creating a book and for two years, he traveled all over to take the photographs that he includes here.

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“I wanted to open people’s eyes to what is a true art form and make them see things they didn’t expect from drag, and break preconceived ideas.” It’s interesting at a time when we are truly at “at a crossroads in our cultural identity where gender-fluidity and transgenderism” that is both is a hot and perplexing topic. The trans community is now being looked upon and Hastings says that it is hope “that his book will simplify and give people a clear understanding of what drag is. There are pages on Bianca Del Rio, Lady Bunny, Courtney Act, Adore Delano, Jinkx Monsoon, Detox and Sharon Needles among other queens who were photographed in NYC, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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Hastings says that he was a “child of drag,” who liked to put on his sister’s clothes and dance around his childhood home. However, he didn’t truly discover the drag world until much later, long after he himself had stopped dressing across gender lines.

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In 2003, while in Sydney, Australia, Hastings walked into the Arq nightclub and saw the drag queen Vanity Faire lip-syncing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” in a Dorothy outfit. The experience changed his life. “I started shooting drag because it’s my home and my world and it feels like my family,” Hastings said. 

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That performance connected Hastings to a part of himself that he’d abandoned due to social pressures as a child but that he still longed to explore. With Vanity’s guidance, Hastings began photographing the city’s vibrant drag scene and developing a polished, dynamic style of portraiture reflecting his subjects’ creativity and humor. As he traveled the world, he continued photographing local queens with a focus on those who best represented the art’s diversity and daring, from the bearded to the ultra-feminine. His images attracted a larger audience when he started posting his photos to his Facebook group, “Dragged Around the World,” and in 2014, a large exhibition at the Out NYC Hotel helped him gain the reputation as the globe’s leading drag photographer.

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In addition to his commissions and personal projects in the drag community, Hastings also has commercial assignments and shoots with non-drag celebrities. Even though photographing drag queens can sometimes be difficult, they’re still by far his favorite subjects. 

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Although Magnus is pleased to see drag being bought to the masses he worries that it becoming ‘softer’. With drag becoming more popular it may lose some of its charm. “The more mainstream it gets the more its sharp edges are removed . Drag is punk rock and pushes boundaries and I am watching it soften for a mainstream palette , or at least the edgier stuff is not showcased in the same way.”

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Magnus tells us that drag queens face prejudice from the LGBTQ community as well as from outside it. “There is non acceptance within the gay community too. There is still a notion that ‘camp’ gays are a lesser type thing in some circles with this terrible idea that if you can’t tell someone is gay then they are more valuable”.

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Magnus also feels that the increasing popularity of drag is enormously beneficial to younger members of the LGBTQ community who in the past have struggled for role models and more importantly, representatives.

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“PopDaddy: Boy Meets Boy Meets Baby” by Jeffrey Roach— Bringing Baby Home

pop daddy

Roach, Jeffrey. “PopDaddy: Boy Meets Boy Meets Baby”, PopDaddy Press, 2016.

Bringing Baby Home

Amos Lassen

“PopDaddy” is Jeffrey Roach’s memoir that shares the story of how he and his partner Ken began a family. It is set in the early 2000s when, at that time, single parent adoptions were the only way for a gay couple to adopt a baby from Guatemala and it all begins when the couple’s best friend announces she’s pregnant and announces that he also wants to have a child. Thus began an eighteen-month journey that takes the couple from Dallas to Guatemala and back, as they work to bring baby Jackson home to meet his big, extended family. They discover that being “out” takes on a new meaning when the duo becomes a trio and that the word family is broad enough to include them.

We read about the drama, joy and happiness of adoption in this love story between two people who share a wonderful life and decide to adopt a child.

The story is told from Jeffrey’s perspective and begins with the big announcement in January of 2001 and ends with their son’s first birthday party in October of 2002.

“Engaging the World: Thinking After Irigaray” edited by Mary C. Rawlinson— Returning to Luce Irigaray

engaging the world

Rawlinson, Mary C. (editor and author). “Engaging the World: Thinking After Irigaray”, (SUNY Series in Gender Theory), SUNY Press, 2016.

Returning to Luce Irigaray

Amos Lassen

It seems like a long time since I heard the name Luce Irigaray. I was reminded how much I feel under her spell when I was a graduate student. Irigaray is one of the early writers on sexual difference and we used her to arrive at conclusions from philosophical concepts and commitments. She taught me how to think in a way to and expose new possibilities of life in relationship to nature, others, and to self. The contributors in this collection present and represent a range of perspectives from multiple disciplines such as philosophy, literature, education, evolutionary theory, sound technology, science and technology, anthropology, and psychoanalysis. What they all share is that they place Irigaray in conversation with thinkers as diverse as Charles Darwin, Claude Levi-Strauss, Gilles Deleuze, Rene Decartes, and Avital Ronell. Each of the essays included here challenges Irigaray’s thought in some way and each essay also “reveals the transformative effects of her thought across multiple domains of contemporary life.”

“Pride & Joy: Taking the Streets of New York City” by Jurek Wajdowicz— Looking at Pride

pride and joy

Wajdowicz, Jurek. “Pride & Joy: Taking the Streets of New York City”, New Press, 2016.

Looking at Pride

Amos Lassen

It has been more than forty years have passed since the LGBTQ community took to the streets of New York City on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots for the world’s first march for gay rights. I doubt many today realize how ambitious this was at the time. From its modest beginnings, the annual event has grown into more than a million people celebrating gay pride in New York City Pride means many different things. For some, Pride has become too commercial or irrelevant as LGBT culture has become mainstream. To others, it is felt that the festivities should be less about the politics of the gay rights movement and more about a joyful celebration of what it means to be queer. Jurek Wajdowicz looks at New York City Pride from all angles and we see here just how far we have come.

 

“Intersecting Film, Music, and Queerness” by Jack Curtis Dubowsky— Meaning and Message

intersecting

Dubowsky, Jack Curtis. “Intersecting Film, Music, and Queerness”, Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.

Meaning and Message

Amos Lassen

In “Intersecting Film, Music, and Queerness”, author Jack Curtis Dubowsky uses musicology and queer theory to uncover meaning and message in canonical American cinema. His study looks at how queer readings are reinforced or nuanced through analysis of musical score. In taking a broad approach to queerness that questions heteronormative and homonormative patriarchal structures, binary relationships, gender assumptions and anxieties, Dubowsky challenges existing interpretations of what is progressive and what is retrogressive in cinema. The films that are examined here include “Bride of Frankenstein”, “Louisiana Story”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Blazing Saddles”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Brokeback Mountain”, “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Transamerica”, “Thelma & Louise”, “Go Fish” and “The Living End” and special attention is given to films that subvert or complicate genre. Music is analyzed with concern for composition, intertextual references, absolute musical structures, song lyrics, recording, arrangement, and performance issues. This is a multidisciplinary work based on groundbreaking research, analysis, and theory and it gives us new close readings and a model for future scholarship.  

All is written clearly and with exceptionally clean prose. We get a new fresh and exciting analysis of cinema and sound that offers f insight into the relationship between soundtracks and the sexuality and gender of the musicians who made them.

Table of contents

  • Introduction 

  • “Louisiana Story”

  • Musical Cachet
  • “Brokeback Mountain”

  • A Tale of Two Walters: Genre and Gender Outsiders

  • Mainstreaming and Rebelling

  • Queer Monster Good
  • “Blazing Saddles”  

Conclusion


“Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent” by Joseph Fischel— Looking at Consent

sex and harm in the age of consent

Fischel, Joseph J. “Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent”, University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

Looking at Consent

Amos Lassen

Joseph J. Fischel cautions us about the adoption of consent as our primary determinant of sexual freedom. He shows that consent is not necessarily always ethically sound and he argues that it is a moralized fiction.

Fischel contends that the figures of the sex offender and the child are consent’s alibi that it enables fictions that allow consent to do the work cut out for it. He proposes that we change our adjudicative terms from innocence, consent, and predation to vulnerability, sexual autonomy, and “preemption.” Preemption is the uncontrolled disqualification of possibility. In this we see that law and life would be less damaging for young people and more responsive to sexual violence, and better for sex.

“Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent” is a cross-disciplinary study of the limitations of consent to measure sexual freedom and sexual harm. This is a new and complex look at the legal and social definitions of “sexual predator” and it challenges what is commonly known about the “justifications for and consequences of regulating outlaw sexuality.”

“ Sex Needs and Queer Culture: From Liberation to the Post Gay” by David Alderson— Shifts

sex, needs and queer culture

Alderson, David. “ Sex Needs and Queer Culture: From Liberation to the Post Gay”, Zed Books, 2016.

Shifts

Amos Lassen

Many of the early members of the LGBT community was that capitalism’s investment in the norms of the heterosexual family meant that any challenge to them was invariably anti-capitalist. However, this has changed considerably and LGBT subcultures have become mainstream and commercialized. The initial radicalism of sexual liberation has given way to relatively conservative goals over marriage and adoption rights. Queer theory has critiqued this assimilation as if there has been some kind of betrayal. 

Here author David Alderson looks to account for why this happened and the shifts it has caused in both straight and LGBT society. He begins with a look at the works of Herbert Marcuse and cultural theorists such as Raymond Williams and Alan Sinfield asking whether capitalism is progressive for gay people and evaluates the distinctive radicalism of the counterculture as it has mutated into queer. Further, he distinguishes between avant-garde protest and subcultural development. The aim of this book is to provide new directions for thinking about sexuality and its relations to the broader project of human liberation.

“Masculinity at Work: Employment Discrimination through a Different Lens” by Ann C. McGinley— Looking Through the Lens of Masculinity

masculinity at woekMcGinley, Ann C. “Masculinity at Work: Employment Discrimination through a Different Lens”, NYU Press, 2016.

Looking Through the Lens of Masculinity

Amos Lassen

Ann McGinley analyzes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the lens of masculinities theory. She uses the case of Jonathan Martin and others to do so. If you remember, in 2013, Martin was a player for the Miami Dolphins who walked out his team and checked himself into a mental health institution. This implied that Martin could not take the professional pressure but within a few days, the entire story changed and news sources reported that Martin’s teammates had repeatedly bullied him and as a result, he suffered serious depression. The response to this was skeptical, and many felt that the harassment was just locker room talk that happens all of the time and that all players have to deal with occasionally.  What McGinley shows here is how harassment and discrimination can come about because of sex even if the gendered nature of the behavior remains unseen to onlookers.

What we learn from reading this book is that there is an invisibility of masculine structures and practices, how society constructs concepts of masculinity, and how men perform masculinity in different ways because of their identities and situational contexts.

Masculine theory can provide significant insights into the behaviors and motivations of employers, as well as workplace structures that can disadvantage both men and women who do not conform to gender stereotypes. This book is therefore a theoretical disposition and a practical guide for legal counsel and judges regarding the interpretation of sex and race discrimination cases. It explains how this theory can be used to interpret Title VII in new, liberating ways. It is important to understand that to reach conclusions, legal, gender, and social science analyses are necessary. McGinley presents new ways of looking at employment law from the gendered dimensions of that law. She describes the law at the same time developing ways that theories of masculinities can be used to make antidiscrimination law move toward its goal of ending and eliminating discrimination. Here is something of a plan that will take us see how the courts see masculinities by examining race and sex cases with male plaintiffs. These, in turn, will change the way academics and practitioners think about Title VII.

“After Marriage Equality: The Future of LGBT Rights” edited by Carlos A. Ball— Twelve Original Essays

after marriage equlaity

Ball, Carlos A. (Editor). “After Marriage Equality: The Future of LGBT Rights”, NYU Press, 2016.

Twelve Original Essays

Amos Lassen

With the persuasion of the United States Supreme Court that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, the LGBT rights movement has achieved its most important objective of the last few decades. As long as many of us can remember, the marriage equality movement has been criticized by those who believe marriage rights were a conservative cause overshadowing a host of more important issues. Now that we can marry anywhere in this nation, everyone who cares about LGBT rights must struggle with how the best ways to promote the interests of sexual and gender identity. minorities in a society that permits same-sex couples to marry. Here we have twelve original essays by leading scholars of law, politics, and society. These essays address the most important question facing the LGBT movement today: What does marriage equality mean for the future of LGBT rights?

There is no doubt that marriage equality impacts crucial and wide-ranging social, political, and legal issues confronting the LGBT movement, including the impact of marriage equality on political activism and mobilization, antidiscrimination laws, transgender rights, LGBT elders, parenting laws and policies, religious liberty, sexual autonomy, and gender and race differences. We also see how LGBT movements in other nations have responded to the recognition of same-sex marriages, and what we might emulate or adjust in our own advocacy. The essays are bound to cause discussion and further debate regarding the challenges and possibilities of the LGBT movement’s future and it is an important look at what is happening in this country for anyone who cares about sexual equality and its future. It is an important book for anyone who cares about the future of sexual equality.

While this is a book written for academics, activists and upper-class students (and carries a hefty price of $45), it is extremely readable and challenges us to consider what the LGBT movement goes from here. The contributors are long-time analysts of the LGBT movement and they provide a unique vantage point from where we can assess the future directions of the LGBT movement. The approach here is interdisciplinary making it all the more valuable.