Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Out in the Periphery: Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution” by Omar G. Encarnacion— The Leader in the Global South

out in the periphery

Encarnacion. Omar G. “Out in the Periphery: Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution”, Oxford University Press, 2016.

The Leader in the Global South

Amos Lassen

Latin America has been known to be the place where Roman Catholicism prevails and where machismo is a way of life. Nonetheless, it has emerged as the

undisputed gay rights leader of the Global South. Several Latin American countries have passed up many more developed nations (as well as the United States) in legislating equality for the LGBT community. Just how did this happen and why are Latin American nations diverging in their embrace of gay rights, as we see in Argentina? Argentina is a country with a long and dark history of repression of homosexuality yet it legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, a first for a Latin American nation and since then it has enacted laws to ensure transgender equality, to abolish “ex-gay reparative therapy,” and to provide reproductive assistance to same-sex couples. Brazil, in contrast, is a country that is famous for celebrating sexual diversity has not been able to legalize same-sex marriage via the legislature and has left it to the courts. Brazilian anti-gay discrimination laws are among the weakest in Latin America.

Breaking away from the conventional narrative of Latin America’s embrace of gay rights as a by-product of the global spread of gay rights from the developed West, author Omar Encarnación aims to gay rights politics from the center and not to

“demonstrate how the “local” has trumped the “global” in Latin America but instead to suggest how domestic and international politics interacted to make Latin America one of the world’s most receptive environments for gay rights”. He shows that economic and political modernization, constitutional and judicial reforms, and the rise of socially liberal governments have all done their parts in the passage of gay rights. The most decisive factor was the skill of local activists in crafting highly effective gay rights campaigns. The activists were inspired by external events and trends, but grounded their efforts to local politics and realities. These campaigns were important and succeeded in bringing radical change to the law with respect to homosexuality and, in some cases, as in Argentina, they transformed society and culture.

Encarnación issues a challenge to scholars and those interested in LGBT activism to look beyond the United States to understand how great victories can be had. He has done great research and presents good and clear arguments. The writing is lucid and easily understandable to everyone and unlike other books that are written for scholars, has a large audience. He has grounded LGBT politics in Latin America is a way that brings analyses from both the comparative and international perceptions. Further he shows us how domestic movements have come together with international influences in order to advance their agendas in their own contexts.

Encarnacion’s main notion is that the complex interaction between local contexts and international trends plays a crucial role in defining possible policy outcomes. The dynamic between the activists and the larger international groups is the primary consideration.

The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period” by Jim Downs— Perceptions of Jews in Hellenistic Writing

the image of jews in greek lit

Bar-Kochva, Bezalel. “The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period”, University of California Press, 2016.

Perceptions of Jews in Hellenistic Writing

Amos Lassen

Bezalel Bar-Kochva examines how Jews were perceived in the attitudes of Greek writers of the Hellenistic period. Some of the leading Greek intellectuals who devoted special attention to the Jews were “Theophrastus (the successor of Aristotle), Hecataeus of Abdera (the father of “scientific” ethnography), and Apollonius Molon (probably the greatest rhetorician of the Hellenistic world)”. Bar-Kochva examines the references of these writers and others to the Jews regarding their literary output and personal background; their religious, social, and political views; their literary and stylistic methods; ethnographic stereotypes current at the time; and more.

Bar-Kochva gives erudite reinterpretations of many of the texts, showing that Greek views of Jews in this period were a complicated issue. He looks at twelve key documents’ about the treatment of the Jews and analyzes them. With this book, Bar-Kochva raises the bar on studying Jews of antiquity and he does much more than collect and arrange references to Judaism.

“The Skin of Meaning: Collected Literary Essays and Talks” by Aaron Shurin— The Poetics of a New Generation

the skin of meaning

Shurin, Aaron. “The Skin of Meaning: Collected Literary Essays and Talks”, University of Michigan Press, 2016.

The Poetics of a New Generation

Amos Lassen

I understand that “The Skin of Meaning: Collected Literary Essays and Talks” is one volume of a series entitled “Poets on Poetry”. It is a collection of critical works by contemporary poets— the articles, interviews, and book reviews by which they have articulated and presented the poetics of a new generation. Aaron Shurin has collected thirty years’ worth of his own provocative essays.

Shurin is a student of gender and queer studies and he combines them with radical traditions in poetry. His writing his both highly personal and lyrical as he gives a social analysis of poetry’s possibilities in essay form. He examines innovations in poetic form, analyzes the gestures of drag queens and dissects the language of AIDS. He writes devocatively and says what he thinks and does not owe anyone anything as he brings together many diverse strands in contemporary, innovative writing, from the San Francisco Renaissance to Language Poetry and New Narrative Writing. His mentors included Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov. He was the first graduate of the New College of California in the epochal Poetics Program.

Because he has had so much experience teaching others how to write that he knows what he writing about. We learn about his “formulations of “prosody now, propositions of textual collage, and theories of radical narrativity” but the real meat of the book is during the years of the AIDS epidemic trying to uncover poetic meaning and finding away to make the heroes and the victim of the period into real heroes. Shurin is able “to combine personal history with a prophetic, conceptual, strongly non-personal vision” and he does so masterly and with great intelligence. He has been part of the analysis of the avant-garde. The book closes with an interview he insists on a “unity of semantic and phonemic density together” and this is to be poetry’s bottom line.

“Queer” by David J. Getsy— Reclaiming “Queer”

queer

Getsy, David J. “Queer”, MIT Press, 2016.

Reclaiming “Queer”

Amos Lassen

I do not have any good memories about the word “queer”. When I was growing up, it was a word that seemed to be filled with evil and I was really surprised when the LGBT community decided to use it in a positive way. I do not see it as others do—it is no badge of honor but it is a painful reminder of what it once was like to grow up gay. Be that as it may, the only thing that word has to do with this review is that it is the title of the book. Writer David J.Getsy spends a little time explaining how “queer” has come to be considered a badge of honor. It is not a political term and it is not an identity. It instead gives us something else and as I review this you will understand.

There are LGBT artists who identify their practices as queer. These artists are alternatives to the ordinary and they tend to be somewhat “outlawish” and Getsy tells us that they “embrace criminality and opacity”, develop unprecedented kinships, relationships, loves, and communities”. Those are the artists you will find in this book. What this isn’t is a book of queer theory for artists but rather a book of artists’ queer tactics and infectious concepts. There is no singular “queer art” according to the definition of the word. What we have here is a collection that is centered on artists’ writings, numerous conversations about queer practice are brought together from diverse individual, social and cultural contexts. Taken as a whole, these texts describe and examine how artists have used the concept of queer as a site of political and institutional critique, as well as a framework to develop new families and histories, and as a call to action, and as a basis from which to declare inassimilable difference. This is the first Documents of Contemporary Art anthology to be published.

The artists and writers appearing here are below:

Nayland Blake, Gregg Bordowitz, Leigh Bowery, AA Bronson, A. K. Burns, Giuseppe Campuzano, Tee Corinne, Barbara DeGenevieve, Dyke Action Machine!, Elmgreen & Dragset, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Simon Fujiwara, Malik Gaines, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Gran Fury, Sunil Gupta, Hahn Thi Pham, Harmony Hammond, Sharon Hayes, Hudson, Roberto Jacoby, Derek Jarman, Isaac Julien, Mahmoud Khaled, Zoe Leonard, Lesbian Avengers, Catherine Lord, Ma Liuming, LTTR, Allyson Mitchell, Zanele Muholi, Carlos Motta, Ocaña, Hélio Oiticica, Catherine Opie, Ridykeulous (Nicole Eisenman & A.L. Steiner), Marlon Riggs, Emily Roysdon, Prem Sahib, Assoto Saint, Tejal Shah, Amy Sillman, Jack Smith, Wolfgang Tillmans, Toxic Titties, Danh Vo, David Wojnarowicz, Wu Tsang, Yan Xing, Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis, Akram Zaatari, Sergio Zevallos.

 

“Christians under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet” by Kelsy Burke— Religious Conservatives and Sex

christians under covers

Burke, Kelsy. “Christians under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet”, University of California Press, 2016.

Religious Conservatives and Sex

Amos Lassen

Moving away from debates over homosexuality, premarital sex, and other perceived sexual sins, Kelsy Burke looks at Christian sexuality websites to show how some evangelical Christians use the Internet to promote the idea that God wants married, heterosexual couples to have satisfying sex lives. (You might want to read that sentence again).What makes this so interesting is that evangelicals maintain their religious beliefs as they incorporate feminist and queer language into their talk of sexuality. They encourage sexual knowledge, emphasize women’s pleasure, and justify marginal sexual practices within Christian marriages. This definitely complicates “the boundaries between normal and subversive, empowered and oppressed, and sacred and profane”. We then can only wonder why they continue to maintain their belief in the heterosexual idea if they are challenge older ideas of marriage. I do not recall having read anywhere in the established rules of given religion that the women is enjoy and play an equal part in sex.

Writer Kelsy Burke brings both feminist and queer thought to her examination of what being a twenty-first century means. We immediately become aware of “how human beings reproduce social power as they seek to navigate its effects.” We also see that being a conservative Christian does not mean that one cannot be creative and/or inventive sexually.

There are surprises here such as an online sex shop for evangelicals and the use of spiritual faith in the details of the practice of sex. We see that the way sex is regarded in the larger society has an effect on evangelicals.

We have thought that evangelical Christians and sexual pleasure are often in disagreement with one another however we learn there that this is not necessarily true. There are, for example, online sexual advice communities where it is possible to get help and advice about sexual desire and there is even a site that specializes in helping those who need it regarding topics such as masturbation and the way to have “godly sex” that actually strengthens spiritual practice. I found this to be a fascinating read and while I have not really changed my mind about evangelical Christians, I feel good knowing that they are trying to have good sex for both partners.

 

“Loving Eleanor” by Susan Wittig Albert— Lorena and the First Lady

loving eleanor

Albert, Susan Wittig. “Loving Eleanor”, Persevero Press, 2016.

Lorena and the First Lady

Amos Lassen

We have been hearing the rumors about former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for years and now we have a fictionalized look at the love affair between her and reporter Lorena Hickok or Hick as she was familiarly known. Susan Witting Albert has based her novel onthe thousands of personal letters between the two women and what we read here is about two lonely women who through each other found solace and pleasure, each with the other. 
Lorena Hickok was assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt as the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate in 1932 and as she did the two women become deeply, intimately involved. Their love for each other ended when both died in the 60s after some thirty years of love and friendship. Author Susan Wittig Albert has wonderfully written about the two women during some of the stormiest times in American history including the Depression and World War II. Eleanor comes through as a complex yet very warm woman who was obligated to not only her husband and family but to the politics of the time. We see Hick as a journalist who gave up everything for Eleanor and she had to find a way to be an independent woman in the process. Both women were intelligent and sensitive and they loved each other at a time in this country when this kind of love was looked at as immoral and distasteful.

Susan Wittig Albert research here is thorough and amazing. When over 3000 letters were unsealed, she had her work cut out for her. There are some wonderful inside views of Roosevelt as she realized what her life would be like as the wife of the President. We read of a highly intelligent woman who had to simply become a wife, a representative object and a symbol of the country thus limiting her from outside activities that she had once so enjoyed. This was quite a change for her and the life that she wanted to live was put on hold as she took up the job of being the First Lady.

What really struck me as I read was how real the two women became. The more I read the more I learned and even more important was that I loved them both on each page. Something I found here absolutely fascinates me and that is the fact that there are modern parallels in what we read and this further shows how true it is that “there is nothing new under the sun”. We see that Eleanor and her husband were opposites and yet they managed to support each other. Granted, this is fiction but it is based on fact. The history behind the story actually took place and we not only learn about Eleanor and Hick but also about the Depression and the war.

Everything between the two women began innocently and it was not until they were traveling together that they decided to share confidences. We see that both women felt that they had been unloved and unwanted as children. Perhaps this is what made Hick’s falling for Eleanor so easy. She also did investigative reporting for the President and managed to talk Eleanor into giving press conferences and later to write her own newspaper column that came to be “My Day” and it is still being looked at today. Eleanor also helped bring German and French Jews fleeing from the Holocaust to this country.

As I read I was surprised to discover that the Eleanor that I read about here was not the same as the Eleanor I thought I knew something about. Hick taught Eleanor how to make use of the media to claim her independence during FDR’s four terms in office. Hick suggested the First Lady’s press conferences and her newspaper column. Eleanor actually became the first lady to reach out extensively to the people and it was Hick that had a lot to do with that.

This new image of Eleanor Roosevelt, a surprise to many, launched the First Lady into the lives of the American people. At the same time, Hick’s innovative suggestions once implemented tore Eleanor away from Hick. This is really the story of two unconventional women who risked a great deal as they went after what they wanted and who they wanted to be.

If after reading this you still want to know more there is an excellent bibliography and list of resources. I recommend that you start here and then move on. You will not be disappointed.

Ben is the new Spartacus Ambassador

spartacus header

spartacus

Ben is the new Spartacus Ambassador

The international travel guide for gay and bisexual men: the Spartacus International Gay Guide, now in its 45 year, offers tourists not only a worldwide list of bars, hotels, saunas, beaches and self-help groups but also provides an overview of the applicable laws on homosexuality around the world.

For the 26-year-old Ben the classic among the gay travel guides already had a special significance for him as teenager: when he discovered and bought his first copy of the Spartacus in his home town of Villingen-Schwenningen it was an important step in his coming-out.

Today he is the face on the new edition of the Spartacus. Ben travels a lot and enjoys being on the move. Even the love of his life: his Irish partner, he met on Mykonos. Those who travel around so much in the world are also often asked for travel tips from their circle of friends. “With friends I sometimes feel like I am myself an international gay guide,” says Ben. “Spartacus suits me.”The Spartacus International Gay Guide 2016 is published by Bruno Gmünder and offers on 970 pages around 21,000 useful listings: from bars and hotels as well as saunas to trendy shops in over 135 countries. All the tips, where gay and bisexual men can feel at home on their travels were researched and updated.

“The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book” by Jacinta Bunnell— An Activity Book

the big gay alphabet

Bunnell, Jacinta and Leela Corman. “The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book”, (Reach and Teach), PM Press, 2016.

An Activity Book

Amos Lassen

One of the new trends in publishing are adult coloring books and it is great that we have one about the LGBT community. “The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book” is an activity book for adults that highlights memorable victories and collective moments in our history. On each page is a

framed line drawing with beautiful typography that reminds us of those vintage children’s coloring books but there is something more— the book aims to bring greater understanding of gender fluidity, gender diversity, and sexual orientation. With over fifty different pages we get a look at history that makes it easy to remember those moments that are important to the LGBT community. We get both education and inspiration at the same time.

“Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities” by Jerome Pohlen— A Comprehensive History… For Kids

gay and lesbian history

Pohlen, Jerome. “Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities”, (For Kids series), Chicago Review Press, 2015.

A Comprehensive History

Amos Lassen

I am always a bit worried that the younger LGBT community is unaware of our history and the struggles and the heartache we went through to get to where we are these. Just as I have respected and honored those who came before us, I hope that the same will be true for future generations. I have much about our past history but there were some facts I never did see. This book gave me what I had missed. Some of the interesting tidbits to be found here include:

“Who transformed George Washington’s demoralized troops at Valley Forge into a fighting force that defeated an empire? Who successfully lobbied the US Congress to outlaw child labor? And who organized the 1963 March on Washington? These are just some of the things that our community has done in the past and in some cases have gone unheralded.

However there is something much more important here and that to some it might seem that  the campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality is a recent development when it fact it is the final act in a struggle that started more than a century ago. The history is told here through personal stories and firsthand accounts of the movement’s key events such as the “Lavender Scare” of the 50s, the Stonewall Inn uprising, and the AIDS crisis. Youngsters will learn about civil rights advocates like “Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the first gay rights organization; Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who turned the Daughters of Bilitis from a lesbian social club into a powerhouse for LGBT freedom; Christine Jorgensen, the nation’s first famous transgender; and Harvey Milk, the first out candidate to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors”.

We also read of the historic contributions of famous LGBT individuals, from General von Steuben and Alan Turing to Jane Addams and Bayard Rustin, among others. We have the latest information about the landmark Supreme Court decision-making marriage equality the law of the land. Included also are twenty-one activities that enliven the history and demonstrate the spirited ways the LGBT community has pushed for positive social change.

 The book looks at everything from Sappho, the Daughters of Bilitis, and the Lavender Menace to Dan Savage, Gladys Bentley, and Ellen DeGeneres and this is a very comprehensive history. We get a multifaceted perspective, emphasizing gay and lesbian figures’ places in history. We gain an understanding of the scope of LGBTQ erasure that has occurred from the way Jerome Pohlen discusses how in Emily Dickinson’s love poems the words were changed. Pohlen discusses two transgender individuals of color who were present at Stonewall (both were teens at the time), Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and he emphasizes that while the Stonewall Riots were an important turning point in American history, they were not the only time that the queer community has stood up for its rights.

The text is upbeat, conversational, and often humorous in tone. We also get biographical sidebars, and interactive activities. I know that the title is “for kids” but one thing I will never forget being told is one is never too old to learn. I am reminded of when I lived in Israel and saw all these speaking Hebrew as I was learning the language. We can hope that the same will be true for our community—that the kids know it better than those who lived through it.

Physically this is a gorgeous book with thick glossy pages that hold-up to frequent referrals during family discussions about gay and lesbian history.

“Hal Fischer: Gay Semiotics: A Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men” by Hal Fischer— A Replica of the Original

gay semiotics

Fischer, Hal. “Hal Fischer: Gay Semiotics: A Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men”, Cherry and Martin, 2015.

A Replica of the Original

Amos Lassen

semiotics1

“Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics: A Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men (1977)” has become one of the most important publications associated with California conceptual photography in the 1970s. This new edition is a reproduction that maintains the look and feel of the original volume. However, this new edition has been reconfigured into a book format the 24 text-embedded images of Fischer’s 1977 photographic series “Gay Semiotics”.

semiotics3

The photographs present the codes of sexual orientation and identification that Fischer saw in San Francisco’s Castro and Haight Ashbury districts. They vary and range from such sexual signifiers as handkerchiefs and keys to depictions of the gay fashion “types” of that era that range from “basic gay” to “hippie” and “jock.” We also get Fischer’s critical essay, which is marked by the same clever anthropological tone that we find in the image/text configurations.

semiotics5

 

Fischer’s book circulated widely, had a worldwide audience in both the gay and conceptual art communities. Fischer’s insistence on the visual equivalence of word and image is a hallmark of the loose photography and language group that included Fischer, Lutz Bacher, Lew Thomas and others working in the San Francisco Bay Area. This was f first published as an artist’s book in 1978 by NFS Press and this was a time when gay people had been forced to both evaluate and defend their lifestyles which caused “Gay Semiotics” to  gain substantial critical and public recognition. Thirty-seven years later, the book still remains a proactive statement from a voice within the gay community from a moment in history just before the devastation wrought by AIDS. 

semiotics6

“Hal Fischer (born 1950) grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. He arrived in San Francisco in 1975 to pursue an MA in photography at San Francisco State. Through his work as an art reviewer and photographer, he soon became embedded in the Bay Area’s artistic and intellectual scene. He continues to live and work in San Francisco”.

semiotics7