Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Positive Images: Gay Men and HIV/AIDS in the Culture of ‘Post Crisis’” by Dion Kagan— The Transformation

Kagan, Dion. “Positive Images: Gay Men and HIV/AIDS in the Culture of ‘Post Crisis’”, I.B. Tauris, 2018.

The Transformation

Amos Lasse

During the 1980s and into the 1990s, we lived in a state of panic because of “The AIDS Crisis”. The situation improved in the mid-90s with the advent of antiretroviral drugs in the mid ’90s, and the meaning of an HIV diagnosis radically changed. These new drugs changed everything and they enabled many people living with HIV to lead healthy, regular lives. The question, however, has us consider just how this dramatic shift impacted the representation of gay men and HIV in popular culture. Dion Kagan in “Positive Images” gives us the first detailed examination of how the relationship between gay men and HIV has transformed in the past twenty-plus years. Kagan examines literature, film, TV, documentaries and news coverage from across the English-speaking world to unearth the socio-cultural foundations underpinning this ‘post-crisis’ period. The analyses that he presents provide acute insights into the fraught legacies of the AIDS Crisis and its continued presence in today’s queer consciousness.

 

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced

Awards Ceremony: Monday, June 4, 2018 in New York City

Lambda Literary, the nation’s oldest and largest literary arts organization advancing LGBTQ literature, announced the finalists of the 30th Annual Lambda Literary Awards – or the “Lammys,” as they are affectionately known.

The finalists were chosen from nearly 1,000 submissions and over 300 publishers. Submissions came from major mainstream publishers and from independent presses, from both long-established and new LGBTQ publishers, as well as from emerging publish-on-demand technologies. Visionary and Trustee Award honorees, the master of ceremonies, and celebrity presenters will be announced in April. The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony on Monday, June 4th in New York City.

“Celebrating our 30th year of Lambda Literary Award finalists is to recognize that this organization has been at the center of contemporary queer literature for decades,” said Lambda Literary Executive Director Tony Valenzuela. “This year is no different with another stellar list of authors demonstrating through their work that LGBTQ books tell richly textured stories about who we are in all our incredible diversity.”

Now in their thirtieth year, the Lambda Literary Awards celebrate achievement in LGBTQ writing for books published in 2017. The awards ceremony on June 4, 2018, will be held at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012). The red carpet and specially ticketed VIP cocktail reception will be held before the ceremony. The after-party, open to all with a general admission ticket, will follow at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012). For more information and to buy tickets, please visit Lambda’s website.

67 literary professionals, including booksellers, book reviewers, librarians, authors, academics and previous Lammy winners and finalists volunteered countless hours of reading, critical thinking, and invigorating discussion to select the finalists in 23 categories.

Those marked with an asterisk have been reviewed here t reviewsbyamoslassen.com. This is the first time I find myself amazed at how few of these books I have read and reviewed. But there is no turning back as I have 97 books waiting for reviews.

Lesbian Fiction

 

Gay Fiction

 

Bisexual Fiction

 

Transgender Fiction 

 

LGBTQ Nonfiction

  

Bisexual Nonfiction

 

Transgender Nonfiction

 

Lesbian Poetry

 

Gay Poetry 

  

Transgender Poetry

  

Lesbian Mystery

 

Gay Mystery

 

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

 

Gay Memoir/Biography

 

Lesbian Romance

 

Gay Romance 

 

LGBTQ Anthology 

 

LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult 

 

LGBTQ Drama

 

LGBTQ Erotica 

 

LGBTQ Graphic Novels

 

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

 

LGBTQ Studies 

 

“Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History” by Kadji Amin— Jean Genet and Queer Literature and Theory

 

 

Amin, Kadji. “Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History”, Duke University Press, 2018.

Jean Genet and Queer Literature and Theory

Amos Lassen

Jean Genet (1910–1986) is regarded as the canonical queer figure from the pre-Stonewall past, “with contemporary queer sensibilities attuned to a defiant non-normativity.” Not only was Genet a homosexual, he was also a criminal and a social pariah, a bitter opponent of the police state, an anti- Semite and an ally of revolutionary anti–colonial movements. In  this new look at  Genet, Kadji Amin “challenges the idealization of Genet as a paradigmatic figure within queer studies to illuminate the methodological dilemmas at the heart of queer theory.” Pederasty was central to Genet’s sexuality and to his passionate cross-racial and transnational political activism late in life and it is one of the problematic and outmoded queer attachments that Amin uses to historicize and to take away the idealism of queer theory. He shows how the genealogy of Genet’s imaginaries of attachment influence pressing issues within contemporary queer politics and scholarship including prison abolition, homonationalism, and pinkwashing. This book., “Disturbing Attachments” both productively and provocatively unsettles queer studies by examining and excavating the history of its affective tendencies to reveal and expand the contexts that inform the use and connotations of the term “queer”.

“Kadji Amin has written an important especially for those in the field of queer studies and queer thought. We see the permanent dissonance between politics and erotic and psychic life. Amin explores the contradictions of queer studies and argues that those in the field must reconsider idealizations “without abandoning its attachments to queer coalition.”

Amin challenges foundational presumptions in queer theory by grappling with the passionate attachments that tie queer studies to the radical Genet. As we do this, we begin to think differently about theory, politics, and queer relationships.”

Amin disrupts the genealogies of queer attachments while at the same time interrogates “the shape of the political in queer theory and the idealization of the queer erotic.”

“The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988” by Martin Duberman— A Brutally Honest Look at Himself

Duberman, Martin. “The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988”, Duke University Press, 2018.

A Brutally Honest Look at Himself

Amos Lassen

This is a book that I never expected to read but am glad I did and I will explain that during the course of this review. Martin Duberman has always held a very special place in my mind in that he was not only a respected scholar but also an out gay man. I just never thought that he would have the same kind of problems and life situations as the rest of us.

When Duberman’s mother died, he began a twelve-year period filled with despair, drug addiction, and debauchery. He became involved in cocaine use, had a massive heart attack, and immersed himself into New York’s gay hustler scene. He became close to suicide and severe depression and he enrolled in rehab. This is the story of how Duberman managed to survive his personal life while at the same time held leading roles in the gay community and the academy.

Even with what was going on, Duberman was able to remain productive— he wrote his biography of Paul Robeson, rededicated himself to teaching, wrote plays, and co-edited the prize-winning Hidden from History. His founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies and in doing so he inaugurated a new academic discipline. At the outset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Duberman was politically active, and in this book he describes the tensions between the New Left and gay organizers, as well as the profound homophobia that brought about queer radical activism. Duberman gives us a lot of gossip here and we read about such people as Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Vivian Gornick, Susan Brownmiller, Kate Millett, and Néstor Almendros, among many others. The book was written with brutal honesty giving us insights into a troubling decade of both personal and political history. We certainly see why this was too painful to share until now.

What we really see here is Duberman’s passion about who we are and how we live. He both challenges gay invisibility and confronts anti-gay bigotry among the intelligentsia. These were unhappy years that was filled with crises and they reveal that our heroes are not always heroic and in many ways are just like the rest of us. What Duberman experienced was during a pivotal era in the United States and in the LGBTQ rights movement. He was part of shaping many of our movement’s milestones and in this book, he fills in the gaps of his life and we are very lucky that he did so.

“Transgender Sex Work and Society” by Larry Nuttbrock— A Systematic Examination

Nuttbrock, Larry. “Transgender Sex Work and Society”, Harrington Park, 2018.

A Systematic Examination

Amos Lassen

“Transgender Sex Work and Society” is the only book that systematically examines transgender sex work in the United States and globally. “It brings together perspectives from a rich range of disciplines and experiences and is an invaluable resource on issues related to commercial sex in the transgender community and in the lives of trans sex workers, including mental health, substance use, relationship dynamics, encounters with the criminal justice system, and opportunities and challenges in the realm of public health.”

The volume covers interactions of trans sex workers with health, social service, and mental-health agencies, featuring more than forty contributors from across the globe. There are synthesizing introductions by the editor help organize and put into context a vast and scattered research and empirical literature. The book is perfect for researchers, health practitioners, and policy analysts in the areas of sex-work research, HIV/AIDS, and LGBTQ/gender studies. “We look at the role of sex work in the lives of transgender women and the problems and hazards that come with this type of work. This reveals a complex interplay between sex and gender, survival and validation, desire and love, social justice and health.”

Until now, transgender individuals have been the least studied of all sex workers. This wide-ranging book changes that. The findings here document the diversity within the transgender population but they also show that transgender individuals face unique challenges and are stigmatized by virtue of their gender and involvement in sex work.

 

“Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation” by Robert Fieseler— Love, Faith, Death and Grief (This is Not a Review)

Fieseler, Robert. “Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation”, Liveright, 2018.

Love, Faith, Death and Grief (This Is Not a Review)

Amos Lassen

The best thing about being a reviewer is getting to meet the people behind the reviews. I have met twice with Robert (Bobby) Fieseler and I can honestly say that he is a charming guy whose quiet personality masks a deep thinker. I really believe that he is going to be someone to watch in terms of his contributions to the LGBT literary canon. Fieseler’s first book will be published by Liveright, a division of W.W. Norton and that is no small feat. Norton is known for the high caliber of books they publish and for a first time author to publish with the house is an accomplishment especially because this is a book about gay people.

I am not going to review the book yet but I want to share some of what I learned by reading it. As many of you know, I was born and raised in New Orleans and until I moved to Israel in the mid-60s, I was fairly active in the New Orleans gay and literary communities. That might help to explain why I try to read whatever comes out about the Crescent City. Robert Fieseler’s book is not only about New Orleans, it is also about gay New Orleans and when I first heard about it and that the author, like myself, was living in Boston, I knew that not only did I have to read the book, but that I would have to meet the author.

I was a bit surprised about what Fieseler chose to write about to be his swan dive into the swimming pool of gay literature. His book “Tinderbox” is an in depth and intense look at the fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed 32 people in 1973. There were already two books written about it, one in the last few years as well as documentary film that was making the rounds of the LGBT film festival circuit and is available on DVD and Blu ray. I wondered if there was a need for another book; it seemed to me that everything that could be said had already been said and when Fieseler told me why he wrote this, he totally pulled me into himself. It was not that long ago that we had the terrible shootings at Pulse in Orlando and what I did not realize was that until that horrific incident, what happened at the Upstairs Lounge was the most brutal crime against gay people in American history. New Orleans had long ago closed the case and then we had the Pulse as if history was repeating itself.

“Tinderbox” looks at what happened at the Upstairs Lounge and incorporates it into the American civil rights movement. As we read we never lose the grief that came with what happened that Sunday in New Orleans. It is interesting that this horrible event has re-emerged as a catalyzing event of the gay liberation movement. Fieseler takes us through the tragic event that claimed the lives of thirty-one men and one woman on June 24, 1973 and what had been, until 2016, the largest mass murder of gay people. He gives us a look at “a closeted, blue- collar gay world that flourished before an arsonist ignited an inferno that destroyed an entire community.” That event alone was traumatic but so was what happened afterwards. Families were too embarrassed and ashamed to claim the bodies because the dead were gay people, the Catholic Church refused proper burial rights, the city of New Orleans was impervious to the survivors’ needs and we become aware of the total intolerance and prejudice that was part of the city, a place where whites and blacks got along but where straights and gays could not. The fire took place after Stonewall and the beginnings of gay liberation in this country. There was a new kind of activism that came into being after the fire and it was the basis for a young gay liberation movement.

Fieseler writes not just about the fire but also about the world that allowed it to happen. New Orleans has always been a center of gay life and there were certainly no surprises about it. One would think that with the open and carefree lifestyle of the French Quarter that no one would really care about anyone’s sexuality yet the gay life of the city remained in the closet and a world of paradox replaced what we might have thought of as tolerant. We see here the furtiveness of gay life in a tolerant city as well as the official culture’s hostility to it.

What happened that Sunday afternoon was one of the worst outrages against gay people in modern America, and here Fieseler relates it to us in all that it was. In effect, he is restoring a chapter of history that was once lost to us because those involved did not matter enough to be included. We become very aware of the depth of prejudice that was and there are no exceptions and that includes the media that covered the story when it happened. And yes, there are surprises here. More than once I had to stop reading to either dry my eyes or to sit back and think about something I had not heard before and this was the community that I had once been a part of.

It was my intention to whet appetites about this book but I allowed myself to get carried away so I had better stop. I must say that this is a very important book and it will only become more important when we synthesize all that it has to say. I am in awe of the research that was conducted, I am in awe of the beautiful and informative prose with which it has been written and I am so glad that honor has been restored to a forgotten generation of civil-rights martyrs. Thank you Bobby Fieseler for all of that and for your letting me get to know you a bit.

“Tinderbox” will be out in June.

“Inside/Out” by Joseph Osmundson— Vulnerability, Shame and Need

Osmundson, Joseph. “Inside/Out”, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018.

Vulnerability, Shame and Need

Amos Lassen

Isn’t it human nature to wish we knew back then what we know now? That is just the kind of commend you get from those who have read Joseph Osmundson’s “Inside/Out”. Those who have read it agree that they wished that had so when they were younger. What is it about abuse and dysfunction is so hard to understand and what do they have to do with vulnerability, need, and shame? I think that most of us are not aware of the pain that comes with writing an autobiography. It is difficult to examine our own past; emotionally and ethically it is a draining experience and this is what Osmundson does thus making this a very brave book.

I found myself at one with Osmundson as he meditated on longing and desire while trying to understand love and loss. His writing forces us to ask ourselves “who we are what we are, and who and what we want to hide, from the inside out.” This happens while we explore love, loss and fear and it is exciting, frightening and liberating.

Although this is a short book (85 pages), “Inside/Out” is emotionally powerful. Quite basically it is the memoir of a long-term break-up and we see the insecurities of living as a gay male. I found myself thinking about varying degrees of queerness as I read and how many of them do not apply to me yet I need to be aware of them.

Osmundson shares a past relationship of his with no clear victims or victimizers. In the relationship, sexuality was truly beautiful yet destructive and the emotions of desire and disgust come together. As he explores the relationship, he looks at his own ‘whiteness, submissiveness, the need and attraction to people and experiences that may be painful but that seem impossible to pull away from.”

Osmundson brings us a very important issue of the queer community with a candid and honest look at a relationship that ended and how he dealt with the torment and angst. Even with healing, scars remain and I am not sure we want them to. After all, that relationship was once part of us. Osmundson puts a lot of emotions in his book and we feel his story as we read it. We cry, we yell, we laugh, we break and become whole all in a very short read.

“Hollinghurst, Camp and Closet” by Ertin Serkan— Gay Hollinghurst

Ertin, Serkan. “Hollinghurst, Camp and Closet”, Cambridge Scholars, 2018.

Gay Hollinghurst

Amos Lassen

Ertin Serkan analyses the terms “camp” and “the closet” in Alan Hollinghurst’s four novels – “The Swimming-Pool Library” (1988), “The Folding Star” (1993), “The Spell” (1998), and “The Line of Beauty” (2004). These novels investigate the gay male experience throughout the late-twentieth century. We look at Hollinghurst’s work in order to find out whether the author writes from the margin or from the centre to recreate the origin. We see that the author is concerned with gay subjectivities and that Hollinghurst, by camping and closeting the gay male, re-produces homosexuality as a distinct identity with a subculture of its own.

“Why Straight Guys Love Their Gay Guys: Reviving the Roots of Male Sexuality” by David Dalton— Out From the Dark

Dalton, David. “Why Straight Guys Love Their Gay Guys: Reviving the Roots of Male Sexuality”, Acorn Abbey, 2017.

Out From the Dark

Amos Lassen

With all of the progress that has been made in the area of LGBT rights, we discover sadly thatstatistics on the well being of gay men are as grim as ever. “Rates of suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse have not budged. Anxiety, depression, loneliness, and poor health are just as widespread. Studies have shown that gay men who live in urban gay communities actually are worse off, not better.”

Gay men appear to have run out of ideas for future progress. Something remains badly wrong and what that is has yet to be diagnosed. We are told here that if we look at the origins of male sexuality and how it was expressed in other cultures, we could make a diagnosis. The forms of male sexuality have been remarkably similar from culture to culture. Looking back at the early Europeans in the last years of Rome and continuing around the globe as Europeans colonized the continents, natural male sexualities have been cruelly repressed and then done away with. This book maintains that We are all Puritans now.

The taboo of male-male sex, which until 2003 was still a crime, still exists. This book shows that the Puritanical repression of the sexualities of all men has come about as a result of an attempt to harness the enormous power of male sexuality for social purposes in the name of moral progress, with promises of greater glories to be found in heaven. (I know this sounds ridiculous). No one paid attention to the damage that Puritanism caused to human beings and to stable social systems and, in fact, the damage and misery were regarded as good and payback to the devil.

We are challenged here challenge is to return to the joy of male-male sex that took similar forms in most of the cultures that we know something about. “In such worlds, it was understood that some men are more masculine than others, that some men are gayer than others, and that heterosexuality and homosexuality are complementary and of equal value. And those old worlds were worlds in which every gay man was able to take for granted what to us today is the impossible dream — sex with a straight best friend.”

Dalton explores the roots of male sexuality and the current status of gay life along with his own predictions and solutions to the seemingly endless miasma of why despite all the recent advances for gender status the rate of disconsolate gay mindsets remains static.

He traces male sexuality to the ancient civilizations where sex and intimate relations between men were acceptable growth periods: gender fluidity perhaps. He sees as opposed to today after centuries of denial and punishment for ‘aberrant behavior’ – ‘This idea of “gay” men having sex with “straight” men is condemned harshly today. Dalton maintains that straight males are our forbidden fruit. They are the source of the masculinity that we gay men desire. The church and its theologies broke the continuity between ourselves and our tribal and pagan ancestors and led to our sexual misery today. Dalton goes on to explore gay anthropology, the problem of identity, the problem of privilege and property, the problem of symmetry, etc. He closes with his prediction “that, generation by generation, the percentage of young men who identify as ‘mostly straight. Eventually the day will come, I believe, when male sexual identities such as gay and straight will no longer seem necessary or useful, as was the case a few generations ago.”

“The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America” by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

 

Butler, Isaac and Dan Kois. “The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America”, Bloomsbury, 2018.

An Oral History of a Great Play

Amos Lassen

Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” is a moving account of the AIDS era, essential queer history, and an exuberant backstage tale. Those who have either seen it or been part of it, or both have been changed by the experience as we see here in the oral history of great American drama.

“Angels in America” opened on Broadway in 1993 and won the Pulitzer Prize, swept the Tonys, launched a score of major careers, and changed the way gay lives were represented in popular culture. Mike Nichols’s 2003 HBO adaptation starring Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, and Mary-Louise Parker was itself a tour de force, winning Golden Globes and eleven Emmys, and introducing the play to an even wider public. Now some 25 years later, this generation-defining classic continues to shock, move, and inspire viewers worldwide.

Isaac Butler and Dan Kois give us the definitive account of the play through oral history. We are taken into the conversations and debate of actors (including Streep, Parker, Nathan Lane, and Jeffrey Wright), directors, producers, crew, and Kushner himself. They share the on- and offstage excitement of the play’s birth. We now learn that it was beset by artistic roadblocks, technical disasters, and disputes both legal and creative. We hear from historians and critics who help to situate the play in the arc of American culture, from the activism of the AIDS crisis through civil rights triumphs to today and the dark echo of the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. If you love theater, you will love this book as it tells about

one of the great works of American art of the past century that began with a gritty San Francisco premiere and is now a highly anticipated Broadway revival in 2018.

Like a dramatic script, the book is divided into acts with chapters more like titled scenes and a cast of characters listed at the end. The interviews are presented so that they become an ongoing chat about the history, the themes and the continuous dialogue about the drama. The cast is made up of Kushner, the actors, directors, producers, and production teams, as well as the scholars, historians, critics, and fellow playwrights that did not just help to shape the work but who also provide context for its influence. We see all the twists and turns of fate that went into the drama’s creation and we get a sense of suspense and drama. Like the play, Butler and Kois let the complexity of the story come to us via conversations, discussions, and critiques from those involved. We become immediately aware of the sweeping scope of the production and the amount of deliberation and interpretation that went into it.

The entire creative process is here beginning with Kushner finding a title for his masterwork to the dedicated early directors and actors that supplied his inspiration and helped realize his vision.

The brilliant 2017 London production of the show is soon to open in New York and on Broadway this spring. Now, twenty-five years later, it’s Kushner’s vision of the Right that looks so true. We see that the America of Donald Trump is the same America of Roy Cohn. This America is deeply divided between “winners and losers, hatred of the powerless used as a cynical tool to enrich the privileged…” The real emphasis of “The World Only Spins Forward” is the emphasis on the drama as a “work of queer cultural history–both milestone and touchstone–where it ultimately succeeds.” The play grew out of the calamity and death with the AIDS crisis, an indifferent president Ronald Reagan, and a religious fanaticism that pretended not to see the horrors of AIDS while preaching intolerance and hatred.

We go back to the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco in 1991 and to the Royal National Theatre, London in 1992, to the Mark Taper Forum in LA the same year, to Broadway from 1993–1994. We see the Culture Wars of the nineties. We learn that an early overture to Robert Altman to direct a film version of the play. We also get a behind-the-scenes look at the events which led to the 2003 HBO film and we read about the 2004 Peter Eötvös opera based on the play. We are reminded of the need to follow one’s truth in the face of oppression and intolerance