Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left” by Emily K. Hobson— Rethinking Liberation

Hobson, Emily K. “Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left”, University of California Press, 2016.

Rethinking Liberation

Amos Lassen

Many think of LGBT activism as a self-contained struggle, inspired by but set apart from other social movements. In “Lavender and Red”, Emily Hobson shows a different story by providing us with a history of queer radicals who understood their sexual liberation as part of the solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism movements. These politics was born in the late 1960s but survived well past Stonewall and actually propelled a gay and lesbian left that flourished through the end of the Cold War. This left was centered in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where sexual self-determination and revolutionary internationalism came together. Through the 1970s, its activists took on socialist and women of color feminism and crafted queer opposition to militarism and the New Right. In the Reagan years, they challenged U.S. intervention in Central America, collaborated with their peers in Nicaragua, and mentored the first direct action against AIDS. Through archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today. I remember all to well that as I was coming of age and entering the gay world, activism meant radicalism and I suppose that is always the way I will remember it. It is really hard to forget sitting in a jail cell because of protesting for something that had always been due to us.

The LGBT left of that time was vibrant and even though it was centered on the West Coast, its implications were felt everywhere that there were unliberated gay people. In the 70s and 80s the LGBT left saw itself as part of the international left and this certainly changes how we look at our history, not just as activists, but in general. For whatever reason, what we knew about the LGBT left was lost to history until Hobson resurrected so much of it in this book. This is a deeply researched account of the ways a politics of affiliation can expand forms of organization, practices, vision and impact. The stories we get here give us new new historical narratives as well as resources that can certainly change our futures just as it did our pasts.

LGBT activists n the 1960s were committed to ending U.S. imperialism, militarism, racism, and all forms of oppression and exploitation. They fought not only to be accepted by the mainstream society but also to overturn it. Emily Hobson revises the history of the American Left and shows through a political and intellectual history that “queer radicals understood and re-fashioned anti-imperialist, nationalist, feminist, and Third World thought to imagine new meanings for sexuality, community, and emancipatory politics”. Contrary to what many believe, gay liberation was a force before Stonewall.

The gay liberation and lesbian feminist movements linked sexual liberation to radical solidarity including the mobilizations against imperialism, capitalism, and racism, demanding universal health care and ‘money for AIDS. LBGT activism was NOT a single issue and it was not racially whitewashed as many would believe. This is exactly why I find what happened at Chicago’s 2017 Dyke March so reprehensible. The lesbian organizers used anti-Semitism to prevent three Jewish women from marching and carrying rainbow flags with Stars of David and this is not just shocking, it is inexcusable and the repercussions have been very strong. Here an apology hardly suffices and we can only wonder how our leftist activists would have reacted to this.

Below is the book’s Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Abbreviations

Introduction

  1. Beyond the Gay Ghetto: Founding Debates in Gay Liberation
  2. A More Powerful Weapon: Lesbian Feminism and Collective Defense
  3. Limp Wrists and Clenched Fists: Defining a Politics and Hitting the Streets
  4. 24th and Mission: Building Lesbian and Gay Solidarity with Nicaragua
  5. Talk About Loving in the War Years: Nicaragua, Transnational Feminism, and AIDS
  6. Money for AIDS, Not War: Anti-militarism, Direct Action against the Epidemic, and Movement History

Epilogue

Notes

Bibliography

Index

“Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction” by Francesca Barbini— A Quick Mention

Barbini, Francesca. “Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction”, Luna Press, 2017.

A Quick Mention

Amos Lassen

“Gender identity and sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction” is the result of a Call for Papers of Academia Lunare, the non-fiction arm of Luna Press Publishing.

“The papers explore how society, as reflected in real life, literature, movies, TV, games and cosplay, is currently dealing with gender identity and sexuality in speculative fiction, asking an important question: do we have a problem?”

The papers are the writings of Juliet E McKenna, Kim Lakin-Smith, Cheryl Morgan, A J Dalton, Jyrki Korpua, Hazel Butler, Lorianne Reuser, Anna Milon, Rostislav Kůrka and Alina Hadîmbu.

“An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic” by Daniel Mendelsohn— One to Wait For

Mendelsohn, Daniel. “An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic”, Knopf, 2017.

One to Wait For

Amos Lassen

As a reviewer, I am often asked who my favorite writers are and I usually answer that I have no favorites but there are those that I seem to be always waiting for to write a new book. One of those writers is Daniel Mendelsohn whose books have a special place in my home library. It has been a while since we have last heard from him but there is good news in that he has a new book coming to us on September 12. It is not just what Mendelsohn writes about or how he writes that make him a special author; what I love is that he makes me think and sometimes he does this in every word and sentence he puts down.

“An Odyssey” is sensitive and moving record of Daniel and Jay Mendelsohn, father and son, who relive Homer’s “The Odyssey” as they go on a transformative journey together. At the age of 81, Jay Mendelsohn enrolled in an undergraduate seminar on Homer’s epic at Bard College that was taught by his son, Daniel. Before long, the two men find themselves on an emotional and intellectual adventure.

Jay is a retired research scientist who tends see the world through a mathematician’s eyes and he decides that the time has come for him to learn about the great literature that he had not studied as a young man. This also was to be a final opportunity to more fully understand his son, a writer and classicist. I can only imagine the discomfort that Daniel must have felt having his father in a class that he taught but something very important happened here. As the two men studied Homer together in the classroom, Jay often and persistently challenged his son’s interpretations. The two men decided to embark on Mediterranean journey together and retrace Odysseus’s voyages and here it became quite clear that Daniel was to be his father’s student. As Jay’s responded to both the text and the travels, secrets that were once buried come to light and allow the son to understand his difficult father at last. Soon, Daniel’s narrative becomes an echo of the “Odyssey” as father and son face the themes of “deception and recognition, marriage and children, the pleasures of travel and the meaning of home”. The story soon becomes both a personal narrative and an exploration of literature. If only I had had such an experience with my father, my life surely would have been very different.

Combining literary investigation and human , we get a book that is like no other in recent years. The two men shared a journey that is often filled with humor and is always sincere as it pulls at the readers’ heartstrings.

“Something for the Weekend” by James Wharton— Leaving the Army

Wharton, James. “Something For The Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld”, Biteback Publishing, 2017.

Leaving the Army

Amos Lassen

After his army service, James Wharton had many opportunities to start a very successful civilian life. He has his husband, their two dogs and two cars, a very nice house and a book deal. But by a year later all of this gone having fallen apart for various and different reasons. Wharton was feeling alone and dejected, living in a single room and trying to adjust to the gay life he was not allowed to enjoy while in the service.

As he searched for new friends and potential lovers, he became part of London’s gay drug culture and was soon addicted to partying and ‘chemsex’. In this book, he recreates his journey through this dark but popular world and examines the motivating factors that led him to the culture while at the same time examines the paths taken by others. He shares the real goings-on at the weekends for thousands of people after most have gone to bed, and how modern technology allows them to set up, congregate and furnish themselves with drugs, spending hours, often days, behind closed curtains, with strangers and in states of heightened sexual desire. This is a look at a growing gay subculture that has now moved beyond London and established itself as more than a short-term craze. I found it to be frightening to read about this but likewise it is important to know.

 

“Queering Sexualities in Turkey: Gay Men, Male Prostitutes and the City” by Cenk Ozbay— A Country of Multiple Standards

Ozbay, Cenk. “Queering Sexualities in Turkey: Gay Men, Male Prostitutes and the City”, I.B. Tauris, 2017.

A Country of Multiple Standards

Amos Lassen

In the Middle East, Turkey is often seen as more liberal and democratic when compared to many other countries. However, the more conservative elements within Turkish politics and society have made gains over the past decades. As a result, like many other countries in the region, Turkish society has multiple standards when naming, evaluating and reacting to men who have sex with men. Cenk Ozbay claims that self-identified gay men (as well as men who practice clandestine same-sex acts) are marginalized, ostracized and rendered ‘immoral’ in both everyday practices and social institutions most of the time. Here he analyzes the concept of masculinity as central to redefining boundaries of class, gender and sexuality and in particular he looks at the dynamics between self-identified gay men and straight-acting male prostitutes, or ‘rent boys’. Through in-depth interviews with both self-identified gay men and rent boys, Ozbay explores the changing discourses and meaning of class, gender and queer sexualities, and how these three are embedded within urban and familial narratives. Just as a note, this does not so different to what many researchers have done here but the results are sure to differ.

This is also a study of heterosexually-identified young men with rural family origins who engage in compensated sex with middle-class gay clients in Istanbul (in other words, they work as prostitutes). Ozbay brings together ethnography, in-depth interviews, and theory and places it within a cultural and political-economy framework. This is a powerful intersectional analysis with thick description and theoretical depth that shows how a closely studied case illuminates broader theoretical questions that are necessary and central to understanding the key roles of class, the body and heteronormativity regarding the shaping of embodied masculinities and sexualities. As we read, learn of the “shifting dynamics of gender relations, sexual identity and sex work in neoliberal contexts.” We gain a needed focus

on the regional operations of class, gender and sexuality.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Queer Sexualities in Turkey

Chapter 3: Gay Men, Rent Boys and the City

Chapter 4: Virilities for Rent: An Interplay of Masculinities

Chapter 5: Rent Boys as Queer Subjects

Chapter 6: Rent Boys as Neoliberal Citizens

Chapter 7: When Gays Sell Sex

Chapter 8: Conclusion

 

 

“From Drag Queens to Leathermen: Language, Gender, and Gay Male Subcultures” by Rusty Barrett— Six Gay Male Subcultures and Language

Barrett, Rusty. “From Drag Queens to Leathermen: Language, Gender, and Gay Male Subcultures”, (Studies in Language Gender and Sexuality), Oxford University Press, 2017.

Six Gay Male Subcultures and Language

Amos Lassen

In “From Drag Queens to Leathermen: Language, Gender, and Gay Male Subcultures”, Rusty Barrett examines gendered language use in six gay male subcultures: drag queens, radical faeries, bears, circuit boys, barebackers, and leathermen. We immediately see that within each subculture, there are unique patterns of language use that challenge normative assumptions about gender and sexual identity. What made this book so interesting for me is that we seem to have returned to an earlier time to see the implications of language within sexual subcultures we once did in the late 80s and early 90s when there were several books written about the differences in language between gay and straight society. Having studied language and linguistics in graduate school, this kind of study is especially fascinating to me. In fact, this book is actually a new edition of an earlier work that Barrett did on African American drag queens in the 1990s, emphasizing the intersections of race and class in the construction of gender. Barrett’s analyses of these subcultures stress the ways in which gay male constructions of gender are intimately linked to other forms of social difference. We look at sacred music among radical faeries and see “the ways in which expressions of gender are embedded in a broader neo-pagan religious identity”.

The subcategory Bear came into being in the late 1980s when heavyset and hairy men formed their own sob-society and appropriated linguistic stereotypes of rural Southern masculinity. Looking at those who regularly go to circuit parties, we see that language serves to differentiate gay and straight forms of masculinity. Gay men who do not believe in condom use, barebackers (beginning in 2000 after the initial scare of AIDS had subsided) use language to position themselves as rational risk takers with an innate desire for semen. Finally for participants in the International Mr. Leather contest which is a disciplined, militaristic masculinity that links expressions of patriotism with BDSM sexual practice have their own way of speaking among themselves.

“In all of these groups, the construction of gendered identity involves combining linguistic forms that would usually not co-occur. These unexpected combinations serve as the foundation for the emergence of unique subcultural expressions of gay male identity” that are fully explained here in this book.

What we see is how language is used as a central medium that both reflects and constructs a sense of belonging and distinctiveness. Barrett aligns sexuality with race, class, and gender identities, among others. In doing so we can understand and appreciate “the sites of performance, of ritual, and of ecstatic practice where the semiotic work is of indexically infusing sexual identity with sociocultural meaning and value, and with the dignity of subjectivity, is accomplished”.

“Jake Jaxson’s Porn Manifesto!: Liberating Your Sexual Self, Free of Shame and Doubt” edited by Jake Jackson— A Pornographer Speaks

Jaxson, Jake (editor). “Jake Jaxson’s Porn Manifesto!: Liberating Your Sexual Self, Free of Shame and Doubt”, Bruno Gmunder, 2017.

A Pornographer Speaks

Amos Lassen

Over the last few years only a few out and proud pornographers stood up, fought, and helped guide sexual freedoms (Hugh Hefner and Larry Flint, to name two). In the gay world there was ChiChi Larue who did extensive outreach about safe sex. Those who spoke out did so at a time when porn was more of a target. Now times changed, and people are more open and accepting. They are able to deal with a more clear-headed (even self-help) approach to porn as a healthy part of ones sexual development and not just a means to an end. Jake Jaxson gives us a guide to sexual freedom and his unapologetic pornographer’s view on liberated, healthy sexuality. Jake Jaxson has the knowledge and expertise to do so because of his own involvement in the adult entertainment business. His film studio Cocky Boys has been recognized beyond the traditional gender borders of gay porn and has a strong fan base of both men and women worldwide. He uses a clear-headed approach Jaxson thus allowing for a different kind of conversation. It is this that helps people first unlock the constrictions of their mind, their “moral beliefs”, their false assumptions, and their fears allowing them to be able to unlock and appreciate their desires, needs and bodies. It is from here that we can take a journey toward sexual freedom with the result of life changing impact. By exploring the foundations of why people today feel guilty and ashamed of their bodies, desires and sexuality, we can look at and deal with sex in a realistic way. This is the start of a powerful connection that can change everything.

 

“The Enemy of the New Man: Homosexuality in Fascist Italy” by Lorenzo Benadusi— Homosexuality, Gender and Morality Under Fascism

Benadusi, Lorenzo. “The Enemy of the New Man: Homosexuality in Fascist Italy”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

Homosexuality, Gender and Morality Under Fascism

Amos Lassen


Lorenzo Benadusi brings us the first in-depth history of homosexuality, gender, and Italian morality during the Fascist era in Italy and in it he shares important archival documents regarding the sexual politics of the Italian Fascist regime. We get new insights to the study of the complex relationships of masculinity, sexuality, and Fascism, an explorations of the connections between new Fascist values and preexisting Italian traditional and Roman Catholic views on morality, documentation of both the Fascist regime’s denial of the existence of homosexuality in Italy and its clandestine strategies and motivations for repressing and imprisoning homosexuals. We also see the ways that accusations of homosexuality (whether true or false) were used against political and personal enemies. Most importantly we learn how homosexuality was the enemy of the Fascist “New Man,” which was, according to Fascism, an ideal of a virile warrior and dominating husband who was vigorously devoted to the “political” function of producing children for the Fascist state.

Benadusi thoroughly investigates the regulation and regimentation of gender in Fascist Italy, and the extent to which (in agreement with the Catholic Church) the regime became engaged in the cultural and legal ideals of masculinity and femininity that were engineered by the Fascist government. The sources for this are un-published documents, official speeches, letters, coerced confessions, private letters and diaries, legal documents, and government memos that reveal and analyze how the orders issued by the regime attempted to protect the “integrity of the Italian race.” Documents from the Vatican archives show and explain how the Catholic Church dealt with issues related to homosexuality during the Fascist period in Italy.

Much of this is new and gives insights into Mussolini’s totalitarian ‘experiment’ in actively shaping the laws and cultural codes that regulated gender and sexuality during the Fascist period in Italy. Benadusi takes us well below the surface rhetoric about the virility of the Fascist “New Man” and offers an important new understanding of the actual practices of sexual repression during the period and the specific legal and punitive measures that were elaborated for the regimentation of the sexual lives of Italians.

We see not only into the history of homosexuality in modern Italy, but also the key aspects of the fascist project with its cult of virility and accompanying misogyny; its obsession with “strengthening the race”; its relationship with the Catholic Church and the Italian bourgeoisie; its repressive tendencies; and the limits of its totalitarian aspirations.

 

“The Gender Agenda: A First-Hand Account of How Girls and Boys Are Treated Differently” by James Millar and Ros Ball— The Unwritten Rules of Gender

Millar, James and Ros Ball. “The Gender Agenda: A First-Hand Account of How Girls and Boys Are Treated Differently”, Jessica Kingsley, 2017.

The Unwritten Rules of Gender

Amos Lassen

We are all aware of the unwritten rules of gender that society has forced upon its members and these rules pertain to everything from language and clothes, to toys and the media and take effect at birth. “The Gender Agenda” is meant to make people aware of the way gender is constructed and constantly reinforced. It takes the form of a diary that chronicles the differences two parents noticed while raising their son and daughter. It is an adaptation from tweets and blogs the couple kept throughout parenthood and it shows how culture, family and even the authors themselves are part of the ‘gender police’ that can influence a child’s identity, and offers ideas for how we can work together to challenge the gender stereotypes that are ingrained in our society.

We see the way casual everyday comments about children reflect and reinforce gender stereotypes and it explains why changes are needed. Our eyes are opened here to the little things that when taken together can make a big difference to the way boys and girls are raised. This is a fascinating yet shocking read that is filled with useful tips on how to fight back against the gender police. We see how gender inequality is embedded in our society from the earliest years of a child’s life. We need to be aware that casual everyday comments about children reflect and reinforce gender stereotypes.

 

“Sex Cultures” by Amin Ghaziani—Talking About Sex and Sexology

Ghaziani, Amin. “Sex Cultures”, Polity, 2017.

Talking about Sex and Sexuality

Amos Lassen

Amin Ghaziani gives us a thought filled introduction to the field of sexuality studies through a distinctively cultural lens. Instead of focusing on sex acts, we look at sex cultures in diverse contexts that give meaning to sexual pursuits and practices. Unlike sex, a biological expression, the word “sexuality” is about “how the materiality of the body acquires cultural meaning as it encounters other bodies, institutions, regulations, symbols, societal norms, values, and worldviews. The conclusion reached is that sex + culture = sexuality.

“Sex Cultures” is a case study and debate-driven approach to sexuality that uses examples from all over the globe and across disciplines and in doing so it destroys stubborn assumptions that put sex and society at odds.

It is a teaching resource that moves through cultural codes, political programs, and moral debates. It is “a comprehensive and engaging overview of the field of sexuality accessible to beginning students that also provides a concise and updated review of the field for graduate students”. The text places major theoretical perspectives and empirical questions in case studies and this makes what we read here to be particularly valuable.

Ghaziani uses several contemporary and up to date case studies in order to explain the complex processes by which sex and culture come together to create sexuality.