Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Party of One: Even More Tails of Totally Tyler” by Totally Tyler— Falling

party of one

Totally Tyler. “Party of One: Even More Tails of Totally Tyler”, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2013.

Falling

Amos Lassen

I may be one of the few gay men who do not know who Totally Tyler is so I figured I had better find out. Here is what I learned:

“From Middle-Of-Nowhere, Indiana, Totally Tyler now resides in the Upper West Side of Manhattan where he toils away as an event planner and a writer, living in a tiny but stylish apartment with his dog, Lola and a cabinet full of coffee mugs and martini glasses. He has written two books, “Your Boyfriend & Other Guys I’ve Kissed” and “Boys, Booze & Booty Calls.” He plans to write more, but in the meantime you can read more of his musings on his blog at TotallyTyler.com”.

I think it is safe to assume from the titles of the two books in his bio that he is not a serious writer which suits me fine as I have been reading too much serious stuff lately. Since a break was due, I decided to learn about Totally Tyler and got a copy of ”Party of One”. The story is simple as we read of boys who are looking for trouble and Tyler has fallen for one of these. “He’s fallen hook, line and sinker for the sweet talk of sauerkraut; the lure of a comfy couch and a pack of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls; and reels in insecurities about em-bear-rassing body hair”. There are stories about the chase and they should keep you smiling as you read.

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“God’s Other Children – A London Memoir” by Vernal Scott— Untold Tales

God's Other Children

Scott, Vernal. “God’s Other Children – A London Memoir”, Amazon Digital Services, 2013.

Untold Tales

Amos Lassen

Vernal Scott is a black gay father who has labored for people with AIDS in London. This is his passionate and elegant autobiography and this is one of a kind. Scott’s story begins in Jamaica during the 1930s and moves to London of the 1950s. Scott

battles his confusing sexual identity and finds refuge in the discos of the 70s. Scott’s desire for girls becomes a passing fad, and a need for same-sex love and intimacy takes over. His family and homophobia caused him to take desperate action, but his survival becomes his rebirth.

I love the balance of humor and honesty here as the author looks at “love and loss; sex, sexuality and ‘coming out’; faith and religion; child chastisement and domestic violence; disease, death and dying; equality challenges at home and abroad; gay baby-making and parenting; love won and lost; family court; even voodoo and the paranormal make a spooky but convincing appearance”. The writing makes the words jump off the page and when Scott deals with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, he captures the horrific impact on both heterosexual and gay communities, and finds himself at the forefront of the challenge; a period he describes as “a conveyor belt of death and dying”. The various accounts involve men, women and children and make tearful, heartbreaking reading… especially when AIDS comes home.

Disco plays a large part in the book and he makes valuable contacts—he was involved a bit with Gloria Gaynor and he was able to convince Whitney Houston to come to a vigil in London. He also had meetings with Dionne Warwick and Luther Vandross.

Scott loved the Bible and he interpreted it deeply and honestly and he loves his God but is quick to criticize “blind religion” and “inhumane Bible scripture”.

He longed to be a father and he did so but was soon involved in a bitter battle to get access to his children and when he could not he faced serious depression. This is a big book—almost 500 pages but it is a book that should be read and thought about. It is a poignant story told honestly and I found myself both laughing and crying as I read.

Vernal’ Scott has a tough upbringing and he faced constant fears of rejection and hurt which bear witness to his strength. The young adult Vernal Scott found his pride within and he was a self-taught educator and stoic friend to those who knew him. His descriptions of those dying of AIDS are heartbreaking but he also possessed the ability to encourage well-known figures to his battle for education on AIDS.

Here is a biographical sketch of the author:

“Vernal Scott, Author and Consultant – Human Rights and Equality. Born in 1960’s London to Jamaican parents, Vernal is an ‘out’, Christian, gay dad, who emphatically believes in equality and service excellence for everyone. In the 80s he initiated the then popular Peoples Group at the London Lesbian and Gay Centre. He later set up the Black Communities AIDS Team (BCAT), a support network for black people affected by HIV and AIDS. In 1987 he was appointed Head of HIV services for the London Borough of Brent, serving one of London’s ethnic majority communities. In the early 90s he organized the highly successful Reach Out and Touch HIV/AIDS Procession with Flowers featuring stars such as Whitney Houston. A year later he invited Dionne Warwick to open his project, the Brent HIV Centre. In 2003 he joined another London borough as their Head of Equality and Diversity and more recently became a freelance consultant and coach, working with a wide range of companies including People Keys, and Marshall ACM. He has authored articles on subjects such as bullying and harassment and customer services. More recently, Vernal facilitated an all-day multi-disciplinary workshop, co-hosted by West Midlands Police Service, which looked at achieving equality outcomes in a context of efficiency savings. He views the Equality Act as an opportunity to renew efforts in removing discrimination of any kind from the lives of the men, women and children affected by it. November 2010 saw Vernal joined a leading official of the Equality and Human Rights Commission as a keynote speaker at the National Conference on Hate Crime. 2012 and 2013 saw Vernal actively supporting the Peter Tatchell Foundation and the London AIDS Memorial Campaign. He’s also a ‘McKenzie Friend’ in family court”.

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“If He’s Queer He Musta Done It” by Archbishop Bruce J. Simpson— Blaming the Gay Man

 if he's queer

Simpson, Archbishop Bruce J. “If He’s Queer He Musta Done It”, Fountain Blue Publishing, 2014.

Blaming the Gay Man

Amos Lassen

Archbishop Bruce Simpson tells us of an affair that he witnessed that stole 15 years of a man’s life. In Allegan County, Michigan an innocent man was sentenced to 15 to 45 years for something he did not do and this awakened the archbishop to the prejudice and hate in the American justice system that is supposed to be above prejudice and hate as well different sexualities. Michael Denis Batey had poor representation and because of that he sat in prison. He did not have a fair trial and was found guilty as a sex offender even though he was not. Later he was released on parole even though he had never been guilty and now he is forced to register as a sex offender that automatically closes doors in his face. This book is a detailed look at how Batey was treated in the justice system once they got a hold of him. In his case, the Constitution was destroyed even when his accusers testified that they made the entire thing up. This is no way anyone should be treated the way he was and the story of his life behind bars is a stomach turner.

“Archbishop Bruce J. Simpson, OSJB, is a Vietnam Era Veteran, former Police Officer of the Year, a Federal Agent, a Federal Magistrate, an armed bodyguard to Saudi Royalty, a senior Federal Government executive, and recipient of awards from the Vice President of the United States and the

Secretary of Treasury. While studying at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary and Theological College at the Catholic University of America, Bruce decided that his own conflict of conscience would not allow him to go on to ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. He looked into the other branches of Catholicism, and found the Old Catholic Church, based out of Utrecht, Holland, which broke from Rome in 1889, but maintained valid Apostolic Succession and Canonical recognition in Roman law. He was ordain a Deacon in 1995, a Priest six months later, and was called to the Episcopacy in early 1999. On January 30th, Bruce was consecrated a Bishop of the Catholic Church. In 2002, he was consecrate sub-conditioned by a Roman Catholic Archbishop, three times removed from Pope Paul the Sixth. His early ordinations were performed while Bruce was in charge of the U.S. Governments non-tax debt collections. The Archbishop has also authored, “The Gay Face of God.”

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“Adversity Builds Character: An Inspirational True Life Story of Disability, Addiction, and Acceptance” by Tom Ufert— Looking at Life

adversity builds

Ufert, Tom. “Adversity Builds Character: An Inspirational True Life Story of Disability, Addiction, and Acceptance”, Tom Ufert, 2013.

Looking at Life

Amos Lassen

I am constantly asked why I continue to review when I do not get paid to do so and that is second only to, “How many books do you read a week”? These are both viable and good questions and I do not an answer to either of them except that I review and I read out of love for our literature. But there is something else and that is that I get to meet interesting people. Not a day goes by that I do not get a request from someone to review his or her book and because I really believe that everyone deserves a chance, I rarely say no and if I do it is because sometimes I am backlogged as I have been lately. But the nature of the request can cause me to find time and that is the case with this book. Hearing Tom Ufert’s story caused me to want to stop everything and sit down and read which is exactly what I did and what a blessing that was for me. His is the story of courage and the triumph of the human spirit and what he has been through in his life, I would not wish on anyone unless I knew in advance that they could deal with it the way Ufert has.

This is the story of how one young man struggles to deal with family problems and turmoil as well as his own issues but he had something called self-determination. His family had been split by divorce and his mother was not a well woman. He gained a second chance from his godmother who provided him with what he could not get from his own mother and things got better until he got to college when his mother took her own life and he suffered guilt and self-doubt. He began to drink and experiment sexually and almost any hope that he had ever had of a political career but he was saved once again. It took him a while to realize and to accept who he is and when he did he became a bit too comfortable and too over-confident and sank once again into weakness and almost self-destruction. Again, with the help of others, he rallies. He has had to fight against AIDS, drug addiction, and a severe spinal injury with terrible memories of having been bullied as a child. He learned from his grandmother that adversity builds character. He did not always understand what that meant but he found out. It was not enough to have a mother who divorced often, he lost his relationship with his sister, lived through his mother’s illness and death, had to deal with a pedophile and eventually questioned his sexuality, deal with alcohol and sexual addiction, Multiple Sclerosis and HIV/AIDS and then paralysis from a car accident.

We are shaped by life and by its up and its downs. I do not think that life was ever meant to be easy and Tom Ufert certainly shows that but then the forces that shaped his life almost took it from him. Ufert tells it all and how he survived with the help of faith in God and the support that he received from others. I see his life as transformational and the transformation occurred not just because of faith but also because he was given second chances.

This is a book that will move you and make you take a hard look at yourself. After all, we are the masters of our fates and we create our own destiny even if unknowingly. I cannot imagine one person having to deal with what Tom Ufert overcame. He never shied from taking responsibility for the mistakes he made—he faces them and often battles them and where many of us would have said that we’d had enough, he keeps going. The Energizer bunny has nothing on him. This is not a book that we can walk away from and it is a book that we can return to over and over again when things do go our way. There is a great deal to be learned from here and there is a lot to be taken from it. I respect and actually love its honesty which is matched by a beautiful prose experience.

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“The Boys on the Rock” by John Fox— Being Different

the boys on the rock

Fox, John. “The Boys on the Rock”, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1994

Being Different

Amos Lassen

Every once in a while, I like to go back and revisit some of the books that have come to be known as classics of gay literature. This weekend I returned to John Fox’s “The Boys on the Rock” and I was immediately reminded why I liked it so much the first time. It has wonderful humor and it is beautifully written and is the story of Billy Connors. Billy is a high school in the Bronx and a member of the swim team. He at 16 years old is a good guy who has accepted the fact that he is gay (even though he has a “kind of” steady girlfriend). He has fantasies about men and he knew that people would avoid him if they knew. He also knows that he has to face his feelings as well as his friends as he approaches adulthood. This is a wonderful look at what it means to grow up gay and it is such a pity that the author was taken from us at 38 when he died from AIDS and we missed having any more writing from him.

When Fox wrote this book, gay literature was coming into its own and he dared to show us that men could indeed love other men and that the age that this happens is really not important. It is interesting that Billy tells us about his sexuality at the same time that he was falling in love for the first time with another guy. The sex scenes are quite bold and vivid but they are neither gratuitous or do they take away from the plot. What the story is really about is Billy’s coming-of-age and his self-acceptance. He realizes that being who he is more important than being who he is told to be.

This is a beautiful, honest and heartbreaking novel that reminded me of so much that so many others and I dealt with. I must admit that seeing the way people handle coming out today makes me a bit jealous but then I realize that the reason it is so much easier now is because we were there first.

This book is set in 1968—there was war in Vietnam and Robert Kennedy and Gene McCarthy were vying for the American presidency. It looks accurately at the sexual and emotional awakening that a gay person deals with and that can be overwhelming. I believe that most who read it will find a personal connection to it.

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“Husband Material” by Xavier Mayne— When the Best Men Win

HusbandMaterial

Mayne, Xavier. “Husband Material’, Dreamspinner Press, 2014.

When the Best Men Win

Amos Lassen

Eighteen guys compete for one woman on the reality show, “Husband Material”. Riley had been jilted at the altar and now he is determined to get married and he has worked out to build his body to look good. Asher could care less about the wedding but the money looks good and he needs it to help pay for his sister’s cancer treatment. Asher is an outgoing guy and he is able to help Riley deal with the way he feels after being jilted. They become good close friends but there is a problem—Asher finds himself falling in love with Riley. Then they are caught in the shower together (and not exactly washing up) and someone sends the whole business out on Twitter. The network is nervous and threatens to cancel the show if there is any more scandal. Riley and Asher are being watched heavily and the producer of the  show, Kaitlyn does not want her show pulled yet she also wants the guys to find love.

“Husband Material” as a TV show is a cross behind “The Bachelorette” and “Survivor”—the men face physical challenges while all eighteen contestants live together ala “Big Brother”. The show for this season uses the theme of  “Ages of Romance” and there is great emphasis place upon the way the contestants have taken care of their bodies. The show has several locations and various challenges and while this is going so is a romance between Asher and Riley.

Riley is the narrator so we only hear the story from his point of view. He was obviously humiliated when he was left at the altar and he is determined to win. He has worked hard to prepare himself both mentally and physically and he is really ready to take out the competition.

We really get to know Riley and as we do our opinion of him changes. He is something of a nothing when we first meet him as and although he has created a persona for the show, we see that the real guy who does not seem to have a whole lot of “smarts”. It is only when he forms an alliance with Asher that we see we might just be mistaken about who he is. I also think that one of the reasons that he comes across as something of a simpleton is because of the way he was treated by his fiancée.  He lost any sense of self that he might have once had. He really wants to be someone and with Asher’s felt, he achieves that.

Asher is just love and he wins us over immediately and he is just in the game for altruistic reasons—to win enough money to help pay for his sister’s cancer treatment. Asher is gay and since he is such an optimist and happy guy that we do not, at first, see the guy beneath the smiles. What we do see is that he loves to help others.

We also meet to real characters who are in charge of the production of the show, Omar and Kaitlyn and the banter between them is great fun. They realize what is going on between Asher and Riley because they that their show would be destroyed if the news about them got out.

I really had a good time reading this book and I did not want it to end. Unlike other m/m romances, the affair between Riley and Asher developed slowly. We read about them becoming friends first and then that friendship turns into love and it is so interesting watching Riley who seems to have no idea as to what is happening. Then when he does understand it, he goes into denial and shock while Asher is worried about what will happen next.

I do not remember laughing this much at the other works I have read by Mayne and I am hoping that he has embarked on a trend that he will stay on.

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“Beloved Pilgrim” by Christopher Hawthorne Moss— A Boy in a Girl’s Body

BelovedPilgrim

Moss, Christopher Hawthorne. “Beloved Pilgrim”, Dreamspinner reprint, 2014.

A Boy in a Girl’s Body

Amos Lassen

Elizabeth always felt that she was a boy trapped in the body of a girl and is now determined to prove it by wearing her twin brother’s armor and joining the Crusade (1101). Elizabeth had been born into the noble class but wanted adventure and therefore heads for the Holy Land. It was a learning experience for her, especially as she traveled. She learned that she could pass for male and that honor can come at any time as can true love. Disappointment can also come whenever and we see that with the failure of the Crusade.

Elizabeth, Elias, her twin brother and Albrecht, his lover and squire have good lives with their mother who is not well. Elias and Albrecht are yearning to join a Crusade and to fight in any war and as a matter of fact, so does Elizabeth. The three of them have been learning the art of warfare.

Their father has been away for four years and when he returns, he brings the news that Elizabeth is to be married to Baron Reinhardt but she is totally opposed to it. However, she has no say and the marriage ensues. It did not take long for her to see that her husband was mean and did not care for her and all he really cared about was that she produce him a child. Elizabeth learns that her parents will not allow Reinhardt to consummate the marriage until her returns home from the wars (wars were happening all over Europe at this time). He does come home but leaves again the next morning leaving his new wife relieved. However, Elizabeth was not to have luck. Her mother died and father was beside himself with grief. At the same time Elias, her brother, became ill and died. Reinhardt, upon his return, claims their estate and their money for himself and once again does not treat Elizabeth well. He again leaves and Elizabeth is left behind with Elias’ former lover and they feel that they must escape. It is at this point that she wears her brother’s armor and has Albrecht pose as her squire; she pretends to be her brother and the two depart in search of her father and ultimately to take part in the Crusade.

As they travel, Elizabeth realizes that she is attracted to women (after sleeping with a prostitute who also enjoyed Elizabeth and the secret is safe.) It just took that one night for Elizabeth to know that she was meant to love others of her sex. Later she meets a woman with whom she falls in love but she has sworn to fight and does not know if Maliha will be there waiting for her when it is over.

This is actually a historical novel and I commend the author for her research and her for attempt to make a long ago part of history come to life. She uses description successfully and her characters are well drawn. It was a bit of a stretch to visualize a woman of that time fighting in battle but, by and large, it worked.

It was really interesting for me as a person who lived and studied in Jerusalem to return there in a LGBT novel. The book did end sharply and I have the feeling that there is more to come and I certainly hope that is true. As Elizabeth struggled on the Crusade, we were there with her as well as in her growth and the fact that her fate is not certain. It is if I lost a friend when I finished reading.

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“UNDER THE SAME SUN”— Looking Back

under the same sun

“Under the Same Sun”

Looking Back

Amos Lassen

 It is the near future and we are looking back at how peace between Israel and Palestine was made in 2013. Two businessmen, one Israeli and one Palestinian struggle to set up a solar company. Each man comes from a society that frowns on cooperation between Arab and Jew and the company they form shows how hostility can be overcome from within their own families and from those around them. They set up a campaign on Facebook that is responsible for bringing the popular support to both their project and to the peace process. The film is produced by Amir Harel, an Israeli producer and directed by Sameh Zoabi, a Palestinian filmmaker.

Shaul (Yossi Marshak), an Israeli, meets Palestinian Nizar (Ali Suliman) at a conference on green energy in Marseilles, France, and they see a business opportunity while understanding that supplying the West Bank with solar energy would make the Palestinians much less dependent on their only source of electricity: Israel.

Shaul’s wife (Noa Barkai) who is pregnant thinks that the idea is crazy but she is willing to go along with it but Shaul’s sister (Eliana Schejter) who is a resident in the occupied territories thinks that her brother is personally betraying Israel by doing this.

Nazir who had been living in Dubai returns home to his family and learns that his mother is trying to fix him up with a Palestinian girl (Lucy Aharish), while he and Shaul, at the same time, are trying to find a way to meet and plan the project. Nizar cannot get a permit to come to Israel and that makes any chance of meeting an impossibility.

When they finally do meet, Shaul had to cross an area known as “no man’s land” where the wall was still being constructed. He thinks this absurd and says that they are sneaking around as if they are thieves. While this scene is as exaggeration of the way things are, it shows just how ridiculous the entire situation for two men who are trying to set up something that will life better for so many.

The film then moves to the future and we see what was thought to be unrealistic actually succeed. I noticed several hidden messages here but the one that really slaps across the face is when Nizar and his fiancée go to movies which was suddenly stopped because the generator experienced an outage. We see here the importance of electricity and we also see other moments like this.

The film is in Hebrew and Arabic and the performances are excellent all around. It shows the usual problems of starting a new business are heightened by acutely portrayed personal, family, social, and community complications, suspicions and resentments that circle around them and cannot be resolved easily.

ww.youtube.com/watch?v=7S8EpU5HPRI

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“Little Reef and Other Stories” by Michael Carroll— Coming June 16, 2014

little reef

Carroll, Michael. “Little Reef and Other Stories”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

 Coming June 16, 2014

 I just received notice that this is coming our way:

“The dialogue is pitch-perfect. Little Reef and Other Stories will, of course, appeal to gay readers, but it will also appeal to people who like good writing, or who have a need to read fiction which is set in that dream-space between New York and more traditional American spaces, or in that hazy area between a self in the making and a self already formed.”—Colm Tóibín, author of The Testament of Mary

Little Reef and Other Stories announces the arrival of an original voice in literature. From Key West to Maine, Michael Carroll’s debut collection of stories depicts the lives of characters who are no longer provincial but are not yet cosmopolitan. These women and their gay male friends are “B-listers” of a new, ironic, media-soaked culture. They live in a rich but increasingly divided America, a weirdly paradoxical country increasingly accepting of gay marriage but still marked by prejudice, religious strictures, and swaths of poverty and hopelessness. Carroll shows us people stunned by the shock of the now, who have forgotten their pasts and can’t envision a future.

“These stories, keenly—even cruelly—observant, occupy the verges of love and death where the truest and most recklessly aware emotions abide. Romantic yet bitterly insightful, this is a solid, smart collection.”—Joy Williams, author of Honored Guest

“A riveting collection. Casually confessional with the mea culpa banished, Little Reef and Other Stories makes new the much explored terrain of New York City and makes the reader feel disturbingly comfortable in unfamiliar places. Here, the dreams of the people conflict with life’s unexpected demands and watchfulness replaces restlessness.”—Ann Beattie, author of The New Yorker Stories

Michael Carroll is a writer whose work has appeared in BoulevardOntario ReviewSouthwest ReviewThe Yale ReviewOpen City, and Animal Shelter. He lives in New York.

 

 

“WATCHTOWER”— Seeking Refuge

watchtower

“Watchtower” (“Gözetleme kulesi”)

Seeking Refuge

Amos Lassen

Nihat seeks refuge at a faraway forest fire tower; Seher seeks refuge in her room in a rural bus station. They are hiding from the world and each fights his/her own battle of conscience. But they meet and become involved but first they have to fight their own battles.

Nihat (Olgun Simsek) is new on the job as a worker for the fire department and he is satisfied to be alone—he recently lost his wife and his son in an automobile accident that he was responsible for.

watchtower1

Seher (Nilay Erdonmez) is a pretty young woman who has left her studies at the university to take a job at a provincial bus station managed by one of her relatives. There she takes care of the restaurant and is a bus hostess. She is pregnant and unmarried and her penance seems to be her living the dank basement of the bus station.

It was inevitable that the two should meet but their back-stories are complex. This is a film that is propelled by characters that have built by the director, Pelin Esmer. It is really Seher’s child that brings them together—Nihat rushes to save the child when she goes into labor but Seher does not want her baby boy at first. He was the result of incest and serves as to reminder to her of what happened. Nihat gets her to touch and embrace her child. He is the catalyst for affection and positive action. He realizes quickly what is going on, unlike Seher who takes a good deal longer. She is enraged because of the unwanted pregnancy and in showing her feelings she gives a memorable performance.

Slowly anger becomes love. Nihat hides Seher in the tower and they have to pretend that they are married. After they both take responsibility for the care of the new baby, we understand that some kind of relationship will emerge between them.

watchtower2

This is the story of two people who become an unlikely couple as each overcomes painful traumas. The film is really an old-fashioned melodrama but it is told to us slowly as if to pull us into the story although I found it did not succeed in doing that but I still found it intense as a viewer watching the action. It was filmed in an under populated northern area of Turkey between Ankara and the Black Sea where there are beautiful forests and mountain peaks which are overseen by firemen in watchtowers.

Nihat met Seher on an occasional visit to the nearby village to buy supplies and we immediately that the two are suffering and we also sense that they will find in each other what they cannot find in themselves. In their self-imposed solitude they can concentrate on their internal struggles. This changes when they discover each other and from that point on they wear both their internal divisions outwardly.  

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