Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Queer Theory: The French Response” by Bruno Perreau— The French Reaction

queer-theory

Perreau, Bruno. “Queer Theory: The French Response”, Stanford University Press, 2016.

The French Reaction

Amos Lassen

Many French citizens openly demonstrated against the bill on gay marriage and denounced its damaging effects but they also claimed that the origins of the bill came from “gender theory,” an ideology which had been imported from the United States. For the French, “gender theory” meant queer theory in general and, more specifically, they meant the work of Judith Butler. With support from the Vatican, the French attacked school curricula that explored male/female equality and they claimed that this is further proof of gender theory’s growing empire. There was fear that “this pro-homosexual propaganda will not only pervert young people, but destroy the French nation itself”.

It is ironic that queer theory is seen as a threat to France in that it was basically inspired by French thinkers. Writer Bruno Perreau looks at changes in the idea of national identity in France and the United States and examines mutual influences in both countries. As he does, he offers a new theory of minority politics and gives an ongoing critique of norms that bring about a feeling of belonging, the very foundation of citizenship. This analysis of queer theory’s controversial arrival on the French scene considers the full range of repercussions of this cultural encounter and translation. We see how debates on sexuality, gender, and parenthood hit at the basis of national belonging. We get a demonstration that queer theory becomes something new and foreign in France. There is reason to be upset but there is also a lot to learn here. Looking into “the ‘straight mind of the nation’ and the parochialism of ‘homonationalist’ critiques connect fantasies of sovereign geographies to demonization and systemic violence”.

Perreau’s work breaks down the fears that of the French in their opposition to the “marriage for all. This is a deconstruction of queer theory’s “return” to France along with a diagnosis of the cultural fantasies at play. Below is the table of contents:

CONTENTS

Introduction

1 Who’s Afraid of “Gender Theory”?

2 The Many Meanings of Queer

3 Transatlantic Homecomings

4 The Specter of Queer Politics

Conclusion

“The Better Blow Job: Everything You Need to Know About Oral Sex” by Alex Neustaedter— A Little Book with a Lot of Information

the-better-blow-job

Neustaedter, Axel. “The Better Blow Job: Everything You Need to Know About Oral Sex”, Bruno Gmunder , 2016.

A Little Book with a Lot of Information

Amos Lassen

Ever since Monica Lewinsky met President Bill Clinton, blowjobs have been fashionable but I never thought we would get a book on how to give one. Once, blowjobs were only considered a part of foreplay but now they have become centerpieces of great sex. We certainly see this as we look at online dating sites but we also know that not everyone who claims to be a deep throat expert is such: the art of sucking and licking must be learned. “The Better Blow Job” is a great read for anyone who wants to be a blowjob champion. Axel Neustädter shares the secrets of deep throating: “why you shouldn’t eat chilies before blowing; what’s so great about gaggling; and why a powerful blow job can bring tears to your eyes. This richly illustrated guidebook answers these questions and many more with personal stories, interviews with experts and lots of photographs”.

“Axel Neustädter is a freelance writer living in Berlin. He has edited the gay erotica series Loverboys, to which he also contributed three novels. After his successful sex guidebooks Gayma Sutra, Play With Me! and The Bigger Bang, The Better Blow Job is his standard reference work about oral sex”.

“Out of the Ordinary: A Life of Gender and Spiritual Transitions” by Michael Dillon/Lobzang Jivaka— An Extraordinary Life

out-of-the-ordinary

Jivaka, Michael Dillon/Lobzang. “Out of the Ordinary: A Life of Gender and Spiritual Transitions”, Fordham University Press, 2016.

An Extraordinary Life

Amos Lassen

Michael Dillon/Lobzang Jivaka (1915-62) was a the British doctor and Buddhist monastic novice chiefly known to scholars of sex, gender, and sexuality for his pioneering transition from female to male between 1939 and 1949, and for his 1946 book “Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology”. Now available for the first time and more than fifty years after it was written is his memoir. We read of

Dillon/Jivaka’s various journeys–to Oxford, into medicine, across the world by ship and we do so within the major narratives of his gender and religious journeys. Written chronologically, Dillon/Jivaka begins with his childhood in Folkestone, England, where he was raised by his spinster aunts, and he shares his days at Oxford where he was totally immersed in theology, classics, and rowing. He writes of his hormonal transition while working as an auto mechanic and firewatcher during World War II and his surgical transition under Sir Harold Gillies while Dillon himself was attending medical school. He writes about his worldwide travel as a ship’s surgeon in the British Merchant Navy and shares detailed commentary on his interactions with colonial and postcolonial subjects, followed by his “outing” by the British press while he was serving aboard The City of Bath.

This is the record of an early sex transition as well as a unique account of religious conversion in the mid-twentieth century. Dillon/Jivaka shifted from Anglican Christianity to the spiritual systems of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky to Theravada and ultimately to Mahayana Buddhism. He attempted ordination as a Buddhist monk in India and Tibet but and with a great deal of controversy. He died before becoming a monk but his ordination as novice made him the first white European man to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. His book gives a distinct and powerful voice to the history of the transgender movement.

The memoir was blocked from publication in the 1960s and hidden in a warehouse in London for years. It is suspenseful and heart-breaking tale that ends with a mysterious death in the Himalayan Mountains. Dillon, here, finds new answers to enduring questions about gender. At the same time, he was never able to solve the puzzle of his own identity and died in trying to gain transcendence. Dillon’s memoir deserves a place alongside the great spiritual narratives, from Augustine to Merton. This edition contains an introduction and notes supplied from a trio of scholars who have become part of Dillon’s life history.

We can only imagine how important this book is to the transgender community as well as to the general history of sexuality. It is an intense and captivating story of spiritual and gender conversions.

 

 

 

 

 

“Righteous Rebels: AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Crusade to Change the World” by Patrick Range McDonald— The AIDS Heathcare Foundation

righteous-rebels

McDonald, Patrick Range. “Righteous Rebels: AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Crusade to Change the World”, Raymond Press, 2016.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation

Amos Lassen

 Patrick Range McDonald brings us a thought-provoking portrait of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest HIV/AIDS medical care provider. It began as a grassroots organization during the 1980s AIDS crisis in Los Angeles and today it as an aggressive, global leader in the seemingly unending fight to control HIV and AIDS. McDonald shows us the motivations behind the organization’s life-saving efforts, its battles against and alliances with various governments and political establishments, and its work today. It provides free HIV treatment and prevention services to vulnerable, lower-income people in more than thirty countries.

McDonald follows AFS for a year and it is that year in which it experienced as clashes with the Obama administration, the state of Nevada, and the World Health Organization. He recorded interviews AHF’s key players, including president Michael Weinstein. He shares the reports of AHF outposts around the globe, from Miami to Uganda, Cambodia to Russia, Estonia to South Africa. His most significant discovery is that AHS is a “passionate, smart, and tenacious ‘people power’ organization that brings hope and change to nearly all corners of the world”.

We come to see the AHF as “a blueprint for every kind of righteous rebel who wants to make the world a better place”.

 

“Gay Men at the Movies: Cinema, Memory and the History of a Gay Male Community” by Scott McKinnon— Gay in Sydney

gay-men-at-the-novies

McKinnon, Scott. “Gay Men at the Movies: Cinema, Memory and the History of a Gay Male Community”, Intellect LTD., 2016.

Gay in Sydney

Amos Lassen

In many cases and places, cinema has l played a major role in the formation of community among marginalized groups. “Gay Men at the Movies” is a look at that process for gay men in Sydney, Australia from the 1950s to the present. Writer Scott McKinnon uses a variety of sources, including film reviews, media reports, personal memoirs, oral histories, and a range of films to show and to understand “cinema-going as a moment of connection to community and identity”. We see here how the experience of seeing these films and being part of an audience helped to build a community among the gay men of Sydney. I do not have much information about this book and I am waiting for my copy but is sounds fascinating.

 

“When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones— Words from a Participant in the Struggle for Gay Rights

when-we-rise

Jones, Cleve. “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement”, Hatchette Books, 2016.

Words from a Participant in the Struggle for Gay Rights

Amos Lassen

The new ABC television mini-series “When We Rise” was inspired by this book by Cleve Jones and it is a book we have been waiting to read. Here is the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights written by one of the key participants in it.

Cleve Jones was born in 1954 and became one of the last generation of gay Americans who grew up wondering if there were others out there like himself. He learned that there were and that he was not alone. Jones moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s where he and many others were drawn. It was a city that was politically progressive and was known for the sexual freedom that was there. Jones was able to almost immediately find a community and it existed in strange places— hotel rooms and apartments that were shared by other young adventurers and in the city’s bathhouses and gay bars like The Stud. The Castro was becoming a gay district and Harvey Milk who has come to San Francisco from New York opened a camera shop and began his term as America’s most outspoken gay elected official. It was with Milk’s encouragement that Cleve Jones dove into politics and found his place in the new gay rights movement. When Milk’s assassination in 1978, Jones took up where Milk left off and soon saw the AIDS epidemic devastate our community and he was transformed yet again. Now he tells us his story in his own words and he reminds us of what it was to lose so many to the terrible epidemic that became our holocaust. Jones almost died himself and more than once.

Cleve Jones was the co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation during the early and fearful years of the epidemic. He is responsible for the AIDS Memorial Quilt that became the largest community art project in history. Jones’s story is the story San Francisco in the 70s and how it became the destination of many. His story is also the story of thousands of young gay people and others misfits. He shares his personal relationships with friends and lovers during a time of “unprecedented freedom and possibility, and prejudice and violence alike”.

Jones is one of the heroes of our community and his memoir is a work of beauty as it looks at how America was transformed then. He is still working for the movement. The mini-series comes to us from Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, executive producer Gus Van Sant, and stars Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Carrie Preston, and Rachel Griffiths. With the book you can double your pleasure by reading about what you are going to see.

 

“Going to Strasbourg: An Oral History of Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights” By Paul Johnson— Oral Histories

going-to-strasbourg

Johnson, Paul. “Going to Strasbourg: An Oral History of Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights”, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Oral Histories

Amos Lassen

“Going to Strasbourg” brings us unique oral histories of European Convention on Human Rights and it presents a socio-legal analysis of cases against the United Kingdom relating to sexual orientation discrimination. We read of the account of legal and social changes during sixty years of British history. Since the beginning, the European Convention on Human Rights has offered hope to gay men and lesbians in Europe and we clearly see here how individuals in the United Kingdom have used the Convention, by way of making applications to its organs in Strasbourg in order to challenge sexual orientation discrimination.

Along with an analysis of Strasbourg case law we also get with nineteen unique oral histories of applicants, legal professionals, and campaigners. This is the definitive history of the role that ‘going to Strasbourg’ has played in erasing and eradicating discrimination and establishing legal equality on the grounds of sexual orientation in the United Kingdom.

“New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture and Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times” edited by Oishik Sircar and Jain Diplika— Celebrating Who We Are and How We Got There

new-intimacies

Sircar, Oishik and Dipika, Jain, editors. “New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture and Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times”, Zubaan Books, 2016.

Celebrating Who We Are and How We Got There

Amos Lassen

There is no question that in the last fifteen years there has been a major change in the rights of LGBT people. As these new rights were being won and secured, however, there has been “crony capitalism, violent consequences of the war on terror, the hyper-juridification of politics, the financialization of social movements, and the medicalization of non-heteronormative identities and practices”. We are left to question how we can understand these new rights against a backdrop like this.

The selections in “New Intimacies, Old Desires” answer this. We get an analysis of laws, state policies, and cultures of activism that explain what has happened in this age of neoliberalism and the modern period that, in effect, celebrates the liberated sexual citizen and we see something of a reproduction of that old colonial hope of civilizing the native. Looking carefully at race, religion, and class, the selections are a “critique of global queer politics and its engagements, confrontations, and negotiations with modernity and its investments in liberalism, legalism, and militarism—all with the objective of queering the ethics of global politics”.

 

“How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS” by David France— Stopping AIDS

how-to-survive-a-plague

France, David. “How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS”, Knopf, 2016.

Stopping AIDS

Amos Lassen

Inspired by the documentary film of the same name, this is the definitive history of the successful battle to halt the AIDS epidemic. It is the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of whom were in a life-or-death struggle and seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal disease to a manageable one. We meet a small group of men and women who were ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and who faced shame and hatred yet chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Because of them, sixteen million people are alive today. This is a beautiful, brutally human, intimate true story.

We become dramatically part of the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and see the rise of an underground drug market instead of prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We read as “these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation’s disease-fighting agencies”. These are our heroes.

David France brings to life the extraordinary characters (the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers’ club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter). This is an epic and detailed study of one of the most important moments in the history of American civil rights. This is a book that causes you to weep at the same time that it presents hope for the future. Writer France traces the lives of the people behind the scenes and shows their struggles in stirring detail. We cheer with them and share their frustrations especially those that are related the political establishments that ignored the terrible tragedy of the AIDS epidemic.

This was America during the 1980s and 1990s and the book is a history, a memoir, a study of public health, and a call-to-action. France brings an update to Randy Shilts’ “And the Band Played On” (1987). We meet the activists who refused to die without a fight and who were vital in arresting the epidemic.  We cannot let the AIDS epidemic fade into history. It was a terrible time for all of us but it also united us as we faced the terror and confusion of those dark days. France’s storytelling is intimate and monumental and the story of illness and death but also of resilience. Courage, anger, joy, compassion and kindness come together in an unforgettable story that changed the way we lived forever.

“Being Gay is Disgusting” by Edward Falzon— Pay No Attention to the Title and Enjoy the Read

being-gay-and-disgusting

Falzon, Edward. “Being Gay is Disgusting”, Daijin Ltd , 2010.

Pay No Attention to the Title and Enjoy the Read

Amos Lassen

Edward Falzon’s “Being Gay is Disgusting” is a re-telling of some of the Bible’s most famous books. In Genesis we meet a god who is named Elohim and becomes God with a capital “G”. God creates the world and then floods it and kills everyone except Noah and his kids. Years later when God sees that everyone is getting along just a bit too well, God separates them all and invents multiple languages so they can no longer work together. God is very clever.

In Exodus which follows Genesis but some 350 years after the death of Joseph, we meet the mean old Pharaoh. In the book of Leviticus God sets down a bunch of laws for the Israelites and the way he does so is to directly dictate them to Moses who you have already met. The book continues the epic of the Israelites who seem to be incomprehensibly stupid . after seeing God’s power and miracles, they complain to Moses that they want to go back to Egypt and become slaves again because they are afraid of what is waiting for them.

Just before his death in the book of Deuteronomy: Before his death, Moses relives the highlights of living with the Israelites and brags endlessly about how much greater God is compared to all those other gods (small “g”).. Moses tells the Jews in great detail what ill happen to them if they step out of line (this includes having hemorrhoids). And there you have the Hebrew Bible in a very abridged form.

I spend a lot of time with the Five Books of Moses but I have never read a version quite like this and I am a bit worried that I might be struck down because of it. Taking liberties with the Bible stories shows that the Bible can be fun. We see here that the Bible ignores science, common sense and basic logic something that all of us do too little of.

What writer Falzon has done here is too look at the bible and give it a new slant. He throws out most of the contradictions and combines the redundancies. Nothing is changed aside from the addition of sarcasm and humor. Many bible stories are filled with nonsense. We see the men that we thought of as being so good and righteous become nasty old men who have sex randomly and one even has sex with his daughter while another is ready to kill his son for God. We get a graphic portrayal of the stories found in the pages of the ancient Jewish world who we see here as vindictive, mean, jealous and petty.

Get yourself a copy of the bible and you will see that there isn’t much difference in the basic content no matter which version you use). Put it alongside of and a copy of “Being Gay is Disgusting” and read them side-by-side. You will probably feel encouraged to examine or re-examine the first five books of the bible to determine if credible belief can be maintained in the God portrayed in the “holy scriptures”. The God of the scriptures does not come across as one of the guys I would want to hang with. We met the God who created everything and everyone but is disgusted with the gay people that were created. He tells us how good the creation was and then turns around and destroys it all in the story of Noah. This is not a commentary or an analysis of the bible, rather it is something of a revelation of the true character of God according to Falzon.

“I doubt if most religious professionals or their followers know this much about the document they follow so ardently” Homosexuality is mentioned exactly twice in 2,700 years, groups focus on this ‘law’ far more than any other biblical rule. They’ll never admit that the same biblical page also contains prohibitions on crossbreeding animals and wearing clothes of two different threads.

     “Whether the Bible is all true, partly true or all false,”, few would disagree it has shaped Western civilization. For this reason, it bears reading by everyone. Discussions, debates and conjecture about its historical accuracy or moral truth cannot begin until we’re aware of what it says. This book helps people take that first step.”