Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Making Sex Public and Other Cinematic Fantasies” by Damon R. Young— The End of Discretion

Young, Damon R. “Making Sex Public and Other Cinematic Fantasies”, Duke University Press, 2018.

The End of Discretion

Amos Lassen

The late 1950s was when representations of and narratives about sex proliferated on French and U.S. movie screens. Some say that this was the beginning of the end of discretion in America. “Cinema began to display forms of sexuality that were no longer strictly associated with domesticity nor limited to heterosexual relations between loving couples. Women’s bodies and queer sexualities became intensely charged figures of political contestation, aspiration, and allegory, central to new ways of imagining sexuality and to new liberal understandings of individual freedom and social responsibility.” Sex became politicized.

Damon R. Young follows the emergence of two conflicting narratives: we have a new model of sex harmoniously integrated into civic existence while an idea of women’s and queer sexuality was seen as corrosive to the very fabric of social life. Using a transatlantic perspective from the late ’50s through the present, from films such as “And God Created Woman”, “Barbarella”, “Cruising” and “Shortbus”, Young shows that cinema participated in the transformation of the sexual subject while showing how women and queers were both agents and objects of that transformation.

We see the visual economy of neoliberalism compressed into the sexual charge of films from the 1950s to the present. Uniting queer theory and film criticism, we see sexual difference and neoliberal sexuality through a variety of visual repredentations. We also see “how the sleaziest sexploitation film models the modern liberal subject in all her contradiction, and re-views the French New Wave through a queer and feminist optic.” Feminine jouissance and homosexual desire as central issues influence how sex was made public in France and the United States since the Sixties. Below is the Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction. Making Sex Public  1

Part I. Women

  1. Autonomous Pleasures: Bardot, Barbarella, and the Liberal Sexual Subject  21
  2. Facing the Body in 1975: Catherine Breillat and the Antinomies of Sex  54

Part II. Criminals

  1. The Form of the Social: Heterosexuality and Homo-aesthetics in Plein soleil 95
  2. Cruising and the Fraternal Social Contract  122

Part III. Citizens

  1. Word Is Out, or Queer Privacy  159
  2. Sex in Public: Through the Window from Psycho to Shortbus 187

Epilogue. Postcinematic Sexuality  215

Notes  239

Bibliography  279

Index  295

“Luminous Traitor: The Just and Daring Life of Roger Casement, a Biographical Novel” by Martin Duberman— A Renowned Figure

Duberman, Martin. “Luminous Traitor: The Just and Daring Life of Roger Casement, a Biographical Novel”, University of California Press, 2018.

A Renowned Figure

Amos Lassen

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Roger Casement was an internationally renowned figure. He was famous for exposing the widespread atrocities against the indigenous people in King Leopold’s Congo and his subsequently exposed (for which he was knighted in 1911) the brutal conditions of enslaved labor in Peru. Casement was an Irish nationalist of profound conviction. At the outbreak World War, I, he tried to obtain German support and weapons for an armed rebellion against British rule. He was both apprehended and convicted of treason in a notorious trial that captured the attention of the world and he was sentenced to die on the gallows. A powerful petition drive for the commutation of his sentence was inaugurated by George Bernard Shaw and a host of other influential figures.

Casement was a gay man who kept detailed diaries of his sexual escapades, and the British government, circulated pages of the diaries to public figures, thus severely hurting what had been a mounting petition for clemency. In 1916, Casement was hanged. Historian Martin Duberman gives us a full portrait of Casement for the first time. The traces his evolution from servant of the empire to his work as a humanitarian activist and anti-imperialist. We learn all about Casement from the professional to the personal—of his fantastic life as a pioneer for human rights.

Casement was an extraordinary historical figure who has been ignored too long and Duberman breathes life into him as he gives the man the justice he deserves. We enter into Roger Casement’s world and the haunting tragedies he faced. We see Sir Roger Casement’s wonderful and tragic life, from when he exploitation of indigenous people in the Putumayo region of the Amazon. I had not heard pf Casement since I was an undergraduate, so it was good to get to know him again. Casement’s homosexuality was denied by a Republican who refused to allow that an Irish patriot could be both such and also gay, but we see in Casement’s diaries that his sexuality is woven into the narrative.




“The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World” by Andrew Reynolds— Coming Forward for Equal Rights

Reynolds, Andrew. “The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World”, Oxford University Press, 2018.

Coming Forward for Equal Rights

Amos Lassen

“The Children of Harvey Milk” is the story of brave men and women around the world who came forward to make their voices heard during the struggle for equal rights. We meet LGBTQ icons from America to Ireland, Britain to New Zealand. Reynolds carefully documents their successes and failures, their stories of acceptance and their heartbreaking stories of ostracism. We see the ways in which individuals can change the views and voting behaviors of those around them. Additionally, we get vignettes of LGBTQ leaders in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean who continue to fight for equality in spite of threats, violence, and homophobia.

The road to gay rights has been a rocky journey and for anyone who is interested in how we got what we have today and social change, this book is a must read. Writer Andrew Reynolds shows us the universal, worldwide breadth and depth of the movement for equal rights among LGBTQ people. We have and have had courageous leaders in countries that we might never imagine gay people coming fort or living in. These heroes assert their identities and claim their citizenships. We see hope at a time when democracy itself faces world-wide threats.

We see the struggles-and failures-of the LGBTQ political movement worldwide and we realize that this is the story of our time. Harvey Milk began the story, and now others carry it around the globe. If we are to move forward, we must elect LGBTQ people to office. Reynolds inspires and empowers us as he takes us through the history of LGBTQ rights and through the eyes of those who dreamed big and who acted on those dreams.

We have made enormous progress and LGBTQ political power is critical to advancing equality for our community.  In looking at the careers (and self-reflections) of politicians who devoted themselves to advance LGBT rights from around the world, we see that idea that the struggle for LGBT rights faces universal as well as local and context-specific challenges. Gay rights don’t come into being by themselves. They require courage, astuteness and perseverance. They also require dedicated politicians.

Reynolds says that what is needed for global social change from political participation to the representation of LGBTI people. The stories he shares inspire and encourage. We see a community that comes together for what they believe in and this is a call for queer people to resist, reform-and become involved in politics. The book’s true heart and soul are the stories of LGBTQ politicians who have transformed our world in the ten years since Milk was killed.

The personal narratives show us the mostly unseen experiences of these important facilitators of change. These are people who have often worked within and benefited from the intense struggle for the expansion of human rights.  

“Growing Up Queer: Kids and the Remaking of LGBTQ Identity” by Mary Robertson— Young and Queer Today

Robertson Mary. “Growing Up Queer: Kids and the Remaking of LGBTQ Identity”, NYU Press, 2018.

Young and Queer Today

Amos Lassen

In “Growing Up Queer”, Mary Robertson looks at the changing ways that young people are now becoming LGBT-identified in the US. “Through interviews and three years of ethnographic research at an LGBTQ youth drop-in center, Robertson focuses on the voices and stories of youths themselves in order to show how young people understand their sexual and gender identities, their interest in queer media, and the role that family plays in their lives.”

 The young people who participated in this research are from the first generation to embrace queer identities as children and adolescents. It is through them that we see how sexual and gender identities are formed through complicated, ambivalent processes as opposed to being natural characteristics that one is born with. We also see how young people navigate queerness within a culture where being gay is the “new normal.” Using Sara Ahmed’s concept of queer orientation, Robertson argues that being queer is not just about one’s sexual and/or gender identity, but is understood through intersecting identities including race, class, ability, and more. In showing how society accepts some kinds of LGBTQ-identified people while rejecting others, we get evidence of queerness as a site of social inequality. This is not just an oversimplified examination of teenage sexuality and it shows, through the voices of young people themselves, the complicated terrain of queer adolescence.

 Robertson examines how youth today form queer identities and she does so with clarity and detail. Robertson tells the story of growing up queer and the community organizations and institutions that help today’s LGBT youth. She documents the new ways queer is being embodied, experienced, and democratized by LGBTQ+ youth. This is written with a critical self-reflexivity regarding her own identity statuses showing us how queer young adults are neither simply resilient in the face of homophobic harassment nor precariously at risk for Rather, Robertson documents the complicated ways queer youth thrive and deal with their social experiences in a supportive space. This supportive space permits and welcomes queer youth group to “explore their gender and sexual fluidity, embrace the trans-affirmative practice of stating preferred gender pronouns, and to simply connect to one another.”

“The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective ” by Joy Ladin— A Bible For All of Us

Ladin, Joy. “The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective “, (HBI Series on Jewish Women), Brandeis University Press, 2018.”

A Bible For All of Us

Amos Lassen

I wait patiently for each new publication from a select group of writers. I cannot call them favorites because favorites change; I prefer to call them special. One of those writers is Joy Ladin. She has wowed me with her poetry and she dared to reach out with her memoir. Joy and I share the fact that we are both serious about our religion, Judaism and the important place it holds in our lives. What I really love about Joy is that she dares… and she succeeds. Like her writing, she is lyrical and elegant and I am proud that I know her.

She has certainly dared with “The Soul of the Stranger” and I can picture the naysayers lining up. She gives us a very unconventional look at the Hebrew Bible and she is published by a very important press, that of Brandeis University. I love that the academic Joy Ladin is published by the academic Brandeis press. I heard over a year ago that this was a book that she was working on and as seriously as I wanted to know what she covered and how, I did not ask. I have always though of writing a book being akin to pregnancy. It’s a rough job that gets rougher when the outcome enters the world.

Ladin explores how the experiences of transgender people and other “hyper-minorities” – people who are different in ways that set them apart from most members of their communities – can help us understand the holy writings and the difficult relations between God and humanity that we read in a good deal of the Hebrew Bible. Joy has her personal experiences as an openly transgender person at Stern College of Yeshiva University where she is both a hyper-minority as the only openly transgender person at her Orthodox Jewish university – and as someone who lived for decades as a middle-class white male. She looks at how the ways we relate to those we see as strangers affects the way we relate to the ultimate stranger, God.

In order to explore basic and fundamental questions about religious texts, traditions and an understanding of God, Ladin returns to some of the best-known Torah stories and looks at them through a transgender perspective. We quickly see how the two can compliment each other. I devote an hour a day to studying Torah and it is during that hour that no outside forces are allowed to enter my world. I decided that I would try to use the hints I get here to read from a different perspective even though I am not transgender but feel comfortable in experimenting with new understandings.

By using her own experiences and her reading skills, Ladin looks at the texts that seem to assume that everyone is one gender or another, male or female. Here we notice that the texts speak to practical transgender concerns as well and these include marginalization, and the challenges of living without a body or social role that renders one intelligible to others. These are challenges that can help us understand a God who defies all human categories. We gain new understandings and old ideas are transformed by a new kind of reading and understanding of the text. After all, God was creative and since we were created in his image, we can be creative too. We gain a new understanding of the way God is portrayed in the Torah and we see the relationships between these understandings.

Joy Ladin writes from her heart and from the core of her being. In giving us new ways to see the holy texts, we see the Torah as a sensitive and dignified manuscript. I love that the journey we take here is both spiritual and intellectual. I found by following what is written here, my own relationships with others and God are changing. What we have is a two way street with the transgender experience shedding light on the Torah and the Torah shedding light on the transgender experience. Through this we see what it means to be a stranger and to see God as a stranger.

The book opens with a transgender reading of the Genesis creation story that pushes against notions of inherent gender. In the next chapter we look at other stories in the Torah in which individuals temporarily exceed or question their traditional gender roles. (“Jacob’s outmaneuvering of his second-born status, Sarah’s belated pregnancy, and Isaac’s painful support for the patriarchal system that nearly kills him”). Ladin also looks at the voluntary Nazarite vow in Numbers 6 and Passover’s concern with the errors of either-or thinking that can serve potentially as models for accepting those who transition. She ends with “a chapter that uses both W.E.B. Du Bois’s theory of the hyper-minority and the Torah notion of stranger or resident alien to build persuasive ethical imperatives for both transgender and cisgender believers.” Ladin explores how her powerful connection with a God who is not intelligible in human terms helped her navigate her years of dysphoria and pain as she felt similarly unrecognizable to others. Now she introduces Jews and other readers of the Torah to new and sensitive approaches with room for broader human dignity.

In the Book of Numbers, Ladin argues that the recurring conflicts between the Israelites and the God enshrined at the center of their camp resemble those experienced by human hyper-minorities and their communities. Even with God’s centrality to the Israelites’ lives, God is always seen by the Israelite community, as different in ways that are difficult to accommodate or understand. Using this perspective, we see God’s insistence that the Israelites identify with “strangers” by remembering that they “know the soul of a stranger” and experienced estrangement in Egypt. This gives us a communal spiritual practice that helps us to make a place, in our communities and in our lives, for God who is always the ultimate stranger.

Here is the Table of Contents:

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Shipwrecked with God
  • The Genesis of Gender
  • Trans Experience in the Torah
  • Close Encounters with an Incomprehensible God
  • Reading Between the Binaries
  • Knowing the Soul of the Stranger
  • Notes
  • Index

“Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance” by Amber Jamilla Musser— Reimagining Black and Brown Sensuality

Musser, Amber Jamilla. “Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance”, (Sexual Cultures), NYU Press, 2018.

Reimagining Black and Brown Sensuality

Amos Lassen

In “Sensual Excess”, Amber Jamilla Musser reimagines black and brown sensuality to develop new modes of knowledge production. She examines the epistemologies of sensuality that emerge from fleshiness. She works against the framing of black and brown bodies as sexualized, objectified, and abject, and offers different ways of thinking with and through sensation and aesthetics. “Each chapter focuses on particular aspects of pornotropic capture that black and brown bodies must always negotiate. Though these technologies differ according to the nature of their encounters with white supremacy, together they add to our understanding of the ways that structures of domination produce violence and work to contain bodies and pleasures within certain legible parameters.”

She then analyzes moments of brown jouissance that exceed these constraints. These breaks illuminate multiple epistemologies of selfhood and sensuality that offer frameworks for “minoritarian knowledge production that is designed to enable one to sit with uncertainty.” Using examinations of installations and performances like “Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, she unpacks the relationships between racialized sexuality and consumption to interrogate foundational concepts in psychoanalytic theory, critical race studies, feminism, and queer theory.” This then is a project of knowledge production focused on sensing and imagining otherwise, whatever and wherever that might be.

This book, therefore, is a model for how to read, engage, think with, and celebrate black, brown, feminist, queer, and sex-centered art practices. It is a sustained argument for and celebration of the sensual politics of work by artists like Xandra Ibarra, Mickalene Thomas, Nao Bustamante, and Lyle Ashton Harris. The writing centers on the performative space of the encounter with art objects and practices and we then see black and brown life unfolding not only in these artworks but also around and through them. Musser’s uses material detail of these works, their vitality, their philosophical intensities, and their ecstatic and transformative potential. In effect, this is a consideration of various representational strategies employed by artists of color in order to rewrite what they have been forced to accept.

“The Daddies” by Kimberly Dark— Masculinity and Patriarchy

Dark, Kimberly. “The Daddies”, Brill Publishing, 2018.

Masculinity and Patriarchy

Amos Lassen

Kimberly Dark takes us into a world where many of us have not visited before and it is quite an eye opener. She gives us a story about love, grief and change and the pain that we feel from these. She tells this story as we see ourselves in the pop culture of today and in doing so we see quite a dark look at masculinity. It takes place after two lovers break up and while this in itself is quite a story, Dark also presents us with a narrative about the need to break up the patriarchal system in which we live. What might be difficult to do is to keep our masculinity as we break down the system of the sense of male superiority. ’”The Daddies’ is about the pain of change”.

Dark begins by asking us how masculinity has found its way through everything that exists. She sees it as seductive and protective while also being destructive and volatile. What we need to do is “to embrace and re-imagine masculinity from the inside out and hold the embrace long enough to change the world.” In this world we have a system of patriarchy, desire and pain that affects femininity in all aspects. She does this by combining fiction, poetry, nonfiction

Dark’s work is a multi-layered hybrid of fiction, poetry, non-fiction, “autoethnography, biomythography, and collage to explore the concepts of ‘Daddy’ through a social critique of news and pop culture.” We thus see what gendered interactions are and what they tell us about erotic love and masculinity. In order to do this we must look at sexual abuse, gendered expectations, identity and desire in a world that is patriarchal.

Kimberly Dark basically presents us with a complex and genre-bending contribution to “queer feeling and to theorizing through storytelling.” We have an interrogation of the psychic structures and deep ambivalences of queer desire and kinship that is so much more than the ideas of perversion and subversion. “The Daddies” is a portrait of contemporary patriarchy by and for Daddy’s girls and Dark has lived through and experienced so much of what she writes about here making her an important person to tell these stories. What we have is “an honest, disturbing, difficult confrontation with the uncontainable.” We find the world of Daddies to be compelling and repelling at the same time.

“The Daddies” is beautifully written, honest and poignant . It is so important that we share stories about gender identity and inequality, sexuality and relationships because, I believe, the more we do, the better we understand our lives and who we are.

“Pride: Photographs After Stonewall” by Fred W. McDarrah— A Chronicle of a Time

McDarrah, Fred W. “Pride: Photographs After Stonewall”, OR Books, 2019.

A Chronicle of a Time

Amos Lassen

OR Books is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to release Fred W. McDarrah’s “Pride: Photograph’s After Stonewall”, the ultimate visual chronicle of life in New York’s gay community circa 1970 in time for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion and World Pride Day in June 2019.

It was fifty years ago this spring, the Stonewall uprising occurred in Greenwich Village. This event marked the coming-out of New York’s gay community and a refusal by gays to accept underground status. It was as important in its way as the Montgomery bus boycott was to the civil rights movement. As a direct outcome of Stonewall, gay pride marches were held in 1970 in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York and then other cities followed

McDarrah was the ultimate chronicler of New York’s downtown scene in that period, and therefore of pre-AIDS life in the gay community. He was senior staff photographer of the legendary Village Voice. In 1994, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Stonewall, A Cappella Books issued his lauded collection Gay Pride: Photographs from Stonewall to Today.

Now working closely with the McDarrah family, and scanning from original negatives, OR Books has completely re-set the original edition of the book, now entitled Pride. The book includes a new foreword by New Yorker critic Hilton Als (who got his first job from McDarrah) and a period essay by Allen Ginsberg and Jill Johnston.

In a recent appreciation of the man and his work in The New York Times, “He Was the Visual Voice of the Village Voice,” Dwight Garner wrote: “McDarrah had an inflamed curiosity, great feelers and an ability to capture liquid moments. He also had hustle.”

Praise for Fred McDarrah

“A self-described square who as a longtime photographer for The Village Voice documented the unwashed exploits of the Beat Generation.” ―Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“[McDarrah’s] nocturnal flash reveals a multitude of subversions.” ―Allen Ginsberg

“Inescapable images of a dirtier, mangier, more creatively churning time that is receding into legend.” ―James Wolcott in Vanity Fair

“GuRu” by RuPaul— RuPaul Philosophizes

RuPaul. “GuRu”, Dey Street, 2019.

RuPaul Philosophizes

Amos Lassen

I think that we can all agree that RuPaul is an amazing person. Here he shares his ideas bout building the kind of life that each of us wants to have and doing so from the inside. “GuRu” is also a beautiful collection of some 80 photographs. “You’re born naked and the rest is drag” is Ru’s motto and we see how he has used it to his own best advantage. He shares what he knows about the concepts of mind, body, and spirit and because of his own unique perspective, RuPaul has broken “the shackles of self-imposed limitations”. He brings us a “daily practice that requires diligence and touchstones to keep you walking in the sunshine of the spirit.” It is necessary to look beyond the identity that was given to each of us if we want to enter a hidden world of possibilities.

We know that throughout the history of humans on this planet, there’ve always been shamans, seers, and mediums who have the ability to interpret both high and low frequencies and remind us to look beyond the surface for the truth of who we really are. Ru tells us that “who we really are is an extension of the power that created the universe (aka: God in drag) and that most people are not willing to hear or accept that.

That is what has made RuPaul a success and not just in the worlds of entertainment and show business. He has succeeded in all aspects of life but especially in navigating the emotional traps that exist in our souls.

“Lives in Transition: LGBTQ Serbia” by Slobodan Randjelovic— Battling Homophobia in Serbia

Randjelovic, Slobodan. “Lives in Transition: LGBTQ Serbia”, The New Press, 2018.

Battling Homophobia in Serbia

Amos Lassen

“Lives in Transition: LGBTQ Serbia” is part of the ongoing series of photo books published with the Arcus Foundation and The New Press about queer communities around the world and like the others, this is a stunning portrait of a community battling homophobia.

In June 2001, Serbia had its first gay pride parade in history in Belgrade’s central square. It was, however, short-lived because an ultranationalist mob quickly descended on the participants, chanting homophobic slurs and injuring many. For years afterward, there was a fear of violence that prevented further pride events. Then in October 2010, the next pride march finally went ahead and again it became violent as anti-gay rioters, firing shots and throwing gas bombs, fought the police. It was only in 2014 that a pride march was held uninterrupted but it was under heavy police protection.

Photographer Slobodan Randjelović captures the struggles and successes of twenty LGBTQ people who live throughout Serbia; a conservative, religious country where, despite semi-progressive LGBTQ protection laws, homophobia is fueled by religious authorities and right-wing political parties. Serbia is a country where lack of employment opportunity and hostile families frequently drive queer people into poverty and isolation. LGBTQ Serbs have struggled to build a community that provides solace, protection, and even joy. We see their remarkable and inspiring resilience in the human struggle against a repressive social structure and demonstrates how friendship and community can help people shape their own futures.

The photos and text here take us into the lives of Serbs who are struggling for human rights and who just want to live freely. The images are powerful and moving. Those who have been silenced by society show us courage, strength, and resilience as they face violence and hatred. I found myself inspired and empowered even though I was thousands of miles away and it struck me very hard since I had lived in Israel when the same type of homophobia once existed. It is our responsibility to listen to subjects speaking back to us, share their truths, their resilience, and their collective power.