Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Sex, Gender and the Sacred: Reconfiguring Religion in Gender History” edited by Joanna deGroot and Sue Morgan— Religion and Gender

sex gender and the sacred

deGroot, Joanna and Sue Morgan (editors). “Sex, Gender and the Sacred: Reconfiguring Religion in Gender History”, (Gender and History Special Issues), Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

 Religion and Gender

Amos Lassen

“Sex, Gender and the Sacred” is a multi-faith, multi-disciplinary collection of essays that explore the interlocking narratives of religion and gender encompassing 4,000 years of history.  There are readings that cover 4000 years of gender history as well as new research in religion and gender across diverse cultures, periods, and religious traditions. There is significant potential for comparative studies here and we get the original theories and concepts that deal with gender, religion, and sexuality. What is new here are innovative interpretations of the connections between visual, verbal, and material aspects of particular religious traditions.

The readings reflect the societal intersection of sexuality and religion from ancient Mesopotamia to Renaissance Milan, from Song China to post-revolutionary Mexico, from medieval Ireland to modern Spain and Cuba, and from early modern England to contemporary India. There are sections on transnational dimensions of religious belief, the importance of embodiment and sexuality to spiritual subjectivity, and the politicization of faith. The are writings on diverse periods, geographies, and various communities.

The essays are written by experts in gender history, religion and related fields and they  assess how religious ideas and representations have shaped both the personal , spiritual and social formations of men and women through various case studies, including Chinese and European art and iconography, same-sex desire, Indo-Islamic encounters with the British raj, cross-cultural transmissions of African and Cuban rituals, and more. This is a scholarly and thought-provoking work that gives new insights into the issues between sexuality and religion throughout gender history.

“Critical Terms for the Study of Gender” edited by Catherine R. Stimpson and Gilbert Herdt— Defining the Study of Gender

critical terms

Stimpson, Catherine R. and Gilbert Herdt (editors). “Critical Terms for the Study of Gender “, University Of Chicago Press, 2014.

Defining the Study of Gender

Amos Lassen

Gender and gender systems regulate the way we live and they are taken for granted in every aspect of human life. Gender works differently from culture to culture and from time period to time period and it does not work in isolation—it is linked to social structures and identity. Catherine R. Stimpson (women’s rights pioneer) and Gilbert Herdt (anthropologist) come together to provide the proper critical terminology for the study of gender and it is one of the most rapidly changing academic fields. What they give us here is an introduction to the study of gender by providing us with the necessary terms we need in order to study gender.

We see here the evolution of gender studies and how it relates to other academic discipline. The book contains twenty-one essays that cover all aspects of gender and they are written by scholars in the field.

“Each essay presents students with a history of a given term—from bodies to utopia—and explains the conceptual baggage it carries and the kinds of critical work it can be made to do. The contributors offer incisive discussions of topics ranging from desire, identityjustice, and kinship to loverace, and religion that suggest new directions for the understanding of gender studies. The result is an essential reference addressed to students studying gender in very different disciplinary contexts”.

“Roll Over, Tchaikovsky!: Russian Popular Music and Post-Soviet Homosexuality” by Stephen Amico— Russian Homosexuality and Music

roll over

Amico, Stephen. “Roll Over, Tchaikovsky!: Russian Popular Music and Post-Soviet Homosexuality” (New Perspectives on Gender in Music), University of Illinois Press, 2014.

Russian Homosexuality and Music

Amos Lassen

This is a new study that focuses on the musical experiences of gay men in St. Petersburg and Moscow. It examines how post-Soviet popular music both informs and plays off of a corporeal understanding of Russian male homosexuality.

Writer Stephen Amico draws upon ethnography, musical analysis, and phenomenological theory and thus provides a technical analysis of Russian rock, pop, and Estrada music which leads to a discussion of gay men’s physical and bodily perceptions of music. Amico shows how popular music performers use “song lyrics, drag, physical movements, images of women, sexualized male bodies, and other tools and tropes to implicitly or explicitly express sexual orientation through performance”. He also uncovers how such performances help homosexual Russian men to create their own social spaces and selves, in meaningful relation to others with whom they share what is referred to as a “nontraditional orientation.”

He brings together musical understanding, rich knowledge of present-day Russian culture, and the talents of an ethnographer who can be accepted as a confidant by Russian gay men. I understand that the research here will never be duplicated.

“The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality” edited by Rabbi Lisa Grushow— From the Jewish Perspective

the sacred encounter

Grushcow, Lisa J. Rabbi. “The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality” CCAR Press, 2014.

From the Jewish Perspective

Amos Lassen

Here is a brand new anthology about human sexuality from the Jewish perspective. The essays begin with looking at the biblical and rabbinic views and then look at  sexuality at various and different moments of the life cycle including marital relations, diverse forms of sexuality, examples of sexuality

This wide-ranging anthology takes a close look at the breadth of human sexuality from a Jewish perspective. The essays begin with a look at biblical and rabbinic views on sexuality, and then proceed to explorations of sexuality at different moments in the life cycle, “sexuality and the marital model, diverse expressions of sexuality, examples of sex education, the nexus of sexuality and theology, and the challenges of contemporary sexual ethics”. There is a lot to think about in these pages and the book is ideal for group discussion.

 At almost 800 pages, this book is the most and it does a thorough job especially with regard to LGBT issues. The book looks at sexuality from a general point of view as well as a specific one.

We see sexual intimacy as a theological concern, we read of sexuality among the young and among the elders, there is information on pornography, cybersex, sexual boundaries, sexual violations and transgressions, marriage, divorce, breastfeeding and weaning, infertility, dress. There are twenty-eight topics considered. The essays range from scholarly to personal, from historical review to the future, from theological thought to practical application . There are six sections— “In the Beginning: Biblical and Rabbinic Contexts; God in the Bedroom, God in the Body: Theology and Identity; ‘A Progressive Religion’: Sexuality and the Reform Movement; Beloved Companions: Jewish Marital Models; Ages and Stages: Sexuality throughout Our Lives; and There Be Dragons: Issues, Ethics, and Boundaries”.

Sixty contributors, most of them rabbis, write frankly about how Judaism can help us better understand issues ranging from adultery and infertility to online pornography and bondage.

Some of the essays are meant for readers who are well versed in the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature while others are directed at a more general audience. An entire section is devoted to the issue of sex education in a religious context.

Editor Grushcow says that Judaism is a “sex-positive” religion. “Sexuality is embraced as part of our lives and our relationships, traditionally within marriage, but not solely for procreation. It’s not seen as inherently sinful or dirty or problematic.” 

“21st Century Jocks: Sporting Men and Contemporary Heterosexuality” by Eric Anderson— Changes

21 century jocks

Anderson, Eric. “21st Century Jocks: Sporting Men and Contemporary Heterosexuality”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Changes

Amos Lassen

There have been major changes in the ways in which sportsmen relate as friends. With homophobia stigmatized and gay teammates revered, today’s jocks no longer fear being thought gay for behaviors that ostracized men in earlier generations. Professor Eric Anderson draws on hundreds of interviews with 15-22 year old straight and gay male athletes in both the United States and the United Kingdom and shows us how jocks have redefined heterosexuality: “kissing on the lips, dancing together, cuddling in bed, and proudly proclaiming their bromance with other men”.

Anderson researched this for ten years and he sees the dramatic shift in how athletes today see masculinity and heterosexuality compared to those of just a decade ago. They reject much of the hyper-masculine posturing of their athletic forefathers.

Anderson shows that jocks today celebrate their gay teammates and revel in their expanded notions of sexuality. They are having more, and more diverse, sexual encounters, and in what will shock many men over 30, this includes a great deal of physical intimacy with other men.

High school and university straight male jocks are now kissing, cuddling and loving each other and other jocks.  The results of Anderson’s ethnographic investigations and quantitative surveys are both radical and provocative, showing that both gay and straight athletes of the 21st century are emotionally supportive of one another and that they enjoy physical closeness and affection. He has found thus huge transformations in male relations in the western world.

“The Third Sex: Kathoey: Thailand’s Ladyboys” by Richard Tolman— Transgender in Thailand

the third sex

Tolman, Richard. “The Third Sex: Kathoey: Thailand’s Ladyboys”,  Souvenir Pres, 2014.

Transgender in Thailand

Amos Lassen

Thailand places an emphasis on international traditions of sexuality and it does so a culturally, historically, religiously, biologically, and psychologically. Through the lives of three kathoey, male transvestites, author Richard Tolman introduces us to transgender and we see that transgender is not only part of Thailand’s national cultural landscape but a modern expression of an archaic tradition. Through these personal stories of Manat, Lek and Akorn, we are taken into a wider discussion of transgender and the existence of a “third sex”. This is a fascinating read as well as an anthropological and sociological exploration. We see here that the popular belief that the ladyboys of Thailand, are largely a product of the western sex industry is not true and that the kathoey is steeped in the culture and traditions of Thailand or old Siam from its very foundation.

Author Totman spent a long time in Thailand doing the primary research and he explains is that Kathoeys or Ladyboys are not homosexual, but are essentially women born in men’s bodies. Their visibility in Thai society seems to have more to do with the liberal and tolerant attitude of the place rather than other reasons such as some genetic peculiarity, which implies they should be as prevalent across the rest of the world, but hide themselves from view.

Kathoey  is almost a third gender identity, and this raise some interesting issues for gender identity overall. Totman was able to gain access to very intimate facets of kathoey life that is denied most people. He has been able to observe people who do not have an easy life in Thailand, despite the overseas image of an open culture to them. In the biographical sections of the book, we get to see the feelings, hopes, dreams and sometimes the harsh realities of life for kathoeys.

We also gain insight into Thailand. It would have been beneficial to have a little more insight into how the male transvestites feel about their sexuality and their position in society het this is a good introduction to the subject.

“A Queer Capital: A History of Gay Life in Washington D.C.” by Genny Beemyn— The Nation’s Capital

a queeer capital

Beemyn, Genny. “A Queer Capital: A History of Gay Life in Washington D.C.”, Routledge, 2014.

The Nation’s Capital

Amos Lassen

The gay past of Washington, D.C. goes back over  125 years and this is the first published history of it. Author Genny Beemyn did extensive research and conducted personal interviews to bring us a look at the way the LGBT community lived in the nation’s capital. Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals established spaces of their own before and after World War II, survived some of the harshest anti-gay campaigns in the U.S., and organized to demand equal treatment. Through stories of black and white gay communities and individuals, we see how race, gender, and class shaped the construction of gay social worlds in a racially segregated city. The book reaches back to the turn of the century and moves forward to the 1980s. We see how gays created their own communities, fought for their rights, and, in the process, helped to change the country. Combining rich personal stories with keen historical analysis, “A Queer Capital” provides insights into LGBT life, the history of Washington, D.C., and African American life and culture in the twentieth century.

There has been a trend of late—community studies and we can only hope it continues so that our history will be preserved. Beemyn’s account of Washington is a most welcome addition to community studies,  and it finds a place that balances detail and personal stories with the larger social contest of the capital and the nation. In DC, it is important top understand race as well as sexuality in order to get a full picture of how we lived there. The book includes wonderful sketches of people and events and the book gives a fresh analysis of the city.

“Is My Husband Gay, Straight, or Bi?: A Guide for Women Concerned about Their Men” by Joe Kort and Alexander Morgan— Discovering

is my husband

Kort, Joe and Alexander Morgan. “Is My Husband Gay, Straight, or Bi?: A Guide for Women Concerned about Their Men”, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Discovering

Amos Lassen

There are difficulties when a wife or girlfriend finds out her man has had or wants to have sexual contact with other men. Many times the man is not gay or even bi-sexual. Of course there are some men with gay sexual interests who are gay men in a process of self-discovery and are “coming out.” Often, these desires only reflect a different side of a man’s sexuality or some response to childhood trauma or experiences they have not fully processed. Men can be straight and have gay sexual interests.

Joe Kort and Alexander Morgan show the distinction between gay men and “straight men with gay interests” more clear to the readers who want to know how they can get through finding out about these other interests. They explain the many reasons why straight men may be drawn to gay sex, how to tell whether a man is gay, straight, or bisexual, and what the various options are for these couples, who can often go on to have very fulfilling marriages. Using stories gleaned from clinical settings, Kort and Morgan  help to readers to come to a better understanding of their own and their partner’s sex lives and fantasies.

This is a self-help book intended to help couples understand how male sexuality can express itself in ways that may be difficult to understand. Many marriages have hurriedly ended when men and women (and their therapists) lacked the information they needed to understand a couple’s true options. This book provides the clarity, describes the options, and (in many cases) offers hope for relationships and marriages that have been brushed off as doomed.

There is the social tendency to feel shame and fear about husbands who have sex with men. Kort and Morgan offer a compassionate and understanding view that is grounded in science and clinical practice and help to alleviate fear. There are no clear-cut ways to deal with this and the authors look at the situation in sophisticated ways thereby presenting a view of masculine sexuality and eroticism that is  needed. Sexual fluidity is a confusing area of human behavior. Kort and Morgan examine the complexities of men’s sexuality with empathy and do so directly.

 We get clear answers and direction and explain how to talk about relationships and betrayal while moving our understanding of sexuality forward into a new era of openness and maturity. We become aware of the distinctions between being gay, bi, or straight with an attraction to male sexuality and not just theoretically.  The book is a collection of case studies, therapy practices, and research-based information that show the diverse range of behaviors, emotions, and psychological states of husbands (and in turn their wives) who “think, suspect, or believe they are gay or bisexual, whether or not their identity actually fits the complex definition of homosexuality or bisexuality”.

 

 

“Gay Spirituality 101: Introduction to the Theory of Homophilia” by Joe Perez— Homophilia

gay spirituality

Perez, Joe. “Gay Spirituality 101: Introduction to the Theory of Homophilia”, lulu.com, 2014.

Homophilia

Amos Lassen

Joe Perez explains Homophilia and places it in a philosophical system that is derived from derived from pre-modern, modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern wisdom.  He shows how, in his opinion that gay spirituality is not what a previous generation of writers held it to be: “a celebration of the gay self immersed in the neo-pagan Myth of a Gay Golden Age”.

Rather Perez sees gay spirituality as the practice of Homophilia that inspires and evokes the deepest and most divine in human nature. There is a deep level of unity between the relative self and a higher Self. Homophilia is identified with the love of God or the Divine or the Sacred. The LGBT community comes to this with the suffering and as well as the unique gifts of our community and this suggests that gayness is a platform for a valid spiritual path. Only by understanding homosexuality from a spiritual perspective is heterosexuality and straight love properly aligned.

Perez rises to a much higher perspective in his analysis of themes in gay spirituality. He places insights into the nature of reality itself gleaned from deep investigation of gay inner experience as the real heart of the gay spirituality movement. In order to understand sexuality, it is necessary to look at both heterosexuality and homosexuality. Therefore in order to understand the human relationship to the Divine we must consider both what Perez calls heterophilia and homophilia  (the universe’s love for complementary opposites and its love for itself in its own perfect reflection). A modern gay perspective on religion and spirituality goes beyond the styles and “pop idioms of neo-pagan imitation”. We cannot go back to pre-Christian, pre-Patriarchal paganism simply because we know better. These are understood as myths and symbols from an earlier time that was pre-scientific.

Perez does not write about being a religious gay man or lesbian or about seeking a place of worship. We understand these things as myth and symbol from a pre-scientific time. Rather, he writes about respecting and honoring the unusual and learning from it. 

“Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir” by Mark Gevisser— Growing Up in South Africa

lost and found

Gevisser, Mark. “Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

Growing Up in South Africa

Amos Lassen

Our story starts with a transgression—the armed invasion of a private home in the South African city of Mark Gevisser’s birth. But far more than the riveting account of a break-in, this is a daring exploration of place and the boundaries upon which identities are mapped.

Gevisser was born and raised in apartheid South Africa and as a kid he was obsessed with “Holmden’s Register of Johannesburg”, a street guide that erases entire black townships. He realizes that Johannesburg is full of divisions between black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight; a place that “draws its energy precisely from its atomization and its edge, its stacking of boundaries against one another.” In this book, Gevisser starts a journey to understand the inner life of his city.

 He uses maps, family photographs, shards of memory, newspaper clippings, and courtroom testimony to chart his intimate history of Johannesburg. First he traces his family’s journey from the Orthodox world of a Lithuanian shtetl to the white suburban neighborhoods where separate servants’ quarters were legally required at every house. Gevisser, who eventually marries a black man, tells stories of others who have learned to define themselves “within, and across, and against,” the city’s boundaries. He writes of the double lives of gay men like Phil and Edgar, of the servants that the upper classes were lucky enough to have,  of the private clubs and swimming pools where there was a chance for intimacy between those of different races. white and black and of the laws of the apartheid which prohibited sex between the ever-present housekeepers and gardeners, and the private swimming pools where blacks and whites could be discreetly intimate, even though the laws of apartheid strictly prohibited sex between people of different races. He explores physical barriers like The Wilds, a large park that divides Johannesburg’s affluent Northern Suburbs from two of its poorest neighborhoods where three men held Gevisser at gunpoint.

The book is an existential guide to one of the most complex cities on earth. Gevisser  tells us that, “Maps would have no purchase on us, no currency at all, if we were not in danger of running aground, of getting lost, of dislocation and even death without them. All maps awaken in me a desire to be lost and to be found . . . [They force] me to remember something I must never allow myself to forget: Johannesburg, my hometown, is not the city I think I know.”

We have two contemporary dramas here—one violent, one quiet and they frame the memoir. Gevisser was born in 1964, the year Mandela was jailed for life. He remembers his privileged childhood in a walled white world. Then, in the mid-1990s, he returned to Johannesburg after studying at Yale for years. He had also lived in Paris for a while. His return included when he was held hostage at gunpoint. He was bound and gagged with two women friends when three brutal robbers broke into his home. From this point the story is driven by ire and sympathy. He feels guilty by having lived a life of privilege. Is his assailant a prisoner from the apartheid war? The honest blend of sympathy and fury drives the story: his guilt now about his privilege as well as relief and sadness.

Gevisser asks questions about race, sexuality, faith, and politics and  examines his own history as well as Johannesburg’s. He uses a map as a metaphor to describe the borders and lines drawn by class, economics or racial segregation. He writes with an honesty that we do not usually find when we read about apartheid and race as well as his own sexual orientation. There were sections that made me feel that Gevisser is driven to tell the truth and set the story straight.

Parts of the book are unique in that they are intellectually mesmerizing. The part about the robbery is frightening and I was riveted to the page. And this is not something I often say. This is Gevisser’s take on growing up in white, privileged Johannesburg and living steps away from poverty and violence.

The use of the map was a stroke of genius— they take us back to the writer’s personal past, as well as to guide us through the history of Johannesburg. “Maps define and divide, frame and exclude, and so do the boundaries of city ; we are defined by society. Sometimes we don’t fit in and we have to struggle to find who we are beyond these limitations”.