Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson— Searching

the argonauts

Nelson, Maggie. “The Argonauts”, Graywolf Press, 2015.


Amos Lassen

In “The Argonauts”, Maggie Nelson’s memoir, the concentration is on motherhood, love and gender fluidity. This is not the motherhood we see every day but rather an exploration of every possible perspective concerning being a mother and that changes the way we think about “the political, philosophical, aesthetic and personal”. I call this philosophical memoir, a genre busting tapestry of writing a life. Nelson presents timely and fresh ways to think about desire, identity, love and language.

offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. This is also a look at Nelson’s romance with the artist Harry Dodge. She writes about falling in love with him and what makes that so interesting is that Dodge is ”fluidly gendered” and with her telling this story we get a look at her pregnancy and the difficulties and the joyous benefits of creating a queer family.

The real beauty of this memoir is that in it is written intellectually as Nelson explores what theorists have had to say about gender, sexuality, marriage and raising children. Nelson, herself, demands radical

individual freedom and the acceptance of the value of caretaking. There is the union of autobiography and critical theory and we get stories of “sexual and intellectual and maternal passion”.

Nelson looks at the prefabricated structures of thought and feeling and does not hold back on how she feels about them. She presents a way of thinking that both challenges and liberates. In doing she urges her readers to do the same. Regarding motherhood, we are reminded that mothers are looked at as both peripheral and central in modern American culture. Mothers, however, are not regarded with social, political or economic value. Instead they are regarded as domestic necessities that are rarely listened to. She also spends a great deal of time discussing pregnancy and suggests that there is something “queer” about it. In fact, Nelson questions everything.

“The Art of Looking—The Life and Treasures of Collector Charles Leslie” by Dr. Kevin Clarke— More than a Biography

Clarke, Dr. Kevin. “The Art of Looking—The Life and Treasures of Collector Charles Leslie”, Bruno Gmunder, 2015.

More than a Biography

Amos Lassen

The story of his life is as incredible as it is unknown. Now it will be released under the title The Art of Looking—The Life and Treasures of Collector Charles Leslie. An epic photo book that is much more than a mere biography.

Bestselling author Dr. Kevin Clarke (“Beards—An Unshaved History”, “Porn—From Warhol to X-Tube”) tells the story of Charles Leslie: soldier, actor, art collector, lover, globetrotter, gay activist, museum founder. The author guides us through the stages of an exciting life—a life that reflects the major turning point of Gay Liberation from the 1950s until today. The book is illustrated with numerous images from Charles Leslie’s private archive, studded with witty anecdotes and historical background information.

“The Golden Age Of Erotic Cinema (1959-1972)” by William Rotsler— William Rotsler’s Classic Look

the golden age

Rotsler, William. “The Golden Age Of Erotic Cinema (1959-1972)”, Digital Parchment Services, Reprint 2015

William Rotsler’s Classic Look

Amos Lassen 

There is exciting news in the world of erotic publishing and that is the republication of William Rotsler’s “The Golden Age of Erotic Cinema (195901972)”. The publication comes at the same time as a special three-week program featuring Rotsler’s adult films and photography in San Francisco on May 23, 2015.

The estate of William Rotsler, San Francisco’s Center For Sex And Culture, and Digital Parchment Services are proud to announce a very special three week series of events (May 23 – June 6) celebrating the launch of a new, enhanced edition of the legendary writer-director’s controversial look at the 1960s birth of the adult film: The Golden Age Of Erotic Cinema (1959-1972). Reserve the dates of Saturday, May 23 (special book launch party); Saturday, May 30; and Saturday, June 6 (doors open at 6:00PM, show beginning at 7:00PM and concluding at 10:00PM).

William Rotsler (1926 – 1997) was truly a renaissance man: acclaimed sculptor, filmmaker, photographer, reporter, novelist, illustrator, cartoonist, and the recipient of multiple awards and award nominations. First and foremost, however, William Rotsler was a visionary erotic filmmaker, acclaimed for such “cult classics” as “Agony of Love”, “Lila” (“Mantis In Lace”), and “Street of a Thousand Pleasures”, “The Godson”, and “Like It Is!” among others.  During the 1960s he directed dozens of short and feature length films.  Frequently working with Harry Novak of “Boxoffice International” fame, William Rotsler filmed many of the legendary actresses and models of his time, including Diane Webber, Virginia Gordon, Vincene Wallace, Pat Barrington, Gloria Saunders, Cathy Crowfoot, Joanne Rotolo, and Vicky Dee.

Back in print for the first time in 40 years, “The Golden Age Of Erotic Cinema” is William Rotsler’s view of the rise and flowering of adult filmmaking in the 1960s, beginning with the films of Russ Meyer, through to the phenomenal success of “Deep Throat” – the movie that put adult films on the map – to “Behind the Green Door”, and so many others.  It takes readers behind the scenes for a look at the making of erotic movies, presents up-close-and-personal interviews with stars and producers, and concludes with an “Erotic Cinema Checklist” rating the heat level and quality of over 100 erotic movies of the era!

Over the years since its original publication “The Golden Age Of Erotic Cinema” has as achieved the status of a classic on its subject.  Eric Schaefer, Associate Professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College hails the book for its “valuable insights” and unique lived perspective…” while John Minson in “Bright Lights Film Journal” says the book, “from the start of the porno-chic age,” provides “contemporary perspectives and valuable insights into soft- and hard-core…”

 William Rotsler was a man uniquely qualified to write it.  “His experience [as writer and director] within the sexploitation industry made him a prominent commentator on the screen’s explicit sexual realism,” writes David Church in “Between Fantasy and Reality: Sexploitation, Fan Magazines and William Rotsler’s ‘Adult Only’ Career.”  In his writings, Church says ‘…Rotsler knowledgably … championed the underground cinema movement for creating ‘sexy and beautiful’ films that ‘say … important things’ as a visible part of broader social changes in sexual mores…”

“ I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg 1955-1997″ edited by Bill Morgan— A Friendship in Letters

i greet you at the beginning

Morgan, Bill (editor). “ I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg 1955-1997″,  City Lights, 2015

A Friendship in Letters

Amos Lassen

I wonder if Alan Ginsberg was saying something about the way we write letters when he wrote to his friend, fellow poet, and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, that the telephone destroy letters. That was in 1969. There is no doubt that he would have something strong to say about email today. He did not mention then that he and Ferlinghetti had already exchanged many letters of personal correspondence by then. The letters between the two were intimate, opinionated, and action-packed and through them we learn of the true nature of their lifelong friendship and creative relationship. Those letters have now been collected for the first time and they gives us quite an intimate and “the range of artistic vision and complementary sensibilities that fueled the genius of their literary collaborations.”

Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg were both two of the twentieth century’s most influential literary rebels, and their correspondence documents a time when both were gaining notoriety and international fame as they traveled, wrote, published, and performed their poetry. It was a time of social and cultural upheaval and experimentation. Ferlinghetti was actually during times of unprecedented social and cultural experimentation and upheaval. Ferlinghetti was Ginsberg’s publisher and editor and we read of how their relationship became a great friendship. It all began with a telegram from Ferlinghetti after he heard Ginsberg’s legendary reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?”

I understand that the majority of the letters collected here have been published before. They span some forty-seven years and really only ended when Ginsberg died in ’77. This volume contains facsimiles of some of the letters and photographs and what we really get here is a look at an inspiring and long-lasting friendship .

Ferlinghetti founded City Lights Books and is an internationally famed and renowned poet, painter, and publisher and, as if you did not know, Allen Ginsberg was one of the leading poets of the Beat Generation as well as an award winning poet. The two were influential literary rebels and their letters are a document of the time when both men’s careers were rising. There is a revelation here—Ginsberg might have been the face of the Beat Generation and Ferlinghetti was the hero of the generation as he held the key to the success of so many writers. We learn about the two men and we also get a wonderful portrait of the renaissance of San Francisco.

Editor Bill Morgan makes background comments but by and large he lets the letters take center stage thus giving us the chance to let the personalities take over. We see how the two men feel about many things via their letters.

“I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Ryan O’ Connell— Memoir and Manifesto

i'm special

Connell, Ryan. “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves”, Simon and Schuster, 2015

Memoir and Manifesto

Amos Lassen

Ryan O’Connell has written a very funny book in which he shows us what divides the younger generation from the rest of society. He starts off by giving his definition of the world today as made up of people who are “all-wired, overeducated, and underemployed world.” I understand that O’Connell’s blogs have many followers and there are many who look at his videos on YouTube and his tweets on Twitter. He tells things like they are and does not hold back. He might not have all the answers but he knows how to think about the questions.

O’Connell grew up, as he tells us, gay and disabled with cerebral palsy and always felt like he was one step behind everybody else. Things became even more confusing when he reached his twenties. He has been unemployed, “worked in his pajamas as a blogger; communicated mostly via text; looked for love online; spent hundreds on “necessary” items, like candles, while claiming to have no money; and even descended into aimless pill-popping”. Through trial and error, he figured out how to take his life from bleak to chic and began “limping towards adulthood” along side of his advice. As one reviewer said, the book is like reading a gay bible.

“Ryan O’Connell is a writer and professional feeler of emotions living in Los Angeles. He’s written for Thought Catalog, Vice, The New York Times, Medium, and other publications, as well as for MTV’s Awkward. I’m Special is his first book.”

“Gay For Pay: How I Went Queer For Cash With Craigslist” by Vince Rocchi— Making “Ends” Meet

gay for pay

Rocchi, Vince. “Gay For Pay: How I Went Queer For Cash With Craigslist”, ADS, 2014.

Making “Ends” Meet

Amos Lassen

Here is the story of a straight man who sold his sexual services on Craigslist in order to pay his bills. He shares his story with us and he leaves nothing out or if he does, I doubt it could be any more shocking than what he includes. We learn of the way he arranged his meetings and he gives us quite a look into the psyche of a man who sells his body for money. Some of this is quite shocking while others will find it entertaining.

I did not expect much from the read but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well written this is. There is no real plot and this is just a narrative of some sixty pages about the author’s experiences selling sex and it is written without pretense or polish and even with the good writing there are spelling errors—however once into the narrative, they do not really matter. It seems to me that it is an honest retelling of the author’s life as a male whore.

There are several stories and some of them are quite stimulating and if you enjoy reading about straight guys participating in gay sex them then this is definitely for you. I suppose he did not make as much money as he wanted so he wrote this to bring in a little more.

“Best Sex Writing of the Year: On Consent, BDSM, Porn, Race, Sex Work and More” edited by Jon Pressick— A Roundup of the Best

best sex writing

Pressick, Jon (editor). “Best Sex Writing of the Year: On Consent, BDSM, Porn, Race, Sex Work and More”, Cleis Press, 2015.

A Roundup of the Best

Amos Lassen

The new volume of “Best Sex Writing” contains selections from important and significant bloggers as well as some of the most important stories in the world of sex. Among them are Alexandria Goddard, the blogger who made the important connections in the historic Steubenville Rape Case; Epiphora, the most renowned and saucy sex toy reviewer with thousands of dedicated followers; Lux Alptraum who the successful Fleshbot and is now an editor at “Nerve”. We also have writings on issues that for one reason or another did not gain a great deal of attention but are now featured.

Claire Litton gives her personal recollection of sex in nerd culture, Ember Swift tells of her sexual appetites while she was pregnant, David Henry Sterry writes of his experience as a sex worker servicing to an 82-year-old woman. We get looks at sex from different perspectives. Each and every selection is an interesting and well-written read.

This is all nonfiction and all about sex. There is so much here but I do not want to spoil the experiencing of reading the book so it is enough to say that it is unlike anything I have ever read. “From honest accounts of sex workers’ experiences working in BDSM houses and with people who had disabilities, to a gigolo’s experience giving an 82 year old grandmother her first experience receiving oral, to an article about how sex workers’ lives are not regarded as being worth the same when they are murdered, to the blogger on the Steubenville rape case, to a trans man using a pump for enhancement, to discussions of interracial adult films and power dynamics and the ethics of sleeping with your best friend’s partner, this collection is full of surprises. Provocative, funny, at times uncomfortable, but it is never boring”. Even more interesting for me is that the articles tend to be scholarly and always evocative and thought provoking.

“The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism” by Adrian Brooks— Coming this Summer

american queer

Brooks, Adrian. “The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism”, Cleis Press, 2015.

Coming this Summer

Amos Lassen

 Adrian Brooks tells “the 100-year history of queer activism in a series of revealing close-ups, first-person accounts, and intimate snapshots of LGBT pioneers and radicals. This diverse cast stretches from the Edwardian period to today”. “The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism” will be published this summer by Cleis Press.

 “Described by gay scholar Jonathan Katz as “willfully cacophonous, a chorus of voices untamed,” American Queer sets itself apart by starting with the turn-of-the-century bohemianism of Isadora Duncan and the 1924 establishment of the nation’s first gay group, the Society for Human Rights; it also includes gay activism of labor unions in the 1920s and 1930s; the 1950s civil rights movement; the 1960s anti-war protests; the sexual liberation movements of the 1970s; and more contemporary issues such as marriage equality.”

 “The book shows how LGBT folk have always been in the forefront of progressive social evolution in the United States. It references heroes like Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, and Edie Windsor. Equally, the book honors names that aren’t in history books, from participants in the Names Project, a national phenomenon memorializing 94,000 AIDS victims, to underground agitprop artists.”

I understand that the cover pictured here may change.

“How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood” by Jim Grimsley— Looking at History

how I sshed my skin

Grimsley, Jim. “How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood”, Algonquin Books, 2015.

Looking at History

Amos Lassen

 “White people declared that the South would rise again. Black people raised one fist and chanted for black power. Somehow we negotiated a space between those poles and learned to sit in classrooms together . . . Lawyers, judges, adults declared that the days of separate schools were over, but we were the ones who took the next step. History gave us a piece of itself. We made of it what we could.” —Jim Grimsley.

So author Jim Grimsley sees history. It has already been more than sixty years since the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that America’s schools could no longer be segregated by race. Grimsley was then just eleven-years-old and living in a small eastern North Carolina town. Up until then, blacks and whites didn’t sit next to one another in a public space or eat in the same restaurants, and they, of course, did not go to school together. Jim Grimsley could sent to one of the private schools that suddenly sprang up after the decision. (I taught in one such school). His parents did not have that kind of money so they stayed on the front lines protesting desegregation. It was quite a time in the southern United States. Like so many of us, Grimsley did not realize how his own prejudices were so much a part of him and n fact before he even entered the sixth grade, he had never really known a black person. I, like Grimsley, look back at that time and try to remember how I felt. We had a black maid working for us who was more of a mother than my own mother but that does not really count when we consider knowing someone. Here we get the author’s first real meetings with black children and black culture. This is quite a moving read and certainly made me remember so many things. While my secondary educated was not integrated my higher education was.

As Grimsley got to know his classmates, they formed alliances and friendships and in his narrative we see just how far we have come (even though it is not yet far enough). One reviewer found the book shocking and not shocking at the same time and this reminded me of something that happened at my college. My fraternity was planning its annual spring formal dance to be held at a hotel in downtown New Orleans. We decided to invite all of the other fraternities and sororities and did so. One of the sororities was a new one composed of black female students. When the hotel that we had rented heard that they would be attending, they tried to cancel the contract. We, of course, went to the sorority and told them the situation and they told us that if we reneged on the invitation, they would demonstrate and the hotel said that they would notify the police of an intended demonstration. However, legally the hotel could not cancel and ultimately they gave in but it was a terrible ordeal.

This was a difficult time for all of us, black and white. Grimsley reminds us of our pasts and they were complex and included tremendous cultural, intimate and personal changes. This was when we truly lost our innocence. Jim Grimsley is very honest here. I do not think that many are willing to admit to the attitudes they had forty years ago. He did not even realize that he had attitudes toward blacks until he was forced to accept integration. It was only when black children went to school that he understood just what they attitudes were. They were not conscious and no one told him that whites were better than blacks—it took him seeing that black people were forced to sit at the back of the bus and that some restaurants refused to serve them and that black people had to use different water fountains and bathrooms, for him to accept his beliefs.

 At school though, the white children played with the white children and the black children played with the black children. Students didn’t respect the few black teachers they had. There were countless subtle ways that white people in that small town exhibited their racism. Grimsley tried to connect what he could relate to in the black children’s feelings while at the same struggling with his own feelings as a gay student. There was a major difference between the two—homosexual feelings can be hidden while race is always evident and obvious. At that time in history, the attitudes towards a person’s sexuality were very similar to how people thought about other races.

Unlike some of the author reviewers who read this book, I feel that it was written with honesty and candor especially when the author shares with us that the way he was raised was to believe racism to be normal and for the greater good. I am sure writing this was therapeutic for the author but I do wish that it had gone just a little deeper into his own lack of knowledge and understanding as to why he resented blacks.

Of course the question of whether one can lose the ill feelings toward the black community and that is a difficult question to answer. One thing this book did for me was to make me face my own hidden and this should lead me to rethinking some of what I feel.

“And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality” by Mark Segal—- One to Watch For, Coming in October

and then I dances

Segal, Mark. “And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality”, Open Lens, 2015.

One To Watch For

Amos Lassen

Mark Segal is considered by many as the dean of American gay journalism and has been over the past five decades. He played a key role in organizing the Stonewall demonstrations in 1969 and in founding the Philadelphia Gay News in 1975. He has been seen on television and in politics and he is committed as an LGBT advocate. He is highly respected by his peers for pioneering the idea of local LGBT newspapers and he is one of the founders and former president of both the National Gay Press Association and the National Gay Newspaper Guild. Segal was recently inducted into the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association’s Hall of Fame and was appointed a member of the Comcast/NBCUniversal Joint Diversity Board, where he advises the entertainment giant on LGBT issues. He is also president of the dmhFund, though which he is building affordable LGBT-friendly housing for seniors. He lives in Philadelphia. This book is his memoir.

Segal’s story is a look at how the battle of LGBT civil rights was played and won and it is told by one who was there and deserves credit for that. It is his passion that is great and serves as a testament to all he has done for our community. We see here so much about who we are from a man who witnesses it all and help make it happen.

It was on December 2, 1973 that Mark Segal disrupted a live broadcast of the CBS Evening News when he sat on the desk directly between the camera and news anchor Walter Cronkite, yelling, “Gays protest CBS prejudice!” It was this incident that made LGBT people visible. But actually this was just the beginning and there were many more battles to fight and to win and Segal was there fighting and winning. He felt it was his job “to show the nation who gay people are: our sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers.”

 Because of activists like Mark Segal, today we have openly LGBT people working in the White House and throughout corporate America. “An entire community of gay world citizens is now finding the voice that they need to become visible.”