Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Swabbed and Found” by Frank Billingsley— A DNA Journey

Billingsley, Frank. “Swabbed & Found”, Bright Sky Books, 2017.

A DNA Journey

Amos Lassen

In “Swabbed & Found”, Frank Billingsley shares his fascinating story of how he combined cutting-edge DNA tests and genealogical programs together with his investigative skills to fill in the missing branches of his family tree put the pieces of his family tree in order. He discovered that people are not always who they seem, or even who they think they are. Whenever he reached to a dead end, he found himself helped by a new friend or a newly discovered relative and ultimately, he was able to find the family he had wondered about for his whole life.

For more than two decades, Billingsley was the weatherman at Houston’s KPRC weatherman for more than 20 years. He optimistically reassured Houstonians that even the gloomiest of rainclouds has a silver lining. He was known for his sunny personality and he seemed to be naturally outgoing.

He had always wondered if he inherited his personality from his mother or his father but because he had been adopted, he never knew.

I believe that the advent of the Internet is responsible of the rise in the science of genealogy. Billingsley shows that this is a science with a human face in that his story shows that who we are is not necessarily who gave us our eye color but rather who we love. It is important to many to know their genealogical background but dealing with that information with care and compassion is a vital part of the science.

Billingsley shows us how the DNA discovery process works and as he does we learn about him. His journey was complicated and a roller coaster of emotions. Billingsley was respectful to everyone involved as he shares his loving account of his relationship and marriage to his husband, Kevin. He writes with humor and explanations are clear as they bring science, personal anecdotes and family memories together.

Two From the Tate— Queer Art

Two from The Tate

Queer Art

Amos Lassen

Two new books about LGBT art are out this month from London’s Tate Art Museum.

“Queer British Art” by Clare Barlow Tate is the “first publication on queer art to focus on a dramatic century of social and artistic change in Britain.

In 1861, the death penalty was abolished for sodomy in Britain, in 1967, homosexuality was finally decriminalized. Between these legal landmarks lies a century of seismic shifts in gender and sexuality for men and women. This found expression in Britain as art explored transgressive identities, experiences and desires. Focusing exclusively on British art, from the ambivalent sexualities and gender experimentation among the Pre-Raphaelites, to the explorations of love and lust in 1960s Soho, this book showcases the rich diversity of queer British art.”

“A Queer Little History of Art” by Alex Pilcher is “a celebration of over 100 years of queer creativity.

Over the last century, many artists have made works that challenge dominant models of gender and sexuality. The results can be sexy or serious, satirical or tender, discreetly coded or defiantly outspoken. This book illustrates the wide variety of queer art from around the world – exploring bodies and identity, love and desire, prejudice and protest through drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and installation. A Queer Little History of Art features a wide selection of artists who subverted the norms of their day via bold new forms of expression, as 70 outstanding works reveal how queer experiences have differed across time and place, and how art has been part of a story of changing attitudes and emerging identities from 1900 to the present.”

 

 

“Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years” by Nicholas Frankel— Wilde’s Final Years

Frankel, Nicholas. “Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years”, Harvard University Press, 2017.

Wilde’s Final Years

Amos Lassen

In “Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years”, writer Nicholas Frankel challenges the traditional view of Wilde as a broken, tragic figure, a martyr to Victorian sexual morality, and shows instead that he pursued his post-prison life with passion, enjoying new liberties while trying to resurrect his literary career. This is in conflict with the account that Wilde’s final years were spent in poverty and exile on the European continent following his release from an English prison for the crime of “gross indecency” between men.

Frankel shows that Wilde left prison in 1897 after two bitter years of solitary confinement determined to rebuild his life in a similar way to the life he had followed before his conviction. He was unapologetic and even defiant about the crime for which he had been convicted. In Europe’s more tolerant atmosphere, he could begin to live openly and without hypocrisy.

Frankel also challenges earlier misunderstandings of Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas who was the great love of his life and with whom he hoped to live permanently in Naples, following their secret and ill-fated elopement there. He shows how and why the two men were forced apart, as well as Wilde’s subsequent relations with a series of young men. The book pays close attention to Wilde’s final two important works, “De Profundis” and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, while, at the same time, details his nearly three-year residence in Paris. Despite repeated setbacks and open hostility, it was there that Wilde attempted to rebuild himself as both a man and a man of letters.

We are reminded that Oscar Wilde was a serious man of ideas, as well as a clever and witty author. Frankel has done deep research and gives us  detailed insights yet into Wilde’s experiences in prison, the time spent at Berneval-sur-Mer, when it seemed that he might revive his literary career, and the subsequent months when he reunited with Alfred Douglas, their eventual separation, and Wilde’s slow decline.

This is a major critical biography written from the perspective of social and intellectual history. After his release from prison Wilde consciously shaped his life and work “as a provocation and a rebuke to Victorian pieties and cruelties and hypocrisies.” Below is the book’s Table of Contents:

Prologue

  • Part One: The Prison Years, 1895–1897
    • Fettered and Chained
    • From the Depths
  • Part Two: Oscar Wilde in Exile, 1897–1900
    • Release
    • The Pursuit of Love
    • The Ballad of Reading Gaol
    • The Seduction of Paris
    • A Confraternity of the Damned
    • The Solace of Spectatorship
    • Decline and Death
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Illustration Credits
  • Acknowledgments

Index

 

“The HIV Monologues” by Patrick Cash— Living With HIV

Cash, Patrick. “The HIV Monologues”, Oberon, 2017.

Living with HIV

Amos Lassen

Patrick Cash explores living with a virus that attacks the emotions as well as the body through a series of monologues that are both funny and filled with emotion. Imagine this scenario: “He’s just your type. But hold on. He’s about to tell you he’s got HIV. How will you respond emotionally? Brush it aside and practice safe sex? Go on to a deeper relationship? Or do you walk away?”

“The HIV Monologues” is full of optimism, yet it does not avoid the very real prejudices that are still aimed at HIV positive people to this very day. It’s educational and informative with characters that find their ways into our hearts. The monologues are entwined together touching on the effects of HIV in the 80s up until the current day and we deal with the senses of stigma, shame, loss and love. HIV has had a devastating impact on the world and especially on the gay community and it has been explored many times in literature and drama. Patrick Cash looks at HIV with a refusal to shy away from the themes that lie within the disease.

The monologues move back and forth between time periods, with interconnecting stories and characters. It was inspired by stories of the 1980s, when the queer community went to extraordinary lengths to compassionately care for their ill friends. Cash has juxtaposed this against HIV stigma today. However, ultimately, this is a story of connection, as two struggling men learn intimacy from history.

Cash has written about very personal and delicate subjects. He feels that it is important to illustrate the ludicrousness of stigma. He has created a character that does not verge on two-dimensional villainy. We gain a sense of empathy through the emotional connection that lies beneath all our external divisions, whether these are nationality, race, sexuality or HIV status. It all resonates through love.

“Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary” by Jonathan Lerner— Youthful Radicalism

Lerner, Jonathan. “Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary”, OR Books, 2017.

Youthful Radicalism

Amos Lassen

Jonathan Lerner’s memoir looks at his youthful radicalism. He is precise and unwavering about the cost of resistance and rebellion without sacrificing his idealism. Against the background of the Vietnam Era, Lerner looks a the impulses that led a small group of educated, privileged young Americans to turn to violence as a means of political change. He also shares the true story of an intellectually adventurous but insecure gay man who is immersed in the macho, misogynistic and physically confrontational environment of the Weathermen.

Known as the Weather Underground, the Weathermen, or Weatherman unleashed a series of bombings across the United States that attacked the Pentagon, the Capitol Building, and the U.S. State Department, among many other places. At its height, the organization consisted of several hundred people, all committed to violent change face-to-face battles with the police.

Lerner invented himself as “minister of propaganda” for the movement and participated in the Venceremos Brigade in Cuba and observed the Native American uprising at Wounded Knee. He later reinvented himself as a high-rolling gay hustler, His journey took from idealism to destruction and beyond. There have been others memoirs written by members of the Weathermen but none has explored the history of the group with such honesty as Lerner does. He was there and now sees the Weathermen very differently. He shares unbelievable true stories bringing us the closest we will ever be to revolution. Lerner’s life is an account of “idealism undercut by submission to a rigid ideology”. His perspective as a gay man is unlike anything we have ever read about the Weather Underground. This is , as Michael Bronski has said, “a brilliant and moving analysis of one of the most significant moments in American history”. It is written with passion and wisdom and is a self-questioning depiction of Lerner’s youthful radicalism. By telling his particular story of life at the far edge of the 60s and 70s counter culture, he is precise and unstinting about the wages of resistance and rebellion without sacrificing his continuing and moving idealism.

“The Kids: The Children of LGBTQ Parents in the USA” by Gabriela Herman— A Look at the Children

Herman, Gabriela. “The Kids: The Children of LGBTQ Parents in the USA”, The New Press, 2017.

A Look at the Children

Amos Lassen

Gabriela Herman brings us a gorgeous new book of photography that features more than fifty portraits of children brought up by gay parents in America. (This is the sixth in a groundbreaking series that looks at LGBTQ communities around the world from The New Press).

Many wonder how children are impacted by having gay parents so Herman goes right to the kids and asks them. Her own mother came out when she was in high school so she felt a real connection to the youngsters that she spoke with. In fact, Herman’s mother was married in one of Massachusetts’s first legal same-sex unions. Herman has been photographing and interviewing children and young adults in America with one or more parent who identifies as lesbian, gay, trans, or queer for over four years. She builds her study on images featured in a major article for the “New York Times Sunday Review” and “The Guardian” and worked with COLAGE, the only national organization focusing on children with LGBTQ parents. We immediately sense the vibrant energy and sensitivity to a wide range of experiences.

We see a wide diversity among the children. Some were adopted, some conceived by artificial insemination, many are children of divorce and some were raised in urban areas, others in the rural Midwest and all over the map. Both the parents and children balanced silence and solitude with a need to defend their families on the playground, at church, and at holiday gatherings.

The photographs are powerful and the texts are moving as we see the reality of gay families in America: who the kids are, how they think of their parents, what they look like. Herman gives us a true testament to diversity, inclusion, and integrity, pride and introspection.

This collection gives the children a voice and we are rewarded with a “narrative of a culture—our culture— created by a photographer who clearly knows our souls.”

For a long time many of the kids of LGBTQ parents have felt caught between two worlds, a little too queer for the straight community and at times a little too straight for the queer community. Here we see evidence that the kids are, in fact, their own community. The stories of origin stories are diverse yet the kids have all felt a stigma and share a radical perspective on what family and gender can be. “What we really see are the beautifulness of their diverse and human families.

“Mostly Straight: Sexual Fluidity among Men” by Ritch Savin-Williams— Upending Assumptions

Savin-Williams, Ritch C. “Mostly Straight: Sexual Fluidity among Men”, Harvard University Press, 2017.

Upending Assumptions

Amos Lassen

Most of us assume that sexuality is fixed and by this I mean that a person is either you’re straight, gay, or bisexual. However, an increasing number of young men today say that those categories are too rigid and too restrictive. They are, they insist, “mostly straight.” I understand this to mean that they are straight yet they feel a slight but enduring romantic or sexual desire for men. Granted, this is hard to understand. What does it mean for a man to be to “mostly” straight? Ritch Savin-Williams explains this through the stories of young men who consider themselves to be mostly straight or sexually fluid. As we read about their lives, we see a radically new way of understanding sexual and romantic development that totally changes what we thought we knew about men.

Today there are more mostly straight young men than there are gay and bisexual young men combined. Through the use of cutting-edge research, Savin-Williams explores the personal stories of forty young men to help us understand the biological and psychological factors that led them to be mostly straight and the cultural forces that are changing the sexual bind that many boys and young men experience. We see how lives have been influenced by their “drop of gayness,” from their earliest sexual memories and crushes to their sexual behavior as teenagers and their relationships as young adults. We see how these young men are creating a new personal identity that confuses both traditional ideas and conventional scientific opinion.

For too long, men who consider themselves ‘mostly straight’ have been invisible and misunderstood. The experiences that we read about here challenge assumptions about sexual identity and orientation.

Savin-Williams gives us a nuanced and substantive look at an often-overlooked group. He makes a forceful case that both the general public and the scientific community need “to recognize the existence and experiences of mostly straight men.” The book is based around first person narratives that defy gender stereotypes, and are supported by new science on male sexual fluidity. We challenge the status quo of sexual identities and attractions and consider the possibility of a more flexible and less categorical, sexuality.

As he conducted interviews with hundreds of young men, Savin-Williams discovered what he considers should be a distinct sexual orientation and that between two to four per cent of men will say they’re “mostly straight” if you give them that option. Furthermore, he thinks that this is just the beginning in that there are many more who aren’t so forthcoming. The hetero-patriarchal society in which we live tips the odds most of the time, but it very occasionally oppresses society. If heterosexuality is the standard of conformity then expressing or even acknowledging other desires is made extremely difficult. Below is the book’s table of contents:

 

  • Preface
  • The Sexual Neverlands
  • Straight But Not Narrow
  • Dillon
  • Sexual and Romantic Spectrums
  • Romantic Orientation
  • Sexual and Romantic Fluidity
  • It Is Who I Am
  • Straight, But Not Totally Straight
  • Demetri
  • Ricky
  • Chris
  • Progressive Mostly Straight
  • It’s About the Sex
  • Five Young Men
  • Ryan
  • Kyle
  • It’s About the Romance
  • Two Romantic Young Men
  • Jay
  • It’s About the Sex and the Romance
  • Joel
  • Chandler
  • Do Mostly Straight Youth Exist?
  • Dillon Returns
  • Developmental Trajectories
  • If You Believe You Are Mostly Straight
  • Escaping The Sexual Neverlands
  • Appendix A: Methods
  • Appendix B: Mostly Straight Science
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments

Index

“Rainbow in the Word: LGBTQ Christians’ Biblical Memoirs” edited by Ellin Sterne Jimmerson— A New Era in the Bible Interpretation

Jimmerson, Ellin Sterne, editor. “Rainbow in the Word: LGBTQ Christians’ Biblical Memoirs”, Wipf and Stock, 2017.

A New Era in Bible Interpretation

Amos Lassen

LGBTQ Christians are now beginning a new era in biblical interpretation. They share rare insights into particular Bible stories and characters and reveal a gay-friendly Bible and a gay-friendly God who cherishes and needs them just as they are. They look to the Bible for spirituality and if they can be, they might be those who can rescue biblical interpretation from those who too often are not only hurtful but also boring.

When there is dialogue and debate about the place of LGBTQ persons in Christian churches, we too often hear the voices of straight, white, usually male, scholars and theologians are heard. In “Rainbow in the Word”, we are introduced to the beautiful voices of LGBTQ persons themselves who against all odds, have kept their faith and are able to speak for themselves. There are the voices that must be heard since these are the people spoken about.

What I love about being Jewish and the Jewish tradition of bible study is the right to argue and discuss the text. Since we do not really know who wrote the holy books, they must be open for discussion and interpretation. We also forget that every translation is a commentary.

I believe this to also be true for Christians. I do not think that we are expected to take the bible as it comes to us and there are interpretations out there that are transcendent. In “Rainbow in the Word” we see this clearly.

Our sexual identity is not a liability to be defended; it is an essential part of the Church’s understanding of Scripture and of God. The voices of LGBT Christians free the Church itself from the constraints of its own homophobic ideas and brings new ideas and insights long-held homophobia and exposes it to the biblical insights of some of the most marginalized voices in the world today. From what we know of the Christian Bible, God has always taken care of the uninvited, the unwelcome, the excluded and the unloved. This is certainly not true for fundamentalist Christians and others who try to deny us the right to be close to God. LGBT Christians bring a sense of redemptive purpose to the bible and we see that in the essays, poems, and memories included here.

“Rainbow in the World” questions assumptions about how gay people approach the texts that have many times been used as a weapon against them. The approaches cross the genre and are deeply personal that lets us see the wounds that the community carries. Life stories can change theology and we see how in this book.

“Queer and Catholic: A Life of Contradiction by Mark Dowd— Reconciling Sexuality and Faith

Dowd, Mark. “Queer and Catholic: A Life of Contradiction”, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, 2017.

Reconciling Sexuality and Faith

Amos Lassen

Mark Dowd was raised as working class boy from Manchester and in this memoir he explores how to reconcile his sexuality with his Catholicism. He begins in the late 1960s to the present day and what we really see is the changing attitude to same-sex attraction over more than half a century. Dowd has filled his memoir with stories that are funny, deeply moving and spiritually insightful. H shares coming out to his parents by talking in his sleep, training to become a Dominican priest before “eloping from a religious order with an ex friar, and attending the funeral of his father – accompanied by his father!”

Through this we get the opportunity to explore the mind of a sometimes struggling but always-persistent Catholic.

“Accidental Activists: Mark Phariss, Vic Holmes, and Their Fight for Marriage Equality in Texas” by David Collins

Collins, David. “Accidental Activists: Mark Phariss, Vic Holmes, and Their Fight for Marriage Equality in Texas”, University of North Texas Press, 2017.

Winning Marriage Equality

Amos Lassen

In early 2013 the Supreme Court’s decision in “United States v. Windsor” appeared to open the door to marriage equality. In Texas, Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes who were then together for sixteen years wondered why no one had yet challenged the state’s 2005 constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in the state of Texas. They agreed to join a lawsuit being put together by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLD.

It took two years and tense legal battles in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas and in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, oral arguments at the Supreme Court of the United States in “Obergefell v. Hodges” for the two men to win the right to marry in Texas. “Accidental Activists” is their story.

Author David Collins tells Mark and Vic’s story in the context of legal and social history and explains the complex legal issues and developments surrounding same-sex marriage in terms that all of us can clearly understand. Throughout the LGBTQ rights movement, we have seen “accidental activists” come to the fore.

Collins has wonderfully captured the two men’s lifelong struggles with shame and self-loathing and their personal triumph of facing the public “to claim their right to love in the country they love.”—

“Accidental Activists” tells the story of two men who wanted to live their lives together as married men. We read of the pains of growing up gay, the humiliation and embarrassment of the closet, the courage to use the inner strength necessary to come out, falling in love, and the refusal live as second-class citizens.

While this is a book about changing the law in Texas, it is also a look at overall struggle for marriage equality how it was won nationwide. It also shows that the Texas challengers were attempting only to have American society treat them as it treats all other couples, to allow them to live the same lives, with the same respect and dignity like all other citizens. And yes, it is a personal look at the lives, love and experiences of Vic and Mark. Collins shares the smallest details from Vic and Mark’s lives as they struggle through the fight.