Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History” edited by Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman— Filling in the Gaps

understanding and teaching

Rupp, Leila J. and Susan K. Freeman (editors). “Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History”, (The Harvey Goldberg Series). University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

Filling in the Gaps

Amos Lassen

While it is not yet taught in American classrooms and I have my doubts that it will ever be taught in classrooms, LGBT history gives us a fuller understanding of history as a whole and it provides a fuller contextualization for the modern world. This is the first book designed for university and high school teachers who want to integrate queer history into the standard curriculum. It contains inspiring stories, classroom-tested advice, and rich information and is therefore a valuable resource for anyone who thinks history should be an all-inclusive story.

“Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History gives us so much insight for teachers and in the introductory essay, the editors show us why LGBT history is important and they give us the proper

global historical context, showing that same-sex sexual desire and gender change are not new, modern phenomena. The book is filled with ideas for teachers in diverse educational settings to provide narratives of their experiences teaching queer history. The book contains a topical section of seventeen essays on such themes as sexual diversity in early America, industrial capitalism and emergent sexual cultures, and gay men and lesbians in World War II. The contributors include detailed suggestions for integrating these topics into a standard U.S. history curriculum, including creative and effective assignments. A final section addresses sources and interpretive strategies well suited to the history classroom. For these reasons alone this is a welcome addition to the LGBT literary canon. It will help teachers at all levels navigate through cultural touchstones and political debates and provide a fuller knowledge of significant events in history.

The book combines the scholarship, methods of teaching, and source guides as this one does thereby making it an extremely useful resource. We also have resources that others have used. The book covers wonderfully the major questions in the field of LGBT history and also provides ideas for working with student-based challenges.

“Show Trans: A Nonfiction Novel” by Elliott DeLine— A “Novel” Autobiography

show trans

DeLine, Elliott. “Show Trans: A Nonfiction Novel”, ADS, 2014.

A “Novel” Autobiography

Amos Lassen

“Show Trans” is nonfiction yet it is a novel and I will try to explain that during this review. It deals with sex addiction, sex work, the MSM scene, a trip West, dissociative identity disorder, and the struggle to find love, connection, and self-actualization as a non-binary trans person. DeLine tells us that “in a lot of ways, this is a nonfiction novel about a broken love story that must be written in order to move away from it”. It is also a cutting and private look at the life of a transgender man who dares to be sexual. Most of the trans literature that we have does not deal with sex or sexuality because gender is the more important to those who have written about being a trans person. We are in the midst of a new kind of gay culture and there is a lot that has not yet been dealt with in our literature and hopefully this novel will open the door for others to follow through.

Here we read of interaction with others and bad feelings that are harbored by some of them. The book is a slice of life and one does not have to be a trans person to read and identify with what DeLine says here. I do not know DeLine but I have a very strong feeling that this book was written with brutal honesty. As I read, I felt I was getting to know the author and that is the beauty of the nonfiction novel. Situations are brilliantly covered here and we get a peek at emotions that seem to be unique to trans people and even though DeLine writes about himself here, I get the feeling that he is addressing all of us.

“Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships” by William E. Benemann— Homosexuality in Early America

male male intimacy

Benemann, William E. “Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships”, Routledge, 2014.

Homosexuality in Early America

Amos Lassen

Information about homosexuality in early America has been very difficult to find but now, thanks to William E. Benemann, we have a great deal in one single volume. His “Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships” gives us the theme of homosexuality in early American history. It is the first book to provide a comprehensive overview of the role of homosexual activity among American men in the early years of American history. The book draws on personal letters, diaries, court records, and contemporary publications to examine the role of homosexual activity in the lives of American men in the Colonial period and in the early years of the new republic. Benemann scoured research that was published in contemporary journals and also conducted his own research in over a dozen US archives, ranging from the Library of Congress to the Huntington Library, from the United Military Academy Archives to the Missouri Historical Society.

“Male-Male Intimacy in Early America explores:

  • the role of the open frontier and the unregulated seas as places of refuge for men who would not enter into heterosexual relationships
  • the sexual lives of American Indians—particularly the berdache tradition—and how the stereotypes associated with American Indian sexuality molded white America’s attitudes toward homosexuality
  • homosexuality in slave narratives—and the homosexual subtexts of racist minstrel show lyrics
  • the formation of European gay communities during American colonial times, with an emphasis on Berlin, Paris, and London—with English translations of material previously available only in German or French!
  • homosexuality as presented in eighteenth-century novels popular with American readers, plus information on homosexuality that was published in medical treatises of the period
  • United States Army and Navy courts-martial that focused on sodomy
  • the sublimation of homosexuality by religious revival movements of the early nineteenth century, particularly among Quakers, Mormons, and Oneida Perfectionists
  • social groups as a perceived cover for homosexual activity, with an emphasis on the Masonic Order
  • non-procreative sexuality as a theme and as a threat during the American revolution
  • the West in American literary tradition—and the role of popular writers such as James Fennimore Cooper and Davy Crockett in creating the myth of individual sexual freedom on the margins of American society.”

The French existential philosopher, Michel Foucault, maintained that homosexuality is an artificial construct created by medico-legal authorities in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Benemann rejects this theory and shows that men have been sexually attracted to other men throughout American history. He examines their historical options for expressing that attraction. Further he also looks at related issues surrounding race and gender expectations, population and migration patterns, vocational choice, and information exchange.

This is all very important information and is written in a straightforward style and language that lay readers can understand.

“If I Die” by Andre Gide— An Autobiographical Statement

if I die

Gide, Andre. “If It Die”, Vintage International, 2010.

An Autobiographical Statement

Amos Lassen

As I was visiting my website the other day, I realized that I had included any reviews of books by one of my literary heroes, Andre Gide. Gide dared to write about gay characters when only a few others did. He then went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1947 (a time when the word homosexuality was not mentioned). “If I Die” is a collection of musings in which we find the seeds of the themes that he included in his prose. As he considers who he is, we see that Gide led a life of uncompromising self-scrutiny, and his literary works resembled moments of that life. In this book, Gide determined to relay without sentiment or embellishment the circumstances of his childhood and the birth of his philosophic wanderings, and in doing so to bring it all to light. He gives an unapologetic account of his awakening homosexual desire and of his portrait of Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas as they indulged in sexual debauchery in North Africa and these thoughts are thrilling in their frankness.

“If It Die” is an honest look at and an insightful and delving account of Gide’s early life, from childhood till his engagement to be married. Gide used himself as his inspiration for writing and if you have read any of his fiction, you will see in this book exactly where he is coming from and to where he is going. Gide had the ability to describe people candidly and he brings them to life so that they jump off of the page.

Gide honestly wrote about such themes as homosexuality, masturbation and prostitution, and he struggled against society’s constraints upon his very being and essence as given him by God (Gide had a puritanical upbringing). At one point he questions God by asking, “In the name of what God or what ideal, do you forbid me to live according to my nature? Of course we are not sure where these constraints that he mentions come from and whether Gide enjoyed rebelling against God.

Gide was a very close observer of himself and his friends, and his insights are beautiful even when difficult. Gide met Oscar Wilde and Bosy in Algiers; felt that Wilde was often inhabiting a role, even if the role was himself. Gide also did not believe in the innocence of children and he writes about some of the things that he did as a boy. In fact, he almost writes an apology for the idea of original sin.

Gide was concerned with and wrote about the triviality of life and this book seems to be a collection of notes that he wrote to himself using the stream of consciousness. He used a philosopher’s tone but I do not think of him as a philosopher. He held the belief that dramatic plots don’t make honest literature and that is about the extent of his philosophy. He seemed to enjoy writing fictional narratives and convoluting them. One review I read considered this to be a deficit while I consider an asset. To know his characters is to become one with them. It was his goal to become a famous writer and in this he succeeded and we are luckier because of him.

“Gender Transformation in the Academy” edited by Vasilikie Demos, Catherine White Berheide and Marsha Texler Segal— Academically Speaking

gender transformation

Demos, Vasilikie, Catherine White Berheide and Marsha Texler Segal (editors). “Gender Transformation in the Academy”, (Advances in Gender Research), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2014.

Academically Speaking

Amos Lassen

Today women outnumber men in academic life—there are more women seeking degrees from higher institutions of learning than men, yet women remain concentrated in the lower faculty ranks and almost totally absent from administrative positions, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This book documents the gender inequality in higher education in the United States as well as in Australia, Austria, Portugal, South Africa, and Sweden. The reasons for it are examined and remedies are suggested here. Several of the essays included are based on projects funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), which seeks to address the issue as it is evidenced in STEM disciplines through ADVANCE (a program developed to increase the participation and advancement of women in these disciplines). The authors look at women’s situation in the context of a variety of types of educational settings including community colleges, primarily undergraduate institutions, and research-intensive universities.

There is a good deal to be learned here and we really get a handle on the way that gender enriches our shapes higher education and inequalities as well as opportunities, especially in fields of science. The chapters identify ways and means for realizing gender equality in the academy through practices and policies that resolve work-family conflicts and patterns of bias as well as promote access to peer networks, awards, and positions of leadership. A distinguishing characteristic is seen in the scope of qualitative and quantitative methods used to collect and analyze data, and by attention to a range of types of academic institutions – larger and smaller, more and less research-orientated – in the United States and throughout the world.

“One of Us: LGBT Voices from New England: Interviews (with updates) from Bay Windows” by Rudy Kikel— Meeting the Community

one of us

Kikel, Rudy. “One of Us: LGBT Voices from New England: Interviews (with updates) from Bay Windows”, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

Meeting the Community

Amos Lassen

Even though I am fairly new to Boston and New England, I quickly discovered “Bay Windows, the LGBT newspaper that comes out every Thursday. Unfortunately there is not a great to read it but I did go back and look at past issues and found Rudy Kikel’s column about the members of the LGBT community.

Kikel was the Arts and Entertainment editor of “Bay Windows” when it was a viable news magazine. There days you have to wade through a multitude of ads to find something to red and I, frankly, am surprised that the paper has stayed afloat. Most of the people I know do not bother with it all and then there are those who faithfully read Billy Masters’ gossip column that is little more than Master patting himself on the back for… whatever. But I am not here to write about the paper.

In reading Kikel’s book, I learned that for over ten years, Kikel invited members of the LGBT community into his home and as they came he “sat them in a red chair in his window, offered a glass of water, and pulled from a standard menu of questions for an hour or two”. He was limited in questions but he got unlimited answers. What he saw was that he was getting information from a microcosm of the LGBT community and the larger straight community as well. As they talked, Kikel would type and then take a photo and a week later the interview would be published in “Bay Windows”.

This book is a compilation of about 40 of those interviews. We also get an update from each interviewee on where he/she is. The interviews give us a look at LGBT history as the twentieth century turned into the twenty-first century.

The book is a simply written and we get a look at the Boston community from those in it and it serves as a documentation of times past.

It is almost as if Kikel has given us our memories back and a souvenir of a time before the new technology when people actually met with each other for interviews.

“Hollywood Gomorrah” by Skip E. Lowe— Old Hollywood: A Personal Look

hollywood

Lowe, Skip E. “Hollywood Gomorrah”, Create Space, 2014.

Old Hollywood: A Personal Look

Amos Lassen

Skip E. Lowe shares with us his memories of growing up in Hollywood as well as telling us about his world travels as an entertainer and mixing with A-listers. What we get is a lot of sex and a look at the stars when they are not in front of the cameras.

We follow Lowe’s adventures through the glory of early Hollywood, New York, Europe, multiple wars, decades of globetrotting, and non-stop sexual adventures. We read of his friends such as Paul Bowles, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams; we are with Lowe when he was buying produce for Marlon Brando, showered with James Dean, crashed with Barbara Hutton in Tangiers and cooked for Troy Donahue (just to give a few examples). Lowe partied, sheltered, and jumped in bed with the best of them. At times what we read is shocking while at times it is sensitive and painful.

This is a personal memoir and it is certainly not a collection of scandalous revelations. Lowe takes us through vaudeville to Viet Nam and back to Hollywood and we feel how he does about his experiences. He finds joy in life and we certainly do as well as we read.

“Rebels Rebel: AIDS, Art and Activism in New York, 1979-1989” by Tommaso Speretta— Art and AIDS

rebels

Speretta, Tommaso. “Rebels Rebel: AIDS, Art and Activism in New York, 1979-1989”, AsaMER, 2014.

Art and AIDS

Amos Lassen

Tommaso Speretta takes a good look at the history of AIDS activism undertaken by various artistic collectives in New York between 1979 and 1989. These include “Gran Fury (who scandalized the 1990 Venice Biennale with their billboards juxtaposing the pope and his anti-contraception stance with a two-foot high penis), the Silence = Death Project (who appropriated and inverted the Nazis’ pink triangle), Gang and DIVA TV. The collectives addressed concrete social problems by using unconventional media, and by doing this they helped shift the public and political perception of the AIDS crisis.” This book is very important to the history of the LGBT movement and we have here a great deal of material and many different perspectives on one of the most tragic period in American history.

Here is a look at where art overlaps activism and sociopolitical and art-historical views and the reflections that we gained then and now once again are important to understanding gay American life.

The collectives created radical art that called for and, in effect, demanded social change in New York City during the period from 1979 to 1989.demanding social change in New York 1979-1989. These collectives used language and techniques gleaned from the advertising agencies of Madison Avenue.

Some of their campaigns became very famous – just think about Act Up’s “SILENCE = DEATH” posters. A lot of the artwork was thought to be lost but this book has most of them. There were, for example, a deck of Aids-themed playing cards that addressed twenty-four areas of government inaction around the pandemic, with one showing a collection of alarm clocks alongside the text “U.S. Spends more in 5 hours on Defense than 5 years on Healthcare.” There was a subway poster by Richard Deagle that has a portrait of then New York City mayor Ed Koch with the words “10,000 New York City Aids Deaths, How’m I Doin?”. There was also a magazine ad by GRAN FURY from 1989 that shows a scientist working in a laboratory with this despicable quote from a pharmaceutical executive, “One million [people with Aids] isn’t a market that’s exciting. Sure it’s growing but it’s no asthma.” This book is a celebration of the power of such work, with its bold and straightforward graphic design and its important role of informing the public and changing popular opinion, as well as shaming government into doing its job.

The history of the anti-AIDS activist movements in 1980s America is one that many know little or nothing of especially outside of this country. The younger generations of gay men still do not know the stories and they need to. We are not told here how to see art as activism but rather we can give critical reflections on the role that artists and the art world system have had in the past during periods of political and cultural instability and to investigate their historical echoes and cultural legacy. We now know how much influence they had. The collectives used here (ACT UP, Gran Fury and Group Material) do not trace a comprehensive history of activist art, rather they are examples that can lead us “to identify, examine and reappraise the artistic inventions and interventions of activist art collectives that helped reformulate society’s priorities and demands”.

The focus here is on activist art as a potent manifestation of public art, through which artists and art practice can shape and change society. Group Material and Gran Fury’s struggled with questioning art’s capacity for rebellion, subversion and social dynamism, and to reach out to a wider audience that exists beyond the circles of just connoisseurs of art. connoisseurs. Activism has been used to organize communities and we see here that it can come from the world of art.

“Out There: An Anthology of Scottish LGBT Writing” edited by Zoe Strachan— A Look at Gay Scotland

out there

Strachan, Zoe (editor). “Out There: An Anthology of Scottish LGBT Writing”, Freight Books, 2014.

 A Look at Gay Scotland

Amos Lassen

Here in the United States we really know nothing of gay life in other places and Scotland is one of those places. I do not recall ever reading anything about gay Scotland but now we do have this wonderful anthology of Scottish writers. There are twenty-four selections here and together they give us a peek at twenty-first century Scottish gay life. The selections are by Scotland’s leading and emerging gay writers. “The collection includes the likes of Ali Smith, whose The Accidental was nominated for the Man Booker and Orange Prizes, and winner of Whitbread Novel of the Year; Louise Welsh, whose The Cutting Room was nominated for the Orange Prize and won the Creasey Dagger; Jackie Kay, winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize and shortlisted for PEN/Ackerley and Costa prizes; Ronald Frame, author of Havisham; Toni Davidson, author of Scar Culture; and many exciting new voices.”

There is something here for everyone—there are pieces that provoke, make us think, move us and give us insight.

“Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on This Planet” by Eugene Walter, edited by Katherine Clark— Who is Eugene Walter?

milking the moon

Walter, Eugene. “Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on This Planet” (edited by Katherine Clark), Crown, 2001.

Who is Eugene Walter?

Amos Lassen

Like so many others I had never heard of Eugene Walter before someone told me about this book (that was nominated for the National Book Award). I have since learned a great deal about him and what a pleasure it has been. “Eugene Walter [is] the best-known man you’ve never heard of, is an eyewitness history of the heart of the last century—enlivened with personal glimpses of luminaries from William Faulkner and Martha Graham to Judy Garland and Leontyne Price—and a pitch-perfect addition to the Southern literary tradition that has critics cheering”. Walter lived in Mobile, Alabama (where he was born and raised) until he came upon New York’s art scene in the late 1940s. He was them “a ubiquitous presence in Paris’s expatriate café society in the 1950s (where he was part of the Paris Review at its inception); and later, in 1960s Rome, participated in the golden age of Italian cinema. He was somehow everywhere, bringing with him a unique and contagious spirit, putting his inimitable stamp on the cultural life of the twentieth century”.

These anecdotes in this oral biography show Walter’s appreciation of people he likes, and although the narrative is stuffed with famous names from Truman Capote to Leontyne Price, the exuberant protagonist finds less celebrated folks just as fascinating. In Mobile in the 1920s, his front porch was the center of all social life, is just as detailed as his portraits of sojourns in more glamorous enclaves. He said, “I’m just a Southern boy let loose in the big world”.
Walter died in 1998. While he was alive he seemed always to be in pursuit of lively and provocative encounters with interesting people. His stories are wonderful and he was a man who never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Although his stories were based in truth, nothing he told was strictly true.

He surrounded himself with the creative, the artistic, and the beautiful in life, inhabiting the circles of greatness without creating the name for himself that many of his contemporaries did. The book

captures Eugene’s sense of wonder at the world around him, and it reads like a Who’s Who of modern literary life. This is a book that you will not soon forget.