Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year” by Andy Cohen— Pop Icon Andy Cohen

andy cohen

Cohen, Andy. “The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year”, Henry Holt and Co., 2014.

Pop Icon Andy Cohen

Amos Lassen

While this book is not yet out, I just want to tell you a bit about it especially because Cohen will be speaking about his new book on December 7 at the Greater Boston Jewish Community Center and it is already sold out.

In case you do not know, Andy Cohen is the host and executive producer of Watch What Happens Live, Bravo’s late night, interactive talk show. He also serves as executive producer of The Real Housewives franchise and hosts the network’s highly rated reunion specials. He’s won an Emmy and two Peabody Awards for his work, and he lives in New York City with his dog, Wacha.

His book is about a year in the whirlwind life of the beloved pop icon Andy Cohen, in his own cheeky, candid, and irreverent words. If you have followed my reviews you know that I was not very kind to him on his previous book and he has certainly made up for that with this, his diary. Cohen has a front row seat to an exciting world that not many of us get to see. He is an out and proud gay man who gives us his dishy, detailed diary of one year in his life. We go out on the town with hi and he drops names, “hosts a ton of shows, becomes codependent with Real Housewives, makes trouble, calls his mom, drops some more names, and, while searching for love, finds it with a dog. We learn everything from which celebrity peed in her WWHL dressing room to which Housewives are causing trouble and how”. For Andy Cohen nothing and no one are off limits. We are with him at home and with close friends and family and we meet his beloved and unforgettable mom. Cohen not only shares with us what goes down, but he adds exactly what he thinks about it. His inspiration is another Andy, Andy Warhol and he is honest, irreverent, and laugh-out-loud as we read about the “whos” and “whats” of pop culture in the 21st century. Here is what others have said about the book:

“After reading this funny, intimate, candid, honest diary of a year in Andy’s life, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is Andy Cohen…Carrie Bradshaw?”—Sarah Jessica Parker

“The funniest thing I’ve done all year is read Andy Cohen’s Diaries. He has more genuinely funny and surprising encounters with celebrities and sublebrities in a day than I do all year.  Then my name popped up. Now I just want to sue him.” —Anderson Cooper

 “I am not, nor have I ever been, engaged to Andy Cohen. But his book is really funny.” —Sean Avery

 “Andy Cohen keeps the oddest hours of anyone in the building. he comes, he goes, he comes back (in the middle of the night.) Now, I finally found out where he’s going. If you ask me, nobody should be allowed to have this much fun.” —Surfin Percy, Andy’s Doorman

“Andy Cohen’s diaries are the literary equivalent of a Fresca and tequila.”—Jimmy Fallon

“Strange Flesh: The Bible and Homosexuality” by Steve Wells— The Big Question

strange flesh

Wells, Steve. “Strange Flesh: The Bible and Homosexuality”,  SAB Books, 2014.

The Big Question

Amos Lassen

If you want an answer to the question of what the Bible really says about homosexuality, then you must consider who to ask. Here, author Steve Wells presents both the scriptural arguments that conservatives use to condemn homosexuality and the more liberal interpretations espoused by modern progressives. The answers are miles apart yet this book presents both of the possibilities and lets us decide which we want to use. He does so with and understanding as well as irreverence. The book “disarms the most ubiquitous weapon in the arsenal against LGBT rights.” I say have a look and then think it over.

“Queer Youth and Media Cultures” edited by Christopher Pullen— Media Representations

queer youth

Pullen, Christopher, editor. “Queer Youth and Media Cultures”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Media Representations

Amos Lassen

Christopher Pullen has edited a collection of articles that look at the representation and performance of gay (queer) youth in the media—television, film and online media. The focus here is interdisciplinary focus and there is a diverse range of contributions from authors based in and/or writing about the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Turkey, India, Scandinavia and Africa.

The book is organized in three sections: ‘Performance and Culture’, ‘Histories and Commodity’ and ‘Transnational Intersections’.  Themes that we get here run from the context of queer youth suicide and educational strategies to avert this within online new media; the significance of coming-out videos produced online; the historical precedence of television and film representation; the representation of age-different relationships within film; transgender youth and the use of online media; educational video projects involving affirmation; cyber-bullying and hierarchies in new media identity; and include limitations in Scandinavian coming-out films.

“Male Sex Workers in Society” edited by Victor Minichiello and John Scott— Looking at Men in the Profession of Sex

Male sex work Male sex work male sex work2

Minichiello, Victor and John Scott, editors. “Male Sex Work and Society”, Harrington Park, 2014.

Looking at Men in the Profession of Sex

Amos Lassen

This is the first volume to look at male sex work from different perspectives and disciplines from social studies to the humanities. Of late, this has been become quite an interesting field of study. Male sex work was, at one time, conflated (great word) with homosexuality and while women in the sex trade have been studied, by and large, men have not. It is certainly not news that men do work in the sex industry and have done so in the historical past. At one time, male prostitution was considered to be a deviancy and a pathological illness of some form. We now know that this is not true. It also seems that in the past we have ignored such aspects of the sex trade such as the taking care of female clients (where the man is referred to as a gigolo) or the escorting service and both of these have become quite popular of late and are not being paid attention too. There are the areas of literature and film where men work in the sexual aspects.

It is the goal of this volume to make the way we view male sex workers clearer and the sex trade here is taken as commerce. We also look at the men themselves. The contributors included here explore the field from both historical and cross-cultural points of view. The areas included here include public health, sociology, psychology, social services, history, filmography, economics, mental health, criminal justice, geography, and migration studies, as well as others. The editors introduce the selections and help us to understand the data, the implications and the conclusions that we are reached by the various researchers and writers.

The research alone is staggering and the findings are comprehensive and it seems to me, at least, that this is the authority on the subject. It is a deep and intense look at male prostitution from every possible angle. I need to emphasize that this not a book to be read for pleasure—it is a very serious study. The researchers go back into history and look at the present to give us the most complete study possible.

It also deals with the way that society looks at male sex workers throughout history. I understand that the writers used all of the research material that was available but there is still material out there I believe since no one has really accessed it before. I am sure that with time and because this book has broken ground that there will be more coming.

 I learned here that male sex workers are not a particularly good subject for scientific research and this has to do with the various stages of sexuality.  Some men lie about their line of work so as not to find disapproval. Yet there is good money to be made and some feel that this gives legitimacy to their work.

As complete as this volume is, it could cover everything especially in countries with different laws and traditions. To do puts both the researcher and the subject in danger. Of course, it is important to take know of the technology of today’s world that has made sex work so much easier.

I am sure that as we move forward there will be more studies but for an introduction the book fills the need and wonderfully so.

 

“The Dilly: A Secret History of Piccadilly Rent Boys” by Jeremy Reed— Male Prostitution in London

the dilly

Reed, Jeremy. “The Dilly: A Secret History of Piccadilly Rent Boys”, Peter Owen, 2014.

Male Prostitution in London

Amos Lassen

“The Dilly” is the first book that gives a comprehensive examination of male prostitution at London’s Piccadilly Circus from the nineteenth century to the present day. Piccadilly sits on the fringes of Soho and  has long been London’s principal location for the illicit sale of sex. Jeremy Reed explores the history of rent boys from Oscar Wilde’s notorious attraction to the place to the painter Francis Bacon’s taste for rough trade. This study  includes tales of Soho’s clandestine gay clubs from the days when homosexuality was illegal, of those who are inexorably drawn to the area; it looks at the development of the secret slang known as Polari or Palare, and at the Dilly’s influence on pop stars from the Rolling Stones to Morrissey. The author further examines the careers of a number of former male prostitutes who worked the infamous ‘Meat Rack’ and shows what drew them to risk their lives. There is also a chapter recording the author’s friendship with Francis Bacon and closes with an account of the fall of the Dilly trade when male escorts are booked online and this took the place of the boys hanging out on the neon-lit railings.

Jeremy Reed re-creates of the occupation of London’s tourist centre by lawless Dilly boys and he brings a pioneering piece of countercultural history to life through his own personal engagement. He had once worked as a rent boy in the early 1970s. He also has a strong sense of place and writes with colorful imagery and poetic flair.

“Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe since 1945″ edited by Jennifer V. Evans and Matt Cook— Urban Subcultures

queer cities

Evans, Jennifer V. and Matt Cook, editors. “Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe since 1945″, Bloomsbury, 2014.

Urban Subcultures

Amos Lassen

  “Queer Cities, Queer Cultures” looks at the formation and make-up of urban subcultures and situates them against the stories we typically tell about Europe and its watershed moments in the post 1945 period. The editors and the contributors look at the iconic events of 1945, 1968 and 1989 that influenced the social and sexual climate of the decades to follow, raising questions about the form and structure of the 1960s sexual revolution, and forcing us to think about how we define sexual liberalization — and where, how and on whose terms it occurs.

The contributions come from an international team of authors who explore the role of America in shaping particular forms of subculture; the significance of changes in legal codes; differing modes of queer consumption and displays of community; the difficult fit of queer (as opposed to gay and lesbian) politics in liberal democracies; the importance of mobility and immigration in modulating queer urban life; the challenge of AIDS; and the arrival of the internet.



By exploring the queer histories of cities from Istanbul to Helsinki and Moscow to Madrid, this volume makes a significant contribution to our understanding of urban history, European history and the history of gender and sexuality. 
Below is the table of contents as it appears in the book:

Table Of Contents

Introduction Matt Cook (Birkbeck, University of London, UK) & Jennifer Evans (Carleton University, Canada)

Pasts


1. The Queer Margins of Spanish Cities, 1939–2010 Richard Cleminson (University of Leeds, UK), Rosa Maria Medina Doménech (University of Granada, Spain) & Isabel Vélez (independent scholar)

2. Capital Stories: Local Lives in Queer London Matt Cook

3. The Queer Road to Frisind: Copenhagen 1945-2012 Peter Edelberg (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

4. Harmless Kisses and Infinite Loops: Making Space for Queer Place in 21st Century Berlin Jennifer Evans

5. From Stalinist Pariahs to Subjects of ‘Managed Democracy': Queers in Moscow 1945 to the Present Dan Healey (University of Oxford, UK)

6. Queer Amsterdam 1945-2010 Gert Hekma (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

7. Ljubljana: The Tales from the Queer Margins of the City Roman Kuhar (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia)

8. Mapping/ Unmapping: The Making of Queer Athens Dimitris Papanikolaou (Oxford University, UK)

9. Istanbul: Queer Desires between Muslim Tradition and Global Pop Ralph Poole (Salzburg University, Austria)

10. Queering Budapest Judit Takács (Hungarian Academy of Sciences)

11. Two Cities of Helsinki? One Liberally Gay and One Practically Queer? Antu Sorainen (Academy of Finland)

12. Paris: ‘Resting on its Laurels’? Florence Tamagne (University of Lille, France)

Closing Reflections


13. ‘Gays Who Cannot Properly be Gay’. Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City Fatima El-Tayeb (University of California, San Diego)

14. Seeing Like a Queer City Tom Boellstorff (University of California, Irvine)

 

“LGBT Activism and the Making of Europe: A Rainbow Europe?” edited by Phillip Ayoub and David Patternotte— Europe and Gay Rights

lgbt activism

Ayoub, Phillip and David Patternotte (editors). “LGBT Activism and the Making of Europe: A Rainbow Europe?”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Europe and Gay Rights

Amos Lassen

Why is it that Europe has long been regarded as a unique place for the promotion and furthering of LGBT rights? This new book is an important and compelling study that investigates the alleged uniqueness and its ties to a relatively long history of LGBT and queer movements in the region.  In doing so, it tries to answer that question.

Contributors argue that LGBT movements were inspired by specific ideas about European democratic values and a responsibility towards human rights. They looked for ways to see that activism bear fruit and to do so they often crossed borders so that the movement would be on a larger and wider scale. The essays here discuss the ‘idea of Europe’ as it relates to LGBT rights, the history of European LGBT movements, the role of European institutions in adopting LGBT policies, and the construction of European ‘others’ in this process.

We have not had many studies of the LGBT movement as a social movement so this book takes up the slack on that topic. It is interesting that activism in Europe has been ignored especially in the areas of the struggle for civil rights and the deepening of democracy at different territorial levels. The essays here are diverse and look at a variety of countries, geographies and the areas of LGBT activities from the legal aspects to the big party culture of Europe.

We get some exceptional insights into how gay rights came to be defined as a particularly European commitment. The articles show LGBT recognition politics were able to acquire  surprising symbolic weight, “as bottom up claims-making and organizing from social movements and civil society organizations are met with top-down practical policies and international political posturing by both opponents and advocates”.

The authors show how specific meaning-making practices were responsible for the drawing of the boundaries of modern and enlightened “Europe” around support for human rights for LGBT people. 

“The Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood” by Richard Blanco— The First Latino Gay Inaugural Poet

the prince

Blanco, Richard. “The Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood”, Ecco , 2015.

 The First Latino Gay Inaugural Poet

Amos Lassen

We live in a world full of surprises and I bet that Richard Blanco was surprised when he received the invitation to read at the President’s inauguration. He wowed us then and he continues to wow us now. Here is his coming-of-age story, beautifully written. He was born the child of Cuban immigrants and as he grew he tried to understand his place in America while dealing with his artistic and sexual identities. He sees his childhood and adolescence as something wedged between two imaginary worlds—his parents’ nostalgia about Cuba of the 1950s and his life here in this country that he saw on television reruns of the time. He wanted that life that he saw but he also wanted to see Cuba. He had to deal with these two worlds and this is what eventually led him to use language and words to deal with his identity and later to accept himself as a gay man and as a writer. His story is “sweet” (which is certainly not the word that I would ordinarily use to describe a man of his magnitude and importance but I cannot seem to find a better one) but his story is also sensitive, moving and “contemplative” as well as filled with humor and humanity. His is the story of America as he sees it and how we became a national personality almost overnight. Blanco is a humble man and I discovered this when meeting him before a reading. He also talks of those who influenced his life and reminds us that no one does what he did alone.

Blanco describes Miami in a way that we feel it as we read—the colors, sounds, smells, and textures of Miami resonate with how he found out he was/is and how he understands what it means to be an American. While his story is just that, HIS story, it is a universal one. Blanco “beautifully illuminates the experience of ‘becoming;’ how we are shaped by experiences, memories, and our complex stories: the humor, love, yearning, and tenderness that define a life”. He is a beautiful man physically and a beautiful man intellectually.

There is a theme in his poetry—the universal questions of who he is, where does he belong and where is he from. Now he gives us the answers to those questions. His stories are those of a boy who was both shy and precocious, a boy named Riqui that no one would have guessed that he would grow up to be the first Latino and first openly gay presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history. With that he also became a role model to others who grapple with the same questions.

His early life was one of contradictions—“coloring books and pig roasts, opera and mambo, Easy Cheese and pork rinds” that he had to deal with. His grandmother was a bookie who tried to make him become a man and this forced Blanco’s pushing his artistic slants and his sexual identity into a deep and dark closet. As a young man he worked at El Cocuyito (“The Little Firefly”), the family market where he was taught and mentored by both family and customers. From Miami of the 70s and 80s to Blanco’s awareness and sense of self was a long journey. Now he is able to incorporate his four sides—his “Cubaness”, his queerness”, his “Americaness” and his artistic drive into one man; the man that he is today. He tells us that his life has been one of “becoming through loving and loving through becoming: the way in which we are perpetually shaped by our experiences, our memories, and our stories of community and family”.

He describes his story in shorthand like this, “Made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, imported to the USA”. While this is his personal story, it is also a universal story of any of us who have tried to find a place. I found myself, a first generation American gay Jew thinking about my family in much the same way that Richard Blanco writes about his—our goals may not be the same but the way to achieve them is the same. We must know ourselves in order to know and be accepted by others.

Blanco writes with style and grace; he is a man of style and grace. Author Augusten Burroughs says “Forged from truth and grace, Blanco has crafted a deeply compelling and moving memoir about place, self and family.” If only I could say it so simply and beautifully as Burroughs. Blanco is a treasure, one that we are so lucky to have.

“Is the Pope Catholic?” by Bryce Smith and Juan Lopez— Love

the pope

Smith, Bryce and Juan Lopez. “Is the Pope Catholic?”, CreateSpace, 2014.

Love

Amos Lassen

Most of us have learned that keeping a secret from everyone is a way of fooling ourselves. We see this in the story of Bryce and Juan. They met at the mall one day and had only sex on their minds. They had decided that they would meet each other, get it on and then go their separate ways. However, that is not what happened. Bryce though that he would return to work and to his wife and children and Juab thought he would go back to his studies and his machismo and Latin life.

When they met there was an instant connection and they realized that they wanted to be together and so they decided to meet again…and again…and again. They began to realize that it was their destiny to be together but there were two problems—Bryce was married and a father and Juan was not “out”. How could a romance like this succeed?

But it did succeed even with the obstacles and the hindrances. They are how lovers and friends and this book is their story. These men have surmounted what they once thought was insurmountable. To be with each other, they have battled everything from their own denial to their families’ critical reactions and beyond. This is the true story of their romance, and is sure to appeal to readers who are struggling with identity issues or having trouble coming “out” to themselves and those around them.

“Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man” by Thomas McBee— Understanding the Past, Making Way for the Future

man alive

McBee, Thomas. “Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man”, City Lights, 2014.

Understanding the Past, Making Way for the Future

Amos Lassen

”Man Alive” is Thomas McBee’s memoir of what it took to make him a man. He begins with his trauma of childhood and moves on to a mugging in Oakland, California where he learned that the body has the ability to save itself. The memoir combines forgiveness and self-discovery but most of all it is the writer’s views of love. As we read, it is as if McBee has picked us up and taken us into his own world and shows us what it takes to become a man. Let me just state early on that this is an important book for me personally as my nephew transitioned from female to male and I, the gay uncle, had the hardest time understanding it all. McBee has gel;per me see things more clearly.

The book is not a typical memoir but it will probably be considered one. I see it rather as a look at the limits of cultural understandings of nonfiction and of transgender storytelling. It is definitely nonfiction and creatively so. By creative I mean that McBee’s structure is at the core of what he has written. The book is composed of very short chapters and in them he writes of a scene or so or a memory and these end right when the reader wants to know more. Want we get is fragmentation in a sense and it is through these fragments that we become aware of two main events that dominate his life— his father’s abuse when he was a child and a meeting with a mugger that almost ended his life. By using this approach, writer shows that things that happened apart in time become so important in the story of his life. His prose is almost poetic and each word seems to be especially chosen to deliver the desired effect.

While McBee writes about his life, he focuses on his late twenties. This was when he began to understand the abuse of his father and when he accepted the fact that he was a man that will go through gender transition. It is also then that he was able to deal with his mugger. He writes with control about something that is not easily controlled. The fact that he is a trans person is constantly there; he constantly questions the nature of his physical body. He thinks about his transition as it is part of other happenings and can ever be secondary to other events. The book is really about what Charles Aznavour sings so beautifully about, “What makes a man”? McBee dares to write about uncertainty and the physical is subjected to the emotional. In answering that very question, McBee looks at the men who have influenced his life—his father and the mugger who threatened to kill him. As he decides to transition from female to male, he attempts to understand these two men as examples of manhood in his life.

I love that this personal story is also a universal story. To face a struggle like this requires us to take risks. Let’s look at the event with the mugger: It was in April, 2010 when McBee and his ex were held up at gunpoint and he was held execution style on the ground. He had not yet transitioned but he did look male. The mugger was unsure of what he wanted—they had no money. McBee was certain that he was going to die—the mugger was focused on him. McBee says that he left his body and as soon as he said something the mugger let them go and even told them to run.

Later on there was a similar incident with the same mugger and different people and this time the mugger took a life. It seemed that the way he operated was to stop couples and murder the man. McBee who not yet transitioned or even taking testosterone spoke up and his voice was of a female. This is why he was not shot.

McBee’s father’s abuse provided him with a “toxic association with masculinity”. Yet McBee was unable to deal with the idea that all men are negative bases upon those experiences. “I couldn’t live out my own gender based on people around me. I thought to myself, What I really need to do is find a way to be the kind of man that I know I can be. Almost as soon as that happened, I started seeing a lot of men who were positive and honest. My eyes opened up a lot more. It’s not that I have a Pollyannaish relationship with men now, but I do feel like I had a very uncomplicated dynamic with men and now it’s much more complicated and I see a lot more beauty there. We don’t see it as masculine when men are empathetic, and I think that’s a thing that’s worth examining in our selves.”

Today,” Thomas Page McBee is a “masculinity expert” for VICE and writes the column “Self-Made Man” for the Rumpus. His essays and reportage have appeared in the New York Times, TheAtlantic.com, Salon, and Buzzfeed, where he is a regular contributor on gender issues. An early version of Man Alive won the Mary Tanenbaum nonfiction award from the San Francisco Foundation and was a finalist for the 2012 Bakeless literary prize administered by Graywolf and Breadloaf. Thomas has given lectures about masculinity and media narratives at colleges across the country, and spent five years as the writer-in-residence at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. He is the managing editor of the crowdsourced news and analysis site PolicyMic, and lives in Brooklyn”.

Here is what other critics are saying”

Kirkus Reviews *starred review*

“[A] unique, powerful rite-of-passage memoir. . . . This is quite a story, masterfully rendered.”

 

Shelf-Awareness

“Thomas Page McBee is a man of astonishingly strong character, full of empathy and dynamism. Man Alive isn’t a simple memoir; it is a culmination of, as much as it is a springboard into, a manhood that proves to be in the greatest sense alive.”

 Lambda Literary Review

“Like jazz. Compelling. Vivid. Dramatic. One would be hard pressed to find better words to describe McBee’s tale … Man Alive doesn’t just offer the reader insight into the creative nonfiction genre, but into trans storytelling as well.”

 Heidi Julavits

“I bow down to McBee—his humility, his sense of humor, his insightfulness, his structural deftness, his ability to put into words what is often said but rarely, with such visceral clarity and beauty, communicated.”

 Roxane Gay

“McBee takes us in his capable hands and shows us what it takes to become a man who is gloriously, gloriously alive.”