Monthly Archives: September 2014

“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,, 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.”



“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.”

“Tsugreytndik zikh tsu tantsn – naye Yidishe lider/Preparing to Dance – New Yiddish Songs”— Taub Set to Music


“Tsugreytndik zikh tsu tantsn – naye Yidishe lider/Preparing to Dance – New Yiddish Songs”

Taub Set to Music

Amos Lassen

Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is a gay poet who writes in English, Hebrew and Yiddish and now nine of his Yiddish poems have been set to music by composer Michał Górczyński and performed by Malerai – Goldstein – Masecki.   The accompanying booklet includes the text of the poems in Yiddish and English as well as a brief note from the composer and the poet. The poems have been taken from Taub’s first three collections and are diverse in both moods and settings but they are unified by the theme of a human connection against great odds as the power of love.

Taub explains that the art of poetry is about the economy of language and a tendency towards compression. Art, he says, is a vehicle for setting down thoughts and feelings and in doing so the poet is letting them go. When poetry is set to music new questions of interpretation arise and there is always the chance of the poet’s thoughts being transformed.

Taub says that regarding these poems that new interpretations of his original work come into being. The music is dissonant and repetitious and the melody both challenges and compels the listener. The rhythms of the poems heighten the essence of Taub’s words and we sense the interplay between his words and the music. The direction of some of the poems is quite different than when Taub wrote them and the mystery of the union of poetry, song and melody are mysterious.

The composer wrote the music for a concert that was held in May 2013 in Warsaw, Poland.

“A Working Man” by Sandrine Gasq-Dion— At the Top

a working man

Gasq-Dion, Sandrine. “A Working Man”, (Men of Manhattan Book 4),  Wilde City Press, 2014.

At the Top

Amos Lassen

Matthew Hawke seems to have it all except love—his professional life is great; he owns his business—an advertising agency and it has big contracts. However his love life is lousy. He thinks that the time has come for a change  and he has been thinking about sexy men lately. There just happens to be a good-looking man at the gym where he works out and that just happens to be Drakon Marvos who is an administrative assistant with a messenger company but the salary is not the best. He had a rough time with an ex and that took his confidence away and he is afraid to fall in love again. His self-esteem is at rock bottom as are his self-confidence and sense of trust.

When Matt slips while trying to flirt with Drakon, he finds himself immediately attracted to him. Matt helps Drakon regain self-confidence and we are off to watch a relationship blossom. They get along so beautifully that nothing could possibly go wrong. But wait a second; I forgot to mention something very important.

When Matt realized that he could no longer maintain a sex life with women he decides to try phone sex and he uses a number that was a gay sex line (as he says by accident). He speaks to a guy with a very sexy voice named Drake. Matt pretends to be someone named Roy and while the two men do not meet physically, they maintain something of a romance online.

Then there was the accident at the gym. Now both sets of men—Roy and Drake and Matt and Drakon begin to have feelings for each other. Sure, it sounds unbelievable but think again—could this really happen? How many stories have we heard of lovers meeting each other in public rest rooms?

Since I did not read any of the other books in the  series I am unaware of how many of the characters come together. I understand that Matt and Drakon actually met at the end of the previous book but since they were wearing costumes, they were unaware that they had actually been at the same place. However, since that meeting each had been thinking about the other but it did take awhile before they came together again. The story is well written and the characters are well developed. Now I feel like I want to read the entire series to see how all of the man fare.

“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.




“LILTING”—- opens Friday, September 26 in New York City

– Kevin Thomas, Examiner
Starring Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei Pei & Andrew Leung

Opens in NY on Friday, 9/26 at the Village East Cinema

Opens in LA on Friday, 10/3 at the Sundance Sunset Cinema
& Laemmle’s Playhouse 7

View Trailer
Official Selection: 
Sundance Film Festival 2014 – Winner, Best Cinematography Award
Hong Kong International Film Festival 2014
Seattle International Film Festival 2014
Frameline San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival 2014
Outfest Los Angeles 2014
Newfest New York 2014
Set in contemporary London, LILTING features intensely moving performances by Asian cinema’s martial arts legend Cheng Pei Pei  (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as Junn, a Cambodian-Chinese mother grieving the untimely death of her only son Kai (Andrew Leung), and Ben Whishaw (I’m Not There, Bright Star) as her son’s lover, Richard. 
Set in her old-fashioned ways and not fully adjusted to the foreign culture she lives in, the mother’s fragile world is suddenly disrupted by the presence of a stranger (Whishaw) whose attempts to communicate are first met with rejection and distrust.  Although they don’t share a common language, Vann (Naomi Christie), a young translator hired by Richard, helps piece together the tender memories of the man they both loved, and the two strangers gradually learn to develop a bond with each other. Vann also helps Junn go through the somewhat comical courtship of a smitten English gentleman.  Graceful, moving and humorous, LILTING is a gem of a chamber piece about unlikely connections and how loss can bring us together even when cultures and generations set us far apart from one another. 
91 Minutes • Drama • Not Rated • In English and Mandarin with English Subtitles
181-189 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10012
(212) 529-6799
For Tickets and Showtimes


8000 W Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 654-2217
For Tickets and Showtimes

673 East Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91109
(310) 478-3836
For Tickets and Showtimes


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“EVERY THREE SECONDS”— Five Everyday People

 every three seconds


Five Everyday People

Amos Lassen

The time has come to make poverty obsolete in the world today. This film is the story of five people who have taken a stand and a step in the fight against poverty and hunger and as they did they changed both themselves and the world. We meet a youngster, a college student, a thirty something and two senior citizens who are working hard to change the world. Social justice is a very important part of how I live and so I would hope that it is the same for you.

Because our world has become so materialistic, we wonder if it is possible to find happiness today or even just know what it is. Daniel Karslake tells us in  “Every                 Three Seconds”  that in doing good we are changing both the world and ourselves.

The film takes complex issues and challenges and then makes them accessible to everyone regardless of age. The people that we meet here are inspiring because they make the world so much better to live in.  The people that we meet here are everyday heroes and thereby make us want to go  the step further.

 The DVD extras: include the Director’s Travel Vlog • Waithaka’s Artwork (short video) • Participant Media PSA 

“URANIUM DRIVE-IN”— Trying in Survive

uranium drive in


Trying in Survive

Amos Lassen

Suzan Beraza’s new documentary is the story of a community striving for one last chance at survival. The film looks at a proposed uranium mill in southwestern Colorado (the first to be built in the U.S. in 30 years) and a community’s emotional debate pitting a population desperate for jobs and financial stability against opposition from an environmental group based in a nearby resort town.

The people that live in Naturita, Colorado (519 citizens) dream of a time when the economy and opportunities for their children will be better. In the 70s and 80s time was better because of uranium mining. Mayor Tarri Lowrance weighs the possibilities for a better time and things indeed do sound better because of the possibilities offered by Energy Fuels Inc. The Toronto based company has proposed the building of Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill that will be the first to be built in the US in three decades. The mayor feels that the mill will bring life back.

uranium 1

But these are also those with doubts. Listening to what is said at town meetings lets us see that no one thinks that mining is the ideal solution.

 The residents in Naturita grew up with it, saw their parents and grandparents do the work and pay the costs. Even knowing the choice is between bad options, they still have to have money to buy food.

 “Uranium Drive-In” shows us that the landscape of western America can be destroyed and that comes from our national energy policy decisions. The film offers a range of perspectives that will surely get people talking about it.

 “Beyond its provocative subject matter, we were especially impressed by the delicate and complex manner in which the film balances opposing perspectives.”

– Basil Tsiokos, Senior Programmer, DOC NYC

 “8 out of 10! Follows all sides of the controversy.” – PopMatters

 “Captivating…from mass consumerism to a small community’s livelihood, ‘Uranium Drive-In’ takes a more personal approach to an environmental issue.” – TakePart

Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World’s Most Beloved Musical” by Barbara Isenberg— “Tradition! Tradition!”


Isenberg, Barbara. “Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World’s Most Beloved Musical”, St. Martin’s Press, 2014.

“Tradition! Tradition!”

Amos Lassen

In September, 1964, “Fiddler on the Roof” opened on Broadway and it has gone on to be one of the most successful plays of all time. It has constantly been performed—there have been four Broadway revivals, four London West End productions, schools all over the world and amateurs have kept it alive and it has been performed all over the world. To write this book, Barbara Isenberg interviewed those behind the original production as well as the revivals– Harold Prince, Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein, Austin Pendleton, Joanna Merlin, Norman Jewison, Topol, Harvey Fierstein and more and she brings us a wonderful look at the making of the show. This year is the 50th anniversary of “Fiddler” and this book will satisfy all of us who have loved the show. “Fiddler” is still packing audiences in and Isenberg shows us why. It is interesting that a show about Jews in a shtetl would become the hit that it did. The show is based on the stories of the great Yiddish writer, Sholem Aleichem and somehow it broke box office records. Of course, there are stories. The star of the original production, Zero Mostel, and director Jerome Robbins did not get along and in fact Mostel hated Robbins. The show did not always look like the one we finally got and the movie version, directed by Norman Jewison, did not satisfy many who loved the original but with Topol playing Tevye and Isaac Stern on the violin, the show’s reputation was enhanced even further. “Fiddler” is one of the shows in which the music is important to the plot yet many songs became hits on their own, notably, “Sunrise, Sunset” which had the original cast in tears at first hearing. The book is a love letter to the show, “the world’s most beloved musical”—  “a most endearing valentine to honor the production on its upcoming 50th anniversary”. Norman Jewison says that this book “is a fascinating story filled with laughter and tears.” 

“NUCLEAR NATION”— Nuclear Refugees

nuclear nation


Nuclear Refugees

Amos Lassen

On March 11, 2013 a tremendous tsunami triggered by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan and rendered unoperational the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. It released radiation and the residents of Futaba became nuclear refugees. Director Atsushi Funahashi brings us footage that shows the devastation that came—dead livestock left to rot, crops abandoned, homes and businesses destroyed. It was all much worse than any news report could tell and now, a year later, many still cannot return home; their houses are contaminated.

There is irony with what happened here is that Japan is a nation that has already dealt with two nuclear bombs and her citizens now question their responsibility. This film looks at what happened at Fukushima and if the same thing could be recreated on an epic scale.

The film focuses on those who were directly affected by the Fukushima reactor fallout— the evacuees from Futaba, which became their ground on March 12, 2011. We see their hardship and fortitude, but the alarming implications of corporate and governmental indifference and ineptitude. We watch the resettlement of 1,415 Futaba residents at the abandoned Kisai High School in Saitama, a suburban city near Tokyo which took place after their initial evacuation to the capital in the wake of tsunami-triggered hydrogen explosions in the towns’ nuclear plants Nos. 1, 2 and 3.  We first see a preliminary survey of makeshift and inhospitable living conditions and the focus shifts to what two specific families. The Nakais are a father and son who now have to live with the inconsolable regret of not having had enough time to search for their missing wife and mother during the hasty retreat. The Yokoyamas, a three-generation family, is close and pragmatic, even with their periodic separations and permanent uprooting.

nuclear nation 1

Idogawa, a soft-spoken, unassuming man takes us through the endless lobbying sessions with Tokyo Electric Power Co. management and government officials. The company claims to have made an “unprecedented decision” by promptly evacuating the whole town, thus saving his people from unimaginable health hazards, and this causes us to see Idogawa as an honest man of integrity and drive who displays enough humility to confess his past misjudgments and attempts to correct them. These qualities were obviously lacking at higher political and corporate levels as the film shows us. His account of what happened is frank and very, very sad and as he speaks we see how the town was dependent on the plant. The film spans ten months during which we are reminded of an apocalyptic wasteland. The story is written, narrated and filmed exclusively from the point of view of the survivors of the tsunami and the subsequent reactor vessel explosions. It changes every day and yet somehow stays the same.

The huge atomic power complex was built to serve which used it to excess. Yet when disaster struck, Tokyo, it was the residents of Futaba, Fukushima who lost everything. They lost homes, friends, families, traditions and social networks. Worst of all, they lost their standing in Japanese society. They have become outcasts, pariahs and refugees in their own country. Top Japanese officials appear to be dedicated to the preservation and strengthening of the denial that they exist. The devastation experienced by Futaba, dead livestock left to rot, crops abandoned, homes and businesses destroyed, was infinitely worse than anything reported by the newspapers. The survivors have become an inconvenient truth that the government wants to cover up.

“Nuclear Nation” is a moving requiem for the lost town, as well as a quietly outraged expose of how the people of Futaba were lied to, and neglected by the power company and by the Japanese government. “Nuclear Nation” is a film that listens patiently, and at length, to the voices of those who lost the people and things most precious to them, and mourns the people, and their way of life, that have passed away.  Constituents have been forced to be rootless and they face discrimination as a result of being exposed to radiation, and humiliation because the town’s pariah reputation.

The most memorable scene in the film comes when the mayor taking the government officials to task, calls them out as liars and condemns their stalling, waffling, and inaction in the face of his constituent’s urgent needs. In yet another scene, residents from eight towns with nuclear plants protest this governmental inaction. “Let us go home!,” they cry.

“This film will force you to reassess all the arguments for and against nuclear power.”

– The New York Times

“Worthy and troubling. Director Atsushi Funahashi uses his camera as silent witness to what, up to now, has not been fully seen and acknowledged.” –

“An assured and sobering documentary. Employing straightforward, music-free aesthetics that express the grim realities of his story, Funahashi captures both grief and outrage in equal measure, all of it tinged with the displaced and desolate citizens’ regret over having predicated their fates on the very energy-source technology that cost them so much during WW II.

“GLOBAL WARNING 2”— Two Short Films from Reid Waterer


“Global Warning 2”

Two Short Films

Amos Lassen

Reid Waterer (“You Can’t Curry Love” and “Performance Anxiety) who brought us the delightful “Global Warming” brings us two more short films in this new collection.


In “Foreign Relations” we meet Tom whose decided to take a Mediterranean cruise after his boyfriend walked out on him. However, in order to make the financial obligation to do so, he has to take a roommate who is randomly assigned to him. His roomie turns out to be Nikos (Anthem Moss), a Greek guy. At just about the same time, Armando, the tour guide who is leading the cruise seems to flirting with him. Tom’s  “dance card” suddenly fills up and as he gets to now both of the guys, he finds a charm and ambiguity in them and he has to decide whether to choose the American or the Greek.

foreign relations1

He learns that Nikos has also just become single as well but Tom can’t figure out whether he is gay or not. He is attracted to Nikos who is very shy and they become fast friends as they tour Greece and Croatia. But Armando (Orel de la Mota) is also lusting after Tom (Kevin Grant Spencer).

 This is, quite simply, a fun short movie (25 minutes) that is filled with good-looking guys in Speedo bathing suits. The cinematography is quite beautiful but then so is the setting and we also see some male/male action. It is all about romance here.

daddy's big girl

“Daddy’s Big Girl” is about Millie (Rakefet Abergel) who is overweight and she and her father have a strange relationship. Her dad, Cliff (Christopher Bradley), is a wealthy moviemaker and gay. Millie knows she is fat but does nothing about it and her father uses his own brand of tough love hoping that she will do something with her life. Millie finds herself in a bind with no job and no money so she does what children usually do—she goes to her father who she sees as a hedonistic man who lives for fun. We sense the tension between father and daughter and it looks like they will never agree on anything until Cliff tells Millie a story about his dead wife and her mother and this leads to each understanding the other a bit more.


Even though the film is only 17 minutes long, director Reid Waterer gives us a look at the dynamics of father/daughter and shows us that it is possible to reach an understanding. I watched with a smile on my face because this film has a certain charm that I just cannot define. I surely hope that we will be hearing more from Waterer.