Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Letter to My Father: A Memoir” by Thomas G. Couser— Reconciling

Couser, G. Thomas. “Letter to My Father: A Memoir”, Hamilton Books, 2017.

Reconciling

Amos Lassen

When he was twenty-three-years-old, Thomas Couser wrote a letter to his father that he felt had something to do with his dad’s mental collapse. Now, he looks back and reexamines his father’s life using documents found after his death. He needs to reflect on their relationship and reach a reconciliation with a man he had not really known

Here is Couser’s quest to understand and imagine his father’s life and it us an affecting and effective story of reclamation. The book is a combined biography, and detective story that focuses on and shows the emotional and literary power of a son’s love. At late mid-life, Tom Couser researched his father and gives us a memoir that shows a son struggling to maintain respect, even love when tempted to be filled with anger and disillusionment. Here memoir becomes an exercise in mourning.

Couser was motivated by a desire to atone for an earlier letter that failed in its intention. Couser’s search to know his father was filled with regret and questions. He wants to know the father that he really never knew. He tries to fill the blank spaces about the father that he resembles but does not know. He feels that he needs to know if he was implicated in his father’s death from alcoholism and depression and whether his letter was a catalyst for it. Couser uncovers his father’s complex emotional life but a bit too late for his dad.

 

 

“Identity: In & Beyond the Binary” by Dave Naz— A Gorgeous Photo Album

Naz, Dave. “Identity: In & Beyond the Binary”, Rare Bird Books, A Barnacle Book, 2017.

A Gorgeous Photo Album

Amos Lassen

Dave Naz spent eight years photographing transgender, genderqueer, gender variant, and other people from the queer community. He has been documenting lives, poems, and stories from the community in his zine “Identity” and these are now collected in this book. Each page is a treat and no words are necessary.

“A Queer Love Story: The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout” edited by Marilyn R. Schuster— Fifteen Years of Letters and History

Schuster, Marilyn R. (editor) “A Queer Love Story: The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout”, (Sexuality Studies), UBC Press, 2017.

Fifteen Years of Letters and History

Amos Lassen

Jane Rule was a novelist and the first widely recognized “public lesbian” in North America and Rick Bébout, a journalist and editor with the Toronto-based Body Politic, an important incubator of LGBT thought and activism. Rule lived in a remote rural community on Galiano Island, British Columbia, but wrote a column for the magazine. Bébout resided in Toronto’s gay village. Both were transplanted Americans. Fifteen years of their letters include observations on queer life as well as the writing life and in their letters, they document some of the most pressing LGBT issues of the ’80s and ’90s, including HIV/AIDs, censorship, and state policing of desire. Rule summed up the first eight years of her correspondence with Bébout as “significantly focused on the concerns of our time and our tribe.”

The letters are poignant, scintillating, and incisive. They hoped that their letters would provide the right language with which to write about gay and lesbian lives. In her letters, Rule reflects on her life with companion Helen Sonthoff and her expectations regarding marriage, monogamy, and long-term relationships. In his letters, Bébout writes about his “promiscuous affections,” which came in the form of a knowing glance at a stranger in the subway to affairs. Together, they give detailed observations on queer communities and politics and, if those politics clashed with their personal beliefs, they were not afraid to express more radical views especially their common opposition to same-sex marriage.

The letters show how members of the queer community worked together “to build ties of love and friendship amidst intolerance and outright hostility”. These letters document a love affair with ideas and moral meaning. Rule and Bebout were not only separated by location but also by age and gender. They each give the space to think about the pressing queer social and political issues of the eighties and nineties. Their letters are insightful running commentary throughout a tumultuous fifteen-year period of Canadian LGBT history.

The intelligence of both writers and the way that they directly confront the issues affecting the queer community and identity politics are fascinating and we feel their and their desires to explore love, power, the erotic, and the nature of sexuality. We become privy to their lives, their views, their activism, and their deep friendship. They both seem to favor friendship over coupledom and they suggest how we all can organize our lives and loves outside of family and marriage.

We are also reminded that there are radical alternatives to how we live, that conversations about these alternatives were very much part of both feminist and gay liberationist discussions at the time that they wrote. I have not enjoyed reading some else’s mail in a very long time but these were also an education on gay Canada and two of its big names.

“Hung Like a Seahorse: A Real-Life Transgender Adventure of Tragedy, Comedy, and Recovery” by Quinn Alexander Fontaine— Why We Are Here

Fontaine, Quinn Alexander. “Hung Like a Seahorse: A Real-Life Transgender Adventure of Tragedy, Comedy, and Recovery”, Babypie Publishing, 2017.

Why We Are Here

Amos Lassen

This is certainly an interesting title for a book and I must admit that I really never thought about seahorses having penises so I intrigued right away and then disappointed that the issue never came up. Actually this is a book about who we are and why we are here. ”We each have a story, and we are not our story. So many of us get trapped by thinking we are less than others or unlovable or that we should not be taking up space altogether”. Writer Quinn Fontaine reminds us that we are here for a reason and shares his journey of healing work to recover from childhood trauma and multiple addictions, and his full acceptance of being transgender. We read about the rough times he has had and how he was able to gain a sense of freedom and to be inspired to be more “out”. He shows us that we need to not only set ourselves free but to inspire others to do so as well. Life is about sharing who we are and there are ways to do so as we read here. Fontaine’s journey is authentic and fascinating and by reading about it, we learn a bit about ourselves.

This is not a book that is just the transgender experience, “it is about the human experience and how we can move beyond our limitations to understand each other better.” It is an insightful tale of a trans child coming of age with all of the challenges and it is inspiring.

“Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity” by Gregory Coles— Greg Coles Tells His Story

Coles, Gregory. “Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity”, IVP Books, 2017.

Greg Coles Tells His Story

Amos Lassen

Greg Coles was “a boy in love with Jesus who, at the fateful onset of puberty, realized his sexual attractions were persistently and exclusively for other guys”. He knew that his Christian family would always think of him as “unnatural, dangerous, because of something that feels as involuntary as… eye color”. Yet he also knows that much of the LGBTQ community shares his experience as a sexual minority. He also knows that many within that community will “disagree with the way I’ve chosen to interpret the call of Jesus, believing I’ve bought into a tragic, archaic ritual of self-hatred”.

Here is a powerful portrayal of one man’s struggle to choose Jesus above all and it has a lot to say. Here is the story of a guy who wants “to live his life under the authority of King Jesus and who refuses to accept the comforting answers proffered by different parts of the culture”.

Christians have begun to experience what so many others know: it is costly to follow Jesus. “The Christian of today need to be able to engage in uncomfortable and nuanced conversations with thoughtfulness, patience, humility, and Scripture―to sit in the tension of gray and complex issues and admit their need for God’s wisdom. If not, our world and churches will continue to grow more deeply divided as we retreat further into our tribes out of fear and lack of trust in God’s ability to guide us. Before we can speak, we must listen”. This simply means that those who have been marginalized, pushed aside, and undervalued need to be brought back in and brought back in with love. Reading what is here will be able to help you do just that.

Greg Coles is intellectually and theologically honest and for a non Christian to sat so allows you to understand the value of this memoir. He asks if the Bible leaves room for monogamous same-sex relationships and he frets over how the church will treat singleness and sexual minorities.

 

“We’re Queer And We Should Be Here: The Perils and Pleasures of Being a Gay Football Fan” by Darryl Telles— Sexuality and Balls

Telles, Darryl. “We’re Queer And We Should Be Here: The Perils and Pleasures of Being a Gay Football Fan”, More Books, 2017.

Sexuality and Balls

Amos Lassen

Darryl Telles is a guy whose sexuality is as important to him as his lifelong passion for his beloved Tottenham Hotspur football team, yet like other gay football supporters, he has had to face decades of abuse and threats from homophobic fellow fans in a sport where homosexuality is still so hated that there is not a single ‘out’ gay player in the top four tiers of the British Football League. This is the story of his campaign against homophobia in the football world and his work with the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) and his attempts to advance the cause through media publicity and TV interviews. Football is a sport where there is all kinds of bigotry in England. The crowds are racist and homophobic and it is impossible to gain respect. Perhaps more people like Telles can shine a light on the hatred that needs to go away.

“Oh, Bob! I Thought It Was Curtains! Survival and Transcendence in a Homophobic” by Rob Lawrence Russo— Finding Oneself

Russo, Rob Lawrence, “Oh, Bob! I Thought It Was Curtains! Survival and Transcendence in a Homophobic”, Booklocker.com, 2017.

Finding Oneself

Amos Lassen

In his teens and well into his twenties, Rob Lawrence Russo doubted that he would ever be a happy, independent, financially solvent adult. He had been raised by a hateful father and a passive-aggressive mother so that when Rob entered adulthood he was emotionally fragile, not knowing who he really was or what career path was best for him.

Psychologically, Rob spent years coming to terms with his homosexuality and the homophobic world that he lived in. His mother who once told him she would kill a son who was gay and he was surrounded by anti-gay rhetoric from religious leaders, politicians and even from some mental health professionals. Somehow he has not only survived and now he shares his story with us in “Oh, Bob! I Thought It Was Curtains,” and hopefully it will provide a bit of sanity to anyone who is or has been the product of a traumatic childhood. It is also a good book for queer youth who are attempting to find their way. Rob’s personal narrative can help others avoid some of the mistakes that his parents made.

We get a fine picture of Russo who is now older and worldlier as he looks back on his life from a gay man’s viewpoint. The book is a collection of well written remembrances that captures the past and his personal experiences as a gay man living at a time when AIDS first struck the gay community.

I’ve Seen It All: Conversations with Wakefield Poole” by Marco Siedelmamm, Jack Fritscher and Udo Rosenberg— The Man Behind the Name

Siedelmann, Marco, Jack Fritscher and Udo Rosenberg. “I’ve Seen It All: Conversations with  Wakefield Poole”, Editions Moustache, 2016,

The Man Behind the Name

Amos Lassen

There was a time in this country when Wakefield Poole seemed to be everywhere and involved in everything including “Broadway, Porno Chic, Rock Music, Gay Liberation, and the Sexual Revolution itself”. He made history with some his early gay porno films and now thanks to a new documentary, “I Always Said Yes” by Jim Tushinski, he has been “rediscovered”. After being almost forgotten, the films by adult movie pioneer Wakefield Poole are being re-discovered by a younger generation of cinematics. In this book we get a very personal and career-spanning interview in which Poole shares never-heard stories and talks about every single film he made. We learn that he once cooked for Jackie Kennedy and was once a dancer on Broadway. He talks about his early porn films “Boys in the Sand” and “Bijou” as well as other films that he made but have been overlooked and we now see what he has been doing with his life since he retired.

While this is a short book, it still contains a lot of information including the interview “Dirty Poole: that Jin Fritscher conducted with Poole for “Drummer” magazine and that was published in 1977. Also in the book is a conversation with German film critic Udo Rotenberg and the book includes many photographs and snapshots from private archives, and artworks. On a personal note, I was very pleased to receive a thank you note from Wakefield Poole after I published my review of Tushinski’s film.

“Porn Diaries” by Bruce LaBruce and edited by Marco Siedelmann— Ahead of his Time

LaBruce, Bruce. “Porn Diaries: How to Succeed in Hardcore Without Really Trying”, (edited by Marco Siedelmann), Editions Moustache, 2016.

Ahead of His Time

Amos Lassen

I am a total Bruce LaBruce fan and I doubt I will ever forget my reaction to the first of his movies that I saw way back when. I was completely engrossed in the honest way he showed gay life and while his films might be considered outlandish and over the top by some, I will always argue for the merit I see in them. LaBruce has dared to go where others will not consider and while there are those who see pornography here, there are also those of us who see beauty. Known as The Advocate for Fagdom, there seem to be no boundaries and LaBruce constantly pushes our buttons allowing us to see a side of gay life that we do not often see on screen. LaBruce is one of the main people in the New Queer Cinema, a group of filmmakers that do not shy away from the reality of life.

LaBruce began his career in Toronto in the 1980s with queer punk fanzines and Super 8 short films, eventually moving into the international independent movie scene, LaBruce was already writing and taking photographs. He wrote for established gay magazines such as “Honcho” and “Inches” and also often supplied them with photographs. This book is the first time that we have his collected thoughts that includes his very “thought-provoking, political, opinionated and cleverly-pointed articles about pornography”.  The book is loaded with photographs and includes a conversation between LaBruce and gay porn legend Peter Berlin as well as numerous essays, articles, stories, and three shooting diaries, for “Skin Flick”, “The Raspberry Reich” and “L.A. Zombie”.

LaBruce tells us that he never had the intention of being a pornographer, “I considered my early Super 8 short films and my first three feature films as art films with sexually explicit content; but as I gained a reputation as a pornographer, as did my producer Jurgen Brüning, we decided to start making ‘real’ porn…. I started making narrative, art films with porn actors and making two versions; softcore and hardcore,” and there are two versions each of “Skin Flick”, “L.A. Zombie”, and “The Raspberry Reich”.

LaBruce describes how porn actors struggle with scripts and we learn that LaBruce is like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain… he pulls it back to reveal the reality of porn filmmaking. He shares that he likes to push the boundary and try to make porn as much like a narrative feature as possible.

LaBruce also shares some of the challenges of indie filmmaking and these include patience, hard work and endless tweaking. “I have a strange drive that compels me to make films, even though I find it enormously challenging; if I don’t make a feature after a certain period of time, I start to get depressed and anxious.” He loves the feedback he gets from people especially those who tell me him how his films have influenced or inspired them. LaBruce sees porn as an unconscious acting out that goes against the regulations of society. The free love that we see in his films ties into LaBruce’s own personal philosophy of love. He is “militantly anti-monogamy” and is in an open marriage because he says that falls in love with other people all the time.

This book provides context to his work in a conversational manner, making the reader feel as though he is actually having a conversation with LaBruce. I can vouch for that having had a phone chat with him after he released “Gerontophilia”. In that chat, I realized how much I missed in the film and who could be better to tell me than the director and screenwriter (with Daniel Allen Cox) himself. I then re-watched the film and it was almost completely different.

“California Dreamin’: West Coast Directors and the Golden Age of Forbidden Gay Movies” by Marco Siedelmann, Jack Fritscher and Toby Ross— Creating Gay Cinema

Siedelmann, Marco, Jack Fritscher and Toby Ross. “California Dreamin’: West Coast Directors and the Golden Age of Forbidden Gay Movies”, Editions Moustache, 2016.

Creating Gay Cinema

Amos Lassen

In terms of American culture we are aware of the differences between the west coast and the east coast. This was even true in terms of gay porn until recently when the Internet broke the coast together.

It might be hard to believe but it is gay porn that gave rise to gay themed film in that early porn had stories and actors to relay them (they just did not have a lot of clothing). There were stars also— Jack Wrangler, Casey Donovan, Peter Berlin as well as may others whose faces and bodies meant money at the box office. They also had sexual charisma that drove audiences wild.

“California Dreamin’” concentrates (naturally) on the West Coast and that time in American history when gay porn was illegal. Editors Marco Siedelmann and Jack Fritscher bring us conversations about the porn industry and we get some real insights on the industry.

We have interviews with J. Brian, Gavin Geoffrey Dillard, Roger Earl, David “Old Reliable” Hurles, Jim West and a guest article by cult filmmaker Toby Ross and numerous pages of pictures and photo art by Tom Bianchi, David Pearce, John J. Krause, Tom of Finland, Tom Kellie, and other gay artists.

I am not what you would call a porn aficionado but I must admit every once in a while it is an escape especially after reading some really awful gay romance novels where sex is evident only in the minds of the characters. I have wondered why we have not had any books by former and/or present gay porn stats and I can only surmise is that they do not know now to write or are under contract not to. This is a great about making porn that we do not know. I am sure that there are little secrets to be told.

In reading this I realized how little I do know about porn and how many films I have missed. I am not sure how to review a book made up entirely of interviews mainly because each is so interesting and to summarize what is there spoils the read for some. One of my favorite gay poets, Gavin Geoffrey Dillard (whose interview is great fun) summed it up like this:

“The magic of cinema is everyman’s fantasy.

Ahhh. But we can dream, can’t we!”

Toby Ross tells a fantastic story about how he became involved in gay porn but the two characters that really stand out from the others are the editors. I have been an email and Facebook friend of Jack Fritscher for years now and we share many academic areas in common although his life is so much more exciting than mine. His is the very interview in the book but then Jack was all over the scene and he worked hard to introduce diversity into the curricula of universities. He not only was a professor but he was also the editor of “Drummer”, a magazine that made people become stars and popularized those in gay culture like filmmakers who needed a little push. Fritscher also was aware of the differences between photographers on each coast and he used Mapplethorpe to photograph a cover for “Drummer” in 1978 and the world soon knew of him. Fritscher also sees that today the two coasts are very close in terms of gay culture even though it is very difficult to pull New York out of a New Yorker and vice versa (did I use that correctly? I am never sure). Anyway, as Fritscher tells us, “hot is hot” and sexy is sexy regardless of coast. While Fritscher is the interviewer, we still learn a great deal about him but then he was, for me, at least, someone I was always aware of and it has been a great pleasure to chat with him about common interests, mainly Tennessee Williams and Mapplethorpe. I knew nothing about Marco Siedelmann before reading this. He wrote the introduction and conducted three interviews: Robert Earl, Gavin Dillard and J. Brian.

There is a great deal of information in these pages but it is not for everyone; the language is raw but there are no full frontal photos (damn!!). Nonetheless, if you are looking for some sexy reading here is a book you do not want to miss. This review has really not done justice to the book and I apologize for that. You will understand what I mean when you read it (or just look at the pictures).