“Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement” edited by Jennifer Patterson— Hearing Our Voices

queeering sexual violence

Patterson, Jennifer, editor. “Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement”, Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016.

Hearing Our Voices

Amos Lassen

Members of the LGBT movement have been working at organizing anti-violence since the very beginning of the unification of the movement. In “Queering Sexual Violence” we learn that they have been creating a space for their voices to be heard. The book takes us beyond dominant narratives and the traditional “violence against women” framework and gives us a multi-gendered, multi-racial and multi-layered look at what has been done and what is being done today.

The volume contains thirty-seven pieces about sexual violence and connects them to “disability justice, sex worker rights, healing justice, racial justice, gender self-determination, queer & trans liberation and prison industrial complex abolition through reflections, personal narrative, and strategies for resistance and healing”. We become very aware that systems, institutions, families, communities and partners have failed them and here we see them looked at carefully and respectfully. We see the radical work that is being done outside mainstream anti-violence and the non-profit industrial complex. 

By now, we should know that when there is outrage, we react and here is a look at how that takes place. Editor Jennifer Patterson has worked on this book for six years and it is an important contribution to our canon. It is also an answer to “the non-profit industrial complex,” that has continually and consistently overlooked and undervalued the experiences and insights of queer survivors of sexual violence and trauma. The goal here is to challenge reductive narratives that package sexual violence solely as violence against women. This simply reinforces and perpetuates “lessons about who experiences [sexual assault], who perpetrates it and who can heal from it.”

Basically, this book is a collection of diverse voices sharing the worst moments of their lives and often doing so with all the horrible details. That is not to say that there are selections without hope and there is some beautiful writing here. We are reminded of the power of being understood alongside descriptions of brutality that explore the honesty and resilience of living life as an “other”.

We read of those who are frequently subjected to direct and indirect homophobia in heteronormative social spheres and isolated incidents of violence often become inextricably tied to complex feelings about their outsider status and self-worth. We read the myths about who is and isn’t a victim, or what does and doesn’t qualify as sexual violence are routinely challenged by LGBT survivors in various stages of grief and healing. Each contributor to the collection offers valuable insight. Patterson makes the strongest case for her thesis that “the unique nature of queer experiences with violence requires a better-developed and more nuanced approach to treatment and support”. 

“Queering Sexual Violence” allows those who know that queer sexual violence happens everywhere and is killing our community. We see here that speaking up and hearing each other is a way to resist and allows us to do away with shame, silence and isolation.

“Dark Blood Saga— Book One” by Caleb James— A Secret

dark blood

James, Caleb. “Dark Blood Saga— Book One”, Dreamspinner Press, 2016.

A Secret

Amos Lassen

Miles Fox is a twenty-three-year-old medical student who seems to have everything going for him. He is very smart and clever, good-looking and has many friends. However, Miles also has a secret. Usually at this point we would suspect that his secret is that he is gay but that is not the case here. He does have a crush on a straight friend named Luke but Miles has the gift of being able to heal others that came to him through his grandmother. She asked him to never say a word about it or to even use because if he does, terrible things will ensue. She knows this because she used it when Nazis killed her family.

I must say that just this paragraph sure hook everyone into reading this book. If you have read any of my reviews, you know that a Jewish theme pulls me in immediately and secrets are always fun to read about. Caleb James has added one other element that enticed me and that is part of the novel being set in my home town of New Orleans.

While treating a person in New Orleans at a cancer ward, Miles was able to heal someone and then finds himself locked up on the psych ward. News of the miracle that he performed began to spread and Miles soon finds himself the object of a manhunt by those who were aware of this magic ability to heal and those who have had that ability have been searched for so that this ability might be used for other purposes.

There are two people who are aware of Miles’ gift— Dr. Gerald Stangl and his teenage son, Calvin ands they are determined to get it at all costs even if it includes criminal activity. As you read, you see that Miles has resolved his feelings for Luke who also becomes targeted because of their relationship and the reader sits on the edge of the chair turning pages as quickly as possible.

I have stated previously that I am not really a reader of books with paranormal themes but this is so skillfully constructed and the characters are developed with such strength that I found myself totally wrapped up in the plot. I refused to stop reading until I finished it and did so in one sitting.

“The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My Lips” by Raymond Luczak— A Unified Vision of Love

the kiss of walt whitman

Luczak, Raymond. “The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My Lips”,  Squares and Rebels, 2016.

A Unified Vision of Love

Amos Lassen

In “The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My Lips”, Raymond Luczak recounts his unrequited love for a gardener while examining how Walt Whitman (1819-1892) lived as a gay man 150 years before. If you have read Whitman, you are aware of the way his poetry is infused with passion and while it may not come across as the way we see passion today, it provides a jumping off point for Luczak as he writes about how society and social changes have changed in the last century and a half. It is as if Luczak has inherited Whitman’s place poetically speaking and this is my opinion based upon what I read here. We read references here to Oscar Wilde who actually said that he still had the kiss of Whitman still on his lips and Boyd Mcdonald, Gavin Arthur, Edward Carpenter and Thomas Eakins.

The poetry here is quite bold as Luczak presents his unified vision of love by incorporating all aspects of his definition of love including “all of its poetic manifestations: sensual, sexual, and textual, a source of electric vistas and voluptuous possibilities of spiritual renewal”. He also shares that it is not always possible to find the words necessary to express feelings. Luczak finds a sense of communion by maintaining a kind of communication with Whitman and, in effect, “uses” (for lack of a better word”) that communion to speak with his muse and to develop the way he feels about the unrequited love he feels for his gardener. (If I seem to be fumbling for words here, it is because I am…. What Luczak says here is so powerful that I find myself often shaking as I write). I am almost tempted to say that this is a non-poem poem in the way that it captures gay love both historically and in terms of modernity. I am terribly afraid of using the incorrect word to describe what I have read here lest MY interpretation becomes muddled. I find myself feeling as I did the first time I stood in front of a Picasso that reflected everything I ever felt in brushstrokes that I could never achieve.

“What now, Walt, do you think of today’s porn stars?
Their humongous cocks are perpetually stiff… They rarely smile at each other. No joy.”

“Things were simpler for men like us in your time”.

Poetry was also simpler back then when Whitman wrote of nature and instant gratification had not yet replaced love as a way to pass the time. I do not think we can read Luczak openly as we can read Whitman but then we did not have the freedom to love back then as we have today. Each word stuns me here and the best review that I can give is a non-review but an urging to find a copy of this wonderful excursion into gay love and read and savor it. You will not be the same person afterwards.

 

 

 

“Song of Exile: The Enduring Mystery of Psalm 137” by David Stowe— “Yea We Wept”

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Stowe, David. “Song of Exile: The Enduring Mystery of Psalm 137”, Oxford University Press, 2016.

“Yea We Wept”

Amos Lassen

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion” is perhaps one of the most famous verses of the psalms. It has also become something of “a cultural touchstone for music and Christianity across the Atlantic world”. It has become a popular song and a top single (Don McLean’s folk ballad and Boney M’s West Indian disco mix). David Stowe uses a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary approach that brings together personal interviews, historical overview, and textual analysis to show the psalm’s enduring place in popular culture.

Traditionally the first line (the first sentence here) is one of the most lyrical verses in the Hebrew Bible and it has been used to express grief, sadness and mourning. We might say that it is used as a protest of exile, of the displaced and of the marginalized. What it is interesting is that even with its popularity, not much has been written about it in the twenty-five hundred years or so since the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people.

Stowe locates its use in the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movement, and internationally by anti-colonial Jamaican Rastafari and immigrants from Ireland, Korea, and Cuba. He has studied musical references ranging from the Melodians’ “Rivers of Babylon” to the score in Kazakh film “Tulpan”. Stowe also explores the where the psalm fits in modern culture especially as regards the final words: “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” Both liturgy and Biblical scholars usually ignore them yet Stowe finds these words being echoed in modern occurrences of genocide and ethnic cleansing, and more generally in the culture of vengeance that has been present in North America from the earliest conflicts with Native Americans.

The work is based on numerous interviews with musicians, theologians, and writers and now Stowe reconstructs the rich and varied reception history of this mysterious, text. This is known as reception history. There is a great deal of information here and we see that this psalm is used for expressing anguish—- we certainly feel its pathos, resolve and desire for vengeance. We follow it is it traverses centuries and places and is present culturally, religiously and musically in both America and Europe providing a powerful testament to curiosity and learning and having a bit to say about vengeance. Stowe presents us with an inquiry about exile and challenges us to think about history, memory, vengeance, forgiveness, and forgetting. This is what this psalm is all about and there are many surprises in Stowe’s commentary on 137.

Stowe maintains that this is a psalm with a biography of its own—- after all, it is people that make history and not literature. Psalm 137 is actually about the fifty year period after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchhadnezzar who took many into captivity. We might think that the Hebrew bible does not have much to say about the psalm but Stowe discovered through his research that exile is essential to understanding several important texts— Lamentations, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. It is not enough to stress the importance of these books. Additionally, Psalm 137 is America’s longest-running protest song used to show alienation and marginalization.

Stowe has divided his book into three parts—history, memory and forgetting. Each part ingeniously looks at several verses that appear to present the whole. We are to understand that each section is important and dependent on the other two. Believe me when I say that this is a fascinating read that is the result of good research and Stowe’s knowing the direction of where he needs to go.

“CROCODILE TEARS”— A Deal with the Devil

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“Crocodile Tears” 

A Deal with the Devil

Amos Lassen

“Crocodile Tears” is the story of Simon an outspoken guy who learns that he is HIV positive and makes a deal with the devil to perform three deeds in exchange for becoming HIV negative again. He is an outspoken guy who cannot keep a job. When he learns of his HIV status he writes to the devil for help and sure enough Satan appears and agrees to make him negative again if Simon will do what he says.

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Simon’s first task was to become a gay bashing comedian delivering jokes written by the devil to overflow homophobic crowds. Simon becomes wildly successful and a national sensation. He marries his best friend, Muse, to complete his cover but this does not work out and in the meantime his ex-lover Carl (Dan Savage) has full blown AIDS. Simon turns his back on him and on everyone he has ever had feelings for.

This is quite a dark comedy that was written bySeattle playwright Ted Sod from his 1990 stage play “Satan and Simon DeSoto”. The film was directed by Ann Coppel and Sod also stars as the main character, Simon.

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The feared HIV discovery follows years of procrastinating about taking the blood test. It took the suicide of a good friend, Phyllis Steen (Wade Madsen), a drag queen to get Carl to force Simon to get tested. Simon’s best friend and former lover, Carl, to force the issue. The film, while grounded in realism goes in another direction when Simon bargains with the devil, Mr. Chesebro (William Salyers), the devil claims that he can make Simon HIV-free in exchange for certain favors. The problem I had with Simon as a stand-up comic was how his act made nasty entertainment out ofnasty, anti-gay jokes. Here the movie navigates tricky waters. It makes foul entertainment out of the twisted hate jokes.

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Simon’s second task is to renounce his homosexuality but this does not work out well when he gets married and enters into a relationship with terrible emotional consequences. The third task never really matters. This year the film celebrates its 20th anniversary.

“Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World” by Gregory Woods— The Gay Shaping of Western Culture

homeintern

Woods, Gregory. “Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World”, Yale University Press, 2016.

The Gay Shaping of Western Culture

Amos Lassen

Gregory Woods brings us an ambitious study of the ways in which homosexuality has helped shape Western culture. This study spans continents, languages, and almost a century from the trials of Oscar Wilde to the gay liberation era and looks at the time of in increased visibility that made acceptance of homosexuality one of the ways that modernity could be measured.

There were diverse, informal networks of gay people in the arts and other creative fields that were somewhat hidden from the larger society. These were referred to as “the Homintern” (an echo of Lenin’s “Comintern”) by those who were suspicious of an international homosexual conspiracy and these networks brought together such networks connected gay writers, actors, artists, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, politicians, and spies. They, to a degree, provided some defense against dominant heterosexual exclusion and fostered solidarity, celebrated talent, and, by doing so, invigorated and changed the majority culture. Having worked with gay men who were involved in the arts in the 60s, I was aware of these networks but never saw anything.

Woods introduces us to a large cast of gifted and extraordinary characters, most of whom operated openly. Woods here looks at “artistic influence, the coping strategies of minorities, the hypocrisies of conservatism, and the effects of positive and negative discrimination”. We get quite a look at twentieth-century gay culture and the men and women who both redefined themselves and changed history. We read stories of interlocking, international gay and lesbian networks that may surprise some and reinforce—- these were places where gay liberation was born and really began to take hold. There were many gay men who “affected, influenced and restructured world culture for over a hundred years and this is the place to look to learn about the rise of gay poetics. I certainly was not expecting this to be a fun read— Woods sprinkles stories, gossip and anecdotes throughout and we see that it was gays and lesbians that actually were responsible for the liberation of the modern world. One reviewer says that the book is both hilarious and horrifying in that we read of the terrible persecution that gay people suffered and the pervasiveness and viciousness of homophobia and also of those gays and lesbians who were totally outrageous.

“You Know Me Well: A Novel” by David Levithan and Nine LaCour— First Love

you know me well

 Levithan, David and Nina LaCour. “You Know Me Well: A Novel”, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016.

First Love

Amos Lassen

Are we even aware of who knows us and how well? I think that this is question that we all have spoken about at different times in our lives. Here we hear from Mark and Kate who were classmates who sat next to each other for a year but never exchanged a word. This changed one night when Kate was lost after having run from the chance to meet the girl that she has loved from a distance. Mark, at the same time, is in love with Ryan, his best friend and who possibly might feel the same about him. Neither Mark or Kate realizes how important one will be for the other and over a short period of time, they come to know each other very well, much better in fact than the people that they know very well.

Many times first love comes with pain attached as we never really know how to deal with it early on. This is a heartfelt look at relationships told in alternating chapters that reflect Mark and Nina’s points of view and pull us into the emotions that the two young people are dealing with as they deal with relationships. I have long been a fan of Levithan and while this is the first writing by LaCour that I have read, I am very impressed with what she has to say. is a deeply honest story about navigating the joys and heartaches of first love, one truth at a time. We can sense that the authors have had similar experiences by the honesty with which this is written. We are with Mark and Kate during Pride Week in San Francisco and we share their joys, their pain and the revelations they face. First love often means change in lives led and we see just how much the cost of change is.

The novel takes place in just one week and the amount of change that the teens deal with is quite amazing. Their maturity and their immaturity are reflection in the way that they deal with love. The letters back and forth between the two cover two-and-a-half years thus allowing a deeper look at their emotions and thoughts. We often use the word “celebration” to define a piece of literature and that is exactly the word I would use here. We not only celebrate first love but we also celebrate friendship and we do so through wonderful prose and a story that awakens us.

“Romeo and Juliet in Palestine” by Tom Sperlinger— Teaching Under Occupation

romeo and juliet in palestine

Sperlinger, Tom. “Romeo and Juliet in Palestine”, Zero Books, 2016.

Teaching Under Occupation

Amos Lassen

When I moved to Israel way back when, my first job was teaching English at a very fine school in Haifa. Part of the curriculum was teaching Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” to students who were required to learn English as a second language. I really never understood the rationale behind it and I remembered the pains I had being taught the play and I could speak the language. I have since learned that Shakespeare in its native tongue is part of some Palestinian college requirements at the present time. I wonder if anyone stops to think about the choices a Palestinian student has to make when studying a drama that has, say, Jewish protagonists. Then there is also the possibility that a Palestinian student might refuse to read a play that does not speak to him.

In 2013, Tom Sperlinger taught English literature at the Abu Dis campus of Al-Quds University in the Occupied West Bank for five months. This book is about that period. Sperlinger explores his students’ encounters with works from ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ to Kafka and Malcolm X. He gives us stories from the classroom along with anecdotes about life in the West Bank thus showing how his own ideas about literature and teaching changed during his time in Palestine. He challenges us to think about what this shows about the nature of pedagogy and the role of a university under occupation.

Not only is this a look at a teacher at work in what is called Palestine, it is also an indictment of the systematic constraints young Palestinian men and women experience, as they work to get a university education in difficult times. We see Sperlinger as a gifted, sympathetic, and resourceful classroom teacher who is wonderfully inventive in his approach to his texts and to his students. He is humorous, hard on himself and open to his situation.

He focuses most of his book on his students and shows the difference between students in Palestine and those in the Western world. The political situation of the region is the backdrop that in many cases is used by the students as a reason why they couldn’t deliver an assignment on time.

We gain insight about today’s Palestinian youth, and the relation between them and the situation in Palestine in general. This is also a fascinating look at academic life within a university that struggles against the odds to maintain its standards and what happens within the context of a specific struggle for self-determination and the preservation of human dignity.

“RAY HARRYHAUSEN: SPECIAL EFFECTS TITAN”— A Celebration

ray harryhausen poster

“Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan”

A Celebration

Amos Lassen

“Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan” is a celebration of the life and work of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. For those who are unfamiliar with Ray Harryhauser, he is an auteur of special effects whose fantastical monsters are the stuff of movie legend. He is now the subject of filmmaker Gilles Penso’s latest documentary that celebrates what he has done and how he has influenced some of today’s greatest living mainstream directors, including Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson (who all are seen here). We begin in 1949 with “Mighty Joe Young and move forward to 1981 and “Clash of the Titans”.

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When he was a youngster, Harryhausen studied early SFX movies and the work of Georges Méliès, evolving their processes while he developed his own techniques. Here we have directors sharing the scenes that have been influenced by Harryhausen.

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For many, Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations that he calls ‘creatures’ remind us of our youth and the films that are distinctively his. Penso’s documentary crucially allows us to see these creatures out of context, often no bigger than a foot tall and we get a chance to appreciate the level of detail and care the artist put into his creations. We go to his London workshop where the beloved characters are now stored – showing off the tremendously prolific out-pouring of clay beings of all kinds and sizes that could be manipulated at a painstaking pace to create the desired effect.

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The film puts Harryhausen into proper perspective and we see him as most innovative and important special effects artist. Harryhausen’s place in cinema history is richly deserved not only because of his technical skill, imagination and sheer love of creation the man brought to all of the projects he was involved with but also because he has been such a gentleman.

This is a straightforward, talking-head documentary, spliced with film sequences, dailies, test shots and newly released on-set footage but it also an loving, illuminating and constantly entertaining.

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Bonus Materials include:

Interviews with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Peter Lord, Rick Baker

12 Interview outtakes with Joe Dante, John Lasseter, Nick Park and more!

A message to Ray

Deleted Scenes

On the set of Sinbad

Paris Cinematheque Q&A

London Gate Theater Q&A

Audio commentary with the filmmakers

Original Trailer

Ray Harryhausen Trailer Reel

“COLLIDING DREAMS”— Another Look at a Complicated History of Zionism

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“Colliding Dreams”

Another Look at a Complicated History of Zionism

Amos Lassen

I received a review screener of “Colliding Dreams” about three months ago with a note that this was a controversial view of Zionism and as I watched the film that thought stayed on my mind. For me, it was not controversial and actually mirrored many of my own views but then I had spent many years building the land when I lived on my kibbutz in the Jordan Valley and was surrounded by the early ideals that had been set forth by many who were part of the founding of the State of Israel. My own thoughts came from my idea of building a nation and this is what propelled my moving to Israel before she had reached her sixteenth birthday.

coll1aOren Rudavsky and Joseph Dorman capture my feelings in this new documentary and also present multiple viewpoints on it. What we really see here are perspectives on Zionism. In actuality we see two main yet different kinds of Zionism—the whole land versus a land for the Jews. Having been a product of Young Judaea, I had some thoughts of my own on how I felt about Israel and I often still find myself at odds with many others.

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I grew up believing that Theodore Herzl was the Zionist superman and what he had to say became a guiding force in my life. When the Six Day War broke out in Israel, I had no problem serving in the army and being sent into combat because I believed it was my duty to protect our land regardless the cost. I find this interesting in that I avoided the American draft because I felt that war was immoral and here I was in a country that had to fight to stay alive. We really believed back then that peace would come to Israel if we could show her military strength and the one thing that really loomed over everything else was the idea that peace was indeed coming.

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In the film we see Jews and Arabs living, working and even celebrating together in the early 20th-century Palestine. Not everyone thought that peace would come and so we had dissenters in our own ranks. I quickly learned that our beliefs come from our educations and we never really agree on anything about Israel. Many of us believe what we want to believe and see what we want things to be. I grew up in America where peace was a way of life but living in Israel, I also learned that war can also be a way of life.

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We get no resolution in the film. The film throws down a challenge and asks us to think about our prejudices and that is not an easy task. It was only after seeing the film “Censored Voices” that some of my opinions changed. We must all realize that each of us has a part to play if Israel is to continue to exist and while many of us may not be happy about what is now going on in Israel, we need to really look into our minds and reach a conclusion on what we can each do the make sure that our nation continues does not disappear.