Monthly Archives: October 2017

“After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images” by Avram Finklestein— Never Forgetting

Finklestein, Avram. “After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images”, University of California Press, 2017.

Never Forgetting

Amos Lassen

The AIDS epidemic is our Holocaust and we are beginning now to look back, albeit with tears in our eyes, and remember how things once were. In the last couple of years, there have been some wonderful writing about the terrible time and now we have a visual remembrance. In the 1980s when the epidemic was in its early years, one of the most important, iconic and lasting image was created by six gay activists, the pink triangle with the words “Silence=Death” below it came to symbolize our movement and the way we felt. I still have the same sensation today that I had back then when I see this. Avram Finklestein was back then co-founder and a member of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury. In “After Silence”, he shares the story of how his work and other protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic came to be. He gives us a different view of the traditional HIV/AIDS history and he does so by writing about “art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process”. It is a little over 25 years later and he uses the AIDS epidemic as a way to give us “ a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how to save lives through activism and making art”.

Finklestein’s story is personal as he sees what happened through the eyes “of a key designer of a crucial political movement and [he]demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis.”

This is a first-hand account of the beginnings and the use of the Silence = Death graphic and Finklestein shows how it was used by the AIDS Action Committee (that later became ACT UP). We also get a look inside of the collective Gran Fury and the various strategies and challenges that formed and informed their most successful campaigns such as “Read My Lips” and “Kissing Doesn’t Kill”. By reading this book, we better understand the politics of resistance and the impact of ACT UP in building a movement.

Avram Finkelstein was a central figure in the image strategies that were developed and used by ACT UP and he is able to provide insights for the next generation of artist-activists who hope to transform our political landscape. This is an honesty and heartfelt look at defining our history with all of the complexities that are found in social movements.

After the threat of AIDS began to subside, many writer were unable to write about it and didn’t. It is only now that those writers have decided to use their voices to tell how it was. This is a “one-of-a-kind book about the history of AIDS through its images that the world needs and has waited for.”

“In the Direction of the Sun” by Lucy J. Madison— Two Women

Madison, Lucy J. “In the Direction of the Sun”, Sapphire Books, 2017.

Two Women

Amos Lassen

Alex McKenzie has lived a comfortably settled life in her hometown of Stockbridge, Massachusetts but that all changes when Cate Conrad comes to town. Cate is a free spirited sailor and artist with whom Alex falls madly in love. The only problem (and it’s a big one) is that Cate has demons in her past that do not let her live comfortably with her present so falling in love is not really an option for her. She runs away from the possibility of love rather than face it. Of course, Alex is hurt by this and takes to nature to heal her aching heart. She decides to hike the Appalachian Trail. Cate goes to the artist colony in Provincetown where she is free to sail and be on the water. Both women become very aware of the fragility of life yet they must learn that love really matters in life.

If you love nature and you love the concept of love this is just the book you want to read. Aside from the wonderful descriptions of nature, we meet two fascinating women who learn how to live with each other despite the setbacks against doing so. We learn about the pasts of Alex and Cate and we understand the part that romance has played in their past lives and how they understand why it did not work for them. We then see them as they change to accommodate their feelings for each other. We  sense how each was affected by the romance, and how the time spent afterwards, combined with their analyses of what was special and what went wrong, contribute to their transformations into their best selves. We definitely sense the hurt and frustration that Alex feels by being rejected by Cate and we feel Cate’s fear of being rejected and understand that is why she fears being involved and in love with someone else. Both women are aware that life might be passing them by without their being able to experience a loving relationship. As a gay male, I was totally surprised at how invested I was in these two women and how much I wanted them to find ways to love each other. I do not remember ever being so frustrated and upset over a character as I was over Cate.

Writer Lucy Madison has done a wonderful job of bringing nature and the possibility of love together in her novel. Both women are on a journey and need to deal with themselves before they can deal with each other and I am sure that we all know people like both of these women. I was amazed at how Madison has the ability to make us feel what her character feel and we realize that we are on their journeys with them.

“The Resilience Anthology”— A Journey

Heart, Amy, Sugi Pyrrophyta and Larissa Glasser, editors. “The Resilience Anthology”, Heartspark Press., 2017.

A Journey

Amos Lassen

I just received an announcement about “The Resilience Anthology” so I am passing it on to you.

“Take a journey through the worlds of over thirty (C)AMAB* trans writers in what is currently the largest collection of poetry and prose made for and by us. Featuring new work by Luna Merbruja, Magpie Leibowitz, Moss Angel, KOKUMO, Joss Barton, Ariel Howland, Casey Plett, Sascha Hamilton, A.K. Blue, Oti Onum, Rahne Alexander, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Lawrence Walker, Connifer Candlewood, Serafima Mintz, Talia Johnson, Tyler Vile, Lina Corvus, Bridget Liang, CHRYSALISAMIDST, Ana Valens, Larissa Glasser, Lilith Dawn, AR Rushet and more, including an introduction by Julia Serano!”

“Our writers featured in this book exist across the gender spectrum, but do not identify with their birth assignment. Many are trans women, but some are genderqueer, non-binary, agender, or all of the above.”

“Death and Love at the Old “Summer Camp” by Dolores Maggiore— The Summer of ’59

Maggiore, Dolores. “Death and Love at the Old Summer Camp”, Sapphire Books, 2017.

The Summer of ‘59

Amos Lassen

Sixteen-year-old Pina was not looking forward to the summer of 1959 because she had experiences so many boring summers in Maine with her parents at Owl Lake Lodge. She did, however, look want to see Katie again even though she did not really care for hanging with her in the cabins of the old boys’ camp. This changed when she saw Katie who seemed to be so much cuter than previous summers but she could not figure out why she felt this way. Whenever the two girls were together, Pina became both nervous and excited. Lately Pina found herself daydreaming a lot and in them her dead seemed to be telling her things that had to do with love and… with Katie. But these dreams were also about death.

As the summer moved forward so did Pina’s feelings for Katie and there was even more excitement when Doc, Katie’s dad and his friend Joe began with stories about camp and death. Something very strange was going on.

We are taken back in time to that year where Pina and Katie became adolescents and faced the typical teen issues of insecurities and fears along side of the senses of hope and young love and a very mysterious ghost story. Delores Maggiore beautifully brings together mystery and adolescence and has us turning pages as quickly as possible. What a wonderful combination— coming out and coming of age and a real mystery.

The discovery of a mystery, along with her new paranormal feelings and sense of a buried sexuality make this a new kind of summer for Pina. I was so reminded of the summers I spent at camp and the wonderful stories that came out of those times. Maggiore’s sense of detail permeates the entire story and every once in a while I had to pinch myself in order to realize that I was reading and not a part of the story.

Katie and Pina feel that she knows that something terrible happened when their parents were kids at camp and Pina relives some of this through her dreams. Katie becomes her support and her lover although she does not know how to deal with that.

I do not want to ruin the read but I will add that when the girls learn that Katie’s father had a homosexual encounter when he attended camp. Then there was an unreported murder and as the girls find clues to what happened that summer, they also find each other as past and present come together.

“ALPHA DELTA ZATAN”— A Fraternity House Slasher Film

“ALPHA DELTA ZATAN”

A Fraternity House Slasher Film

Amos Lassen

We do not get many gay slasher films and when we do, I tend to be somewhat critical. I have had to put my criticism aside for this film because it has been obscured by a good-looking cast with fantastic bodies.

Directors Armand Petri and Art Arutyunyan begin his film which is closed in beautiful neon light with a good looking and beautifully frat boy as he enters the shower and who is taken down by a slasher in spandex and a mask. From that point on the film is filled with homoerotic horror.

The set for the entire film is a fraternity house where members lounge in minimal dress and look good as they flirt with one another. However these flirtations never bear fruit and while this looks like a very gay adventure, we never real hear or see any gay action. We do, however, see many nude asses as each guy drops his towel before showering. However, the gore takes place off-screen (but it gets repetitious) and I found the only scene that really shook me up was the first one.

This is a very serious attempt to add to the genre of gay horror film but it is a bit too serious in that there is virtually no humor in it at all. I see a lot of potential here and hope that there will be more in films to come from these directors. I did enjoy my time with the good-looking men as I wondered why none of my fraternity brothers looked anything like what we see here.

“The Closet Chronicles” by J.P. Haynes— Hiding

Haynes, J.P. “The Closet Chronicles”, Sapphire Books, 2017.

Hiding

Amos Lassen

DJ Spencer is a professional and for her the world is black and white. As a journalist she lives with deadlines and she has become the person who “outs” those of the rich and famous that she believes need to be outed. She watches everyone carefully and feels that there are no boundaries.

In her personal life, however, DJ keeps her sanity by spending time with friends and their crazy carrying-ons and as she does, she realizes that she too is in the closet alongside a secret of her own. She has no idea of what is coming and how it will affect everything she does. She is certainly not happy at work, really hating her job of exposing private lives. This comes to a head when she understands that the people she calls her friends turn out to be not who she thinks they are, forcing her to face the realities of her own life.

The irony here is that as despicable as DJ seems, as we get to know her, we begin to like and understand her. She is the daughter of a bi-racial marriage who was often in conflict with her black mother who told that that she would never be accepted by others as an equal. She knew she could never share her sexuality with her mother because it was another mark against her.

We see in DJ the struggles she has had as well as the successes and the realities with which she had had to deal are quite powerful. Writer J.P. Haynes has created quite a character with DJ. This is a character driven novel written in beautiful prose that shows us something of how we live today and that even with the new freedoms we have achieved of late, we still have quite a ways to go.

“LIFE AFTER EX”— A Gay Romantic “Comedy”

“Life After Ex”

A Gay Romantic Comedy

Amos Lassen

Writer/Director Jim Fields introduces us to Dylan who is newly single after the breakup of his marriage. He has already dealt with the repercussions and is now determined to find his perfect partner. We are with him on his search. Now I am well aware that the title of this review is “a gay romantic comedy” but I must qualify that by saying this is really not a comedy but rather a dramatic look at life after a relationship falls apart and the search is on for a new one. If there is comedy here, it is from the way we perceive what is happening. We know how this will all end for Dylan as he travels on the road to love with all of its stops and errors before he finds what he is looking for. This is not a new story—we have seen it and heard it before; we might have even experienced it ourselves. There are comedic elements to Dylan being the one suffering but I see him more as an everyman since most of us have been, at least once, where he. It’s also interesting that since we know the story, we do not really expect the kind of enjoyment that we get from the film. However, we do love it when the sad hero comes out on top. And as for this being a gay movie, it is such because the characters are gay but the plot is universal to all people—- the quest for love is an experience that has no gender or sexual boundaries.

 

Dylan Holm (Nicklaus Knipe) is a young web designer whose marriage Steve (Spencer Wolfe) has fallen apart and we understand that this has to do with Steve’s having a drug problem as well as other issues. Legal divorce was not yet possible because the film was made before gay marriage was legal everywhere in this country. Therefore Dylan has to move to another place in order to be legally divorce and he must reside there for a year. Dylan begins searching for a for a new boyfriend as soon as he is settled in. We see that Dylan is lonely and we cheer him on (back to my idea of the gay everyman). He is the kind of person that not only wants love but needs love and, because of this, we root for him.

We are with him as he meets new friends and lovers, finds a new husband and becomes a new man. There are no surprises, everything happens as we thought it would. I suppose the message here is that there is someone for everyone to love, we just have to find who that it is. Even with its minor faults this is a movie about love that the audience will love.

This is not a perfect film, it is a low-budget look at love with its many clichés. By and large, the acting is uniformly good and Dylan is the kind of guy you want to hug. I really enjoyed the way the relationship between Dylan and John (Justin Parker) was presented in that it seemed totally natural. I also enjoyed the way the actors worked together and we can see this film as a labor of love. There have been a lot of new films lately but I have to say that this is a special one and I am not yet sure why but I bet it has something to do with the way we live and love.

“Eating Life” by Beth Burnett— Running

Burnett, Beth. “Eating Life”, Sapphire Books, 2017.

Running

Amos Lassen

Beth Burnett’s “Eating Life” is a novel about a group of friends who come to depend upon each other to be happy. We meet Casey Wilde who has spent her life running from everything it seems. She wants no responsibilities and enjoys living with no ties. Her best friend Megan Woodson, is her complete opposite and spends her life with the security of a long-term partner and a well-paying, respected job the best ad agency in Memphis. Then there is Ben Stagg who has lost everything and really has no will to live. Brilliant Wilson is a photographer who seems to be always involved with women who do not have the capacity to love her. And then there is Anna. Eventually these characters have to face hard choices and each character has an influence on the others.

There is a lot of humor in the novel but there is also a lot of heartbreak and I believe that comes from our caring about the characters. This is the art of writer Burnett who has carefully created these people. We are pulled into their lives early on and we soon realize that we care about them especially when they are in conflict with one another. It is Casey who stands out above the others. Her friendship with Megan is solid even though they have different lifestyles. Megan’s life is settles even though she her relationship with her partner Anna has problems as all relationships do and she finds happiness in her friendship with Casey and I believe she enjoys the struggles with Anna dealing with an aging parent. Casey loves life and seems to have a positive attitude about everything. It is through her eyes that we see the reality of life.

Using food as a metaphor for life (“Eating Life”), Burnett looks at tasting life in all of its aspects and then choosing what we feel capable of dealing with. I have deliberately stayed vague about some of the plot and characters because I do not want to ruin your appetite before you sit down to this literary feast of good writing and unforgettable characters.

“The Gate” by Isabella— Chaos

Isabella. “The Gate”, Sapphire Books, 2017.

Chaos

Amos Lassen

Let me begin this review with a disclaimer. I am not a fan of science and/or speculative fiction but I did read this and am trying to give this a fair review. I was very surprised to find myself into the story in the first few sentences—- so much so, that I read the entire book in one sitting. Isabella writes beautifully and seems to have chosen each word especially for this novel.

This is a story about strong women; Dawn and Harley who live hard and love hard. They are pretty, sexy and intelligent but are rules by impulse instead of intelligence. Isabella has taken the good vs. evil story and given it some new angles and it is filled with action.

“The inter-world is in chaos and has become the heart of the battleground in the war between Paladins and Gatekeepers. Harley doesn’t know it yet, but she’s at ground zero. A night of drinking, to forget a cheating girlfriend, is about to change her life forever. A birthmark—or a birthright—sets her on a direct path to a woman who claims to have known her for centuries. Not ready to accept her Paladin mantel, she needs proof—and that proof is out to destroy her.” Now we meet Dawn who was born to be a protector and we learn that protecting a Paladin is to be mated for eternity (without the sex), but Harley is allure a special woman who is compelling and who has risen quickly to The Chosen and this makes things complicated as Dawn finds herself fighting for her own heart, as well as for her biggest nemesis and brother, Lucius who is lord of the Gatekeepers and wants to kill souls before they move to their next life. He wants Harley with him and does not let sibling rivalry stop him.

That is enough of the plot because if I say any more I might destroy a wonderful read for some of you. Let it be enough to say that the characters are amazing and the exploration of supernatural themes is new and fresh. Isabella brings romance, the conflict between good and evil, destiny, and the power of together in a fantasy tale filled with symbolism and that explores the soul. This is a story of destiny and love that will charm you on every page.

“IF WE TOOK A HOLIDAY”— Hanging Out with Madonna

“If We Took A Holiday”

Hanging out with Madonna

Amos Lassen

Dennis is most definitely a Madonna man and struggling Los Angeles actress (Nadya Ginsburg) agrees to impersonate Madonna all day long as a birthday present for Dennis who recently dumped gay best friend (Dennis Hensley.) Of course craziness follows this. Nadya Ginsburg us wonderful with her Madonna impersonation as we all get a look at today’s gay world.