Monthly Archives: April 2015

“I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Ryan O’ Connell— Memoir and Manifesto

i'm special

Connell, Ryan. “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves”, Simon and Schuster, 2015

Memoir and Manifesto

Amos Lassen

Ryan O’Connell has written a very funny book in which he shows us what divides the younger generation from the rest of society. He starts off by giving his definition of the world today as made up of people who are “all-wired, overeducated, and underemployed world.” I understand that O’Connell’s blogs have many followers and there are many who look at his videos on YouTube and his tweets on Twitter. He tells things like they are and does not hold back. He might not have all the answers but he knows how to think about the questions.

O’Connell grew up, as he tells us, gay and disabled with cerebral palsy and always felt like he was one step behind everybody else. Things became even more confusing when he reached his twenties. He has been unemployed, “worked in his pajamas as a blogger; communicated mostly via text; looked for love online; spent hundreds on “necessary” items, like candles, while claiming to have no money; and even descended into aimless pill-popping”. Through trial and error, he figured out how to take his life from bleak to chic and began “limping towards adulthood” along side of his advice. As one reviewer said, the book is like reading a gay bible.

“Ryan O’Connell is a writer and professional feeler of emotions living in Los Angeles. He’s written for Thought Catalog, Vice, The New York Times, Medium, and other publications, as well as for MTV’s Awkward. I’m Special is his first book.”

“Gay For Pay: How I Went Queer For Cash With Craigslist” by Vince Rocchi— Making “Ends” Meet

gay for pay

Rocchi, Vince. “Gay For Pay: How I Went Queer For Cash With Craigslist”, ADS, 2014.

Making “Ends” Meet

Amos Lassen

Here is the story of a straight man who sold his sexual services on Craigslist in order to pay his bills. He shares his story with us and he leaves nothing out or if he does, I doubt it could be any more shocking than what he includes. We learn of the way he arranged his meetings and he gives us quite a look into the psyche of a man who sells his body for money. Some of this is quite shocking while others will find it entertaining.

I did not expect much from the read but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well written this is. There is no real plot and this is just a narrative of some sixty pages about the author’s experiences selling sex and it is written without pretense or polish and even with the good writing there are spelling errors—however once into the narrative, they do not really matter. It seems to me that it is an honest retelling of the author’s life as a male whore.

There are several stories and some of them are quite stimulating and if you enjoy reading about straight guys participating in gay sex them then this is definitely for you. I suppose he did not make as much money as he wanted so he wrote this to bring in a little more.

“Best Sex Writing of the Year: On Consent, BDSM, Porn, Race, Sex Work and More” edited by Jon Pressick— A Roundup of the Best

best sex writing

Pressick, Jon (editor). “Best Sex Writing of the Year: On Consent, BDSM, Porn, Race, Sex Work and More”, Cleis Press, 2015.

A Roundup of the Best

Amos Lassen

The new volume of “Best Sex Writing” contains selections from important and significant bloggers as well as some of the most important stories in the world of sex. Among them are Alexandria Goddard, the blogger who made the important connections in the historic Steubenville Rape Case; Epiphora, the most renowned and saucy sex toy reviewer with thousands of dedicated followers; Lux Alptraum who the successful Fleshbot and is now an editor at “Nerve”. We also have writings on issues that for one reason or another did not gain a great deal of attention but are now featured.

Claire Litton gives her personal recollection of sex in nerd culture, Ember Swift tells of her sexual appetites while she was pregnant, David Henry Sterry writes of his experience as a sex worker servicing to an 82-year-old woman. We get looks at sex from different perspectives. Each and every selection is an interesting and well-written read.

This is all nonfiction and all about sex. There is so much here but I do not want to spoil the experiencing of reading the book so it is enough to say that it is unlike anything I have ever read. “From honest accounts of sex workers’ experiences working in BDSM houses and with people who had disabilities, to a gigolo’s experience giving an 82 year old grandmother her first experience receiving oral, to an article about how sex workers’ lives are not regarded as being worth the same when they are murdered, to the blogger on the Steubenville rape case, to a trans man using a pump for enhancement, to discussions of interracial adult films and power dynamics and the ethics of sleeping with your best friend’s partner, this collection is full of surprises. Provocative, funny, at times uncomfortable, but it is never boring”. Even more interesting for me is that the articles tend to be scholarly and always evocative and thought provoking.

“Visual Liberties” by Alec Clayton— Book Three of “The Freedom Trilogy”

visual liberties

Clayton, Alec. “Visual Liberties”, Create Space, 2015.

Book Three of the Freedom Trilogy

Amos Lassen

Following “The Backside of Nowhere” and “Return to Freedom” is Alec Clayton’s “Visual Liberties” the third book in his “Freedom Trilogy.” Molly Ashton is now in college with an art major and she knows the time has come to be an adult. She is trying very hard to grow up and make her way in the world as she finds herself but she just seems to have a knack for making poor choices. Now at college, Molly becomes friends with Francis Gossing who is something of an artistic genius but who also cannot find his place socially. The vision of his mother holding a gun haunts him and is not sure if this actually happened or simply something he had once seen in a nightmare years ago.

Both Francis and Molly struggle to find their places and joining them in this is Travis Earl Warner (Red), an once famous artist. He has more or less left this world and lives a hermit’s life at a camp on the Mary Walker bayou.

Molly just is unlucky because of bad decisions. From a doomed affair with her art teacher, Darren to he parents and her friends who also cannot find their places, nothing seems to go her way. She searches for acceptance and justice but hasn’t much luck even when her friends try to help her.

While Molly is the main character, this is also a look at a community of people as they face both successes and failures—in other words, we get a slice of life. I was reminded throughout of something I had been told as a college student—“We strive for excellence but often must make peace with mediocrity”. Our lives are filled with experiences that cause anger and joy but getting along is something we must learn ourselves.

 

“The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism” by Adrian Brooks— Coming this Summer

american queer

Brooks, Adrian. “The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism”, Cleis Press, 2015.

Coming this Summer

Amos Lassen

 Adrian Brooks tells “the 100-year history of queer activism in a series of revealing close-ups, first-person accounts, and intimate snapshots of LGBT pioneers and radicals. This diverse cast stretches from the Edwardian period to today”. “The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism” will be published this summer by Cleis Press.

 “Described by gay scholar Jonathan Katz as “willfully cacophonous, a chorus of voices untamed,” American Queer sets itself apart by starting with the turn-of-the-century bohemianism of Isadora Duncan and the 1924 establishment of the nation’s first gay group, the Society for Human Rights; it also includes gay activism of labor unions in the 1920s and 1930s; the 1950s civil rights movement; the 1960s anti-war protests; the sexual liberation movements of the 1970s; and more contemporary issues such as marriage equality.”

 “The book shows how LGBT folk have always been in the forefront of progressive social evolution in the United States. It references heroes like Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, and Edie Windsor. Equally, the book honors names that aren’t in history books, from participants in the Names Project, a national phenomenon memorializing 94,000 AIDS victims, to underground agitprop artists.”

I understand that the cover pictured here may change.

“Hard” by Wayne Hoffman— Politics and Psyche

hard

Hoffman, Wayne. “Hard”, Bear Bones Reprint, 2015.

Politics and Psyche

Amos Lassen

I started seriously reviewing in 2006 and one of the first books that I wrote about was Wayne Hoffman’s “Hard”. Now some nine years later “Hard” is being reissued. I wasn’t young back then but I suppose that I was a bit naïve and surprised to find sex written so openly about but then I had been out of the United States for many years and I certainly had not read anything in Hebrew that was anything like “Hard”.

Set in the 1990s, the novel is about a group of young AIDS activists who had to two goals—to fight City Hall because of its then crackdown on gay businesses and to get laid. Moe Pearlman feels that his sex life is under attack because the mayor is closing down bathhouses, sex clubs and adult theaters. What many did not know is that this was bring done with the secret agreement of Frank DeSoto, publisher of the only gay newspaper in town. As the crackdown continues, tensions between Moe and Frank become a battle and a personal fight between two men with opposing ideas of what it means to be a gay man in the age of AIDS. Moe feels that he just might have found romance in Max Milano but that ended when Max walked in on him and several others having hot sex and Moe finds that the man of his dreams is unable to deal with such a promiscuous boyfriend. Frank who is turning fifty is having something of a sexual renaissance but that is because he is paying for sex. There is another main character, Aaron Chiles who is Moe’s best who learns that his new boyfriend is selling his body on the street and he is having trouble accepting that. I did not mention Gene Macintosh, Moe’s HIV-positive ex-lover, who is delighted to find that his viral load is undetectable, but Moe still treats him like a health risk. “Hard” looks at the world of sex and we see that politicians do indeed make “strange bedfellows”.

“Hard” looks at a world where “sex is a matter of life and death” and sexual politics, both public and private. Moe has quite a reputation in New York City—his skills in performing oral sex are legendary but this is now under attack because of the closure of the places where gay men went to play. Frank, made a bundle from gay men and their lust for sex clubs, drugs and adult movie houses but after he lost his lover to AIDS, he became a moral crusade against sexual activities.

We get quite a cast of characters here, both men and women and we see how personal experiences affect political affiliations as well as define identity. Hoffman also brings in the issues that still divide us today— be they political, generational, sexual, racial, class, gender and HIV status. There is also great comedy here—Moe’s organization, Alliance to Save Sex for example plays with words and there are a series of minor characters that make the story human.

I was not in the United States at the time the book takes place and so much of what I read was new to me. I can just imagine the fear surrounding AIDS and we certainly heard about it in Israel where I was living but nothing like what went on here. We also read of the hope for a cure and looking at gay life as it is today, I find to be completely contemporary. We now have a degree of liberation and the ambivalence that surrounded our sexual freedom back then has changed a bit. We cannot ever forget how it once was and by not forgetting we are able to see how far was have come.

“Hard” is author Hoffman’s first novel and he did a great swan dive into the pool of gay literature. It grabs you on the very first page and does not let go even when we finish reading it. Yes, it is funny but it also deals with some very important themes and ideas—some of which we do not speak openly about. The novel is highly erotic and there is sex on almost every page but this is not just a sex-filled romance but rather a look at how some of us once lived. Hoffman shows us all sides in the battle that took place in New York City, the battle that meant love or death for our community. We meet gay men who attempt to make their peace with how to have a love life and a sex life as AIDS loomed all around them. Hoffman writes with very strong and subversive ideas and characters that run the gamut of sexuality at that time. All of us have known someone who is like one of the characters here and as they argue over what behavior is considered acceptable at the time that a disease is killing us, we read dialogue that speaks truth. It does so through twists and turns and we laugh and become angry sometimes at the same time.

For those of you who have asked, there is a sequel coming in August, Hoffman has informed me. Be on the lookout for “An Older Man”.

“PLEASE PUNISH ME”— A Blessed Businessman

 please punish me poster

“Please Punish Me”

A Blessed Businessman

Amos Lassen

I am always amazed by the way some short films can so much in a small period of time. “Please Punish Me” is only about 15 minutes long but it does a lot.

This is a about a businessman who is so blessed that he looks for a way to be punished for his “curse”. This is a story with heart and humanity and about succeeding in a field that was not the one  wanted. 

pleasepunishme-1

Scottie (David Sackal) is a man with dreams and ambitions, something that so many of us have when young. Somehow, we tend to lose those ambitions and dreams and replace them with something that brings us money. It is then that we remember that money does not necessarily mean happiness. Scottie does not really care for his job—he just goes through the motions of working to achieve the financial rewards that work brings.

It seems to me that this short film has two faces—one of these is seeing the world that Scottie lives in as opposed to the one he is about to enter. This is something of a world that is “blah”, i.e. there is no excitement and not much happens in it. This is the world we see in which corporate America resides with every thinking about his world and not about anyone else’s. The other world is one of colors but for Scottie it is uncomfortable and he does not feel at home in it.

pleasepunishme-2

Scottie sees himself as cursed— for most people good luck is a blessing but for Scottie it is a blessing. As I said he works and succeeds at a job he is not interested in. He barely works and he is still elected as a board member (the youngest in the company’s history). Instead of accepting a promotion, he leaves the job and his boss, Steinberg (Bradley Rhodes) thinks that his doing this is genius. considers even that as a stroke of genius. Ultimately Scottie feels the need to be punished because of his abundant good luck and goes to a BDSM club where he meets the

dominatrix (Joanna Donofrio) who is a single mother and insecure who is certainly not cut out for BDSM and she actually helps Scottie in ways that we could have anticipated. I must note that in an age of political correctness, this film does always adhere to this.

pleasepunishme-3

There is something very sweet about this film yet it has an edginess that is hard to define. The performances all around are excellent and the direction by Chris Esper is subtle.

“WE WERE ONCE TIDE”— Anthony and Kyle’s Last Night Together

we were once tide

“We Once Were Tide”

Anthony and Kyle’s Last Night Together

Amos Lassen

Anthony and Kyle are on the Isle of Wight on their last night together. Kyle must leave and Anthony will be left alone to take care of his mother who has a terminal illness. What the film does is beautifully explore the intimate and unspoken moments when we give something away. We see reality here matter-of-factly and poetically.

The relationship between the two men is beautiful—we see both equality and separateness. What really makes this special is its subtlety.. Over the course of 12 hours or so, tensions rise and fall as they try to define their relationship and negotiate the issues surrounding Anthony’s mother. But while Anthony begins to see hope, bad news is just around the corner. This is a film about what people don’t say or can’t admit and it is melancholy. We see the bleakness of the Isle of Wight as compared with the potential intimacy and future of the lovers. The ending is sad but understandable. It is one of those moments where nothing we can do is fully the right thing, everything is a bit wrong and choices need to be made – even if people can’t say them aloud.

“Purify” by Etienne— The Ivory Solution: Volume Three:
The Chronicles of Old Town

Purify

Etienne. “Purify”, Dreamspinner, 2015.

 The Ivory Solution: Volume Three:
The Chronicles of Old Town

Amos Lassen 


Here we are back with Etienne and volume three of “The Chronicles of Old Town”. As usual a wonderfully story that keeps us reading is here. It seems that one of the senators is rumored to have been caught in bed with a dead girl and a living boy. Reporter Clint Buchalla’s editor has been given the assignment of finding out what he can. Clint understands that this will both a lengthy and not too easy story to deal with but he is surprised when everything begins to come together at the beginning. Of course thinking that things are coming together does not necessarily mean that they really are and Clint and his partner, Lucien find themselves in danger. They began to search for the “boy”, a hustler and this eventually leads to having dinner with an older couple. One half of the couple had worked the streets of D.C. for some twenty years and only stopped doing so when the same Senator’s aide paid him some two million dollars to disappear. He is now willing to testify against the senator but only in exchange for help on getting his memoir published.

As if this is not enough, some information about one of Clint’s early investigations on lowering the birth rate (of certain groups) comes out and they both Clint and Lucien understand that their lives are now in danger.

As I stated earlier this is the third volume in a series but it is not necessary to read the other books in order to understand what is happening in this book. All will be explained here.

Etienne once gain brings us a fascinating cast of characters and a story that it is impossible to guess where it is going. This is one of those reads that keeps you on your toes and thinking and it makes me wonder where Etienne will go next. I needn’t worry because wherever he goes, he will provide us with a good read.

 

“Travels with Penny: True Tales of a Gay Guy and His Mother” by David Alan Morrison— A Very Funny Memoir

travels with penny

Morrison, David Alan. “Travels with Penny: True Tales of a Gay Guy and His Mother”, Booktrope, 2015.

A Very Funny Memoir

Amos Lassen

David Alan Morrison begins his memoir with the death of his right wing, conservative father. Morrison is a middle-aged, liberal gay guy who struggles with the idea of his own mortality by reminiscing about the quirky travel experiences he shared with his mother. The story is brought to us in a combination of journal entries, random thoughts and interviews and it both a very funny and touching adventure. Morrison tries to make sense of seemingly random vacations that, somehow, weaved a new relationship with his estranged parents. As he and Penny travel through an Amsterdam hash bar, a New York gay theatre and the most conservative states in the USA, they both learn that the events of their stormy past does not mean they must face the future in a broken relationship. They learn that love trumps traditional notions of “family,” even with the pain of change and a society filled with anti-LGBT bias.

During their travels, Morrison suffers as he spends time with his mother who is an obvious example of culture shock. The book is funniest in the beginning and while basically this is a collection of travel stories involving the author and his mother, it is also a look at a slice of life and introspection.