Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back” by David Hallberg—“The Most Exciting Male Dancer in the Western World”

Hallberg, David. “A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back”, Touchstone, 2017.

“The Most Exciting Male Dancer in the Western World”

Amos Lassen

David Hallberg was the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet as a principal dancer. “The New Yorker” described as “the most exciting male dancer in the western world” and his new boo, “A Body of Work” takes us on an intimate journey through his artistic life up to the moment he returns to the stage after a terrible injury almost cost him his career.

His childhood is an all-American story that was hurt by intense bullying. Hallberg’s memoir takes us deep into his life as an artist as he wrestles with ego, pushes the limits of his body, and searches for ecstatic perfection and fulfillment.

Quite basically, this is a book about creativity. Hallberg shares themes of inspiration, self-doubt, and perfectionism and we are with him as he attends daily class, goes through rigorous rehearsals, and triumphant performances and searches for new interpretations of ballet’s greatest roles. He also shares the loneliness he felt as a teenager leaving America to join the Paris Opera Ballet, the ambition he had to tame as a new member of American Ballet Theatre, and the reasons behind his decision to be the first American to join the top rank of Bolshoi Ballet and working with an artistic director who would later be the victim of a vicious acid attack. Later as Hallberg performed throughout the world at the apex of his abilities, he suffered a crippling ankle injury and unsuccessful surgery leading to an agonizing retreat from ballet and a reexamination of his entire life. It is the emotional intensity that makes this such a fascinating read and the artistic insight that we get here is amazing. Here is a story with all of its passion, wisdom and vulnerability.

“The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men’s Communities” edited by Damien W. Riggs— Privilege and Marginalization

Riggs, Damien W. (editor). “The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men’s Communities”, (Critical Perspectives on the Psychology of Sexuality, Gender, and Queer Studies), Lexington, 2017.

Privilege And Marginalization

Amos Lassen

“The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men’s Communities” deals with complexity of mapping out the operations of “racialized desire” as it exists among gay men. In order to explore this, the contributors to this volume examine the intersections of privilege and marginalization in the context of gay men’s lives, and in doing so argue that as much as experiences of discrimination on the basis of sexuality are shared among many gay men, experiences of discrimination within gay communities are just as common. By focusing specifically on race, the contributors give insight as to how hierarchies, inequalities, and practices of exclusion strengthen the central position for certain groups of gay men at the expense of other groups.

In considering how racial desire operates within gay communities, the contributors connect contemporary struggles for inclusion and recognition with ongoing histories of marginalization and exclusion. The book disputes the claim that gay communities are primarily organized around acceptance and homogeneity and shows us instead that there are both considerable diversity and ongoing tensions that affect gay men’s relationships with one another.

This is a very timely account of gay white racism, with much needed attention to Islamophobia, homonationalism, and sexual racism in today’s’ digital age. We see the continued importance of contesting libertarian accounts of racialized sexual desire by looking at the lines between individual subjectivities and the power structures that shape them. Besides acknowledging the continuities between racism in general and gay racism, in particular, it looks at specific articulations, enactments, and effects in diverse gay men’s communities and these include resistance to and even appropriations of racism.

We hear from new voices that give new life to discussions on racism in gay men’s communities. We are reminded of the difficulties many face when race and sexuality come together.

“Original Sin” by Gianluigi Nuzzi— Underage Gay Sex at the Vatican

Nuzzi, Gianluigi. “Original Sin”, 2017.

Underage Gay Sex at the Vatican

Amos Lassen

 Gianluigi Nuzzi, the journalist who was put on trial over the “Vatican Leaks” has written and published a new book that alleges Catholic sins at the Vatican. The book hit Italian bookstores on November 9 of this year.

The book reproduces documents from the Vatican’s scandal ridden bank showing multimillion-dollar accounts in the names of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II and their private secretaries. It also alleges that hidden powers in the Vatican were blocking the reforms of Pope Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI and looks deeply into the 1983 mystery of the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee.

The new claims about gay sex concern the Vatican’s St. Pius X pre-seminary for middle and high school students who are considering a possible vocation to the priesthood.

Nuzzi has reproduced a letter and testimony from a gay ex-seminarian who recounted how an adult, now a priest, used to come into his dorm room and had oral sex with his roommate.

The book reproduces a 2014 letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the ex-seminarian, saying it had determined that no sexual abuse of a minor had occurred but that it was referring the case to the Vatican’s office for clergy.

Nuzzi told reporters Thursday that the roommate was indeed younger than 18 when the encounters began. Neither the roommate nor the priest were identified.

Nuzzi and fellow journalist Emmanuele Fittipaldi were put on trial in a Vatican court in 2015 after both published books based on leaked documents that exposed greed, mismanagement and corruption at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. In July 2016, after an eight-month trial, the Vatican’s criminal court declared that it had no jurisdiction to prosecute them. The court did, however, convicted two other people for conspiring to leak the documents, and absolved a third.

A top church official revealed gay sex within the Vatican has ‘never been worse.’ According to the National Catholic Register, this has been happening since the start of Pope Francis’s term as Pope began in 2012. He also reports a ‘huge homosexual underground in the Church.’

Friar Dariusz Oko discovered the underground community in 2013 and said back then that they know well, however, that this might be exposed and embarrassed and the participants shield one another by offering mutual support. They build informal relationships and aim at holding particularly those positions in the Church which offer power and money. This year police broke up an alleged gay orgy  in the apartment of a Vatican cardinal.

“Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans” by Howard Philips Smith— What Was Once

Smith, Howard Philips. “Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans”, University of Mississippi Press, 2018.

What Was Once

Amos Lassen

This is one book that I am anxiously waiting for and I am very surprised that no one has written on this before. As a gay New Orleanian and a Mardi Gras lover, I am sure that there is a lot to be learned and enjoyed here.

Traditional Mardi Gras in New Orleans has been studied and written about a great deal but very little has come to the printed page about gay Mardi Gras (or Carnival as many locals refer to it. There is a great deal of history in gay Mardi Gras and finally someone is giving it to us. Howard Philips Smith does so along with beautiful photographs and clear understanding. The only problem is that we have to wait until January to read it.

Gay krewes (the name for all Mardi Gras organizations) came into being for the first time in the late 1950s. They simply grew out of costume parties held by members of the gay community. Soon their tableau balls were often held in clandestine locations to avoid harassment. Even by the year 2000, gay Carnival remained a hidden and almost lost history. Much of the history and the krewes themselves were devastated by the AIDS epidemic. Whether facing police raids in the 1960s or AIDS in the 1980s, these krewes always came back each season. “Unveiling the Muse” places one of the most important aspects of the New Orleans Carnival season where it belongs. It took more than twenty years of research to write this book.

Smith bases his writing on detailed interviews and each of the major gay krewes is represented by an in-depth historical sketch. We read about the founders, the themes that the krewes used to stage their productions and we get a list of all the balls, themes, and royalty along with the “colorful ephemera” that is associated with the gay tableau balls. Included are reproductions of never-before-published artistic invitations, large-scale commemorative posters, admit cards, and programs as well as sketches of elaborate stage sets and costumes and photographs of ball costumes and other rare memorabilia.

This is a comprehensive history of New Orleans’s gay Carnival organizations and a look at the places, people, and non-Carnival annual calendar of events that are go along with that history.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras has for many years been elite-driven. It is the time when the upper class presents its debutantes to the public. Here we get the alternative history and see Mardi Gras as libidinal and sexually dissident. Filled with fascinating stories and beautiful tableaux, we see the role of the gay community in shaping Mardi Gras as a time for all to have fun.

“A House of Prayer for All People: Contesting Citizenship in a Queer Church” by David K. Seitz— Race, Gender and Religion

Seitz, David K. “A House of Prayer for All People: Contesting Citizenship in a Queer Church”, University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Race, Gender and Religion

Amos Lassen

David K. Seitz in “A House of Prayer for All People: Contesting Citizenship in a Queer Church” studies “the affective dimensions of the politics of citizenship at one large LGBT church, focusing on debates on race and gender in religious leadership, activism around police–minority relations, outreach to LGBT Christians transnationally, and advocacy for asylum seekers.” He shows the reparative encounters with citizenship and religion through cultural geography, queer of color critique, psychoanalysis, and affect theory.

In doing this, Seitz complicates the common narrative about the natural divide between LGBT people and religion. By examining the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto and its Pastor, Rev. Brent Hawkes, he looks at questions of sexual orientation, race, gender, and religion as they come together with social justice activism and the nature of citizenship. He creates a conceptual framing in order to fix religion and religious spaces for queer people. His idea is to open a space for possibilities that go past contemporary identity. He presents the politics of refuge as they are within a faith community in Toronto and his work is bold and challenging.

“After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images” by Avram Finklestein— Never Forgetting

Finklestein, Avram. “After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images”, University of California Press, 2017.

Never Forgetting

Amos Lassen

The AIDS epidemic is our Holocaust and we are beginning now to look back, albeit with tears in our eyes, and remember how things once were. In the last couple of years, there have been some wonderful writing about the terrible time and now we have a visual remembrance. In the 1980s when the epidemic was in its early years, one of the most important, iconic and lasting image was created by six gay activists, the pink triangle with the words “Silence=Death” below it came to symbolize our movement and the way we felt. I still have the same sensation today that I had back then when I see this. Avram Finklestein was back then co-founder and a member of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury. In “After Silence”, he shares the story of how his work and other protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic came to be. He gives us a different view of the traditional HIV/AIDS history and he does so by writing about “art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process”. It is a little over 25 years later and he uses the AIDS epidemic as a way to give us “ a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how to save lives through activism and making art”.

Finklestein’s story is personal as he sees what happened through the eyes “of a key designer of a crucial political movement and [he]demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis.”

This is a first-hand account of the beginnings and the use of the Silence = Death graphic and Finklestein shows how it was used by the AIDS Action Committee (that later became ACT UP). We also get a look inside of the collective Gran Fury and the various strategies and challenges that formed and informed their most successful campaigns such as “Read My Lips” and “Kissing Doesn’t Kill”. By reading this book, we better understand the politics of resistance and the impact of ACT UP in building a movement.

Avram Finkelstein was a central figure in the image strategies that were developed and used by ACT UP and he is able to provide insights for the next generation of artist-activists who hope to transform our political landscape. This is an honesty and heartfelt look at defining our history with all of the complexities that are found in social movements.

After the threat of AIDS began to subside, many writer were unable to write about it and didn’t. It is only now that those writers have decided to use their voices to tell how it was. This is a “one-of-a-kind book about the history of AIDS through its images that the world needs and has waited for.”

“The Resilience Anthology”— A Journey

Heart, Amy, Sugi Pyrrophyta and Larissa Glasser, editors. “The Resilience Anthology”, Heartspark Press., 2017.

A Journey

Amos Lassen

I just received an announcement about “The Resilience Anthology” so I am passing it on to you.

“Take a journey through the worlds of over thirty (C)AMAB* trans writers in what is currently the largest collection of poetry and prose made for and by us. Featuring new work by Luna Merbruja, Magpie Leibowitz, Moss Angel, KOKUMO, Joss Barton, Ariel Howland, Casey Plett, Sascha Hamilton, A.K. Blue, Oti Onum, Rahne Alexander, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Lawrence Walker, Connifer Candlewood, Serafima Mintz, Talia Johnson, Tyler Vile, Lina Corvus, Bridget Liang, CHRYSALISAMIDST, Ana Valens, Larissa Glasser, Lilith Dawn, AR Rushet and more, including an introduction by Julia Serano!”

“Our writers featured in this book exist across the gender spectrum, but do not identify with their birth assignment. Many are trans women, but some are genderqueer, non-binary, agender, or all of the above.”

“A Pornographer” by Arch Brown— A Memoir

Brown, Arch. “A Pornographer
”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

With the death of Arch Brown in 2012, our community lost a very valuable member. Wile in the process of archiving his Possessions, an unpublished memoir with the simple title of “A Pornographer” was found and now it has finally been published giving us great insight into the man who for eighteen years was responsible for making homoerotic films. His memoir includes his interviews in the late 1960s and early 1970s with many of the men and women who wanted to star in his sex films including some who did not make it into his films. These interviews and films took place in the ten years after gay liberation finally began to take hold. The films were great successes and Brown soon had an international following.

When his film, “Tuesday” was selected, it was the only gay film to be included by the First New York Erotic Film Festival in its nation-wide release of winning films. The distributors were then charged with promoting obscenity. Brown also directed several documentary films on art and culture including a series on English as a Second Language for New York University. As if these films were not enough to be a legacy for Brown, he also was a playwright and a photographer. He had nine productions of his plays across the United States for over fifteen years and his still photographs and collages have appeared in “Mandate”, “Honcho”, “The Village Voice” and “Michael’s Thing”. His essays and reviews have appeared in The Advocate, The Villager, Manhattan G.A.Z.E. and he had a regular column on “Television and Society” in the New York Native. Brown founded G-MAN, The Gay Men’s Arts Network and, in memory of his partner Bruce Brown who died in 1993, he sponsored The Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation, which continues to give grants to gay-positive arts projects based on history. I wonder how many people outside of the New York area are familiar with his work but that becomes a moot issue with the publication of this book by Chelsea Station Editions (headed by author Jameson Currier, one of my favorite writers).

It is not necessary to be familiar with Brown’s work in order to enjoy this book. He does not even name his films in his memoir and when he writes about his cast members, he does so using made-up first names. Therefore what we really get here is something of a psychological look at those who enjoy having sex in front of a camera and how why they are responded to as they are. It is not all sex here—we also learn about Brown as a receptionist, gopher, casting agent, writer, director, stagehand, cameraman, talent scout, friend, and psychiatrist. To be sure, it was his films that brought him public attention and awareness but he was so much more than sex films. He was really known for the “quality and style” of his work with its inventive direction and his approach putting him way above the average pornographers of his time. He did not engage in the sordidness that was often common to the porn of that period.

Brown thought off himself as a pornographer and he waned his works to be judged as pornography. He tells us that he made porn films because he felt that lovemaking is “one of the greatest areas of life, a pleasure, a release”. He shows us this in his films but bemoans the fact that those who need to understand that are those who do not see his films.

The book contains a short biographical sketch (after all, the entire book is a form of biography), illustrations and photographs, two appendices (one of the films and the other on critical reception) and “Remembering Arch Brown” by James Waller, the president of the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation and it is absolutely fascinating. When I began reading “A Pornographer”, I did so slowly but soon found that the more I read, the more I wanted to know so my first reading was sped up so that I could read it critically a second time and I must add that for me this is one of the best reading experiences that I have had lately.

“The Inheritance of Shame” by Peter Gajdics— “Curing” Homosexuality

Gajdics, Peter. “The Inheritance of Shame: A Memoir”, Brown Paper Pres, 2017.

“Curing” Homosexuality

Amos Lassen

Author Peter Gajdics spent six years in conversion therapy that attempted to “cure” him of his homosexuality. He was kept with other patients in a cult-like home in British Columbia, Canada where he was under the authority of a dominating, rogue psychiatrist who controlled his patients by creating and exploiting a false sense of family. The author’s parents had tormented pasts. His mother had been incarcerated in a communist concentration camp in Yugoslavia after World War II and from which she had managed to escape. His father was an orphan in war-torn Hungary. This memoir explores the themes of childhood trauma, oppression, and intergenerational pain over a period of decades and we see the damaging repercussions of conversion therapy and are reminded that resilience, compassion, and the courage to speak the truth indeed exist within us all.

This is an in-depth account of the author’s triumph over a psychotherapy system that was designed to eradicate personhood. We shockingly read of Gajdics’ fondness for the very therapist who abused him. He suffered from a kind of Stockholm syndrome that most survivors of conversion therapy experience.

Gajdics struggled with family rejection and loss of self while he recovered from the deep wounds put on by him by anti-gay “therapy.” He presents a powerful argument against conversion therapy. This period was one of malpractice and corrupt psychotherapy in which we see the trauma of conversion therapy and the homophobia.

Lately much has been written about “crazy therapies” and the unproven, unusual, and downright strange psychological counseling and therapeutic practices that patients have been subjected to. Gajdics uses journals, official documents, medical records and recordings to share his bizarre story in a shocking narrative and then shows how he was able to reconnect with his parents and siblings. He was the youngest of five children who were raised near Vancouver. His parents were observant Catholics and he was raised in the culture of the church knowing that his parents would never accept him as a gay individual. As a young adult, after selling his body, he realized he needed psychological counseling. He was able to get Next, Gajdics received a referral from the Health Authority for a Dr. Alfonzo, the only psychiatrist that was accepting new patients.

He was highly skeptical of Dr. Alfonzo from the start. The doctor insisted that all his patients needed medication, which he overprescribed and believed that only he could be the “savior” for his patients through cutting edge “Primal Therapy, Rebirthing, and Reparative Therapy” that offered a cure for homosexuality. The doctor maintained controlled residential living in community homes. Due to the medication Gajdics was prescribed he gained 40 lbs. and felt that there were demons inside of him. Gajdics stayed in Dr. Alfonzo’s care for nearly six years even though r4eparative therapy was eventually discredited and therapists were advised not to practice it. In 1998, Gajdics was contacted by an attorney for the College of Physicians and Surgeons regarding formal complaints filed against Dr. Alfonzo.

In the first half of the book, we get a detailed account of Dr. Alfonzo’s disturbing behaviors and unconventional therapeutic methods. He also used his residential patients for free labor. After blaming his parents for all his problems, they began reconciliation and his parents welcomed Gajdics back in their lives after he discontinued therapy with Dr. Alfonzo. Gajdics describes his family history in detail and we learn that he applied for Hungarian citizenship under his father’s name, toured Europe in 2004 and wrote of his father’s decline and death, and his mother’s escape from the communist concentration camps during WWII.

This is an amazing story of a brave man who speaks out and who after a bizarre and terrible ordeal is able to accept and love himself despite what he has had to endure.

“Victory” by Linda Hirshman— The Gay Rights Movement

Hirshman, Linda. “Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution”, Olive Editions Reprint 2017.

The Gay Rights Movement

Amos Lassen

Linda Hirshman is a Supreme Court lawyer and political columnist who has now given us a history of the gay rights movement in her new book, “Victory”. She shows how a small minority, the LGBT community, in its quest for equality has changed the fabric of America and if you really think about this and look back ten years, you realize just how much.

Generally we look at the summer of 1969 as the beginning of the gay rights movement when several brave persons took their stand at the Stonewall Bar in Greenwich Village in New York City. At the same time, religious organizations and churches condemned homosexuality and psychiatrists regarded homosexuality as a mental illness. Forty-nine states outlawed same sex coupling but then in 2011, things began to change. New York State legalized gay marriage, the armed forces of America stopped enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and discrimination was ended in the United States military. The advances made by the gay rights movement are nothing short of miraculous.

There were long roads to get to where we are today and the gay rights movement is significant when we look at the history of civil rights in this country. The author uses both published material and material from archives as well as many interviews to show how the gay rights movement has dramatically changed America by making gender lines more blurred, changing the culture and redefining the family.

The book is brilliantly written and a wonderful example of what someone can do when writing about a vibrant movement that challenged America from all angles—medically, politically, economically and we are presented with a much focused group of activists who brought about a campaign that can be used as an example for all future civil rights movements. It is important to note that it is not the Human Rights Movement (HRC) that is solely responsible for the changes and in affect it played a rather small part in the overall movement although it would like us to think that it did it all.

What also makes this so special is that the history is brought to us in totality and is more than a survey. It is an authoritarian study that is yet unequalled.

The gay rights movement did not just change America for LGBT rights but for everyone and the book is perfect for anyone who want a more fair society. I cannot emphasize how important this book is—both to my community and to yours.

“This exuberant history of arguably the final and most difficult civil rights struggle relates, in surprisingly upbeat fashion, the fight ‘to slowly bend the arc of history toward justice’ for gay men and women. . . . Undeniably inspiring.” (Publishers Weekly ). The book is epic in what it deals with yet it is also filed with wit and understanding and above all, inspiration.

Hirshman takes personal stories of gays and lesbians and weaves them into a thrilling narrative and she goes back one hundred years—not just to 1969. Gay rights did not begin with Stonewall but it was Stonewall that brought it out of the closet. I could not help but be proud last Saturday when I participated in the Boston Pride parade for the first time. I just moved to Boston but I have been working very hard for the past few years to ring awareness to our books and movies but I have never experienced a state of elation that I felt when we turned onto Boylston Street and I saw people—straight people, gay people, lesbians, transsexuals and everything else—some six and seven deep cheering loudly. I had tears in my eyes as I thought of how far we have come and I felt a huge sense of pride that I had a little something to do with it. There were 50,000 marches in the parade and the  estimates are  that 1,000,000 million watched the parade pass. We have certainly come a long way but it s important to know how and why we did. Let Linda Hirshman tell you.

“’Victory’” is a fine book and a great attempt to write a cohesive narrative about the gay rights movement that can be enjoyed by the casual (i.e. non-academic) reader. Well worth picking up and enjoying during Pride Month – when the triumphalism won’t feel too out of place!”