Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Drags” by Gregory Kramer— A Photo Series

Kramer, Gregory. “Drags”, KMW Studio, 2017.

A Photo Series

Amos Lassen

Gregory Kramer’s “Drags” is a photo series that documents the drag queens and kings of New York City, through glamorous black-and-white photographs and it does so in a beautifully designed coffee table book. The photographs are presented in the style of classic fashion portraiture and features legends and up-and-coming legends in black and white, full-length studio portraits. Each photo brings out the spirit of the performer through subtle pose, gesture and facial expression.

Included are five stories written by vital pillars of the scene. “Charles Busch writes about how it feels to be in drag and his utmost respect for female role models, Sasha Velour speaks about the magic and transformative power of drag as an art form, Linda Simpson comments on the generational shift in the community, Goldie Peacock presents a distinct point of view from a drag king, while Sweetie pays homage to the queens who’ve come before.”

 This is a stunner of a book that allows each of the drag stars to author their own look and is one of those books that can be looked at over and over again.

“Queer Dance” edited by Clare Croft— The Challenge of Dance

Croft, Clare (editor). “Queer Dance”, Oxford University Press, 2017.

The Challenge of Dance

Amos Lassen

The various ways that people are together have an influence on choreographic practices and help us to imagine the ways groups assemble in more varied ways than just pairing another man with another woman? We can ask, “How might dancing queerly ask us to imagine futures through something other than heterosexuality and reproduction? How does challenging gender binaries always mean thinking about race, thinking about the postcolonial, about ableism? What are the arbitrary rules structuring dance in all its arenas, whether concert and social or commercial and competition, and how do we see those invisible structures and work to disrupt them?”

 

In “Queer Dance”, Clare Croft brings together artists and scholars in a multi-platformed project-book with an accompanying website, and live performance series that ask just how dancing queerly progressively challenges us. The artists and scholars who have contributed to the book and whose performances and filmed interviews appear online give us a range of genders and sexualities that challenge and destabilize social norms. Through what we read here, we engage with “dance making, dance scholarship, queer studies, and other fields” and we are asked how identities, communities, and making art and scholarly practices might consider what queer work the body does and can do. There is a great deal power in claiming queerness in the press of bodies touching or in the exceeding of the body best measured in sweat and exhaustion. We look at how queerness exists in the realm of affect and touch, and we are led to look at what then might about queerness should come next via the complex bodily ways of knowing.

It is important never to take ‘queer’ or ‘dance’ for granted as stable terms. We become very aware of how the contributors manipulate them to render visible the ways in which “dance is a queer praxis and queerness is a dancing analytic”.

The book goes beyond the currently accepted registers of queerness to bring the subjects it finds into convergence— feminism, race, and queerness, are simultaneously distinct and integrated and this reveals an amplified understanding of queer dance and provides new areas for engagement.

 

 

“The Life and Death of ACT UP/LA: Anti-AIDS Activism in Los Angeles from the 1980s to the 2000s” by Benita Roth— A History

Roth, Benita. “The Life and Death of ACT UP/LA: Anti-AIDS Activism in Los Angeles from the 1980s to the 2000s”, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

A History

Amos Lassen

ACT UP/LA was part of the militant anti-AIDS movement of the 80s and 90s that went against the neglect of the AIDS epidemic, engaging in multi-targeted protest in Los Angeles and nationally. The members faced the government and brought about tremendous change at a time that our community was dying. medical, and institutional. We see the appeal of direct action anti-AIDS activism for people across the United States. The group argued about “the need to understand how the politics of place affect organizing, and how the particular features of the Los Angeles cityscape shaped possibilities for activists.” Through a feminist perspective we see “social inequalities as mutually reinforcing and interdependent, to examine the interaction of activists and the outcomes of their actions.” The united us in a struggle against AIDS and homophobia, and gain a voice in our own healthcare.

This is a “dense and meticulously annotated” history of an organization that gained the power that was necessary to bring about change. Writer Betina Roth shows us that members of ACT UP/LA were often scared and frightened to participate in actions but did so anyway because lives were at stake and no one really seemed to care.

“Oscar’s Ghost: The Battle for Oscar Wilde’s Legacy” by Laura Lee— Battling for the Legacy

Lee, Laura. “Oscar’s Ghost: The Battle for Oscar Wilde’s Legacy”, Amberley Publishing, 2017.

Battling for the Legacy

Amos Lassen

With the death of Oscar Wilde there was a battle between two of his closest friends and former lovers, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, the playwright’s greatest love, and Robert Ross, Wilde’s friend and literary executor. The battle was over who would control the narrative about Wilde’s life, and who history would blame for his death. It led to the revelation of sexual secrets and personal letters, blackmail, stalking, and five lawsuits. It greatly affected the two participants and also how we remember Wilde today.

Each man tried to use the secrets from their former intimate moments with Wilde. Some of us are aware of this battle against the other but this is the first book to focus just on the feud. At it’s most basic, this is about Wilde’s life and how it affected the lives of two former lovers. We read stories that we heard in court that pretended to be the truth and we read stories about identity and stories about how we find ourselves as part of a larger community. We soon realize that these stories are our lives especially when they all come together. This is a book about how Wilde wrote “De Profundis” and what happened afterwards with between Lord Alfred Douglas and Robert Ross. Wilde wrote this while in prison after his conviction for `gross indecency’. He used the writing as a kind of rehabilitation for his reputation that was severely hurt by his personal life style and his conviction. “De Profundis” is written as a long essay (50,000 words) and in letterform to Douglas, his former lover, who he repudiates in this letter. Wilde entrusted the manuscript to Ross, another former lover (of both Wilde and Douglas), who did not allow the intended recipient to read it and it was not until 1913 that Douglas learned of its existence. It was then used as evidence against him during a libel trial that he had instigated against Arthur Ransome. Wilde, by then, had already been dead for ten years and Douglas had converted to Roman Catholicism. and Ross who had once been Douglas’ best friend now hated him.

We get the background and the context, meet the main characters and learn how they met Wilde and each other and see the interconnections between them. The book examines  Wilde’s trial and imprisonment and examine the ramifications of Wilde’s writing of “De Profundis”. Ross, as Wilde’s literary executor, sought to restore Wilde’s literary reputation, and would use the essay as part of this larger goal for Douglas who ended up spending most of his remaining life responding to the essay and attempting to negate that he only interested in Wilde for his money, and was responsible for Wilde’s death.

Both Ross and Douglas attempted to control the narrative of Wilde’s life and death in the courts, where Douglas and Ross both tried to present the “real story” of what happened and to do this they had to get through number of lawsuits. The media impacted public perception of Wilde’s legacy and their decisions depended upon the salacious nature of the testimony. A great deal of the book is about the trials since it is through them that we get our perceptions of the two men. It is quite a story.

“Lou Sullivan: Daring To Be a Man Among Men” by Dr. Brice D. Smith— Becoming a Gay Man

Smith, Dr. Brice D. “Lou Sullivan: Daring To Be a Man Among Men”, Transgress, 2017.

Becoming a Gay Man

Amos Lassen

Lou Sullivan was told that he couldn’t live as a gay man, but he died a gay man. Lou was from the Midwest where “girls did not grow up to be gay men and die from AIDS.” Lou was a transgender pioneer and one of the most tragically overlooked people in LGBT history. He marched for Civil Rights, embraced the 1960s counterculture. He came of age in the gay liberation movement, transformed medical treatment of trans people, institutionalized trans history, created and forged an international female-to-male transgender community and died from AIDS. He overcame tremendous obstacles to be who he was and dedicated his life to helping others to do just that. Sullivan inspired a generation to rethink gender identity, sexual orientation and what it means to be human.

What author Brice Smith has done here is give us well-informed understanding of transgender issues by framing these through Sullivan’s life in a way that systematically introduced and expands understanding and fill in gaps about the trans movement.

Sullivan’s Milwaukee roots were instrumental in the making of LGBT history and we see that the trans community has unique qualities that have influenced the LGBT movement.

“A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion, and the Bensons in Victorian Britain” by Simon Goldhill— An Extraordinary Family

Goldhill, Simon. “A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion, and the Bensons in Victorian Britain”, University of Chicago Press, 2016.

An Extraordinary Family

Amos Lassen

Edward White Benson became Archbishop of Canterbury at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, and his wife, Mary, was renowned for her wit and charm. Some, including the prime minister, thought her to “the cleverest woman in England or in Europe.” The couple had and raised six precocious children included E. F. Benson, creator of the Mapp and Lucia novels, and Margaret Benson, the first published female Egyptologist.

Author Simon Goldhill, however, is most interested in what went on behind the scenes of the family that was very unusual. The Benson family wrote novels, essays, and thousands of letters that opened new perspectives such topics as what it might mean for an adult to kiss and propose marriage to a twelve-year-old girl, how religion in a family could support or destroy relationships, or how the death of a child could be celebrated. There has been no other family to leave such detailed records about their most intimate moments. It is through these accounts that we see how family life and a family’s understanding of itself took shape during a time when psychoanalysis, scientific and historical challenges to religion, and new ways of thinking about society were just developing. While this is the story of the Bensons, it is also the story of how society transitioned from the Victorian period into modernity. We really realize how much has changed by reading this book and we see that what

makes this family so queer is not just their unconventional sexuality, but “how that sexuality is accommodated, denied, negotiated within the tramlines of a very conventional life.” . . . The Bensons are both exemplary and unique in their queerness and in this is the importance of this book. Goldhill takes us into Victorian discussions of sex and sexuality, of religious belief and doubt, and other engaging and “discreet” topics. We read of “child brides, cousin marriage, generational antagonisms, polyamory, lesbianism, homosexuality”. Religious fervor dominates the times as we read of the Benson family between 1850 and 1940. Here is family that wrote and rewrote itself, across generations, genders, and genres. In dramatic detail, Simon Goldhill shares the

the ‘biographical urges’ of the Bensons and the story that comes through is as much psychological as biographical. We explore the social climate in which the Benson family lived. Even with acknowledging the same sex attraction of both male and female family members, it avoids any explicit detail of any physical relationships or whether they existed.

The book is more a collection of essays and lacks a clear, straightforward narrative of the family. The six individuals we read about here would never have labeled themselves (or their siblings) as gay or lesbian, and it is unclear to what extent each of them acted on their impulses.

“Out for Queer Blood: The Murder of Fernando Rios and the Failure of New Orleans Justice” by Clayton Delery-Edwards— One to Wait For

Edwards, Clayton Delery. “Out for Queer Blood: The Murder of Fernando Rios and the Failure of New Orleans Justice”, Exposit Books, 2017.

One to Wait For

Amos Lassen

You might remember the name of Clayton Delery who wrote the wonderful book about the Upstairs Fire in New Orleans. I see that he has a new book out in November and it is once again set in New Orleans. It is about time that someone has begun writing New Orleans LGBT history and it is good that Delery is there to do so. This book is about the murder of Fernando Rios.

“On a September night in 1958, three New Orleans college students decided to entertain themselves in the French Quarter by ‘rolling a queer’ and went looking for a gay man to assault. They chose Fernando Rios, a tourist from Mexico, who died from the beating he received. In perhaps the earliest example of the “”gay panic”” defense, the three defendants argued that they had no choice but to beat Rios because he had made an improper advance. When the jury acquitted them, the courtroom cheered. The author examines the murder and the trial in detail, and chronicles a time and place in American history where such a crime was inevitable.”

What makes this an important book is that it looks at the connections and the non-connections between the Latino community and the police in New Orleans and the homophobia and dislike for Latinos that existed back then and has left its mark on the city.

“Delery-Edwards unmasks the origins of one of the most sinister legal and cultural foundations of anti-gay oppression, the false accusation of desire, and how it has been used to excuse injustice.”

“Conversations with Edmund White” edited by Will Brantley and Nancy McGuire Roche— Interviews with the Master

Brantley, Will and Nancy McGuire Roche (editors). “Conversations with Edmund White”, (Literary Conversations Series), University of Mississippi Press, 2017.

Interviews with the Master

Amos Lassen

Coming in October is “Conversations with Edmund White”, a new book that brings together twenty-one interviews with Ed White, the man who is known for chronicling gay culture. “Ranging from a 1982 discussion of his early works to a new and unpublished interview conducted in 2016, these interviews highlight White’s predilections, his major achievements, and the pivotal moments of his long, varied career”.

1973 saw the publication of his first novel, “Forgetting Elena” and little did we now back then that he was going to become a major force and voice of our literature. White is, however, more than just a celebrated gay writer. He is an international man of letters, and his work crosses several genres. His fiction includes an autobiographical trilogy “A Boy’s Own Story”, “The Beautiful Room Is Empty”, and “The Farewell Symphony” as well as more recent novels such as “Jack Holmes and His Friend” and “Our Young Man”. White’s love of French literature and culture is seen in his biographies of Jean Genet, Marcel Proust, and Arthur Rimbaud, and his antipathy to American Puritanism is his collected essays and memoirs and is on full display in two early nonfiction works that helped define the era of gay liberation: “The Joy of Gay Sex”, coauthored with Charles Silverstein, and “States of Desire: Travels in Gay America”.

Today White is professor of creative writing at Princeton University. He has earned many distinctions, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Pioneer Award. White has given many interviews, “sharing his time and insights not only with major publications such as the Paris Review, but also with smaller online publications for more limited audiences. A lively commentator, White has never been afraid to speak his mind, even when the result has been public feuds”.

 

 

“Sissy!: The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture” by Harry Thomas— The Feminization of the American Male

Thomas, Harry. “Sissy!: The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture”, University of Alabama Press, 2017.

The Feminization of the American Male

Amos Lassen

Harry Thomas takes us on an innovative exploration of postwar representations of effeminate men and boys in “Sissy!: The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture”. Of late, we have had cultural criticism about the ways that men and boys who are thought to be feminine have been treated in this country and by that I mean condemning them because of their actions and behavior. There is truth in this but it is only part of the situation. There is also the fact that an American artistic tradition celebrates and affirms of effeminate masculinity. Effeminate males of all ages have been “generally portrayed using the grotesque, an artistic mode concerned with the depictions of hybrid bodies”. Thomas maintains that this grotesque imagery used to depict effeminate men brings about a slew of different emotions array of emotions from revulsion and non-acceptance to fascination. It is interesting that it was not that long ago when effeminate men were considered to be gay. Then the gay movement eschewed feminine behavior and while there are effeminate gay men, they are generally looked down upon by their butch counterparts.

Looking at literature, Thomas turns to the novels of Truman Capote and Carson McCullers and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”. In entertainment, he looks at Liberace and the prophetic queens of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” as well as to others who demonstrate how effeminate men have often been adored because they are seen to be the promise of a different world that is freed from the bounds of heteronormativity. We get a new and in depth look at the cultural and artistic attitudes towards male effeminacy in post–World War II America that reinterprets the “sissy” figure in modern art and literature.

We are living in a time when gender is an important topic and things are changing quickly. Never has the trans movement been so openly discussed. In this book we see both the nature and consequences of effeminacy and understand that they are relevant and timely. By looking at femininity is society, we gain a welcome explanation as to the ways that mainstream American culture and gay culture continue to blur the lines between gender and sexuality “in constructions of nonnormative and, as Thomas usefully calls them, ‘hegemonic’ masculinities.”

“New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture AND Queer Politics In Neoliberal Times” edited by Oishik Sircar and Jain Dipika— Queer Rights in Neoliberal Times

Sircar, Oishik and Dipika, Jain (editors). “New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture AND Queer Politics In Neoliberal Times”, Zubaan Books, 2017.

Queer Rights in Neoliberal Times

Amos Lassen

In the last fifteen years, we have made great strides in advancing the rights of LGBT people. In the same period that these victories have been secured by queer movements, we have also seen the “rise of crony capitalism, violent consequences of the war on terror, the hyper-juridification of politics, the financialization of social movements, and the medicalization of non-heteronormative identities and practices”. Do we know how to critically read the celebratory global proliferation of queer rights in these neoliberal times?

“New Intimacies, Old Desires” is a collection of answers to this question. The book analyzes laws, state policies, and cultures of activism to show how new intimacies between queer sexuality and a neoliberalism that celebrates modernity and the birth of the liberated sexual citizen, are in fact, a reproduction of the old colonial desire of civilizing the native. By paying particular attention to race, religion, and class, the essays here “engage in a rigorous, self-reflexive critique of global queer politics and its engagements, confrontations, and negotiations with modernity and its investments in liberalism, legalism, and militarism—all with the objective of queering the ethics of global politics”.