Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Mr.” by Ferry Van Der Nat— The 200 Best

Van der Nat, Ferry. “Mr.”, Lannoo Publishers, 2016.

The 200 Best

Amos Lassen

While investigating some new publications, I wrote to a distributor who suggested that I have a look at “Mr.” by Ferry Van de Nat but he also told me that it might be a bit too expensive for my readers. I explained to him that knowing my readers, if they read a review and liked what they read, nothing was too expensive and because of saying that I was able to see a copy of this beautiful  book and recommend it totally to my readers. I had no idea what to expect from “Mr.” and I had no idea who Ferry Van der Nat was. I learned that he is a photographer, stylist and fashion editor who has worked for numerous fashion magazine and brands. Under the name Mr. Polaroid, Van der Nat began taking strong sculptural polaroids of male models. This began as a personal project that evolved into a great collection of images and a celebration of male beauty. This is Mr. Polaroid’s first ever monograph and contains over 200 of his best photographs along with contributions by Gert Jonkers (“Fantastic Man”) and Alan Prada (“l’Uomo Vogue”).

I was actually expecting to see provocative and scandalous photos so I was surprised to see photos that evoked the pure beauty of man. There is little nudity yet this is a celebration of the male body in a very unique way which I find quite difficult to explain. This is quite the opposite of male nudity in the way the body while clothed radiates sexiness and passion. The male form is highlighted and while the male nude is fascinating, it is also fascinating to see how men take care of their bodies. While we often see vulnerability in the nude male, we also see it here in the clothed male. Perhaps the only way to explain it is to see for yourself and hopefully you will do so with “Mr.”.

“Drags: Photographs by Gregory Kramer Essays by Charles Busch, Sasha Velour, Linda Simpson, Goldie Peacock, Sweetie”— The Drag Queens and Kings of New York

“Drags: Photographs by Gregory Kramer Essays by Charles Busch, Sasha Velour, Linda Simpson, Goldie Peacock, Sweetie”,  KMW Studio, 2016.

The Drag Queens and Kings of New York City

Amos Lassen

“Drags” is a fun collection of drag kings and queens from New York and while I really enjoyed the photos and writeups, I realize that if I were a New Yorker and more familiar with those included, I would have enjoyed this so much more.

This a beautifully designed coffee table book documenting the drag queens and kings of New York City, shot by director/photographer Gregory Kramer. The models are presented in the style of classic fashion portraiture and features legends  and up-and-coming legends  in glamorous black and white, full-length studio portraits. Each photo brings out the spirit of the performer through subtle pose, gesture and facial expression.

Included are five stories written by icons of drag. Charles Busch writes about how it feels to be in drag and his utmost respect for female role models, Sasha Velour speaks about the magic and transformative power of drag as an art form, Linda Simpson comments on the generational shift in the community, Goldie Peacock presents a distinct point of view from a drag king, while Sweetie pays homage to the queens who’ve come before.

We become aware that the world of drag deserves endless appreciation. Photographer Kramer called upon New York’s drag community to come and pose in front of his camera thus giving us a sumptuous monograph with 80s black and white portraits “that take in the full glamour and glory of New York’s finest.” Drag “is like an act of magic, a way of casting spells. If a spell is meant to change the living world through the constitutive powers of language, then I think drag is meant to change it through fashion, gesture, and effect.” We gain a rare insight into how the flamboyantly-dressed performers behind the wigs, heels and make-up really feel on stage.

Gregory Kramer is a New York City-based photographer and director whose ability for creating expressive images has quickly made him a highly sought-after photographer and director. His editorial work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Australian Cleo, Poster and Oyster. His advertising clients include Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Worth New York.

 

“Good Hot Stuff: The Life and Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau” by Marco Siedelmann— A Filmmaker With a Vision 

 

Siedelmann, Marco, “Good Hot Stuff: The Life and Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau’, Editions Moustache, 2019.

A Filmmaker With a Vision

Amos Lassen

During the Golden Age of Porn (1969-1984), Jack Deveau and his production company Hand In Hand were lauded by audience and critics as the perfect coming together of legit feature films, underground avant-garde and explicit all-male adult movies. Hand In Hand was an essential and acclaimed part of the New York art circles and its Independent film scene. Deveau’s death in 1982 and the AIDS epidemic along with the revolution brought on with video changed the porn film industry forever. All this happened almost together but the legacy of Deveau and Hand In Hand heritage is an important chapter of the upcoming queer film movement although today it has been  almost forgotten. “Good Hot Stuff” brings personal interviews with most of the remaining people who worked as cast and crew members on Hand In Hand films and with those who were close to Jack Deveau to give us the story of a studio that changed the way we look at porn. The story is told in fragments and from many different  perspectives and memories. Deveau’s story is a story about a filmmaker who had a vision way ahead of his time. He had the freedom to develop an individual auteur style within the limitations of the early gay adult film industry. Aside from the actual conversations, we read and learn about the production process and the history of the films. The book is filled with hundreds of images, most of which were never publicly published including original artworks, company ephemera, behind the scenes footage, private snapshots, and numerous magazine articles.

Deveau’s first film was “Lefthanded” (1972) and was followed quickly by several others, all of which explored the everyday life of gay men in post-Stonewall New York. Stonewall legitimated the promise of sex in all of its forms and without repression and harassment. While Deveau made porn films, they were also films depicting free and wonderful sex and explored the impact of sex availability as it had never been before as well as the difficulties and problems of a new sexual subculture in which the possibility of romance and relationships were indeed possible.

It is important to note the sex in these movies always occurred in context and the focus while on the sex we see is also on the way it is presented or framed. Granted many gay porn films are filled with gratuitous sex and here is where Deveau’s films differ. This is not to say that they sex scenes are not hot… they are but the focus is different and we see that the physical context, the lighting and the characters are what make the sex as hot as it is. What we see is real everyday sex making it all the more exciting.

Today we have  difficult time looking at such sex as seen in early porn without realizing that it very well led to the AIDS epidemic that was to change our lives so drastically. Deveau’s treatment of casual sex and promiscuity was as a problem that complicated the daily lives of gay men. He saw the conflict between casual sex and emotions as partly a comic problem but this was at a time before anyone knew about the epidemic that was to come.

I cannot even begin to share how much information there is here in this book. There are over 500 pages of essays, memories and photographs and it is very easy to lose yourself in all that is here. I took a week off to spend with this book and I feel I have only touched the surface but then that is the beauty of having this book— it is always there when you are ready for it. Marco Siedelmann has produced a treasure and one that he can be very proud of. It also makes me proud to have had the opportunity to review it.

“Fire Island: Photographs” by Alex Geana— Timeless Beauty

Geana, Alex. “Fire Island: Photographs”, Glitterati, 2019.

Timeless Beauty

Amos Lassen

I do not have many regrets but I do regret not yet getting to Fire Island. Since I do not see myself getting there any time soon, I am lucky to have this gorgeous book of photographs of Fire island by Alex Geana. Geana wonderfully captures the spirit of gay life that is almost unique to The Pines on Fire Island—- there is a uniqueness to the place that find nowhere else. The photographs were taken over a three year period and, in their own way, tell the history of the island and what make it so special. We go to the famous pool parties and all night dancing and see and sense the fun and joy that the participants feel.

Geana, who is by profession a fashion photographer, documents Fire Island from the Pines Party to the Meat Rack and, as if that is not enough, goes on to show how global warming is affecting the experience, bringing attention to the preservation needs of this special place. It is frightening to know, climate change is affecting the island and eroding part of gay history yet that does not stop the active community there nor does it deter visitors. This beautiful book can serve as a way to make people aware of what is happening geographically there and help save it.

As one if the residents of Fire Island has stated, “… captures the essence of FIP, documenting the iconic pool parties, raucous boys, and delicate nature of our little getaway so near, yet so far from reality.”

For sheer physical beauty, Fire Island is very special. It blurs lines “between fantasy and reality, order and chaos, rural and urban life.

This is quite a difficult book to review in that there are so few words in the volume but who needs words when we have such glorious photos. In his introduction, you literally meet Alex as he takes you to his special place. It is as if a new friendship is beginning  and a private invitation to partake of Fire Island.

“Camp TV: Trans Gender Queer Sitcom History” by Quinlan Miller— Camp Currents of TV in the 50s and 60s

Miller, Quinlan. “Camp TV: Trans Gender Queer Sitcom History”,  Duke University Press, 2019.

Camp Currents of TV in the 50s and 60s

 Amos Lassen     

Television in the 50s and 60s was very different than what it is today and looking back, many people see depictions of gender roles and attitudes toward sex as conformist but now we have a different take from Quinlan Miller who presents a new look at television history in this country and shows that camp was there and evident. He looks at the iconic shows such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the more obscure sitcoms such as “The Ugliest Girl in Town”. He shows that shifts in the industry along with the coalescence of straightness and whiteness became visible when vaudevillian camp began its decline and the sitcoms of the period were full of gender nonconformity and queer representation. Characters appeared in supporting roles or as guests  and camp became highly regarded and in fact played a very important role in queerness on TV (Remember Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly who got away with a lot more than what we see on TV today—-we could laugh back then but to do so today makes us politically and behaviorally incorrect. Miller gives us new ways to see how popular media which was supposedly repressive actually used queer, genderqueer and transgender characters thus giving them representation on the small screen.

This is a valuable rethinking of the way things were both theoretically and historically. We get a more nuanced sense of the social world that was being made visible on television—”one in which trans figures were a significant element—than previous media scholarship has allowed.”

This is also a  very  corrective account of the multiple gendered and erotic sounds and images that made up the sitcom and a “powerful study of the camp currents of 1950s’ and 1960s’ American television comedy.” Quinlan Miller argues passionately for wants a corrective account of the many gendered and erotic sounds and images that made up the key evolutionary moment in the show that  we now know as the sitcom.

“Categorically Famous: Literary Celebrity and Sexual Liberation in 1960s America” by Guy Davidson— Baldwin, Sontag, Vidal

Davidson, Guy. “Categorically Famous: Literary Celebrity and Sexual Liberation in 1960s America”, Stanford University Press, 2019.

Baldwin, Sontag, Vidal

Amos Lassen

As far as I know, “Categorically Famous” is the first book length study of the relationships between the celebrity of literature and queer sexuality. We look at James Baldwin, Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal as celebrities and their relation to the LGBT liberation movement of the 1960s. While none of these three writers ever “came out” or were publicly out as we know the term “out’ today yet all there in their own way contributed “through their public images and their writing to a greater openness toward homosexuality that was an important precondition of liberation.”  Their fame was not only important, it was crucial. We had to deal with the idea that people saw homosexuals as an oppressed minority and as individuals with psychological problems. Writer Guy Davidson here challenges scholarly orthodoxies and asks us to think again about the usual opposition to liberation and to gay and lesbian visibility within queer studies as well as standard definitions of celebrity.

I find that when I think back to how it was and then look around while living in Massachusetts, I am stunned by the progress that has been made and sometimes I just need to pinch myself.  The conventional ban on openly discussing the homosexuality of public figures back then meant that media reporting at that time did not focus on protagonists’ private lives. Yet, the careers of these “semi-visible” gay celebrities really need to be seen as an important and crucial halfway point between the days of “the open secret” and today’s post-liberation era in which queer people, celebrities very much included, are enjoined to come out.

Last night I was at a reading at my local bookstore (yes there are still some) and there were two readers, a lovely female with a novel about straight female MFA students and a gay writer with his novel about Tennessee Williams and his lover Frank Merlo. There was a full house of what I think was basically straight readers. Each writer spoke about his/her book and then asked each other questions and then opened the floor. The reception for both novels was the same, the praise for the gay novel was a bit higher simply because it had been out longer and more had read it. Otherwise it was an evening about sexuality without mentioning it. And it was wonderful!!!!

What we really have here is a detailed look at how it was before Stonewall, after Stonewall and after marriage equality. We get new information about liberation and the celebrities who helped make it happen. I love this book because I love that Davidson has found new and important things to say three literary icons and queer politics. I would love to see the look on Gore Vidal’s face as he reads this. (But then I knew him and have stories).

“Time Is The Thing A Body Moves Through”— Art and Love, Loss, Violence and Rejuvenation, Gender and Sexuality

Fleischmann, T. “Time Is The Thing A Body Moves Through”, Coffee House Press, 2019.

Art and Love, Loss, Violence and Rejuvenation, Gender and Sexuality

Amos Lassen

As a way to understand how our bodies affect how we feel about art and how art affects the relationship to our bodies, T Fleischmann looks at the artwork of Felix Gonzalez-Torres as a way to deal with issues of love and loss, violence and rejuvenation, gender and sexuality. The artworks act as “still points, sites for reflection situated in lived experience.”  Using serious engagement with clear prose and warm emotions, Fleischmann examines and enjoys the experiences and pleasures of art and the body, identity and community.

If you have ever wondered about the concept of becoming, this is the book for you.  Fleischmann disregards totally the limits of genre and gender and gives us a new  territory that is all ours and in our own language. The essay is unique and subversive
Bringing together personal narrative and art criticism in a poetically titled, genre-defying work, we explore power, desire, gender fluidity and subverting limitations Fleischmann shares wonderful words of wisdom along with miniature portraits of “friends and lovers in acts of generosity that are self-questioning but never self-doubting.” We thus gain the notion of a unified self.

Fleischmann refuses to resolve anything and instead levees us with questions to wonder about. There is so much here than I can cite but to do is to deprive the reader of a unique reading experience and I see my job is to let you know about important reads.

Fleischmann discusses their (the pronoun of choice) identity, their resistance to much of the firm language relating to queer identities in effective ways.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, ice, and sex, one’s body and how or why to live and love all come together tenderly agilely  and smartly. This could very well become one of my books of the year.

“Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime” by Alex Espinoza— Changing Without Changing


Espinoza, Alex. “Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime”, Unnamed Press, 2019.
Changing Without Changing
Amos Lassen
Do not misunderstand my title of this review, “Changing without Changing” is not something Gertrude Stein might have said (actually it is something she might of said [but didn’t say]). You will understand what I mean as you read my review. “From ancient Greece to Grindr, the underground practice of cruising has changed in fascinating ways, and also not at all.”
Alex Espinoza takes us cruising with him as he explains the history of the gay man’s most popular and favorite activity. This is a totally uncensored look at the gamut of what cruising entails. He looks at historical research and oral history and brings them together with his own personal experience. Espinoza explains that cruising is both a political and cultural force as well as a radical activity and pastime. “From Greek antiquity to the notorious Molly houses of 18th century England, the raucous 1970s to the algorithms of Grindr, Oscar Wilde to George Michael, cruising remains at once a reclamation of public space and the creation of its own unique locale—one in which men of all races and classes interact, even in the shadow of repressive governments.” In such places as Uganda and Russia, we meet activists for whom cruising is dangerous and can be a matter of life and death. In the Western world we see how cruising can avoid  the inequalities and abuses of power that ruin many heterosexual encounters. Espinoza shows us how cruising is quite a powerful rebuke to patriarchy and capitalism. I remember when I was growing up in New Orleans that if someone cruised the wrong person, they could be arrested and his name published in the newspaper for soliciting homosexual sex. (See “Indecent Advances” by James Polchin).
“Cruising” has always been our personal way of life to some degree. Espinoza returns it to its proper importance and does so by using his own personal experiences and secrets of others, great historical research and oral histories and we see that wherever men lust for other men, there is cruising. Today cruising seems to have assimilated with many in the gay community but I remember oh so well how we learned of department store bathrooms, the “strich” as it was known (that part of town where cruising ruled) and public parks where late night activity could be found in the bushes after meeting (or not meeting and just following) in the gazebo. “Cruising” is the story of “the radical community of struggle, contact and solace from which we came, and to which we belong still.”
John Rechy who once thrilled us all with his personal stories of cruising has  said
, “Alex Espinoza’s much-anticipated book takes readers on a unique ‘cruise’ through places of public gay-sex connections, from early times to today’s apps and sites; and the result is as lively and entertaining as a boldly intimate, and wonderfully written, memoir. ” And indeed it is.
Cruising and our history go hand in hand and Espinoza shoots down stories of queer assimilation as he takes us back to when we were considered subversive and radical elements in American society or in any society for that matter (I loved being seen as subversive and radical when I lived in Israel some thirty years ago. Because there were no bars or places to meet back then, we cruised all day, every day).
‘Cruising” lets us think about our rights to sexual expression and overall freedom and it is through  cruising that we found a sense of community. I, for one, refuse to forfeit my cruising activities to the internet.

“A Rabbi and a Preacher Go to a Pride Parade: and Other Musings, Sermons, and Such” by Bert Montgomery— A Collection

Montgomery, Bert. “A Rabbi and a Preacher Go to a Pride Parade: and Other Musings, Sermons, and Such” Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2019.

A Collection

Amos Lassen

 Assembled together in one collection, se have Bert Montgomery’s “LGBTQ-related musings, columns, and sermons.” Through humor, stories, and the Holy Scriptures, Montgomery challenges the heresy of homophobia within the church and calls for full inclusion and affirmation (in both church and civic life) of our LGBTQ family members, friends, and neighbors. And yes, a rabbi and a preacher really did go to a Pride parade!

Bert Montgomery lives in Starkville, Mississippi, cheers for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, writes, teaches, and is even called “pastor” by a few hearty souls. His previous books include Going Back to New OrleansPsychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza, and Elvis, Willie, Jesus & Me.

 

 

“Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall” by James Polchin— Shocking Stories

Polchin, James. “Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall”, Counterpoint, 2019.

Shocking Stories

Amos Lassen

In James Polchin’s “Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall”, we read of true crime headlines and the forgotten murders of gay men.

Some of you undoubtedly remember when gay were misunderstood and exploitered by American society. Safety was not part of their lives even with the fires of revolution beginning to take hold of the LGBTQ community. Polchin exposes this through story after story  and reminds us what really influenced the change that came. As he researched this topic, Polchin

discovered this as well as the early cultural shifts that fueled the revolution that was Stonewall. He has collected these stories and they are what make up “Indecent Advances” and we read one sad story after another about shocking crimes in which the victim becomes blame for the crime simply because of his sexuality. The killers used the excuse that they had to deal with indecent advances and in order to protect their heterosexism, they acted as the did.

We read of “gay panic” defense a tactic still being used today. Crimes against gay men sometimes led to uprisings by the press and local officials. Prepare to be shocked by want you read it.

My home town of New Orleans does not get off easy here as seen in the brutal murders of William Simpson in Miami, 1954, and Fernando Rios  in 1958. While Simpson’s killers were pardoned in the newspapers and they were found guilty of manslaughter (a lesser crime) in court and both served time. Rios’ murderers (Tulane fraternity boys) were acquitted and were applauded. uproarious applause. (Killing a queer is good for society, it seems). Polchin takes through gay history via the cries that were perpetrated against us. We read of the infamous Chicago gay murderers Leopold and Loeb as proof that sexual deviancy causes crime. We see that many thought that the friendship pf David Kammerer with Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac influenced their lives. Polchin’s research is amazing as is his ability to tell stories. This is the kind of book that you want to clear your day before beginning or you will find yourself unable to stop reading (I read it right through, twice!!!).

Something unexpected was Polchin’s looks at our literature (including James Baldwin and Gore Vidal) as well as the then Black press in order to feel the background of the time he was writing about. He also gained a different understanding of what was going on as compared to what the white press was reporting.

It is important for our community to know that we did not take this as it was given to us and we fought back as best we could. The launch of “ONE” magazine as a tool for a very early effort to fight homophobia and incorrect coverage by the press was so very important and it was able to a degree “counter narratives of homosexual criminality and mental sickness in the popular press” and this was so very important in making others aware of homosexuality as simply a minority identity. Along with Alfred Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” that added to the conversation and the beginning of the revolution that continued to carry on for the following decades. Once the seeds for revolution were planted, there was no turning back. Unfortunately violence continues and we understand that our history is filled with violence. We have to wonder what brought about the change in attitude toward the LGBTQ community. Of course there are still enemies and haters out there and even though the public media is no longer on their side, we still face violence and hatred. Those misinterpreted verses for the Hebrew bible that are really about the lack of hospitality are still being interpreted incorrectly and I can tell you are a sincere and concerned person who studies the Bible faithfully, that they are wrong but then I have also learned that we can twist into saying whatever we need it to say.

With the amount of LGBT literature that I read, it is quite hard to convince me of something new. Polchin was able to do so without twisting my arm at all. I was swept up into a world of crime in which the victims in no way deserved their fate. It was allotted simply based on their sexuality and nothing else. Since when is one’s sexuality a crime and how is punishment administered? This is the shocking information you will find here.

Polchin brings back a forgotten era of queer history (how quickly we forget). He brings together his exceptional crime research with his marvelous skills of analysis to look at how  the media, psychological theories and prejudice perpetuated the idea that gay men were sexual deviants. Polchin’s contribution to our history is both valuable and important and we owe him a great deal.