Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez” by Jose Baez— The Inside Story

Baez, Jose. “Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez”, Hatchette, 2018.

The Inside Story

Amos Lassen

Jose Baez shares the revelatory inside story of the trial and final days of New England Patriots superstar Aaron Hernandez. It all began when renowned defense attorney Jose Baez received a request for representation from Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez was the disgraced Patriots tight end was already serving a life sentence for murder. Defending him in a second, double-murder trial was probably a lost cause but Baez accepted the challenge, and their partnership culminated in a courtroom victory, a race to contest his first conviction, and ultimately a tragedy, when Aaron killed himself just days after his acquittal.

This is an account of Aaron’s life and final year and is based on countless intimate conversations with Aaron, and told from the perspective of a true insider. It has been written with the support of Hernandez’s fiancée and it takes us inside the high-profile trial, and gives us a dramatic retelling of the race to obtain key evidence that would exonerate Hernandez, and later play a very important role in appealing his first conviction.

We get revelations about Aaron’s personal life that weren’t shared at trial and an exploration of the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy diagnosis revealed by his autopsy. Baez gives us a startling courtroom drama and an unexpected portrait of a fallen father, fiancé, and teammate.

Baez was the attorney who got Hernandez acquitted of a 2012 double murder and he squashes the rumor about the jailhouse letters and presents fascinating new details about Hernandez’s trade request to Bill Belichick. Baez describes Hernandez’s final days as an inmate and suicide victim. Living in Boston, it was almost impossible not to follow the trial but even having one so, I learned a great deal from this book. In my opinion this is the best resource on the Hernandez case.

Hernandez was secretive and his family and friends have said very little. We have not been privy to his thoughts and decisions and reasons. Baez became very close to Aaron and became one of his few confidants. As a result, we see Hernandez in a new way. We get answers to questions that have not been publicized including about Hernandez’s sexuality to the full text of his suicide notes to the lifestyles of the Cape Verdeans he was accused of murdering. Baez writes about things that were unaddressed.

Baez took what could have been a very sleazy exercise and makes it feel almost like Hernandez himself might have written this if he was ready to tell his story himself. Baez remains true to his loyalty to his client and his love of Hernandez makes him human. In a sense, Baez gives us something of a primer on how to try a criminal case and I felt that we learned as much about Baez as we did about Hernandez.

 

 

Hernandez’s troubles started at Florida University and are well documented… along with his coach Urban Meyer whose team had more arrests and suspensions than any team in the country. Hernandez was not only suspended for weed but because he was always in trouble about something. This is a well-written and interesting book that fills in some of the mystery but lays bare others.

“No Ashes in the Fire” by Darnell L. Moore— Queer and Black in Camden

Moore, Darnell L. “No Ashes in the Fire”, Nation Books, 2018.

Queer and Black in Camden

Amos Lassen

Darnell Moore’s “No Ashes in the Fire” is both memoir and social commentary. What we gain here is a deep understanding of being black and gay. Moore not only claims this double identity, he both suffers and revels in it. The idea of blackness has crafted by generations of white supremacy and is paralyzing and narrow. Black Americans have struggled to free themselves of these limited expectations, to transcend being seen simply as other, as “the brutish thug on the corner, the sassy and strong black woman, the cheerfully selfless mammy, or the mindless entertainer.” There is an invisibility of black people that denies the complexity of who they really are as human beings and it has constantly threatened sense of self and undermined ability to realize full potential; it has allowed a justification for centuries of societal and institutional abuse and exploitation.

For LGBTQ black people, it has been worse. They have to deal with racism, disabling as it is for all black people, and their identities as queer and trans living in a patriarchal and dominantly heterosexual world is an extra burden, including one often imposed by their own communities; yet another assault on the psyche.

Thirty years after having been assaulted by three boys when he was fourteen, Moore is a leading Black Lives Matter activist, and an advocate for justice and liberation. In “No Ashes in the Fire”, he shares his journey with us from having been a bullied teenager to finding his calling in the world. He has transcended over many forces of repression and shows us that if we dream, we can create futures in which we can thrive. This is a story about “beauty and hope-and an honest reckoning with family, with place, and with what it means to be free.”

Moore has struggled against bullying, bigotry, and self-loathing and we see his vulnerability. He finds his way to LGBTQ activism and self-acceptance through faith and family. He has dared to call into question the truths we assume about ourselves and those among us.

Moore grew up as a queer black man in Camden, New Jersey in the 1980s. He was loved by his family and cast out by his peers as he his faith, his sexuality and his own self-loathing and self-acceptance. He writes analytically and he is aware and compassionate. He takes us in to his family and his life as if we have always been there. We see how he faced “anti-Black racism, neoliberalism, queer and trans antagonism, inequities in education, the ills of U.S. housing markets and so much more”.

“Yes, You Are Trans Enough: My Transition from Self-Loathing to Self-Love” by Mia Violet— Not Fitting In

Violet, Mia. “Yes, You Are Trans Enough: My Transition from Self-Loathing to Self-Love”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.

Not Fitting In

Amos Lassen

Mia Violet shares her deeply personal and witty account of growing up as the kid who never fitted in. Now at age twenty-six at 26 she has come to understand that she was ‘trans enough’ to be transgender. She had never before had the language to understand why. Her childhood and early adulthood were filled with bullying, heartache and a botched coming out attempt, counseling, Gender Identity Clinics and acceptance. Here she faces the ins and outs of transitioning and she explores the major questions in the transgender debate and confronts what the media has gotten wrong. She takes us step by step through her quest to obtain personal acceptance and realness.

Mia Violet is brutally honest in this memoir and gives us a look into the lives of trans people. As she does, she corrects the mistakes and misinformation of the media. She shares her story by talking about the ups and the downs and we see that transitioning can be a life long process with many life-changing experiences that can lead up a happy existence. Violet is a good writer and knows how to use humor to tell her stories.

This is a book that cries out to be read. I was totally amazed at the amount of information here and there were moments that I was moved to tears.

“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask)” by Brynn Tannehill— What We Need to Know and More

Tannehill, Brynn. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask)”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.

What We Need to Know and More

Amos Lassen

A book like “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask)” is very difficult to review in that it is very much a collection of questions and answers. I believe that it was designed to destroy the falsities about trans people and to answer the questions so many of us have.

Author Brynn Tannehill is a leading trans activist and essayist and tells us everything we ever wanted to know about transgender issues. The book breaks down deeply held misconceptions about trans people across all aspects of life including politics, law and culture, through to science, religion and mental health and we gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be trans. Tannerhill starts with the basics by defining what transgender means and then we move into the more complex issues and topics. These include growing up trans, dating and sex, medical and mental health, and debates around gender and feminism. Brynn also challenges deceptive information about transgender people being that has reached the public and transphobic myths are and biased research are cast out along with bad statistics and bad science.

By reading this, it is possible and even probable that we become more informed. The book is heavily footnoted so all information comes from a place of importance and the entire book is highly readable… and recommended. A very valuable bibliography is also included.

 

“Raising Rosie: Our Story of Parenting an Intersex Child” by Stephani Lohman and Eric Lohman— The Title Says It All

Lohman, Stephani and Eric Lohman. “Raising Rosie: Our Story of Parenting an Intersex Child,”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.

The Title Says It All

Amos Lassen

Eric and Stephani Lohman are the proud parents of Rosie who at birth put them into a situation that they were not prepared for. Rosie was born intersex, “a term that describes people who are born with a variety of physical characteristics that do not fit neatly into traditional conceptions about male and female bodies “. The Lohmans were pressured to agree and consent to normalizing surgery on Rosie. They were concerned but were given no alternatives to the procedure. Now they have written about what they went through in a book that is both a memoir and a guidebook.

We read of their experience of refusing to have Rosie operated on and how they raised a child who is intersex. We read how they spoke about the condition to friends and family, to Rosie’s teachers and caregivers, how they plan on explaining it to Rosie when she is older. This story is powerful and uplifting and is most certainly a very important book.

We can only imagine the many decisions that the Lohmans have had to make and will continue making. They see Rosie and her body as hers and she is the only one who has control over it.

The Lohmans fought for Rosie and continue to do continue to fight for their child. They faced many doubts but they agree that they are doing the right thing. Because of their love for their child, they listen to what she says and allow her to grow. They teach her that her body is nothing to be ashamed of.

There is a great deal of emotion in the text and I found myself tearing up several times as I read. It is not only the fascinating aspects of the story that kept me reading but the prose with which it was written. I could actually feel love in each sentence.

“Queer Sex: A Trans and Non-Binary Guide to Intimacy, Pleasure and Relationships” by Juno Roche— Starting the Conversation

Roche, Juno. “Queer Sex: A Trans and Non-Binary Guide to Intimacy, Pleasure and Relationships”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.

Starting the Conversation

Amos Lassen

I believe that one of the most difficult topics to talk about with regard to transgender people is sex and I also believe that the power of sex is underestimated. Yet, one of the first questions many have about trans people is how do they have sex and it is either unasked or squelched. In “Queer Sex”, transgender activist Juno Roche discusses sex, desire and dating with leading figures from the trans and non-binary community. She calls out prejudices and inspires readers to explore their own concepts of intimacy and sexuality, gives first-hand accounts that “celebrate the wonder and potential of trans bodies and push at the boundaries of how society views gender, sexuality and relationships.” What we really see is that all trans people deserve to feel brave, beautiful and sexy.

This is the first book I am reviewing from the Jessica Kingsley Press on trans issues and I have another five others waiting their turn. This press has published and will be publishing a great many trans books.

Juno Roche has written about gender non-conformity issues and cisgender privilege and she is not afraid to be deeply personal to make her point. She sees that we are all individuals able to encourage each other towards authenticity. I do think it is wonderful that we have “Queer Sex” and it is certainly an audacious and inspiring challenge to a system that shames trans bodies and desires.” The interviews are fascinating and captivating. They give us a look at how our thoughts around intimacy and sex are constantly changing and evolving. Roche writes with humor and heart and it is interesting that sex is such a talked about subject everywhere yet it is not talked about openly in trans circles. Roche has conversations about bodies, intimacy and sex that many have wanted to hear. We also learn about elements of transitioning that many are unaware of.

Roche explores her own relationship to her post transition sexuality through interviews with other trans, non-binary, and queer people giving us a groundbreaking exploration of the ways nonconforming people reframe and redefine sex. I do think it important to note that Roche’s main focus is on relationships between trans couples or non-binary couples and there is no information on trans relationships with cisgenders. This is also incorrectly titled in that this is not a guide but rather a collection of details from interviews. Most of the people interviewed were either transwomen or non-binary and there is very little about transmale sexuality. Roche has a lot to say about her vagina which while interesting does not have anything to do with the word “guide”. It is, however, interesting and gives some insight into intimacy. However, there is too much emphasis on Juno herself and on older trans people and I just do not think it will bring much to the younger generation. Hopefully other books from this publishing house will do that.

I understand that Roche wrote this book as a way of working through her own issues around sex after having had bottom surgery in Great Britain. She was struggling with dating and what sex and relationships “should” be for her, so she turned to journaling and interviewing others. It was her hope that her book would serve to help others also struggling with the same issues. There is a great deal of missing information and “poorly integrated personal emotion” yet there is some really fascinating information here— it is just incomplete but it is a start to an important conversation.

“Jewish, Gay & Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany: Uncle Alfred Flechtheim’s Unexpected Legacies in Art, AIDS & Law” by Michael Hulton— A Look Back, A Look Forward

Hulton, Michael. “Jewish, Gay & Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany: Uncle Alfred Flechtheim’s Unexpected Legacies in Art, AIDS & Law”, Kieran Publishing, 2018.

A Look Back, A Look Forward

Amos Lassen

Michael Hulton brings together two fascinating eras and gives the reader a new perspective with which to address art and the law. As Hulton recounts the life of his great uncle and art dealer Alfred Flechtheim, a gay Jewish man in the decadent avant-garde movement during the Weimar Republic through to Nazi Germany, he gives us a look at homosexual history, how it was recognized in society from the end of the 19th century through its “coming out phase” in the 1960s.

He finds parallels between the denial of the holocaust and AIDS skepticism. Hulton is a medical doctor who was personally involved fighting for AIDS recognition and treatment. We also gain details about economic spoliation in Nazi Germany and his own pursuit of art restitution on behalf of his late uncle’s family. We get an unexpected legacy of law and art that gives Hulton the means to donate his share of his restitution inheritance to HIV research and Jewish organizations.

Hulton’s parents were Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who met in wartime London. His father came from a well-off background. His aunt had married an eminent art-dealer, despite his homosexuality, which his father recalled with evident disapproval. Hulton became intrigued by this, and by his parents’ backgrounds. He graduated from Cambridge University as a doctor and settled down to a career in anesthesia in Toronto, until the eighties, when the AIDS epidemic surfaced. He found that the parallels with the Holocaust were overwhelming and began a part-time medical practice that led to AIDS activism and relocation to San Francisco. Unexpectedly, lawyers contacted him about his long dead great uncle, explaining the potential for restitution of his property lost in the Nazi persecution. Thus began a new career. The book traces the biography of his enigmatic flamboyant great uncle, and his own autobiography, with the amazing parallels of his own story and his newly discovered family history.

“Queering the Kitchen: A Manifesto” by Daniel Isengart— Reclamation

Isengart, Daniel. “Queering the Kitchen: A Manifesto”, Outpost 19, 2018.

Reclamation

Amos Lassen

There are many publishers today who are publishing gay themed books and/or books by gay authors. Many of them are familiar with my work are regularly send me books and then there are others like Outpost 19 who send their books to the people on their list and are reluctant to add new names but let’s face it, publishing is an expensive business and while the only reason they have ever given me for not sending me review copies is that they only have a limited few of such copies and I have to accept that or do without reading some very good books. Once such book is Daniel Isengart’s “Queering the Kitchen” (and the second Isengart book in recent times). Because I wanted to read this, I actually bought a copy and it was a wise purchase.

Isengart says that this is a “manifesto for reclaiming the lost history and influence of gay men in the culinary arts” and he goes on to explain that “gay identity has long been openly linked to the decorative and performing arts — fashion, interior design, dance, opera, and theater and he adds the kitchen to that list.

It is well known that gay men widely populate America’s food industries yet “their role and impact remain firmly in the closet.” In “Queering The Kitchen”, Isengart makes a case for coming-out industry-wide.

Many gay men felt safe cooking at home behind closed doors because at home, they could be themselves. Isengart explores the hidden histories and customs while also mentioning those gay men who were out of and in the kitchen— Dean & Deluca, James Beard, Craig Claiborne and many others. With the rise of gay identity, there has been a concurrent counter – Emeril Live and other media phenomena that replaced culinary with a lowbrow kitchen activities. Isengart also mentions the kitchens of Anthony Bourdain and many lesbian chefs. You might very well be surprised at what you read here.

Daniel Isengart is a writer, cabaret entertainer and private chef living in New York City.

“David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night”: The Catalogue

“David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night”: The Catalogue

Whitney Museum of American Art

Amos Lassen

The first comprehensive and most definitive source to date on David Wojnarowicz is now on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art from July 13-September 30, 2018. The catalog for that exhibit is an engaging and richly illustrated book comprehensively examines the life and art of David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992), who came to prominence in New York’s East Village art world of the 1980s, actively embracing all media and forging an expansive range of work both fiercely political and highly personal. “First displayed in raw storefront galleries, his work achieved national attention at the same moment that the AIDS epidemic was affecting a generation of artists, himself included.”

“In a thoughtful overview essay, David Breslin looks at the breadth of the artist’s work as well as Wojnarowicz’s broad range of interests and influences, situating the artist in the art-historical canon and pushing beyond the biographical focus that has characterized much of the scholarship on Wojnarowicz to fully assess his paintings, photographs, installations, performances, and writing. A close examination of groups of works by David Kiehl sheds new light on the artist’s process and the context in which the works were created. Essays by Julie Ault, Gregg Bordowitz, C. Carr, Marvin Taylor, and National Book Award finalist Hanya Yanagihara investigate the relationship between artistic production and cultural activism during the AIDS crisis, as well as provide a necessary accounting and close evaluation of divergent practices that have frequently been subsumed under broad labels like “East Village,” “queer,” “postmodern,” and “neo-expressionist.”

“Beginning in the late 1970s, David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992) created a body of work that spanned photography, painting, music, film, sculpture, writing, and activism. Largely self-taught, he came to prominence in New York in the 1980s, a period marked by creative energy, financial precariousness, and profound cultural changes. Intersecting movements—graffiti, new and no wave music, conceptual photography, performance, and neo-expressionist painting—made New York a laboratory for innovation. Wojnarowicz refused a signature style, adopting a wide variety of techniques with an attitude of radical possibility. Distrustful of inherited structures—a feeling amplified by the resurgence of conservative politics—he varied his repertoire to better infiltrate the prevailing culture.”

“Wojnarowicz saw the outsider as his true subject. Queer and later diagnosed as HIV-positive, he became an impassioned advocate for people with AIDS when an inconceivable number of friends, lovers, and strangers were dying due to government inaction. Wojnarowicz’s work documents and illuminates a desperate period of American history: that of the AIDS crisis and culture wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s. But his rightful place is also among the raging and haunting iconoclastic voices, from Walt Whitman to William S. Burroughs, who explore American myths, their perpetuation, their repercussions, and their violence. Like theirs, his work deals directly with the timeless subjects of sex, spirituality, love, and loss. Wojnarowicz, who was thirty-seven when he died from AIDS-related complications, wrote: “To make the private into something public is an action that has terrific ramifications.”

This exhibition is co-curated by David Kiehl, Curator Emeritus, and David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection.

“After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life” by Joshua Chambers-Letson— Performance Artists of Color

Chambers-Letson, Joshua. “After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life”, NYU Press, 2018.

Performance Artists of Color

Amos Lassen

“After the Party” brings us   the stories of minority artists who use “performance to produce freedom and sustain life in the face of subordination, exploitation, and annihilation.” The work of Nina Simone, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, Danh Vō, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Eiko, and Tseng Kwong Chi, Nao Bustamante, Audre Lorde, Martin Wong, Assata Shakur, and Nona Faustine are the focus and we look at performance as it is produced within and against overlapping histories of US colonialism, white supremacy, and heterosexual patriarchy. Joshua Chambers-Leston builds on the thought of José Esteban Muñoz and other scholars of queer of color critique, black studies, and Marxist aesthetic criticism and presents a portrait of performance’s capacity to produce what he calls “a communism of incommensurability, a practice of being together in difference.”

Performance is seen here as a rehearsal for new ways of living together, and the book covers slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, the first wave of the AIDS crisis, the Vietnam War, and the catastrophe-riddled horizon of the early twenty-first century to consider this practice as it is born of the tension between freedom and its negation. With urgency and pathos. Chambers-Letson argues that it is through minority performance that the dead are kept alive while we struggle to survive during a “precarious present.” 

This is a beautifully written consideration of the collective functions of performance for more livable black and brown, queer and trans worlds. It is presented in a series of readings of various forms of performance across the twentieth century and is both a treatise and a handbook for queer and trans of color survival. The book is also a reflection on mourning, care, and being together. We become very aware of the violence of neo-liberalism, racism, and homophobia.