Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Nights at Rizzoli” by Felice Picano— How It Was

nights at rizzoli

Picano, Felice. “Nights at Rizzoli”, OR Books, 2014.

How It Was

Amos Lassen

If anyone can tell us how it was once for gay writers, it is Felice Picano. Picano is one of the people responsible for getting our literature accepted and respected. He was one of the original members of the Violet Quill s he knew who was who and what was going on. Picano also worked at Rizzoli books and with this memoir he takes us back to New York when Rizzoli was a place where gay men met alongside intellectuals, celebrities, artists and assorted hangers-on. This was before Stonewall and Picano had yet become the writer we love. Rizzoli was a bookstore that catered to the who’s who of New York and Picano tells us of meeting them first there and then seeing them at night in the less beautiful places. I have long been a Picano fan and have reviewed almost of his books and have noticed how he shares his talent with so many different publishers. I am just amazed at the accuracy of his memory and in awe of his storytelling.

Rizzoli at 712 Fifth Avenue was a very special place. You could see Salvador Dalí, Jerome Robbins, Jackie Onassis. Gregory Peck, Mick Jagger, S. J. Perelman, I. M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Josephine Baker, John Lennon and many more. These were people for whom New York City was the center of the world—but this was in the 1970’s (before Amazon) when people actually shopped for books (much as I still do today at Brookline Booksmith and Calamus in Boston. People mingled and talked back then and you could meet anyone at Rizzoli. My first trip to New York as a young adult included a stop there. Those that worked at Rizzoli were also special people—they had a sense of sophistication and were only too glad to help a customer. (Remember those when salespeople really sold?).

Let’s go back to 1971 when Picano was trying to get a break as a writer and when a friend helped him to get a part-time job at Rizzoli. We see here that that job changed his life forever because it allowed him to meet some of the most important people in the cultural life of New York City. He learned so much there that he really did not know fear. When work was over for the day (here comes the juicy part), Picano would leave the world of taste and elegance and left that world behind as he roamed the city visiting the gay clubs and bars as well as the piers and he tells us about it.

I must say that physically and visually this is one of Picano’s most beautiful books. Aside from the wonderful written memories that he shares with us are also five beautiful photographs.

“Nine-to-Five Fantasies: Tales of Sex on the Job” edited by Alison Tyler— Pleasurable Business

nine-to-five

Tyler, Alison (editor). “Nine-to-Five Fantasies: Tales of Sex on the Job”, Cleis Press, 2014.

Pleasurable Business

Amos Lassen

In this new anthology edited by Alison Tyler we get a new way to look at work and get to read some very steamy stories about sex on the job. We have eighteen stories by Sommer Marsden, Kate Pearce, Delilah Night, Sophia Valenti, Heidi Champa, Sasha White, A.M. Hartnett, Andrea Dale, Laila Blake, Tilly Hunter, Elisa Sharone, Giselle Renard, Crystal Jordan, Devin Phillips, Cora Zane, Jeremy Edwards, Kathryn O’Holloran and the editor Alison Tyler.

The settings vary—the water cooler, the office and the stockrooms and the props always seem to be available— rulers a good spanking, shipping tape is great for bondage, and we see that sometimes the office has a very tempting lure.

Even with the rules that are usually broken, work can be a great place for sex. The stories exclude no job and they build up fantasies. (In addition to the fantasies about construction workers, cowboys, and mechanics that have always existed we can also add “bookbinders, IT guys, and even an ice cream man”.

Most of the stories are about quickies just as the stories are “quickies” themselves. What really makes these stories exciting is that they take place where they are not supposed to. What takes place for many is considered forbidden (making the stories all the more salacious and therefore all the more fun to read).

“Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures” by Julie Marie Wade— Life Happens

wishbone

Wade, Julie Marie. “Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures”, Bywater Books, 2014.

Life Happens

Amos Lassen

Julie Marie Wade seems to have lived a life that was filled with falls— “crashing to the ground from a swing. The sensation of slipping from the platform saddle atop a circus elephant, sliding “flat as a penny against his wrinkled skin, rattling the bones of my ribs.” The shame and uncertainty of being spilled from the security of parental love. And, finally, triumphantly, the felix culpa, the fortunate fall, of love”. In her fragmentary memoir (which won the Lambda Literary Award in 2011 and is now released as a paperback), we are treated to the fragmentary structure of her memoir. It is poetic in language and it makes us look deep within ourselves as we read about someone else. Wade’s story is one of poignancy and description of loss and separation. She takes us through what she remembers and we immediately relate to her—many of us have been where she has been but do not have the tools or the language to describe our lives.

We venture on a journey through childhood that is both simple and unique but always presented lyrically. Not only does Wade come of age but she becomes who she is. Wade looks at the human condition and she does so with style and grace and treats us to her gorgeous prose. She writes of relationships with brutal honesty and she covers the paradoxes and contradictions in them.

Her memoir is divided into episodes that explore serious and important matters of sensuality and sexuality as well as betrayal and redemption yet she does depress—rather she writes playfully but seriously. She does not look back and continues heading forward. She also explores change with extreme honesty and she writes with diversity and creativity. Most of you know that I am an avid reader and love biographies and memoirs but I must say I was not prepared for what I read here and could only wonder why it has taken me so long to read this wonderful look at a life. She is nostalgic but never morose or depressing and I admire her complete optimism.

I suppose the best description I could give this book is that it is an exploration of life but it is nowhere near a linear look at that life. The book flows like a wonderfully aged wine that we stop and sip as we drink.

Wade moves in and out of identity and time as she lets us take peeks at her life that she writes about in great detail. I am so tempted to give examples but that would destroy a wonderful reading experience for those who have not yet read this book. Yet I must mention that the theme of loneliness is constant and we so want her to find a place where she can feel that she belongs.

The discussions about queer sexuality are brilliant. She writes of what it means to be gay and how both the family and society perceive it. Here we get stories and memories that emerge as we struggle with identity as well as the dangers of being unlike others with whom we live and interact.

Seth’s Broadway Diary, Volume 1” by Seth Rudetsky— Rudetsky and Broadway

seth's broadway

Rudetsky, Seth. “Seth’s Broadway Diary, Volume 1”, Dress Circle Publishing, 2014.

Rudetsky and Broadway

Amos Lassen

Seth Rudetsky is a nice gay Jewish guy who is not only a fine musician who has wonderful ties to Broadway musical theater and the stars that make it. It seems he has the need to know everything about stars and is more than willing to share that information. This first volume is a compilation of Seth’s hilarious, Broadway-centric “Onstage and Backstage” columns for Playbill.com and these chronicle Rudetsky’s own unique life on and around the Great White Way. Rudetsky’s book “is full of his personal Broadway experiences, such as going to the final performance and party for Rent, watching in terror as Jeff Bowen was dragged off the stage during [title of show] and the night he saw Spring Awakening and helped Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele break (-ish) the law”. He gives us the inside scoop on what it’s like performing with tons of fantastic stars like Rosie Perez, Andrea McArdle, Betty Buckley, Bernadette Peters and more.

If you love the theater, this is a book for you and I am sure that many are not aware of what goes on behind the scenes and in the personal lives of the stars. There are stories of “the trials, tribulations, and hilarious encounters that make the world of Broadway tick are a great way to get a glimpse of the heart and soul of one of Broadway’s most loved characters.”

We are immediately aware of the author’s love of Broadway and his sense of humor is wonderful. You will be as anxious for volume 2 as I am.

“Porn Again: A Memoir” by Josh Sabarra— Growing Up

porn again

Sabarra, Josh. “Porn Again: A Memoir”, JBS Books, 2014.

Growing Up

Amos Lassen

Josh Sabarra comes out of the closet as if it is on fire in this memoir. As he does, he takes us with him on a Hollywood thrill-ride through growing up, coming out, coming of age and finally finding himself at 40. Before I read this, I had no idea who Sabarra was and now I just might know too much about him. Even though he was a high-level entertainment executive, Sabarra was still a virgin at 31. He was uncomfortable with who he was and was haunted by painful childhood memories. He channeled himself into a career-focused rise and this was at the expense of his own personal life.

As a teen, he had been tormented by schoolmates for being “different.” Josh held onto his close relationships with a small circle of adult females. But, even with that support, the shame and contempt that grew from his sexuality forced him into a syndrome of self-hate and that robbed him of an emotional and sexual identity for more than three decades. He had movie studio jobs through which he met celebrity idols and these led to friendships and relationships with some of the industry’s most notable characters. There were intimacies but they created a false sense of acceptance and approval, requiring that he continue to up the stakes – celebrity lovers, online dating, sexual fetishists and porn stars-for-hire.

Now that he has accepted himself as a gay male, he has become the kind of best friend that everyone wants but seldom finds. His book is poignant, heartbreaking and above everything else, brutally honest. He is provocative, salacious and totally intimate. His writing is also very funny. Sabarra is candid and sincere and he really wants us to get his message. He wrote the book for whoever, gay or straight, felt uncomfortable with who he/she is. He hits us where we feel it and afterwards he makes us laugh and that is quite a feat.

This is a book that will haunt the reader but that is a good thing since all of us have experienced sometime in our lives the feeling of not being wanted. Sabarra has had quite an intimate journey and yet he is willing to share it with us.

“The Queerness of Native American Literature” by Lisa Tatonetti— Queer Native Writing After Stonewall

the queerness of native american lit

Tatonetti, Lisa. “The Queerness of Native American Literature”, (Indigenous Americas), University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Queer Native Writing After Stonewall

Amos Lassen

Lisa Tatonetti provides gives us a genealogy of queer Native writing after Stonewall. Looking across a broad range of literature, Tatonetti offers the first overview and guide to queer Native literature from its rise in the 1970s to the present day. We learn here that there were ties between two simultaneous renaissances of the late twentieth century: queer literature and Native American literature. We see that Indigeneity intervenes within and against dominant interpretations of queer genders and sexualities. Unfamiliar texts were recovered from the 1970s that presented fresh, cogent readings of well-known works. “In juxtaposing the work of Native authors—including the longtime writer–activist Paula Gunn Allen, the first contemporary queer Native writer Maurice Kenny, the poet Janice Gould, the novelist Louise Erdrich, and the filmmakers Sherman Alexie, Thomas Bezucha, and Jorge Manuel Manzano—with the work of queer studies scholars, Tatonetti proposes resourceful interventions in foundational concepts in queer studies while also charting new directions for queer Native studies”. I personally felt dumb reading this because none of the above authors are familiar to me and I read a great deal of gay literature. Now I know where to go to fill the gap in my personal reading habits.

The basic argument of this text is that “queerness has been central to Native American literature for decades, showing how queer Native literature and Two-Spirit critiques challenge understandings of both Indigeneity and sexuality”.


“Man to Man: Desire, Homosociality, and Authority in Late-Roman Manhood” by Mark Masterson— Love and Sex Between Men in Rome

man to man

Masterson, Mark. “Man to Man: Desire, Homosociality, and Authority in Late-Roman Manhood”, Ohio State University Press, 2014.

 Love and Sex Between Men in Rome

Amos Lassen

Mark Masterson presents us with an analysis of love between men in the late-Roman period and it is sure to cause controversy. Previous accounts have stated that sexual desire between men was forbidden or ignored while Masterson says that it was known and it was a way to show friendship, patronage, solidarity, and other important relationships among elite males in late Roman history. In fact, sexual expression was a metaphor for friendship. The greatness of a man could be measured by his sexual attractiveness, and the “substantial status differences often seen in late antiquity could be ameliorated by a superior using amatory language to address an inferior”.

There was, however, at the same time, a decided ambivalence about same-sex desire and sexual behavior between men, and indeed same-sex sexual behavior was criminalized on a large-scale. It seems that rejection and condemnation may indicate a decisive distancing between authority and this desire and behavior, authority gained power from maintaining a relation to them. There was a demonstration of knowledge of the mechanics of sex and there was nothing unknown to the authority making the demonstration. An authoritative figure that knew of scandalous masculine sexual pleasure could project its power pretty much anywhere.

There is certainly something contradictory about the positive uses of same-sex desire between men and its criminalization in one and the same moment. Many are at a loss to explain this but here our author manages to deal with it perfectly. Masterson gives us quite a provocative and bold look at same-sex desire and I believe that this book might just reopen the question as to how it was.

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“Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms” edited by Kathleen T. Talvacchia, Michael F. Pettinger and Mark Larrimore— Challenging Ideas

queer christianities

Talvacchia, Kathleen T., Michael F. Pettinger, and Mark Larrimore (editors). “Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms”, NYU Press, 2014.

Challenging Ideas

Amos Lassen

 Both being queer and Christianity are mutually exclusive yet they each challenge notions of the good and the natural. We are particularly aware of this when we see the identities, faiths, and communities that queer Christians have created and continue to create. Gay Christians have been able, in many cases, to reconcile their sexuality with their faith and in this book we see how they religious and the ways they respond to the experiences of queer Christians respond to traditions and how they reshape them in contemporary practice.

Queer theory, religious studies, and Christian theology come together here and we get quite the conversation that is traditional and transgressive at the same time. We look at the basic questions that queer Christians deal with on an almost daily basis. The essays collected for this volume give credence to the academic discussion on gay religious experiences some of which are lived both within communities of Christian confession, as well as outside of these established communities. There is a new “queer Christianity” and we see how it continually reconstructs and multiplies the these states of life celibacy, matrimony, and what is here provocatively conceptualized as promiscuity.

His book is a challenge to perceived ideas about sexuality and religion while at the same time remains true to Christian self-understandings. These lead to more questions and further study. We have waited for study like this and what I find interesting that as an observant Jew, I have no problem reconciling my faith and my sexuality but I do many who cannot.

 

“Sexual Orientation and Rights” by Nicholas Bamforth— Our Rights

sexual orientation and rights

Bamforth, Nicholas. “Sexual Orientation and Rights”, (The International Library of Essays on Rights), Ashgate, 2014

Our Rights

Amos Lassen

A word of warning first—this book of 560 pages lists at $350 so it is obviously not for everyone (and not for anyone I know). It is basically about “the debate about the rights of sexual minorities, whether individuals or members of same-sex couples that has become an important issue for legislatures and courts in many constitutional democracies. Here, collected together are some of the more significant writings in the debate, and they reflect a variety of perspectives: liberal, conservative, and radical.”

“Some of the topics covered include the meaning and importance of sexual freedom, gender roles, marriage and other significant partnerships, childcare and adoption, the criminal law, employment, and expression and pornography. The volume also seeks to relate arguments about sexual orientation and rights to broader debates within feminist theory”.

 “Nicholas Bamforth is Fellow in Law at The Queen’s College, Oxford, and a university lecturer in Law at Oxford University. He is co-editor of Accountability in the Contemporary Constitution (2013) and co-author of Patriarchal Religion, Sexuality and Gender: A Critique of New Natural Law (2008) and Discrimination Law: Theory and Context (2008).”

“Lost Causes: Narrative, Etiology, and Queer Theory” by Valerie Rohn— A Literary Study

lost causes

Rohn, Valerie. “Lost Causes: Narrative, Etiology, and Queer Theory”, Oxford University Press, 2014

A Literary Study

Amos Lassen

Being a person who works in literary fields, I found this book to be a fascinating read. Valerie Rohn looks at the causes of queerness and queer forms of causality in British and American literature and then links literary forms to today’s “born gay” arguments about the biological origins of homosexuality. We are all aware of the role that causality plays in today’s discussions of LGBT rights. Those who are anti-gay imagine gay proliferation through seduction, influence, and corruption, while queer communities largely embrace biological determinism, saying they are “born gay.” In fact, the question of causality is one we often ask of ourselves. What author Rohn does here after reading popular rhetoric, psychoanalytic theory, and British and American literature from the late nineteenth century through the present day is to discenter etiology from queer politics, engages abject tropes of “homosexual reproduction,” and considers the effects of retroactive, absent, and contingent causality. In doing this, she brings out the queer contingency of things and brilliantly examines the effects-at once social, political, and interpretative-of living with indeterminacy.

In essence this is a deconstruction of gay etiology and thus gives us a new and fresh way to read the great novels about the rights of gay people which we now see as very elusive; more so than we ever imagined. Below is the table of contents of the book.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments


  1. Introduction: Cause and Effect 

  2. On Homosexual Reproduction 

  3. Strange Influence: The Picture of Dorian Gray 

  4. Return from the Future: James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography 

  5. Desire and the Scene of Reading: The Well of Loneliness 

  6. The Future in Ruins: Borrowed Time 

  7. Contingency for Beginners: The Night Watch 

  8. Conclusion: Multiply and Divide 


Notes