Monthly Archives: December 2014

“JUDITH BUTLER: PHILOSOPHICAL ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND”— A Once Important Thinker

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“Judith Butler: Philosophical Encounters of the Third Kind”

A Once Important Thinker

Amos Lassen

There was a time in my life that I considered Judith Butler to be a powerful thinker and an intellectual but that was before she unleashed her vitriolic tirades against Israel and turned her back on her own people. She is now one of the leading anti-Semitic Jews who is pro-Palestinian and the waste of a brilliant mind. And for the record, I am one of many who feel that way. Director Paule Zadjermann made this film about Butler before she voiced her views publicly and for some reason the film is not even listed on IMDB.

Butler is the author of the best seller “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity” and this was a book I carried with me while in graduate school. I still have a very hard time reconciling that Judith Butler with the Judith Butler (Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at University of California, Berkeley) that we have today. Yet she remains for many as one of the world’s most important and influential contemporary thinkers in fields such as continental philosophy, literary theory, feminist and queer theory, and cultural politics.

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This film is an up-close and personal meeting with Butler and features interviews with her including reminiscences of her formative childhood years, illustrated by family home movies, as a “problem child”. We see her in classroom sessions in Berkeley and Paris, at public speaking engagements, and in discussion with Gender Studies professor Isabell Lorey. Butler is noted for her work on gender and the idea of whether gender and sexuality are the same. She examined the role of family on gender, the “gender norms” of society, the deep fears of those who openly flaunt there own personal feelings about gender, gender politics and other topics as well that we see here.

In the film, Butler covers a wide range of subjects, broaching not only controversial gender issues-including transsexuality and intersexuality-but also 20th century Jewish philosophy, AIDS activism, criticism of state power and violence, gay marriage, and anti-Zionism. The film can, on one hand, popularize what she has to say while on the other end it can be polarizing for her but she obviously does not care as she continues to rant about Zionism at every opportunity. Many have labeled her and one of her colleagues (also Jewish) as the two largest enemies of the state of Israel. We do get a look at her thought here but even approaching this film with a clear mind, it is impossible not to see Butler through an anti-Jewish lens. This, unfortunately, may be what she will be remembered by.

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“THIS IS DRAG”— Are We Ready?

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“This Is DRAG”

Are We Ready?

Amos Lassen

“This is Drag ” is a documentary starring Bianca Del Rio, Adore Delano, Courtney Act, Alyssa Edwards, and more is here !! Step beyond the Interior Illusions Lounge, behind the drama, for an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at performance, glamour, fame, family, love and sacrifice as some of the world’s most renowned drag queens come together for World Pride in Toronto.

Directed by Mark Kenneth Woods (The Face Of Furry Creek) This Is Drag stars drag icons Bianca Del Rio, Adore Delano, Courtney Act, Darienne Lake, Alyssa Edwards, Shangela. Check out the trailer below, and catch it airing on OUTtv Canada in January 2015. LogoTV in the USA TBA.

“THE STRANGE LITTLE CAT”— In the Kitchen

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“The Strange Little Cat” (“Das merkwürdige Kätzchen”)

In the Kitchen

Amos Lassen

 Siblings Karin and Simon have come to visit their parents and their little sister Clara. That evening, other relatives will be joining them for dinner. When we meet everyone they all; seem to be quite ordinary; they speak about regular things as they sit and “schmooze”. We see people who live in a world of coming and going and who do all manner of doings, each movement leading to the next, one word following another. Yet we see silent gazes and anecdotes about experiences. The people act oddly; their dialogues are direct and unemotional. Even the pets and the material surroundings play a part. Some objects seem alive as if by magic. Commonplace actions and familiar items appear absurd and eerie in this narrative cosmos. So what could Ramon Zürcher have to tell us about ordinary people doing ordinary things? Just wait a few minutes.

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In its opening minutes, an orange tabby paws at a door, opening its mouth to meow. Zürcher matches the shot with an off-screen sound cue of a family’s youngest daughter, Clara (Mia Kasalo), screeching in tune with a kitchen appliance. It’s a disarming effect. At first we think the kitty has the voice of a wailing child—strange, indeed—only to realize that Zürcher is cuing us to his next scene, as he simultaneously collapses and expands the space of the smallish family apartment in which the bulk of the film, excluding some anecdotal flashbacks, unfolds. Yet even though the film takes place in the single setting of the kitchen, it begins to feel roomy thus not like a claustrophobic place and it sets the tone for what is to follow. The film is one of overlapping sound design, careful camera shots and controlled minimalism. We soon see that the film is not about cat slinking in and out of the frame, but a “magic bottle” that recurs throughout—a glass container which, when filled with just the right amount of water, appears to wobble continually inside of a kitchen pot. As the characters joke, quarrel, and chat, director Zürcher pays particular attention to the tiny details of their environment: a loose screw rattling inside a washing machine, a grocery list, a moth flitting about from room to room, and of course, that cat.

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We watch the family reveal bits about themselves through digressive stories and we see that most movies offer us a chance to look at multiple meanings of our lives as we deal with the typical occurrences of the day. Every once in while we see a special film that awakens our senses, stimulates our minds, and awes us with a magical and momentous appreciation of everyday spirituality.

The mother (Jenny Shily) floats around the space, sometimes giving orders, other times escaping to look out the window. Her smart and sensitive daughter Clara (Mia Kasalo) has the irritating habit of yelling loudly whenever a kitchen appliance goes off. We hear the screeching of a cat, the barking of a dog, the clanging of a washing machine, the shutting of a door, the grinding of the garbage disposal, and the whirl of a blender. Most amazing of all is the “magic bottle” on the stove that spins around speaking its own improvisational story. The father (Matthias Dittmer) arrives in the kitchen and asks Clara to spell milk and salad. Mother gives her some bits and pieces to feed the sparrows only to find out that Clara has stopped this act of charity. Karin (Anjorka Strechel), the older daughter, asks, “Is Clara crazy?” and Mother replies, “Yes.” Then Karin adds, “The cat is crazy, too.” Then we see the orange tabby clawing at a shut door and meowing. She also comes into the cramped kitchen and manages to jump up on the table and knock a glass to the floor. The cat, we realize, is living in its own little world just like all the family members who surround her.

Mother may or may not be having an affair with her sister’s husband who shows up to fix the washing machine. She tells Karin about an unsettling incident at the movie theater where a man put his foot over hers. She waited for him to remove it but he didn’t. She tried to concentrate on the screen but found herself focused on his foot on top of hers. Finally, he removed it and she felt a great sense of liberation. What is important about this conversation is that we get an idea that the mother has sexual desires that are not being taken care of by her husband. The other conversations really have no depth but this one seems to.

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Others arrive including Clara and Karin’s brother, grandma, and a quiet teenager. The movements are dance like as various characters squeeze by each other putting away the dishes, getting a cup of tea, stepping aside to let another pass. I can see how some may find this to be a detailed portrait of the obstacles to spirituality put up by the daily distractions of unimportant chat, time-consuming and boring chores, and constant noise but there is something else. These obstacles and complications show that the sacred is carried into our hearts and minds by crazy cats, magical bottles on the stove, honest confessions, and cups of tea that bring great pleasure. Sacred does not come in spiritual retreats are weird experiences but it what we do on a daily basis.

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The ensemble cast exudes an easy chemistry, managing to suggest a shared wealth of family in-jokes and anecdotes without ever articulating them. Snappy dialogue is a key ingredient, but movement is crucial, too. These characters dance around each other in their cramped hallway and crowded kitchen, their actions choreographed as much as scripted. At times, we could almost be watching a modern dance piece or art-gallery installation.

There are so many witty touches and sharp little observations here that The Strange Little Cat can be forgiven for ultimately making no dramatic statement. There are no shock revelations, no resolutions, and it reveals almost nothing about its characters. This is excellent minimalist filmmaking par excellence and a delight to watch.

Top Ten LGBT Films of 2014— An Opinion

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Top Ten LGBT Films of 2014

(An Opinion)

“Boys”*

Two teenage Dutch boys embark on first love, which inevitably doesn’t run smooth. Neither of them are out and they also have to deal with difficult social and family issues, which threaten to tear them apart.

“Who-Is-Afraid-of-Vagina-Wolf”*

After Anna turns 40, she’s forced to take stock of her life, realizing that her decision to put her filmmaking career ahead of looking for love has left her with nothing. She decides to make an all-female film version of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, but the fact she’s really doing it because she fancies one of the cast members ends up causing problems.

 “Eastern Boys”*

Daniel’s life is upended after his planned rendezvous with teenage rent boy Marek ends up with a band of young men invading his home and stealing eveything. Despite this, Daniel and Marek continue to see one another – initially having sex for cash but then developing a real connection. However the leader of the band of men who invaded Daniel’s home isn’t about to let Marek go without a fight.

” Boy Meets Girl”*

 Rikki is a 21-year-old trans girl finding her feet in the world who befriends Francesca, a woman with an absent fiancée who hates everything Rikki represents. Together they begin to explore different aspects of their own sexuality – despite Francesca’s initial naiveté about transgender issues and the fact not everybody is accepting of the non-traditional as she’s ready to do.

” The Normal Heart”*

Based on Larry Kramer’s acclaimed play, The Normal Heart centres on Ned Weeks, whose life is changed forever after a strange disease starts taking the lives of gay men in the early 1980s. He becomes part of the fight against the illness as a co-founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, facing government inaction/homophobia and dissension within the gay community. The battle then becomes even more personal after Ned’s partner is diagnosed as being HIV+.

 “The Case Against 8″*

 This feature-length documentary looks at what happened in California after voters backed Proposition 8, which sought to ban same sex marriage in the state, despite the fact it had been legal there for several months. The film follows the court cases that ensued, which eventually led to the Supreme Court. This brought together an eclectic mix of people to fight for LGBT people to have the right to marry the person they love.

” The Way He Looks”*

 Leo is a blind teenager who spends most of his time with his best friend Giovanni. This is disrupted by the arrival of new boy Gabriel, who befriends both Leo and Giovanni. Leo soon starts to have feelings for Gabriel, but he can’t be sure whether his new friend feels the same way, or how Giovanni might react.

 “Getting Go: The Go Doc Project”*

Doc wants to be a filmmaker and he’s also somewhat obsessed with local go-go dancer, Go. He decides to merge his two desires by making a documentary about Go. Doc soon discovers there’s far more to Go than just a gyrating sex object, and as they grow closer Doc also has to realize that perhaps his artistic pretensions are a cover for something simpler.

“Pride”*

 It’s the 1980s and the coal miners are on strike, battling Maggie Thatcher’s plans to decimate their industry. Far away in London, Mark decides to set up a gay and lesbian group to raise funds for the strikers. However he discovers that many of them don’t want cash from ‘queers’, until they stumble on a small Welsh village that agrees to take the money. This starts an unexpected bond between the big city gays and the rural mining community, which opens up both their horizons.

“Stranger By The Lake”*

 Franck spends much of his time cruising for sex close to a lake. He is immediately attracted to newcomer Michel, which takes a dangerous turn when he sees him murder his companion. Rather than turning Michel into the police, Franck’s obsession grows and they are soon having a passionate affair. However Franck may not be able to tame his lover’s violent tendencies.

*All of these films have been reviewed here at reviewsbyamoslassen.com

“GOD’S SLAVE”— Ahmed and David

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“God’s Slave” (“Esclavo de Dios”)

Ahmed and David

Amos Lassen

Inspired by true events, “God’s Slave” is the story of Ahmed and David, two extremist characters, one Islamic and the other Jewish, who cross their paths while being in the opposite side of the conflict in the A.M.I.A bombings that took place in 1994 in Buenos Aires.

“God’s Slave” was directed by Joel Novoa and written by Fernando Butazzoni. It is a story that is filled with suspense and it comes from the humanity and understanding that are torn apart when two nations are at war.

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Ahmed (Mohammed Al-Khaldi), a devout Muslim in Venezuela lives a seemingly charmed life as a successful doctor with a loving family. But he is burdened with the haunting memory of his principled father (often accused of being a pro-Israeli Muslim) assassinated before his eyes by a masked Israeli agent. Ahmed’s path, then, is clear. He was selected willingly as a sleeper terrorist and now he bides his time and waits for the moment when he’ll be called by Allah to commit a suicide terrorist action. David (Vando Villamil) is a top Mossad agent in Argentina who is waiting to either clean up and/or prevent terrorist acts. He is a devout Jew, similarly haunted by violent actions in his past and though he also has a family that loves him, he is so obsessed with his calling to fight terrorism that he’s growing further and further away from those who care for him. These two men are dominated by past tragedies in their lives and are both on missions to destroy.

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The movie places both on an inevitable collision course, allowing us to get to know and respect both men. This, if anything, is what is responsible for the suspense that keeps us on the edge of our seats. We hope and pray that they’ll find some way of reconciling that which haunts them and in so doing, avoid the inevitable confrontation that could mean death for both of them and possibly many others. To make the movie even more special are what we learn about each man and his inner conflicts that betray their respective personal struggles with the dualities that nag at both of them.

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 We are taken on an excruciating journey with both men and all the more so, as sides and motivations become blurred by their respective obsessions. Both men are, to varying degrees, slaves of God. This places equal weight and emphasis on both characters which better allows us to experience their similarities and differences. We get to fully appreciate how one man allows his devotion to God get in the way of what really allows him to be one with God, while the other is so entrenched in God’s slavery that he’s unable to ascertain the difference between God’s Word and man’s.

When we first start watching or at least for me I had the feeling that I had seen this all before but I was very wrong. A young Muslim’s hatred is sharpened by the tragedy he suffered as a child. The Israeli official’s anti-terrorism efforts stem from an attack he witnessed decades earlier. Each man, driven by vengeance and a devotion to the God he worships, embarks on a mission to end what the other stands for. There’s a good guy, a bad guy, a climactic take down, and a happy ending. But it was not so simple.

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 Director Novoa transforms a seemingly open-and-shut political thriller into a moving and nuanced portrayal of commitment and crusade. Based on true events, “God’s Slave” accepts an even bigger challenge than to create a poignant film. Novoa’s work has a responsibility to the victims and survivors of religious extremist acts around the world. It’s this shouldered reverence that isolates each scene as the moment it represents. Every action, every line, every glance alludes to a past that threatens to repeat itself. Novoa’s awareness of such significance cast his result in an affecting light that eclipsed the setting in which I absorbed it and I became both a terrorist and a victim, as unsure of whose crusade to champion as I was surprised by my conflicting loyalty.

“HAPPY ENDINGS”— The Unpredictability of Life

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“Happy Endings”

The Unpredictability of Life

Amos Lassen

“Happy Endings” is made up of multiple stories that create a witty look at love, family and the sheer unpredictability of life itself. Directed by Don Roos, we see three semi-related California tales concerning men and women coping with the complexities of sex (and ensuing pregnancies), and by the film’s conclusion, every one of its vignettes is wrapped up in a sweet, semi-neat fashion.

Mamie (Lisa Kudrow, Friends) is a counselor in an abortion clinic and she is forced to examine her past when Nicky (Jesse Bradford), a struggling filmmaker, promises to reunite her with the son she gave up for adoption if she allows him to film the reunion for a documentary. Mamie’s ineffectual stepbrother, Charley (Steve Coogan), is gay. His partner, Gil (David Sutcliffe), is friends with a lesbian couple to whom he once donated sperm. The couple does indeed have a baby, but they allegedly used an anonymous donor, not Gil’s sperm. Charley is not so sure and soon becomes obsessed with proving his theory that his friends are lying so they won’t have to share the child with Gil.

Young and gay Otis (Jason Ritter), who works in Charley’s restaurant, meets the sly, gold digging Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal). After taking a tour of Otis’ palatial home, Jude seduces the confused teenager and uses their relationship as a stepping-stone to get to his father, Frank (Tom Arnold). As her relationship with Frank progresses, Jude finds herself developing genuine feelings for him, much to Otis’ dismay. Of the three stories, the most engaging is that of Otis and Jude. There is a strange intensity between the two and Jude is by far the most passionate and enticing character in this movie. In fact, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance as Jude is so good that the rest of the film suffers when she is not on screen.

The story of Mamie and her boyfriend Javier (Bobby Cannavale), and Nicky is uneven. Her relationship with Javier is entirely confusing., Javier is supposedly Mexican, yet Cannavale does not look Hispanic and speaks with a cartoonish Mexican accent. If he is Mamie’s boyfriend, as opposed to just a boy toy, why does she frequent his massage parlor when she could just get the same thing at home for free?.

The weakest story is Charley’s. Whereas Jude and Mamie both struggle with decisions that will drastically alter their lives, Charley merely indulges a fanciful theory that does not even affect him as much as his apathetic boyfriend Gil. Charley just comes off as shallow and neurotic. Jude and Mamie both act recklessly at times, but their ability to self-reflect and learn from their mistakes is a rare and refreshing trait to see in a character. Charley never grows, never learns, and his poorly thought out schemes seem more like the plot of a Friday night sitcom than the stuff of great drama. Additionally, Gil and his lesbian friends never respond to Charley’s odd behavior as real people would.

“The Life and Loves of a He Devil: A Memoir” by Graham Norton— Coming in April

the life and times

Norton, Graham. “The Life and Loves of a He Devil: A Memoir”, Hodder & Stoughton , 2015.

Coming in April

Amos Lassen

In April we will be able to read Graham Norton’s revealing, moving, and hilarious life story as he takes us through the things he loves in his memoir. Norton has been entertaining us for almost twenty years with his ability to find humor in the simplest of things. His memoir is based on love and he shows us that it is really what we love that makes us who we are. He describes what and he who he loved as a young boy along with his new loves and obsessions—big and small—as he’s grown older. Graham realizes that what makes a life interesting is not what happens to us but what inspires and drives us.

“:..And Then I Became Gay””: Young Men’s Stories” by Ritch Savin-Williams— Gay in America, 1980’s and 90’s

and then I became gay

Williams-Savin, Ritch. “:..And Then I Became Gay””: Young Men’s Stories”, Routledge, 2013.

Gay in America, 1980’s and 90’s

Amos Lassen

 “…And Then I Became Gay” is about young men who share what it was to be gay in the United States during of being a sexual outsider in North America during the 1980s and 1990s. It also contains a cross-section of men from different ethnic backgrounds. Each story has a personal meaning to the individual youth disclosing it, yet aspects of these narratives can express a normative experience growing up gay or bisexual. For many of the contributors and readers, these stories may prove to be not only about coming out, but also coming of age.

The stories included were drawn from interviews with 180 men aged 14 to 25. They contain graphic and poignant reminiscences and we read of awareness and acceptance of a gay or bisexual identity, initial sexual experiences (both homo- and heterosexual), and the coming-out process. We also look at the issues faced by youths who are both cultural and sexual minorities. While the book is essentially a scholarly study, the sensitive treatment and personal narratives will appeal to lay readers. We see that the existing stereotypes of gay male development are demolished and replaced with real life stories.

Savin-Williams uses the term “sexual minority” for those interviewed and who share their memories of same-sex attractions, first gay sex, first heterosexual sex, labeling self as gay/bisexual, disclosure to others, first gay romance, and positive identity. In each category he gives the diversity of when and how sexual minority youths achieved or didn’t/hadn’t yet reach these “milestones”. He notes similarities and differences between boys and young men who achieved them during childhood, early adolescence, middle adolescence and young adulthood. He then compares/contrasts the experiences of white males with those of ethnic young men.

 The young men tell their stories and we get a sense of real lives. It is the last chapter that is so important. We read of the current crop of sexual minority youth, those who came of age in the late 1990’s and early 21st century. He states, “A singular or normative developmental lifestyle for gay/bisexual youths simply does not exist. Those who advocate such a position are usually adherents to a straight versus gay psychology. This approach might satisfy those who desire to draw attention to either the ‘Look, we are just like them!’ assimilationists or the ‘We are different from them!’ separatists, but it also results in a misrepresentation of gay/bisexual [male] life. No two lives are identical, nor are two lives irrevocably distinct. Both concepts should be assumed concurrently….”

“Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir” by Charles M. Blow— Dealing with the Past, Living in the Present

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Blow, Charles M. “Fire Shut Up in My Bones”, Mariner Books, 2015.

Dealing with the Past, Living in the Present

Amos Lassen

One of the things that I have noticed in writings by black men is the way they deal with homosexuality but now we have a gorgeous memoir of a man who does just hat. Charles M. Blow is one of our most respected journalists and he shares with us how he dealt with his past so that he can live well in the present. He tells us in beautiful prose about having to deal with so many major issues— race, gender, class and sexuality not just in the American South and our nation as a whole.

Blow brings us a beautifully written coming of age story with an inspiring and uplifting ending of self-acceptance. We see the world through the eyes of an African-American who was raised in the segregated southern United States. He was the youngest child of a strong and proud mother and a progressive father. His extended family was unique and populated with individuals for whom stereotypes do not fit and neither do expectations. What I find so interesting is that this is not a beautiful story but it is told in beautiful prose. Alongside of sweet moments are tragic ones and the descriptions are so vivid it is as if we are there. Being from the South myself, I found so much to indentify with. We see the characters and even feel as if they are speaking right to us. This is a story of redemption and triumph but only after arduous suffering and pain.

I have always had trouble trying to find an accurate definition for the word “man”. Is it gender or a role to be played as expected by society? Perhaps it is a commitment of some kind. Then I read this story of a young man growing up in rural Louisiana and how he finds his way even with the poverty and abuse that he suffered and shook his beliefs. Here is someone who feels his difference and tries to overcome before he can deal with it. He tells us that he has spent his whole life trying to fit in but then it took the rest of his life to realize that some men are not like others and are meant to stand out from the rest. While the book deals with Blow’s sexuality it is really about finding out what is a man in a place where the rules that had been written and accepted don’t include the “strength that comes from divergence.” Here is a courageous story of an honest man who stops running and realizes who he is.

By reading this we better understand poverty, the south, racism, sex, fear, rage, and love. Here is a guy from a small town who grew up in extreme poverty in the segregationist Deep South and then became a columnist at The New York Times. He suffered through racism and poverty and we read where he took on sexuality, religion and social hierarchy in the African-American community and in doing so has revealed his inner soul and yet he became one “America’s most intriguing public intellectuals.” His story is self-critical and he says things that we cannot ignore and this is a story that few men and even fewer Black men can tell. Blow’s brilliant and self-critical narrative contains truths which no American can afford to ignore, and which few black men have dared to tell.

“Straight-Face” by Brandon Wallace— Life, Love, Learning

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Wallace, Brandon. “Straight-Face”, Green Bridge Press, 2014.

Life, Love, Learning

Amos Lassen

Brandon Wallace was raised in Arkansas, a place where I lived for seven years but unlike Wallace who hid his sexuality, I was openly gay while I lived there and it was a terrible experience. It took a while for me to get out and now I can look back at those painful seven years. As he grew up, Wallace knew that he had been called to the ministry and also that he is/was a gay man. He was afraid that coming out would destroy his chances for serving God and probably make getting a job very difficult so he hid who he was hoping that he would one day find love and acceptance. However, it seems as though God had other plans for him and he was taken on a journey that would allow him to lead a life openly and authentically. With this book, we join him on that journey during which he learned to accept himself and his faith. He gives us a story about learning, love and life and his reconciliation with himself.

Wallace does not hold back—he gives us his raw and candid story and in one of the chapters he even writes his exegesis of a biblical verse that really helped him discover and live with who he is. He had to live behind a mask of a straight person that we all know is not easy. There have been so many coming-out and coming to terms with stories that it is rare to find one that has something different to say. Brandon Wallace gives us one of those and it is written with humor as well as serious reflection.

We go past biographical facts and read how he saw the world. We feel the frustration that he felt yet he doesn’t dwell ion it and writes as if we are actually having a chat about who he is.

We now see that many people are coming to terms with the way gay people have been treated throughout time and many evangelists and other church people have had difficulties with LGBT issue but there is change coming and it is coming quickly. straight faceWallace notes this new acceptance and we see by reading him, he is not in the place where he once was. It seems that the days of hiding and wearing the mask are ending. The new Brandon Wallace writes in italics thus making it easy for us to separate the old from the new.

There is a concentration on various periods in time in which Wallace analyzes experiences and shows us how they influenced his life and his dealing with his sexuality. His call to the ministry never ceases and he learns just how to deal with both issues. I do not think that the intent of this book is to write about living and hiding as so many have done and still do but rather about the challenges that are faced by such living. One of the differences here is that this is not about the dismissal of religion but integration into it as a complete person. We see that wearing masks is dangerous and with narratives like this one, we can hope that hiding and masks will soon become part of an ugly past.