Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“To Begin to Know: Walking in the Shadows of My Father” by David Leser— Father and Son

to begin to know

Leser, David. “To Begin to Know: Walking in the Shadows of My Father”, Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Father and Son

Amos Lassen

I am always curious to read books about relationships between fathers and sons mainly because my father and I had a lousy relationship and I have a hard time using the word relationship—let’s just see we each knew that the other existed. So many wonder about the meaning of life and the entire purpose of living. Are we taught to ask the questions we need and do we regularly conduct self-examinations?

David Leser is a journalist who more than ten years ago began to write his father’s biography. His father, Bernard Leser, had been a legendary magazine publisher. However, the younger Leser could not finish the project because he did not want to use his writing skills and techniques to show his father to be something different than what a loving son thought about his dad. Once he no longer was being held to the project, he started to see his father as a man, a man he loved but also as a son and a father who had flaws and who did not know it all.

The harder he looked at his father, the more he saw himself and how his own life had been lived both in tribute to and rebellion from the legacy of his father. What we get is a beautifully lyrical, deeply moving and honest memoir of two men, father and son, and their shared truths and burdens. This is a book about love and forgiveness, of acceptance and hope. It ass the questions we have all wanted to ask but don’t for whatever reason.

Leser exposes lots of private information including so many of his own foibles. Not sure I really needed to know all that. We meet a dynamic father, who dragged himself out of terrible circumstances and got on with his life. Much like myself, David Leser spent time in Israel, particularly during the early days of the Intifada, and his somewhat mess of a life at Byron Bay (and beyond), and his father’s extraordinary ability to work a room leads to a lot of name dropping. But there is a lot of color and interest here and I would not call it gossip.

“A Life of Unlearning: a Preacher’s Struggle with his Homosexuality, Church and Faith” by Anthony Venn-Brown— Battles

a life of unlearning

Venn-Brown, Anthony. “A Life of Unlearning: a Preacher’s Struggle with his Homosexuality, Church and Faith”, ADS, 2014.

Battles

Amos Lassen

From the time that we are young we are taught accepted truths and then later we have to unlearn them—this happens when our beliefs are challenged and while everything seems to be fine, we know that it isn’t. Author Anthony Venn-Brown was a respected and popular preacher, a husband and a father. He preached at one of Australia’s growing mega-churches but behind the scenes he fought a constant battle to conform, believing his homosexuality made him unacceptable to God and others. He loved like this for some twenty-two years and had there not been a chance meeting, he still might be dealing with this. The meeting forced Venn-Brown to make a really hard choice, a decision that would either let him continue with the false façade that he had been living or to be honest with himself and lose all he had worked so hard to build. As I can only imagine he was tired of living a lie and so he confessed and came out as gay.

As a result, he embarked on a lonely journey and came to peace with himself. This is the story of that journey and we watch as our preacher reaps the rewards of resolution and integrity thereby making the journey worthwhile. His story is ultimately about being true to one’s self. This is a human story about finding acceptance and love and is one we should all read.

Anthony Venn-Brown stood up on one Sunday morning and obeyed the edict to perform a public confession of his adultery before his church and then take what was coming to him. The result was the pushing aside of one of the most dynamic and effective pioneers of evangelism the Australian Christian Churches movement. We see how prejudice and limitation, both externally and internally imposed, were worked through courageously in order that Venn-Brown could live his life.

This book does something very special— it allows us to see and understand the world through the perspective of the lived experience of a homosexual man. As we are informed, we empathize with the struggles, see the heartbreak and appreciate the strength and courage required for this journey. It is hard not to think about how we have been taught to listen to the loudest voices. Venn-Brown speaks honestly and openly about the secrets and rituals of sexual truth seeking in adolescents which have always been, yet have consecutively been silenced or shrouded in taboo. He invites us to a new conversation and exciting discourse, one that will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of and freedom for males (and females) growing up and finding their sexual identities. We have to know how is it possible to hate when hate is such a demeaning emotion.

Venn-Brown gives us an accurate description of what he went through and what he did to rebuild himself. He shows us the contradictions within and the systemic and historic failure of the leadership and organization of the Australian Christian Churches movement of which he was such an integral and vital part to adequately address homosexuality and LGBT persons with any kind of consistency or compassion. Venn-Brown describes the ACC neglect and reticence towards bringing greater inclusion for the LGBT community, demonstrating how it is both historic, and systemic, reflecting the ACC general lack of fortitude for dealing adequately or with warranted attention to such areas as sexual identity.

We know that in the past where social justice was concerned, be it freedom for slaves, civil rights for African-Americans, or votes for women, change comes slowly, but is inevitable. However, that the church chose not to help with civil rights and equality is unforgiveable.

There is pain here, and it runs deep and only with more stories like this will that pain go away. The church is supposed to protect and nurture did nothing more than lip service. It turned its back on a `friend’ and fellow Christian and this is unforgivable.

“Just Like You?” by Matthew Alan— Recollections on Acceptance

just like you

Alan, Matthew. “Just Like You?”, CreateSpace, 2014.

Recollections on Acceptance

Amos Lassen

Matthew Alan brings us a book about acceptance which is fashioned by a series of recollections about struggling to gain internal perspective, while remembering that everyone is going through some battle within their own lives. Once we share our thoughts with others it makes it that much easier to close the differences that exist between people.

Matthew Alan grew up in Canton, Ohio. After he graduated from Kenyon College, and receiving a Master’s degree from Western Illinois, he began a career in teaching and coaching. He is an avid swimmer, dog enthusiast, and reader. He tells us that his life was a struggle but he always managed to find humor in the roughest times.

Matthew had issues that he hid from others and he candidly tells us about them. But it was the fact that he struggled so hard that he became the man he is today. He tells us his personal story so well that we feel as if we have always known him. While this is the story of a gay man coming out, it is also about facing challenges. Matthew is bipolar and the is totally honest about this. This is quite a courageous look at life and I am so glad that I had the chance to read it.

“Blind Bugger Blind” by Martin Bramble— Growing Up in Australia

blind bugger blind

Bramble, Martin. “Blind Bugger Blind”, Pukkah Wallah, 2014.

Growing Up in Australia

Amos Lassen

Martin Bramble shared with us his memories of growing up in Australia between the 1950’s to the 70’s. He was different from other boys and he was rough. He was raised in the suburbs—his father was a blind man on a pension; his mother fought to keep the family together, his brothers were somewhat problematic and his sister suffered from asthma that almost took her life a few times. There were nosy neighbors who were anxious to know everyone’s business and they hatred anything that was a bit different especially foreigners and queers. This was an age before color television and we learn that the author was constantly derided and vilified at school. The other guys spit on him and harassed him because he was different. It is never easy growing up gay but when the situation is volatile it is that much worse. Bramble takes us with him on his journey of discovery in which he tries to find himself.

“Queer Theory and the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible” by Stuart Macwilliam— Marriage as a Metaphor

 

queer theory and

Macwilliam, Stuart. “Queer Theory and the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible”, (BibleWorld), Routledge, 2014.

Marriage as a Metaphor

Amos Lassen

In the Hebrew Bible we have the metaphorical marriage of God to Israel in three different places—Jeremiah 2-3, Hosea 1-3 and Ezekiel 16 and 23. This is often used as a religious model or else criticized as divinely sanctioned misogyny. In this new volume, Stuart Macwilliam looks at and responds to the various readings and understandings by using literary, linguistic, critical and autobiographical tools as well as an issue of popular gay magazine that was published some ten years ago.

Some see the metaphor of marriage in the Hebrew bible as portraying men and women as complementary, each with their distinct and ‘natural’ roles. This is where Macwilliam uses contemporary scholarship to critique this heteronormativity. He examines the methodological issues involved in the application of queer theory to biblical texts and draws on the concept of gender performativity, the construction of gender through action and behavior and with this he can argue for the potential of queer theory in political readings of the Bible. In doing so, he offers a radical reassessment of the relationship between biblical language and gender identity.

One reviewer sees Macwilliam as being roguish methodologically, ideologically and stylistically and further claims that this provides for a wonderfully delightful read. Marriage is a very hot issue right now in the world and debates about marriage equality have disseminated to literally every society. Debates about marriage have given rise to new ideas and arguments on both sides. For those who oppose marriage equality, one of the strategies used has been the writings of both the Christian and the Hebrew bibles. The opponents have searched for ways to reify the assumed idea of what they call traditional marriage. They have chosen to ignore or just pass by the fact the modern concept of the nuclear family is the result of post-industrial revolution. The opponents find their allies in some biblical passages that they choose to read with their own interpretations. However, this is quite difficult when we look at the Hebrew bible and the way it supports traditional marriage. We just need to look at Jacob who was married to Rachel and to Leah (Genesis 29:1–30) nor King Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Aside from these two obvious non-‘traditional [modern] marriage’ examples, author Macwilliam reminds us of the case of the prophetic marriage metaphor as portrayed in the books of Jeremiah, Hosea and Ezekiel. It is easy to see that those verses do not validate the idea of traditional marriage.

Macwilliam this marriage metaphor as conceptual shorthand for the sexual imagery in the description of the relationship between God and Judah/Israel. What Macwilliam does is to queer the marriage metaphor in order to expose the gender performativity at play in these three biblical texts. The book is conveniently divided into three sections. Section I contains theoretical and methodological writing that is grounded in Judith Butler’s ideas on gender. The next step is to find a way to apply theory to biblical texts and thereby create a way to apply that theory to the biblical texts. This is not easy reading and it is filled with information on how to go about this. Section II focuses on the process of queering, first the metaphor and then the idea of ‘Israelites as males’ so that we can finally explore a queer analysis of the texts in Jeremiah, Hosea and Ezekiel. Section III presents an innovative way to use ‘camp’ as a methodological resource in order to queer Ezekiel. The last chapter of the book is a summary of what we have learned here.

I understand that this was originally Macwilliam’s doctoral dissertation and as such it could have been too scholarly for the average reader. However, Macwilliam has transformed it into easy reading that is very valuable. We are immediately aware of Macwilliam’s scholarship in the areas of queer theory and the bible.

What is so ingenious and fascinating is the way the author has based his work on Butler’s analysis of gender performativity as well a Susan Sontag’s idea of camp which he then uses as a tool for queering the Bible. (Another example of the use of camp in the bible is the performance of Josh Mostel as Herod in the film of “Jesus Christ Superstar”). In queer culture, camp not only defines humor and sarcasm but it also gives “a particular sensibility and a theatrical display by gender- bending and gender-variant individuals in order to transgress the boundaries of the dichotomy ‘female/male’.” Sontag in her 1960s essay saw camp as a contribution to mainstream popular culture from the gay community, the act of ‘camping’ and transgressing the dictums of both the gender-role expectations and the sexual division of labor precludes Judith Butler’s notion of gender performativity. Macwilliam’s uses ‘camp’ as a way to address and even to ‘hyper-narrate’ and while doing so, deconstructs the biblical text. Without question, this is a creative act that gives us important contributions towards future looks at new ways of reading the Sacred Scriptures – Hebrew, Christian, and of other religions – by queer individuals and communities.

It is through the use of linguistic and literary criticism as a methodology that Macwilliams is able to deconstruct the marriage metaphor. In his analysis of it, Macwilliam points out the homo-social character of the texts by questioning whether both the Israelites mentioned by the prophets and the audience of their writings are all males and through this Macwilliam characterizes the texts as ‘gender exclusive’. The reason that this is important is that the marriage metaphor indeed seems to be framed in heteronormative terms, that is, the joining of female and male. On the contrary, if Israel is male, then we have, in fact, a proto-notion of same-sex marriage, although Macwilliam does not express this idea in this manner. However, his analysis queers the ‘naturalized’ heteronormative tone of these texts, providing new and much needed entryways to the manifold layered text. Yet in reading about it seems so simple that I could only wonder why no one had thought it before. We have all noticed that the Hebrew bible is written totally in the masculine which should have told us something.

It is through the use of camp as a device to interrogate the seemingly heteronormative tone of the marriage metaphor in Ezekiel, Macwilliam opens up a new layer of the text that has tremendous implications for future biblical studies. He proves that God, the male narrator of the tale reproduced by Ezekiel, displays an wide array of sexual fantasies which are projected onto Oholibah, the name given to Israel in the story. Oholibah/Israel is, then, described as a prostituted female with a notorious sex-addiction for the large penises and exceedingly cum loads of the Egyptians. The pointing of these erotic and graphic descriptions give us shifting positions and the reader is left with the question of who is the real sex addict, Oholibah or the God?

So what happened to the arguments about traditional marriage? The marriage metaphor to a degree becomes the center for the destabilization of mono-directional hermeneutics that have traditionally reified and justified heteronormative religious discourses.

I realize that this is a lot to take in but then I also consider the task that the author set out up[on. His research is wonderful and his prose is a pleasure to read, but…. Macwilliam did not translate the Hebrew and this really bothered me. In order to fully understand the work that has been done here, it is necessary to have the Hebrew and its translation, there are not that many Hebrew scholars around who can walk into this blindly. Yet even with that Macwilliam has certainly opened the door for future researchers and theorists to walk through.

Macwilliams is a much needed and welcomed contribution as well as a key pivot in the beginning of a new path for biblical studies. It is up to future biblical scholars to take Macwilliams work and look for new ways to engage in queer hermeneutic adventures.

 

 

 

 

 

“Double Header: My Life with Two Penises” by Diphallic Dude— Twice Blessed

double header

Diphallic Dude. “Double Header: My Life with Two Penises”, DDD Publishing, 2014.

Twice Blessed

Amos Lassen

Certainly one way to gain fame is to be born with two penises. Our unnamed author has been featured on the front pages of RollingStone.com, Jezebel.com and was covered by The Huffington Post. Both Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno have spoken about him in their monologues. He has been the most popular feature of Reddit AMA featured him and he has spent 48 hours discussing his life with a genetic condition known as diphallia. Medically speaking, only one in 5.5 million males worldwide are born with two penises. However very few (if any) are born with two working, and by all accounts, attractive penises. DoubleDickDude has not spoken openly about his for twenty years (DDD) and now the has, he has amassed thousands of followers on Twitter and Tumblr in a matter of hours.

Now he has written a longer and detailed account of his life. He writes of his childhood and how he knew that he was special when he was young. He tells how and when he had his first sexual experience as well as other sexual adventures. He reiterates some of his favorite questions and answers, discussing sexuality and acceptance. The stories are sexy and the book is written in the first person with lots of details and reflections of some really steamy happenings.

“Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague” by Joyce Brabner (Author) and Mark Zingarelli (illustrator)— Fighting AIDS

second avenue caper

Brabner, Joyce (author) and Mark Zingarelli (illustrator). “Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague”, Hill & Wang, 2014.

Fighting AIDS

Amos Lassen

Joyce Brabner gives us the true story of a tight-knit group of artists and activists living in New York City in the early 1980s who found themselves on the front lines in the fight against AIDS. They were struggling to understand the disease and how they could help so they made a deal with a bona fide goodfella, dressed in wonderful disguises, piled into an “A-Team” van, and set off for the border. They were determined to save their bedridden friends by smuggling an experimental drug into the United States from Mexico.

Their community was in crisis and the world looked away. So what were they to do? Here an impassioned gang of misfits never gave up hope as they searched for ways to raise awareness and beat the plague. This book is a heartfelt tribute to the generation that faced down AIDS.

“Second Avenue Caper” is set in Manhattan in the darkest early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Brabner’s vivid script tells the story of a band of friends – her friends – who plotted to smuggle illegal drugs from Mexico to help beloved comrades desperately ill and abandoned by the medical establishment. Ray, a male nurse and drag-show producer tells the story; his Jewish partner, Benny, becomes a collaborator. Much like what really happened, characters disappear and Brabner tells the story with no sentimentality and this makes it all the more powerful.

In addition to being a story about AIDS this is the story of the Lower East Side, where the book is set and is now a totally different place. At the time, it was full of people from Communist-led countries. Now it seems like all the buildings have been emptied out and put on hold for retail development and the spirit of neighborhood that was once there is gone.

The book captures the time and the pathos, the tragedy and the sweetness as well as the mania at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in New York City. This is a graphic novel that is also graphic in what it has to say. We are seeing more and more books coming out that are about the AIDS epidemic and this in one that pulls us in immediately.

Joyce Brabner and Mark Zingarelli document a recent moment in history that already seems so far away but it is important that we never forget what happened. The story is powerful, the artwork is wonderful and what happened with AIDS is anemblematic tale of our times and it is classically heroic and moving at the same time.

 We can never allow ourselves to forget that “At that liminal moment when it became clear that a pattern of infection threatened to become a deadly epidemic, heroes emerged from the ranks of the ordinary. They were motivated by the desire to help friends survive this pitiless disease, or, in many cases, to make sure they died loved and cared for.”

We meet some of those people right here and their stories are poignant and brilliantly told to us. Joyce Brabner  gives us a wonderfully crafted tale that is powerful in its depiction of the strength of the human spirit in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Mark Zingarelli’s artwork is spectacular with a brilliant cinematic quality to it.

“Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town” by Esther Newton— America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town

cherry grove, fire island

Newton, Esther. “Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town”, Duke U Press reprint, 2014.

America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town

Amos Lassen

Author Esther Newton discusses the importance of camp, gay theater and the intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality in America’s first gay and lesbian town. Newton is a lesbian and an anthropologist who spent five summers in Cherry Grove. She gives us a researched cultural history of the place, a LGBT summer retreat for many in New York state. She says that this is where gays “achieved American ideals of independence and citizenship.”

Newton’s work is based on interviews with 46 residents of Cherry Grove (some of whom have now left and moved on) and it is through what they say that we get the story of the development of Cherry Grove from a few isolated cabins to the thriving community it has become. There was a time that the place had Mafia-run discos and occasional police raids. Now the island’s theater, drag balls, athletic and campy events entertain residents and visiting celebrities alike. However the gay liberation movement during the ’70s and ’80s brought about friction among owners, landlords and businesses and it was then that there was influx of lesbian couples and lots of day-trippers, many of them who were black or Hispanic. We all are aware of how gay culture has changed since the ’80s yet the Grove remains a place where gays and lesbians still go “to be part of something unique.” We see here why that is so.

Cherry Grove is the oldest continuously inhabited resort on Fire Island and we see that the reason that it became a place gays were drawn to as well as “a ghetto into which they were pushed by the hatred and intolerance of straight society” beginning in the early 1930s. It is home to an affluent community, a “grand, fun, party” place even while punctuated by conflicts between renters and owners, gays and straights, and tourists and residents as well as those drawn along lines of class, gender, and race. We see the gay experience in Cherry Grove against the broader context of the history of 20th-century American lesbian and gay life.

 The book is a compilation of stories from over forty members of the Grove community and it reads like a novel when in effect it is an anthropological ethnography, leaving the reader wanting to turn page after page. We certainly feel author Newton’s passion for the Grove is. She balances the struggle and the beauty that went into creating Americans first gay and lesbian town off the coast of New York. Contemporary youth may take for granted the strides the generation before made in regards to gay rights, but “Cherry Grove” reminds its readers of the hardships homosexuals endured in the face of homophobia. Not only were Grovers (as Newton calls them) facing constant harassment from the mainland, but also within Cherry Grove they were faced with sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, day-trippers and the AIDS epidemic.

“For Grovers, the very existence of Cherry Grove was proof that, however badly gays have been mistreated, the American promise of freedom for all had some substance (page 284).”

“Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond” edited by Mikko Tuhkanen— The Importance of Bersani

queer theory and beyond

Tuhkanen, Mikko (editor). “Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond”, SUNY Press, 2014.

The Importance of Bersani

Amos Lassen

Leo Bersani has been one of the major voices in literary criticism and theory for more than fifty years. He has challenged scholars in the fields of cultural studies, queer theory, psychoanalysis, and film and visual studies. This is the first book-length collection of writings about him and in the introduction we get a look at Bersani’s place in queer thought as well as a look at his complicated relationships with the fields of queer theory and psychoanalysis. Essays by scholars in the various fields show us how rich his work has been and we even the transcription of a new interview with him.

Bersani writes beautifully and he is provocative. The essays in the book give us important and unsettling insights into one of our thinkers who knows no fear. Below is the Table of Contents:

 Acknowledgments

Abbreviations

 Introduction

Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond, Mikko Tuhkanen

 Part I: Queer

 

  1. Bersani on Location, Heather Love

 

  1. Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption,  David Kurnick

 

  1. Queer Betrayals,  Jack Halbstam

 

Part II: Psychoanalytic

 

  1. Cinema a tergo: Shooting in Elephant, Ellis Hanson

 

  1. Reading Freud: Bersani and Lacan, James Penney

 

  1. Addressing Oneself: Bersani and the Form/Fold of Self-Relation,  Patrick French

 

  1. Monadological Psychoanalysis: Bersani, Laplanche, Beckett,  Mikko Tuhkanen

 

Part III: Aesthetic

 

  1. Is the Rectangle a Grave?, Michael D. Snediker

 

  1. Proust, Shattering: Aesthetic Subjects and Metonymies of Desire
  2. L. McCallum

 

  1. A Future for Henry James, David McWhirter

 

  1. Extreme Style: Firbank, Faulkner, and Perspectives on Modern Traditions,  Kevin Ohi

 

Part IV: Interview

 

  1. Rigorously Speculating: An Interview with Leo Bersani, Mikko Tuhkanen

 Contributors

Index

“James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination” by Matt Brim— Looking at the Queer Baldwin

james bladwin

Brim, Matt. “James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination”; University of Michigan Press, 2014.

Looking at the Queer Baldwin

Amos Lassen

The single most important and central figure in black gay literary history is James Baldwin and he has become a familiar touchstone for queer scholarship in the academy. Matt Brim in this new study, examines both the contributions of queer theory and black queer studies to critically engage with and complicate the project of queering Baldwin and his work. Brim maintains that Baldwin “animates and, in contrast, disrupts both the black gay literary tradition and the queer theoretical enterprise that have claimed him.” Even when Baldwin’s fiction brilliantly succeeds in imagining queer intersections of race and sexuality, at the same time it shows striking queer failures, whether exploiting gay love or dealing with black lesbian desire. Brim therefore sees that Baldwin’s work “is deeply marked by ruptures of the “unqueer” into transcendent queer thought—and that readers must sustain rather than override this paradoxical dynamic within acts of queer imagination.”

Brim puts Baldwin at the center of his generation and in doing so upsets Baldwin’s place in both literary history and queer studies in very disturbing ways. ” He is a significant mid-twentieth century author who occupies a unique place in both of the literary traditions.