Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York” by Donald Albrecht

gay gotham

Albrecht, Donald. “Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York”, Rizzoli, October, 2016.

A Must Have

Amos Lassen

Quite recently there was an article in the Sunday New York Times stating that that the Museum of the City of New York is mounting an exhibit entitled “Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York.” Museum director Whitney W. Donhauser announced that it will open in the fall and it “celebrates the creativity and the richness of the L.G.B.T. community.” A few days after the article appeared I received a notice from Pat Sommers, the publicity executive director of Rizzoli Press that they were issuing an accompanying book which is due out in October (now September). I had the chance to look at the plates included and let me tell you that this is a book that belongs in every gay man’s library. It is absolutely stunning and an important piece of our history. I will include samples of what will appear in various places in this review but I can tell you that each page of the book is a special treat. The exhibit uncovers the lost history of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender artists in New York City. I am not allowed to say much more until the book’s release but keep your eyes open for it.

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New York has always been a destination for queer searching for freedom and creating close-knit groups for support and inspiration. “Gay Gotham” shows us the countercultural artistic communities that have sprung up over the last hundred years and we immediately see a creative class with radical ideas that would determine much of modern culture. “Gay Gotham” contains more than 200 images (including works of art, paintings and photographs, letters, snapshots, and ephemera) that show us the bonds that were created and the scandals that existed that the straight public did not know about. We start in the 1910s and 1920s with Greenwich Village and Harlem brought all kinds of people to the city. The artistic freedom was so popular that it could not be denied, especially to men from Idaho and women from Arkansas, places where was no visible gay community (I understand that Arkansas has had one for about a year now).

 

Broadway as well as Fire Island became not only havens for gay people but also hotbeds of unrest as if preparing for what Stonewall came to symbolize. Post-Stonewall was like a ten-year long party at which the gay clubs became watering holes for those enjoying the times. Sex was everywhere as were gay people. The Mineshaft and Studio 54 were places to be at and to be seen at. And then came AIDS and our lives changed. Activists were mobilized and gay man and women fought for acceptance tearing down closet doors as they did so.

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Here is our history on unprecedented display at The Museum of the City of New York. It is a very timely exhibit that looks at the gay underground that explores how gay creativity was not only an outlet but also a refuge for LGBT people. Whitney W. Donhauser, the museum’s director, says that after the horror we felt as we lost forty-nine people in Orlando, Florida, the show is so important as it shows that the LGBT community is about creativity and that there is a richness to our community that is often overlooked.

The show is based on the lives of ten major artistic LGBT people and their networks of associates and friends. We know their names and many of us are familiar with their works but we do not always see them in an LGBT context. These ten are the composer Leonard Bernstein; the photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and George Platt Lynes; the visual artists Andy Warhol, Richard Bruce Nugent, Harmony Hammond and Greer Lankton; the playwright, poet and novelist Mercedes de Acosta; the impresario Lincoln Kirstein; and the dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones. Do not misunderstand, these ten stand at the center of groups that have emanated from them and so, of course, we see more than just ten.

Alvin Ailey.

The formation of groups within the LGBT subculture began relatively early when those who were marginalized came together and formed communities of people with common interests. It was these small groups that enhanced their private lives and created a sense of belonging long before other LGBT organizations came into being. These groups also helped to advance professional. We see that oppression and marginalization nurtured creativity.

The exhibit and the book bring to life the LGBT creative networks that existed in New York City during the 20th century and within these we find a surprising and lasting effects on the mainstream. Much of what went on did so in the shadows and now we can see a hidden history that most were not privy too. The exhibit will be contained in two full galleries

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that feature the work of these artists. It is possible to find a bit of scandal and a few secrets that even today, few are aware of. What has fascinated me the most by reading the book are the overlapping layers of culture and the surprising relationships that emerge.

Let’s just look at Leonard Bernstein as an example. Both on display and in the book are the original designs for “West Side Story,” and we learn that the reason it is included is because the creators were all gay: Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), Arthur Laurents (libretto), Jerome Robbins (choreography), Oliver Smith (scenery) and Irene Sharaff (costumes). In the Bernstein display is also a copy of his “Romeo and Juliet” as the basis for the musical “in which he writes a plea for racial tolerance. At the time, Mr. Bernstein had yet to come out”. We can only wonder if this was “not a plea for tolerance of other types of relationships.”

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If you are familiar with the publications by Rizzoli, you know that you can expect the highest quality available. The book is absolutely gorgeous. It is organized chronologically and stops before the newest federal laws permitting same-sex marriage went into effect. We realize just how important that is after having just read about the eighty years that preceded that historic move.

“Queer Jewish Notions” by Amy Soule— Rereading the Hebrew Bible

queer Jewish notions

Soule, Amy. “Queer Jewish Notions”, iUniverse, 2016.

Rereading the Hebrew Bible

Amos Lassen

I probably would never have heard about Amy Soule’s “Queer Jewish Notions, had a friend not told me about it and now I want to take that a bit further and tell you about it. It is a small book but very large in scope. In the Jewish religion, every week we read a portion of the Torah that recounts the history of the Jewish people from the beginnings through the entry into the land of Israel after forty years in of wanderings. The texts are straightforward histories but they also leave room for interpretation and discussion. It is through interpretation that Amy Soule adds a queer eyes to the writings and in each of the portions, we get a new look at old texts. Her message here is “Contrary to anything you may have heard at synagogue or home, let alone through random encounters on the street, God loves you, no matter whom Ze created you to love. Hir love is apparent through every part of the Torah, from B’reishit to V’Zot HaBrachah and everything in between.” Notice the pronouns here.

By reading these stories with a gay gaze, see the familiar in a new way. I have always felt that exploring is not only an intellectual exercise but great fun and still to this day, I study for an hour each and every day and each time I do, I find something I had not seen before. There are so many aspects of reading the Torah, that it is always possible to miss something that might be very important personally to the reader. Soule offers us short interpretations that are both informative and have a lot to think about.

This is not a scholarly study—it was written by one of us and for me that makes it unique and fun to read. Many times we get verbose commentaries on the writings that for whatever reason do not knock us out. I cannot tell you how many times I have thought the rabbis who wrote commentaries to be stiff and focused only in one direction. Amy Soule changes that direction and does so beautifully.

Considering the Torah from a queer perspective, reveals it to be “a positive and supportive love letter from God for GLBT Jews”.

“Living Proud! Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” by Robert Rodi— Nature vs. Nurture Again

living proud

Rodi, Robert. “Living Proud! Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”, (Living Proud! Growing Up LGBTQ)”, Mason Crest, 2016.

Nature vs. Nurture Once Again

Amos Lassen

It is really until only relatively recently that homosexuality was considered a mental illness or a biological disorder, or even worse. Today, however, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have “the evidence of scientific research and their authentic experiences of happy and fulfilling lives to support the pride of identity that is their right”.

Author Robert Rodi traces the nature versus nurture debate over the origin of same-sex attraction and gender identity. In the past there have been theories that claim there to be a gay gene, that the way a child is raised can turn her gay, or that being gay is somehow a choice. These ideas have been worked into political agendas and often harmed members of the LGBT community. Rodi looks at the major genetic, biological, and psychological theories of the origins of homosexuality and questions those traditional notions of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation that remain at the center of LGBT peoples’ sense of identity and their struggle for civil rights.

Each chapter here contains a foreword from the founder of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education and an index and further reading lists for books and internet resources. The book is constructed in a way so that it provides knowledge and awareness as it explores possibilities and expands viewpoints. through our content rich non-fiction books. In bold print we find “Key Icons” and lists of “Words to Understand”.

Today many LGBT people of faith are finding support and inclusion in religious communities that have are committed to the full inclusion of LGBT people. We see how major religions view homosexuality, and how LGBT people of faith navigate through these traditions. that highlight graphics with content that allows readers to build knowledge and broaden their perspectives. At the end of each chapter are text-dependent question that challenge the reader’s and send the reader back to the text for more careful attention.

 

”Pride Parades: How a Parade Changed the World” by Katherine McFarland Bruce— The Beginning

pride parades

Bruce, Katherine McFarland. ”Pride Parades: How a Parade Changed the World”, NYU Press, 2016.

The Beginning

Amos Lassen

There are not many of us left who can remember what it was like in America before we had gay pride. It all began on June 28, 1970 when two thousand gay and lesbian activists in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago paraded down the streets of their cities. This was a new kind of social protest in that it was marked by “celebration, fun, and unashamed declaration of a stigmatized identity”. We move ahead some forty-five years later and we find that over six million people annually participate in 115 Pride parades across the United States. Today, these marches come together with church congregations and college gay-straight alliance groups and there dance routines and marching band numbers as friends, straight and gay alike come together to cheer and to have a good time.

I had already left the United States when that first pride parade took place and was living in a place where there supposedly on gay people. I had moved to Israel to help build a country and yes there were gay people there but they were very deep in the closet and meeting only in public parks under cover-of-night. When I returned to the states, I faced Hurricane Katrina and was evacuated to Arkansas, where we also know there are “no gay people”. Once again I was back in the closet with no gay pride.

Then I moved to Boston in 2014 and I became introduced to gay pride and I was floored. I rode in my first pride parade and saw people lined up on both sides of the street cheering us on. Not only had pride come a long way, so had I.

Katherine McFarland Bruce takes us through the history of pride in beautiful prose and we hear the voices of the participants. “Pride Parades” is the story of Pride from its beginning in 1970 through 2010. She presents a convincing case for the importance of Pride parades as cultural protests at the heart of lesbian, gay, Through interviews, archival reports, quantitative data, we get a look at pride parades in such diverse places as New York City, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Burlington, Fargo, and Atlanta. Bruce shows how these pride parades have become venues for participants to challenge the everyday cultural stigma of being queer in America through a different kind of protest. These protests are coordinated, concerted attempts to improve the standing of LGBT people in American culture.  Pride parades are cultural protests as well as solidarity parties, tools for visibility and commercial opportunities for the benefit of all.

“Queer Aging: The Gayby Boomers and a New Frontier for Gerontology” by Jesus Ramirez-Valles— Eleven Older Gay Men Speak Out

queer aging

Ramirez-Valles, Jesus. “Queer Aging: The Gayby Boomers and a New Frontier for Gerontology”, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Eleven Older Gay Men Speak Out

Amos Lassen

Long overdue is a new book by Jesus Ramirez-Valles that examines the aging of gay men via eleven first-person accounts. We have interviews with racially and economically diverse older gay men that gives us new perspectives on aging and now that I am one of those older gay men, I found this book to be both educative and fascinating. Aside from the narratives, we have both a theoretical and historical framework for engaging with subjects’ first-person narratives. The book is a wonderful addition to our canon and a good text for those who are studying and/or working in the field (sociology, American history, LGBTQ studies, gerontology, African American and Latino studies, and social work). Health professionals should also find it useful.

For probably the first time (that it is openly spoken about), we have a generation of gay men who are in the autumns of their lives and who are openly dealing with physical and emotional situations that make aging somewhat revolutionary. Here we look at their approaches to friendship, care giving, romantic and sexual relationships, illness, and bereavement. Many of these older gay males were the gay early activists and they have something to say.

Through candid, first-person narratives, the subjects here reflect on their varied experiences as late career professionals, retirees, AIDS survivors, caregivers for ailing partners, and witnesses to profound social and cultural change. When we look at what they have to say, within a larger introduction to both Queer Theory and its history, their reflections give is a new context for understanding the aging arc and experience of older gay men. Below is the Table of Contents

Preface

1: Introduction: Queering Gerontology

2: Stan:” If I’m left, then I have to be the best little gay boy ever”

3: Anthony: ” It has to be something else to this”

4: Marvin: “I learned very early that it’s not just about being gay”

5: Robert: “I’m a pusher and I don’t like to hear the word ‘no'”

6: Ramiro: “My family is really my gay friends”

7: Grand: “I am a humanitarian”

8: Charlie:”…being older and being by yourself”

9: Adam:”…age is just a number. I don’t necessarily put much stock in it”

10: Jesse:” I am a chameleon. I adapt to whatever you throw me into”

11: Louis: “I’m always meeting the underdog people”

12: Jimmy: “The party came to a crashing end”

13: The Praxis of Queer Gerontology

“Killing The Rainbow: Violence Against LGBT” by R.J. Parker— True Stories

killing the rainbow

Parker R.J. “Killing The Rainbow: Violence Against LGBT”, RJ Parker Publishing, 2016.

True Stories

Amos Lassen

I cannot help wondering when violence against the LGBT community will stop. Even with all of the progress that has been made, violence— assault, torture, harassment, and sometimes even murder against members of the LGBT community continues. Homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people also faced constant discrimination in their everyday lives on the basis of their sexual orientation. This very discrimination against members of the LGBT community stems from religious beliefs, from God-fearing people who say grace before meals and that assault a gay person for desert, political views, bias or even internal fear. R.J. Parker gives us the history of the Gay Rights Movement along with several true accounts of violated men and women, including the most recent tragedy at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Parker gives us a lot of interesting information about violence and crime that is based on sexual orientation. We first get a look at the laws and punishments dealing with homosexuality as far back as the Middle Ages and I can honestly say that I do not understand how someone’s sexual preference can be so disturbing to others that they are willing to kill for it. However, there have always been those that believe that others who engage in same-sex relations are both wicked and evil as well aberrant. Some who became involved were even punished by being killed.

It has taken protests and cries for action by the LGBT community to have new laws passed that classify such violence as hate crimes. We read of what LGBT people have had to deal with because they want to be who they are. There was not a whole lot new for me here but then I have been an activist for a long time but for many this could be an eye-opening read.

“Hidden Hitchcock” by D.A. Miller— What is Left Unseen

hidden hitchcock

Miller, D. A. “Hidden Hitchcock”, University of Chicago Press, 2016.

What is Left Unseen

Amos Lassen

Alfred Hitchcock knew how to court audiences and that is one of the reasons that scholars have studied him so closely. One thing that has not been looked at carefully, however, is what D.A. Miller does in “Hidden Hitchcock”— he discovers “what has remained unseen in Hitchcock’s movies, a secret style that imbues his films with a radical duplicity”.

Miller focuses on three films, “Strangers on a Train”, “Rope”, and “The Wrong Man” and shows how Hitchcock not only anticipates, but demands a “Too-Close Viewer.” The “Too-Close Viewer” attempts to see more than the director points out and thereby expand the space of the film and the length of the viewing experience. We see here that such obsessive attention is rewarded. Miller finds Hitchcock’s visual puns, his continuity errors, and his hidden appearances to be enigmatic and a source of mystery.

Miller shows us how little we know Hitchcock but also how viewing him too closely can bring about a sense of “cinephilic madness” as he calls it. We see here what it means to ‘view’ and ‘read’ any film and not just film but representational art as well.

“Pink Ink: The Golden Era for Gay and Lesbian Magazines” by Bill Calder— Looking Back

pink ink

Calder, Bill. “Pink Ink: The Golden Era for Gay and Lesbian Magazines”, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016.

Looking Back

Amos Lassen

The publishers of gay magazines and newspapers in Australia were a diverse group of people. Some wanted to publicize where the best parties were held; some wanted to fight the political battle and others wanted to show new ways for lesbians and gay men to live their lives.

“Pink Ink” is the story of LGBT magazines and newspapers and their story is the story of society’s changing attitudes and the changing gay world. The book traces the evolution of Australia’s gay and lesbian publications from porn sold in brown paper bags to glossy coffee-table magazines; from newsletters to an industry publishing millions of newspapers each year that is, until the Internet took over.

“The Bigger Bang: Everything You Need to Know about Anal Sex” by Axel Neustaedter

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Neustaedter, Axel, “The Bigger Bang: Everything You Need to Know about Anal Sex”, Bruno Gmunder, 2016.

There is a Lack of Information about Anal Sex

Amos Lassen

Axel Neustaedter tells us that statistics say that only two thirds of gay men practice anal sex. He says that the other 1/3 does not participate because of “an information deficit”. Many men who are potentially passive have false assumptions about cleanliness and possible injury while others who could be active have fears about what to do and about their ability to keep on giving their partner what it takes and this has not been addressed for all to learn about. Neustaedter talks to doctors and experts and as he does he deals with the stories about anal sex. He answers important questions about preparation and hygiene; about the ingredients in lube; about the surest way to find your partner’s “g-spot”; and so much more. He says that each man can be assured by paying attention to “the more you know, the better you bang”.

“The Courts, the Ballot Box, and Gay Rights: How Our Governing Institutions Shape the Same-Sex Marriage Debate” by Joseph Mello— “Our Rights Do Not Exist in a Vacuum”

the courts, the ballot box and gay rights

Mello, Joseph. “The Courts, the Ballot Box, and Gay Rights: How Our Governing Institutions Shape the Same-Sex Marriage Debate”, University Press of Kansas, 2016.

“Our Rights Do Not Exist in a Vacuum”

Amos Lassen

We certainly learned during the debate on same-sex marriage debate that our rights do not exist in a vacuum. We see that because something works at the ballot box does not mean that it will in the courtroom. Conservative opponents of same-sex marriage appealed to religious liberty and parental rights in order to win ballot measure campaigns, but were not able to have the same success in the court. The same-sex marriage debate at the ballot box and in the courts shows us that this is a fluid issue, both socially and legally.

How could conservative opponents of same-sex marriage have such a large advantage when this issue was debated and went to a vote? Why were they less successful at mobilizing the language of rights in the courts? Joseph Mello shows us here that rights don’t just entitle us to resources; they reflect how we perceive ourselves as well as how others see us. Those conservative opponents of same-sex marriage could show themselves using the language of rights to frame their cause and were able to see themselves as victims of “oppression, their religious and moral beliefs that were now under threat”. However they could not use this at court and Mello concludes that because the court’s norms and constraints force arguments to undergo deeper looking into and scrutiny and the fact that rights-based arguments against same-sex marriage do, in effect, contain discriminatory stereotypes that have no evidential support.

This is a richly detailed analysis of the importance of context for the development of arguments for and against same-sex marriage. We see here how social movements develop arguments by connecting two arenas of contention that are typically not analyzed together.

Mello shows how different institutional environments are responsible for the shaping of the structure and terms of policy debates. He gives us an extended case study of conservative opposition to marriage equality in and beyond the courtroom in order to show the variations in organizational ‘bias.’ We read here of affirmative action, abortion, immigration, and drug policy and we see that there is a new way to understand how issues are decided and how important is the context in the determination of the outcome.