Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms” edited by Kathleen T. Talvacchia, Michael F. Pettinger and Mark Larrimore— Challenging Ideas

queer christianities

Talvacchia, Kathleen T., Michael F. Pettinger, and Mark Larrimore (editors). “Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms”, NYU Press, 2014.

Challenging Ideas

Amos Lassen

 Both being queer and Christianity are mutually exclusive yet they each challenge notions of the good and the natural. We are particularly aware of this when we see the identities, faiths, and communities that queer Christians have created and continue to create. Gay Christians have been able, in many cases, to reconcile their sexuality with their faith and in this book we see how they religious and the ways they respond to the experiences of queer Christians respond to traditions and how they reshape them in contemporary practice.

Queer theory, religious studies, and Christian theology come together here and we get quite the conversation that is traditional and transgressive at the same time. We look at the basic questions that queer Christians deal with on an almost daily basis. The essays collected for this volume give credence to the academic discussion on gay religious experiences some of which are lived both within communities of Christian confession, as well as outside of these established communities. There is a new “queer Christianity” and we see how it continually reconstructs and multiplies the these states of life celibacy, matrimony, and what is here provocatively conceptualized as promiscuity.

His book is a challenge to perceived ideas about sexuality and religion while at the same time remains true to Christian self-understandings. These lead to more questions and further study. We have waited for study like this and what I find interesting that as an observant Jew, I have no problem reconciling my faith and my sexuality but I do many who cannot.

 

“Sexual Orientation and Rights” by Nicholas Bamforth— Our Rights

sexual orientation and rights

Bamforth, Nicholas. “Sexual Orientation and Rights”, (The International Library of Essays on Rights), Ashgate, 2014

Our Rights

Amos Lassen

A word of warning first—this book of 560 pages lists at $350 so it is obviously not for everyone (and not for anyone I know). It is basically about “the debate about the rights of sexual minorities, whether individuals or members of same-sex couples that has become an important issue for legislatures and courts in many constitutional democracies. Here, collected together are some of the more significant writings in the debate, and they reflect a variety of perspectives: liberal, conservative, and radical.”

“Some of the topics covered include the meaning and importance of sexual freedom, gender roles, marriage and other significant partnerships, childcare and adoption, the criminal law, employment, and expression and pornography. The volume also seeks to relate arguments about sexual orientation and rights to broader debates within feminist theory”.

 “Nicholas Bamforth is Fellow in Law at The Queen’s College, Oxford, and a university lecturer in Law at Oxford University. He is co-editor of Accountability in the Contemporary Constitution (2013) and co-author of Patriarchal Religion, Sexuality and Gender: A Critique of New Natural Law (2008) and Discrimination Law: Theory and Context (2008).”

“Lost Causes: Narrative, Etiology, and Queer Theory” by Valerie Rohn— A Literary Study

lost causes

Rohn, Valerie. “Lost Causes: Narrative, Etiology, and Queer Theory”, Oxford University Press, 2014

A Literary Study

Amos Lassen

Being a person who works in literary fields, I found this book to be a fascinating read. Valerie Rohn looks at the causes of queerness and queer forms of causality in British and American literature and then links literary forms to today’s “born gay” arguments about the biological origins of homosexuality. We are all aware of the role that causality plays in today’s discussions of LGBT rights. Those who are anti-gay imagine gay proliferation through seduction, influence, and corruption, while queer communities largely embrace biological determinism, saying they are “born gay.” In fact, the question of causality is one we often ask of ourselves. What author Rohn does here after reading popular rhetoric, psychoanalytic theory, and British and American literature from the late nineteenth century through the present day is to discenter etiology from queer politics, engages abject tropes of “homosexual reproduction,” and considers the effects of retroactive, absent, and contingent causality. In doing this, she brings out the queer contingency of things and brilliantly examines the effects-at once social, political, and interpretative-of living with indeterminacy.

In essence this is a deconstruction of gay etiology and thus gives us a new and fresh way to read the great novels about the rights of gay people which we now see as very elusive; more so than we ever imagined. Below is the table of contents of the book.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments


  1. Introduction: Cause and Effect 

  2. On Homosexual Reproduction 

  3. Strange Influence: The Picture of Dorian Gray 

  4. Return from the Future: James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography 

  5. Desire and the Scene of Reading: The Well of Loneliness 

  6. The Future in Ruins: Borrowed Time 

  7. Contingency for Beginners: The Night Watch 

  8. Conclusion: Multiply and Divide 


Notes

“The Gay Gospel: A Survival Guide for Gay 20Somethings in America Today” by Justin Luke Zirilli— A Guide to Being Gay

the gay gospel cover

Zirilli, Justin Luke. “The Gay Gospel: A Survival Guide for Gay 20Somethings in America Today”, BoiParty Books, 2014.

A Guide to Being Gay

Amos Lassen

When you are a young gay male sometimes you feel like you need someone to show you how to navigate the gay scene. It is no as easy being gay and new and out as some might think. With “The Gay Gospel” you will be all set to face any situation with style. We see here that the most important thing is to be yourself whether meeting someone for the first time, going to a club or bar or dating (and in fact whatever). This book is geared for those between 20 and 29 years old but the information here is actually good and reliable for everybody. We all face new situations, issues and events and many times we do so for the first time. Because we are human, we will make mistakes and mess up more than once and while this book will not cure all of that, it gives handy hints on how to face such situations.

I suppose we can call this a survival guide and it is loaded with a great deal of information. Whether it be alcohol, drugs, friendship, love, sex, etc., helpful advice is here. In the past I have read many different guides to being gay but thus special because it is written by one of New York City’s leading gay promoters who sees gay life from within. He has been there and he shares what he learned so that we might have it easier. Having this is akin to having a big brother who has been through it all. Justin Luke Zirilli is a guy who’s already dealt with all the things that you are now facing. He spends his nights hanging out with thousands of 20somethings, observing them as they try their best to live their lives without messing everything up. “He’s a gay nightlife savant and the Co-Owner and Director of Promotions of BoiParty, the NYC-based event company responsible for the city’s largest young, gay dance parties. Justin survived his 20somethings and is now tackling the 30somethings. While he tries to figure that decade out he is happy to help you blaze a trail through your twenties without burning your hands off”.

The volume is organized into various books and that makes using this so easy. It can be read right through or book-by-book or even as a way to consult certain topics. Let’s have a look at the various books. We have “The Book of Looking”, “The Book of Dating”, ‘The Book of Loving”, “The Book of Loving”, “The Book of Breaking Up”, “The Book of Doing It”, “The Book of Partying” and “The Book of Living”. Each book is then divided into subtopics. If we look at “The Book of Doing It” we have subtopics such as “Gay Sex 101”, “Best Bottom Behavior”, “Three, Four or More” and “Face Your Fetishes”. But this is not all about sex and we have learned well that we do not want to be defined solely on sexuality so we also learn about working, drama, living together, how to break up, dealing with flaws and so on. ( I figured I would write about sex first and get it our of the way because for many this will be the first chapter that is read).

When I was growing up the only guides of this kid that we had were written for straight people and it is so good to have one that we can call our own. We owe the author our thanks.

 The book is easy and fun to read and if there is a message to be learned here it is what the author says in his conclusion, “Go out and live your life”. There is also a wonderful and inspiring afterword written by Billy Porter and he reiterates what Justin Luke Zirilli tells us. Porter says >”Be the best version of yourselves that you can be… because nobody does that better than you. And… SUCK a dick! Don’t BE one!”

“Gay is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny” by Michael Long— One to Treasure

gay is good

Long, Michael G. “Gay is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny”, Syracuse University Press, 2014.

One to Treasure

Amos Lassen

Many associate the LGBT movement with the Stonewall Riots in 1969 but in actuality, it began long before that date. Franklin Kameny (1925-2011) “was one of the most significant figures in the gay rights movement. Beginning in 1958, he encouraged gay people to embrace homosexuality as moral and healthy, publicly denounced the federal government for excluding homosexuals from federal employment, openly fought the military s ban against gay men and women, debated psychiatrists who depicted homosexuality as a mental disorder, identified test cases to advance civil liberties through the federal courts, acted as counsel to countless homosexuals suffering state-sanctioned discrimination, and organized marches for gay rights at the White House and other public institutions”.

In “Gay Is Good”, Michael Long has collected Kameny’s historically rich letters that show some of the early beginnings of today’s politically powerful LGBT movement.

These letters in Kameny’s own voice— consistently loud, echoing through such places as the Oval Office, the Pentagon, and the British Parliament, and often shrill and piercing when speaking to the federal agency heads, military generals, and media personalities who received his countless letters. In this volume is a collection of approximately 150 letters from 1958 to 1975 and this was a critical period in Kameny s life. It was then that he was evolving from being a victim of the law to a vocal opponent of the law and to becoming to the voice of the law itself. These letters are arranged in context, giving historical and biographical data about the subjects and events involved. “Gay Is Good” pays much needed tribute to an advocate whose tireless efforts created a massive shift in social attitudes and practices.

Here is what is being said about this book:

“Michael Long has provided a window into a time that’s already largely forgotten as seen through the eyes of perhaps the most transformative, persistent, and original thinker, mover, and finger-shaker in the history of the gay civil rights movement”. –Eric Marcus, Author of Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights

 “A compelling, important, and fascinating collection of letters from one of the American gay rights movement s most influential and stubborn activists. . . . The letters are a joy to read”. –Craig Loftin, author of Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America

 “The LGBT movement has been blessed with an amazing array of passionate, provocative, colorful, dedicated, and sometimes infuriating women and men. Frank Kameny is certainly one of the most important. Michael Long s magnificent book captures the breadth of the movement and the specificity of Kameny s life and importance”. –Michael Bronski, Harvard University

“Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis” by Alexis Coe— A Look Back in Time

alice and freda

Coe, Alexis. “Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis”, Pulp/Zest Books, 2014.

A Look Back In Time

Amos Lassen

I never realized how much I do not know until I started reading seriously and I soon discovered that when I started to write book reviews that I had better have my facts together. When I started reading “Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis”, I was really aware what I did not know. I had never heard of this story—that in 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess. However it was not her crime that was so shocking, but what motivated her to commit the crime Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancée Freda Ward. However, when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again.


Freda adjusted easily to this but it stunned Alice who had a broken heart. She became more and more desperate as days passed. Soon her letters went unanswered and then her father’s razor disappeared. On January 25, Alice publicly slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat and her same-sex love was deemed insane by her father that very night. Medical experts agreed that this was a dangerous and incurable perversion and the crime was publicly talked about. Alice spent months in jail until a jury of Memphis’s finest men declared Alice insane, she was remanded to an asylum, where she died under mysterious circumstances just a few years later.

This book is the story of the Freda, Alice and so much more– a love story, a murder, a trial and it is illustrated with over 100 love letters, maps, artifacts, historical documents, newspaper articles, courtroom proceedings, and intimate, domestic scenes— and we get a picture of the world that was then.

Alexis Coe did tremendous research to write this book including historical settings, background information, family information, and hand-written letters so this is the real thing. We must remember that back in 1892 in Memphis, the term same-sex love did not exist and it was impossible to think about it unless one had a direct relation to what we now regard as same-sex love. The only rational way to deal with it in the minds of the men who were considered the bet of Memphis was to label it as insanity. This was what the defense used for Alice Mitchell who killed the woman she loved because she could not have her. After all Alice had made the proposal and said she would dress as a man so they could marry.

We get a detailed look at a fascinating and tragic real life murder case and we also get a look at the attitudes of the American south. Freda and Alice were two middle class teenage Memphis girls who met at a type of finishing school. Alice fell passionately in love with Freda and Freda seemed to return her affection though remained flirtatious with men. Alice proposed the scheme where she would pass as a man and marry Freda and following the wedding they would elope to a new life in St. Louis. When this plan was discovered and stopped by Freda’s family members in the summer of 1891, Alice became increasingly obsessed with the girl who she considered her one true love. Then in 1892 shortly before Freda was to leave Memphis, Alice slashed her throat with a razor she had stolen for that purpose. Freda died soon after and it was suspected that Alice had planned to kill herself but was stopped from doing so. Then came the trial and her commitment to an insane asylum where she died at the young age of 25.

In my opinion, the value of this book is in what it has to say about the way sexuality was regarded and in some places, still is. We also get a good luck at the role of women and even race relations during the 1890’s. Aside from the illustration, photos and letters, there is an extensive bibliography and seventeen pages of research notes.

 

“Gay Novels of Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, 1881-1981: A Reader’s Guide” by Drewey Wayne Gunn— British Gay Fiction

gay novels of britain

Gunn, Drewey Wayne, “Gay Novels of Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, 1881-1981: A Reader’s Guide”, McFarland, 2014.

British Gay Fiction

Amos Lassen

Although this book is not out yet, I want everyone to be aware of it as it fills the gap between American and British gay fiction. American gay fiction has received and still receives scholarly attention while some of the most important gay themed novels have been written and published “across the pond”. Not much attention has been given to developments in other English-speaking countries. This survey catalogs 254 novels and novellas by some 173 British, Irish and Commonwealth authors in which gay and bisexual male characters play a major role. The book is arranged chronologically from the appearance of the first gay protagonist in 1881, to works from the onset of the AIDS epidemic in 1981. There are in-depth entries that discuss each book’s publication history, plot and significance for the construct of gay identity, along with a brief biography of its author. Some of the iconic works included are Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890) and E.M. Forster’s “Maurice”(1913-14 written, published 1971) as well as lesser known but noteworthy novels such as Rose Macaulay’s “The Lee Shore” (1912) and John Broderick’s “The Waking of Willie Ryan” (1969), this volume–the first of its kind–enlarges our understanding of the development of gay fiction and provides an essential reading list.

“Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity” by Robert Beachy— Berlin and the Creation of Gay Identity

gay berlin

Beachy, Robert. “Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity”, Knopf, 2014.

Berlin and the Creation of Gay Identity

Amos Lassen

 In “Gay Berlin”, Robert Benchley gives us “an unprecedented examination of the ways in which the uninhibited urban sexuality, sexual experimentation, and medical advances of pre-Weimar Berlin created and molded our modern understanding of sexual orientation and gay identity”. As early as the 1850s, Berlin was known for its attitude toward “warm brothers” (a German slang term for homosexuals). Before the dawn of the twentieth century Berlin was home to scholars, activists and many in the medical profession. It was a place for education and it provided a wonderful learning ground for studying human sexual identities.

We meet Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German activist described by some as the first openly gay man and we learn of the world of Berlin’s vast homosexual subcultures, of a major sex scandal that enraptured the daily newspapers and shook the court of Emperor William II and of some of the very first sex reassignment surgeries. Some of these have been long forgotten but now Robert Beachy uncovers the long-forgotten events and characters and we see that they continue to shape and influence the way we think of sexuality today.

We might subtitle this book as a look at forgotten firsts and these include the work of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, who was the first to claim (in 1896) that same-sex desire is an immutable, a biologically determined characteristic. Hirschfeld is the founder of the Institute for Sexual Science. Though raided and closed down by the Nazis in 1933, the institute served as, among other things, “a veritable incubator for the science of tran-sexuality,” scene of one of the world’s first sex reassignment surgeries. This is a fascinating, surprising, and informative read and a welcome addition to the LGBT canon as we look at Berlin and this book as a foundational cultural examination of human sexuality.

“Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus” by Rachel Lee Smith— A Photographic Essay

speaking out

Smith, Rachel Lee. “Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus”, PM Press, 2014.

A Photographic Essay

Amos Lassen

Rachel Lee Smith brings us a photographic essay of LGBTQ youth as they speak openly of who they are. They share their experiences through handwritten text and imagery. The stories were gathered over a ten-year period and the book evolved from a project on gallery walls. We see the perspectives of a diverse group of young people, ages 14–24, identifying as queer (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning). Here are portraits minus judgments or stereotypes. This was achieved by eliminating environmental influence with a stark white backdrop that acts as a blank canvas, where each subject’s personal thoughts are handwritten onto the final photographic print. There are more than 65 portraits and, the book “provides rare insight into the passions, confusions, prejudices, joys, and sorrows felt by queer youth” and at the same time it gives a voice to an underserved group of people that are rarely heard and often silenced. Using the image and first person narratives, we get a new kind of outlet that shows support, create a dialogue, and helps those who struggle. Candace Gingrich wrote the foreward and Graeme Taylor  gives the afterword.

 Here is what others are saying:

“These are portraits of a revolution. Photographer Rachelle Lee Smith gives lesbian and gay youth an outlet to speak for themselves. Simple, yet powerful photos of queer youth speak reams.”  —Advocate

Speaking OUT gives voices to queer youth, one snapshot at a time.” —Marcie Bianco, mic.com

“Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith” by Eve Tushnet— A Celibate Lesbian

gay and catholic

Tushnet, Eve. “Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith”, Ave Maria Press, 2014.

A Celibate Lesbian

Amos Lassen

Eve Tushnet is a celibate Catholic and a lesbian. In her first book, she shares with us her spiritual and intellectual journey from liberal atheism to faithful Catholicism and shows how gay Catholics can love and be loved while still keeping to Church teaching. She was born the child of two atheist academics and while studying at Yale she was just a typical undergraduate. One day she went to a meeting of philosophical debates with the idea of making fun of them but instead soon became involved in a deep and intellectual conversation and then she surprised everyone (and herself) when she converted to Roman Catholicism. She had already self-identified as a lesbian and so searched for a third way in the seeming two-option system available to gay Catholics— se could either reject Church teaching on homosexuality or reject the truth of her sexuality. This book came about as a result of that search. She writes about what she learned while studying Christian history and theology and she presents here how gay Catholics can use love and need the for connection as a way to achieve friendships, community, service, and artistic creation.

We are so used to hearing about how the church is anti-gay and exists in an atmosphere of hypocrisy, obliviousness, and antagonism but here we get a different perspective. It does not matter what we believe about what Tushnet writes, she has answers ready and beautifully stated.

I am sure that there are many who will disagree with what she says and label her as a dreamer but as an observant Jew myself, I have been able to deal with religion and my sexuality.

Tushnet admits she does not even understand fully what the church teaches on sexuality, but she has agreed to live a lonely, loveless life so that the Catholic church’s leaders, who hate homosexuals far more than their own pedophile priests, will not threaten her the terrors of hell and damnation.

The Church indeed advocates friendship and this is something that needs to be discovered time and time again. All humans need to know this and find that kind of relationship with religion. This is a book that is written honestly, practically and in direct language that we can all understand and it is wonderful to have it.