Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Binge” by Tyler Oakley— Classy Essays

binge

Oakley, Tyler. “Binge”, Gallery Books, 2015.

Classy Essays

Amos Lassen

I am now quite sure that I am a victim of the generation gap. I had no idea who Tyler Oakley was before I saw his book on the new release LGBT titles page that I get weekly. The book came about a week ago and I am still trying to figure it out in terms of the reviews I have read. It seems that Oakley is something of a social rights advocate and the most prominent LGBTQ+ voice on YouTube, who has a tremendous following. In his book he gives us his first collection of witty, personal, and hilarious essays.

Oakley has made it his purpose to share everything and he does so with humor and wit. He most certainly has had a lot of personal “mishaps” ranging from having had a rage blackout at a popular restaurant to projectile vomiting while bartering with a grandmother to name just two. Whatever happens to him, he has a certain elan as he deals with a situation. He opens himself up and writes of things that have happened to him and it is impossible not t smile while reading this. Even when his stories are raw, Oakley writes with elegance. I found him making reading fun and I am not surprised at the number of people that follow him (and there are more than 21 million people who do). It was eight years ago when Oakley uploaded his first video on YouTube and he has taken the Internet as his own.

Physically the book is beautiful from its many-colored cover to the glossy paper it is printed on. While I do not fit into the demographics that follow him, I still must admit that I had a good time reading him.

“My Exodus: From Fear to Grace” by Alan Chambers— More Garbage from the Church

my exodus

Chambers, Alan. “My Exodus: From Fear to Grace”, Zondervan, 2015.

More Garbage from the Church

Amos Lassen

Author, husband, and father Alan Chambers shares his own story of being a committed believer who has same sex attractions and it is his hope that it will help us understand the issues from the inside. He says that since he is the former president of the largest ex-gay ministry that he knows all the arguments, the concerns, the scriptures, and the heartaches. I find that statement to not only be pretentious, presumptuous and untrue.

“My Exodus”, Chambers says, was written to encourage us to look for and affirm the image of God in everyone. It is meant to be a reminder that God is still at work and deeply loves his creations. Further chambers says that this is a book for everyone who wants to be welcoming and loving to all people without compromising their faith or their biblical theology. He uses personal and powerful stories and opens the scriptures to help us to come to understand how to love all people and positively engage our culture in the conversations and topics surrounding the LGBT community and the Church. I do not think I need anything more than common sense to do that.  Chambers promises that his book will make us to be better and do better in “God-honoring ways”. We must embrace the idea of loving well because we want to and not because we have to and then will we will find hope for ourselves, for the Church, and for our world. If you find any message in any of this doubletalk, please let me know. We are surely aware that we do not need any more books about Christianity and sexuality much less one that supposedly teaches us how to love that which we, for so long, have been taught to abhor. Chambers, in his own words, says that the embraces the messiness of sexuality….now I am not sure what that means or that sexuality can be messy but hey, this guy says he knows it all because he ran an ex-gay ministry (which are not illegal in many states). Now here is one of his broad statements, “God loves everyone equally regardless of their sexual orientation or practices”. Instead of giving easy answers, Chambers instead on raises difficult questions and empowering readers to face them with grace. I am surprised that a man who says he knows it all has questions.

One reviewer claims that Alan Chambers’ well-publicized exodus from Exodus International has a back-story that needs to be heard. Did he stop to consider that his “exodus” was probably caused by the new decisions on ex-gay ministries that now makes them illegal? These bogus ministries have been empty for some time.   After realizing they did not work, Chambers has decided to love us and I say, “Isn’t that nice!”.

Now here cones the killer and I quote directly. “Exodus International promised to change gay to straight, but instead found itself changed from a large, influential organization to one with shuttered doors. President Alan Chambers advocated orientation change in both his personal and professional lives, and instead found himself changed as a man and as a leader: keeping his vows to his wife and children, directing courageous organizational change, and experiencing and proclaiming Jesus’ love”… “God’s changeless love and boundless grace were the true promise, not orientation change. Alan describes how truth, grace, love, and mercy have proven solid and trust- worthy, even through profound organizational and personal challenges. The time is ripe— overripe — for truth telling about reparative therapy and about the sincere spiritual lives of gay Christians. This book tells that truth”. Read that again, “This book tells the truth”.

Alan Chambers, the final president of Exodus International, “closed the doors of the organization, along with its premise of change, and embarked on a whole new adventure with his wife, Leslie, of love, grace, acceptance, and inclusion”. I hope she checks his pocket, Facebook and Grindr accounts. Something stinks here and I am sure what it is but I have an idea that here is the wolf dressed as lamb throwing his new philosophy because he knew his end as an ex-gay therapist was doomed. The leopard never loses his spots and the fundamentalists usually get caught.

How does this stuff get published by reputable publishers?

“The Courage to Be Queer” by Jeff Hood— A New Look at God and at Ourselves

the courage to be queer

Hood, Jeff. “The Courage to Be Queer”, Wipf & Stock, 2015.

A New Look at God and at Ourselves

Amos Lassen

Jeff Hood tells us that God is queer and then explains what he means. He says that in a world of normative paradigms, God will never fit in and nor should we. The desire for something more will consistently be present until we step out of our closets and into the Queer. “The Courage to Be Queer” is “about the wildness and beauty of an indescribable and uncontainable God. He asks, “What is the Queer calling us to be? We are to be the ones shouting for justice. We are to be the ones dancing for freedom. We are to be the ones dreaming for hope. We are to be the ones . . .”

As I read I could hear (in my mind) those yelling that this is blasphemy and heretical. Those that really need to hear what Hood ways here are those who won’t do so. For those members of the LGBT community who want a relationship with the giver of life, however, this is a blessing and a start to finding where they fit in terms of religion.

Hood’s basic premise is the understanding that in the person and teaching of Jesus, God intends to confront and discredit totally that the “normative” of human belief and practice and this is not new. What he tells us and it is new is the way he uses the word and term queer. Here he uses it as a noun, a verb, and when capitalized as a Name of God and the Divine Principle in Jesus and those who follow. Hood allows the concepts of Christianity to come through regardless of the shock value of his vocabulary. I love this approach but as a non-Christian, I lack the understanding that I need in order to really think about what Hood has to say. As a Jew, I have never had to challenge my religion for acceptance and I don’t give a damn how they feel about me as a gay man. I have never allowed my sexuality to hinder me religiously and it is who I am. If the Jews do not like it, it is there problem because I am not going anywhere, I will pray and attend temple as I wish and no one is going to close a door in my face. Doors are to be opened and there are all kinds of ways of doing this but by standing up to those who think they know is the surest way. Walking away means they are victors. Ignoring them and doing our own think whether or not they accept it is their problem. We do not need to belong to a church to belong to God.

Hood provides us with a bold intervention in the status quo of Christianity. His use of the radical queer politics of hope affirms the power of relational difference while challenging us to create new forms of inclusive communities that are grounded in transformational love. Hood tells us to challenge the sameness that we all seem to be a part of and come out of conformity and be our own selves. There is a sense of Godly queerness within us and we just need to find it. Declaration of difference as holy makes being queer holy as well. We must defy the stereotype

The Courage to Be Queer opens the tent of God’s love to everybody by defying stereotypes and rethink and challenge biblical interpreters to be vital and alive. Coming-out is an act of courage and it is courageous to embrace our own personal differences and act in freedom for the betterment of others. Hood says “everyone is truly queer: unique, individual, and precious beyond all accounting to the Queer God who makes all people new in the Spirit”. He shows us how to discover the face of God in new forms of humanity and divinity. A theology of liberation frees us and allows us to live good lives.

We need not be confined by binaries of identity and reality. Hood has formed a liberation theology that is really not different from other theologies but it grants us a freedom to then construct our lives and relationships in profoundly new ways.

New from Bruno Gmunder— Two by Michael Stokes

gmunder banner

Two by Michael Stokes

exhibition

“Exhibition”

This is a 136-page, hardcover volume, showcases photographer Michael Stokes’ penchant for photographing “male erotic images and figure studies of fitness competitors, personal trainers, and body builders from around the world.” Following his massively-successful Masculinity and Bare Strength, Stokes—whose number of Facebook followers top an astonishing 700,000—has created a new, modern figure study of the male form. He is best known for his work with nude American soldier amputees-photos that have been banned by social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, many of which are featured in his book Always Loyal. Stokes’ photos have appeared on “The Today Show”, “Good Morning America”, “The View”, and “The Tonight Show”.

Pages: 136

Color: Full Color

Cover: Hardcover with dust jacket

Format: 10 1/4 x 13 1/2 inch (26,0 x 34,0 cm)

Preis: € 59,99/ US$ 99.99 / C$ 99.99 / £ 49.99

ISBN: 978-3-95985-013-1

always loyal

Always Loyal

Inspired by a chapter in his 2014 book, Bare Strength, which featured wounded amputee Marines, celebrated photographer Michael Stokes has created an entire photographic volume dedicated to U.S. Gulf War veterans.

Always Loyal, a large-scale, hardcover coffee table book, showcases the beautiful side of wounded soldiers, whose injuries and/or lost limbs are detailed in intimate, exclusive photographs and information that provide a highly unique appreciation for those brave souls who have fought for the United States of America. The goal of fitness photographer Stokes—who, inspired by a shoot with veteran and amputee Alex Minsky, wanted to put a different spin on how wounded veterans were depicted—was to create a book via crowdfunder KickStarter.com. The result of the book is pure art. Pages: 96

Color: Full Color

Cover: Hardcover with dust jacket

Size: 10 1/4 x 13 1/2 inch (26,0 x 34,0 cm)

Price: € 49,99 / US$ 79.99 / C$ 79.99 / £ 39.99

ISBN: 978-3-95985-014-8

“In the Vale of Cashmere” by Thomas Roma— A Four-Year Odyssey

in the vale of cashmere

Roma, Thomas. “In the Vale of Cashmere”, Power House Books, 2015.

A Four-Year Odyssey

Amos Lassen

Prospect Park in Brooklyn is a place where gay cruising takes place on the trials and in the wooded areas. It is known as The Vale of Cashmere by those who are aware of and familiar with the place that has become an “anonymous, secret meeting ground where scores of men, mostly of African American descent, find one another for sex where such encounters occur between men of all walks of life, many of them identifying not as gay but as heterosexuals, with children and wives—and a deep secret”. This book is the culmination of photographer Thomas Roma’s four-year journey there. With awkward and oversized hand-made cameras and other hard to manage photography gear, Roma who was sometimes unwanted and always uninvited walked into the midst of secret, clandestine sex where there was always a risk of danger and being caught by the police. Many of the men that Roma chose to photograph were not interested but there were those that were. After one agreed to be photographed, Roma would offer the men time and the opportunity to show him something of themselves that otherwise they might not have the chance to do.

When he began this, Roma planned to do a portrait project. However, the more time Roma spent in the Vale of Cashmere, the more the physical beauty of the Vale became inseparable from the portraits and the many landscape photographs were made to be included in the book. In addition to the landscapes, a custom modified miniature camera was used to provide sequential pictures showing the steady march of the solitary men as they cruised the Vale. These candid photographs, which run along the bottom of the pages of landscape photographs, are reproduced in small scale so as to make it impossible to identify anyone in them. Roma’s motivation for this came from his desire to honor the memory of a dear friend who died of AIDS in 1991 and who had introduced him to the Vale of Cashmere.

“Thomas Roma is a two-time recipient of Guggenheim Fellowships (1982 and 1991) and a New York State Council for the Arts Fellowship (1973). Roma’s work has appeared in one-person and group exhibitions internationally, including one-person shows with accompanying books at The Museum of Modern Art, NY and the International Center of Photography. He has published 12 monographs including: Enduring Justice (powerHouse Books, 2001) with an introduction by Norman Mailer, On Three Pillars (powerHouse Books, 2008) with text by Phillip Lopate, and his 2010 powerHouse Books publication Dear Knights and Dark Horses with an introduction by Alec Wilkinson. He has taught photography since 1983 at Yale, Fordham, Cooper Union, and The School of Visual Arts and in 1996 became the Director of the Photography Program at Columbia University School of the Arts where he is a Professor of Art. Roma lives in Brooklyn with his wife Anna and their son Giancarlo.”

“Sexual Minorities and Politics: An Introduction” by Jason Pierceson— A Comprehensive View

sexual minories

Pierceson, Jason. “Sexual Minorities and Politics: An Introduction”, Rowman and Littlefield, 2015.

A Comprehensive View

Amos Lassen

There have been heavy debates in this country about the political representation and involvement of sexual minorities. Although there have been legislative and judicial victories that have brought about e inroads towards equality for this growing population, members and advocates of these minorities, they still have to fight to against societal and institutional resistance as they navigate evolving political and legal systems. “Sexual Minorities and Politics” is the first textbook that gives students an up-to-date, thorough, and comprehensive overview of the historical, political, and legal status of sexual and gender minorities. With thorough analyses of the work done by political scientists, political theorists, and historians, Jason Pierceson explores the history of the LGBT rights movement, the building of political and legal movements and the responses to them. He examines philosophical debates within and about the movement, and then weighs the current state of the politics and policies concerning sexual minorities.In addition to carefully structured analyses and contextual explanations”, we are given lists of important and key terms and discussion questions in each chapter to aid student comprehension and fuel classroom debate.

As of today, this is the most comprehensive presentation of the literature on sexual minorities currently available for classroom use and it is the first text designed specifically for Politics of Gender and Sexuality courses. Concise and comprehensive, it provides a wonderful overview of all the major LGBT developments in the United States and presents history, theory, and empirical evidence from the latest research and does so in an interdisciplinary manner. While the book is about the United States, it also looks at the global movement for sexual and gender minorities.

“Shock Treatment”, (Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition) by Karen Finley— An Excoriation

shock treatment

Finley, Karen. “Shock Treatment”, (Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition), City Lights, 2015.

An Excoriation

Amos Lassen

“Shock Treatment” is a collection that includes Karen Finley’s most provocative and acclaimed performance monologues, essays, and poems. Taken together, we get an excoriation of misogyny, homophobia, abusive families, greed, and state coercion of bodies and minds. Finley hopes for a world informed not by hate and fear, but by truth and unconditional love. Even though “Shock Treatment” is already 25 years old it is still timely, relevant and crucial as it was when it was first published. Author Finley is an iconoclast who became an icon with this book that was targeted by religious groups and politicians.

The book is a “searing and necessary indictment of America, a call to arms, a great protest against the injustices waged on queers and women during a time in recent American history where government intervention and recognition was so desperately needed”. Twenty-five years later, it continues to shock and provoke readers and audiences in the way it demonstrates the powerful cultural and political impact her work has had on modern American art and performance art.

This twenty-fifth anniversary expanded edition features a new introduction in which Finley reflects on publishing her first book as she became internationally known for being denied an NEA grant because of perceived obscenity in her work. She also shares her journey from art school to burlesque gigs to the San Francisco North Beach literary scene. There is also a new poem reminds us of Finley’s disarming ability to respond to the era’s most challenging issues with grace and humor.

As a performance artist, Finley provoked debate and controversy. Take this for example from “Aunt Mandy”, ‘One day, I hope to God, Bush / Cardinal O’Connor and the Right-to-Lifers each / returns to life as an unwanted pregnant 13-year-old / girl working at McDonalds at minimum wage.’ We immediately feel the irony and if we simply change the names, what she has t say is still relevant. In America we are still fighting a culture war.

Finley writes with rage as she deals with the issues of homophobia, misogyny, racism, and casual violence and while she once sounded irate, today she sounds more astute. That rage contained grief, humor and “a passion for life that is profound. Her language is graphic but it not gratuitous. She uses vulgar sarcasm and contempt towards the society that allows her to publish what she does and her messages become loud and clear, once the shock wears off. Her essays are about the issues of sexual abuse, misogyny and corporate greed (and others) and she faces the bitter realities of society that many try hard to deny or keep out of the comfort zone of awareness. This is a raw uncensored cathartic tirade of a woman who deals with harsh realities and if one cannot take them then this is the not the kind of book to read. Sure, sometimes the profanity is excessive but the truths are there and they must be dealt with.

The essays here were written at a time when some religious leaders were referring to AIDS as a punishment from God. Finley compares the treatment of AIDS victims to the Holocaust and refers to the 700 Club as “America’s SS.” She writes with a tone of despair and she tells us that the “liberalism and idealism of the ’60s and ’70s has been replaced in the ’80s by yuppie materialism and religious fundamentalism”. Yes, she is shocking but she also has written sensitively about illness, death and grief.

Finley shatters taboos in this collection of monologues and we must appreciate what she has done here.

“Rupert Brooke: The Bisexual Brooke” by Kenneth Hale— Sorry No Review

rupert brooks

Hale, Kenneth. “Rupert Brooke: The Bisexual Brooke”, Watersgreen House, 2015.

Sorry No Review

Amos Lassen

I had really wanted to review this but the publisher told me that they do not have the budget to send out review copies so I can only relate what I have read about the book.

“Keith Hale, editor of “Friends & Apostles: The Correspondence of Rupert Brooke and James Strachey, 1905-1914”, here examines the bowdlerization of Brooke in existing biographies and looks into the poet’s self-proclaimed bisexual identity. Hale examines the same-sex relationships Brooke enjoyed with Michael Sadleir, Charles Lascelles, and Denham Russell-Smith as well as the poems Brooke may have written about these early loves. As with many boys of his generation, Brooke’s public school days affected him more profoundly than any period of his life. During his years at Rugby, Rupert was involved in romantic relationships with three boys. In order, Denham Russell-Smith entered Rugby in May 1902, age thirteen. Michael Sadleir followed in May 1903, age fourteen, making him and Denham the same age. Charles Lascelles entered in May 1904 at age fourteen. Thus, two of Brooke’s Rugby loves were two years his junior, and the boy he appears to have loved most, Lascelles, was three years younger”. I must say that it looks fascinating.

“Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway” by Michael Riedel— The Money and the Power

razzle dazzle

Riedel. Michael. “Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway”, Simon and Schuster, 2015.

The Money and the Power

Amos Lassen

“Razzle Dazzle” is a provocative look at the people, the money and the power that re-invented New York City’s Broadway and, turned its back alleys and sex-shops into the dazzling Great White Way. They also brought a crippled New York from the brink of bankruptcy to new glory. In the mid-1970s Times Square was the seedy symbol of New York’s economic decline. The famous Shubert Organization was losing theaters to make way for parking lots. Bernard Jacobs and Jerry Schoenfeld, two ambitious board members, saw that the crumbling company was ripe for takeover and staged a coup “amidst corporate intrigue, personal betrayals, and criminal investigations”. Once Jacobs and Schoenfeld solidified their power, they turned a collapsed theater-owning holding company into one of the most successful entertainment empires in the world and ultimately backed many of Broadway’s biggest hits, including A Chorus Line, Cats, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and Mamma Mia! They also sparked the revitalization of Broadway and the renewal of Times Square.

Michael Riedel tells the stories of the Shubert Organization and the shows that were responsible for the re-building of the city in grand style. He gives us the backstage drama that often rivaled that of what transpired onstage. Here is gossip, rivalries, friendships and alliances that read like a novel. We see that Broadway is a business and here it was a bit of a battle between the various production companies. Yet, when Reidel writes about the 70s, 80s and on, the book is thrilling. Ticket prices are fascinating as it is explained that they rose from $7 dollars for orchestra seats to the hundreds that are now charged. Here is a love letter to Broadway and New York City.

“A Radical Life in Song” by Ronnie Gilbert–A Singer, a Playwright, a Therapist and an Independent Woman

ronnie gilbert

Gilbert, Ronnie. “A Radical Life in Song”, (Foreword by Holly Near), University of California Press, 2015.

A Singer, a Playwright, a Therapist and an Independent Woman

Amos Lassen

Ronnie Gilbert, along with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Fred Hellerman was one of the founding members of the folk singing group, the Weavers. In the late 1940s, she became a performer and an activist on behalf of social change. Her credits include the book and stage presentation “Face to Face with the Most Dangerous Woman in America”, detailing the life and work of Mother Jones; “Legacy”, a play based on the writings of Studs Terkel; and many recordings with the Weavers, Holly Near, and others. Her career was long and full— she was a singer, actor, playwright, therapist, and independent woman. Her lifelong work for political and social change was central to her role as a performer.

Gilbert was raised in Depression-era New York City by leftist, working-class, secular Jewish parents, Gilbert is best known as a member of the Weavers, the quartet of the 1950s and ’60s that survived the blacklist and helped popularize folk music in America. She possessed a beautiful contralto voice and had a vibrant stage presence that enriched the group and propelled Gilbert into a second singing career with Holly Near in the 1980s and ’90s. As an actor, Gilbert explored developmental theater with Joseph Chaikin and Peter Brook and wrote and performed in ensemble and solo productions across the United States and Canada. This book tells is about the political, artistic, and social issues of the times and does so through song lyrics and personal stories and through sixty years of collaborations in life and art that span the folk revival, the Cold War blacklist, primal therapy, the back-to-the-land movement, and a rich, multigenerational family story. It is so much more than a memoir— it is also a unique and engaging historical document for those interested in music, theater, American politics, the women’s movement, and left-wing activism. Unfortunately Ronnie Gilbert died before it was published.

“What an extraordinary, well-lived, lefty/Jewish life, complicated and engaged, a glorious weaving of art and politics: hootenannies to Red-haters, Carnegie Hall to Mother Jones, women’s music and love for a woman to the bombing of Gaza. Sing now to the heavens, dear Ronnie!” Penny Rosenwasser, author of Hope into Practice: Jewish Women Choosing Justice Despite Our Fears

A Radical Life in Song is an uplifting, bold, and adventurous journey with the resilient Ronnie Gilbert as she goes from challenge to challenge, from strength to strength, with gusto and heart.” Clare Coss, playwright and author of Emmett, Down in My Heart and Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington

“Ronnie Gilbert approached her memoir as she lived her life: with love, compassion, and forthright courage. Vividly written, this splendid book presents a life of stunning surprises, harmony and struggle, and the enduring realities of political and personal activism, from the Weavers to Women in Black.” Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt, vols. 1–2

“For those of us who thought that Ronnie Gilbert was JUST part of the legendary Weavers, this autobiography in an eye opener. Far from just being part of the Weavers, Ronnie Gilbert’s life has been a series of stepping stones, leading to new adventures in the arts and living”.

“She was part of the early protest song movement before the Weavers, and then came the Weavers, a group that burst on the music scene in the early 50s, only to be hurt by the McCarthy scare of the 50s – one of the dark periods in American history”.

“Yet her life didn’t end with the disbanding of the Weavers; instead, she became an actress and knew and worked with many of the famous directors and playwrights of the era”.

“She became a Primal Scream therapist out of her own need for help and renewal; lived in worked in British Columbia for a number of years, before returning to a more activist life”.

“Her activist life, begun with her mother’s devotion to social justice, is till not over – this is an amazing revelation for me, and demonstrates just how one can lead the active, socially conscious life well into old age”. Below is a look at the Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations

Foreword by Holly Near

Acknowledgments

 

  1. Songs Are Dangerous
  2. Family
  3. Making My Own Way
  4. The Weavers
  5. Moving On
  6. Theater
  7. Heading West
  8. British Columbia
  9. The Winter Project
  10. The Weavers’ Last Concert
  11. Women’s Music
  12. Women in Black
  13. Learning to Be Old

 

Index