Monthly Archives: October 2011

“Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America” by Thomas A. Foster— Looking Back

Foster, Thomas A., editor, “Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America”, NYU Press, 2007.

 Looking Back

 Amos Lassen

 It is so good to have someone exploring our past and putting it down and Thomas A. Foster has done just that. He gives us a look at early American gay history and shows how sexuality is central to understanding our own history. We get a look at our past in terms of gay and lesbian history and we see America as understanding the nature of same-sex relationships. We can, thereby, re-evaluate the early history of American homosexuality. We see it was not Stonewall alone that brought sexual identity to the fore and the nature of them is surprising. We are introduced to sexuality in colonial America and we see its importance.

       In 1969 the Stonewall riots brought about the onset of gay liberation but in “Long Before Stonewall” we learn that there was a gay history before that date. People of the same sex had romantic involvements and sexual attraction for each other.

       This is a new look at American history and one that has not been studied in depth before, especially the eighteenth century. By looking at that period, we can further expand the scope and definition of homosexual behavior. Using interdisciplinary studies, Foster assembles a collection of essays that is both classic and original and explores the nature of sexual identity. Foster looks at the new study of queer theory, cultural history. Social history and literary criticism to draw his material and he gives us a study of the entire early United States and links gender, race, status and class together in an extremely readable volume. By shedding light on early America history, he gives us a sense of pride. The essays in the volume look at early American sexuality but particularly at the late colonial and early national periods and give us reason to reflect on how sex, gender, race, class and power are regarded in present day life. Unfortunately many of the records of same-sex relationships have been destroyed by well-meaning family members but what we have is important and essential to gain a better understanding of how America was and how we live today.

“Bound in Flesh” by David Thomas Lord— Eternal Life

Lord, David Thomas, “Bound in Flesh”. Kensington Books, 2006

 Eternal Life

 Amos Lassen

 One thing that I must say before I review “Bound in Flesh” is that Kensington Books continually turns out interesting books to read. My contact there, Craig Bentley, always makes sure that I am in the know as to what is coming out and then graciously sends me review copies. I always look forward to publications from Kensington and I have yet to be let down by anything I have read from them.

          Some of you may recognize the author, David Thomas Lord, from his first novel, “Bound in Blood”. In it he began his gay vampire saga. The story continues with “Bound in Flesh”, an erotic thriller. Using the catch phrase “when life ends, pleasure begins…”, you know you are in for some exciting reading.

          Our main character, Jean-Luc “Jack” Courbet is an art critic with a secret that he shares with his partner, an actor and model, Claude Halloran. This secret has taken the lives of many but it has also given others eternal life—as vampires. Jack is over a hundred years old having been brought into the world of the dark by his stepfather and he himself has brought Claude into the fold. Together they are creatures of the night. The world is theirs and they travel it—from the U.S. to France, New York to Las Vegas, their meals are everywhere.

          It seems that the gay lifestyle has a great deal of similarity with the vampire way of life. We are both creatures of the dark as we, like vampires, roam the clubs and bars looking for satisfaction. Our desires and our hungers are very much the same even if the ways we go about achieving satisfaction is not quite the same. Unlike us, vampires are able to create legions of followers who stay with them; even after death. We should also be so lucky as to have our conquests worship us after a night of pleasure. In many case, we cannot be bothere3d to say hello to them after the initial tryst is over.

          In this novel, one of the newly acquired “lovers” is not as loyal as other vampires that they have created have been. Perhaps Jack AND Claude had stepped out of their realm when they came across Mike O’Donald an ex-cop. WHEN Jack created him there was something that was not quite the same, somehow he was created with a sense of revenge. From a friend, O’Donald has learned the secrets of Tantric sex magic. Mike is determined now to save Las Vegas, Sin City, from the ravages of Jack and Clause’s vampirism. Mike, alone, can save the helpless since he possesses the powers to do so.

          For those of you who fell in love with Lestat, the homoerotic vampire created by Anne Rice, you will love this book. Rice’s book are homoerotic by association, Lord’s are downright erotic and his creations are beautiful and sensual, exciting and brutal. His prose is magical and he sweeps you into the story magically. The world of vampires has always reflected sensuality and gays have always been swept up by vampire stories. What Lord has done is to elevate the whole genre of vampirism to literature, perhaps not to the level of Bram Stoker, but who knows? Time will tell. I tell you this now. This is a helluva book. I did not stop reading until I closed it for good. I sat there mesmerized on a Saturday afternoon and savored the entire novel in one sitting. Now I am a bit sorry—it’s over and I may have a long time to wait until a sequel I did not do that with Anne Rice. I would spread her out to a chapter or two a day and sometimes found that I was forcing myself to read. With Lord, I sat down, opened the book and did not get up until it was finished. How many times does a book compel us so? I think that once you read it, you will agree with me.

“Lost Men” by Brian Leung— Re-acquaintance

Leung, Brian. “Lost Men”, Shaye, Areheart Books, 2007.

 Re-acquaintance

 Amos Lassen

 

“Lost Men” by Brian Leung is the story of a father and a son. It is a powerful, bittersweet tale of how an estranged father has the opportunity to reacquaint himself with his son, someone he has not seen in 20 years. Beautifully told in sagacious and lyrical prose, the story of Westen Chan is narrated to us in a way that it pierces the heart.

When Westen’s American mother died, his Chinese father, Xin, left him in the hands of his Caucasian great-aunt and uncle in rural Washington State. He left him with a promise that one day he would come back for him and take him on a journey to his own village in China. It took him 20 years to keep that promise. Westen, at 32, has not fully developed emotionally. He is still somewhat a child who is insecure, stubborn and full of resentment. He has not yet experienced sex and this he blames on his having been abandoned by his dad. When Xin does return, he is no longer young and not well. He also has to deal with the guilt he feels about his son and is very unsure about being able to reconnect with Westen. When the two finally meet, they do so haltingly and attempt to explain themselves. On the trip Xin explains that there was great hardship in his village and he relates the ancient, sacred traditions of his people. As the two men interact, the stories between them become all the more gripping and meaningful. Westen feels he has no cultural roots, no heritage and no family. Xin has spent his middle-aged years in a state of torment because of abandoning his son as well as due to memories from childhood of what his family went through during the revolution. He is in very bad health now, facing a terminal illness.

       The two men are truly lost and the trip to China does not give them the reconciliation or the redemption they both so badly want. Both men carry with them items that represent great matters of personal mystery and importance. Westen has a small blue box of “hope” which he is to open when the time is tight. Xin has a sealed letter which asks questions about his son’s paternity. As they travel, secrets that both of them have been holding within begin to come to face them. Westen is stubborn, cold, and vindictive and very angry that his father had abandoned him. He does not even see his father’s failing health. All of this is set against the background of China’s vast store of historical and cultural relics and add metaphorical resonance to the stories of the lost men.

       The book is written in alternating voices and in short chapters but events do unfold in a very predictable way.  Even with this the heartbreak of the two men is sincerely felt throughout. The story is quite engaging as it addresses a father-son conflict while at the same time contemplating the confusion of establishing an ethnic identity due to a mixed marriage. And above all else it is a story of acceptance—of responsibility for both past actions and of one another.

“The Literary Six” by Vince A. Liaguno

Liaguno, Victor. “The Literary Six”, Outskirts Press, 2006.

 A Good and Scary Story

 Amos Lassen

 Six college students plan revenge their professor who has made their academic lives very difficult. What started as a joke becomes quite the opposite some twenty years hence. The six students call themselves “The Literary Six” because they al are creatively endowed but when their professor turns on his own because of some explicit photographs, things get very tense. From the very first sentence, this book engulfs the reader and does not stop—even when the covers are closed on the last sentence. One of the opening paragraphs sets the lurid scene for the complex characters with unstable relationships. As personal lives become messed up, the psychological theme deepens.

          At a class reunion, members of the prestigious writing club do not realize that someone else has joined them and that someone is seeking some kind of retribution. As the multi-layered characters begin to unfold and the plot starts to tumble to complications not expected

          Using simple language and imagery of dark versus light, some very mysterious things begin to happen and some of that includes death. The death scenes are described in great detail. It is very easy to see the author’s affinity for horror and the book seems to me to be homage to the genre. The book is unbelievably scary but it also presents some universal truths when it deals with issues like youthful angst, shattered love, grudges and the need for revenge.

          The quality of the writing is superior and the characterization is vivid and memorable. The author’s voice is unique and quite new and I think that he will be writing many more books. Liaguno handles suspense like an old master—beautifully and with great style. With the line of “The past is never the past”, we spiral into the world of horror which will not easily be forgotten. I still shiver with fear when I think about the book and it is not often that something like can happen simply by reading words on a page. “The Literary Six” is quite an accomplishment and I, myself, can only hope that the author is not a one book wonder but that he has much more in store for us. This is quite an auspicious foray into the field of literature and here is one book that I not only enjoyed but I relished it.

Leveling Leviticus

Leveling Leviticus

Amos Lassen

Those of us who choose to be identified with religion are forced to deal with the question of how to live our lives while facing the issue that we are created in the image of God but that our acts of love are punishable by death by that same God. This punishment rests in the book of Leviticus and some of us have chosen to ignore the writings therein.

Leviticus is the third book of the Five Books of Moses which contain the history and the beginnings of the legal system as we know it today. Traditionally these books are understood as revelations–God’s words written down by Moses and are considered a record of the past as well as an explanation of God’s will for the world. The laws which appear in these five books are the ultimate source of authority and a starting point for what later becomes legal. Bur there is also symbolic power here as well.

What is written in Leviticus cannot be dismissed lightly–the concepts presented are vital to our daily lives–to love our neighbors, dealings with strangers and seeing ourselves created in God’s image. But how do we live when the same text that tells us we were created in God’s image also berates us by saying that our acts of love are punishable by death?

It is here that we must establish a way to come to terms with the holy texts. We can, as so many others have done, interpret the writings to enable us to function with it on its own terms. We can treat the text as historical record and draw conclusions based on the way it functions in a given context. Or we can encounter the writings directly with our emotions and our self-knowledge, allowing it to move us to anger and ultimately to action.

In modern times gay men and women have made themselves a presence in community. If we understand the text historically we have a strong prohibition against homosexuality. The fact that we are told in the book of Genesis that we are created in the image of God, we must assume our identity cannot be an abomination. Others interpret the text as referring to certain sexual acts but not to same sex relationships. By this the text is not relevant to a style of life and love and family of which it was ignorant.

Biblical scholars maintain that in the time of the Bible homosexual acts were forbidden but this does not encompass the reality of the modern world. One of the major problems is the meaning attributed to the Hebrew word “to’evah” or abomination. For some reason this word which was originally meant to connote a forbidden act of idolatry has been used to denote certain sexual practices. In Leviticus the references to homosexuality dealt with cultic practices of same sex relations and not to society at large.

In our encounter with Leviticus, we experience pain, terror and rage. We can imagine the unnecessary damage done to generations of people who were forced to feel shame and guilt and had to hide their feelings while wallowing in shame, guilt and fear all of their lives. But if we can get past the rage we can see the admonitions of Leviticus as tools to educate people about the deep rooted history of oppression and in turn we can use this to break down the wall of silence that surrounds us. By doing this we can transform the Bible from a stumbling block to a path of entry. We become more honest with ourselves and with our community about barriers to our involvement, about our need for separate places of worship and our demand to be accepted as an intregal part of life. To be whole we must acknowledge with what great difficulty how those pieces of our lives fit together. But it is also necessary to demand–of ourselves and of the people around us–that those pieces be made to fit.

It is indeed amazing that words written thousands of years ago still have enough power to affect us today. Words are powerful but it is up to us to make the words that will transform our lives and give new meaning to our existence as gays and Lesbians.

In future blogs I want to look more specifically and in more detail at Leviticus as well as the chapters in Genesis on Sodom and Gommorah and see what can be learned from them.

“13 GOING ON 30”— Waking Up Mature

“13 Going on 30”

 Waking Up Mature

 Amos Lassen

 Jenna (Jennifer Garner) is an awkward girl who is picked on by her classmates and she just wants to grow up and forget this part of her life. At her 13th birthday party she wishes she could become popular and 30 years old. The next day she awakens to find herself 17 years older and living in New York City. She gets in touch with her best friend, Matt (Mark Ruffalo), who lived next door to her when she was 13. He tells her what happened in the past 17 years and she decides she wants to go back. She finds being 30 is no real fun.

       Jennifer Garner as Jenna is perfect but the story is not new. We saw it in “Big” and in “Peggy Sue Got Married” but Garner gives such a winning performance that we forgot the hackneyed idea on what the script is based. This is a sweet movie and not much more than that. There are some very funny moments nonetheless. It seems always easy to predict what happens in romantic comedies and with this it is that much easier because we have seen it before. It also seems that the message of the movie is that a lack of sophisticating brings success but that did not happen here. Even the direction falls flat. The only good thing is Jennifer Garner.

“10 ATTITUDES”— Modern Relationships

“10 ATTITUDES”

Modern Relationships

Amos Lassen

In “10 Attitudes” (Culture Q Connection) Josh Stevens finds out that his boyfriend is cheating on him. It is hard for him to believe that after ten years together that his boyfriend would be so obviously unfaithful and it has come time to end the relationship. What worries Josh is the idea of starting all over again. It is hard to go back t the bars after living comfortably for so long. He decides to go back to his hometown, Cleveland but his best friend convinces him that he can easily find a new mate in just 10 dates. Of course, he meets many guys that are wrong for him.

  “10Attitudes” is charming and a very funny look at modern relationships and a very funny look at the gay dating scene. In fact, the movie helps you to confirm what you have always thought—that aside from yourself, everyone else in the world is crazy.

  When you are forty or older it is hard to start dating again as Josh found out. As hard as it is in Arkansas, the scene in West Hollywood seems to be that much worse. There the dating pool is infested with barracudas and al the guys, in Josh’s eyes, are bitchy. Everyone he meets is an actor or a hustler, or an actor and a druggie, or an actor or a waiter, or an actor/hustler/waiter/druggie combo. These who are not actors are personal trainers. This is dating in the gay ghetto.

Josh is lucky that he has a sense of humor. He is able to toss everything off as a joke or a mistake. However, what began as a very funny movie runs out of steam half way through. It runs as if suddenly ran out of time. The ending falls flat but getting there was a lot of fun.

A question remains after the movie is over—if West Hollywood is so bad for gays, why is it that so many gay guys move there? And why are there are so many movies about it? I have read some really bad reviews of “10 Attitudes”. I think many who saw it took the movie as a whole and did not look at the fun we had reaching the end. Sure it was contrived and the ending was weak but there was a lot to enjoy. It is no classic and it won’t be remembered but the laughs are great, the acting is fine and all in all, I enjoyed it a lot.

“9 DEAD GAY GUYS”— A Wild Comedy

“9 DEAD GAY GUYS”

A Wild Comedy

 Amos Lassen

 

 “9 Dead Gay Guys” (TLA Releasing) is an original comedy of epic proportions and guaranteed to offend. Two “straight” guys from Belfast< Ireland set out on a journey of discovery by taking in the gay scene of London. Their motive is to make a fortune and they are looking for a “gainful affair”. Now this term has a special meaning for them—it means to find good paying tricks who want no penetration.

          After the first trick is done in by Kenny, his comrade Jeff is forced to admit that he is not exactly straight and is extremely well hung and that they must find a different way to finance their lives. A virtual roller coaster of events ensues as the guys commence their odyssey to find what they call “bread in bed”. Now “bread in bed” is a huge amount of cash which is rumored to be in the bed of an ultra Orthodox Jew’s bed. But there is a hitch. To get into the bed, one must first pass a test, “the really hard red bull test”. Kenny feels that because of the large size of his penis that he will pass it easily. But there is also au  unforeseen disadvantage—the kiss of death seems to be following the guys in their adventure and tricks seem to dropping dead at the strangest times. The questions that must be asked are not simple ones. Is it possible for the guys to have sex without money? Does love really exist? As the movie twists and turns to a hysterical conclusion perhaps these questions will be answered.

          This movie has been called a “saucy dick fest” but it really a breath of fresh air and great humor. The two heroes of the film, if they can be called that, are in actuality closet case. One remarks. “I’m not gay. I don’t take it up the butt” or “I couldn’t shag my mate except if absolutely necessary”.

          When they get wrapped in the deaths of their “clients” things get really out of hand. Some of the death scenarios are amazing—heated cattle prods, a fellatio-induced car crash and crushing weight.

          I usually love offensive movies and this is no exception. Every minority is given its share of offense in this somewhat confusing trek through London’s gay underworld. The characters in the movie are an incredible lot—a dwarf, an Orthodox Jew, a cab driver with a foreskin problem and so on.

          The movie eaves nothing untouched in the realm of bad taste. But as bad as the taste is, the movie does not really offend because the viewer takes in tongue in cheek. It is silly, it is wild and it is a laugh a line. It a romp which makes fun of us, or better said, we allow ourselves to make fun of ourselves.

“7 VIRGINS”— A Goya Award Winner

“7 VIRGINS”

A Goya Award Winner

Amos Lassen

      It is summer in a working-class neighborhood in the south of Spain: Tano, a teenager currently serving a sentence in a juvenile reform center, receives a 48-hour leave to attend his brother’s wedding. Together with his best friend, Richi, Tano plans to enjoy his 48-hour pass to the limit, doing all the things he normally can’t: drinking, taking drugs, stealing, having sex and hanging out with his buddies. By the end of his 48-hour pass, however, Tano witnesses the collapse of all things he has taken for granted in his life: his neighborhood, his family, his friends and his loved-ones. More than just two days of freedom, Tano’s leave turns out to be a journey into maturity.

     The film is an energetic and delicate look at youth. Gloriouslly photographed, director Alberto Rodriguez shows us a southern Spanish town in its washed out

Beauty and the young actors provide a realistic story in a movie that will possiblt steal your heart. The film is powerful in all of its aspects. There is a lot of energy here and the Latin music on the soundtrack enhances the plot and keeps things moving. As our hero Tano (Juan Jose Ballesta) searches for integrity, the story moves to a very moving conclusion. The audience moves right along with him.

 

 

“3 NEEDLES”— Staggering Emotionality

“3 NEEDLES”

 Staggering Emotionality

 Amos Lassen

 I finally got the chance to see one of the most talked about projects of past years—“3 Needles”. Written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald (“Beefcake”, “The Hanging Garden”) is sheer staggering emotion. A powerful statement about the worldwide spread of AIDS, it takes us to places where we would never dream of going. Made up of three stories told back to back, it is gloriously filmed and has a terrific cast. Fitzgerald has made this a wonderfully personal movie and he uses such subjectivity in the telling of the stories that the viewer cannot help but feel involved.

          We begin our viewing at a public circumcision ceremony somewhere in Africa. As the boys move into manhood, by virtue of the ceremony, they are taught the way to be men by learning the tricks of fighting. The circumcision ceremony is one of the oldest rites known to mankind having roots in the Old Testament from the story of Abraham and Isaac.

          We then movie to Asia, to China where we come across Jin Ping (played by Lucy Liu). She is the director of an underground blood bank where the blood is contaminated by the HIV virus. Additionally we are told that Jin Ping is HIV positive and pregnant and works to support her husband who is also carrying the virus. We see her deliver her child alone, with no help from anyone and feel her pain and loneliness.

          And then we are off to Canada and meet Denys, an HIV positive porn star. In order to continue making porn films he must maintain a negative HIV status. He supports his family by his career in porn and to assure that he can continue making film, he steals blood from his father which he substitutes as his own. When his mother learns of his positive status, she also hears that AIDS patients are allowed to cash in their life insurance policies early. She infects herself so that she can get the money in order to provide a comfortable life for her herself and her son after her husband dies.

          Back in South Africa three nuns have set up a hospice to treat villagers infected with HIV. It is here that we see the boys from the beginning of the film have now become men and are facing a world that is being devastated by AIDS.

          These scenarios are beyond our imagination. When Denys mother infected herself for a life insurance payment, I realized how little we know and how much we have not really progressed. The cinema photographer of the film, Tom Harting, has done superior work on this film. It probably would have succeeded as a visual metaphor without words—such is the beauty of the camera work. The acting is simply stupendous, both the stars and the unknowns turn in magnificent performances. I watched the film alone but I am sure that if there had been someone else there they would have remarked that my eyes were as big as saucers. The sheer beauty of the film seems incomprehensible in retrospect but because of the nature of the material I am not yet ready to see it a second time. I know one day I will but first I want to let the initial feelings sink in.