Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“History of Violence: A Novel” by Edouard Louis— An Autobiographical Novel

Louis, Edouard. “History of Violence: A Novel”, translated by Lorin Stein, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.

An Autobiographical Novel

Amos Lassen

  1. Edouard Louis’s “History of Violence” autobiographical novel about surviving a shocking sexual assault and coping with the post-traumatic stress disorder of its aftermath has been an international bestseller and now is available in English.

On Christmas Eve 2012, in Paris, the novelist Louis was raped and almost murdered by a man he had just met. For Louis that was a shattering act of violence that made him a stranger to himself, so much so that it caused his return to the village, the family, and the past he had sworn to leave behind.

The story moves back and forth between past and present and between Louis’s voice and the voice of an imagined narrator. We read of the casual racism and homophobia of French society and the subtle effects these have on lovers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. We see the suffering that cones f from exclusion, domination, and poverty. Having grown up in poverty, we are taken back to the first book that Louis wrote, “The End of Eddy” in which he described growing up gay in a working class village in the north of France. We read of the harassing incidents that followed the rape as the novel examines guilt, homophobia and racism and we get a close look at the nature of violence and the dynamics that bring about an escalation of such violence. At times, it as if we are reading a police report. Louis is a masterful writer and an emotional force. We see that when one is confronted with violence, it is usually then reproduced against others and that the cult of masculinity often arises because of it.

This is not an easy book to read because it is so real yet it is an important book and a wonderful addition to the canon of LGBT literature and literature in general. The novel gives a give a voice to those affected by violence and reveals the sentiment of invisibility that strikes the dispossessed as well as critiques the values of the culture of violence.

“The Athiest in the Attic” by Samuel R. Delany— Finally!!!

Delany, Samuel R. “The Atheist in the Attic”, PM Press, 2018.

Finally!!!

Amos Lassen

“The Atheist in the Attic”  appears for the first time in book form for the first time. It is a narrative that is filled with suspense while at the same time giving us a vivid historical narrative that recreates the top-secret meeting between the mathematical genius Leibniz and the philosopher Spinoza. Both were caught between the horrors of the cannibalistic Dutch Rampjaar and the brilliant “big bang” of the Enlightenment. This is a meditation on class and ethnic antipathies in the overlapping territories of poetry and philosophy. Multiple readings add much more to this.

Included is Delany’s “Racism and Science Fiction”, an essay written in 1998 that combines scholarly research and personal experience in the unique true story of the first major African-American author in the genre. The essay combines anecdote and analysis in a well-measured, original, and historically insightful look at black authorship and reception in science fiction and its progenitors.

Finally there is an original interview between Delany and the editor of the Outspoken Authors series, Terry Bisson. The interview is a bit unfocused but gives a good overview of Delany’s recent and major engagements, projects, etc. and looks at biographical inaccuracies.

 

“The Path to Gay Rights: How Activism and Coming Out Changed Public Opinion” by Jeremiah J. Garretson— How Opinion Has Changed

Garretson, Jeremiah J. “The Path to Gay Rights: How Activism and Coming Out Changed Public Opinion”, NYU Press, 2018.

How Opinion Has Changed

Amos Lassen

I am most definitely not a data person. When I was a graduate student in education, I had to take a statistics course and it was a disaster. However, we live in a country that seems to be obsessed with data and I have learned that it can be fascinating to read every once in a while and that brings me to this new book, “”The Path to Gay Rights” which is an

innovative, data-driven explanation of how public opinion shifted on LGBTQ rights. I am sure that many of you are like me when you think how everything has changed for the LGBTQ community. So much has happened and many of us have to pinch ourselves to realize we are not dreaming. Here we have the data to prove the facts and it is very important to look at it.

“The Path to Gay Rights” is “the first social science analysis of how and why the LGBTQ movement achieved its most unexpected victory—transforming gay people from a despised group of social deviants into a minority worthy of rights and protections in the eyes of most Americans.” Writer and researcher Jeremiah J. Garretson brings together a narrative of LGBTQ history with new findings from the field of political psychology so that we can better understand how social movements affect mass attitudes in the United States and globally. 

Garretson has collected data from as far back as the 1970s to argue that how we understand how social movements change mass opinion (through sympathetic media coverage and endorsements from political leaders) does not and cannot provide an adequate explanation for the success of the LGBTQ movement at changing the public’s views. He confirms what I have always thought and that is that our community’s response the AIDS crisis was an important and major turning point for public support of gay rights. It took the death of many members of our community for things to change and what a price we paid! ACT-UP and other AIDS organizations went after political and media leaders in order to normalize news coverage of LGBTQ issues and AIDS. We were told, as if we did not already know, that our lives are important and valued. From this we saw an increase in the number of LGBTQ people who came out and lived open lives and with increased contact with gay people, public attitudes began to change. But to talk about gay rights, we must go beyond them to develop “an evidence-based argument for how social movements can alter mass opinion on any contentious topic.”

It is important to note that support for gay rights has followed a different path than support for any other minority group’s rights— that support grew slowly but once it began to accelerate, it took off. We see rapidly and markedly lately. Garretson explores the shift in public opinion and follows it back to Americans’ increased contact with gay and lesbian individuals both directly and characters on television. Garretson looks at activism, interest group activity, and political campaigns through careful analyses of survey data, online searches, and Congressional votes. The dynamics of public opinion concerning gays and lesbians and social change are closely examined here. This is a book that is suitable for scholars yet it also belongs in every LGBT person’s library so that we can be reminded of how we got to where we are.

“Given Up for You: A Memoir of Love, Belonging, and Belief” by Erin O. White— Yearnings

White, Erin O. “Given Up for You: A Memoir of Love, Belonging, and Belief”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.

Yearnings

Amos Lassen

Erin O. White in her candid memoir this candid and revelatory memoir tells us of her desire for both romantic and divine love, and how this transformed her life. In the late 1990s, she spent Saturday nights with her girlfriend and on Sunday mornings she went to Catholic confirmation classes. Then when the Church closed its doors to her, she faced a serious question— What does a lesbian believer do with her longing for God? She shares her feelings with conviction, as she explores heart and soul. Her memoir is candid and intimate and puts forth

 complex questions about the world and how we fit into it. White’s struggle to reconcile desire and belief reminding us, yet again, the loss we encounter when the church refuses our entry. Her story is the story of denied faith. What really hits us hard is the onus that comes with such carnal and spiritual denial.

She believes that “there may be no act more subversive than surrender, no prayer more devout than desire itself.” As she deals with the competing and rivalries of same-sex denial and Roman Catholicism, she shares very personal thoughts. She attempted to juggle these two desires and as we read we often find ourselves feeling exactly the same yet White decided to put his down on paper. White’s prose here is beautiful and heartbreaking in its honesty.

“Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal” by Anthony Daly— A Shocking Memoir

Daly, Anthony. “Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal”, Mirror Books, 2018.

A Shocking Memoir

Amos Lassen

“Playland” is a shocking and important new memoir from Anthony Daly and I must say that as one who is not easily shocked, I was indeed shocked and surprised as I read this book. This is Daly’s voice as he relates to us from being part of a dark scandal in the heart of London’s Soho in the 1970s. Daly came to London as a way of escaping the trials of living in his native Northern Ireland. He got a job at Foyles Bookshop and began a new life in England. However, because he was naïve, he was soon dealing with predators who were looking for young men to blackmail and sexually exploit. The irony is that he left Ireland in hopes of a better and freer life and found one that was so much worse than he could have ever imagined. He was victim to sexual and mental abuse by some the most influential men in England and he was forced to hide it. However, as time passed, the trauma of it all became harder to contain as he witnessed other revelations of historic abuse coming to light on TV and in newspapers. Ultimately, the voice he though he had lost was heard. For forty years, he had been silent and what he had to say was politically explosive. He has managed to tell all and to do so stylishly and with feeling (a feeling that I hope I never have). This is a haunting true story of a young man’s descent into a “hell designed to satisfy the powerful. A world which destroyed the lives of everyone involved. `[This is my] journey into a world of drink and drugs, a world of gangsters, rent boys, businessmen, politicians, pimps and pedophiles. Because of what happened to me and the fact that I kept a diary at the time, I am in a unique position to tell the real story of Playland.”

“Sleep Demons: An Insomniac’s Memoir” by Bill Hayes— With a New Preface

 

Hayes, Bill. “Sleep Demons: An Insomniac’s Memoir”, University of Chicago Press, 2001, reprint 2018.

With a New Preface

Amos Lassen

Some of you might recognize the name Bill Hayes from another book that he wrote, “Insomniac City” which I recently reviewed. It is a memoir of his years with the great Oliver Sacks. This book was originally written seventeen years ago and I suspect it has been reissued because of the success of the later book.

“We often think of sleep as mere stasis, a pause button we press at the end of each day. Yet sleep is full of untold mysteries—eluding us when we seek it too fervently, throwing us into surreal dream worlds when we don’t, sometimes even possessing our bodies so that they walk and talk without our conscious volition.” Bill Hayes explores the mysteries of his own sleep patterns and has decided, “I have come to see that sleep itself tells a story.

Hayes has been plagued by insomnia his entire life. The science and mythology of sleep and sleeplessness form the backbone to Hayes’s narrative of his personal battles with sleep and how they colored his waking life. He shares stories of fugitive sleep through memories of growing up in the closet, coming out to his Irish Catholic family and then watching his friends fall ill and die during the early years of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco and finally finding a lover. His stories are an erudite blend of science and personal narrative and they serve as an introduction to the topics for which Hayes has since become famous, including art, Eros, city life, the history of medical science, and queer identity. 

 The book is part reflection on his own lifelong turmoil with sleep and part inquiry into the worlds of sleep research, psychology, medicine, mythology, aging, and mental health.” Hayes brings memoir, history, and science together and pulls them apart again in a book that switches genre and subject. We have fascinating research and memoir of a gay man who grew up in a household filled with Ireland, Catholicism, and the military. Hayes brings together

his coming-out and queer-sex stories within the overarching theme of sleeplessness and in doing so he pushes the borders of gay autobiography, giving new life to a powerful genre. We might say that this is an “obsessional autobiography”.

“Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality” edited by Goran Stanivukovic— For Shakespeare Scholars

Stanivukovic, Goren (editor). “Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality”, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

For Shakespeare Scholars

Amos Lassen

“Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality” is a collection of 13 essays, which provide a major reassessment of the criticism of desire, body and sexuality in Shakespeare’s drama and poetry. Those included are some of the most prominent critics who are working at the intersection of Shakespeare criticism and queer theory and what we see here is a new vibrancy of queer Shakespeare studies. These essays look at “embodiment, desire, sexuality and gender as key objects of analyses, producing concepts and ideas that draw critical energy from focused studies of time, language and nature. The Afterword extends these inquiries by linking the Anthropocene and queer ecology with Shakespeare criticism.” Works from Shakespeare’s entire canon are featured in essays that explore such topics as glass, love, antitheatrical homophobia, size, narrative, sound, female same-sex desire and Petrarchism, weather, usury and sodomy, male femininity and male-to-female crossdressing, contagion, and antisocial procreation.

Table of contents:

Introduction: ‘Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality’, by Goran Stanivukovic, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada

1.’Which is worthiest love’ in Two Gentlemen of Verona?, by David L. Orvis, Appalachan State University, USA

  1. ‘Glass: The Sonnets’ Desiring Object’, by John Garrison, Carroll University USA
  2. ‘The Sport of Asses: A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘, by Kirk Quinsland, Fordham University, USA
  3. ‘As You Like It or What You Will: Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Beccadelli’s Hermaphroditus‘, by Ian F. Moulton, Arizona State University, USA
  4. ‘The Queer Language of Size in Love’s Labour’s Lost‘, by Valerie Billing, Knox College, USA
  5. ‘Locating Queerness in Cymbeline‘, by Stephen Guy-Bray, University of British Columbia, Canada
  6. ‘Desiring H: Much Ado About Nothing and the Sound of Women’s Desire’, by Holly Dugan, George Washington University, USA
  7. ‘“Two lips, indifferent red:’ Queer Styles in Twelfth Night‘, by Goran Stanivukovic, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada
  8. ‘Queer Nature, or the Weather in Macbeth‘, by Christine Varnado, State University of New York, Buffalo, USA
  9. ‘Strange Insertions in The Merchant of Venice‘, by Eliza Greenstadt, Portland State University, USA
  10. ‘Male Femininity and Male-to-Female Crossdressing in Shakespeare’s Plays and Poems,’ by Simone Chess, Wayne State University, USA
  11. ‘Held in Common: Romeo and Juliet and The Promiscuous Seductions of Plague’, by Kathryn Schwarz, Vanderbilt University, USA
  12. ‘Antisocial Procreation in Measure for Measure‘, by Melissa E. Sanchez, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Afterword by Vin Nardizzi, University of British Columbia, Canada

 

“Gay on God’s Campus: Mobilizing for LGBT Equality at Christian Colleges and Universities” by Jonathan S. Coley— God and the Dean Are Watching You

Coley, Jonathan S. “Gay on God’s Campus: Mobilizing for LGBT Equality at Christian Colleges and Universities”, The University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

God and the Dean Are Watching You

Amos Lassen

While we are all aware of the tremendous progress made by the LGBT movement in the United States, LGBT people continue to face discrimination in faith communities. In “Gay on God’s Campus”, sociologist Jonathan S. Coley documents why and how student activists mobilize for greater inclusion at Christian colleges and universities. Through interviews with student activists at many Christian institutions of higher learning, Coley shows that students who are initially drawn to activism because of their own political, religious, or LGBT identities, are forming direct action groups in order to transform university policies, educational groups have opened up campus dialogue, and solidarity groups now facilitate their members’ personal growth. These LGBT activists use these skills and values after graduation in subsequent political campaigns, careers, and family lives, giving them the potential to become change agents in their faith communities for years to come. What Coley’s has found gives us insight into a new frontier of LGBT activism and this activism challenges “prevailing wisdom about the characteristics of activists, the purpose of activist groups, and ultimately the nature of activism itself.”

Coley has done incredible research to rebut “the false-dichotomy portrayal of Christian groups as universally situated in opposition to LGBT culture.” His emphasis on the intersection of religious identity and LGBT activism satisfies an important place in social movements and their fields. Of course it is good to know that there is activism on these campuses and it is more important for those who wish to be activists know that are many ways to be so. Coley deftly paints a portrait of LGBT advocacy on Christian college campuses and clearly demonstrates how there are multiple ways to be an activist.”

I remember all to well that just several years ago at Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, several activists were expelled for setting up a Gay Student Association and they were actually aided by two faculty members. There was a similar incident at Ouachita Baptist University, the Alma Mater of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary.

It is also important to remember that Yeshiva University, a Jewish institution has had trouble in the past as have several Catholic Colleges but things are changing quickly. We must look at the past in order to deal with the present. This is a book that has cried out to be published and now that it has been, let’s hope for more like it.

“Mad Dogs And Queer Tattoos: Tattooing the San Francisco Queer Revolution” by Robert E. Roberts— Every Tattoo Has a Story

Roberts, Robert E. “Mad Dogs And Queer Tattoos: Tattooing the San Francisco Queer Revolution”, Fair Page Media, 2018.

Every Tattoo Has a Story

Amos Lassen

Robert E. Roberts was trained as a classical musician but he gave up composing harpsichord music to become a tattoo artist. In this memoir, Roberts, aka “Mad Dog,” describes coming out as a gay man and shared ink stories that document the height of the San Francisco Gay Revolution. He shows us that every tattoo has a story, and the way that Roberts categorizes tattoo images gives their meaning in gay life. The stories provide new insights into the great social changes that were taking place. Roberts details the identities, challenges, sorrows and joys of gay life in powerful images that have come to represent machismo, bear culture, tribalism, and mythology.

Tattoo ink is permanent ink and is eyewitness to the sex, art, and skin it took to create our queer identities after Stonewall. A tattooist is like a barber or bartender in that get to hear secrets of their customers. There is a unique authenticity here. Roberts is a master of anecdote from San Francisco to Amsterdam and he builds gay history from his clients’ tales. He tells all about tattooing and reveals truths about surviving gay human life because our tattooing is “a blood art with needles, existentially suited to rage against AIDS”. He lost his own lover to the disease and this has empowered to put names to faces of men long gone—men on whose skin he inked images drawn by Tom of Finland, Rex, and Disney. This book is a wonderful and alternative contribution to San Francisco gay history that is extremely well written. I would love to be able to say that this is a fun read but it is more bittersweet than fun.

Roberts was dedicated to his art of tattooing as he was committed to live to an openly gay lifestyle in “the very heterosexual tattoo world.” His history is also a history of the gay movement in San Francisco from the 1980s and beyond.

“Into the Light: Photographs of the NYC Gay Pride Day from the 70s till Today” by Stanley Stellar (photographer)— Pride and History Through Pictures

Stellar, Stanley (Photographer). “Into the Light: Photographs of the NYC Gay Pride Day from the 70s till Today”, Bruno Gmunder, 2018.

Pride  and History Through Pictures

Amos Lassen

“Into the Light” is photographer Stanley Stellar’s “magnus opum: a history of the New York Pride Parade from the 1970s until today.” Born in Brooklyn, Stellar is a member of the same generation as the same generation as Robert Mapplethorpe. He chose to chronicle New York City and like NYC, the camera never sleeps or even rests.

Stellar is a living witness to the urban drama which spanned the years from 1969 to the present. His photos and his imagery “reconfirm the centrality, in spite of everything, of eternal male beauty.”

His book is a cultural history; the photographs here not only reflect the individual people taking part in these parades but also give us an idea of the social impact of the gay movement which has been retained through today.

Each photo was carefully selected and is accompanied with Stellar’s own words. Each photograph is also an artifact of a special place during a special time: “the hedonistic 70s, the devastating 80s after the rise of HIV/AIDS, the plastic 90s, and the new millennium until today.”

In this way “Into the Light“ is a unique contribution to gay history.