Monthly Archives: December 2015

“THE GOOD SON”— Quite a Story

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“The Good Son”

Quite a Story

Amos Lassen

“The Good Son” is the story of a young Israeli man … who takes the radical step of changing his gender without telling his family first. Or is 22 years old and he manages to secretly finance his sex change operation in Thailand by lying to his conservative parents. He then returns home as a woman to face her new life, her family and the cost of living her dream. Naturally there are questions—will her mother and father accept her back? Will she learn to take responsibility for her actions? “The Good Son” looks at how far we are forced to go in compromising our morals, our loved ones and everything that is familiar to us in order to become whole with ourselves.

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Or’s own home videos make up the first part of the film – the emotional lead-up to the procedure, lying to his family about his acceptance to university abroad and stealing from them to pay for the operation in Thailand. He then teams up with filmmaker Shirly Berkovitz (correct spelling of first name), who not only documents the remainder of Or’s lonely and guilt-ridden journey through recovery and personal reinvention, but also acts as friend and confidant. Berkovitz has captured Or’s first steps in her new life as a woman, talking with fellow transgender people and finally, confronting her family and the price of seeking her true identity. This is an extraordinary tale about overcoming self-doubt, conflicted loyalty and being true to one’s self.

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I understand that the story came to director Berkovitz through some 40 videotapes that were delivered to her front door by Or in person. “The footage in the first part of the film was all filmed by Or himself and in it Or really created the plot of the film. He filmed himself during the highly emotional in the emotionally build-up to his sex-change operation, including the subterfuges and deceits that he had to arrange and fund the operation without his family finding out about it. What is so compelling in the footage are Or’s inner struggles as well as his struggles with his family and society at large. Or knew what he wanted to do and began filming himself and as he did, he realized that he wanted someone who would not only film his story but who would also be his friend as he went through everything. Berkovitz had already made a film (“The Way Up”) on the subject and this was how Or got to her.

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Berkovitz followed Or to Thailand where he had booked himself into a sex-change clinic in Bangkok. Before that, she had tried to talk Or out of what he had planned basically because she felt badly for his parents but then she realized that Or was a man and he had decided to do this. He had already paid half the money for the operation. A bond soon developed between the filmmaker and her subject. She was with him during his recovery at the hospital and she became more than a filmmaker. The film’s final ending when Or returns to Israel to confront her family with her “new me”, is emotional and very dramatic. Berkovitz feels that Or did the right thing and she is a very brave young woman.

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Or had flown to Thailand alone and underwent eight different surgeries over a month – nose, jaw, forehead, breast and, of course, gender reassignment. Berkovitz decided that she wanted to “show the secrets we keep from our family that we are afraid to share. We seem to be afraid of sharing and we know that everyone has secrets. Or wanted to be who he felt he had to be and she did what she had to do. (I know that the pronouns are confusing).

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The film has been quite a success and after ayear and a half of filming and two years editing. “The Good Son” aired on the Yes Docu channel from Israel and sold to 10 different TV channels around the world. It competed in the main category at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam where it won the People’s Choice Award. It opened the Docs Barcelona festival, competed in the Israeli film category at the Jerusalem International Film festival, and was screened at over 20 other film festivals around the world. “The Good Son” has also screened to hundreds of fans at Nay Pyi Taw Cinema as part of the third Human Right Human Dignity International Film Festival in Yangon.

So now everyone wants to know what happened with Or. Though she returned home to Israel after her month of painful surgery, the recovery did not begin right away. Her father refused to meet with her and her mother cried; both parents were angry and afraid. Luckily, time slowly began to heal the wounds and love found its way back into Or’s family. Or has started working two jobs to repay her parents money, and in the meantime she found love and earned a chemistry degree. We all need to deal withacceptance and our ability to forgive someone who we really love and this is not a story about a sex change but about love in a family.

“Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law” by James B. DeYoung— Responding to Homosexuality via the Bible

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DeYoung, James B. “Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law”, Kregel Academic & Professional, 2000.

Responding to Homosexuality Via the Bible

Amos Lassen

Using the Bible, Jewish literature, and information from ancient cultures, James B. DeYoung provides the knowledge necessary to respond with confidence, compassion, and honesty to the demands that Christians accept active homosexuality. His response is from a conservative Christian point of view, to the revisionist biblical studies of John Boswell, Robin Scroggs, William Countryman and many others. However, since DeYoung is not familiar with both the biblical material and the works of his principal opponents causing his book to be a jumble of textual argument, theological and ethical assertion and confused terminology. In striving for a comprehensive refutation of Boswell and others, DeYoung has produced a volume that will not only be too technical for all but that will also disturb scholars of every persuasion with its rhetorical and interpretive shortcuts. Many of his critiques, especially those of Boswell’s use of biblical and ancient material, have merit and are echoed in other recent scholarship, but they are presented with no regard for scholarly protocol. Totally absent is a central idea necessary to compete paradigms of the revisionists. DeYoung intersperses long quotations from ancient sources that do little to focus the reader’s attention. Even stranger are his wastes of time in brief, fictionalized narratives that speculate on the experiences of such characters as Lot’s wife, a Canaanite temple prostitute and a very strange future Christian ala Luke Skywalker. DeYoung should have saved the trees by not wasting paper on this—it is a complete and utter embarrassment both to him and to who he considers his readers.

It is interesting that not everyone agrees about this book. One reviewer says that this is “a scholarly, well researched and referenced work that can derail almost any pro-homosexual argument… Heavily footnoted, Dr. De Young derails the most popular pro-homosexual propaganda and does it on biblical, historical-ethical, and legal grounds”. He also has something to say about the negative reviews, “ I now believe the loud and negative reviews are directly proportional to the degree of unease and discomfort the pro-homosexual lobby has with this truthful tome”.

Another says, “The title of this book interested me because I thought the book would provide neutral, objective comparisons of older and newer translations of biblical passages. However, by the end of the introduction it was apparent that this was just another evangelical-Christian anti-homosexual book that fully subscribed to older biblical translations and was written principally to dismiss contemporary scholarly efforts to clarify them”. I have to agree that this book takes its evidence from

“older, long-held stereotypical views of homosexuals that have little to do with who these people actually are. In most cases, Mr. De Young uses biblical language against these people as Christianity has traditionally done, and he makes no effort to genuinely understand where past translations have been in error and have resulted in mischaracterizations and mistreatment of homosexual persons”.

We are aware that contemporary scholars have at times misinterpreted biblical passages. Re-examining them, we see that in several cases these scholars have also provided a much deeper and more accurate interpretation of them. For those who deeply believe that the Bible is a direct revelation of God, it is necessary to know what scripture genuinely means as intended by its author. Mr. DeYoung was not able to do so and this simply means that he is unable to accept his own challenge and his own biases and prejudices cloud what might have been honest and accurate understandings of biblical passages.

On the plus side, DeYoung discusses the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek terms “tovbah”, “bdelygma” and “anomia”. Both Boswell and Helminiak based their studies on the use of these terms. He refers to the Hebrew Bible’s view on homosexuality and he deals with the Apocrypha and Psudepigrapha texts. Sadly, however, this book is a waste of time even from a conservative Christian point of view. I hate when I prepare myself to like something and then find out that it is valueless to do so.

De Young gives us what he thinks is a readable yet comprehensible explanation of homosexuality as presented in the Bible and other ancient literature and law. I understand that he seeks to evaluate virtually every attempt to reinterpret the Bible and other ancient Jewish, Greek, Roman, and Christian literature on this topic. He arranges and critiques these reinterpretations under six or seven different groupings, including ritual purity, worldview, liberation theology, and moral argumentation. And then he blows it by first addressing why homosexual behavior is wrong. In the chapters that follow, he presents the witness on homosexuality as found in the Old Testament, the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible which he incorrectly refers to as the Old Testament, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-10; Jesus and the Gospels, and in ALL the sacred and secular law codes from the ancient Near East. (The word “all” bothers me—I do not think he could have possibly examined them all). In the final chapter, he claims to give the answers to the twenty most important questions about homosexuality and gay rights (are there only 20?), and references these answers to longer discussions in the text. The book is readable if you have a very strong background in study of scripture, otherwise it is meaningless unless you want to go hopping back and forth between books. He also does something that some of you might think is cute—- he begins each chapter with a fictional (FICTIONAL???!!!) vignette that is set in the times and that focuses on the issue that each chapter subsequently unfolds. There are substantial subject, author, and scripture indeces (sic—no spell check?).

“Brothers in Retribution” by Peter Kennedy— Reacting to War

brothers in retribution

Kennedy, Peter. “Brothers in Retribution”, CreateSpace, 2015.

Reacting to War

Amos Lassen

Jacob Green is a brilliant young Jewish Rabbi and Peter Fassbinder is a rapidly rising London Barrister in this literary novel about the human reaction to past war crimes both from the perspective of those investigating them and the perpetrators themselves. They join forces in their hunt to track down and prosecute an aging Nazi war criminal named Friederich Albitz who has managed to evade capture for over fifty years. The book is a sequel to “Reversal of David” and a key subplot focuses on the fate of David Barnsley-Hill the eminent cardiac surgeon who has been tragically struck down with a debilitating stroke and is no longer working as a doctor. David had previously operated successfully on Max Fassbinder, Peter’s father who was an escapee from Hitler’s Germany during the war. The story follows the efforts of Jacob, Peter and Max to finally track down both Max’s long lost brother Maximillian Steiner and the war criminal Albitz both of whom are to be found living quietly in a suburb of Berlin. This intensive search forces the three men to confront their own inner motivation for their obsessions and also to come to terms with their powerful emotions as they finally close in on their two quarries. What they can’t anticipate is just how closely connected their two quests turn out to be.

I had sworn off books about the Holocaust but this sounded so good that I decided to have a look and what I found was a fascinating ready. While it is a sequel, one does have to read the other book in order to enjoy this.

“THE QUEEN OF IRELAND”— Meet Panti Bliss

 

the queen of ireland poster

“The Queen of Ireland”

Meet Panti Bliss

Amos Lassen

Rory O’Neill is Panti Bliss, a “wittily incisive performer with charisma to burn who is widely regarded as one of the best drag queens in the world”. She is also an accidental activist and in her own words “a court jester, whose role is to say the un-sayable”. Of late, Rory has become a figurehead for LGBT rights in Ireland and since the 2014 scandal around Pantigate, his fight for equality and against homophobia has become recognized across the world. However, in America, we have not been lucky enough to learn all about Rory/Panti so here is our chance.

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A documentary, “The Queen of Ireland” is a film, chronicles the change in an Irish society afraid of the different to one tolerant of the different, to one that is ready to embrace the different and much of this due to one man his alter-ego. Filmmaker Conor Horgan embarked on the journey to bring the life of Rory O’Neill to the big screen in 2010 and then nobody could have imagined the events of the next 5 years, and how vital it would be that cameras were there to document it all. In May 2015 Ireland became the first country in the world to put the issue of marriage equality to popular vote, with O’Neill and his drag queen alter-ego Panti Bliss were “a beacon around which the Yes campaign rallied”. The momentous occasion, hen the Irish people overwhelming voted in favor of equality gives the film a perfect launching point and provides a destination for the journey on which the audience goes with O’Neill/Panti.

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Growing up gay in rural Ireland, a country that still criminalized homosexual behavior at the time, O’Neill speaks of hid feelings of isolation and confusion. He speaks of adventures with his first sexual experiences, finding himself in college, before moving to Japan to experience a whole different culture. We see archive footage with O’Neill’s recollection and the recollections of those who knew him through the years the film charts. In Japan he finds his other self, becoming as he calls it a “giant cartoon woman” now known the world over as Panti. The film documents his return to Ireland following the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1993, his founding of Pantibar (an iconic Dublin bar), and accelerating towards the moment that would catapult him to world attention.

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O’Neill shrugs off the attention, with his honest and hilarious sense of self and credits Panti as the one who allows him to “commentate from the fringes, to stand on the outside looking in shouting abuse”, and the symbiotic relationship that he has with his other self is great fun to see.

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The campaign for marriage equality found a face and a voice with O’Neill and Panti, and the film captures its heart. The campaign was about people and Horgan and his editor Mick Mahon deserve real credit for the way in which the use this one man’s journey to tell the story of a people and of a time. Focusing the narrative on O’Neill, with Panti remaining an enigmatic stage presence the film achieves a true warmth. The addition of other voicesgive the film other experiences and take on the man behind the queen, but never distract from the narrative.

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Panti and Rory O’Neill’s story is Ireland’s story. Just this year Panti Bliss addressed the nation over the holiday with a Christmas message broadcast on Irish television. Speaking about the events of the past year, which have been huge for Ireland, most notably the May referendum that set in motion the legal changes that led to marriage equality, we see just what a personality this is.

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Panti said: “In some ways it wasn’t a big change…we were just asked to let more people get married if they want to, but to some people on both sides of the question it was huge. For some of us, me included, we were being asked to finally decide forty years after a few brave men and women first asked whether or not LGBT people are full and equal members of this society and deserving of the same respect as everyone else. But others didn’t see it that way”.

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“They felt we were being asked to change a fundamental social institution that they cherish and admire and they worried that changing it might weaken or even ruin it. And that’s ok. You know on the day of the referendum result a mischievous English journalist asked me in front of the world’s media at Dublin Castle whether I could forgive the people who voted no and my answer today is the same as it was then. I have nothing to forgive them for. For the most part, people who voted no did so out of genuinely held concerns but I hope and believe that in time they’ll come to realize that their concerns were unfounded and come to agree with the rest of us that may 22nd was indeed a good day for Ireland. If they haven’t already. I hope so anyway. Change isn’t always easy but it’s absolutely necessary. …”

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“So let’s stop fearing change. Let’s look at ourselves, at Ireland, with an open mind and credit ourselves with what we do well but also have the courage to see what we don’t do so well and then have the courage to change it.”

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Panti also gave some advice for the nation in helping the disenfranchised: “Our Constitution promises to cherish all of the children of the nation equally but until May we failed to live up to that promise for gay people. The referendum result felt like an acknowledgement of that failure and the closest thing to an apology for forcing generations of LGBT Irish people to emigrate or lead miserable hidden lives.

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“For people like me May 22nd felt like a fresh start and for that I am very grateful but LGBT people aren’t the only ones for whom we have failed to live up to the promise of cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.

“I don’t think the young man settling down to sleep in a doorway tonight feels equally cherished. I don’t think the mother spending Christmas with her kids in a B&B feels equally cherished. I don’t think the travelers spending Christmas on a rat-infested temporary holding site feel equally cherished. I don’t think the elderly woman on a trolley in a crowded hospital corridor feels equally cherished. I don’t think the kid who can’t get into his local school because he’s not the right religion feels equally cherished. I don’t think people with a disability or struggling with mental health issues feel equally cherished. There are times when Irish women don’t feel equally cherished”.

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“The kind of change that we need to make to live up to that promise to cherish all of the children of the nation equally may seem daunting but if May 22nd taught us anything it’s that if we feel strongly enough about something and if we work together we can achieve incredible things. We can move mountains. If I had told them what twenty years ago that someone like me would get to speak to you all in your Christmas living rooms today they’d have quietly called the doctor. I don’t live in Ireland because I have to. I don’t pretend to live in this elegant residence that we’ve borrowed from the afternoon because I have to. I live in Ireland because I love it. I love it fiercely. But I wasn’t always sure that Ireland loved me back.”

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Much of the film deals with the same-sex marriage referendum, which Panti was a prominent campaigner. This was preceded by Pantigate, and his brilliant Noble Call speech that was tweeted around the world with endorsements from celebrities from Stephen Fry to Martina Navratilova.

We get quite a good overview of the struggle for LGBT equality in Ireland from the 1970’s to the present day with contributions from some of the leading figures such as David Norris and Tonie Walsh. However, this is a very personal film about Rory O’Neill and it concludes with a homecoming show in Ballinrobe where he returns as a star. We see why Rory/Panti is such a very likable character and why Miss Panti Bliss is so popular in Ireland today.

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She is quite simply The Queen of Ireland, an iconic figure known the length and breadth of the land, a gay icon and a ‘heroine’ to the Irish people.

Conor Horgan’s terrific documentary “The Queen of Ireland” begins on the day of the vote then takes us back, via home movies and various other footage, through Panti/Rory’s life. This is a funny, deeply moving picture of one boy’s life in the first instance and of a history of the Gay Right’s Movement in Ireland in the second, making it a wonderful historical, as well as a wonderfully personal record, fueled by its tremendously likable central character.

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Panti is, of course, the almost perfect (I really want to say “perfect” but some vicious drag queens I know would come after me) drag queen; funny, eccentric and so over-the-top she’s already half down the other side, “a cartoon woman as she describes herself, part Betty Boop and part Jessica Rabbit while Rory”. Her real-life alter-ego, is the sweetest of men who simply can’t believe his own good fortune and who has taken the blows that life has dealt him with a self-regarding shrug and a ‘let’s get on with it’ attitude. Of course, as a gay man growing up in rural Ireland he was blessed with a highly supportive family and a community that was more embracing than not, (his return to his home town in the guise of Panti is one of the film’s highlights). Here is a ‘gay’ movie with the widest possible appeal that certainly shouldn’t be missed.

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This is a compelling story of how a pub owner exploited a country.

“Midnight at the Orpheus” by Alyssa Linn Palmer— Struggling to Survive

midnight at the orpheus

Palmer, Alyssa Linn. “Midnight at the Orpheus”, Bold Strokes Books, 2015.

Struggling to Survive

Amos Lassen

Set in the Roaring Twenties, Cecilia Mills is new to town and struggling to survive. This changes when she falls for gangster Franky Greco’s moll Nell Prescott and soon they two are in a clandestine relationship. Thanks to Nell, Cecilia got a job working a the Orpheus Dance Hall and is soon called CeeCee. Soon she meets both the elite of the city and gangsters. She and Nell keep what they have with each other secret.

Patrick Sheridan has just been released from prison and is determined to get revenge on those who put him there. He becomes CeeCee’s bodyguard and even though she is in love with Nell, she and Sheridan fall in love.

As you can tell from the description I have given here, this is a novel that is propelled by its characters and it is too bad they were not better developed. There was so much more I wanted to know about them—especially CeeCee who should have been but does not come across as an exciting character. She seemed to be just there as a way to get things moving but as a character herself, we do not know much about her. In contrast to the other main characters, Nell and Sheridan, she is quite a bore. We know that Sheridan wants revenge and that keeps him going; Nell was also well developed although we do not learn much about her past.

Author Palmer has a knack for description and we really feel we are back in the 20s however it would have been interesting to read about where lesbians at that time fit in society. I can’t say anymore about the plot without giving something away but I will say that I see Palmer as a promising writer who has just not found the way to arrive. When she does I am sure we all be stunned.

“Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books” by Rabbi Mark Glickman— Tens of Millions of Books

stolen words

Glickman, Rabbi Mark. “Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books”, University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

Tens of Millions of Books

Amos Lassen

If you had to guess who had/has the largest collection of Jewish books in the world would you have guessed that it was the Nazi party who had tens of millions of books that they looted from European Jewish families and institutions. Nazi soldiers and civilians were responsible for the empting of Jewish communal libraries, confiscated volumes from government collections. They also stole from Jewish individuals, schools, and synagogues. In the beginning of the Nazi rise to power they burned books in bonfires but what many do not know is that they saved many books and hid them in castles, abandoned mine shafts, and warehouses throughout Europe. Theirs was the largest and most extensive book-looting campaign in history.

When the war ended, the Allies found that there were many questions to be asked regarding the books. Was there a way to identify who they belonged to and where should they go? Where did one find authority to make these decisions and finally the books were turned over to Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Incorporated, an organization of leading Jewish scholars chaired by the eminent historian, Salo Brown. Philosopher Hannah Arendt who later wrote “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” was given the job of establishing restitution protocols.

What makes this such a fascinating read is that it is the story of a world that was torn apart and what did remain was a connection with those who survived the horror of that time. Here is the history of members of the Jewish community struggling to gain some understanding of the world after the Holocaust, something that today many of us are still unable to do. The Western world gradually was able to understand just to what extent the world had been devastated, The story of the stolen books was also the story of “Nazi leaders, ideologues, and Judaica experts; of Allied soldiers, scholars, and scoundrels; and of Jewish communities, librarians, and readers around the world”. Like so many others, I find myself still longing to hold a book in my hands at a time when the world seems to be moving in the direction of electronic libraries and research.

Author Rabbi Glickman has explained the period during which the Nazis rose to power and what happened as a result in Jewish communities. He shows it to us as it stands among the other events that were going on at that time. It is fascinating and spellbinding to learn how books were returned to their rightful owners and their reactions when they received them.

I was fascinated by the account of how the books were returned to their rightful owners and how those people reacted when they were. I was even more fascinated to learn of Hannah Arendt’s role in this since I have spent many years studying her and somehow missed this. Glickman’s book played with my emotions and moved me several times. Above all else, we see how important the written word is and how much we are influenced by it. We also see the abuse of the written word and feel the impact of cultural genocide.

As Rabbi Glickman “artfully reminds us, books are ultimately the couriers of human civilization. In their redemption we keep faith with our past and sustain hope in our future.” A word of warning—clear your day before you sit down to read it because you will do nothing else but reading it until you close the covers on the last page.

“Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax” by Michael N. McGregor— A Life of Celibacy

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McGregor, Michael N. “Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax”, Fordham University Press, 2015.

A Life of Celibacy

Amos Lassen

Robert Lax was a poet who was mainly interested in writing for himself. He was a worldly man who chose to live a celibate life. In this biography of Michael N. McGregor, a professor at Portland State University, we learn that Lax had no need for human company and he dismisses the idea that Lax was secretly gay. Lax was born in Olean, N.Y., in 1915 and he eventually moved to the Greek island of Kalymnos, close to the coast of Turkey, in 1964. While there for some ten years, he was a stranger to the other residents because they resented what they saw as American involvement in the Turkish takeover of northern Cyprus in 1974. Lax left the island for a while at that time and it was not until he returned that he realized that people whom he liked and admired thought him a spy, and that he was being tracked by the police. He lost his house, whereupon he moved to the nearby “holy isle” of Patmos. It was there that McGregor met him in 1985.

McGregor and Lax shared religious faith in their belief that God was watching over them. This hovers over the biography. Before committing himself to poetry, Lax had a remarkably varied career. At “The New Yorker” he mainly answered letters to the editor, at “Life” he was a book reviewer and at “Time” he was as a film critic, even though he was ill equipped for any of these tasks. Because McGregor and Lax were such close friends, we do get a sense of detachment and for me this hurt the book. I would have liked a better sense of objectivity.

Lax was dedicated to finding his authentic self and this is the thrust of the biography. He considered that search to be the most important thing he ever did.This is a story with many surprises and beauty and above all else we are taking into the man’s life.

 

“Husky” by Justin Sayre— Change and Acceptance

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Sayre, Justin. “Husky, Grosset & Dunlap, 2015.

Change and Acceptance

Amos Lassen

Twelve-year-old Davis is a twelve-year-old boy who lives in an old brownstone with his mother and grandmother in Brooklyn. His favorite activities are watching people Prospect Park as well as visiting his mom in the bakery she owns, and listening to the biggest operas he can find as he walks everywhere. When we meet him here, he is having a rough time because he is trying to understand his sexuality. He is really worried that people only see him as a husky kid and the girls that he has been friendly with have begun to spend time with Sophie and Ellen, the girls that he thinks are “mean” and with the cool guys at school. As if that is not enough, his mother has begun dating again and his relationship with Nanny, his grandmother seems to be going in a different direction. He knows that he is a good “kid” yet he worries.

Schoolmates have begun calling him names and there is an incident that results in him getting support from unexpected places. He also gains eventually finds that his friends and family will love and support him through the changes that we will go through. This is Justin Sayre’s first novel and it looks at adolescence tenderly and with humor. Today’s middle graders will be able to identify with the “drama between Davis and his friends as their friendships grow and change, as well as the tension that arises when Davis tries to assert some independence from his grandmother”. We feel the truthfulness in the way that Husky’s feelings are portrayed here. What I found so fascinating here is that the words “gay” and homosexual” do not really appear until the last pages of the book.

Davis lives his life admirably but he does have problems transitioning to middle school where the rules of boyhood and girlhood are strict and enforced. Author Sayre shows that Davis does not have a sense of guilt about “unspeakable” desires, rather he is confused as to where in the world he fits and finding others that will be there with him. Sayre seems to fell what Davis feels as he goes through this rough stage in his life. I love that Davis’ journey into finding himself is natural and not forced. We relive this with Davis and remember how it was for us.

“THE GAY WORD”— “That’s So Gay”— Good or Bad?

the gay word

“THE GAY WORD”

“That’s So Gay”–Good or Bad?

Amos Lassen

Amy Ashenden’s new documentary looks at the resurgence of young people saying “that’s so gay” to see whether that phrase is homophobic or whether, in her words, “language has evolved.” Ashenden has observed that “gay” is often used to mean “bad” and she tells us, “When I was growing up, I noticed something about the word ‘gay’. The more prevalent it became, the more negative its connotations. A word that originally meant happy and carefree became a neutral label to describe homosexuality, and ended up being a term used to pinpoint something people don’t like, find embarrassing, or want to distance themselves from.”

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She suggests that perhaps “gay” is being used as a negative descriptor more and more by today’s youth. This has caused her to wonder if this means that young people are more homophobic than ever before. This is her starting point in the film.

She interviews people both gay and straight, older and younger, to find out what “gay” means to them. She also talks to a sociologist who argues that saying “that’s so gay” isn’t homophobic, along with an activist from an LGBT organization who takes the opposite view and wants us all to “get the meaning straight.

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Ashenden says that while making the \ film, she learned just how much loaded term the term “gay” is. She believes that we can’t overlook the damage that’s done when we conflate a word that describes someone’s identity with something negative; saying “that’s so gay” shows a lack of collective understanding of what it means to identify as gay.

“DESIRE WILL SET YOU FREE”— Life in Contemporary Berlin

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“Desire Will Set You Free”

Life in Contemporary Berlin

Amos Lassen

“Desire Will Set You Free” explores artistry, music, social identity, and culture, honing in on a generation of refugees, outcasts, and the stories that bind them together. It looks at life in contemporary Berlin with an often critical and sometimes humorous eye. Based on a true story, the plot follows the relationship of an American writer of Israeli/Palestinian descent and a Russian aspiring artist working as a hustler, the film takes us into Berlin’s vibrant queer and underground scenes while examining the differences between expatriate and refugee life.

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Our characters travel through Berlin’s layered history and fascinating sub-cultural landscape. As our characters move forward, they learn of influences and remnants of the Weimar Republic, WWII, the Bowie years, and punk. The film was shot in Berlin with people who are Berliners. We have appearances by Nina Hagen, electro star Peaches, Brooklyn’s Blood Orange, German sensation Rummelsnuff, rapper Sookee, Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld  and Wolfgang Müller.

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Ezra is an American writer of Palestinian and Israeli parents and he is now living in Berlin where he spends his days clubbing, taking drugs, having pseudo-philosophical conversations and wanting to be more punk but what he really wants is to write more. He spends most of his time with his privileged dark, but witty friend Catharine, who has a fetish for Nazi paraphernalia. As the two of them look for their next excitement fix, they end up in one of Berlin’s famous gay hustler bars.

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Almost on a dare Ezra meets Sasha, a Russian immigrant working as an escort. Ezra takes Sasha on a journey through Berlin’s underground and queer scenes where he discovers hedonism and exploration as well as the remnants of German history party kids. The line between reality and desire is blurred with all of excess. What began as a seemingly conventional gay relationship reveals itself as more complex and dynamic as their true inner desires are revealed.

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Berlin has been a hyped city so it is surprising that there have not been more movies about it. Here we see all of the typical ingredients that make a city a destination— there is nightlife, romance, sex, drugs and rebellious behavior and mixing this with a gay lifestyle we really see hedonism.

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Yony Leyser who directed the film says that it is a look at contemporary Berlin and the sex, drugs and parties that are part of it. The film looks carefully at the artistic and the marginalized life critically and with humor. It explores gender identity, sexuality, and the differences between expatriate and refugee life.