Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began” by Alex Cooper with Joanna Brooks— Mormonism and “Faith”

saving alex

Cooper, Alex with Joanna Brooks. “Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began”, HarperOne, 2016.

Mormonism and “Faith”

Amos Lassen

In Alex Cooper’s life all was going fine when she was fifteen years old. She came from a good Mormon family and they lived quietly in a suburban town and she had taught that it is God’s plan that rules our lives and that God has a plan for everyone. However, Alex began to wonder what was the plan that God had for her and if it included these new feelings she had for Yvette, a girl who made her happy and with whom she was falling in love. This was her secret and a secret that could wreck her family, her church and her life. Alex could not hold it in and she told her parents that she was gay and, as we can imagine, all hell broke lose. Alex was driven from Southern California to Utah, where, against her will, she was given over (by her parents) to fellow Mormons who promised to save Alex from her homosexuality.

For eight months, Alex was held captive in an unlicensed “residential treatment program” that was the same model as other places of this kind (boot camps) that were all over the state of Utah. There she was physically and verbally abused and on many days she was forced to stand facing a wall wearing a heavy backpack filled of rocks. Faith was used to punish and terrorize her. However, Alex was lucky in that with the help of a dedicated legal team in Salt Lake City, she escaped and made legal history in Utah by winning the right to live under the law’s protection as an openly gay teenager.

Whenever I read or hear a story like this I can only wonder about the parents who brought the child into the world and their religion that allows such behavior. I was raised in a religious Jewish home and while it was not easy to discuss sexuality with my parents, they were eventually able to understand that we loved each other and that religion had nothing to do with sexuality.

Alex is not alone; we hear stories like this all the time but perhaps now that something has been done about what is called “gay conversion therapy” and sexual rehabilitation centers who claimed that they could save people from their sexuality. Just reading that sentence shows how ridiculous the idea is and I am really not sure what saving someone from his/her sexuality means. Alex’s story was written in the hopes that it will bring awareness and justice to this issue and we see, that even among the young, we often to fight for freedom, acceptance and above all, truth.

“When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began” is the subtitle of the book and while at first we might take that subtitles to not be serious, we realize that it is indeed very serious. Everyone who deals with coming out also deals with fear but here that fear became serious punishment and cruel behavior by Alex’s parents who brought her into the world and supposedly loved her until… and from that point she went into eight months of total abuse.

We feel her strength through her writing that is filled with emotion that she passes on to her readers. This is not the first time that I have heard of what goes on in these bogus rehabilitation centers but it is the first time that I read about a girl having to deal with this foolishness. The very thought that someone believes (or doesn’t believe) that change is possible is ridiculous and absurd. What is even worse is that there are those who are subjected to it. Not many who go through this come out as strong as Alex Cooper.

This is a very important book about a very important topic but I doubt that those who need to read it will do so. Everyone must understand that sexuality is not chosen and that it can be very difficult to be unlike others. Alex issues a challenge to us to help stop this foolishness and it is our responsibility to listen to her. She got out of it before she was permanently damaged but she is one of the few who did so.

“A History of Virility” edited by Alain Corbin, Jean-Jacques Courtine and Georges Vigarello— The Meaning of Manhood

a history of virility

Corbin, Alain, Jean-Jacques Courtine, Georges Vigarello, editors. “A History of Virility”, (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism), translated by Keith Cohen, Columbia University Press, 2016.

The Meaning of Manhood

Amos Lassen

James Joyce’s short story, “Eveline” begins with a statement, “Everything changes” and we all know how true that is. Obviously the meaning of manhood has changed over time and seems to be still constantly changing. “A History of Virility” looks at these changes and the trajectory of change by beginning with the ancient conceptions of male domination and privilege and show how it persisted, with significant alterations, for centuries. While the mainstream of virility was challenged during the Enlightenment, its preeminence was restored by social forms of male bonding in the nineteenth century. In the modern age, pacifist, feminist, and gay rights movements have altered codes of virility taking us to the twentieth century’s concept of “virility on edge,” or virility as an unstable entity dispossessed of any automatic claim to power.

“A History of Virility” is composed of original essays, written by an international group of scholars that include Arlette Farge, Jean-Paul Bertaud, Christelle Taraud, and Fabrice Virgili and these writings add an intriguing and fascinating socio-historical dimension to the way we understand the evolution of virility. In their essays, these authors consider painting, sculpture, literature, film, and philosophy to expand our knowledge of fascism, nationalism, liberalism, classicism, and colonialism. The focus is on virility and not simply masculinity and this is used

to unsettle popular accounts of politics and culture. The book begins by looking at ancient conceptions of the male gender, which persisted, with significant alterations, for hundreds of years. Here literature is the central element in looking at the cultural history of gender, with literature as a central element. We read of French notions of virility from and across all periods. Men through history have defined themselves in opposition to three things: women, children and animals. To be a man basically has meant not to be a woman, not to be a boy, and not to be a wild beast and in Greek and Roman culture men were considered to be stronger, more active during sex, and hairier than women but not as hairy or lustful as animals. Even today, insults about one’s masculinity (virility) now, growing up, these are the three common insults that used against men who act non-traditionally in the culture in which they live.

The book shows that masculinity is an ‘acquired quality’ and exists in relation to a given society. A man is not something we simply are, it’s something that causes us to act in conscious and unconscious ways. In this volume, there are essays on such topics as ‘The Great War and the History of Virility’, ‘The Necessary Manifestation of Sexual Energy’, ‘Working-Class Virility’, and ‘Virility through the Looking-Glass of Women’, and these are a resource of historical context and theorizing about what societies have considered that being a man should consist of, and why. The book takes gender disparity as its starting-point and is concerned with explaining concepts and looking at the future,  not with playing down or justifying subjects like violence or male domination, but by explaining them and looking for possible ways forward.  We see that one is not considered to be a real man if he is not fierce and it is from the early period that gender roles came into being.

Homosexuality has brought forth surprisingly few challenges to idea of what virility means. Gay culture until very recently has generally been torn on whether to challenge gender roles or alternatively whether to go along with them wholeheartedly. Proust gave us the idea that gay men were really ‘female’ souls in male bodies, searching for their traditional counterparts. Sexuality has always been part of virility and therefore masculinity is a function of the sexual being. Some women have been moved (or pressured) to accept the idea that men have felt under pressure from their wives and female acquaintances to conceal this while receiving pressure from their peers to demonstrate it and this pressure can be seen throughout history. Violence has been central to virility. It is certainly important to be reminded that both men and women suffer from gender inequalities yet men have been given much more power socially and politically than women, and women have suffered disproportionately at the hands of men. Some think that this is a natural result of the imbalance in power relations, and that when women are given power they act in the same way. Then there are those that believe that male violence is fundamental and biological.

This book shows how virility is constructed and enforced by the whole of society – it is not just something that men take on for their own benefit. Many women see traditional virility very positively, even when they’re uneasy about its implications, and contextual exaggeration of gender differences and this is not necessarily a bad thing. This can be fun, reassuring and sexy. We read here about the dangers inherent in gender imbalances. Bringing together social concepts of virility with examples of where these expectations come from is an easy way to look at masculinity. We, therefore, are left with a great deal to think about.

“Moses: A Stranger Among Us” by Rabbi Maurice Harris— A Different Moses

moses

Harris, Maurice. “Moses: A Stranger Among Us”, Cascade Books, 2012.

A Different Moses

Amos Lassen

All of us have an idea in our minds about the Biblical Moses but here Rabbi Maurice Harris leads us to look beyond the familiar and popular portrayals of Moses to discover the Moses whose lesser-known attributes and experiences give us new and fresh ethical and spiritual guidance. Harris offers many different angles on his subject and brings together traditional religious interpretations, academic Bible scholarship, psychological and sociological analysis, and feminist readings. and more. He combines his deep respect for the Bible with questioning tradition to bring us a complex Moses whose life story gives us important tools with which to better understand “issues like religious fundamentalism, intermarriage, identity confusion, civil disobedience, gay and lesbian equality, and the nature of sacred mythic storytelling”. Harris writes as if we are sitting across from him and participating in the conversation that becomes a creative, thought-provoking, and exciting reading of the Bible.

Harris presents Moses as “the adopted child, the ex-con, the failure and the intermarried.” The book is relatively short coming in at 164 pages and the writing is very cleat and to the point. While the book is basically about Moses, it is not so much a look at the man and more about the ability to see Moses from a general point of view and understand how he became part of theology. 

Harris uses the life of Moses to demonstrate concepts that spin off into much larger ideas. His close readings of the text and the newest secondary materials are integrated into a discussion of some of the major critical issues of spiritual interpretation. Here, Moses is not superhuman but is an example for outsiders. We get an incredible look into an ancient story. Harris points a reflective and intense light on the character of Moses, looking at the biblical narrative with new eyes. He sees a Moses that we can each easily connect with and we take a journey together reading the story of the Exodus. We get a demonstration of how faith is a living reality that responds to human experience, needs, and new understandings and situations through examples from the life of Moses. This is an intellectually and theologically sound open response to the “Moses question” and it shows that faith can take on new ideas, interpretations and visions of God.

Harris takes on an important need in Jewish settings by writing about identity that includes interfaith, multi-racial, pan-ethnic, non-traditional families, and LGBT Jews. Harris makes the Torah relevant for every generation by using Moses’ biography to inspire us to engage again and again with our sacred texts.

“Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love” by Matt Baume— A New Defintion

defining marriage

Baume, Matt. “Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love”, CreateSpace, 2015.

A New Definition

Amos Lassen

It was not that long ago that marriage was defined exclusive for heterosexuals only. Today, the definition has expanded to welcome gay and lesbian couples across the entire United States. Matt Baume’s “Defining Marriage” looks at the evolution of marriage through the personal stories of those who lived through the change. We get an intimate glimpse into the private lives of those who dreamed of marriage in the 1970s, the survivors of the 1980s, the pioneers of the 1990s and the tireless soldiers of the 2000s, all of whom are champions who won marriage today. There are individual stories of the people who participated in this revolution, an examination of what marriage has become, and personal narratives that show how the act of defining marriage changed the lives and loves of the people who fought to define it.

As he takes on this journey to equality over the years, Baume finds himself evaluating his own self-contradictory life as a marriage activist with no plans to marry his longtime partner. Dustin Lance Black shares the story of how his escape from childhood abuse prepared him to bring hope to millions; Dan Savage writes of his stubborn rejection of the closet at what was then an unthinkably young age; and Andrew Sullivan remembers the call for marriage in the 1980s that brought him enemies amongst conservatives and gay people alike.

We read about Rob Reiner, who inherited a passion for social justice from his parents and his television family; San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who stood up to an unjust law and the President of the United States; and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a former seminary student who picked up the mantle of LGBT liberation after the death of a friend and mentor. Some of those who became involved also became accidental activists thrust into an international spotlight, like Amy Balliett of Join the Impact; Book of Mormon star Gavin Creel; and Clela Rorex, who in 1975 became America’s first government official to issue a marriage license to gay couples.

We read about Molly McKay, who showed up at marriage counters to demanded a license every Valentine’s Day for a decade until someone finally said yes; Jenny Kanelos, a small-town girl who mobilized all of Broadway; Juan and Tim Clark-Lucero who were forced to race against time to marry before their legal window closed. We read about rare, behind-the-scenes access to personal conflicts around the national struggle and about angry protestors clashing on the steps of the Supreme Court. We witness the same debate among the Justices and gay political leaders locked in desperate, emotional struggles to pass marriage bills in the back halls of capitols. Then there are the conversations of families as they discover what the shifting landscape of marriage means for their own relationships. “Defining Marriage” is the story of how people fought to change marriage and how that fight changed them.

Baume conducted interviews with many early leaders behind the marriage equality movement not to mention the original couples who walked up to marriage counters and shares his personal story of his relationship with his boyfriend/partner thus providing an interesting insight to changing ideas of commitment of marriage. The emphasis here is on theme of changing minds by focusing on marriage = commitment.

As we read we laugh, cry and share the frustration, anger and anguish of all the people (gay, lesbian and straight) who fought for marriage equality.

 

New in March, 2016 from Bruno Gmunder

bruno

spartacus
Spartacus
Spartacus International Gay Guide 2016

The Spartacus International Gay Guide with its rich tradition is the most successful travel guide for gays. The following characteristics make this guide practical and easy to use: The important country information texts stand out in color, distinct and colorful country and city maps assist rapid orientation, address listings are easy to find with the help of a clearly structured and organized listing system. Spartacus International Gay Guide has information for more than 135 countries worldwide.
Pages: 1024
Color: Full Color
Languages: English, German, French, Spanish and Italian
Cover: Softcover
Format: 5 1/2 x 8 1/4″ (14,0 x 21,0 cm)
Price: € 18,99 / US$ 32.99 / £ 19.99
ISBN: 978-3-95985-057-5

 

the life studies

Georg Meyer-Wiel
The Life Studies

What does it mean to meet a stranger—in particular, to meet a man? Is it possible that for just one moment, even though you have just met, you can see him as he really is? So it may be just for one moment, but maybe for that one moment you see him in all his beauty and singularity; see, in his face and body, his life.
What Georg Meyer-Wiel is doing in this series of drawings is presenting his search for an answer to that question.
Pages: 48
Color: Full Color
Cover: Hardcover
Format: 9 1/2 x 12 1/2″ (24,0 x 32,0 cm)
Price: € 29,99 / US$ 29.99 / £ 29.99
ISBN: 978-3-95985-020-9

bulldogs
Lazarov, Hunter & Arden
Bulldogs

Bulldogs collects three gay comics stories that celebrate what we all love about manly men from the United Kingdom! Caber Tossers features three kilted Scottish sportsmen who meet and compete in Highland Games of strength … and then team up for a friendly non-competitive bit of sport afterwards. Two kind and gentle but very masculine village clergymen—one young and charming, one distinguished and experienced – find themselves in Hot Vicar On Vicar Action with each other. And a saucy chav and a friendly South Asian bobby keep hooking up for increasingly intimate late-night cottaging sessions in an urban London park until one of them says it’s a Fair Cop…
Pages: 80
Color: Full Color
Cover: Hardcover
Format: 7 x 9 1/2″ (17,5 x 24,0 cm)
Price: € 19,99 / US$ 24.99 / £ 14.99
ISBN: 978-3-95985-059-9

sticky

Dale Lazarov & Steve Maclsaac
Sticky. 10th Anniversary Edition

Sticky is the groundbreaking collection of character-based, sex-positive tales of man-on-man carnality and sweetness written by Dale Lazarov and drawn by Steve MacIsaac – now in its 10th anniversary of publication! TimeOut Chicago says “carnality and sweetness is the exactly the right combination that makes Sticky a real standout in the genre. Readers will find the material is both erotically charged and unabashedly romantic.”

Pages: 80
Color: Full Color
Cover: Hardcover
Format: 7 x 9 1/2″ (17,5 x 24,0 cm)
Price: € 19,99 / US$ 24.99 / £ 14.99
ISBN: 978-3-95985-060-5

“Far from Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community” by Charles London— Community and Faith

far from zion

London, Charles. “Far from Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community”, William Morrow  2009

Community and Faith

Amos Lassen

“Far from Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community” is a fascinating narrative of community and faith that explores the Jewish Diaspora in some of the most unexpected places—from Burma to Tehran to Cuba and even Bentonville, Arkansas. London tells the stories of the Jews who stayed behind, choosing to remain in the countries of their birth rather than immigrating to the Holy Land of Israel. This is fascinating modern history of Jews as well as London’s moving story of his own personal odyssey of religious and cultural discovery and it becomes an “affecting and unforgettable study of diversity, tenacity, survival, and rebirth”.

Charles London is “a secular but spiritual, ambivalently Jewish, and openly gay Brooklyn-based but Baltimore-born library science student who has a gentile partner”. He also directs an organization for child war victims. He begins a Jewish journey in which he visits a mosque in Iran, spent a Yom Kippur in Burma, and shared Shabbat with Jews in Bosnia, Uganda, Cuba, New Orleans, Arkansas, and in Israel. It is London’s story of his “coming out” as a Jew which ironically coincided with the conscious retreat back onto the closet during his touring. We also get a look at his feelings toward Israel and the changes that come about regarding them.

When he arrived in Bosnia in2004, London found a community of Jews living peacefully with their Muslim and Christian neighbors and this appealed to his post-nationalist political orientation. Several years later, he experienced some anti-Semitism directly, and he discovered his grandmother’s hidden Orthodox Jewish upbringing in Berkley, Virginia, whose Jewish community no longer exists. These two experiences were the inspiration to go to find isolated Jewish communities world-wide. Because London is a sensitive observer, his book is rich with interesting characters, exotic locales, and historical detail and meditations on layered identities, community, conflict, and co-existence.

It really shook him to learn that his thoroughly modern grandmother was born in a small, Orthodox, Yiddish-speaking community in Virginia (who knew that they were shtetls in this country?). A reunion of this now-gone village that had coexisted peacefully with its gentile neighbors inspired him to find other Jewish communities in challenging circumstances that live peacefully with their gentile neighbors—which he rather simplistically opposes to Israel.

In Rangoon, Burma, in the midst of a military crackdown, he wonders why the city’s Jewish community is dying; in Iran, he finds a Jewish community not too worried about anti-Semitism, because of a guaranteed seat in Parliament, 30 synagogues and six schools. In Cuba, London wonders if Jews join the community more for spiritual connection or for perks like a government beef ration; in Bosnia, he finds an inclusive Judaism that gives back to the larger society. When he gets to Israel and visits Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial makes London believes for the first time in the necessity of a Jewish state.

As we read about London in his own words, we see him as sincere, politically naïve and not at all knowledgeable and/or aware of Jewish history and rituals. This could be because he was raised in a secular Jewish family and while he was aware of his heritage but had no real desire to actually experience it or interact with it. However, after that visit in Bosnia, something clicked and he decided that he would travel around the world searching for his roots.

Despite efforts by Israel to bring these scattered people home to Zion, they have chosen to remain in the lands of their birth. We meet a shopkeeper selling Jewish trinkets in Iran, a caretaker who keeps watch over an all-but-forgotten synagogue in Rangoon, revelers at a Hanukkah celebration in an Arkansas bowling alley, a Cuban engineering professor who is proud of his Jewish heritage and prouder still of his Communist ideals. These stories allow London to look at himself and his own identity and struggle with his connection to both Judaism and Israel. He becomes inspired to be at least a little more religious.
I do think he erred on the way he found the New Orleans Jewish community—it was very strong before Katrina and there are still a number of observant Jews there just as there always have been. I was born and raised there, went to Hebrew school, made a bar mitzvah, was active in Young Judaea and later emigrated to Israel. I think it is important to understand that being observant and being a good Jew are not one and the same. My brother-in-law still does not desecrate the Sabbath in any way and he is not the only one by any means. Granted New Orleans is no New York in terms of the number of Jews but I am fairly certain that percentage wise, there is not much difference.

I was not surprised that London who began his journey as indifferent, if not somewhat hostile to Israel, ends up almost where he started. Israel is a difficult country, especially for Americans and it is quite easy to find fault but it is our country and we must support it. I firmly believe that to fully understand Israel, one must serve in the military. London blames Jewish “particularism” as one of the problems that Israel has but I do not believe he spent enough there to make a statement like that. I also totally disagree with the idea that the New Orleans Jews are “a product of the “universalist” impulse that comes from living as a minority’. He completely disregards the good things that communities outside of Israel have done. It is an interesting read in that it gave me a lot to think about and issues to disagree with. As for his definition of Zionism, I think he has a good deal more work to do. And yes it is indeed possible to be a gay observant Israeli/American… I am one.

I have questions and concerns about Israel but I have that right to do so since I spent many years there at a time when we were building the country. What is Israel today is not the country I helped to build. , London’s agenda comes across as naive and heavy handed and therefore I found it distracting from the overall emphasis of his book. Some of London’s observations are illuminating but many are superficial.

“Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis” by Kevin J. Mumford— A Look at Black Gay Men

not straight not white

Mumford, Kevin J. “Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis”, (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture), The University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

A Look at Black Gay Men

Amos Lassen

Kevin J. Mumford recounts the history of black gay men from the 1950s to the 1990s. He traces how the major movements of the times, from civil rights to black power to gay liberation to AIDS activism, helped shape the cultural stigmas that surrounded race and homosexuality. Mumford’s book explores how activists, performers, and writers rebutted negative stereotypes and refused sexual objectification. Examining the lives of both famous and little-known black gay activists (from James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin to Joseph Beam and Brother Grant-Michael Fitzgerald), Mumford looks at and analyzes the ways in which movements for social change both inspired and at the same time marginalized black gay men.

Mumford’s research is quite amazing—an extensive archive of newspapers, pornography, and film, as well as government documents, organizational records, and personal papers. Mumford, in looking at the forty years specified in the title, sheds new light on the long and protracted battle of black gay men for affirmation and empowerment in the face of pervasive racism and homophobia.

This is a book that is so badly needed by both the LGBT and African-American communities and it gives a new and different voice and approach as well as substance to Black Gay Studies. Mumford demonstrates the ways in which black gays have played a pivotal role in the social and political movements of the last fifty years. He argues that black gay men were neither silent nor passive participants in the gay or black liberation struggle. History has hidden this participation until now and here we have affirmation of the humanity and the positivity of Black gay men everywhere in this country.

“Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Jim Downs— Re-examining Our History

stand by me

Downs, Jim. “Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation”, Basic Books 2016.

Re-examining Our History

Amos Lassen

I doubt that there is a person alive today who is not aware of the tremendous strides that have gained in LGBT rights. However, I am sure that there are many who have no idea how this all came about. Most think that gay liberation began with the Stonewall riots that took place in Greenwich Village in 1969 but it is important to remember that the riots would not have happened had there not been talk about inequality before then. Liberation does not always have to be violent and have riots—there are other way to find freedom and while the Stonewall riots are very, very important, the issue had been building for quite a while before that eruption. It was in the 1970s that we began to feel that we were on our way toward both political and sexual freedom but we hit a bit of a roadblock in the 80s with the devastation of the AIDS epidemic that brought to light some of the problems we were facing in the way we lived. Many of us felt that the “homosexual lifestyle” was not based solely upon sexual choice and performance but also on love and the right to be different however that was manifested.

Historian and writer Jim Downs, a Harvard Andrew W. Mellon Fellow looks back at the history of gay liberation and then rewrites it by showing that the 70s were about much more that sex and protesting what was then the status quo. He has gone back into history after having read and studied records that have remained untapped until now and that were housed in LGBT community centers in Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia. Just reading how he got to these sources is a story in itself and I must say that I was pulled into the book within the first few lines of the introduction. The stories that we read here are sensitive and moving. We read about gay people who came together to find a way to create and reinforce a community of those who had been marginalized and alienated from the mainstream of American life.

Gay people back then found one another in the Metropolitan Church, a nationwide gay religious group and this is important because we see that unlike what many might think we have no eschewed religion but since mainstream religion did not welcome us, we found a way of our own. There was also the “Body Politic”, a newspaper that showed us how to think of ourselves as political with a political identity and this was very different from a sexual identity. There was also the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore in New York City, that was the hub of gay literary life and there were other places where our lives were displayed like a drama at the theater that was about the oppression that we faced even as American citizens. This was the beginning of activism and it is so unfortunate that it has been forgotten, by and large and because it was, our critics used sex as our defining characteristic. Naturally this set us back and it became how we were identified for a very long time.

Downs shares that in the 70s there were movements and issues that came to light as we began our journey toward freedom. These were indeed instrumental in bringing about change within our community and from outside as well. Our main goal then was to build a community with a sense of direction and in that way we could bring about change. We not only founded our own religious organizations like the Metropolitan Community Church and World Congress of LGBT Jews but we also had our own bookstores that moved us toward community. It was a time when gay newspapers came into being and they helped to heighten awareness of who we were and how we could go about changing the abuse and mistreatment of members of the gay community. It was also the time, Downs tells us, that the “’macho clone’ redefined gay male culture and identity, in many ways disrupting the progress”. This image of the masculine gay male deleted woman and people of color from the gay community. Downs maintains that gay life in the 70s was not just about sex but we cannot deny that sex played a huge part in the period as sex (gay, straight or what-have-you) always does. (Have a look at the film “The Lion in Winter” and see when Eleanor of Aquitaine remarks about the role of sex in history). Downs simply states that sex indeed mattered to us but it did not define who we are and I think that if there is anywhere Downs falls a bit short, it is with that statement. There will always be those that hang around just for the sex and nothing more until they are touched by something that directly influences them. An intelligent and thought-provoking though somewhat limited addition to the historical record of the gay liberation movement.

I think that it is also interesting that this book comes out just as we are beginning to look back at one of the most tragic events in our history, the fire at the Upstairs bar in New Orleans in 1973. Of later there have been two fine books published about and a documentary by Robert Camina has been on the festival circuit. By recovering these stories, Downs has also recovered some heroes; people who risked everything to build a community and to fight for justice. Yes, those that at Stonewall are heroes but there others whose lives have been unnoticed. By going back in time we can recover them and understand ourselves much better.

It is wonderful to know that there thee were gay men then who were intellectuals and driven to build a community and I see their contributions as just as important as those who fought the police at Stonewall.

Jim Downs has written quite a book that reads like a novel. I began reading about 11:30 last night and read all night long as the temperatures in Boston went below zero. It was warm in my apartment from the grin on my face that was achieved by meeting unsung heroes.

Downs has discovered a new group of gay activists who were working within religion, advocacy, journalism and community who are really part of the right that we enjoy today. Ten years ago, I would not have dared to dream that we would get to where we are today and we did because we stand on the shoulders of those who paved the way. I want to close with something that Jim Downs recently said in the Huffington Post:

“From bookstores to bathhouses to bars, gay people in the 1970s often did not look for the approval of straight people, and they did their own thing. I found this to be one of the most compelling and telling aspects of their lives. Sure, some of them fought for equality and demanded political and legal recognition but most were more invested in creating a culture and community of their own”.

We all need to read this book if we want to remain informed and  involved in our community. It is never too late to say thank you for what others have done so that we have our basic freedoms today.

“Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus” by Jonathan A. Allan— The Place of the Anus in Literature

reading from behind

Allan, Jonathan A. “Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus”, Zed Books Ltd., 2016.

The Place of the Anus in Literature

Amos Lassen

Jonathan Allan asks us to agree that the anus seems caught up in narrative that is the very “ground zero of gayness”. We are taught to think about what could happen if we allowed the anal dimensions of texts and of cultural analysis to be a part of what we read giving us then a radical reorientation of the anus and its role in the collective imaginary. What we really see here is what has been deeply hidden in our cultural production and fundamentally diminishes “the seemingly unquestioned authority of paranoid, critical thought”. It goes beyond “the rejection of phallocentricism and beyond the remarkable pleasure and privilege of not knowing”.

“Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached” by Hillary Whittington— Moving, Sensitive and Beautiful

raising ryland

Whittington. Hillary. “Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached”, William Morrow, 2016.

Moving, Sensitive and Beautiful

Amos Lassen

Hillary Whittington shares her story of the emotional choices she had to make to embrace her transgender child. It is a powerful and moving story that really began when she and her husband Jeff posted a video on YouTube that chronicled their five-year-old son Ryland’s transition from girl to boy. They didn’t expect it to be greeted with such fervor but it instantly went viral and has been seen by more than seven million viewers since it was posted in May 2014. That video is only part of the story and now

for the first time, we get the rest and it is an emotional and moving journey. After they discovered that their daughter Ryland was deaf at age one and needed cochlear implants, the Whittingtons spent nearly four years successfully teaching Ryland to speak. Once Ryland gained the power to speak, it was time for the parents to listen as Ryland said to them, “I am a boy!” And they listened. After learning that forty-one percent of people who identify as transgender attempt to take their own lives, Hillary and her husband Jeff were determined and made it their mission to support their child.

From the earliest stages of trying to understand Ryland regarding clothing choices or just examining the difficult conversations that they had with their child, we learn a lot about both parents and child. Hillary Whittington shares her experiences as a mother through it all and shares both the resistance and support that their family has encountered as they try to erase the stigma that surrounds the word “transgender.” Whittington hopes that by telling her family’s story that she can assist the world in accepting that even children as young as five can have important things to say and to share. What we really see here a powerful story of unconditional love and accepting others for who they are. We learn here to do what is right even if others do not understand it.