Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“A Very English Scandal” by John Preston— The “Trial of the Century”

Preston, John. “A Very English Scandal”, Other Press, 2016.

The “Trial of the Century”

Amos Lassen

“A Very English Scandal” is a true crime account of the scandalous private life of Jeremy Thorpe, the British MP whose covert homosexual affair led to blackmail, cover ups, a hired hit man, and ended with what became known as the “Trial of the Century.”

Jeremy Thorpe was a Member of Parliament and Leader of the Liberal Party in the 1960s and 70s and his bad behavior snuck went undetected for years. Police and politicians alike colluded to protect one of their own. In 1970, Thorpe was the most popular and charismatic politician in the country and was prepared to hold the balance of power in a coalition government.

 What many did not know was that Jeremy Thorpe was a man with a secret. His homosexual affairs and harassment of past partners, along with his propensity for lying and embezzlement, only escalated as he evaded punishment. Then there was a dark night on the moor with an ex-lover, a dog, and a hired gun that led to consequences that even his charm and power couldn’t help him escape.

 When he went to court, his case became referred to as the “Trial of the Century,” since it was the first time at the Old Bailey in London that a leading British politician stood trial on a murder charge, and the first time that a murder plot had been hatched in the House of Commons. It also was the first time that a prominent public figure had been exposed as a philandering gay man in an era when homosexuality had only just become legal. This is a story of hypocrisy, deceit, and betrayal right at the heart of the British Establishment.

Of four men on trial for murder, one was Jeremy Thorpe, the retired head of Britain’s Liberal Party. Norman Scott and Jeremy Thorpe had had an affair some years earlier and Thorpe had promised to take care of Scott, but rather, took his National Insurance card and wouldn’t give it back. Scott found it difficult to find work without the card and while this does not make much sense, it nevertheless happened.

The Jeremy Thorpe scandal was juicy – the main characters were interesting and venality ran through the case from action to the eventual trial. Thorpe was a man who thought quite highly of himself and his position in Britain’s public life. However, it was in his private life that things got a bit messy. Jeremy would go in and out of the closet when he wanted. When he met Norman Scott, a young, sexy equestrian, he fell into desire. The two men had an off and on long affair. Thorpe would bring Scott back to him when the “off” periods went on too long. And this is where the National Insurance card came into play. For whatever reason, Thorpe kept the card, perhaps as a way of controlling Scott.

The other main player was another Liberal MP, Peter Bessell. Thorpe and Bessell were close friends, though Bessell was a womanizer. Jeremy Thorpe used Peter Bessell to get him out of problems, both in his public and private lives. Bessell was often charged with the care of Norman Scott, who for years, hung “around” wanting things, like his Insurance card. Both MPs also were involved in squeezing money from a Bahamian political donor to support the party and some other behind the scenes activities.

John Preston’s book is a fascinating look at the private lives led behind the public lives in Britain in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Norman Scott was a confused and weak-willed young man, a male model with no other marketable skills who was helpless in the face of authority. Peter Bessell was a lay preacher whose oratorical skills got him a seat in Parliament despite a continuing string of failed business ventures and a willingness to sleep with every attractive woman he meets. Jeremy Thorpe was a wealthy, self-indulgent aristocrat with the charisma and charm that carried him into a prominent role in Parliament despite his reckless habit of picking up young men for sex. All three men were incorrigible liars and when they came together, we had a scandal— a political scandal at the heart of the British Establishment.

Here is nonfiction, improbable though the story may seem. Thorpe faced off in court accused of conspiracy to murder and related crimes by the other two after having been one of the most prominent and popular politicians in Britain. He fantasized about reaching 10 Downing Street. But his downfall was spectacular which his own reprehensible behavior had long foretold.

Gay sex, lies and judicial misconduct come together in John Preston’s detailed book. It shares far more about the lives and crimes of the three men at the center of the story than any casual reader would ever want to read. He shares the horrific price gay men paid in Britain before homosexuality was decriminalized and he shares a jaw-dropping story of judicial misconduct at the heart of the English Establishment.

Preston gives us front row seats to the trial and he captures the homophobia of the age, the political machinations of the male-dominated Establishment, and the intricate web of lies and deceit, which became Thorpe’s lot in life. He also shows the oppressive nature of gender roles and heterosexist society during the fifties, sixties, and seventies in aristocratic England. Thorpe, by way of his ambition, narcissism and deception, left behind him a trail of broken lives in his wake, especially Norman Scott, who is persecuted relentlessly for his sexual “deviance” and his mental illness. Scott’s allegations were discredited everywhere. Found innocent of all charges, Thorpe still was vilified in the press and seen as a pariah to the Liberal cause. No one essentially accepted his innocence and, as such, his illustrious political career ended.

It is interesting thought that suffering from Parkinson’s disease in later life and attended to by his second wife Marion, Thorpe’s reputation enjoyed a resurgence before he died in 2014 at the age of 85. A later generation of party leaders praised his record as an internationalist, a supporter of human rights, and an opponent of racism. How quickly we forget!

Thorpe’s story is not an old one. It falls in line with American gay government scandals such as Larry Craig and James McGreevey to cite just two. In some ways the anger of this story has been forgotten by contemporary LGBT millennial readers who do not have to deal with blackmail, marriages of convenience, and criminal sodomy laws but we cannot allow ourselves to forget that homophobia caused deep and painful emotional wounds along with societal stigma that still remains to be documented by future historians and described by novelists. Preston has begun to do so sensitively and with scholarship.

“Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism” edited by Urial Quesada, Letitia Gomez and Salvador Vidal-Ortiz— LGBT Latinos/as

Quesada, Uriel, Gomez, Letitia and Salvador Vidal-Ortiz (editors). “Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism”, University of Texas Press, 2015.

LGBT Latinos/as

Amos Lassen

I don’t know how this book slipped past me but it is never too late to read something this is as relevant today as it was when it came out some two years ago. Over the last thirty years the LGBT Latino community has had to deal with various kinds of discrimination, something that should happen within a community that itself has suffered.

The greater Latino community traditionally has not often accepted sexual minorities, and the mainstream LGBT movement expected everyone, regardless of their ethnic and racial background, to behave and exist so that we could have a “unified” agenda. To deal with the sexism, racism, and homophobia that they experienced and continue to experience, LGBT Latinas/os organized themselves on local, state, and national levels by forming communities in which they could fight for equal rights while at the same time staying true to their ethnic and sexual identities. However the history of LGBT activism in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s has often reduced the role that the LGBT Latino community has played and the result has been misinformation and/or ignorance their work entirely thus writing a history without them.

“Queer Brown Voices” is the first book that was published to buck this trend and it documents the efforts of LGBT Latina/o activists. The volume is made up of essays and oral history interviews that give us the experiences of fourteen activists across the United States and in Puerto Rico, We gain a new perspective on the history of LGBT mobilization and activism as those included look at subjects that shed light not only on the organizations they helped to create and operate, but also on their experiences of being the object of racism and discriminated against. They have had to fight for access to health care during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as well as struggle for awareness. We become very aware of what this community has had to deal with making this an important contribution to our canon. What we read is very powerful and is unavailable elsewhere and this needs to be shared.

 

“Unmaking Love: The Contemporary Novel and the Impossibility of Union” by Ashley T. Shelden— Revising How We See Love

Shelden, Ashley T. “Unmaking Love: The Contemporary Novel and the Impossibility of Union”, Columbia University Press, 2017.

Revising How We Conceive Love

Amos Lassen

Many of us learn of love by first reading about it and we see that the contemporary novel is where we find that. However, the conception of love found in these writings often makes it unrecognizable. We do not always get union, connection, and completion and often the modern novel destroys any chance of unity and it is often negative.

“Unmaking Love” looks at queerness in the novels of Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith, Hanif Kureshi, Alan Hollinghurst, and Hari Kunzru. We see that “queer love” becomes something more than shorthand for sexual identity. And it contains ruined expectations, unorganized organization, and many different forms. In queer love, social forms are changed, existing social structures are changed and there is no really binding. Using psychoanalysis, gender and sexuality studies with which to look at love in contemporary literature shows its relation to queer negativity.

Ashley T. Shelden shows that love is a fantasy and that even in unity, it deconstructs in twentieth and twenty-first century literature. There is ambivalence and danger in it and we once again see how difficult love can be. Shelden further shows that love without aggression is not love. Below is the table of contents:

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Unmaking Love

  1. Lesbian Fantasy: Psychoanalysis, the Legacy of Modernist Love, and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood
  2. The Ends of Love: Amorous Redemption, the Passion for Negativity, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy
  3. Amorous Time: Nostalgia, Temporality, and the Pursuit of Optimism in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty
  4. Cosmopolitan Love: Encountering Difference in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled

Conclusion: Otherness, Cloud Atlas, and Contemporary Literature

Notes

Bibliography

Index

“One Day in France: Tragedy and Betrayal in an Occupied Town” by Jean-Marie Borzeix — April 6, 1944

Borzeix, Jean-Marie . “One Day in France: Tragedy and Betrayal in an Occupied Town”, translated by Gay McAuley, I.B. Tauris, 2016.

April 6, 1944

Amos Lassen

On April 6, 1944, detachment of German soldiers arrived in a rural French town to hunt down resistance fighters, many of whom were hiding in the region. More than sixty years later, the villagers clearly remember the day when four peasants from a nearby village were taken hostage and shot as an example to others. However, it is questionable as to whether they remember the whole story. Jean-Marie Borzeix set out to investigate the events of Holy Thursday 1944, and to reveal the hidden truths of that fateful day. He uncovered that there was a mysterious ‘fifth man’ shot alongside the resisters and what the author unraveled led him to Paris, Israel and into the Holocaust in France. The events of that day in a small, entirely typical, town illuminate the true impact of World War II in France.

This is a study of the various happenings of April 6, 1944 in the village of Bugout, a small, mountainous community in Vichy-controlled France. Jean-Marie Borzeix begins this story attempting to run down the facts behind the Thursday before Easter 1944 and the murders of four men in his hometown.

He takes us through his research in the many data collections and libraries throughout Europe. We are with him when he finds and follows the trail of the fifth man murdered on that day and when he finds and follows the train carrying Jewish women and children away, eventually to Auschwitz. What he has found is true.

We get a look at memory and why we remember, what we remember, what we forget as well as a look into cause and effect of war crimes. Atrocities can only happen when it is possible for onlookers to separate themselves from the whole process and to justify the end results in their minds. We see here that it is often necessary to look at events in our current lives with a different focus.

“The Queer Film Festival: Popcorn and Politics” by Stuart Richards— The Festival: A Study

Richards, Stuart. “The Queer Film Festival: Popcorn and Politics”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

The Festival: A Study

Amos Lassen

This is the first book to examine the queer film festival and thus it starts the discussion on social enterprises and sustainable lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) organizations. They are the roots of what becomes a festival. There are now 220 events worldwide and some of the bigger budgets exceeding $1 million. The queer film festival has grown to become a staple event in all cosmopolitan cities and appears on their calendars of events. While activism was instrumental in establishing these festivals, we see that it is the LGBTI dollar that has been one of the deciding factor in its financial sustainability. These festivals are no longer underground occasions and they have now become an industry.

The festivals, of course, also have a social purpose, yet they must also concern themselves with the bottom line of finances. For this reason, this is a topic to be analyzed. This book is a multidisciplinary approach in examining the queer film festival as a representative snapshot of the current state of queer cinema and community based film festivals. The book looks at queer film festivals in San Francisco, Hong Kong and Melbourne and shows the importance of these institutions remaining as community events. 

Table of contents:

  • Introduction, 
Pages 1-37


  • The Queer Film Festival and the Creative Industries,
 
Pages 39-97

  • The Queer Film Festival as a Social Enterprise,
 
Pages 99-142

  • Queer Film Festival Programming and Homonormativity, 
Pages 143-216

  • The Space of the Film Festival
, 
Pages 217-237

  • Conclusion, 
Pages 239-246


 

“LGBTQ Stats: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People by the Numbers” by David Deschamps and Bennett Singer— By the Numbers

Deschamps, David and Bennett Singer. “LGBTQ Stats: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People by the Numbers”, New Press, 2016.

By the Numbers

Amos Lassen

I cannot even begin to think about the tremendous amount of research that authors David Deschamps and Bennett Singer did to compile all of the information that is found in “LGBT Stats”. There are stats about everything LGBT here and the topics alone are stunning. The book covers activism, politics, and the law; youth, education, sex, bisexuality, transgender individuals, health and aging, and marriage and family; violence, media, public opinion, religion, sports, and the workplace. If you have ever wondered where the largest number of same sex couples live, you will find that here as well as the state with the highest percentage of LGBT people. Then there are facts of just fun but what really knocks the reader out is the shit in public opinion about LGBT people. For those doing research, this is a must-have and for the rest of us it is informative way to learn about our community and what and who makes it up.

Most of us will agree that we never thought that in our lifetimes that we would see the changes that have occurred in the last twenty years. “LGBTQ Stats” chronicles those changes as well the ongoing LGBTQ revolution and it gives us the statistics, and draws upon and synthesizes newly collected data. Deschamps and Singer provide chapters on family and marriage, workplace discrimination, education, youth, criminal justice, and immigration, as well as evolving policies and laws affecting LGBTQ communities. In the chapter on LGBTQ life around the globe we see the dramatic and tremendous progress made as well as the backlashes in other countries and the laws and punishments that exist there. This is an invaluable resource for activists, journalists, lawmakers, and general readers who want the facts and figures on LGBTQ lives as they are today. Not only do we get information on where we are but also on where we have been ands where we still need to go.

 

“The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South” by Michael Twitty— Three Reasons for Anticipation

Twitty, Michael. “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South”, Amistad, 2017.

Three Reasons for Anticipation

Amos Lassen

I just received notice about this book coming to us in August. I can’t wait to read it for three reasons; I am originally from the South, I am Jewish and I am gay and so is Michael Twitty. This is where any resemblance stops. Twitty is a renowned culinary historian who gives us a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race with this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry, both black and white, through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.

Southern food is part of the American culinary tradition but the question of who “owns” it is one of the most interesting discussions as we struggle with race in this country. Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the middle of this, tracing the roots of his own family and the politics that surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine. We go with him to the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times, to plantation kitchens and cotton field as he tells his family story through the foods that allowed for his ancestors’ survival over three centuries. He shares stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents and we travel from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia. Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. We become very aware of the power that food has “to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together”.

Twitty writes about cooking “discomfort food and explores the sometimes-bitter taste of the cuisine of his enslaved ancestors. Twitty who is now thirty-nine-years-old who once spent a 16-hour day in the fields picking cotton so that he could experience what his relatives endured. He then ate what was known as an “ash cake” (a cornmeal pancake with no sugar, no butter, simply white cornmeal and water that is hardened into a cake by fire and literally cooked in the hardwood coals of that fire. This was to show that after having suffered from picking cotton all day, there was food that could hardly be eaten. This invalidates the ideas that the slaves ate what their masters did.

As he went over the probate records of his fifth great grandfather, he learned that he was white and a plantation owner. He had over 40 enslaved people. He owned a thriving cotton plantation and he was also a reverend. Everyone that came to his table ate very well. Twitty admits that he could have never eaten there.

When Northerners think of Southern food, they see candied yams, pulled pork and cheese grits. It is like those who think of Jewish food being brisket or pastrami. In the towns and shtetles of Europe they were eating black bread, potatoes, cabbage and herring—almost like enslaved people. All ethic groups have made celebration food the standard and everyday food but it was not always what we think it was.

Israel Zangwill, who coined the phrase “the melting pot,” gave ethnic groups, particularly Jews, the idea that America was the golden land and differences in cultures and religions would not matter. Everyone would be Americans and this will make up for the terrible pasts of oppression that many suffered. It didn’t happen and blacks were not part of the melting pot and there was a constant sense that black culture could be refined, could be improved upon. For other people, there was the ability to blend in with whiteness, privilege and platform. Of course, you don’t have to be Jewish to eat Levy’s Rye. Twitty says that he can say this since be has been part of the Jewish community for 15 years, and he grew up with American Jews my whole life With Black folks, however, they move along, and are forgotten. Amplification has been the strategy of black folks for years. The purpose of Black History Month is to amplify their role. They are partners in the creation of America and they are pioneers. Respecting black culture means it can be quoted, borrowed from and shared but it cannot be taken and it cannot be disrespected.

“Marbled, Swirled, and Layered: 150 Recipes and Variations for Artful Bars, Cookies, Pies, Cakes, and More” by Irwin Lin— Lin, AJ and Deserts

Lin, Irvin. “Marbled, Swirled, and Layered: 150 Recipes and Variations for Artful Bars, Cookies, Pies, Cakes, and More”, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Lin, AJ and Deserts

Amos Lassen

Some of you undoubtedly are wondering why I am reviewing a cookbook on my site that is mostly concerned with books and movies for the LGBT community. Have patience and you will soon understand. And yes, there is something common between a delicious desert and a gay man.

Irvin Lin is the creator of the popular blog “Eat the Love” and now he has written this book that shows how to create flavor combinations that look as fantastic as they taste. Recipes range from easy brownies and bars to muffins and morning buns to cakes and tarts, cinnamon spiral icebox cookies, pistachio‑swirl brownies, triple‑chocolate pie, multicolored “Neapolitan” layer cake, and many more. He offers variations to suit any taste (more than 150 recipes total) plus baking and decorating tips. Lin explains baking basics and shares supplementary information on ingredients, techniques, and food science.

Food, its taste and presentation had always been important to gay men. Food and gay culture have always been intermingled.

Irvin Lin gives us his own personal narrative when giving recipes and among these are. his feelings about Obama finally coming out in support of same-sex marriage, Maurice Sendak’s death, Amendment One passing that banned same-sex marriage in the constitution of North Carolina and his boyfriend, AJ.

In his introduction, he tells his readers to experiment with recipes this is a book that was designed for experimentation with a core recipe and alternatives.

Lin lives in San Francisco and he mentions it often just as he writes about his original hometown, St. Louis, and his Asian-American heritage and coffee shops and bakeries that he loves.

My Ten Best LGBT Book List 2016— My Personal Choices

My Ten Best LGBT Book List 2016

My Personal Choices

Amos Lassen

These were the ten books I loved this year and I give them to you in no special order. This are purely my personal choices and for those of you who know me and my year-ends lists know that I prefer to have my list be as diverse as possible. There were many more ten books that I loved this year and perhaps later I will do an also loved list. The biggest surprise was that I seemed to have liked non-fiction this year more than fiction. The book descriptions are taken from Amazon.com

“Christodora” by Tim Murphy (Grove)

In this vivid and compelling novel, Tim Murphy follows a diverse set of characters whose fates intertwine in an iconic building in Manhattan’s East Village, the Christodora. The Christodora is home to Milly and Jared, a privileged young couple with artistic ambitions. Their neighbor, Hector, a Puerto Rican gay man who was once a celebrated AIDS activist but is now a lonely addict, becomes connected to Milly and Jared’s lives in ways none of them can anticipate. Meanwhile, Milly and Jared’s adopted son Mateo grows to see the opportunity for both self-realization and oblivion that New York offers. As the junkies and protestors of the 1980s give way to the hipsters of the 2000s and they, in turn, to the wealthy residents of the crowded, glass-towered city of the 2020s, enormous changes rock the personal lives of Milly and Jared and the constellation of people around them. Moving kaleidoscopically from the Tompkins Square Riots and attempts by activists to galvanize a true response to the AIDS epidemic, to the New York City of the future, Christodora recounts the heartbreak wrought by AIDS, illustrates the allure and destructive power of hard drugs, and brings to life the ever-changing city itself.

“One-Man Show” by Michael Schreiber (Bruno Gmunder)

Bernard Perlin (1918-2014) was an extraordinary figure in twentieth century American art and gay cultural history, an acclaimed artist and sexual renegade who reveled in pushing social, political, and artistic boundaries. His work regularly appeared in popular magazines of the 1940s, fifties, and sixties; was collected by Rockefellers, Whitneys, and Astors; and was acquired by major museums, including the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Tate Modern. His portrait clients included well-known literary, artistic, theatrical, political, and high society figures. As a government propaganda artist and war artist-correspondent, he produced many now-iconic images of World War II. From the 1930s on, he also daringly committed to canvas and paper scenes of underground gay bars and nude studies of street hustlers, among other aspects of his active and dedicated gay life.

Socially, he moved in the upper echelons of New York gay society, a glittering “cufflink crowd” that included George Platt Lynes, Lincoln Kirstein, Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler, Paul Cadmus, Jared French, George Tooker, Pavel Tchelitchew, Truman Capote, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins. He also counted among his most intimate companions such luminaries in the arts as Vincent Price, Clifton Webb, Ben Shahn, Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti, Aaron Copland, Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy, Martha Gellhorn, Betsy Drake, Muriel Rukeyser, Carson McCullers, Philip Johnson, and E.M. Forster. Yet he was equally at home in the gay underworlds of New York and Rome, where his unbridled sexual escapades put him in competition with the likes of Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams.

In “One-Man Show”, Michael Schreiber chronicles the storied life, illustrious friends and lovers, and astounding adventures of Bernard Perlin through no-holds-barred interviews with the artist, candid excerpts from Perlin’s unpublished memoirs, never-before-seen photos, and an extensive selection of Bernard Perlin’s incredible public and private art.

“How to Survive a Plague” by David France (Knopf)

The definitive history of the successful battle to halt the AIDS epidemic—from the creator of, and inspired by, the seminal documentary How to Survive a Plague. A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts. Not since the publication of Randy Shilts’ classic And the Band Played On has a book measured the AIDS plague in such brutally human, intimate, and soaring terms. In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation’s disease-fighting agencies. With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers’ club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter. Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider’s account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights. Powerful, heart wrenching, and finally exhilarating, How to Survive a Plague is destined to become an essential part of the literature of AIDS.

“When We Rise” by Cleve Jones (Hachette)

The partial inspiration for the forthcoming ABC television mini-series!

“You could read Cleve Jones\\\’s book because you should know about the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights from one of its key participants–maybe heroes–but really, you should read it for pleasure and joy.”–Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me

Born in 1954, Cleve Jones was among the last generation of gay Americans who grew up wondering if there were others out there like himself. There were. Like thousands of other young people, Jones, nearly penniless, was drawn in the early 1970s to San Francisco, a city electrified by progressive politics and sexual freedom. Jones found community–in the hotel rooms and ramshackle apartments shared by other young adventurers, in the city\\\’s bathhouses and gay bars like The Stud, and in the burgeoning gay district, the Castro, where a New York transplant named Harvey Milk set up a camera shop, began shouting through his bullhorn, and soon became the nation\\\’s most outspoken gay elected official. With Milk\\\’s encouragement, Jones dove into politics and found his calling in “the movement.” When Milk was killed by an assassin\\\’s bullet in 1978, Jones took up his mentor\\\’s progressive mantle–only to see the arrival of AIDS transform his life once again.

By turns tender and uproarious, When We Rise is Jones’ account of his remarkable life. He chronicles the heartbreak of losing countless friends to AIDS, which very nearly killed him, too; his co-founding of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation during the terrifying early years of the epidemic; his conception of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest community art project in history; the bewitching story of 1970s San Francisco and the magnetic spell it cast for thousands of young gay people and other misfits; and the harrowing, sexy, and sometimes hilarious stories of Cleve’s passionate relationships with friends and lovers during an era defined by both unprecedented freedom and violence alike. When We Rise is not only the story of a hero to the LQBTQ community, but the vibrantly voice memoir of a full and transformative American life.

“What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell (Picador)

On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.

What Belongs to You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created an indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.

The Sea in Quiet Tonight” by Michael Ward (Querelle)

“”In this insightful and inspirational memoir, Michael Ward returns to the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when so little was known and so few who were diagnosed survived. He chronicles in candid detail his partner Mark’s decline and eventual death. By looking back on these devastating events, the author not only honors a generation lost to the illness but also opens a vital window onto the past, before medication helped save lives and when HIV/AIDS was usually a death sentence. “In his heart-wrenching debut memoir, former psychotherapist Ward provides an intimate portrait of the early days of the AIDS epidemic through the lens of his romantic relationship with the sea-loving Mark Halberstadt, the 100th patient in Massachusetts to be diagnosed with the disease. Following their chance encounter on Fire Island, a “combination of Mecca and Oz” for gay men in the 1970s and early ’80s, their infatuation blooms into a long-distance courtship between the East Coast and Florida before the tragic turn in Mark’s health. Ward’s attention to detail proves invaluable in documenting the anxiety of these uncertain years, when mysterious stomach pains and fevers suddenly progressed into fatal conditions that “arrived like lightning bolts.” The book includes important glimpses into the emerging AIDS subculture—such as Louise Hay’s first support groups and the founding of Boston’s AIDS Action Committee by Larry Kessler—but the disease is secondary to how romantic love and commitment are strained when confronted with the unimaginable. “I feel like a leper,” Mark says from his hospital room, which is labeled “Precautionary Isolation”; visitors are required to wear gowns, gloves, surgical caps, and masks. Ward never hesitates when peering into the abyss of this traumatic time, and the result is a courageous and necessary addition to the canon of AIDS literature.” — BookLife. “Ward is a talented storyteller who’s created a compelling, emotionally rich tale out of a difficult, tragic time in American history. Anyone looking for more insight into the AIDS epidemic from a deeply personal perspective will likely benefit from this book. It could have been incredibly difficult to read about someone watching their partner struggle through disease, but Ward handles his and Halberstadt’s story with admirable grace.” –Kirkus

“Radiance” by Emmanuel Xavier (Rebel Satori)

“Emanuel Xavier’s newest book radiates in diverse directions, back into a past of New York club kid glamour and violence, into a family history of lost connections, and into loves forfeited and found-all of which the poet illumines with steady-eyed honesty. Finally, as he confronts a health challenge to the very brain that is the root-place of these sharp and poignant poems, radiation becomes radiance, a hard-won inner light that lets us all see how ‘splendid is our survival.'” –David Groff, author of “Clay”

The beauty of Xavier’s poetry is its honesty which at times can shock but always leaves the reader feeling good. –Reviews by Amos Lassen. Radiance is dedicated to survivors everywhere, bringing urgent attention to the perils of the marginalized in the wake of the Pulse Orlando Massacre and the challenges of the Black Lives Matter movement. –Charlie Vazquez for latinorebels.com.  “Sometimes a crumb falls / from the table of joy,” Langston Hughes wrote, and Emanuel Xavier, in evoking those small pleasures–the taste of mangoes, smell of coffee–is capturing those crumbs … He does so amidst much testament to the horrors of injury, loss and mortality. These poems move and speak: one can imagine their delivery at the microphone, and yet at the same time they so powerfully address the reader as private experience. — Lambda Literary 

“In Xavier’s poetics, identity is radiance (light, energy), and like Keith Haring’s radiant babies, we’re all in the process of becoming.” – Urayoan Noel, The Harriet Blog for The Poetry Foundation. “Taken as a whole, the poems narrate the life, in vignettes, of a flawed but deeply sympathetic man who is rendered raw and vulnerable on the page … The poems are memorable, the feelings they will evoke in you are real and complicated, and the journey they will take you on is surprisingly large in scope.” – readdiversebooks.com 

As in his title poem, Radiance, the tenderness of Emanuel Xavier’s words are in stark contrast to the hard and often painful realities they convey. Yet, the two are masterfully melded to create beautiful stories in poems that are at once sad and encompass a sense of yearning. Radiance is the type of read that calms the nerves until the reality of what it conveys pierces one’s heart and not with cupid’s arrow. –Nancy Mercado, editor of the Nuyorican Women Writers Anthology

Urgency and despair wrestle in the restless poems of Emanuel Xavier’s Radiance. As Sinatra’s singing voice grew richer, more resonant, more heartbreaking after his celebrated breakup with Eva Gardner, Xavier’s poetic voice strikes new notes, new registers, both diving and soaring. –Michael Broder, author of This Life Now and Drug and Disease Free In Radiance, Xavier scours the words of his poetry and the reader is given a keen clear look at reality. I love Emanuel! –Miguel Algarin, founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe

“Foucault in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden” (Starcherone)

Michel Foucault famously wrote, “I am fully aware that I have never written anything other than fictions.” In this polylingual, operatic fantasy comprised of invented letters, most of them unsent, set in Sweden during February 1956 while Foucault was undergoing a Swedish winter, the philosopher finds himself not just researching, but living through, his work to come, Madness and Civilization.

Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden is a masterful work of introspective beauty. Its layers of meaning cascade across its pages in recursive waves of polysemous speech. The text is at once concerned with the emotional truth of its characters’ experiences and with the lived truth of Foucault’s philosophy. Joyce achieves all of this with a deft hand, a multilingual pen, and an ear for what we mean when we speak and how we speak when we mean. —The Public, Buffalo

The novel affords a compelling meditation on what we might call the nexus of madness, philosophy, and literature, one that conveys a productive and troubled time for Foucault with an intensity and artfulness befitting of one of the most artful philosophers of the twentieth century…. Everything about Joyce’s Foucault is alluring, and his characterization will seduce the philosopher’s devotees and doubters alike.–Electronic Book Review

Oscillation is a key component of the novel’s structure and, in a larger sense, is related to states of absence and presence, linguistic or otherwise… [and] absence looms large in Foucault in Winter… [which] manages to interweave intimate details of passionate relationships with kernels of Foucault’s thought… —American Book Review

This is an emotional, transportive novel that recalls a time of literary passion. It is a work that begs to be read aloud, regardless of its challenging polylinguality; to be heard, felt and absorbed…Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden floats between ideas and language, madness and civilization, and, in the process, finds emotional gravity. —New Orleans Review

“Gay Gotham” by Daniel Albrecht (Rizzoli)

Uncovering the lost history of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender artists in New York City. Queer people have always flocked to New York seeking freedom, forging close-knit groups for support and inspiration. Gay Gotham brings to life the countercultural artistic communities that sprang up over the last hundred years, a creative class whose radical ideas would determine much of modern culture. More than 200 images—both works of art, such as paintings and photographs, as well as letters, snapshots, and ephemera—illuminate their personal bonds, scandal-provoking secrets at the time and many largely unknown to the public since. Starting with the bohemian era of the 1910s and 1920s, when the pansy craze drew voyeurs of all types to Greenwich Village and Harlem, the book winds through midcentury Broadway as well as Fire Island as it emerged as a hotbed, turns to the post-Stonewall, decade-long wild party that revolved around clubs like the Mineshaft and Studio 54, and continues all the way through the activist mobilization spurred by the AIDS crisis and the move toward acceptance at the century’s close. Throughout, readers encounter famous figures, from James Baldwin and Mae West to Leonard Bernstein, and discover lesser-known ones, such as Harmony Hammond, Greer Lankton, and Richard Bruce Nugent. Surprising relationships emerge: Andy Warhol and Mercedes de Acosta, Robert Mapplethorpe and Cecil Beaton, George Platt Lynes and Gertrude Stein. By peeling back the overlapping layers of this cultural network that thrived despite its illicitness, this groundbreaking publication reveals a whole new side of the history of New York and celebrates the power of artistic collaboration to transcend oppression.

“Flying Without a Net” by E.M. Ben Shaul (Interlude)

Dani Perez, a secular Israeli working as a software engineer in Boston, has never had trouble balancing his faith and his sexuality–until he meets Avi Levine, a gay Orthodox Jew and sign language interpreter. As they fall in love, Dani finds himself wanting Avi in his life but confused by Avi’s observance. Dani can’t understand how Avi reconciles what his religion demands with what his body desires. And although he wants to deny it, neither can Avi.

“This is a unique and beautiful book, with a story that took me to being a fly-on-the-wall over these wonderful characters’ shoulders. I can imagine that this kind of story will mean a lot to people who come from a similar faith—but even if you, like myself, are not of that faith, it doesn’t lessen the gentle rhythm of this book. A fantastically written debut”.

Despite the risk of losing Avi forever to a religious life that objects to their love, Dani supports him through the struggle to find an answer. Will they be able to start a life together despite religious ideology that conflicts with the relationship they are trying to build?

“On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories” by Mark Seliger— We Are One

Seliger, Mark, photographer, “On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories”, Rizzoli, 2016.

We Are One

Amos Lassen

On Christopher Street there are limitless sexual orientations and gender identities and no end to potential. We have “transgender, transsexual, non-binary, genderqueer, femme, butch, cross-dresser, drag kings, drag queens, and many other identities that shift, adapt, and challenge our understanding of gender”. The gender binary seems to be gone with the wind. Christopher Street sits in the middle of New York City’s Greenwich Village and is considered by many as the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. When we reach the intersection of Christopher and Hudson Streets, we see that it has been renamed “Sylvia Rivera Way,” after the pioneering trans-activist who dared to challenge the police at Stonewall. New York’s annual LGBTQ pride parade ends on Christopher Street, where the revolution began at the Stonewall Inn.

Renowned photographer Mark Seliger is best known for his portraits of celebrities, musicians, and artists and he has lived in the West Village home for almost twenty years. His curiosity inspired him to shoot a handful of portraits in hopes of capturing the color, flamboyant characters, and theatre of a famous, but vanishing neighborhood and these portraits became his next book, “On Christopher Street”. Upon setting out with his camera, he found something of a street carnival— every night there were parades of people who, often, without saying a word, give a “visual discourse” about sexuality and just how widespread transgender people are today. With the new freedoms, it is as if they have been given license to leave their homes and come out of the shadows that they have had to live in for so long. Seliger brings seventy-four beautiful, black and white portraits that have never before been published. We also get their stories and we are reminded once again that, in reality, none of us are free until all of us are free. The very presence of this community emphasizes the need for safe places and spaces all of us can call home. As we see them, we think about them and realize we are all one big community and we no longer can stay silent and ignore them. We know fear and we know prejudice— we also know toleration which is just not good enough. They are redefining “what gender means to people who may be meeting even the idea of transgender for the first time in this book”. Seliger gives us “a unique slice of life in the neighborhood where the LGBT revolution started at the Stonewall Inn.” 

Ask yourself where you would you go if you just wanted to be yourself. Seliger, says in a brief statement that “he noticed the freedom of expression and gender identity” that was once everywhere in the neighborhood is disappearing from the area. Seliger wanted to capture it before it was gone and that is just what he did. His camera is his storyteller says, using his camera as storyteller.

“Christopher Street has ‘a dark side,’ with drugs, prostitution, and harassment. That means that for LGBTQ youth who comprise 40 percent of the nation’s street kids, it isn’t always safe…”

The snapshots we see may feel random but natural; some people are identified, some are not, and not all of them have something to say. Those that do relate stories that hit us hard and there maybe more to say but goes unsaid because of the difficulty to verbalize feelings and emotions.