Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Drama Club: A Memoir” by Mikel Gerle— Coming of Age

Gerle, Mikel. “Drama Club: a Memoir”, CreateSpace, 2017.

Coming of Age 

Amos Lassen

Coming of age is never easy but it is that much more difficult in a small town and in a family stepped in religious traditions. Here is Mikel Gerle’s story of finding a way for him and others like him to live among “the heteronormative mating rituals of small town early 80s America.”

Mikel Gerle has had quite a life. He has been a pineapple picker, ballet dancer, International Mister Leather, government bureaucrat, and yoga teacher. He has ridden his bike 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles four times to raise money to combat HIV, the virus he has survived since 1987. Today, he and his husband live in West Hollywood, California and share their lives with the family they have chosen.

Gerle’s “Drama Club” is a collection of essays that take us into his journey navigating prejudice, religious oppression, joy, triumph, and sexual discovery. We laugh, we cry and we smile as we read and we become curious as to what his next book will share with us.

Gerle is a excellent storyteller as he takes us to places such as Nebraska, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. His characters are real and powerful and identifiable since so many of us have been through the kind of experiences we read about here. We have all felt alone and different, and we have all wanted to connect with others. Gerle’s personal journey through young adulthood was quite an adventure, filled with heartache and love.

We read of the struggles of growing up while being in a family that is concerned with religion, family and outlaw sexuality. It is bit easy to run away from such a life but we manage to do so.

“Creep: A Life, A Theory, An Apology” by Jonathan Alexander— Confronting Creepiness

Alexander, Jonathan. “Creep: A Life, A Theory, An Apology”, Punctum, 2017.

Confronting Creepiness

Amos Lassen

Jonathan Alexander brings us a study that is something of a memoir, a theory, and a manifesto. He bases this on his experience as a victim of homophobia and suggests that labeling someone creepy may be the creepiest move of all. He confronts the idea of creepiness theoretically and with wit. He maintains that we are surrounded by creeps. Being creepy has taken on new forms and what defines a creep is so broad that nearly anyone can be a creep at times. For many, the idea of the creep is not just threatening, but exciting (in the possibility of threat). We do get “creeped” out but we are also fascinated by creeps, probably because we all sense the potential inside ourselves for creepy behavior.

Alexander brings together personal narrative and cultural analyses to explore what it means to be a creep. He uses his own experiences growing up gay in the deep south, while also looking at examples from literature and popular film and media with the idea of finding some sympathy for the creep. He confesses his own creepiness while also explaining to us what being creepy can show us in turn about our culture. He uses famous “creeps” from the past, to explore what makes a creep creepy, and how even the best of us succumb at times to being creeps. What we really get here is a study of creepiness that gives us critical insight into the fundamental perversity of how we live. Yes, this is a creepy read but we are living in creepy times.

“William Hutt: Soldier, Actor” by Keith Garebian— A Classical Actor

Garebian. Keith. “William Hutt: Soldier, Actor”, Essential Prose Series, 2017.

A Classical Actor

Amos Lassen

I must honestly say that before I picked this book up I had never heard of William Hutt. I learned something new here and that is one of the beauties of reading. Of course, reading this made me want to learn more but that does not seem to be a lot about Hutt around.

William Hutt showed that it was possible to be a great classical actor without sacrificing his Canadian accent or cultural identity. His roles created “imperishable portraits of Tartuffe, King Lear, Lear’s Fool, Feste, Khlestakov, Duke Vincentio, Titus Andronicus, Timon, Argan, Lady Bracknell, James Tyrone, Sr., and Prospero” and these guaranteed that he will be remembered as long as there is cultural memory. I understand that when he was not on stage, he could be charming and witty or moody and “oppressively grand.” He remained

the Duke of “Dark Corners” to many who wished to know him more intimately. In this detailed biography, Keith Garebian gives us Hutt’s “private and public lives, his most intense conflicts, deepest yearnings and anxieties in order to show how Hutt brought his life to his work and work to his life in a manner that left him vulnerable to wounds of the heart yet open to radical re-invention as an actor.”

“I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well” by James Allen Hall— Queer in Florida in the 80s

Hall, James Allen. “I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well”, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2017.

Queer in Florida in the 80s

Amos Lassen

When James Allen Hall’s parents lost their once-thriving family business in the pre-crash 2000s, they moved into a two-bedroom student apartment that James had previously shared previously with just his brother. His mother routinely attempts or threatens suicide, his father is depressed. Hall lives alongside, and through his family’s meth addiction, mental illnesses, and incarcerations, and weighs “his own penchants for less than happy, equal sex with an agility, depth, and lightness that is blissfully inconclusive.”

This is a collection of harrowing essays that are not only powerful but that also reveal the author’s sensitivity to find beauty and value in places where most of us do not look. He shows his vulnerability in language that is rarely spoken and we see him as a

witness, a seeker, a survivor and someone who’s earned the right to judge but who withholds doing so because he believes that we are all together and help by restraints that we see as compassion.

Hall journeyed through a youth that was violent and homophobic yet he managed to both exist and persist., manages to exist and persist. His writing expresses the pains that we endured and he persevered because he dared to accept himself as flawed. His writing is honest and compelling and for those of us who have ever had a broken heart will understand what he has to say. When all of his essays are taken together we see that we have his memoir written in the language of poetry. At times he disturbs us with what he writes but there is also humor here and he ranges from being serious to using camp to express how he feels. He discusses suicide frankly and openly and we love that he is honest about that. He knows the difficulties of being responsible and he knows that guilt can set boundaries. Through all of this we watch him take form as a gay male. He rises above the pain of his family and takes his own emotional risks. The risk he did not have to take is this absolutely gorgeous book.

“The Flowers in My Mothers’ Name” by Philip Harris— The Intersectionality of the Poet

Harris, Philip. “The Flowers in My Mothers’ Name”, Nomadic Press, 2017.

The Intersectionality of the Poet

Amos Lassen

“The Flowers In My Mothers’ Name” is basically a chapbook collection of nonfiction prose poetry that explores the intersectionality of narrator Philip Harris. Harris is a gay, Mexican man from Southern California who finds himself at the center of cultures, sexuality, and generations. He explores his mother’s life as a Chicana dealing with racism, his grandmother’s grief, and his own queer existence as a person of color with passing white privilege and in doing so, he shares his multicultural narrative.

As he searches for his roots and he struggles with what it means to feel love for his Mexican mother and her struggles while at the same time trying to understand his own gay identity that he so easily recognizes. What he finds is what he needs. Harris draws us into personal moments and interweaves familial stories in his structured prose poetry and we feel what he feels.

There’s comedy, pain, and honesty. There are no wasted words in Harris’s tribute to his mother and grandmother and he delivers a memoir that hits hard and explains a lot about what it’s like to grow up in America. This is an intimate look at family and poet that celebrates “the personal and political lives that reside in our everyday lives.”

“Everything Is Awful: And Other Observations” by Matt Bellassai— Awful Moments of Life

Bellassai, Matt. “Everything Is Awful: And Other Observations”, Atria/Keywords, 2017.

Awful Moments of Life

Amos Lassen

“Everything is Awful” is a collection of very funny and anguished essays about awful moments from Matt Bellassai’s life so far, the humiliations of being an adult, and other little indignities.

Matt Bellassai tells us that he became “semi-Internet famous” by getting drunk at work, making him a “professional” alcoholic. He’s been able to understand some things about his life but certainly not everything. This is not a memoir yet but in a few years it night become one but that is doubtful. It is, quite simply, essays about some awful moments in Matt’s life that made him the adult that he is today. There is anguish here.

Matt has had to deal with his past when he was known as the Midwest’s biggest nerd. We read how he came out as gay to his friends and family, how he deals the humiliations of adulthood, “like giving up on love in New York City, living alone with no one to heat his microwave dinners, and combating the inner voice that tells him to say aloud all the things the rest of us are smart enough to keep to ourselves.”

Bellassai has a unique and signature voice and perspective and he is very funny. I caught myself laughing aloud as I read but he is also sincere in what he has to say. He is able to move from the very serious to the silly instantly and he truly lives up to his own mantra that “being a human is hard work, so you may as well make your story funny when you can.”

“Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays” by Fenton Johnson— Essays on Life

Johnson, Fenton. “Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays”, Sarabande, 2017.

Essays on Life

Amos Lassen

Fenton Johnson’s “Everywhere Home” is part retrospective and part memoir. He explores sexuality, religion, geography, the AIDS crisis, and more. We go with him from the hills of Kentucky to those of San Francisco, from the streets of Paris to the sidewalks of Calcutta. As he travels, he investigates questions large and small such as the relationship between artists and museums, a New Guinean display of shrunken heads and the difference between empiricism and intuition.

This collection draws together essays that originally appeared in “Harper’s”, “The New York Times”, “All Things Considered” and elsewhere and new work. He writes from the front lines of the AIDS epidemic, from Burning Man, from monasteries both near and far and his subjects range from Oscar Wilde to censorship in journalism to Kentucky basketball. What is really amazing is the unity between the essays and how Johnson can explain the world around him in such beautiful language. We sense the storyteller in him especially when writing about the desire to belong. We also become very aware of the different kinds of human pain and the hope that comes out of them.

Johnson has far-ranging and engaging interests that are both personal and academic interests and he is glad to be alive and he celebrates that. If you have ever read any of his other works you know exactly what I am speaking about. Johnson writes in a simple and straightforward style and there is beauty in that. Because his perspective differs from others, he brings something new to every topic he writes about.

Some of his essays are clearly autobiographical, in some he writes using literary criticism and in some he is a cultural commentator. In all of then he is Fenton Johnson with his personal presence and in that he lets us feel that he is writing directly to us. He is able to demonstrate that “his gay sensibility is just part of normal, ordinary human awareness that is deepened and intensified by his gay sensibility. He has something special to offer.”

The essays show a great deal about Johnson, himself as well as about today’s society and culture. Johnson is honest and vulnerable because he is human. He is always intelligent, interesting and provocative.

“Not Guilty: Queer Stories from a Century of Discrimination” by Sue Elliot and Steve Humphries— An Oral History

Elliott, Sue and Steve Humphries. “Not Guilty: Queer Stories from a Century of Discrimination”, Biteback. 2017.

An Oral History

Amos Lassen

It was just fifty years ago in the United Kingdom when sex between men was a crime. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act changed that in part, but it was only the beginning of the long fight for equality in the eyes of the law and society in general. “Not Guilty” is an oral history telling that story through the lives of gay men who lived through those years.

It is a bit hard to imagine that in Britain, a glorious handful of campaigners helped change life forever. We hear the voices of gay men who lived through the years when equality was unimaginable. Reading this is listening to the voices that were strong and had hope and who were there during the struggle for legitimacy That struggle continues to this day. The men whose stories we follow come from very different backgrounds, and different times, ye they provide us with the strongest possible testament to the need for awareness and action.

“Breaking the Ruhls: A Memoir” by Larry Ruhl— The Reality of Childhood Sexual Abuse


Ruhl, Larry. “Breaking the Ruhls: A Memoir”, Central Recovery Press, 2018.
The Reality of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Amos Lassen

Writer Larry Ruhl’s memoir explores the reality of childhood sexual abuse, a terrible practice that in some neighborhoods hides in plain sight. Victims often remain silent, preoccupied under the weight of their own guilt, shame, and addiction. They face
trauma, boundary violations, and abuse within the family, and struggle with their own emotional and psychological effects. Using his own experience, Ruhl looks at sexual confusion, shame, PTSD, addiction and recovery, marital issues, career struggles, and therapeutic breakthroughs. He presents vindication on a range of issues and shows that it is possible to heal and thrive afterwards.
Ninety-three percent of juvenile sexual assault victims knew their perpetrators. In 80 percent of these cases, the perpetrator was a parent. Ruhl focuses on sexual abuse and helps others shed the shame that sexual abuse survivors carry through no fault of their own.
Ruhl is a board member for Taking Back Ourselves, an organization that facilitates weekends of recovery for survivors of sexual abuse. He is a registered speaker with RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) and previously served as a board member at Male Survivor, a leading organization in the fight to improve the resources and support available to male survivors of all forms of sexual abuse. His qualifications indeed make him a person who knows what he talks about.

“Groomed” by Jerome L. Whitehead— Abuse

Whitehead, Jerome L. “Groomed”, Page Publishing, 2017.

Abuse

Amos Lassen

Estimates say that one in every six boys experience a sexual encounter with an adult at some point in their lives before they reach the age of consent. Parents, regardless of intent, tend to blame the victim and this further perpetuates feelings of guilt and shame in the child. They don’t know what questions to ask, and if they do, they may not believe the answer no matter how honest the child is capable of being at that moment.

“Groomed” is the story tells the story of abuse and how it changed the life of Jerome Whitehead, the author would have been. The story is told from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old victim and a fifty-five-year-old survivor.

Whitehead puts into perspective the reasons why a victim may stay silent. Many might not realize that in a lot of ways the victim has been groomed for his behavior. The abuse of male children is not often discussed, and many times, a parent asks the wrong questions or any questions about someone acting inappropriately with the child.

By using his own experiences, the author gives us gives us insight to abuse and how we are either silent about it or in denial of it.