Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man” by Thomas McBee— Understanding the Past, Making Way for the Future

man alive

McBee, Thomas. “Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man”, City Lights, 2014.

Understanding the Past, Making Way for the Future

Amos Lassen

”Man Alive” is Thomas McBee’s memoir of what it took to make him a man. He begins with his trauma of childhood and moves on to a mugging in Oakland, California where he learned that the body has the ability to save itself. The memoir combines forgiveness and self-discovery but most of all it is the writer’s views of love. As we read, it is as if McBee has picked us up and taken us into his own world and shows us what it takes to become a man. Let me just state early on that this is an important book for me personally as my nephew transitioned from female to male and I, the gay uncle, had the hardest time understanding it all. McBee has gel;per me see things more clearly.

The book is not a typical memoir but it will probably be considered one. I see it rather as a look at the limits of cultural understandings of nonfiction and of transgender storytelling. It is definitely nonfiction and creatively so. By creative I mean that McBee’s structure is at the core of what he has written. The book is composed of very short chapters and in them he writes of a scene or so or a memory and these end right when the reader wants to know more. Want we get is fragmentation in a sense and it is through these fragments that we become aware of two main events that dominate his life— his father’s abuse when he was a child and a meeting with a mugger that almost ended his life. By using this approach, writer shows that things that happened apart in time become so important in the story of his life. His prose is almost poetic and each word seems to be especially chosen to deliver the desired effect.

While McBee writes about his life, he focuses on his late twenties. This was when he began to understand the abuse of his father and when he accepted the fact that he was a man that will go through gender transition. It is also then that he was able to deal with his mugger. He writes with control about something that is not easily controlled. The fact that he is a trans person is constantly there; he constantly questions the nature of his physical body. He thinks about his transition as it is part of other happenings and can ever be secondary to other events. The book is really about what Charles Aznavour sings so beautifully about, “What makes a man”? McBee dares to write about uncertainty and the physical is subjected to the emotional. In answering that very question, McBee looks at the men who have influenced his life—his father and the mugger who threatened to kill him. As he decides to transition from female to male, he attempts to understand these two men as examples of manhood in his life.

I love that this personal story is also a universal story. To face a struggle like this requires us to take risks. Let’s look at the event with the mugger: It was in April, 2010 when McBee and his ex were held up at gunpoint and he was held execution style on the ground. He had not yet transitioned but he did look male. The mugger was unsure of what he wanted—they had no money. McBee was certain that he was going to die—the mugger was focused on him. McBee says that he left his body and as soon as he said something the mugger let them go and even told them to run.

Later on there was a similar incident with the same mugger and different people and this time the mugger took a life. It seemed that the way he operated was to stop couples and murder the man. McBee who not yet transitioned or even taking testosterone spoke up and his voice was of a female. This is why he was not shot.

McBee’s father’s abuse provided him with a “toxic association with masculinity”. Yet McBee was unable to deal with the idea that all men are negative bases upon those experiences. “I couldn’t live out my own gender based on people around me. I thought to myself, What I really need to do is find a way to be the kind of man that I know I can be. Almost as soon as that happened, I started seeing a lot of men who were positive and honest. My eyes opened up a lot more. It’s not that I have a Pollyannaish relationship with men now, but I do feel like I had a very uncomplicated dynamic with men and now it’s much more complicated and I see a lot more beauty there. We don’t see it as masculine when men are empathetic, and I think that’s a thing that’s worth examining in our selves.”

Today,” Thomas Page McBee is a “masculinity expert” for VICE and writes the column “Self-Made Man” for the Rumpus. His essays and reportage have appeared in the New York Times, TheAtlantic.com, Salon, and Buzzfeed, where he is a regular contributor on gender issues. An early version of Man Alive won the Mary Tanenbaum nonfiction award from the San Francisco Foundation and was a finalist for the 2012 Bakeless literary prize administered by Graywolf and Breadloaf. Thomas has given lectures about masculinity and media narratives at colleges across the country, and spent five years as the writer-in-residence at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. He is the managing editor of the crowdsourced news and analysis site PolicyMic, and lives in Brooklyn”.

Here is what other critics are saying”

Kirkus Reviews *starred review*

“[A] unique, powerful rite-of-passage memoir. . . . This is quite a story, masterfully rendered.”

 

Shelf-Awareness

“Thomas Page McBee is a man of astonishingly strong character, full of empathy and dynamism. Man Alive isn’t a simple memoir; it is a culmination of, as much as it is a springboard into, a manhood that proves to be in the greatest sense alive.”

 Lambda Literary Review

“Like jazz. Compelling. Vivid. Dramatic. One would be hard pressed to find better words to describe McBee’s tale … Man Alive doesn’t just offer the reader insight into the creative nonfiction genre, but into trans storytelling as well.”

 Heidi Julavits

“I bow down to McBee—his humility, his sense of humor, his insightfulness, his structural deftness, his ability to put into words what is often said but rarely, with such visceral clarity and beauty, communicated.”

 Roxane Gay

“McBee takes us in his capable hands and shows us what it takes to become a man who is gloriously, gloriously alive.”

“A Quarter Inch from My Heart: A Memoir” by Kevin Scott Hall— Katrina Was More Than a Storm

a quarter inch from my heart

Hall, Kevin Scott. “A Quarter Inch from My Heart: A Memoir”, Wisdom Moon Publishing, 2014.

Katrina Was More Than a Storm

Amos Lassen

I know the devastation of Hurricane Katrina first hand as I was stranded in my apartment in New Orleans for a full seven days after the storm hit. It is something that I will never forget and it certainly made me evaluate my life. Ultimately, as a result, I got to Boston after having spend seven awful years in Arkansas which is not the place for an out gay Jew. Because of my experiences in Katrina, I felt a kinship with the book before I even got into the story. In “A Quarter Inch from My Heart”, we meet the author, Kevin Scott Hall when he a stranger; Maurice, an evacuee from the storm contacts him and Hall invites him to stay for a while until he gets his life together again. Of course he does not get things together and during 2½ years together, a relationship develops between the two men. However, the more they are together the more Hall has questions about his “guest”. He goes back and forth between trust and suspicious thoughts, tough love and understanding and as time passes Hall begins to introspect about his own life. Yes, this is a love story but not one that we are familiar with.

Hall really knows how to tell a story. His descriptions are wonderful and he draws us into the story right away. This is a story of both love and courage and there is a great deal to be learned here. We can learn this by asking questions of ourselves.

As many of you know, I read a great deal and I can honestly say that it is not often that I stop to think while reading something. This is one of the books that has made me do so. The ideas are profound and when profundity is united with good writing, we, the readers, are blessed with something really good and believe me, author Hall does this beautifully. It is the brutal honesty with which this book is written that made me sit up several times as I read. Yet with that there is something very entertaining about this book. Hall’s journey is inspiring and for me especially at this time of year when Jews the world over atone for their sins it had a lot to say about self-forgiveness and self-celebration.

I do not want to dwell on a summary of the plot here and that is because I understood the plot to be just the conduit for the writer to convey his ideas about the struggle between love oneself and love for another. This is a complex story full of twists ands surprises just like life itself. Here we get a story of frustrated love and the compromises made that sustain a friendship that at times we see was not meant to be. In understand this, the reader is asked to do some introspection that can indeed cause him to become dismayed at what he discovers. The questions we ask ourselves have no cut and dry answers and we realize that questions lead to even more questions and only while experiencing life will we find answers. The lesson, for me, at least, is to continue questioning as we wend our way through the good and the bad that life has in store for us.

Having been a philosophy major in college, I could continue these ideas but I want readers to experience them themselves. Let me share a word about the prose—it is gorgeous and this is one of those books that you dare not stop reading once you begin. Hall weaves a story about spirituality, trust, homelessness, love and so much more and it deals with the complicated process of coming out that gay men have to deal with. Hall pulls us into his life and we share his dealing with emotions, specifically with those of love. He recreates the character of Maurice and we share his feelings for the man who changed his life. As Hall deals with the tragedies that come into his life, he takes them on and works with them without pretense. I doubt that I will ever be the same after having read, no, I mean after having experienced “A Quarter Inch from My Heart” but that is ok—we are meant to meet life head-on and I did so as I read this book.

 

 

 

“More Fool Like Me” by Stephen Frye— A Look at Stephen Fry

more fool me

Stephen Fry. “More Fool Me”, Michael Joseph (25 Sep 2014).

A Look at Stephen Fry

Amos Lassen

Stephen Fry invites us into his life with yet another volume of his memoirs, “More Fool Me”. When he was in his thirties, Fry had “made it”. He was a writer, a comedian, a movie star, a theater personality and an acclaimed author with a bestselling first novel, “The Liar”. He had everything—friends, money, glamour and lots of work. But then something happened. As the 80’s ended, he found himself taking too much to excess. He was writing and recording in the daytime and going out partying at night. He went to bars and played poker all night long and he thought that he was fooling everyone. His life was one of bravado and lunacy at the same time. Some of those who were closest to him were doing the same thing as he was and it was all heading to a close.

Fry was an addict but functioning well. As the 80s became the 90s, politics turned nasty and AIDS were part of life. Fry was so busy and so distracted from reality that he did not see a fall that was heading straight for him.

This new book contains some very raw excerpts from his diaries and the result is a brilliant look at a man who was driven to create, to entertain and to give of himself. As he does we see a different Stephen Fry.

Today Fry is a beloved member of that group of gay men who are loved and now he lets us back into his life in this eloquently written book.

 “In 1997 he brought us “Moab Is My Washpot”, which covered the first 20 years of his life. Then in 2010 we got “The Fry Chronicles”, which looked at his early success in the 1980s. More Fool Me takes us into one of the most tumultuous times in his life”. 

“Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood” by William J. Mann— An Untold Story Now Told

tinsletown

Mann, William J. “Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood”, Harper, 2014.

An Untold Story Now Told

Amos Lassen

“Tinseltown” is a true story about scandal and ambition, murder and intrigue as well as the beginning of the modern film industry. The 1920s were when the movies became the pastime of America and for the first time we were able to see the tremendous influence they had on this country. But there was another side to the rise of the movies and that was that there were tragedies taking place, one of which was the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association. That crime was unsolved until just recently.

Author William J. Mann went back to the sources and uses them to reconstruct this story. Some of these are recently released FBI files and he brings this story to us with its lively cast of characters which include Taylor, himself, three beautiful and ambitious actresses; stage mother; a devoted valet; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet that killed Taylor. Adolph Zukor, the founder of Paramount was, at that time, locked in a struggle for control of the industry and very desperate to conceal the truth about the crime. Mann wonderfully recreates life in Los Angeles during the 20s and we see it as a town that glittered yet was quite schizophrenic town and filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, new legends and starlets. It was a dangerous place where the powerful and the desperate comingled. This is a great story and the crime is finally solved.

The very first sentence carries us away and we find ourselves in the middle of Hollywood in the 20s. The craziness goes on all day and all night long. We meet some very unsavory characters and there is addiction aplenty—cocaine, morphine, and alcohol. There is prostitution, swindling, blackmail and those who are just mean and nasty. Everyone seems to be wearing a mask and not saying who he or she really is

These movie people and those at the fringes are the people that your mother warned you about. There’s morphine and cocaine and alcohol addiction, prostitution, swindling, blackmailing and simple meanness. No one is who he or she says they are or what they seem. Above them all is Creepy, aka Zukor who controls the world’s largest and most influential movie industry, a megalomaniac to his core.

Surrounding director William Desmond Taylor are Margaret Gibby Gibson who dreams of becoming a star and those who are already stars, Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter who become suspects in the murder.

Behind the scenes are Zukor, Marcus Loew and other moguls. It seemed for a moment that things would change when Will Hays was appointed to the MPPDA and told to clean up the image of the movie industry after the scandal of the Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle rape and murder charge.

The book and Tinseltown have it all—murders, rising and falling stars, movie moguls, Prohibition, extortionists, civic reformers, etc. as well as alcohol and drugs.

Taylor’s murder brought out his many secrets including the fact that his name wasn’t even William Desmond Taylor. “Two female stars were directly linked to Taylor and they were suspects for a time. During this same period, Fatty Arbuckle is on trial for the brutal rape and death of Virginia Rappe at a wild party. Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars are addicted to illegal drugs and alcohol (also illegal)”. When the films were silent, big stars belonged to studios, which not only produced the films but also then showed them in their theaters. At the same time, “church ladies,” felt it was their duty to regulate morality through Hollywood movies. Not much has changed on that front—then as now movies glorified sex and sin.

Zukor had a vision of the future.  He thought about longer and more complex narratives for films and he took the movies and moved them into the great movie houses of yesteryear. He also saw movies moving beyond silent, and beyond black and white.

Most of these stars that were very big names in the 20s are not thought about today. While the book is centered on the Taylor’s murder, it is much more than that. . And although some have complained that it is too long, I disagree. It’s not just a story about Taylor’s murder—it’s so much more.

Taylor and those who surrounded him were all colorful, dramatic people to some degree and they are Mann’s focus as are the thugs of the period. Although ‘Tinseltown’ does contain a lot interesting revelations and a lot of intrigue, there is also plenty gossip and hearsay. There are wonderful stories and accounts that pull us in and that we want to continue reading about forever.  Someone killed Taylor in his Los Angeles home. The director known was a hard worker who went home at five every day and who usually spent the evening alone. The mystery is what he knew that caused his death.

The studios could not afford another scandal. There were several suspects, three women in particular had reason, Mabel Normand, famous in films, but alcohol and drugs had made their mark; Margaret Gibson, a long time friend from the early days, now involved in petty crimes, or Mary Miles Minter, a young star whose mother was driving her to success. The studios did their best to calm things down, the police were corrupt and easily bought, but it was the newspapers that fanned the flames. Sometimes they even made up facts or theories.

Mann claims that the murder of Taylor has been solved –while in fact it has not. It has never been reopened since it was closed on September 29, 1938. Mann instead gives us his perspective of what happened and whether we agree or not is up to each reader. What we will agree on is that this is a well-written and fascinating story.

 

 

 

 

 

“Debauchery” (A Harem Boy’s Saga: Volume 3)— The Saga Continues Once Again

debauchery

Young. “Debauchery” (A Harem Boy’s Saga) (Volume 3), Solstice Publishing, 2014.

The Saga Continues Once Again

Amos Lassen

We return to the story of a young man who was initiated into a clandestine sexual society and was taken to the Middle East. Volume III of the memoir continues with the love story between the boy and his mentor and we now find ourselves at the third harem of which he becomes a part of—the Quwah, the household of a prince.

Now the boy and Andy, his “valet” are confidantes to the prince and assistants in “Carousel” an international dance club project as well as a photography plan, “Sacred Sex in Sacred Places.” This is not fiction but the memoirs of the boy and they will eventually cover seven volumes. Now that he is located in the household of the royal palace, he has a chance to learn more than ever before. On the other hand, he finds himself in some really uncomfortable situations and gets caught in them. He also comes into contact with some less than favorable characters.

What many may not realize is that this the true story of the author’s own experiences and while we, in the West, may deem what he went through to be taboo and horribly inappropriate, we must understand that there are places in the world today where people actually participate in activities that are unrelated to us here. There are affairs that rob one of personal freedom and there are many places where sex and love do not go hand-in-hand. I admire the author’s bravery in putting this out there for the world to see.

“Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians” (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) by Justin Martin— A Circle of Radicals

rebel souls

Martin, Justin. “Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians” (A Merloyd Lawrence Book), DeCapo Books, 2014.

A Circle of Radicals

Amos Lassen

Shortly after the American Civil War, there was a group of radicals who met in a saloon and it changed American society and opened the door for Walt Whitman to become a poet whose poems have become immortal.

Pfaff’s Saloon in Manhattan was the place that those that those who are considered to be America’s original Bohemians was where they met. There was Whitman, actor Edwin Booth, an actor, Artemus Ward, a stand-up comic, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, psychedelic drug pioneer and author Fitz Hugh Ludlow and Adah Menken, a performer famous for her Naked Lady routine. These artists managed to make connections with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and even Abraham Lincoln.

This is the first book written about his group and it is quite a story. Author Justin Martin has done great research in order to bring us this story and he shows us this first bohemian culture—imported from Paris to a dingy Broadway saloon began the American tradition of rebel art that continues even today.

Walt Whitman occupies most of the story but then he is part of the subtitle and a name we all recognize and he is without question the most famous of the Manhattan Bohemians. But he is only part of the story—this is the biography of the group, an incredibly interesting group of artists. The book is written in prose that pulls us in with the first sentence and keeps us until the last sentence when we are left wanting even more.

We learn what the first American Bohemians “ate, drank, loved, wrote about, and otherwise consumed in their intense, often very short, lives”. This is also an unforgettable portrait of Whitman making us want to learn even more about him. The other characters are colorful like Whitman and the stories are amazing. I was glad to see my old New Orleans watering hole, “Café Lafitte in Exile” mentioned here as well.

The lives of the characters here were tangled together and Martin untangles them for us. These Bohemians were important to the literary and cultural life of New York City just as those at the Algonquin Round Table would be during a later period but these are more down to earth. These were characters that breathed life into the city

and they included journalists, poets, authors, artists, and bums. We should be so thankful for Martin’s research as well as his great ability to tell a story.

“Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa…and Me: My Improbable Journey from Châteaux in France to the Slums of Calcutta” by Tony Cointreau— A Gift of Love Written from the Heart

ethel merman, mother teresa

Cointreau, Tony. “Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa…and Me: My Improbable Journey from Châteaux in France to the Slums of Calcutta”, Prospecta Press, 2014.

 A Gift of Love Written from the Heart

Amos Lassen

You probably recognize the name Cointreau but you do not yet know Tony, scion of the famous French liquor family. Tony had had a successful career internationally as a singer and had also served on the board of the liquor company but he felt there was something missing in his life. While his voice made him go to the stage, his heart told him to go to India to Calcutta. As a youngster he had experienced bullying from his brother, his mother had been cold and remote and he had been raised by a cold and unresponsive Swiss nurse and one of his teachers had abused him sexually and made him think that without being perfect, he would never find love. These experiences took him on a search for a mother and for love.

The “first mother” he found was Lee Lehman, the internationally acclaimed beauty. Then, after Tony met Broadway diva Ethel Merman, she became his mentor and second “other mother.” His memoir details his intimate family relationships with both women, as well as his years of work and friendship with Mother Teresa, his last “other mother.”


The memoir voices his opinion that he had no special gifts or talents to bring to Mother Teresa’s work and that if he could do it, then anyone could do it. He learns that all that really matters is a willingness to share whatever small part of oneself with others.

His childhood was one of brutal abuse and really tough, nasty relatives who seemed to delight in inflicting discomfort if not actual pain on Tony. His parents raised Tony with “Real men don’t cry” and showed no affection. We read of the psychological nightmares, panic attacks, and illnesses that came out of this childhood, but Tony was made of tougher stuff and the right people were always there to later bring him through each crisis.  At this time, therapy was not what it has become today.

Tony had a deeply meaningful relationship with his “other mothers” as well as the support and friendship of numerous other famous people such as Pierre Cardin and others. Getting to know Tony’s surrogate mothers is a beautiful experience. We also meet his lover who has been a dominantly supporting character throughout their relationship.

This is a story of hope, and unconditional love that kept me turning pages quickly.  “The book reads like conversation with a friend. During the course of getting to know someone, even along a linear path through time, new information emerges in non-linear ways, taking whimsical loops and side-trips in time before getting back to the thread”.

“HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA”— Premiering October 6 on HBO

“HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA”

 A STARTLING EXPOSE OF ANTI GAY VIOLENCE, DEBUTS OCT. 6 ON HBO

hunted03

 In modern-day Russia, where it is estimated that just 1% of the LGBT population lives completely openly, a recent anti-gay amendment to a “propaganda” law has triggered a rising number of assaults on gay men and women by vigilantes who, more often than not, go unpunished for their crimes.

Directed by Ben Steele, the startling expose HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA looks at this climate of hostility when it debuts MONDAY, OCT. 6 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.  Matt Bomer (Emmy® nominee for HBO’s “The Normal Heart”) narrates.

Other HBO playdates: Oct. 6 (3:30 a.m.), 9 (2:50 a.m.) and 14 (12:20 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates: Oct. 12 (1:15 p.m., 2:45 a.m.), 16 (8:00 p.m., 1:30 a.m.) and 22 (1:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m.)           

Homosexuality was legalized in Russia 21 years ago, but gay people in the country have yet to win mainstream acceptance. In fact, attitudes in Russia appear to be moving backwards. With jobs and relationships at risk if their sexual orientation is exposed, most gay Russians remain closeted. As one gay man who lost sight in one eye during a recent unprovoked attack says ruefully, “Hunting season is open…and we are the hunted.”
           
HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA features disturbing insider footage of homophobic Russians who, in the name of morality or religion, beat and torment gay people, posting graphic videos of their encounters online with few or no legal repercussions. These vigilantes see homosexuality as related to pedophilia, stating publicly that their justification for violence is protecting Russia’s children.
           
Since members of the gay community are afraid to live openly in Russia, groups like Occupy Pedophilia – whose members inaccurately claim that sexual abuse of children is most often committed by homosexuals – have been looking to root them out via the Internet. Posing as interested suitors, anti-gay activists “bait” unsuspecting men and women to rendezvous at apartments or public places, then harass, beat and humiliate victims, often urinating on them. Recordings of these encounters, along with forced admissions of homosexuality, are posted on the internet to “out” the victim and make his or her life “a living hell.”

Disturbing footage of a man’s harassment at the hands of a St. Petersburg vigilante branch, led by a woman named Katya, makes it clear that victims can do little to bring their tormenters to justice. Police rarely investigate such crimes, and there is no such thing as a gay hate crime in Russia. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church, which serves as a moral compass to millions of followers, condemns homosexuality. 

Gay parents live in fear that the government will take steps to strengthen current laws and grant authorities the power to take away their children. Pro-gay activists are hindered by ordinances blocking them from mentioning homosexuality on picket signs or assembling in groups. Even straight sympathizers have found themselves and their livelihoods in jeopardy; Yekaterina, a teacher, says the new laws have triggered “a witch hunt.” In a country where the government and President Vladimir Putin have embraced an anti-gay stance, the feeling is that “the anti-gay forces are gaining momentum – and no one knows just how far the authorities will go.

British filmmaker Ben Steele has worked on an eclectic mix of documentaries over the past ten years, including “The Trouble with Working Women,” “Remembering Mum” and “Posh and Posher.”

HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA is a presentation of HBO Documentary Films; filmed, written & directed by Ben Steele; narrated by Matt Bomer; executive producers, Karen Edwards and Fiona Stourton. For HBO: senior producer, Nancy Abraham; executive producer,Sheila Nevins.

“The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride. Gay Couples in the Early Twentieth Century” by Sebastien Lifshitz— Vintage Photos

the invisibles

Lifshitz, Sebastien. “The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride. Gay Couples in the Early Twentieth Century”, Rizzoli, 2014.

Vintage Photos

Amos Lassen

“The Invisibles” is a collection of gay couples from 1900-1960, the period that is often referred to as “the dark ages”. The people we see in their photographs dared to be out at a time when it was quite dangerous to be so and even if they were just out in order to get the picture taken that was quite a brave move.

Lifshitz discovered and collected the photos from flea markets and garage sales and that is why we do not know who are in the pictures as their identities have been lost for quite some time. The photos are indeed intriguing—we see couples holding hands, exuding happiness and freedom and this is so unlike other pictures from that period. The photos are what inspired Lifshitz to make a documentary film and to give voices to those who had been silenced. The film was awarded the Cesar Award for Best Documentary in 2013.

We see the gay world that was before the Stonewall Riots— men and women in the first half of the 20th century, in the middle of severe oppression They dared to take pictures of themselves and each other and we get a story of love that we did not have before.  It all began when Lifshitz found a family album of photos from the sixties that had belonged to two old ladies. He saw the affection in the photos and knew that they were a lesbian couple. He was mystified as to how they got their pictures developed and he began to look for other pictures from that period. As he collected he knew he was onto something big and he soon had six decades of photographs showing same-sex love.

Now that we have these photos we see that there have always been those who stand before a camera with pride and that the repression that we were forced to live with did not stop from enjoying each other.

 

 

“Hidden: The Intimate Lives of Gay Men Past and Present” by Clinton Elliott— Brief Biographies of Men in the Closet

hidden

Elliott. Clinton. “Hidden: The Intimate Lives of Gay Men Past and Present”, AuthorHouse, 2014.

Brief Biographies of Men in the Closet

Amos Lassen

Let’s face it—gay men have always been around but in the past the closet was the biggest gay bar in the world. In this book, we go into the closets and pull our men out. Clinton Elliott gives us delightful short looks at many of these men and they include some who are quite famous—Horatio Alger, Thomas Eakins, King Edward II, Alfred C. Kinsey, and Siegfried Wagner to name just a few. There are actually 400 short biographies here and all of the men lived at a time when secrecy and discretion were important and revelation probably would have been disastrous. I had the feeling more than once that I was reading a juicy tabloid tell-all but then again now that I know about these men, my life has not changed. The men we read about here had quite difficult lives and yet most survived. Those of us who came out in the 60s and 70s, we can understand very easily because it was the same way for us. There are, to be sure, some surprises here and the reading experience is pure pleasure. We never get too much or not enough information —it is always just right. The door is partially opened for us if we want to pursue further study. Clinton Elliott certainly knows how to shorten information to give us just what we need to know.

Surely there are other books that are something like this but as Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit” and there is plenty that is brief and the whole volume is filled with wit. History can be excessively boring and it seems that author Elliott knew exactly what we wanted to know bout each person and supplied us with that. I cannot imagine how much research and writing and rewriting went into this book. To give you an idea of what you will find here have a look below:

 “One who did was James Brooke. He turned his inheritance into a 142-ton schooner, sailed for the East Indies, seized the northern part of Borneo and proclaimed himself Rajah of Sarawak. Among those who did not survive was Jan Quisthout Van der Linde, a soldier in New Amsterdam (not yet New York). He was stripped of his arms, his sword broken at his feet. He was then tied in a sack, thrown into the Hudson River and drowned until dead…the trial of those over-the-top transvestites Ernest Boulton ‘Stella of the Strand’ and Frederick ‘Fanny’ Park; and a delightful description of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey as he parades along the boulevards of Paris rouged, powdered and perfumed, cradling an equally perfumed poodle festooned with pink ribbons”.