Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“The Holocaust and the West German Historians: Historical Interpretation and Autobiographical Memory” by Nicholas Berg— History of Holocaust Historiography

the holocaust

Berg, Nicholas. “The Holocaust and the West German Historians: Historical Interpretation and Autobiographical Memory”, Translated by Joel Golb, (George L. Mosse Series), University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

History of Holocaust Historiography

Amos Lassen

It has been many years since I heard the term historiography—it was name of the course that we, as graduate students in history (way back when) were required to take and it gave us a whole new way of looking at history. This book is a history of historiography of the Holocaust and when it was originally published in Germany and in German in 2003, it provoked both controversy and acclaim. Author Nicholas Berg looks at the work of German and German-Jewish historians in the thirty years of post–World War II Germany and he examines “how they perceived—and failed to perceive—the Holocaust and how they interpreted and misinterpreted that historical fact using an arsenal of terms and concepts, arguments and explanations.”

The English translation by Joel Golb is a shortened version of the original but just as controversial. It also contains a new introduction by the author in which he reviews and comments on the response to the German edition.

In this American edition, discussion of historian Joseph Wulf and his colleague and fellow Holocaust survivor Léon Poliakov has been united in one chapter. Special care has been taken to make clear to English speakers the questions raised about German historiographical writing. The translator tells us that “From 1945 to the present, the way historians have approached the Holocaust has posed deep-reaching problems regarding choice of language. . . . This book is consequently as much about language as it is about facts.”

This is an important work fro students of the Holocaust and the history of West Germany but it is also a fascinating read for the layman who just wants to know a little more about what went on and for the historian who is interested in the craft of history.

“Nicolas Berg is a research fellow at the Simon Dubnow Institute and teaches in the Department of History at the University of Leipzig. He is the author of several books about Jews and anti-Semitism in Germany. Joel Golb is an independent editor and literary historian. He lives in Berlin”.

“Letter to Jimmy” by Alain Mabanckou— An Ode to James Baldwin

letter to jimmy

Mabanckou, Alain. “Letter to Jimmy”, Soft Skull, 2014.

An Ode to James Baldwin

Amos Lassen

Alain Mabanckou is an African writer who has chosen to pay his respects to James Baldwin on the twentieth anniversary of his death. Baldwin was his literary hero and in this ode to him, the author tries to place Baldwin’s life in context with the greater African disapora. While walking along Santa Monica beach (Alain Mabanckou was born in Congo-Brazzavile in 1966. He is the author of Broken Glass (Soft Skull 2010), Memoirs of a Porcupine (Soft Skull 2006) and African Psycho (Soft Skull 2007) among others. He currently divides his time between Paris and California, where he teaches French Literature at UCLA) Mabanckou saw a man “whose ragged clothes and unsteady gait remind the author of a character out of one of James Baldwin’s novels” and this is what prompted him to sit down and write this. — Mabanckou uses his own experiences as an African living in the US as a way to take readers on a fascinating tour of James Baldwin’s life. As Mabanckou reads Baldwin’s work and looks at pictures of him through the years, he explores Baldwin’s checkered publishing history. He has always been looking for answers about what it must have been like for the young Baldwin to live abroad as an African-American, to write obliquely about his own homosexuality, and to seek out mentors like Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison only to publicly reject them later.

When Mabanckou travels to Paris, reads about French history and engages with contemporary readers, his letters to Baldwin grow more intimate and personal. He speaks to Baldwin as a peer—a writer who paved the way for his own work, and Mabanckou seems to believe, someone who might understand his experiences as an African expatriate.

We also get insights into the life and the work of Baldwin. Baldwin was a wanderer both emotionally and physically—he wandered from Harlem to Greenwich Village to Paris but he always remained isolated because he was gay and black and a bastard. As an outside, he used his perspective to write powerfully about powerful topics be they essays or fiction.

This is “…a touching and personal tribute to James Baldwin…Mabanckou has written an odd, emotional, and quite beautiful homage to a writer who remains a major African American voice almost 27 years after his death.” —Booklist

“Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits – and Won” by Marc Solomon— The Legalization of Same-sex Marriage

winning marriage

Solomon, Marc. “Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits – and Won”, ForeEdge, 2014.

The Legalization of Same-sex Marriage

Amos Lassen

Most gay men my age are still stunned by what has happened in this country regarding gay rights. For me it is really shocking since I was raised in the South where being gay is certainly not easy. When we think that just ten years ago there was not a single state in the United States that allowed same sex couples to marry yet today there are seventeen that do, it is almost too hard to grasp. Nowadays polls show majority support for gay marriage and almost three-fourths of Americans believe that legalization is inevitable.

Marc Solomon was one of the early leaders in the movement for marriage equality and in “Winning Marriage”, his new book, he takes us to “the strategy-setting and decision-making table in the campaign to win and protect the freedom to marry”. Many times a book like this could be quite boring but this is far from it and every word and every sentence was perfectly chosen to give us what we need to know but also to provide us with a meaningful and well written reading experience. He shows us what went on behind-the-scenes— “the inner workings of the advocacy movement that has championed and protected advances won in legislative, court, and electoral battles over the decade since the landmark Massachusetts ruling guaranteeing marriage for same-sex couples for the first time”. I cannot say how much I appreciate this especially since I now am a citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Unfortunately I was not here when the whole business took place but after reading this, I feel that I understand exactly what went on.

Solomon takes us “from the gritty battles in the state legislatures of Massachusetts and New York to the devastating loss at the ballot box in California in 2008 and subsequent ballot wins in 2012 to the joyous victories of securing President Obama’s support and prevailing in the Supreme Court”. He was there and at the center of the entire program. Here is the struggle with some very tough opponents—fundamentalist Christians, the Catholic Church, the religious right, ultraconservative politicians and operatives and yet the movement was triumphant. This is not just Marc Solomon’s story, although the tells it beautifully, it is America’s coming-of-age story. Solomon knows so much because he was there and his voice is the voice of authority, commitment and reason. It is also the voice of pride. Here we see America changing and changing rapidly.
Solomon gives us the accurate details that we need to know if we really want to understand what went down. He shows us that the best approach to have used was one that was both disciplined and intelligent. There have been other books written about how same-sex marriage came into being and I have read most of them so I feel qualified in saying that this is the best written and easiest to understand of them all. The details are here but they enhance rather than become troublesome and more important than anything else is that this book inspires us to keep working for justice and equality for all people. Solomon’s story is absorbing and amazing and when we look at the timeline in black and white on the page it is totally astounding and takes our breath away.

It is important to note that this is not just the story of the successes—it is the story of a battle that includes mistakes and failures. Even though we know how it all ends, we are still pulled into the story and I believe that because it is a personal story it is that much more interesting.

I am including here a look at the table of contents so that you can see that Solomon has done his work well and leaves nothing out.

  • Foreword by Governor Deval Patrick

  • Author’s Note

  • Prologue

  • MASSACHUSETTS

  • The Decision Heard ’round the World

  • Tying the Knot

  • Do-or-Die Elections

  • Organizing for the Fight

  • Defying Gravity

  • Sealing the Deal

  • NEW YORK
  • How Did This Happen?

  • Cuomo

  • The Republicans

  • Sealing the Deal (Redux)

  • WINNING AT THE BALLOT

  • Losing California

  • Preparing for the Ballot

  • The Final Stretch

  • A PRESIDENTIAL JOURNEY
  • Fierce Advocate?

  • Evolving

  • Cementing a Legacy

  • COURTING JUSTICE

  • Courting Justice

  • Epilogue

  • Acknowledgments

  • State Victories and Other Key Milestones, 2003–2013

  • Index

 

“MARC SOLOMON is the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry where he directs programs to win marriage nationwide. In 13 years of work on marriage equality, he has led the campaign to protect marriage in Massachusetts and played key roles in New York, Illinois, California, New Hampshire, Maine, and elsewhere. He has innovated programs to make advances with both the Democratic and Republican Parties, and has led efforts to enlist elected officials and business leaders to the cause. He is a regular media spokesperson—on television and radio and in print”.

“Sexuality in School: The Limits of Education” by Jan Gilbert— The Role of Sexuality in Teaching and Learning

sexuality in school

Gilbert, Jan. “Sexuality in School: The Limits of Education”, University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

The Role of Sexuality in Teaching and Learning

Amos Lassen

When sexuality comes into the classroom there are inevitably clashes and controversies and this is what Jan Gilbert investigates in this book. We know that this is an explosive topic but it also important as a way of showing how our most intimate experiences influence how we see and behave in the world of today. Gilbert narrows the gap between queer theory and educational studies. She uses the psychoanalytic method that allows us to deal with the difficulties of education and the questions of youth and age, along with their uncertainties. She looks at the

Difficulties that are so much a part of teaching and she invites educators to try to understand the various challenges of desire, hospitality and possibility. Gilbert gives us a way to explore education in general and to understand more fully the particularities of youth and sexuality.

Instead of attempting to understand the bullying of LGBT youth and the battles over sex education as interruptions of the process of learning. Gilbert looks at how sexuality influences learning and can enliven the teaching process.

She argues for the inclusion of the study of sexuality because when schools limit the reach of such a subject, it could possibly shut down altogether.

She looks at fiction, film, legal case studies, and personal experiences and then poses the question of what we can learn about school by the study of sexuality.

Contents

Introduction: Queer Provocations 


  1. Backward and Forward: Narrating the Queer Child 2. There Is No Such Thing as an Adolescent: Sex Education as Taking a Risk 

  2. Histories of Misery: It Gets Better and the Promise of Pedagogy 

  3. Thinking in Sex Education: Between Prohibition and Desire

5. Education as Hospitality: Toward a Reluctant Manifesto

Acknowledgments 


Notes 


Bibliography


Index

“Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene” by Bobby Benedicto— Men of Means in the Third World

under bright lights

Benedicto, Bobby. “Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene”, University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Men of Means in the Third World

Amos Lassen

 Using ethnographic research and first-person storytelling techniques to capture the true experience of Manila, author Bobby Benedicto gives us something we would not expect to learn about Manila and from this we get a counterintuitive portrait of gay spaces in postcolonial cities. His argument is “that Filipino gay men’s pursuit of an elusive global gay modernity sustains the very class, gender, and racial hierarchies that structure urban life in the Philippines”. Basically what we get here is a look at privileged gay men in Manila.

We are all familiar with the concept of a gay world that is marked by gay-friendly dance clubs, upmarket bars, and party circuits. However, we must ask if this is the same in “a landscape of disorder, mass poverty, and urban decay”? What we see is that this is a world of contradictions as reflected through the prism of twenty-first-century Manila. The study challenges the popular interpretations of the “third world queer” as a necessarily radical figure.

Benedicto looks at how practices such as driving enable the emergence of a classed gay cityscape, and how scenes of networked global cities engender discourse that positions Manila within a global system of “gay capitals.” He also analyzes the way the fantasy of “gay globality is imperiled when privileged gay men from Manila, while traveling abroad, encounter Filipino labor migrants and come face-to-face with the exclusionary racial orders that operate in gay spaces overseas”.

Contents

Prologue: City of Contradictions 


Introduction: Making a Scene

  1. Automobility and the Gay Cityscape
  2. Elsewhere, between Palawan and the Global City 

  3. The Specter of Kabaklaan
  4. Transnational Transit and the Circuits of Privilege 

  5. White Noise and the Shock of Racial Shame

Coda: Nowhere to Go

Acknowledgments 


Notes 


Bibliography 


Index

“The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Kittredge Cherry and Douglas Blanchard— Jesus as a Gay Man Today

the passion of christ

Kittredge, Cherry (author) and Douglas Blanchard (artist). “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision”, Apocryphile Press, 2014.

Jesus as a Gay Man Today

Amos Lassen

I did not think that I would ever see a book like this but then I also never thought I would see the LGBT community gain the acceptance that it has. The world is changing very quickly and I just want to keep up. Here we have stunningly beautiful images of Jesus as the modern Christ as he is “jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes, and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God”. We see him on a journey with his diverse friends as he moves from suffering to freedom.

Here are twenty-four paintings in the gay Passion of Jesus’ final days and they include his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. We know and see that Christianity is being used to justify hate and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and that is why this book is so important. Each image is accompanied by insightful commentary and a short prayer and scripture leading us to ask if Jesus were to come back today, would he be crucified again? Would we even recognize him?

What these paintings really do is show Jesus as not belonging to any particular time or place or as a member of any specific or single group. Author Cherry says, “A queer Passion is crucial now even for non-believers because Christianity is being used to justify discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  The book speaks not only to the LGBT community, but to everyone who is passionate about building a more just world.”

We especially see this in that the artist takes Jesus and the narrative about him and then rescues it from fundamentalist thought and from the familiar thoughts about him. What makes the book so special aside from the wonderful art and commentary is that it serves two purposes—it is a great help for meditation and it gives as informative analysis for secular readers who are interested

in religion, art, history, and LGBT studies. Here the emphasis is not on worship but rather to show us how to remember that the purpose of thinking about what is here is the continuous cycle of violence and a way to move toward the freedom we all deserve. Cherry reminds us that the Passion is “the ultimate affirmation that God stands in solidarity with humankind.” 

Artist Blanchard says that by showing Jesus in his sufferings is to see him as one who understands what it means to be an “unwelcome outsider.” Michael Bronski of Harvard says that the book is

“transformative in the most profound sense of the word.” Whether you are religious or not, it is impossible to read ‘The Passion of Christ’ without having your basic beliefs shaken and expanded.”

“Disturbing, but ultimately glorious… Radically transforming…” –from the afterword by Toby Johnson, religion scholar and author of Gay Spirituality

“I was deeply moved by this retelling of the Easter story.” –Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Churches

“Together the paintings and text forced me to see Jesus again… as a living, breathing, sensual son of man whom I want to know more intimately.” –Rev. Dr. Mel White, founder of Soulforce

“Deeply effective and brings to life the Passion not only for the LGBT community but for all people struggling to find themselves in the narrative and make sense of their faith.” –Rev. Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

 “This marvelous book will speak not only to LGBTIQ Christians, but also to anyone who is passionate about creating a more just world for the marginalized and excluded.” –Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Episcopal Divinity School professor

 “The divine leaps from these pages into open hearts. Few will view this art and read these commentaries without weeping for injustice and committing to love.” –Mary Hunt, co-director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual

“Not only is this a compellingly gay and much-needed re-visioning of the central Christian mystery.  It also defiantly reaffirms our common humanity.” –Donald L. Boisvert, Concordia University religion professor

“Here Kittredge Cherry and Douglas Blanchard make Jesus live. For new trials and times, new faces and places, challenging our conceptions, preconceptions, and misconceptions.” –S. Brent Plate, Hamilton College religion professor and author of Blasphemy: Art that Offends

 “A great contribution to art about Jesus. Paintings, interpretations, and afterword are all quite profound.” –Rev. Chris Glaser, author of Coming Out as Sacrament 

“Fertile resources for reflection, meditation, study and prayer.”   –Susannah Cornwall, research fellow in religion, University of Exeter

“Provocative and powerful.” –Theodore Jennings, Chicago Theological Seminary professor

“Damage Control: A Memoir of Outlandish Privilege, Loss, And Redemption” by Sergei Boissier— Love, Delusion and Redemption

damage control

Boissier, Sergei. “Damage Control: A Memoir of Outlandish Privilege, Loss, And Redemption”, Argo-Navis, 2014.

Loss, Delusion and Redemption

Amos Lassen

When I first started reading “Damage Control”, it felt like I was reading another egoist going on about the wonderful sex he has been responsible for providing for others and a look at his many sexual escapades. All of us are familiar with stories of this kind that are usually the search for love by a guy who has an abusive mother. But I was surprised; as I read on I discovered that this was indeed a different kind of story and one that is very sincere and poignant. I have read so many books that eventually all seem to be the same so I was very surprised to find something new here. This a tale of loss and a coming-of-age story of excess and entitlement but it is also a look at delusion. The setting goes from pre-Castro Cuba to the lavish French countryside to the metropolitan streets of New York City. Quite basically it is the story of one guy and his family that contains all of the emotions (sometimes simultaneously) and it is very sensitive and moving.

The underlying motif is a mother and son finding each other after a separation of many years. It is also gay man’s journey through the joys and perils of his generation, coming out in the early eighties while the AIDS epidemic was devastating so many and his surviving tremendous loss culminating in his decision to adopt a child as a single parent.

Sergei was a psychotherapist who had been living in Paris when he learned his mother was terminally ill. He left his practice and his life to be by her side hoping to heal the bitterness and discord between them before it is too late. His mother had been a glamorous woman whose life was one of great elegance and luxury but also one of disillusionment, grandiosity, seduction and self-destruction. She spent her young years in pre-Castro Cuba which was then a mythical island paradise. When she was 18 she married a dashing young Swiss and they went into exile. She tried to create a mythical life of her own and pass on the traditions of aristocracy to her children yet all the while leading a double life and suffering feelings of intense longing and frustration and guilt. These eventually cause her to destroy it all and walk away from everything that she had been taught to want and expect out of life.

Reading this made me we are often glad that I did not live a life of privilege. we haven’t been granted such a privileged life. My heart broke and my eyes filled with tears several times during my read. Boissier bares his heart and soul and does so wonderfully. He introduces us to fascinating characters and then he tells is how he felt about those that were part of his life. He takes us through his cycle of life and it is so moving to read of his saying goodbye to a parent so he can say hello to a child as he finds grace and redemption through a mother’s love.

Boissier’s prose is sincere, elegant, unpretentious, and brave and this is not a book that you will be able to walk away from easily. It takes us into the entanglements and dysfunction of his own family and then shows us how and why he was able to deal with it all. We feel his pain, confusion, forgiveness as well as his love.

 

 

 

“Improper Bostonians” by The History Project— Looking at Gay Boston

improper bostonians

The History Project. “Improper Bostonians”, Beacon Press, 1998.

Looking at Gay Boston

Amos Lassen

We all remember that slogan “Banned in Boston” but let me tell you that Boston, in many cases, is a lot more liberal then she gets credit for. Gay people in Boston, Lillian Faderman tells us “were often responsible for the best that has been thought, said, and done in America.”

Perhaps that is one reason why this book is so engaging. It is who’s who of Boston’s best-known gay figures-from poet Amy Lowell to Sen. David Walsh but what really makes this book special and important it the way it integrates gay and lesbian culture into the city’s history as a whole. Of course everything did not come up roses for gay Bostonians and there is some sadness here but we do see that Boston was always a bit gay.

 Since the very beginning of America, Boston has played a vital role in the history of the United States as a center of society and intellectual ferment. This is why it’s not surprising that the city also has a deeply rooted gay and lesbian culture. “Improper Bostoniansis an wonderfully illustrated and seriously researched look at the role that homosexuals have played in constructing Boston society. We read the private homoerotic letters of John Winthrop (the first Governor of Massachusetts) to the 19th-century concept of the “Boston Marriage” (the widely-used term for two unmarried women living together as partners) to the open gay and lesbian life that existed in Boston’s notorious Scully Square in the 1920s and 1930s we see how gay men and lesbians were always present in the social, political, and intellectual life of the city.

While the text is extremely readable and interesting, the best part of the book is the engravings, paintings, news clippings, and photographs (many from personal collections) that illustrate the book’s themes. There are photographs of politicians, poets and performers and we are reminded that “gay and lesbian history is really not a separate category, but a single aspect of our collective history”, says noted historian Michael Bronski of Harvard.

The book was compiled by a nonprofit volunteer group of historians, archivists, and writers known as The History Project (that is still at work documenting gay Boston) What we have is a result of research begun in 1980 and first presented as an exhibit at the Boston Public Library in 1996. The history that we get here is at times informative, amusing, and heartbreaking and it gives us 300 years of gay and lesbian life in the U.S. city with their longest history. Research draws on newspapers, diaries, oral history, archives, and even advertising. Women and men are discussed equally. The accounts of life in 19th century and of Boston marriages and the bohemian group are wonderfully fascinating.

“Improper Bostonians” barely missed anything in terms of LGBT history. The compilers have done “a remarkable job salvaging ‘homophilica’ which homophobes should never have attempted to suppress. Sooner or later, all homophobes get caught out with their lies — and in this ‘Improper Bostonians’ is a triumph”.

There is also an extensive list of documentary notes and photo credits that will aid future researchers.

“Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician” by Allen Shawn— The Man and His Music

bernstein

Shawn, Allen. “Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician”, (Jewish Lives), Yale University Press, 2014.

The Man and His Music

Amos Lassen

It has been said that Leonard Bernstein was one of a kind and to see just what that means one only has to read this wonderful new biography of the man who “stood at the epicenter of twentieth-century American musical life”. He was creative to the point that there was little he could not do musically. He was on the podium as a conductor, and he composed what he wanted to do. In this biography, the entire breadth of Bernstein’s musical composition is explored, through the spectacular range of intensely public role as an internationally celebrated conductor. There have been biographies of Bernstein before but this is the first to give a fully integrated analysis that offers a comprehensive appreciation of a musician of many talents and faces who continued to grow as an artist well into his final days.

The book like the man is intense, complex and personal. One would think that with a man like Bernstein who was larger than life that it is an impossible job to catch him with just words but Allen Shawn does just that. While author Shawn focuses mainly on Bernstein’s music, he plays down the man’s excesses even though he does write about the maestro’s family and personal life. It is Bernstein’s genius that Shawn concentrates on and we see that his accomplishments speak for themselves. We get wonderfully interesting facts about Bernstein and the fascination with the man continues.

“The Oldest Gay in the Village” by George Montague— Age Pride

the oldest gay in the village

Montague, George. “The Oldest Gay in the Village”, John Blake, 2014.

Age Pride

Amos Lassen

Contrary to what some of you might believe, this is not my autobiography. I am old but not the oldest in the village. Rather, this is the story of George Montague who was born in 1923. He is a man who has seen many changes in his lifetime but there are few “greater than the attitude towards being gay – attitudes that saw him criminalized (sic) for the sin of loving another man”.

Montague is a man who is committed to helping others accept gay people even if they do not understand anything about homosexuality. He says, “If I don’t understand why I am the way I am, why should anyone else? But why should it matter?” Nowadays Montague is in his nineties and he tells us that he is now finally beginning to see the acceptance of gay people, the very same acceptance that he yearned for what he was younger. He also adds that he is proud of being the oldest gay in the village.

He is a gay rights activist and an Ambassador for Brighton Pride. He has seen many changes in his lifetime, few greater than the attitudes towards and legalities of homosexuality. Here is his story and it is often humorous. This is the memoir of an indefatigable man. I love the following quote: “I was a tall, good-looking gay man who had resolved to marry an innocent (read virginal) woman, and I was spending my Saturday evenings in the company of a cast of outlaws who, like me, were risking everything for their desires”.