Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Mascara, Mirth and Mayhem: Independence Day on Fire Island” by Susan Kravitz— Freedom to Be

mascara cover

Kravitz, Susan. “Mascara, Mirth and Mayhem: Independence Day on Fire Island”, KMW Studio, 2016.

Freedom to Be

Amos Lassen

“Mascara, Mirth & Mayhem: Independence Day on Fire Island” is a celebration human rights and freedom of expression. It is a collection of photographs taken by renowned photographer Susan Kravitz over the past thirty years at the annual LGBT event that is known as the Invasion of the Pines that is held every July 4th and involves participants from the Fire Island communities of Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. This began in 1976, when a member of the Cherry Grove community had been denied service in a Pines’ restaurant because he had been dressed in drag. As a protest, a small group of Cherry Grove residents cross-dressed and took a water taxi to the Pines on Independence Day of that year, to stand up against this insult” by “invading” their neighboring community. Forty years later, the Invasion has evolved into quite a uniquely raucous event and brings thousands of people, straight and gay to celebrate.

Kravitz’s photographs capture the rebelliousness, the high camp, and the joy of the Invasion. They are provocative, introspective, sad and funny, and contain discreet (or not so discreet) sexual innuendo. They also reflect another journey, one that says something about the LGBT movement itself. From the fearful, AIDS-ridden years of the 1980s and 1990s, to the present when LGBT people are out and proud, the photographs celebrate a day to be free, to be whoever one wants to be, and to be gay.
Kravitz says, “My photographs are as much about the times in which they were taken as they are about the people who populate them. Ultimately, they are about human rights and freedom of expression seen through the lens of the Invasion,” There are eighty-eight color and black and white photographs in the book.

The Invasion was originally planned as a way to shock the neighbors and to protest their attitudes and snobbery. The invasion on every July 4th, is a moment on Fire Island equal to what happened at Stonewall in Greenwich Village. It has grown in size and extravagance each year to become a huge event of creative cross-dressing and a true independence. Along with the photographs of the original invasion, we get history and selected interviews of participants, then and now.

“Sex Science Self: A Social History of Estrogen, Testosterone, and Identity” by Bob Ostertag— “Rethinking Identity and Activism in the Pharmaceutical Age”

sex science self

Ostertag, Bob. “Sex Science Self: A Social History of Estrogen, Testosterone, and Identity”, University of Massachusetts, 2016.

“Rethinking Identity and Activism in the Pharmaceutical Age”

Amos Lassen

Bob Ostertag warns against accepting and defending any technology uncritically these days and perhaps even that which comes from “a technology that has become integrally related to identity”. More specifically, he examines the development of estrogen and testosterone as pharmaceuticals.

The history that he provides for us is parallel to the now very visible and political lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population. His argument is based on scholarship on the development of sex hormone chemicals in that it does not take into account LGBT history and activism. In fact, he says, work in LGBT history has not fully considered the scientific research that has long attempted to declare a chemical essence of gender. In bringing these histories together, Ostertag reveals the complex motivations behind hormone research over generations and he expresses concern about the growing profits from estrogen and testosterone, which now are marketed with savvy ad campaigns to increase their use across multiple demographics. He does not argue to not use pharmaceutical hormones but rather he shows that at a time when they are increasingly available, it is more important than ever to understand the history and current use of these powerful chemicals so that everyone, both the LGBT community and beyond it can make informed choices.

Ostertag tells a fascinating story while bringing up a wealth of new questions and debates about gender, sexuality, and medical treatments. His book places debates about trans identity and politics in a new and quite provocative context. His clear writing guides readers through complicated scientific material so that it is understandable and clear.

“Mentsh: On Being Jewish and Queer” edited by Angela Brown— Bringing Together Religion and Sexuality… Or Not


Brown, Angela (editor). “Mentsh: On Being Jewish and Queer”, Alyson Books, 2004.

Bringing Together Religion and Sexuality… Or Not

Amos Lassen

I thought that I had already reviewed this especially since it speaks to me so well. But then it is difficult to remember what I have and what I have not reviewed with the amount of reading that I do. I saw it on my shelf last and decided that I needed to have another look and surprisingly what was true, in many cases, in 2005 is still true in 2016. We have all read and heard how difficult it is for some people to deal with their sexuality and their religion at the same time and we have all heard how some religions look (or don’t look) at homosexuality. (Something like those who deny the Holocaust ever happened).

So many gay people find themselves between a rock and a hard place as they try to find their way through contradictory cultural imperatives and queer Jews often find themselves in a soul-searching struggle to integrate their religious beliefs with their gayness. In this anthology, thirty contributors from around the world (including Israel, Serbia, and Australia) share their surprising, poignant, sometimes hilarious experiences in ways that “offer a staggering perspective on issues of identity, institutions and culture from the viewpoint of the queer outsider struggling to belong.”

Aaron Hamburger takes us to Prague and its dark synagogue to share how a closet lesbian leads Shabbat services. With Ina Turpin Fried we go to a wedding where the bride was once a man and the groom was once a woman. We read of Simon Sheppard as he tries to understand why he is attracted to Palestinian men and Leslea Newman writes about coming out to her grandmother (who is 99 years old).Other contributors include Warren J. Blumfield, Daniel M. Jaffe, Eric Pliner, Jay Michaelson, Sara Marcus, Jill Dolan, Steven Cooper, Faith Soloway, Sue Katz and David Rosen (just to name several).

Angela Brown has divided the book into five sections: “Growing Up and Coming Out”, “Family”, “Relationships, Marriage and Sex”, “Finding Our Place in the World” and “Stories from Our Lives”. There is also a glossary and a section on resources (but you had better check them instead of assuming that they are still around—12 years is a long time and our place in society has changed. My LGBT temple in Boston is listed and it still exists but it is limping along now that we have gained access to be able to go where we want.

“Handbook of LGBT Elders: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Principles, Practices, and Policies” edited by Debra A. Harley and Pamela B. Teaster— A Wonderful Addition to our Canon

handbook of lgbt eldrs

Harley, Debra A. and Pamela B. Teaster (editors). “Handbook of LGBT Elders: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Principles, Practices, and Policies”, Springer, 2015 .

A Wonderful Addition to our Canon

Amos Lassen

While this has been out for a year, I just learned about it. It is a book we have needed for way too long. Editors Harley and Teaster give us a wealth of information and perspectives on aging; the focus is on psychological, sociopolitical and care issues that affecting LGBT elders and we see the nuanced interplay between diverse sources of identity and multiple sources of stigma and discrimination.

There are specific chapters that highlight “challenges and resiliencies impacting subpopulations (e.g., racial groups, veterans, immigrants), examine employment and advocacy issues, discuss later-life concerns in context and offer guidelines for relevant, ethical practice”. The contributors represent a wide range of fields from psychiatry and gerontology to public health and public policy, and these together reflect the scope and needs of this diverse and complex population.

Some of the topics included deal with

  • Family relationships of older LGBT adults.
  • The intersection of identities: race, age, sexuality and care network.
  • Bisexuality: an invisible community among LGBT elders.
  • Implications of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.
  • No money, no work and you’re old.
  • Disabilities among LGBT elders: responses of medicine, public health, rehabilitation and social work.

“Handbook of LGBT Elders” was developed as an essential reference for mental health professionals, psychologists and social workers who work with the LGBT community and the elderly, as well as researchers interested in the LGBT community and aging yet it also a book that we can read to gain an idea of what awaits us as we age. There is a wealth of findings and perspectives that have not been seen in previously unseen in LGBT literature.

“No to Sodom” by Avi Sion— Distasteful and Disgusting


Sion, Avi. “No to Sodom”, CreateSpace, 2014.

Distasteful and Disgusting

Amos Lassen

Avi Sion’s book starts off with “Frankly, the subject of homosexuality is very distasteful to me. I would prefer to ignore it altogether, so as not to be mentally tainted by it.” Sion is a Ph.D. researcher/writer in logic/philosophy currently living in Geneva, Switzerland. “No to Sodom” is an essay against homosexuality, using biological, psychological, spiritual, ethical and political arguments. From my opening sentence here we know exactly where this book is going and as I forced myself to read the trash published here, I kept wondering why Sion wrote a book on something that is so “distasteful” to him. He certainly has nothing new to say and for a Ph.D., he really is quite ignorant of the facts about homosexuality. The book is self-published which also says something about Sion and I suspect that it is that no publisher would touch this. I guess he wrote this to make a but of cash from those who think like he does but then I wonder if fundamental christians (small “c” intentional) would buy something like this knowing it was written by a Jew.

Sion tells us right off that homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals are “unnatural, rude, vulgar, perverse, very immature, suicidal, essentially sado-masochistic, willful, insolent, shameless, impudent and immodest”. He further states that homosexuals are failed heterosexuals and lack intelligence and are no longer quite human. They “have indelibly sullied their souls, are beyond redemption, spread AIDS to heterosexuals, are similar to pedophiles and zoophiles, and disrespect the victims of the Holocaust”. Now for the shocker— Sion claims to be opposed to “verbal abuse” yet that is all that he has written here. It is his claim that Rome was destroyed by rampant homosexuality.

In an addendum, Sion calls for the immediate expulsion of all homosexuals and their supporters from the Jewish religion. They are “evil”, he says and they are responsible for “crimes against humanity”. Their removal would be an “act of social hygiene” since homosexuals “infect” the Jewish people. He says that this is the “prophylactic way that is used in gardening, husbandry and medicine”.

Sion’s supposed more concrete arguments against homosexuality are also unconvincing and often contradictory. How can homosexuality be “free choice”, when he claims that people can become homosexual because of manipulation and/or rape (suggesting that it isn’t based on choice), and that homosexuals are mostly beyond redemption. It is unnatural since there is no procreation yet we know that homosexual behavior exists among many animals. Sion then points out that humans, of course, aren’t animals – but if so, the argument about sex being solely for reproduction becomes moot.

Sion condemns all forms of non-reproductive sex as hedonistic, suggesting that his opposition to homosexuality is rooted in a general anti-sex attitude. But he contradicts himself when he says that heterosexual couples have the right to keep the government out of their bedrooms, while homosexuals do not. He is correct in saying that the highest goals of human life are spiritual but he is oblivious to the role of sex, or at least sexually derived symbolism, in much human spirituality, including mysticism. Sion suggests that all religious traditions are “straight” and, presumably, anti-sex!

Homosexuality, according to this sad bigot, is a kind of plague that began only recently and threatens to overrun and “infect” Jewish and American society. Since all homosexuals are psychologically disturbed, and they simply cannot be “normal” in any sense.

“Love Unites Us: Winning the Freedom to Marry in America” edited by Kevin Cathcart and Leslie Gabei-Brett—- Passion and Persistence

love unites us

Cathcart, Kevin and Leslie Gabei-Brett (editors). “Love Unites Us: Winning the Freedom to Marry in America”, The New Press, 2016.

Passion and Persistence

Amos Lassen

Ever since the June 2015 Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, we have had an outpouring of books about how it came to be. To some, it seems that it was a quick revolution while we know that it took years of struggle and dedication. In reality it was just one step in the process. “Love Unites Us” is the history of activists’ struggle for marriage rights for same-sex couples in the United States and what makes this different from other books is that it is told in the words of those who fought the fight.

To many activists, achieving marriage equality seemed a far-fetched idea they were proven wrong. We now know that proactive arguments in favor of love, family, and commitment were more effective than arguments that focused on rights and the goal of equality at work. It was effective to tell the stories of people who loved and cared for one another, in sickness and in health and this is what cut through the protestors and moved people. Of course there was backlash and while this did not happen overnight, it did so faster than most activists and observers had ever imagined. We have here compelling stories from leading attorneys and activists— Evan Wolfson, Mary L. Bonauto, Jon W. Davidson, and Paul M. Smith, among others Taken as a whole this is an explanation of how gay and lesbian couples achieved the right to marry.

“Love Unites Us” is filled with legal and political history. It is the inside story told by the insiders who were actually there.

“Crumby” by Alex Crumbsnatcher— Being Alive


Crumbsnatcher, Alex. “Crumby”, CreateSpace, 2016.

Being Alive

Amos Lassen

“Crumby” is a memoir but unlike any that you have read until now. It deals with being gay and in incarcerated, deconstruction of the psychiatric system, awkward teenage sex, drugs, and chasing an animal called love, about learning to laugh in the face of Middle America as a way to survive in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Crumby is about being alive.

Alex Crumbsnatcher shares his story of being a teenager and gay and the years of his life that were full of pain, misery, injustice, and loneliness, but despite this darkness. However he never gave up and is still determined to be who he is.

We all know that there are places in America where one can be who he is—there people are often silenced, medicated, locked up, and treated like animals simply because they are different.

“Crumby” is not an easy read because of the traumas Alex’s life. The book and the author give a voice to the queer community, which has been so abandoned, rejected and abused. Although much of this has changed, it has not changed for all people and we must remember that none of us are free until all of us are free.

We follow Alex through his many adventures and gain insight into what his life has been for him. He seems to hold nothing back. His story is one of perseverance and we see him as willing to keep going and deal with each situation no matter how bad it might be.

“Unlikely: Setting Aside Our Differences to Live Out the Gospel” by Kevin Palau— An Unlikely Patnership


Palau, Kevin. “Unlikely: Setting Aside Our Differences to Live Out the Gospel”, Howard Books reprint edition, 2016.

An Unlikely Partnership

Amos Lassen

 “Unlikely” is the inspiring story of an unlikely partnership between a group of churches and the openly gay mayor of Portland and this led to unprecedented change throughout the city and launched a nationwide movement called CityServe.

Portland is one the most “unchurched” and politically progressive cities in the nation. We would not expect Portland to be home to one of the most successful partnerships between local government and area churches. But it is.

In 2007, Kevin Palau and a few dozen pastors approached Portland’s mayor and asked the question: “How can we serve you with no strings attached?” City officials then identified five initial areas of need—hunger, homelessness, healthcare, the environment, and public schools and it was here that began a partnership, CityServe, between the city and a band of churches that sought to live out the gospel message. Since then, the CityServe model has spread inspiring communities across the country to take up the cause in their own cities.

This is not just the story of the inception of CityServe, but it is also a challenge to readers to evaluate their understanding of the gospel. Today’s church is in the middle between social justice and direct proclamation. Here we have a proposal and scenario that shows how the gospel can truly penetrate and change an region by word and deed.

CityServe proves that when differences can be put aside for a worthy cause, real change can be attained, and unlikely beauty is born. Sam Adams was the first openly gay mayor in a major U.S. city. Kevin Palau is the son of evangelist Luis Palau. Their worldviews are miles apart yet Kevin Palau befriended Adams and they remain friends to this day. That might seem like an unlikely friendship but that’s what Kevin Palau believes to be a symptom of a Christian simply following Jesus’ command to love. And the love didn’t stop there. Unlikely is the story of Kevin Palau’s friendship with Sam Adams, and how Palau and thousands of other Christians around the Portland metropolitan area partnered (and continue to partner) with Portland political leaders, school officials, the LGBT community, and many others to “seek the welfare of the city” of Portland. When Palau and other Christians reached out to Sam Adams and others in the spirit Christianity, an unlikely story resulted.

“Start With One: A Journey Through Homosexuality, Christianity, Societal Prejudices, and the Will to Prevail” by Adam Mastroianni— Accepting Each Other and Ourselves


start with one

Mastroianni, Adam. “Start With One: A Journey Through Homosexuality, Christianity, Societal Prejudices, and the Will to Prevail, CreateSpace, 2016.

Accepting Each Other and Ourselves

Amos Lassen

Adam Mastroianni was raised in a typical Italian-American community and had a fine family and many friends. However, he had a secret that he hid. This is his story and his journey to understanding his own sexuality, the struggles he faced coming out to his loved ones, and his conflicts with religion and morality. It is a story about being honest and true to oneself while at the same time dealing with the prejudices of the surrounding culture. Mastroianni shares with us the process that he went through to deal with these prejudices especially those that forced him to believe that the could not be both gay and Christian. He challenges us to call for

human equality and to know unconditional love. The author is passionate about making this world a better place and asks us to join him in doing so.

“King James and the History of Homosexuality” by Michael Young— Favorites of the King

king james

Young, Michael. “King James and the History of Homosexuality”, Fonthill Media, 2016.

Favorites of the King

Amos Lassen

 James VI & I, the man responsible for the King James Version of the Bible, was known to have a series of notorious male favorites. Michael B. Young looks at political history and recent scholarship on the history of sexuality to try to see whether the king’s relationships with these men were sexual. He also shows that James’s favorites had a negative impact within the royal family, at court, in Parliament, and in the nation at large. Those of the time worried that James would bring about a “sodomitical court and an effeminized nation” and therefore some urged James to engage in a more virile foreign policy by embarking on war. Queen Anne encouraged a martial spirit and molded her oldest son to be more manly than his father. Then there were serious repercussions that continued after James’s death that detracted from the majesty of the monarchy and contributing to the outbreak of the Civil War. England, it seems, became a world of political intrigue colored by sodomy, pederasty, and gender instability.


Writer Michael Young discusses both the personal history of King James and public perception of homosexuality during 16th and 17th Century England. King James’ history is established in the first chapter making it easy to follow the rest of the book. Following that are chapters that look at the evidence that the King had sex with his male favorites and how the people reacted to this as well an introduction to James’ contemporaries and a bit of information about sex between males. Young also discusses the relationship between homosexuality, effeminacy and pacifism vs. heterosexuality, masculinity and war and how James’s homosexuality affected the reign of his son, Charles. We also read what contemporary and later writers said about James’s sexuality, concluding with comments on the general history of homosexuality. It is important to note that there are claims here that are very thoroughly footnoted and annotated. We are given the evidence but ultimately it is for the reader to decide as to whether or not the sex did happen.

The “legal definition [of sodomy] was then very concise and narrow. It specified only one sex act between men, anal intercourse, and excluded all other genital sex acts.” History shows James to have been and Young says that he was “a notorious hypocrite where swearing and drinking were concerned; he could simply have been the same where sodomy was concerned.”

In reading what others have to say about the book, I found several detractors who claim that Young did not take into account “the customs of Stuart England, or the political situation, in order to slander a deeply religious man who is no longer alive to defend himself. A historian with his own agenda is capitalizing on insults by James’ contemporaries to twist the facts. Even today, calling someone gay is considered an insult (what?), so why would anyone accept such a claim without question? Throughout history, political figures have been insulted by their detractors; just consider the myriad insults directed at Barack Obama!” This reviewer goes on to say that assertions of the King’s sexual behavior were biased by those who did not find favor with him. Have a look at what this reviewer has to say:

“I believe Professor Young is blinded by his own bias. An academic career is based “publish or perish.” It doesn’t matter WHAT one publishes, all that matters is publishing SOMETHING. However, a degree doesn’t make a scholar infallible. The fact that this book appears to be self-published tells me that other authorities don’t believe Professor Young’s view carries any weight, at least in this case. That hasn’t stopped others from jumping on the bandwagon and spreading this gossip, unfortunately”.