Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“The Sea is Quiet Tonight: A Memoir” by Michael H. Ward— How It Was

the-sea-is-quiet-tonightWard, Michael H. “The Sea Is Quiet Tonight: A Memoir”, Querelle Press, 2016.

How It Was

Amos Lassen

The AIDS epidemic was an important event in LGBT history and it is quite difficult for those who lived through it to revisit that period. I was fortunate enough to have been living out of the country during that time so my knowledge of what went on here, in most cases, comes from what I have heard and read. I did come back to the States during the summer of 1989 for a visit and discovered that almost every gay person I had known before I left America in the 60s was gone. I, then, made it my personal odyssey to find out all I could about AIDS and as depressing it was to read and hear about, I felt it was my responsibility to do so. Lately, we have not had a great deal of literature written about AIDS and that could be because the memories are so painful. However, we need to remember so that those who died from this terrible disease have a place in history and remain in our hearts.

I recently received a lovely letter from a man named Michael Ward who had gotten my address from a friend whose books I reviewed. Ward told me that he had written a memoir about the early years of the AIDS epidemic; a time when so little was known and very few who were diagnosed survived. He asked me to review his book and, of course, I jumped at the chance (especially after the nice flattery he gave me in his note). I knew that reading and reviewing, “The Sea is Quiet Tonight” would be a cleansing experience for me as it has always bothered me that I lived through the epidemic while so many that I knew did not (I think many of us suffer with survivor’s guilt). What Michael did not know then is that both his publisher and his publicist are friends of men and the book in all probability would have eventually landed on my desk.

Because of my own experiences, I am seldom able to get through an AIDS memoir with dry eyes and that was certainly the case here. Of course, not everyone will be affected as I was.

Writer Ward writes in great detail about his then partner, Mark (Halberstadt), as he declined and died. This is not easy reading but it is important reading and as tragic as what we read here is, it is also a way of honoring those we lost to this terrible disease. It is also a look at the past before we had medication to help those carrying AIDS and even before we really knew what it was. Sometimes we forget that being diagnosed with AIDS was a death sentence. Sometimes we also forget that the AIDS epidemic was about people; people in relationships and what happens when one half of the relationship is dying or gone.

Now that I make my home in Boston, I find that I have a responsibility to myself to learn the history of the LGBT community here and the AIDS epidemic is certainly a part of that history. Ward takes us back and realistically tells us about how AIDS affected Boston and from a more personal point of view how he dealt with the loss of his partner. Mark Halberstadt and Michael Ward fell in love at the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1981. It is so important to note here that when the world was still learning about the disease, Michael and Mark were already dealing with it. They did not know much and they were afraid. AIDS broke their hearts and destroyed what they had together.

The early days of the disease were terrible, not only because there was so little knowledge of what was happening but also because there was nowhere to turn and find answers since there were only questions and no answers. For Michael Ward, this was a personal battle in which there were no weapons. AIDS was about so much more than life and death. An entire community was affected by the epidemic and while this book is about Michael Ward and Mark Halberstadt, it is also about all of us who lived through this period and whose lives have not only been affected but changed in many, many ways.

As I read “The Sea is Quiet Tonight”, I soon realized that the characters that are part of this story are people that I know. This brings in the personal side of the story and we know that AIDS not only affected our community but the relatives and families of members of our community.

Michael and Mark are our main characters but for me they also become symbols of that terrible time. We meet both Michael’s and Mark’s parents and we read how their lives were changed as well as how so many individuals found themselves coping during this time. I think, and this is my opinion, that many think they know the story of what went on when in reality they know only parts of the story. Michael Ward fills in what we need to know. Everyone who has lost someone to AIDS has a theory and while some of those might be similar and alike, the fact that the personal story is different in every case. It is easy forget that a relationship is based on compromise but do we understand what happens when one half of the relationship cannot be part of a compromise because he is dying? This is what we really see here. Ward shows us the true meaning of love and friendship. More important than that is we see what being an adult and human really means.

The book arrived today and I must tell you that I sat down immediately to read it, determined to finish it before the presidential debate began. What I am writing here is based upon my first reading and I feel certain that you can see how the book played on my emotions. Now I know that this might sound like a depressing read but it is human, witty and funny at times and it is beautiful all the way through. The mood of this country changed with AIDS and as people we have changed. Because of that, we have achieved the freedoms that we have. It has been a terrible price to pay and we have to thank Michael Ward for reminding us of how it was. I am going to post this review now but I feel certain that I will revisit it again and write even more. I really want to get the word out so that everyone can be looking for this when it is published on November 1.

One last comment—in the beautiful forward by Mitchell Katz, MD and director of the Department of Health Services, County of Los Angeles, California, he says in his first sentence what I have been trying to say this entire review. “Love and death. For a generation of gay men, love and death were inextricably intertwined. To love in the age of AIDS, was to mourn”.

 

“New Maricón Cinema: Outing Latin American Film” by Vinodh Venkatesh— Recent Queer Latin American Cinema

new-maricon-cinema
Venkatesh, Vinodh. “New Maricón Cinema: Outing Latin American Film”, University of Texas Press, 2016.

Recent Queer Latin American Cinema

Amos Lassen

Vinodh Venkatesh gives us an overview of the latest Latin American queer film. The most notable thing that we see here is that the trend is now to affective relationships between viewers and homo/trans/intersexed characters. Recent films that do so include“XXY”, “Contracorriente”, and “Plan B” (that are reviewed elsewhere on this site) and they create an affective and bodily connection with viewers that realize an emotive and empathic relationship with queer identities. Venkatesh considers these films as “Maricon Cinema” and says that they represent a distinct break from what once was and now deal with sex and gender difference through an ethically and visually disaffected position.

The book looks at feature films from Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, the United States, and Venezuela. This is the first book to “contextualize and analyze recent homo-/trans-/intersexed-themed cinema in Latin America within a broader historical and aesthetic genealogy”. Venkatesh uses theories of affect, circulation, and orientations, he examines key scenes in the work of auteur such as Marco Berger, Javier Fuentes-León, and Julia Solomonoff. We then see that these films show how their “use of an affective poetics situates and regenerates viewers in an ethically productive cinematic space”. He claims that New Maricón Cinema has encouraged the production of “gay friendly” commercial films for popular audiences, that reflect wider socio-cultural changes regarding gender difference and civil rights that are now occurring in Latin America.

 

 

“Catching Rainbows: An Account of the Lives of Ordinary Gay Men” by Michael DeQueen— Coming to Terms

chasing-rainbows

Dequeen, Michael. “Catching Rainbows: An Account of the Lives of Ordinary Gay Men”, ADS, 2016.

Coming to Terms

Amos Lassen

I just want to let you Know about a new Amazon single. In “Catching Rainbows”, Michael DeQueen tells the stories of various gay men from all sorts of backgrounds and how they grew up and came to terms with their sexuality. No matter where they are from, they are all trying to find happiness and solitude in life and want to be able to live honestly and truthfully.

“Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983” by Tim Lawence— The New York Party Scene

life-and-death-on-the-ny-dance-floor

Lawrence, Tim. “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983”, Duke University Press, 2016.

The New York Party Scene

Amos Lassen

During the 1980s, the party scene in New York was inventive and characterized by creativity and an intensity that had not been there before. Tim Lawrence’s “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor” is a chronicle of tumultuous time and shows us the sonic and social eruptions that took place in the party venues of that time as well as the way the party scene itself was responsible for new and movements in art, performance, video, and film. Using interviews with DJs, party hosts, producers, musicians, artists, and dancers, Lawrence explains how the relatively discrete post-disco, post-punk, and hip hop scenes” became marked by their level of plurality, interaction, and convergence and the shifting urban landscape of New York supported this. Gentrification, Reaganomics, corporate intrusion, and the spread of AIDS brought about the end of this new period.

It all happened fairly quickly yet is was a significant time in the history of American culture. Lawrence details the leading figures, trends, events, places, and music that made it all happen and gives a critical/analytical commentary on the social backdrop of the times, Here was the genesis of the emerging and eclectic music/dance styles, and the essence of this artistic renaissance. The book is filled with photographs, notes, and bibliography, set lists, discographies, and a filmography and we see that the 80s certainly changed this country. Lawrence’s research includes the journalism of the time as well as the fascinating interviews.

We sense Lawrence’s love of music and life that gives his book a personal touch and I found that reading this was like opening a time capsule of one of the most influential periods of New York City’s musical history. Below is the table of contents:

 

Preface  vii

 

Acknowledgments  xv

 

Introduction  1

 

Part I. 1980: The Recalibration of Disco

 

  1. You Can’t Just Play Punk Music!  11

 

  1. The Basement Den at Club 57  30

 

  1. Danceteria: Midtown Feels the Downtown Storm  48

 

  1. Subterranean Dance  60

 

  1. The Bronx-Brooklyn Approach  73

 

  1. The Sound Became More Real  92

 

  1. Major-Label Calculations  105

 

  1. The Saint Peter of Discos  111

 

  1. Lighting the Fuse  122

 

Part II. 1981: Accelerating Toward Pluralism

 

  1. Explosion of Clubs  135

 

  1. Artistic Maneuvers in the Dark  155

 

  1. Downton Configures Hip Hop  170

 

  1. The Sound of a Transcendent Future  184

 

  1. The New Urban Street Sound  199

 

  1. It Wasn’t Rock and Roll and It Wasn’t Disco  210

 

  1. Frozen in Time or Freed into Infinity  221

 

  1. It Felt Like the Whole City Was Listening  232

 

  1. Shrouded Abatements and Mysterious Deaths  239

 

Part III. 1982: Dance Culture Seizes the City

 

  1. All We Had Was the Club  245

 

  1. Inverted Pyramid  257

 

  1. Roxy Music  271

 

  1. The Garage: Everybody Was Listening to Everything  279

 

  1. The Planet Rock Groove  288

 

  1. Techno Funksters  304

 

  1. Taste Segues  314

 

  1. Stormy Weather  320

 

  1. Cusp of an Important Fusion  331

 

Part IV. 1983: The Genesis of Division

 

  1. Cristal for Everyone  343

 

  1. Dropping the Pretense and the Flashy Suits  369

 

  1. Straighten It Out with Larry Levan  381

 

  1. Stripped-Down and Scrambled Sounds  400

 

  1. We Became Part of This Energy  419

 

  1. Sex and Dying  430

 

  1. We Got the Hits, We Got the Future  438

 

  1. Behind the Groove  449

 

Epilogue. Life, Death, and the Hereafter  458

 

Notes  485

 

Selected Discography  515

 

Selected Filmography  529

 

Selected Bibliography  521

 

Index

“Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: Perspectives on Marital Possibilities” by Ronald C. Den— What Awaitas

beyond-same-sex-marriage

Otter, Ronald C. Den. “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: Perspectives on Marital Possibilities”, Lexington Books, 2016.

What Awaits

Amos Lassen

Now that the debate over same-sex marriage in the United States has ended, what awaits us in the future is uncertain. What marriage will be like in the future has moved from academia and if you remember, Supreme Court Justice Roberts said in his dissenting remarks in Obergefell that constitutionally-mandated legal recognition of same-sex marriage can possibly mean that the states may also have to recognize multi-person intimate relationships as well in order to avoid discriminating against plural marriage enthusiasts. Marriage could, and perhaps should, look very different than it does today. Instead of settling the question of whether states “ought to abolish marriage, make it more inclusive, contractual, or call it something else”, we see here that there are normative, legal, and empirical questions that Americans must address before “they can deliberate thoughtfully about whether to keep the marital status quo where monogamy remains privileged”.

In the essays contained in this book, we read opinions on marital reform that are written for ordinary Americans, their elected representatives, and judges, so that they can ultimately decide whether they want to continue to define marriage narrowly, make it inclusive to avoid discrimination, or have the state leave the marriage business. Included here are eight original essays that explain important but often-neglected areas of the marriage issue. We see why marriage equality should be considered the beginning and not the end of progressive thinking about the future of marriage. It is important reading for those who are interested in where we will next go regarding justice and policy in terms of marriage.

The tenets of liberalism— freedom, equality, and fairness, give a straightforward answer to the question of marriage equality for same-sex couples but following that is a slew of questions that could possibly arise. The essays here deal with the most difficult results of governing intimacy. Among other topics, we read about life in a modern Mormon family and we receive an analysis of liberal neutrality as well as an argument against legal recognition of plural marriage. “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” gives us an overview of many of the complex issues raised “by polygamy, plural marriage, polyamory, and the family forms to which these practices give rise.” The scholars included here are Sonu Bedi, Janet Bennion, Mark Goldfeder, Yosef Razin, Diane Klein, Andrew Lister, Ameneh Maghzi, Mark Gruchy, Kristin McCarty, Maura Strassberg and Olivia Newman. Elizabeth Sheff wrote the forward.

 

“Appealing for Justice: One Colorado Lawyer, Four Decades and the Landmark Gay Rights Case: Romer V. Evans” by Susan Berry Casey— A Place at the Table

appealing-for-justice

Casey, Susan Berry. “Appealing for Justice: One Colorado Lawyer, Four Decades and the Landmark Gay Rights Case: Romer V. Evans”, Gilpin Park Press, 2016.

A Place at the Table

Amos Lassen

 Jean Eberhart Dubofsky came of age when there was trouble everywhere and this trouble was propelled by grave injustice. “Appealing For Justice” tells the story of Dubofsky, a shy, unknown woman found her place at the table and led the way breaking down barriers and helping shape the direction of history. Throughout her story we see that injustice, discrimination, and inequality were just beneath the surface of the country. Yet Jean Dubofsky made history in 1979 when she was the first woman appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court and then made history again in 1996 at the U.S. Supreme Court when she argued and won the landmark gay rights case, Romer v. Evans. “Her journey from helping to shape and implement the strategy that led to the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, to bringing the first slavery lawsuit since the Civil War, and finally winning at the U.S. Supreme Court is not simply her story, it also is the a story of an entire generation”.

This is the story of one woman but her story was a pivotal one in a very important civil rights lawsuit and writer Susan Berry Casey shows that while this is a story about one woman but it is also the story of a generation and social justice. We see how change can happen when one is passionate and we clearly see how one person affects an entire movement. Below is the table of contents:

PART ONE:  

  1. Berlin  
  2. Stanford University
  3. From Betty Crocker to Capitol Hill  
  4. No Ladies Need Apply  
  5. The Tornado

PART TWO:  

  1. Washington D.C. 1968  
  2. Confronting Slavery  
  3. Heading West to Colorado  
  4. The Political Game  
  5. The First Woman Deputy Attorney General

PART THREE:

  1. The Witch Hunt  
  2. The First Woman Justice  
  3. Storm Clouds Inside the Court  
  4. The Accusation  
  5. Topeka. Again.  
  6. Professor Dubofsky

PART FOUR:  

  1. Equality or Hate?  
  2. A Stunning Election Defeat  
  3. The Battle for Gay Rights

PART FIVE:  

  1. Let The Trials Begin  
  2. A Risky Legal Gambit
  3. Appealing for Justice
  4. The Supreme Effort  
  5. Nine Justices  
  6. Waiting For History

 

“Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities” by Rogers Brubaker— Gender and Race as Forces for Change

trans

Brubaker Rogers. “Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities”, Princeton University Press. 2016.

Gender and Race as Forces for Change

Amos Lassen

The summer of 2015 brought us a couple of big changes. Olympian Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender and shortly afterwards, NAACP official and political activist Rachel Dolezal was “outed” by her parents as white thus causing a heated debate in the media about the fluidity of gender and race. We faced an interesting question. “If Jenner could legitimately identify as a woman, could Dolezal legitimately identify as black?”

Using the pairing of “transgender” and “transracial” as his starting point, Rogers Brubaker shows how gender and race which have long been understood as stable, inborn, and unambiguous, have opened up the forces of change and choice. Transgender identities have moved from the margins to the mainstream with almost unbelievable speed, and ethnoracial boundaries have become quite blurred. Paradoxically, sex has had a much deeper biological basis than race and choosing or changing one’s sex or gender has been more widely accepted than choosing or changing one’s race.

Few accepted Dolezal’s claim to be black, yet we now see that racial identities are becoming more fluid as ancestry (increasingly understood as mixed) and loses its authority over identity. As race and ethnicity, like gender have come to be understood not just as something we have but also as something we do. We have begun to rethink race and ethnicity by looking at the transgender experience that includes not just a movement from one category to another but positions between and beyond existing categories including “the malleability, contingency, and arbitrariness of racial categories”.

Gender and race are being reimagined and reconstructed and that is what “Trans” is about—it looks at new ways of thinking about identity.

Brubaker provides us with the wide-ranging exploration of tensions between givenness and chosenness in today’s identity discourse.

We are urged to think using the space that transgender reveals between culture and biology to understand how we experience race and ethnicity.

We now can rethink the politics surrounding those who choose racial and gender identities that go against the expectations of society. In asking important questions we see a new inquiry into why racial and ethnic categories are considered as more biological and less legitimately variable than sex and gender. Here is a very important and utile look at the directions that ‘transgenderism’ and ‘transracialism’.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

 

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 1

Part One: The Trans Moment

1 Transgender, Transracial? 15

“Transgender” and “Transracial” before the Dolezal Affair 17

The Field of Argument 21

“If Jenner, Then Dolezal”: The Argument from Similarity 22

Boundary Work: The Argument from Difference 31

2 Categories in Flux 40

Unsettled Identities 41

The Empire of Choice 50

The Policing of Identity Claims 56

The New Objectivism 64

Part Two: Thinking with Trans

3 The Trans of Migration 71

Unidirectional Transgender Trajectories 74

Reconsidering “Transracial” 80

Transracial Trajectories, Past and Present 82

4 The Trans of Between 92

Transgender Betweenness: Oscillation, Recombination, Gradation 94

Racial and Gender Betweenness 101

Recombinatory Racial Betweenness: Classification and Identification 104

Performing Betweenness 108

5 The Trans of Beyond 113

Beyond Gender? 114

Beyond Race? 122

Conclusion 131

Notes 153

Bibliography 183

Index 229

“Queerly Remembered: Rhetorics for Representing the GLBTQ Past” by Thomas R. Dunn– How Change is Advocated

queerly-remembered

Dunn, Thomas R. “Queerly Remembered: Rhetorics for Representing the GLBTQ Past”, (Studies in Rhetoric/Communication), University of South Carolina Press, 2016.

How Change is Advocated

Amos Lassen

“Queerly Remembered” looks at the ways in which gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) individuals and communities have turned to “public tellings of their ostensibly shared pasts in order to advocate for political, social, and cultural change in the present”. The LGBTQ community has learned that in communicating the past through the use of memory, is a very rich resource for looking at both the past and present opinions about the cause for equality. Thomas Dunn draws on the interdisciplinary fields of rhetorical studies, memory studies, gay and lesbian studies, and queer theory as he looks at the “ephemeral tactics and monumental strategies that GLBTQ communities have used to effect their queer persuasion”. He shows both

the challenges and opportunities that are posed by embracing historical representations of GLBTQ individuals and communities as a political strategy. The LGBTQ past has had to deal with the ravages of the AIDS epidemic, the attempts to silence the community and the often-divisive representational politics of fluid, intersectional identities. Our past has been filled with conflict even though today we have achieved rewards. By investigating rich rhetorical case studies through time and across diverse artifacts (including monuments, memorials, statues, media publications, gravestones, and textbooks), we see that the “turn toward memory” is a complex, enduring, and rich “rhetorical undertaking”. Dunn shows us that queer memory comes in many different rhetorical forms that recognize “queer monumentality” as a cultural value. We then see the promise and the problems of creating an affirming past that is politically salient.

 

“My Gay New Orleans: 28 Personal Reminisces on LGBT+ Life in New Orleans” by Frank Perez annd Jeffrey Palmquist— Not What I Expected

my-gay-new-orleans

Perez, Frank and Jeffrey Palmquist. “My Gay New Orleans: 28 Personal Reminisces on LGBT+ Life in New Orleans”, LL Publications, 2016.

Not What I Expected

Amos Lassen

Being from New Orleans and having come out there I anxiously waited to read this book. After all, I was a part of the gay community there and knew many people. However, this was such a disappointment in many ways and it really does not reflect on the wonderful culture that New Orleans offers to its gay community. I suppose I was angered by the fact that of the twenty eight personal recollections included several were written not by New Orleanians but my people who have visited the city and who could not have possibly understood what being gay there really entails. The blurb states, “So what is gay New Orleans and what does it look like? These are the questions this book seeks to answer”. These two questions were by and large only partially answered and while the book claims to be made up of “in effect, love letters to a city”, I did not sense that kind of love to be present here. I also question the statement that “it’s easy to be gay in New Orleans”. Today it might be easier but growing up gay in New Orleans was not easy by any means. New Orleans is a Roman Catholic city and the church has a great deal of say about what happens there. I remember all too well when the church banned films from being shown even when one of the films was by Tennessee Williams who claimed that he was often at home in New Orleans.

This could have been the book that so many of us waited for so long but unfortunately it needed a proofreader and an editor. I found myself to be more embarrassed by some of what it written here and this is not a book that will sell New Orleans to others despite a couple of excellent articles by established gay writers (i.e. Jameson Currier).

I found myself correcting comma splices and misspelled words as I read but I realized that I would not finish doing that so I gave it up. It always hurts me to write a less than favorable review and it hurts even more this time since the book is about my hometown. I really tried to like this book. Fourteen of the twenty-eight articles included are by people who do not live in New Orleans and there are very few women represented here. Keep that in mind when you are deciding to either buy or read this or both. The picture I received is totally uneven and it is not unique to a city that is known for its uniqueness.