Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“When Boys Become Boys: Development, Relationships, and Masculinity” by Judy Y. Chu— Boys and Development

when boys become boys

Chu, Judy Y. “When Boys Become Boys: Development, Relationships, and Masculinity”, (with a foreword by Carol Gilligan), NYU Press, 2014.

Boys and Development

Amos Lassen

“When Boys Become Boys” is based on a two year study of boys from the ages of four to six. Author Judy Y. Chu first met the boys that she writes about, they were four years old and going through social initiation into boyhood.  They could see each other’s emotions and they were emotionally present in relationships and fairly sure about navigating the social world in which they lived. Then they gradually seemed to be less perceptive, less articulate and less responsive. They even became more guarded in their relationships because they were learning to prove that they were boys and not girls. It is Chu’s theory that “that behaviors typically viewed as ‘natural’ for boys reflect an adaptation to cultures that require boys to be emotionally stoic, competitive, and aggressive if they are to be accepted as “real boys.” However, even as boys begin to reap the social benefits of aligning with norms of masculine behavior, they pay a psychological and relational price for hiding parts of their authentic selves. Using obstacles and pressures as variables, we see that the way they comply to what are considered to be the norms of masculine behavior are neither automatic nor inevitable.

Chu presents ways that adults can use to help boys to gain access to options for ways of expressing themselves and resisting other options. I can only imagine the difficulty that went into the author’s fieldwork while researching this topic. She was able to get the boys to confide in her and thereby open up and give details about their lives. She, in turn, listens compassionately and then analyzes what she has heard. Because of this she is able to give us a look into the world of young boys who are caught between the performance demands of others and the eagerness to be who they are.

It is obvious to me that this is a book that was written with love. It takes a brave person like Chu to buck the ways things have been—“we have been telling ourselves a false story about boys and their development” Chu finds that boys do not start begin “being the emotionally disconnected stereotype that our culture projects onto them”.  She claims that boys become those stereotypes via cultural socialization.  We forget that boys also resist and still keep their humanity even though the culture that they live in denies that. Yet boys also resist, and maintain their humanity despite living in a culture that denies that resistance.  

“The Radical Bishop and Gay Consciousness: The Passion of Mikhail Itkin”— The Man and ˙His Movement

the radical bishop

Sullivan, Mark Aelred and Ian Young. “The Radical Bishop and Gay Consciousness: The Passion of Mikhail Itkin”, Autonomedia, 2014.

The Man and His Movement

Amos Lassen

Bishop Mikhail Francis Itkin was no stranger to the LGBT world where he was known as a non-violent anarchist and activist as well as an independent openly gay bishop. He was a bother for radicals and a scandal to Christians. Born Jewish family, he chose Christianity and became one who got people angry by stirring things up a bit.

He organized and led a group of anarchists, and worked to reconcile opposing forces with the societal framework. “The Radical Bishop and Gay Consciousness”, presents five appraisals of his life, and reprints excerpts from his “The Radical Jesus” and “The Gay Anarchist”. Within the Order of the Divine Love he was consecrated as a bishop was a champion of oppressed minorities and the poor during the 1960s-80s. I suspect that many have never heard of him because outside of the urban centers of New York City, Los Angeles / West Hollywood, and San Francisco, he did not have any direct influence (at least any that was heard about). Nonetheless, he was the first openly gay bishop as well as a pioneer of gay liberation and its theology. This new study of Itkin aims to let people know about the man who did so much to help our community move forward. Yes, he was controversial but many times controversy is what gets things moving. Aside from Itkin’s own writings, we hear from gay poet and psycho-historian Ian Young (author of “The Stonewall Experiment”), Bishop John P. Plummer (author of “The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement”), Tau Rosamonde Miller (Church of Gnosis – Ecclesis Gnostica Mysteriorum), Gnostic archpriest Michael Pelagius of the Liberal Gnostic Community, and Mark Aelred Sullivan of CFS and LGC.

It was Itkin’s mission in life to work for the poor and oppressed, everywhere. He was passionate about this. This is a somewhat small book (166 pages) and there is not a wasted word or thought in the book. In fact, it is so filled with information that I often had to stop, think about what I read and then move forward. The book is also filled with images and facsimiles throughout and it is a valuable tool for those who want to know how we got to where we are and for those who are searching for some kind of spirituality.

 

 

“Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America” by John Waters— Hitchhiking with John Waters

carsickWater, John. “Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

Hitchhiking with John Waters

Amos Lassen

 John Waters takes us with him hitchhiking on a journey across America. John Waters armed with wit, his thin mustache, and a cardboard sign that reads “I’m Not Psycho,”  hitchhikes across America from Baltimore to San Francisco on lonely roads and with treacherous drivers. Before he left on this strange adventure, Waters fantasized about the best and worst possible scenarios and then actually experienced it— “a friendly drug dealer hands over piles of cash to finance films with no questions asked, a demolition-derby driver makes a filthy sexual request in the middle of a race, a gun-toting drunk terrorizes and holds him hostage, and a Kansas vice squad entraps and throws him in jail”. We find out what really happens  when he hitchhikes  and gets  a gentle eighty-one-year-old farmer who is convinced Waters is a hobo, an indie band on tour, and the perverse filmmaker’s unexpected hero: a young, blonde Republican in a Corvette.
 The book is humorous in a subversive way and also quite intelligent. He gets to celebrate the weird, astonishing, and generous citizenry of this country. This is not like any book you have ever read or probably will ever read again.

“Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human” by Robert N.Minor— Growing Up in America

scared straight

Minor, Robert N. “Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human”, New Leaf Distributing Co Inc., 2001.

Growing Up In America

Amos Lassen

“Robert Minor discusses why in growing up in America taking on the “straight” role is damaging to all human beings regardless of sexual orientation. This role is taught from the birth through all of the institutions in society and the major methods by which it is installed are fear-based. Thus it sets up gender roles for men and women and oppressor and victim roles for heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals. The final chapter “How to Be Human” is on how to heal the hurts all human beings suffer from the methods by which we are conditioned to live these roles. Each chapter includes recommended further readings.

“Scared Straight” explains how we are indoctrinated into a way of thinking and argues against it. Robert Minor, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, describes the process of conditioning into conventional gender roles that dominates and directs our lives. He uses an interesting bit of computer terminology that helps make his argument clear: he refers to gender conditioning as being “installed” the way a piece of software is installed. A small program analyzes your computer and determines what needs to be where for a desired application to work, and then inserts whatever pieces of code are needed.

Now in the installation of gender role conditioning what’s needed are a set of beliefs, opinions and unverifiable assumptions about the nature of human life and sexuality that support and explain the existing system. Minor shows how in fact we are all brainwashed about  the tenets of male dominant gender conditioning but can’t realize it because we can never see what it is.

What it is then is the installed beliefs that male is better than female, that males should compete with other males to prove they’re “real men” and not like females, that females should effectively be victims to males’ desires and priorities in order to be “real women,” and that men should want to have sex and women should want to “get a man,” and that nobody should question these beliefs unless the males demonstrate they’re like women and the females demonstrate they’re unworthy to be men–thus proving the assumptions.

If this sounds vaguely familiar to feminist theory it is because it is just that. It is a further reiteration of the original feminist critique. It’s not new. But in this book it is brilliantly and exhaustively argued and explained.

The consequence of this installation of gender roles is unquestioning acceptance of male dominance, hierarchical ordering, competition, scarcity and dualistic thinking–especially the notion of right and wrong–as though these were “God-given.” Even the idea of that “God” is a self-serving, self-verifying artifact of the male dominant conditioning.

Minor shows how heterosexuals are forced into being “straight” at the cost of men’s emotional well being and freedom and women’s self-respect, autonomy and intelligence. He very insightfully explains that being straight is not at all the same thing as being heterosexual, that “straight” means acquiescing to the gender role conditioning, and that because the conditioning suppresses natural responsiveness to feelings, it in fact disempowers real heterosexuality. People don’t respond to their actual heterosexual feelings as much as they react to and obey gender conditioning.

He goes on to show how gay people are taught to be gay by a system that demands everybody be “straight.” Thus we see the notorious terms applied to gay people: “straight-looking, straight-acting.” Even homosexuals try to be “straight.”

The reason homosexuality is so scorned by the system is because the very choice of “coming out” means choosing to be true to one’s own feelings instead of adhering to conditioning. In order to be gay, at least on the surface level, one has to decide to violate the conditioning, that is, to jump out of the water. This, in turn, threatens the system because it shows that human beings can survive without agreeing to the tenets of male dominant heterosexism.

Gay men and lesbians continue to struggle with the installed program of conditioned expectations, values, and self-assessments. But at least we’re potentially aware of what’s going on. And with our struggle we call the “straights” to wake up and be aware.

The gay and lesbian rights movement then is not just another attempt by one group to compete with and dominate another (that’s how the conditioning would portray it and that’s why straights feel threatened, why, for instance, they think that gay marriage threatens their relationships). Our movement is about the human race waking up from a set of assumptions about the nature of life and God that (maybe!) made sense at the start of agrarianism, when our ancestors were coming down from the trees and moving into villages, but that don’t fit modern, technological, egalitarian, psychologically-enlightened society.

In fact, there is nothing new in the book that hasn’t been written about before. What Minor does is to take a lot of research and condense it into an easy, resourceful text. He shows that homophobia hurts everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. The actual issue of sexual orientation has very little to do with the oppression than the issue that someone is perceived “different.” Which also means that gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people must stop playing the “victim role” when dealing with the oppression.”

“THE ABOMNIABLE CRIME”— Homophobia in Jamaica

the abominable

“The Abominable Crime”

Homophobia in Jamaica

Amos Lassen

Gay Jamaicans are forced to choose between their homeland and their lives after their sexual orientations are exposed. But there is a mother whose love for her child and is an activist whose love for his country and they both want to change things. Simone Edwards, a young lesbian mother, survives being shot outside of her home by anti-gay gunmen. She must choose between living in hiding with her daughter in Jamaica or traveling alone to seek safety and asylum abroad. Maurice Tomilson, Jamaica’s leaving gay-rights activist, was outed shortly after filing a lawsuit to overturn Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law. After receiving a flood of death threats, he escaped to Canada and then risked everything to return to Jamaica to continue his activism.

a1

Their stories are told firsthand as they unfold and these personal accounts take us on an emotionally gripping journey during four years and in five countries. Their stories expose the roots of homophobia in Jamaican society, reveal the deep psychological and social impacts of discrimination on the lives of gays and lesbians, and offer an intimate first-person perspective on the risks and challenges of seeking asylum abroad.

abomniable2

This film raises awareness about the abuses LGBT Jamaicans face, and hopefully it will help to create the change which is needed to make Jamaica a better place for all. This is a sensitive and moving documentary that cries out to be seen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nV3SnZXPyp4

“End of Gays?” by Mark Simpson— What Will Happen Next?

end of gays

Simpson, Mark. “End of Gays?” ADS, 2014.

What Will Happen Next?

Amos Lassen

 In the 1980s, when the United Kingdom Government of Margaret Thatcher outlawed the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, gays were still semi-criminal. They were also considered immoral, ridiculous, disgusting, diseased and after children. But then gays in the United Kingdom began to be promoted more rapidly and giddily than almost any persecuted, despised group in history. In just one generation, they have achieved legal equality, civil rights and even respectability. Today, the Conservative Prime Minister marries gays. “Homosexuality has joined the golf club”.

But it is not all “over the rainbow”. English writer Mark Simpson in a provocative and personal essay tells us that gay people are in danger of becoming victims of their own success. Perhaps the biggest problem they face in the UK and much of the West is no longer overt homophobia, but rather the rapid falling off of it. They have lost the need for survival as a distinct group with their own identity, culture, clubs and sensibility. It is possible that they have moved beyond gay?

 Gays have been shaped and defined by their long struggle against prejudice and their experience of their difference. But what’s left of gayness when the homophobia stops? I have wondered if the same can happen here in America. Simpson, here, shows some good insight into the gay movement and what it has brought about and some of what Simpson says it true. Are we giving up our uniqueness to be part of the larger picture and will that hurt us as a movement? In just 17 pages we get a lot to think about and I know there are those who are already doing so.

“The Sunshineboy: Memoirs of a Dancer” by Hans-Christian Wagner— Love and Blessings

the subnshine boy

Wagner, Hans-Christian. “The Sunshineboy: Memoirs of a Dancer”, Elementá, 2014.

Love and Blessings

Amos Lassen

“The more I gave away; it came back and blessed my life. The echo of love returned to the little boy with the sunshine smile.” These are the words of Hans-Christian Wagner who on this autobiography takes us back to the small Austrian town near Vienna where he entered the world and then we move on to his career as a dancer and choreographer and how finding out who he was became a part of developing his sensibilities as a gay man. He now lives in the Philippines on the island of Palawan where he designs homes and has a haven for travelers who visit from all over. But to get to where he is today was quite a journey that is filled with lively anecdotes, eroticism and lots of wisecracks.

He once seemed to be a man from a different time and as strange as he was so was he good-looking. He was blonde with a head of curly hair and he came to see Liz King, a dancer and a choreographer, because he wanted to learn top dance. King says that there was an aura about him and this later developed into a very powerful gift.

With this book, “Hans-Christian has given readers an insight into the perception of gender issues in post war Austria through describing touchingly his brave acts of defiance and the beautiful path he has chosen of healing and forgiving.”

‘Hiding from Myself: A Memoir” by Bryan Christopher— Can A Gay Person Change?

hiding from myself

Christopher, Bryan.  ‘Hiding from Myself: A Memoir”,  BC Books, 2014.

Can a Gay Person Change?

Amos Lassen

Whether a gay person can change has been a major social issue of late. For churchgoers and believers, homosexuality is seen as immoral and sinful and the idea of gay marriage to them is not only intolerable but a travesty. For gay people, the church demonizes and shames them so they have intolerance for it. Bryan Christopher has been straddling this great divide between the two. He was raised in the Bible Belt of Texas and the one thing that was constant was the message that “queers deserved to be smeared”. 

When he reached puberty, he could tell something was wrong. The erotic images in his father’s “Playboy” magazine did not excite him and he began to hide. He had just one option and that was to change and he began a path of heterosexual enlightenment. He even went as far as to “ring doorbells for Jesus in the Castro” and even sorted Hugh Hefner’s dirty laundry when he worked as butler at the Playboy Mansion. He was a member of a fraternity at UCLA and he totally immersed into the “ex-gay” movement that was supposedly a movement of healing and restoration. Now in his own words he shares his moving story and presents a fresh perspective on perhaps the most divisive cultural issue of our time.  

This is a human story about the need to be loved.

 Here is a book that encapsulates all of the fears people raised Christian feel about being gay. It is important for Christians to recognize that not everyone is the same and being gay is not a choice. Denial is toxic and degrading.

The way Bryan describes his struggle at each developmental stage is relatable to so many regardless of religion. Bryan wanted to just be a guy who likes guys without having to be labeled as gay. We see what looks like complete denial, of who and what he is. Bryan had been trying not to embrace his sexuality for so long so long that he couldn’t even see what was the plain truth. Yet it is easy to understand his resistance to being labeled as gay and all of the baggage that goes along with it. He just wanted to be himself, in the same context of his life that he had always been, but just like guys and everything would be ok. However, his life had been set up very much as all or nothing. If he chose to be “gay” he had to leave his family, his friends, his church, his beliefs, God, Jesus. These were his whole world and it is no wonder that he held on so tightly.

 

Reading this brave author’s well written account reminded me that there is still suffering going on out there for gay people. All of us have experienced some of it but for those Christians, it can be hell on earth. Even though I read this a few weeks ago, I still think about the pain and the sadness that the author went through and how it brought me to tears as I read. We all learn that being judgmental is more hurtful than anything else and we must stop judging others.

Gay people are also the children of God and we deserve the same rights as everyone else– to live and walk on this earth with our heads held high.

 

People who believe that homosexuality is unnatural and a choice may find Bryan’s story insightful and worthwhile reading. Those who are still questioning their sexuality or feel religious oppression due to their sexuality will find that they are not alone.

This is no comedy; the continuing thread running through it is compelling and is often truly heart-breaking as someone struggling to come to terms with who he is and his faith and the conflict he truly believes exists between the two. Because it is heartbreaking does not mean that it is depressing—if anything, I found it to be uplifting. It is also not just for those who are struggling with sexuality. This is a story of self-acceptance, about finding one’s place in the world, whatever that may be and the bumps in the road we all hit a long the way.

“Provincetown Memories: Paintings and Words” by Richard Stabbert— Life and Work

provincetown memories

Stabbert, Richard. “Provincetown Memories: Paintings and Words” Firehouse Publishing, 2013.

 Life and Work

Amos Lassen

Richard Stabbert is a self-taught painter. In this book he documents the people in his life, both past and present, referencing them, the objects around him, and his love of the beach. He ties everything together by his paintings which are spare and somewhat graphic. He embraces the simplicity of his style and approaches his work with passion and enthusiasm. Through his words and works we see his self-discovery and passion. He writes of young love, “from first flirt to first love, and everything in-between, most often centered here, in the artist colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts”. The book is available in two editions—one with full color illustrations and the reader’s edition in which the illustrations are in black and white.  This is an intimate view into the artist’s world and experience of love and beauty. We are taken on a journey and see the fragility of love and longing in an effort to make the moment last forever.

There is beauty and grace here in this little book and we get it both with the written work and the wonderful art. Stabbert’s use of light brings his figures, the ocean and the surrounding atmosphere to life whether he has painted male nudes or the influence of the sun. While his paintings are flat and just in one plane, his ability to paint two or more figures with other objects keeps the work simple but very pleasing to they eye. It is similar to when a child paints “images as much out of love as out of imitation of reality”.

We sense his love for Provincetown, Massachusetts, a very special place where many have tried to capture the spirit whether in words, photos or art and this is difficult to do because the light there is elusive. He is able to capture P’town “as it is today: sun-drenched blue, gold and green days and the deep satisfaction of quiet time with new friends in a special place”. There is a charm to this collection of stories with paintings and after the hard winter we had this year, I longed for the summer I saw and read about here.

“The Boy in the Yellow Dress” by Victor Marsh— Perth, 1950s

the boy in the yellow dress

Marsh, Victor. “The Boy in the Yellow Dress”,

Clouds of Magellan, 2014.

Perth, 1950s

Amos Lassen

After he was caught wearing his mother’s yellow dress, young Victor Marsh had to hide any tendency towards gender and inappropriate behavior. However his interest in dancing and theatre (and Rudolph Nureyev) were sure to make his façade come falling down. With his emerging sexuality and his sense of not being ‘at home’ in his body or in the world in which he lived brought him to a quest to finding meaning in the world. He eventually found spiritual awakening under a young guru Maharaji  and he also learned about himself.  Marsh’s story is both tragedy and comedy. He tells of his exile from home and his journey and his ultimate return home. All he wanted was to find a respectable place in the world and an intimate connection with the ultimate source of being.

This is quite a read—it is both wise and funny and constantly surprises. It is not just about growing up gay, it is a look at the search for meaning that so many of us try to find.