Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“My Life in Masturbation” by Michael Wynne— “Wynning” at Masturbation

mast better

Wynne, Michael. “My Life in Masturbation”, Kiss and Tell Press, 2011.

“Wynning” at Masturbation

Amos Lassen

As a reviewer, I have never been at a loss for words or for a way to start a review. Actually that sentence should be in the past tense because today I met my Waterloo. I opened the envelope today to find inside a pamphlet like book with pictures of nude men on the cover. Hmm, I thought, so much for an afternoon of academic pleasures when I have an entire book filled with erotic photos and test alongside. After reading the text and just “glancing” at the photos, I sat down to write and it happened…or, it didn’t happen—how do I do this?

Michael Wynne shares with us his relationship to masturbation with nothing held back. This is definitely not a book for everyone (but I had a great time reading it). Wynne got his inspiration from a pack of playing cards with nude men on them in various states of arousal or erections if you prefer. (A note: the hairstyle are definitely what we see this days—the hair on the head, of course but now that I think of it elsewhere, as well. The pictures are certainly B.M. [Before Manscaping]).

This is a personal look at playing with the monkey and it comes with 20 full color images alongside the text and these images are details from that pack of naked playing cards.

 Wynne dedicates the book to his cousins and that is probably because he remembers “silent fumblings with a cousin under the duvet”. He went on to more sophisticated masturbatory techniques like “grinding against a mattress, and doing it in front of a mirror at a time of grief”. He asks how we learned to jerk off and who was our first jerk-off partner (Can you remember and don’t say you don’t because it as significant an occasion as a first kiss or first BJ.  Who taught us pleasurable self-abuse— a brother, a cousin, a friend from school?

Wynne not only explores the ways of masturbating, he shows us how our relationship to jerking-off changes with time. We hear from his friends, about fantasies and obsessions. (“Being seduced by a Moscow taxi driver, or the fantasy of playing dead while being fucked, or the obsession with a particular part of the body (the pubic bush, for example”). I must say that he covers a lot here (as you are uncovering yourselves) He is even kind enough to number the paragraphs in case we want to go back for some pleasure. I bet there is more information about masturbation here than anyone thought possible. “Ranging in scope from Onan in the Bible to sex with ugly men to phone sex with strangers, “My Life in Masturbation” is part meditation, part confession, and part smut”.  But it is more than that (I am not saying this is literary smut because it is not—it is SMUT); it is also “a comment on how our fantasies and masturbation habits evolve with technology and the ways we live our lives.  I can say this, Mike Wynne is my kind of guy and I love that he says what he thinks. My only question is where do I hide the book. I live in a building with 300 Jewish mothers who like to drop in unannounced.

To get a copy:

http://theconfessionsofasexaddict.com/the-masturbation-book/

“Square Peg in a Round Hole” by Bruce Joffe— Out of the Closet and Into Life

square pegJoffe, Bruce. “Square Peg in a Round Hole”, XLibris, 2008.

Out of the Closet and Into Life

Amos Lassen

Bruce Joffe takes us with him as he recounts his journey to discovering and accepting his sexual identity. He is a college professor, advisor and public relations consultant who was born Jewish, was married and divorced twice and then became a Christian. He shares his story of redemption and acceptance. The story is personal and it is important to realize that when Joffe came out, it was  difficult, dangerous and demeaning to do so.

I think that one of the questions that we often forget to ask ourselves is why do so many men choose anonymous sex is never tell anyone about it? Why, then, do so many us look at ourselves as sexual outlaws. It is probably because many men grew up during a time when repressed homosexuality was a way of life and condemned by society. Gay men and women were thought of as sick.

Joffe not only deluded his friends and family but he also deluded himself and his family. When he did finally accept himself for who he was, he had rejected his own sexuality. It hurts to read about gay men who had to lie about who they are. It also hurts that we have to find to reconcile faith with sexuality. Those of you who are over 40 know what I am talking about here. Most people do not know how high the dues are to be a member of our club. Being gay is not the same for everyone and it is certainly more than just sexual behavior (if you are not aware of this you might check out David Halperin”s “How to Be Gay” [Harvard, 2013]). Joffe shows us that being gay comes with rejection, confrontation and embrace and acceptance but none of these are easy. Joffe also speaks of the reconciliation between sexuality and faith/religion. He considers himself to be a Gay Jewish-Christian something I have a hard time understanding since I am so totally Jewish that I would joke about me having my scarlet letter but it was “J”. I have been lucky enough to find my place in Judaism and did not have to look elsewhere but I am certainly cognizant of those who are not quite that lucky. He had a rough time reconciling his religious beliefs with his sexuality and we all know how difficult that can be. This is perhaps the reason why we see gay people leave religion and then there are those that seek spirituality elsewhere.

As he taught gender studies academically (he has done so during over ten years), he came into contact with other men who were struggling with their sexuality and he understood the pressures that those of us from the generation of baby boomers were having. Some hoped to be able to unload the “onus of homosexuality”, others turned to drugs and whatever else they could find to help them live what they considered to be “normal” lives. Normal is one of those words beyond definition since it means different things to different people and I speak as a normal gay male. There was a time when gay men married hoping to find the way to live through that but it did not always add legitimacy to their lives and because of this, not only was the man himself hurt but others were hurt as well.

It is different today and people are coming out and leaving guilt and shame behind. Joffe asks the question as to how we can lead fruitful lives when we are plagued by guilt and shame that is forced on us by others. Is it possible to lead a hypocritical life when we are in the closet? For so long we have been denied respect, equal rights, and religion and yet we are expected to be legitimate. These are things straight society has not had to face and it happens all to often that gay men cannot deal with what they is wrong (having been born gay). Joffe tells us that we cannot control our sexual orientation and that is a natural expression of who we are. We do not deserve second-class status—we have always been here and when others did not know who we were we did fine. When we began to exercise our right to be, things changed and they are still changing for the best.

Joffe is a good writer but more than anything is the sincerity with which he tells us his story. I also hope that his telling his story will lead to others doing the same. There does not need to be conflict between sexuality and identity—we are who we are.

The Publishing Triangle Award Winners Announced

The Publishing Triangle Award Winners Announced

The Publishing Triangle, the association of lesbian and gay men in publishing, have announced the winners for their annual literary awards.

This year’s Triangle Awards ceremony were held on April 24, 2014, at the Auditorium of the New School (66 West 12th Street in New York City). The Bill Whitehead Award for lifetime achievement was bestowed upon playwright María Irene Fornés during the ceremony. In addition, the Publishing Triangle presented its special Leadership Award to Sinister Wisdom magazine. Created in 2002, this award recognizes contributions to LGBT literature by those who are not primarily writers—editors, librarians, institutions, agents, and others. For more award details click here.

Winners and finalists are below.

The Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction

  • White Girls, by Hilton Als (McSweeney’s) [Winner]
  • Henry Darger: Throwaway Boy, by Jim Elledge (Overlook)
  • Oye Loca: From the Mariel Boat Lift to Gay Cuban Miami, by Susana Peña (University of Minnesota Press)
  • Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous Gender Creative Son, by Lori Duron (Broadway Books/Crown)

The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction

  • Passionate Commitments: The Lives of Anna Rochester and Grace Hutchins, by Julia M. Allen (SUNY Press) [Winner]
  • Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, by Julia Serano (Seal Press)
  • Growing Up Golem, by Donna Minkowitz (Magnus Books/Riverdale Avenue Books)
  • Passionate Commitments: The Lives of Anna Rochester and Grace Hutchins, by Julia M. Allen (SUNY Press)
  • Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan (Crown)

The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry

  • Enchantée, by Angie Estes (Oberlin College Press) [Winner]
  • Butch Geography, by Stacey Waite (Tupelo Press)
  • Enchantée, by Angie Estes (Oberlin College Press)
  • She Has a Name, by Kamilah Aisha Moon (Four Way Books)
  • Swoop, by Hailey Leithauser (Graywolf Press)

 The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry

  • All the Heat We Could Carry, by Charlie Bondhus (Main Street Rag) [Winner] 
  • Sacrilegion, by L. Lamar Wilson (Carolina Wren Press)
  • The Talking Day, by Michael Klein (Sibling Rivalry Press)
  • Unpeopled Eden, by Rigoberto González (Four Way Books)

The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction

  • If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers) [Winner]
  • All This Talk of Love, by Christopher Castellani (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
  • If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers) [Winner]
  • Local Souls, by Allan Gurganus (Liveright/W.W. Norton)
  • The Two Hotel Francforts, by David Leavitt (Bloomsbury USA)
  • Where You Can Find Me, by Sheri Joseph (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press)

The Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction

  • If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers) [Winner]
  • An Honest Ghost, by Rick Whitaker (Jaded Ibis Press)
  • How to Shake the Other Man, by Derek Palacio (Nouvella)
  • If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers)
  • Letters Never Sent, by Sandra Moran (Bedazzled Ink)

- See more at: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/04/25/the-publishing-triangle-award-winners-announced/#sthash.r3W2J96N.dpuf

“Against Marriage” by Bruce Benderson—Gay Marriage— Legally and Symbolically

against marriage

Benderson, Bruce. “Against Marriage”, Semiotexte, 2014.

Gay Marriage— Legally and Symbolically

Amos Lassen

Bruce Benderson is an intellectual who is known for his remembrances of the sexuality of Times Square in the 70s and 80s. His new work is more of a pamphlet than a book, coming in at just 60 pages. In it he asks why would gays have struggled so hard for the right to marry did not think that it would legitimize who they are? He says that it is strange that instead opposing the idea of marriage, the gay community is fighting to be accepted by it. Benderson says that the focus on a conservative institution connected to nuclear family values is something has never respected the separation of church and state. The same rights, he maintains can be ensured in other ways and marriage is about family values in the most conservative way.

What he presents is much more aligned to the historical or philosophical trajectory of marriage. The book is not against gay marriage— it is against marriage as a legitimate legal institution. It is an empty institution that cannot be defined without looking at the assumptions of what others want it to be. Up until the modern era, marriage was only used to form treaties, to consolidate money or property. “It had nothing to do with love, very little to do with the nuclear family. It was just used for very non-romantic practical purposes. It has only a 150-year history of being associated with love or romance. And that’s already mostly over thus making an absolutely meaningless institution. “Wanting it is almost as repulsive as gays fighting to join the military, as opposed to gays fighting to end the military. What’s happening to people”?

Benderson explains that he saw a picture in the New York Times of a very old lesbian couple who could not get married in the state where they lived, and they were talking about how cruel it was and were angry that people who had such a long-term relationship were not going to be able to get that certificate. Benderson thought to himself, “You mean you think your relationship is incomplete unless the whole world applauds you? Does that make your relationship more meaningful? What do you want from this certificate? I mean, these ladies had lived through the most oppressive of times. Now they wanted to be accepted and patted on the head by the people who had probably made them miserable for 60 years of their life? “What is the matter with you?” I thought; and I began to get furious”.

He also thought back to his own youth and remembered how unmarried people were treated then. They had names––spinsters, old maids, mama’s boys, Peter Pans–and they were all insulting. What happened to these unmarried people? Obviously some of them just lived unhappy half lives as appendages of the nuclear family. There were others, “who were a little feistier–quite often because they had a different sexuality–came to the city, where you could be single without judgment. And the more talented among them created urban culture”. Then Benderson thought, “Oh my god! What’s going to happen to gays who are not married when suddenly gays can get married? Well, they’re going to be doubly excluded. They’re going to be the new old maids and pitiful bachelors of the new century. Maybe they’re even gonna have their gay brothers and sisters joining in mocking and excluding them. And this sickened me”. He began to examine marriage in other cultures and came to the conclusion that “the only time marriage is a vital institution is when it occurs within a culture that allows rule-breaking-off-the-books, untalked-about behavior. Indiscretions”.

He goes on to say that marriage is merely a symbolic goal, because it symbolizes social acceptance, but that it has no authentic meaning aside from that.

The “book” is a part of a set of 28 new mini-books, pamphlets from Semiotext(e). 

“blush: the unbelievably absurd diary of a gay beauty junkie” by Harvey Helms— A “Traumedy”

blush

Helms, Harvey. “blush: the unbelievably absurd diary of a gay beauty junkie”, CreateSpace, 2012.

A “Traumedy”

Amos Lassen

This is taken from the diary of Harvey Helms, a gay beauty junkie. Helms by accident, became of the first male beauty advisors at a department store beauty counter in the South. Today we do not bat an eye at that but Harvey started when no one else did (or would) and he tells us all about it in his chapter, “I‘m the Revlon Girl”. But, the book is so much more than that—it is all about growing up gay in the South

“in an intolerant world and being authentically yourself against all odds” in a dysfunctional family (and no, not all Southern families are dysfunctional although mine certainly was).

Some of the people we read about here are Tammy Faye Baker, Senator Jesse Helms, plus many other gay men. We also read about bullying and cosmetics. Here is the private world of a young gay male in an industry for women and one of the most fun reads that I have had in a long time.

This is also get an inside look at the cosmetics industry and the Southern family.

“The Mentor: A Memoir of Friendship and Gay Identity” by Jay Quinn— Growing Up Gay in the South

mentor

 Jay Quinn. “The Mentor: A Memoir of Friendship and Gay Identity”, Routledge, 2014.

Growing up Gay in the South

Amos Lassen

“The Mentor” is captivating and honest look into the challenges of growing up gay through the context of firsthand experiences, revelations, and realizations. This unique book is an intelligent and personal narrative that considers the social, religious, and emotional aspects of what it is like to grow up as a gay male in the south. It examines the enormous social changes regarding homosexuality that have taken place in America during the last half of the century.

The Mentor was written to show the importance of the author’s mentor in helping him form his self-identity and educating him about being gay and challenges the stereotypical idea that, unlike heterosexuals, gay men are not able to form nurturing, fulfilling bonds between themselves. This is a story about one’s acceptance and understanding of who he is and with the help of other men who have faced the same situations.

 One can find courage, strength, and the idea of the support of a mentor to help guide gay men through the trials that many young gay experience:

  • recognizing the possibilities of exploitation by older gay men due to a lack of emotional and social experience
  • creating a loyal relationship with a man that does not include sex but which satisfies emotional needs that many gay men need and long for
  • discovering the importance of a mentor to gay youths, since there are few homosexual role models to learn from

 What makes this book so outstanding is the sincerity with which it was written. We gain insight into everything from the author’s experience with intolerance of homosexuality by certain religions to struggles with fidelity and infidelity, illustrating the difficult yet universal challenges of life relationships. Here are suggestions that will help you recognize that your feelings of desire and love and your quest for human connection as a gay man are not the distorted reflections of a heterosexual image, but a healthy gay identity. We get advice on how to make the shift from confusion to full acceptance of your gay identity and the total understanding that no one is alone, and perhaps be encouraged to pass on the legacy of a mentor to other young gay men.

 It is clear after the first few chapters that the book is more about Quinn and his gay identity than his friendship with mentor Joe Riddick and we see detailed parallels between himself and Riddick, both “recovering Baptists” with complementary Southern family backgrounds, but there is little mentoring. Instead, Quinn treads the well-worn path of gay autobiography and fiction, featuring life in the hedonistic 1970s and 1980s, as he chronicles his experiences with licit and illicit drugs, his attempts at an artistic career, his manic-depressive episodes, and, above all, his sexual exploits. While Riddick never emerges as a flesh-and-blood personality, Quinn does, and an unappealing one at that.

“Jay Quinn’s exploration of the mentoring process within the gay community -of being taken under a wing, of being taught by the more mature, of learning from someone trusted -shines with honest grace. He’s taken the very personal and amplified it into an exemplar for a community that has a lengthy, noble tradition of the older guiding the younger; but it’s a tradition not much honored in our writing or in our public lives.

 The process of acknowledging and accepting one’s gay identity has never been easy-at any time, in any place-but it is frequently more difficult in the South, with its entrenched conservative familial, religious, and social strictures. “The Mentor” traces the path of one man, part-time surfer, part-time construction worker, full-time Southerner, as he recognizes, embraces, and ultimately balances the imperatives of his burgeoning gay identity with the values and demands of his Baptist upbringing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s a difficult journey, marked by false starts, dead ends, and disappointments, but ultimately illuminated by the joy of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

In case some of you have not noticed, this is one of the Harrington Park Books that Routledge is reissuing.

i

“The Thousand-Petaled Lotus: Growing Up Gay in the Southern Baptist Church” by Michael Fields— Personal and Spiritual Recovery

thousand

Fields, Michael. “The Thousand-Petaled Lotus: Growing Up Gay in the Southern Baptist Church”, Langdon Street Press, 2014.

Personal and Spiritual Recovery
Amos Lassen

Michael Fields grew up in a strict Southern Baptist community in Nashville, Tennessee where his sexuality was considered to be a sin. Yet he can laugh at that and he invites us to laugh with him as we relive his childhood, meet some unforgettable characters and to join him in thought as he remembers his anguished prayers and his sexual awakening. He uses the Hindu symbol of the lotus with petals that unfold just as Fields story unfolds and blooms when he finds his “kingdom of heaven”. This is a personal and spiritual story as he discovers who he is amid metaphysical reflections and quite a wit.

Being from the South, I know what southern charm is and Fields oozes it. He also does something my mother taught me and that is if we cannot laugh at life than we really have no reason to live. If someone were to ask me what the gay community needs more than anything else, I would probably give a smart-ass answer and say spirituality. For some reason (or for good reason), many gays leave their religion when they come out and instead of finding some alternate kind of spirituality, they go on their way without it.

Fields gives us what he calls a memoir of contradictions “—of the joys and anguishes of growing up with body, mind and soul — which is to say human in all of the odd and lovely specificity that is Michael Fields.”

“The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature” edited by Ellen McCallum and Mikko Tuhkanen— Coming in November, 2014.

cambridge

McCallum, Ellen and Mikko Tuhkanen (editors). “The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature”, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Coming in November 2014.

Amos Lassen

One of the books I am really looking forward to is “The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature” and the main reason that it is coming for Cambridge which is know for its high quality publications. I understand that the volume gives us a “global history of gay and lesbian literature that covers a wide range of topics, from Sappho and the Greeks to contemporary science fiction and fantasy” to queer modernism, diasporic literatures, and responses to the AIDS crisis. The volume is grounded in current scholarship and this history provides new critical approaches to gay and lesbian literature that will serve the needs of students and specialists alike.

Written by leading scholars in the field, “The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature” is going to be one of, if not, the definitive reference for gay and lesbian literature for years to come.

“Don’t Be So Gay!: Queers, Bullying, and Making Schools Safe” by Donn Short— Bullying as a Constant Reality

don't be so gay

Short, Donn. “Don’t Be So Gay!: Queers, Bullying, and Making Schools Safe” (Law and Society), UBC Press, 2013.

Bullying as a Constant Reality

Amos Lassen

Bullying is one of the terrible things about growing up and it has, of late, been recognized as “a real threat to students’ physical and psychological well-being — particularly in light of recent teen suicides linked with homophobia in schools. Despite a shift in public attitudes and legislative responses to the problem, bullying remains a constant reality for many queer youth in schools”. Here Donn Short considers the effectiveness of anti-harassment policies and safe-school legislation to address the problem of homophobic bullying.

 Short spent months in ten Toronto-area high schools interviewing queer youth and their allies. He has concluded that the current legislation and the way it deals with  what is going on in schools is more transformative than responsive and proactive.

It suggests that while effective legislation is vital to establishing a safe space for queer students, other influences — including religion, family beliefs, and peer pressure may be more powerful.

He uses students’ own experiences and thoughts on how safety is pursued in their schools and how their understandings and definitions of safety might be translated into law and policy reform and he shows us a new perspective on a widely debated issue.

Short’s interviews capture beautifully the worlds of some “out” high school students and his analysis shows some new ways of looking at these young people and the policies.

Short consulted with the foremost experts on safety for queer kids in schools — the queer youth themselves. They see heteronormativity as an immediate threat and Short highlights ways that educators and lawmakers can deal with and mitigate it. It’s not enough to tell bullied kids that it will get better sometime later and this book shows how changing cultures can make it better now.

This is a timely and empowering work that gives GLBTQ youth a voice in addressing the problem of homophobic school bullying. 

“Ephemeral Material: Queering the Archive” by Alana Kumbier— Reclaiming and Preserving Our Past

ephemeral

Kumbier, Alana. “Ephemeral Material: Queering the Archive”, Litwin Books, 2014).

Reclaiming and Preserving Our Past

Amos Lassen

Alana Kumbier says that when dealing with archives we must look at it thorough a queer lens “(thinking through queer interests, experiences, explanatory frameworks, and cultural practices) allows us to think critically about established archival principles and practices”. With a new project that she describes in this book, we see support for archivists,

community documentarians, activists, and scholars  who seek to preserve materials documenting queer lives and experiences. She imagines how we might respond to the particular demands of archiving queer lives. “Further, this project intervenes in the repetition of practices that may exclude LGBTQ constituencies, render our experiences less-visible/less-legible, or perpetuate oppressive power relations between archivists and users or documented subjects”. What the project does is to make work by scholars in history, performance studies, queer studies, and other areas of the humanities who are encountering the limits of archives, and are developing strategies for working with them, legible and relevant to archivists and librarians. The book shows its concepts by giving examples s of collecting and documentation projects, research ethnography, and analyses of popular media that represent — and critique — archival spaces and practices.