Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence” by Catherine Lacey and Forsyth Harmon— Entanglements

the-art-of-the-affair

Lacey, Catherine and Forsyth Harmon. “The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence”, Bloomsbury, 2017.

Entanglements

Amos Lassen

Our society loves gossip about celebrities and in “The Art of the Affair” we read of entanglements (both romantic and otherwise) between some of the most loved writers and artists of the modern age. We have scandal and surprises and it is all a fascinating read. Some of this you may have read or heard of before but here it is presented in a way that makes everything new. Let me site a few examples straight from the text: “Poet Robert Lowell died of a heart attack, clutching a portrait of his lover, Caroline Blackwood, painted by her ex-husband, Lucian Freud. Lowell was on his way to see his own ex-wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, who was a longtime friend of Mary McCarthy. McCarthy left the father of her child to marry Edmund Wilson, who had encouraged her writing, and had also brought critical attention to the fiction of Anaïs Nin . . . whom he later bedded”. I could not help be reminded of a wonderful line in Robert Goldman’s marvelous drama, “The Lion in Winter”. Eleanor of Aquitaine while having a discussion with her three sons, throws off the line, “Such was the role of sex in history”. We become here witness to the love, affections, and artistic influences among writers, musicians, and artists that include Frida Kahlo, Colette, Hemingway, Dali, Coco Chanel, Stravinsky, Miles Davis and Orson Welles.

I must say that I admire the research that Catherine Lacey and Forsyth Harmon did to write this book and I can imagine that they had great fun doing it just as we do reading it.

To say anymore would spoil a delightful read but I can guarantee that this is a book that you will not soon forget. Imagine watching “Entertainment Tonight” but in the worlds of literature and art and not the celebrities we have today. Those in this book contributed to the history of their movements and became known because of talent and not just because they made a film. There are not Kardashians by any means but real people who have influenced minds and thought.

“The Boys in the Band: Flashpoints of Cinema, History, and Queer Politics” edited by Matt Bell— Rethinking “The Boys in the Band”

the-boys-in-the-band

Bell, Matt, editor. “The Boys in the Band: Flashpoints of Cinema, History, and Queer Politics”, Wayne State University Press, 2016.

Rethinking “The Boys in the Band”

Amos Lassen

“The Boys in the Band” was a revolutionary play (1968) and movie (1970) in the way it presented the subculture of homosexuality in New York City. It is fiction yet it approximates reality as nine gay men who attend a birthday party use the language, clothing, and behavior that represent range of urban gay “types.” There have been popular critics, historians, and film scholars who over the years have acknowledged the film’s importance, there has not been more substantive research and analysis. The film’s neglect among academics calls for a rich and rewarding object of study. The text is well written and therefore deserves a close reading to show that it is really a landmark that reflects the shifting social milieu that it represents.

For whatever reason, “The Boys in the Band” has not achieved the recognition it deserves as a landmark drama whose purpose it was to give us a peek and New York’s gay lifestyle. I have heard many say that the play is too bitchy and filled with hurt and anger and I say to those who agree with this criticism that this is how it once. Sure, the cultural terrain has shifted but when the film came out, I am not sure that gay men wanted to share their experiences with the straight world. This was our world and it was private because straight society deemed it should be so but when they got a peek, it was not pleasant for many. Today’s younger generation of gay people are unable to identify with the dialogue and cannot understand how we once had to live.

The scholars who have written for this volume give us a variety of methods to think about when we watch the film (or the play). They come from an array of academic disciplines

and use a variety of methods for their considerations of the film. Thereforethey pose and answer questions in remarkably different ways. What they have written about here is strengthened by cultural analysis, archival research, interviews, study of film traditions, and theoretical framing. Many of the essays take inventive approaches to longstanding debates about identity politics, and together they engage with current academic work across a variety of fields that include queer theory, film theory, gender studies, race and ethnic studies as well as Marxist theory. They look at “The Boys in the Band” from multiple perspectives and their essays identify and draw out the film’s latent flashpoints— those aspects of the film that express the historical, cinematic, and queer-political crises not only of its own time, but also of today.

“Seeing Straight: An Introduction to Gender and Sexual Privilege” by Jean Halley and Amy Eshelman— Privilege, Power, Gender and Sexuality

seeing-straight

Halley, Jean and Amy Eshleman. “Seeing Straight: An Introduction to Gender and Sexual Privilege”, Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.

Privilege, Power , Gender and Sexuality

Amos Lassen

In “Seeing Straight”, we are introduced to key concepts in gender and sexuality through the lens of privilege and power. After an accessible overview, we examine the privilege inherent in approaching heterosexual and cisgender identities as “normal,” as well as the problems of treating queer gender and sexuality as “abnormal.” Both empirical research and examples from life give us the issues and experiences that shape our lives and our communities, our nations and the field of gender studies. We look at topics such as hate, violence and privilege, institutionalized heteronormativity through the military, law, religion, and more but it is not all dark. There is hope and courage. For those who are new to gender studies, this is a terrific introduction and for those already immersed in it, here is evidence to back what we think and know. The most unique aspect of this study is that we are encouraged to question our own assumptions.

“Queer Cinema in the World” by Karl Schoonover sand Rosalind Gait— A Radical Vision of Queer Cinema

queer-cinema

Schoonover, Karl and Rosalind Gait. “Queer Cinema in the World”, Duke University Press, 2016.

A Radical Vision of Queer Cinema

Amos Lassen

Karl Schoonover and Rosalind Galt look at how queer filmmaking intersects with international sexual cultures, geopolitics, and aesthetics and as it does, it disrupts dominant modes of world cinema making and reimagine the scope of queer film studies. They consider “a broad range of films from Chinese lesbian drama and Swedish genderqueer documentary to Bangladeshi melodrama and Bolivian activist video”. Schoonover and Galt make a case for the centrality of queerness in cinema by tracing how queer cinema circulates around the globe, Schoonover and Galt make a case for the centrality of queerness in cinema and the production of a queer identity. Cinema creates a mode of queer worldliness that is unique and that disrupts normative ways of being in the world and thus brings about different ways of belonging.

In order to this, the writers bring together terms that have been contested— “queer”, “cinema” and “world. We become privy to a diversity of queer cinematic projects that include “particular histories, cartographies, poetics, politics, aesthetics, spatio-temporalities, and erotics”.

“Queering Families: The Postmodern Partnerships of Cisgender Women and Transgender Men” by Carla A. Pfeffer— The New Family

queering-families

Pfeffer, Carla A. “Queering Families: The Postmodern Partnerships of Cisgender Women and Transgender Men”, (Sexuality, Identity, and Society). Oxford University Press, 2016.

The New  Family

Amos Lassen

All of us are very aware of how much the world has changed lately and this is due to advances in medical technologies. Some of these technologies allow for some individuals categorized female at birth to live in accordance with their gender identities, as men. We are witnessing now a quickly growing body of literature on transgender men’s experiences but there is not much about the experiences of their partners. In “Queering Families: The Postmodern Partnerships of Cisgender Women and Transgender Men”, author Carla A. Pfeffer shares such experiences through interviews with those most likely to partner and form families with transgender men: non-transgender (cisgender) women.

The text is based on in-depth interviews with fifty cisgender women who are partners of transgender men from across the United States and Canada, Pfeffer details the experiences of a community that on the surface seems to be quite ordinary. Cisgender women who have partnered with transgender men who are socially considered to be male are often seen (incorrectly so) as part of a heterosexual couple or family. All cisgender women who partner with transgender men are uncomfortable with this invisible existence and normativity. We see that many of the cisgender women that Pfeffer interviews “hold deeply-valued queer identities that may be erased in their partnerships with transgender men”.

We become aware of the struggles and strengths of these postmodern women as they work to build identities, partnerships, families, and communities. Those interviewed discuss the implications of visibility and invisibility in their everyday lives as they face barriers or pathways to legal and social inclusion. They formulate new lexicons for their partners’ bodies and their own sexualities that have been transformed through hormones and surgeries. They plan and construct families with and without children and some look to alternative reproductive technologies in order to bear the biological offspring of their transgender partners.

What we read here simultaneously challenges mainstream conceptions of family and we become privy to the very real struggle of even the most radical people to envision family labor in new and feminist ways. Pfeffer shows that families are not best understood as a set of static roles; rather as dynamic relationships that contain shifting identities, bodies, and sex practices. We see that cisgender partners of transgender men have to struggle to deal with issues of identity, sexuality, intimacy, normativity, labor, visibility, family, and community. Pfeffer looks beyond family structure and examines the relational nature of gender and sexual identities themselves.

Families (that are thought to be the basis of modern civilization) are not biologically ordained; they are of our own choice and choosing.

“Porno Chic and the Sex Wars: American Sexual Representation in the 1970s ” editedby Carolyn Bronstein and Whitney Strub— Embracing the Sexual Revolution

porno-chic

Bronstein, Carolyn and Whitney Strub, editors. “Porno Chic and the Sex Wars: American Sexual Representation in the 1970s ”, University of Massachusetts Press, 2016.

Embracing the Sexual Revolution

Amos Lassen

Some claim that the sexual revolution actually owes a lot to the porn industry. In the 1970s, porn became somewhat chic and people got to see porn come out of the closet and into movie theaters and homes. However, by the 1980s, the Reagan era’s political conservatism and feminism pushed porn back into the closet for a while.

Carolyn Bronstein and Whitney Strub put porn at the center of the American experience in the 1970s as this was when there was a lot of gay porn and magazines about transsexual/female impersonator magazines. Those who had never seen pornography (including women and conservative Christians) were introduced to it. The collection of essays looks at the rise of a culture of porn film auteurs and stars and the transition from film to video. These essays document show pornography meant to its producers and consumers at a pivotal moment in time. What we really see here is that people that had existed on the periphery of porn history and now assume their rightful places.

Aside from the editors, other contributors include Peter Alilunas, Gillian Frank, Elizabeth Fraterrigo, Lucas Hilderbrand, Nancy Semin Lingo, Laura Helen Marks, Nicholas Matte, Jennifer Christine Nash, Joe Rubin, Alex Warner, Leigh Ann Wheeler, and Greg Youmans.

“Lesbian Decadence: Representations in Art and Literature of Fin-de-Siècle France” by Nicole G. Albert— The Lesbian Mystique in Art and Literature

lesbian-decadence

Albert, Nicole G. “Lesbian Decadence: Representations in Art and Literature of Fin-de-Siècle France”, Translated by Nancy Erber and William A. Peniston, Harrington Park Press, LLC, 2016.

The Lesbian Mystique in Art and Literature

Amos Lassen

At the end of the twentieth century, lesbians in Paris dared to flaunt themselves. It was a period of time that became known as the Belle Époque. Nicole G. Albert in “Lesbian Decadence” (available in English for the first time) gives us a new analysis/synthesis of lesbianism as a social phenomenon and a symptom of social malaise. It should also be seen as a fantasy. in that most vibrant place and period in history. We read of historical representations of the lesbian mystique in art and literature in contrast to the condemnations of moralists of the time who referred top it as the “lesbian vice.” We also get a look at the psychiatric establishment’s medical ire and their obsession on cataloging and classifying symptoms of “inversion” or “perversion” in order to cure these “unbalanced creatures of love.”

Writer Albert brings together literary, artistic, and historical analysis of the sources from the mainstream to the rare and from scholarly studies to popular culture. The is also a core reference/text for those interested in the Decadent movement in literary, French and social history. I see this as an excellent textbook for gender studies, , women’s studies, LGBT history, and lesbianism in literature, history, and art. It is not the kind of book you read for pleasure before bed. It is a scholarly and

authoritative study that shows how lesbians were associated with the first expressions of a feminism that unbalanced the popular imagination and brought about some incredible fantasies. Albert returns to us some of the forgotten heroes such as Natalie Clifford, Barney the Amazon, Renée Vivien and Lucie Delarue-Mardrus as well as other literary figures and she has done so with grace and elegance. We become acquainted here with both the shy and the flamboyant lesbian and a sense of eroticism is on almost every page. We see that by the end of the century, lesbian decadence was visible all over Paris and the rest of Europe.

Albert gives us the history of lesbian representation and shows the influence lesbian writes had on their readers. She goes a step past the traditional canon and includes “hundreds of sources from scholarly philology to popular caricatures.” This is a portrait of the lesbian as she was represented in arts and letters at the end of the previous century. The fantasies about these women were connected to the real pleasure that they provided and many will be amazed at how many books, articles, and illustrations that the author shares with us.

For years, “Lesbian Decadence” was the standard but because it was only available in French, many did not have the opportunity to study it. Now it has translated and updated making it indeed a landmark study. Albert’s research is stunning and her prose is gorgeous. She shares how lesbianism was imagined and re-imagined by observers, and how the Belle Époque vogue for lesbianism created “a spectral figure both ‘demonized and poeticized.’”

By far the most authoritative book on how lesbianism is depicted in the decadent discourse of the French end of the century, the book is filled with insights and history. The many illustrations included make it a reading pleasure and should inspire others to have a closer at the culture of France.

“Insomniac City” by Bill Hayes— Life with Oliver Sacks

insomniac-city

Hayes, Bill. “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me”, Bloomsbury, 2017.

Life With Oliver Sacks

Amos Lassen

Oliver Sacks was one of my heroes. He was a man who loved life and was a genius. Here is Sacks as seen through the eyes of Bill Hayes, the man who he spent his last years with. It was 2009 when Bill Hayes came to New York City from San Francisco. He had no idea of what to expect yet he only bought a one-way ticket and had no job or prospects of one.. He was forty-eight years old and had spent much of his life in California where his partner had recently died. It did not take long before he was caught up in the rhythms of the city. He knew he needed change and the loss of the love of his life grieved him. He was able to find some consolation in the beauty of the city’s skyline at night and in some of the New Yorkers. Hayes had been an insomniac his entire life and he met kindred souls in New York as he took late night walks. Bill Hayes unexpectedly fell in love again— with neighbor and friend, noted author and neurologist, Oliver Sacks.

Hayes shares his life in New York and with Sacks in wonderful slices of life and this all starts with Sacks telling him that he fears wasting life more than he fears death. We see Sacks at his sweetest and dearest. He fell in love when he was seventy-five years old and facing his last few moments on earth. He died not long after in August, 2015. What Bill Hayes gives us here is a meditation on death alongside of a celebration of life. He has written a love song to his adopted New York City and to those who fall under its magic. For those who have been to New York City, you are aware of all it has but here we get the bonus of also learning about Oliver Sacks. While this is Hayes’ memoir it could also be Sacks’ as well. The part of Oliver Sacks’ life that has been missing is his last years and we see here that they were years of love and happiness. We also see that it is never too late to fall in love. As I read, I kept hoping that the book would not end the way history has it and that the two men would have more time together. Yet it is good to know that they enjoyed the moments that they had together and the love that they shared flows off of the page. We read about life, soul mates, and love and I found myself both tearing up and smiling as I turned the pages.

Hayes recreated New York for me through the use of journal entries, photos and recollections of his daily activities and I love his story of meeting Oliver who fell in love with him as he faced illness and death. We see the living Oliver here and he is glorious even in his last days. Mixing “memory with desire”, Bill Hayes gives us a wonderful story that is beautifully written with tenderness and very open eyes showing us that humanity indeed has soul, something we so badly need to know.

 

“Unclobber” by Martin Colby— What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say

unclobber

Martin, Colby. “UnClobber”, Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.

What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say

Amos Lassen

There has been, of late, an unprecedented fracturing in churches in America because of the ways they look at and have attitudes for the LGBTQ community. The ammunition is only six passages in the Bible (often known as the “clobber passages”) and this is the traditional Christian position and has been one that stands against the full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Colby Martin’s “UnClobber” reexamines each of those frequently quoted passages of Scripture and he alternates this with his own story of being fired from an evangelical megachurch when they discovered his stance on sexuality. With Colby Martin’s new interpretations, we get some new life out of some outdated and inaccurate assumptions and interpretations.

What many do not understand is that many feel a disunite between head and heart. Using their heads they understand that both God and the Bible hate gay people. However in their hearts they know that they have friends and family who are gay and they have a difficult time excluding and/or condemning them. “UnClobber” has another option and it presents us with a different way of looking at Scripture. Martin gives us a new and accessible way to look at the holy writings that affirms and includes LGBTQ people. By combining thoughtful-theological-study with a compelling-pastoral-memoir, we get a powerful progressive Christian manifesto that challenges “all Christians to love better and without condition.”

For many, this book will shed light on the topics of truth and love. Many have been taught that the bible is very clear on homosexuality. “UnClobber” is a beautifully written, relatable memoir of Colby’s journey to find truth. He provides a brilliant theological breakdown of scripture particularly, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

We are taken on a family’s journey from hurt to healing with a defense against “clobbering” gained through a fresh re-reading of the texts. Martin’s story of reconciling his belief in a loving God with the teachings of his church is a message of hope, wholeness, and healing for anyone who believes that the church is for everyone and anyone.

Colby Martin mixes his own story into the narrative as he goes through each of the “clobber” passages in Scripture and he poses questions to how each of these passages are used through translations interpretations, cultural context interpretations, and descriptive/prescriptive language interpretations.

“This book is for those who believe the church has been wrong to reject the LGBTQ community but believe the Bible is clear on condemning homosexuality, those who want a more inclusive Christian faith but are held back by what they have been taught, affirming Christians who seek to articulate views on the Clobber passages, those who are LGBTQ and want to be a person of faith but believe that the Bible clearly condemns it, or those who are “curious about how a straight, white, formally conservative evangelical pastor came to an affirming position”.

Martin uses information that scholars have researched and studied, and gives it to us in clear language that we can all understand.

 

“Fundamentals of LGBT Substance Use Disorders: Multiple Identities, Multiple Challenges” by Michael Shelton— The LGBT Community and Drugs

fundamentals-of-subsance-use-disorders

Shelton, Michael. “Fundamentals of LGBT Substance Use Disorders: Multiple Identities, Multiple Challenges”, Harrington Park Press, 2016.

The LGBT Community and Drugs

Amos Lassen

In “Fundamentals of LGBT Substance Use Disorders: Multiple Identities, Multiple Challenges” “Michael Shelton looks at and reviews the empirical literature and synthesizes what we know about the prevalence of LGBT substance use, abuse, and treatment availability, emphasizing the need for affirmative therapeutic practices”. He explains and assesses the principles of trauma-informed and culturally competent treatment/intervention as well as the challenges of minority stress and microaggressions experienced by the LGBT population. In separate sections he focuses on the sub-populations of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender individuals and in separate chapters the focus is on LGBT youth, the elderly, family constellations and concerns, criminal justice issues, and rural LGBT substance abuse. This is an introduction to the field that will be useful both as a primary textbook and as a handbook/reference for LGBT-focused and general substance-use disorder clinics and their administrators, clinicians, trainees, allies and volunteers.

As a clinician, Shelton is deeply aware of the need to utilize current research, evidence-informed practices, and culturally fluid approaches. He wonderfully united his knowledge with his writing skills as a writer and presents his findings to his readers. There is a significant health issue that is tied to substance use in the LGBT community. This is another resource to assist in meeting the challenge.

We get an in-depth look at the best and evidence based practices. Two of the main issues here are minority stress and trauma, which are important to the understanding and the treatment of problematic substance use in sexual minorities.