Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

Unnormalizing Education : Addressing Homophobia in Higher Education and K-12 Schools” by Joseph R. Jones— On a Higher Level

unnormalizing education

Jones, Joseph R. “Unnormalizing Education : Addressing Homophobia in Higher Education and K-12 Schools”, Information Age Publishing, 2015.

On a Higher Level

Amos Lassen

It is still apparent that there are tremendous problems in our schools regarding homophobia and homophobic bullying. Educators are not sure about an appropriate process for addressing these challenges. Here, Joseph R. Jones postulates that out of necessity we need to begin exploring the culture of educational environments as they relate to sexual difference. We see here how educators must begin looking at how their concepts about various and different sexual identities are what we call normalized “through socializing processes and schooling”. We see here how individuals construct meanings about homophobia and hate language through “contextual oppositions” and “how educational environments maintain a false tolerance” when claiming to be tolerant of different sexual identities. We become aware how a hierarchy of hate language exists in educational environments, among other issues related to creating safe places for all students. Basically what this book tries to do it is “un”normalize society’s constructions of sexual identity by deconstructing the social norms.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:


Preface: Understanding Unnormalizing.

(Un)derstanding the Problem.

(Un) masking our True Tolerance.

(Un) Raveling Masculinities and Perceptions.

(Un)doing the Hierarchy of Hate Language.

(Un) Contextualizing Language and Behaviors.

(Un)derstanding the Role of Multicultural Education. in Addressing Homophobia in Schools.

(Un) Doing Unsupportive Schools.

(Un)dertaking a Personal Journey

27th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners 2015

lammy

LESBIAN FICTION

Yabo, Alexis De Veaux, RedBone Press

GAY FICTION

*I Loved You More, Tom Spanbauer, Hawthorne Books
BISEXUAL FICTION

Give It to Me, Ana Castillo, The Feminist Press
TRANSGENDER FICTION

A Safe Girl To Love, Casey Plett, Topside Press
LGBT DEBUT FICTION

The Walk-In Closet, Abdi Nazemian, Curtis Brown Unlimited
LGBT NONFICTION

*Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS, Martin Duberman, The New Press
BISEXUAL NONFICTION

*Fire Shut Up In My Bones, Charles M. Blow, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
TRANSGENDER NONFICTION
Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man, Thomas Page McBee, City Lights/Sister Spit
LESBIAN POETRY

Mysterious Acts by My People, Valerie Wetlaufer, Sibling Rivalry Press
GAY POETRY

[insert] boy, Danez Smith, YesYes Books
LESBIAN MYSTERY

*The Old Deep and Dark, Ellen Hart, Minotaur Books
GAY MYSTERY

*Blackmail, My Love: A Murder Mystery, Katie Gilmartin, Cleis Press
LESBIAN MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY

Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith, Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks, with Barbara Smith, SUNY Press
GAY MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY – 2 WINNERS:

*GAY MEMOIR:
The Prince of Los Cocuyos, Richard Blanco, HarperCollins/Ecco
GAY BIOGRAPHY:
*Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, John Lahr, W. W. Norton & Company

LESBIAN ROMANCE
*The Farmer’s Daughter, Robbi McCoy, Bella Books
GAY ROMANCE

*Salvation: A Novel of the Civil War, Jeff Mann, Bear Bones Books
LESBIAN EROTICA

Lesbian Sex Bible, Diana Cage, Quiver Books
GAY EROTICA

The King, Tiffany Reisz, MIRA Books
LGBT ANTHOLOGY

*Understanding and Teaching US Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, Leila J. Rupp & Susan K. Freeman, University of Wisconsin Press
LGBT CHILDREN’S/YOUNG ADULT

Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, Tim Federle, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
LGBT DRAMA

Bootycandy, Robert O’Hara, Samuel French
LGBT GRAPHIC NOVELS

Second Avenue Caper, Joyce Brabner; Art by Mark Zingarelli, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
LGBT SF/F/HORROR

Bitter Waters, Chaz Brenchley, Lethe Press
LGBT STUDIES

*The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within U.S. Slave Culture, Vincent Woodard, Ed. Justin A. Joyce and Dwight McBride, New York University Press

* Those marked with an asterisk have been reviewed here at reviewsbyamoslassen.com

“Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel” by Alice Walker— Who Needs Alice Walker?

overcoming speechlessness

Walker, Alice. “Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel”, Seven Stories Press, 2010.

Who Needs Alice Walker?

Amos Lassen

Alice Walker once seemed to have it all. She was a respected writer and winner of a Pulitzer Prize but lately and by that I mean in the last twenty years, she has used her fame to lash out against what she calls injustices when in effect, she does not have any idea of what she is talking about. And this is how she will be remembered—as a woman who used her well-earned famer as a writer to speak out about issues that do not affect her directly and of which she has no background. Even more interesting is that she has become a black anti-Semite and espouses hate at every opportunity—so much so, that her own daughter is no longer speaking to her.

In 2006, Alice Walker, while working with Women for Women International, visited Rwanda and the eastern Congo to witness the aftermath of the genocide in Kigali. Invited by Code Pink, an antiwar group working to end the Iraq War, Walker traveled to Palestine/Israel three years later to view what she calls the devastation on the Gaza Strip. Here is her testimony. I am only concerned with what she has to say about Israel and it is clear to me that she has gone the way of two other misguided and self-promoting female “scholars”, Sarah Schulman and Judith Butler. To even make this more interesting, all three of these women are out lesbians who take the side of Palestine, a place where their sexual orientation would not allow them to remain alive for long. But hey, both talk and sex are cheap these days.

Walker, so the blurb says, bears “witness to the depravity and cruelty, she presents the stories of the individuals who crossed her path and shared their tales of suffering and courage. Part of what has happened to human beings over the last century, she believes, is that we have been rendered speechless by unusually barbaric behavior that devalues human life. We have no words to describe what we witness. Self-imposed silence has slowed our response to the plight of those who most need us, often women and children, but also men of conscience who resist evil but are outnumbered by those around them who have fallen victim to a belief in weapons, male or ethnic dominance, and greed.” These are pretty words if you speak “Walkerese”.

Walker writes that she traveled to the Gaza Strip in 2009 to witness the suffering caused by the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Here, she TELLS STORIES of women and children brutalized by war. (Capitalization intentional and the word “stories” here is important).She recalls (which is not the same as remembering) “visiting villages reduced to rubble, listening to women mourn the death of their children, sharing modest meals, and sharing stories of her own struggles growing up in the South, the U.S. civil rights movement, and learning the importance of connections to friends and family.” (She does not mention that she is a lesbian here because f she had she probably would have been escorted out of the area). Walker attempts to link “modern-day atrocities to older cruelties, including the Holocaust and the Trail of Tears. She claims to have found resilience in the midst of atrocities, and she “uses her own voice, as poet and activist, to speak out against injustices in the world’s trouble spots.” What she forgets is the history of the Jewish people and the state of Israel as well as the constant bombardment and aggression from the Arab countries. When did she become so knowledgeable about the Middle East? The truth be known that she is not knowledgeable at all about it and much of what she says is based about warped thinking and influence from others.

What an unfortunate fate to befall a writer who has shown such promise. I have no idea how or why she has become the hate monger that she has become but I do wish she would shut up. It is also interesting that there was a time that publishing houses would fight to publish Walker and now she is published by a minor house.

“Compulsion” by Meyer Levin— “The Jewish Crime of the Century”

compulsion

Levin, Meyer. “Compulsion”, Fig Tree Books Reprint, 2015.

“The Jewish Crime of the Century”

Amos Lassen

I have heard others say that I am a bit obsessed with the Leopold/Loeb affair and I suppose that there is some truth to that. I have never been able to understand the entire business and whenever I need to think about something, it seems that I return to it; I suppose because I have so many unanswered questions. Quite frankly it bothers me a great deal that two such promising young men should be involved in such sordidness especially when it did not need to happen. It has been 90 years and there is still so much we do not understand about it. Even Meter Levin’s classic “Compulsion” makes me think about it even more and it is 60 years old. Between Leopold, Loeb and the Rosenbergs, I spend a lot of tine just sitting and thinking about the criminal mind and how it comes to be.

I remember that as a kid, I would hear people whispering about it. It seemed that everyone knew something about the murderers and/or were reading “Compulsion” and talking about it. Leopold and Loeb certainly were responsible for some degree of American anti-Semitism. (After all, Jews do not commit such horrific crimes, do they?)

“Compulsion is a fictional account of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb’s horrible and horrifying murder of a 14-year-old boy and while the names are changed to Steiner and Strauss, everyone knew the book was about Leopold and Loeb. The story sticks closely to the actual facts of the 1924 crime.

When the book was published, it became an instant sensation and a bestseller. Murder mysteries were popular in the 50s and 60s and one that was based on a true story, a story as gruesome as anyone imagine was what Americans liked to read. The Leopold/Loeb murder was nothing ordinary—there was no reason for it to happen. The killers’ aim was to commit the perfect crime and the murder of Bobby Franks, then just 14 was the way that they thought they could succeed. It was a gratuitous murder by two young men who looked at what they did as “an intellectual project carried out with the detachment of a scientist.”

Meyer Levin was fascinated by the case and that was probably because he was close to it. He went to the University of Chicago and he was precocious like Leopold and Loeb. As a young Chicago reporter, he helped cover the case for the local paper and he appears in “Compulsion” as the narrator, Sid Silver.

What is interesting about “Compulsion” is that it is long and full of talk and even has a bit of psychological analysis in it. The reading public, writers and film studios were drawn to the book. Leopold and Loeb were curiosities, Jewish boys from good homes and wealthy families. They were young admirers of Dostoevsky because with him crimes could be philosophically justified and they loved Nietzsche for his concept of the superman who was not bound by society or morality. He was above that and they wanted to prove that so were they.

The teenage Leopold and Loeb — prodigies who had graduated from the University of Chicago while still in their teens — were immersed in Dostoevsky (“Crime and Punishment” with its philosophical justification of the crime), Gide, and above all Nietzsche and his notion of the superior man not bound by morality.

“Compulsion” is certainly well written but it is not literary. After all, it is a crime novel much like Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” that came out some 13 years later. What Levin did here was to give the people what they wanted; a crime novel and more than that—a novel about a crime that everyone was aware of. Indeed, it is a crime novel and a thriller but it is also a psychological novel that uses social psychology about issues that the case brought up— what did we know about these rich Chicago Jews and was there anything sexual in this case?

Meyer Levin dared to right about homosexuality when it was still deep in its own closet. He mentions that the Bobby Frank’s body was mutilated in the genital area and he writes about the sexual immaturity of the murderers. We suspect that the two men were in love with each other but we read nothing of them ever being sexual with each other. Could it be that this sexual denial also figures into the case? Then there is the issue of Jewish self-hatred as Freud suggested in the 19th century with the idea that the Jew does not want to pay the toll to be a Jew and that could explain the mutilation of Bobby Frank’s genitals. Levin really captures the wealthy Jewish culture of Chicago at the times and the fact that many Chicago Jews chose not to be especially visible and in fact, at that time, Jewish organizations were quiet and worked quietly. It was not a time for social activism.

Some have remarked that if Leopold and Loeb had to kill someone, it was better for all that they chose a Jewish victim. Had they chosen someone of a different religion, the murder would certainly have been looked at differently as we have seen historically in blood-libel cases. This was not a murder dealing with a ritual; it was a murder for murder’s sake. Here was a crime that was about the anarchy of murder, a crime that resembles in theory the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, what happened in Rwanda and Darfur. Can we assume that this is why we still read “Compulsion”? It seems to me that we now exist in a time when killing and murder are considered horrors of our time. The book might be about a time in history but the crime of Leopold and Loeb is a lasting one; one that will never be forgotten and this is just how it should be.

“In Real Life: My Journey to a Pixelated World” by Joey Graceffa— A You Tube Personality Speaks OUT

in real life

Graceffa, Joey. “In Real Life: My Journey to a Pixelated World”, Atria/Keywords Press, 2015).

A You Tube Personality Speaks OUT

Amos Lassen

Joey Graceffa is one of the fastest-growing personalities on YouTube and here he gives us his confessional, uplifting memoir. Graceffa is a popular brand ambassador, he has partnered with Topshop, Audible, eBay, and H&R Block. In 2013, between his daily vlogs and gameplay videos, he produced and starred in his own Kickstarter–funded supernatural series, “Storytellers,” for which he won a Streamy Award. He also starred in The Amazing Race on CBS and returned in 2014 for the all-star edition. He grew up with his family in Boston before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment. As he says, “It’s not where you begin that matters, it’s where you end up.

At only 23 years old, Joey Graceffa has captured the hearts of millions of teens and young adults through his playful, sweet, and inspirational YouTube presence but we learn here that he was not always so at home with himself and he tells us about it. He is candid and honest as he looks back on his past and his journey to go to where he is today. We read how he went from “pain to pride, self-doubt to self-acceptance.”

Those who follow Joey see him as a friend who always look on the bright side but who is also not afraid of reality. We learn here about his familial struggles and his troubles at school (in Boston). He was rejected and bullied often, He shares his first loves and his losses with us and he tells of the wonderful discoveries he has made through life and the importance of the decisions he has made.

Joey has 44 million subscribers so, of course, some of his fans are going to be surprised at what he has to say here. His mother was an alcoholic and there was violence in the home He says he has never spoken openly about her before. He grew up with an autistic brother with whom he is very close and protective. He says that of the biggest questions his fans have is about his sexuality and he comes out as gay in the book and he tells us that doing so will allow him to be more honest and open with others.

His story is well written and emotional but then so is life—not well-written but emotional. As said earlier here, Graceffa’s story is a welcome reminder that it’s not where one begins that matters, but where he/she ends up. In that sense this is an inspirational book when we consider Joey’s past.

Joey has lived an interesting life so far and if that was all he wrote, it would have been fine. But he does more and gives advice to his readers. Read the other reviews and see how much influence Joey has.

 

“Sex, Drugs and Disco: Part One by Mark Abramson— How it Was

sex drugs and disco

Abramson, Mark. “Sex, Drugs & Disco: Part One”, Wilde City Press, 2015.

How It Was

Amos Lassen

It all seems like a blur now, Everything was so different back in the 70s and as different as it was where I was living, we can imagine how it was San Francisco. Now we no longer have to imagine because Mark Abramson has put it down in writing in his new book, “Sex, Drugs and Disco”. He was one of the thousands of young gay men who flocked to San Francisco in the 70s. It was a time and a place where sex was free, drugs were cheap, and disco music kept us dancing. San Francisco was the place that beckoned to gay men to come and see her and they did. Abramson went there right after college and he found his old friend, John Preston, the writer. Soon he was meeting all kinds of fascinating people including Harvey Milk, Sylvester, Rock Hudson, Natalie Wood and Vincent Price.

It was a wild time and now we know just how it was thinks to Abramson retelling us. His thoughts and his words are “raw and uncensored” just as San Francisco was. I have been a fan of Abramson since he began writing his “Beach Stories” series and his dip into nonfiction reveals a lot about him, the city he lived in and the people he knew.

“Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone” by Gil Z. Hochberg— The Politics of Visuality

visual occupations

Hochberg, Gil Z. “Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone”, (Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe), Duke University Press. 2015.

The Politics of Visuality

Amos Lassen

Gil Z. Hochberg looks at how the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is driven by the unequal access to visual rights, or the right to control what can be seen, how it can be seen and from which position. She writes that Israel maintains this unequal balance by erasing the history and denying the existence of Palestinians, and by carefully concealing its own militarization. The surveillance of Palestinians by Israel, combined with the militarized gaze of Israeli soldiers at places like roadside checkpoints serve as tools of dominance. While I do not agree with her thesis, she makes some interesting points. Hochberg looks at works by both Palestinian and Israeli artists such as Elia Suleiman, Rula Halawani, Sharif Waked, Ari Folman, and Larry Abramson and then states that their films, art, and photography challenge the inequity of visual rights “by altering, queering, and manipulating dominant modes of representing the conflict.”

The artists, she tells us, create new ways of seeing things such as the refusal of Israeli artists’ exposure of “state manipulated Israeli blindness —offers a crucial gateway, Hochberg suggests, for overcoming and undoing Israel’s militarized dominance and political oppression of Palestinians.” The focus of the book is on the politics of visuality and it “engages the Zionist narrative in its various scopic manifestations, while also offering close readings of a wide range of contemporary artistic representations of a conflictual zone.” Emphasis is placed on key ideas— concealment, surveillance, and witnessing, and then Hochberg looks at what she calls uneven access to visual rights that divide Israelis and Palestinians. She puts great emphasis on the tensions that come into play with the tensions between visibility and invisibility that occur during the ongoing war and violence.

The expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948, while invisible in Israel, still haunt the citizens and have led to Palestinian resistance. Now Palestinians under occupation are very visible and are seen as victims and militants and both of these groups look for non-spectacular images and a measure of opacity. Hochberg presents other ways of both looking and being seen in an “unequal field of visibility”.

“Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation” by Eli Clare— The Politics of Disability

exile and pride

Clare, Eli. “Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation”, Duke University Press Books, 2015.

The Politics of Disability

Amos Lassen

“Exile and Pride” was first published in 1999 and is a look at the history future of disability politics. This is Eli Clare’s look at her own experiences as a white and disabled genderqueer writer and activist. He is established as one of the leading writers on the intersections of queerness and disability and he has “permanently changed the landscape of disability politics and queer liberation.” He is devoted to truth and has an activist’s demand for justice. Here he tells us stories and histories that give rise to the sense of self. His essays bring memoir, history, and political thinking together so that we can explore “meanings and experiences of home: home as place, community, bodies, identity, and activism.” We are given the intersectional framework for understanding how we actually live and deal with what we face daily: oppression, power, and resistance. We look at “environmental destruction and capitalism, sexuality and institutional violence, gender and the body politic” and are given the call for call for social justice movements that are truly accessible to everyone. This book gives us a peek at the world where acceptance is just not enough; we want a world where we can be realized, loved and embraced.

We do not have much written in the filed of queer disability and we here meet Eli Clare, a poet with cerebral palsy who wants to be seen as simply a person with an impairment. We need to see what a person can do as opposed to what a person cannot do. This is the story of the fight for access by a disable person. We read the stories of Clare’s fight for disable access but we also learn who Eli is.

Raised in rural Oregon upbringing by a father with a conflicting personality of her father and who sexually abused his child, Clare learned early how to frame a house and used a chainsaw. As a young person, Clare was called names and those words—“crip, queer, freak, redneck… mark the jagged edge between self-hatred and pride, the chasm between how the dominant culture views marginalized peoples and how we view ourselves, the razor between finding home, finding our bodies, and living in exile, living on the metaphoric mountain.”

The book chides us to be aware and to have a good look at our ties to and our alienation from our environment, our sexuality, our friends and ourselves. Clare challenges us to think beyond identity politics. The essays contained in the book deal with topics such as class, race, urban-rural divides, gender identity, sexual abuse, environmental destruction, and the meaning of home. We get an idea of the politics that can take us to new places with new freedoms and our concentration will go past single-issues.

The book is made up of a series of interlinking essays as seen through the lens of Clare’s own experiences as genderqueer with cerebral palsy who still feels deep and abiding love for her childhood home on a river in Oregon. Reading this gives me a lot to think about and some of what I have read here should help me with a friend of mine who is blind and therefore disabled. We know the solutions that we are looking for are not as simple as we might like them to be but just reading this book gives is some really good and new insight.

While “Exile and Pride” is autobiographical, it is also a powerful look at and critique of the social constructions of class, disability, sexuality, race, gender and the environment. The prose is gorgeous and poetic at times and the issues we read of are very real.

Duke University Press is publishing the new edition with a brand new foreword by Aurora Levins Morales, to be released in July, 2015 (July).

“Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality” by Debra Hirsch— The Church and Sexuality

redeeming sex

Hirsch, Debra. “Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality”, (Forge Partnership Books), IVP Books, 2015.

The Church and Sexuality

Amos Lassen

The argument over sexuality has really exposed the gap between the church and the larger society. It is as if there is a battle between the two on issues of relationships, identities, orientations and gender. Author Debra Hirsch offers a redemptive imagination and “a holistic, biblical vision of sex and gender that honors God and offers good news to the world.” She tells is that there is “an unwavering Christ-like love for all humanity, and carves out a space for open conversation about sexuality. It flies in the face of the escalating culture wars of our day and invites us to imagine a Church of the future that is shaped by the Gospel virtues of love and unity.”

Hirsch speaks to the heart of man’s (woman’s) identity in Christ by addressing complex and sensitive realities and tensions and she does so “with grace, love, compassion, truth, justice and mercy.” She challenges us to love God and people through “the lens of our sexuality” and asks us to look at sexuality as beautiful and as part of the glorification of God.

Her claim is that Jesus is the embodiment of sexuality and spirituality, and in him is the model for right living and right loving. Hirsch encourages readers to connect all of their lives, including the sexual dimension of life, with the life of Christ. So we must ask ourselves if what she says holds for non-Christians as well. How does this love for Jesus fare with those who do not accept him as the son of God?

She shares her own story and what she learned about sex before and after meeting Jesus and while it sounds convincing, it does not fit my needs as a Jew but then I have already found my way through my religion. However, for Christians this book has a lot to say and Hirsch has done an excellent job of explaining the holy writings and what others have said about them.

Hirsch offers great depth for Jesus’ followers in the modern connection between spirituality and sexuality. She shares her fine research and theological perspectives on human sexuality.

“Mom and Dad, I’m Gay: Coming Out of the Closet” by Michael Holeman— Helpful Hints

mom and dad

Holeman, Michael. “Mom and Dad, I’m Gay: Coming Out of the Closet”, CreateSpace, 2015.

Helpful Hints

Amos Lassen

There are many, many books that have been written about coming-out as gay and while some of them are very good, there is really no way to prepare someone for the experience. We are all so different that each of us would need our own book. “Mom and Dad, I’m Gay: Coming Out of the Closet” is a phrase we all know too well and most of us have left closets that are filled with fears and doubt. We never know what to escape as we move from in the closet to in the world. There is a lot of information about that here as well as some very interesting facts about gay life and culture. What we have to remember is that coming-out is not a one-time experience and in may cases we come–out every day. This is a nice little book but, in effect, there is really nothing new in it. It does, however, deal with self-development and many other books do not. It is easy to read and if you need help this is just one of many books that you can read.