“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.

“How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood” by Jim Grimsley— Looking at History

how I sshed my skin

Grimsley, Jim. “How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood”, Algonquin Books, 2015.

Looking at History

Amos Lassen

 “White people declared that the South would rise again. Black people raised one fist and chanted for black power. Somehow we negotiated a space between those poles and learned to sit in classrooms together . . . Lawyers, judges, adults declared that the days of separate schools were over, but we were the ones who took the next step. History gave us a piece of itself. We made of it what we could.” —Jim Grimsley.

So author Jim Grimsley sees history. It has already been more than sixty years since the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that America’s schools could no longer be segregated by race. Grimsley was then just eleven-years-old and living in a small eastern North Carolina town. Up until then, blacks and whites didn’t sit next to one another in a public space or eat in the same restaurants, and they, of course, did not go to school together. Jim Grimsley could sent to one of the private schools that suddenly sprang up after the decision. (I taught in one such school). His parents did not have that kind of money so they stayed on the front lines protesting desegregation. It was quite a time in the southern United States. Like so many of us, Grimsley did not realize how his own prejudices were so much a part of him and n fact before he even entered the sixth grade, he had never really known a black person. I, like Grimsley, look back at that time and try to remember how I felt. We had a black maid working for us who was more of a mother than my own mother but that does not really count when we consider knowing someone. Here we get the author’s first real meetings with black children and black culture. This is quite a moving read and certainly made me remember so many things. While my secondary educated was not integrated my higher education was.

As Grimsley got to know his classmates, they formed alliances and friendships and in his narrative we see just how far we have come (even though it is not yet far enough). One reviewer found the book shocking and not shocking at the same time and this reminded me of something that happened at my college. My fraternity was planning its annual spring formal dance to be held at a hotel in downtown New Orleans. We decided to invite all of the other fraternities and sororities and did so. One of the sororities was a new one composed of black female students. When the hotel that we had rented heard that they would be attending, they tried to cancel the contract. We, of course, went to the sorority and told them the situation and they told us that if we reneged on the invitation, they would demonstrate and the hotel said that they would notify the police of an intended demonstration. However, legally the hotel could not cancel and ultimately they gave in but it was a terrible ordeal.

This was a difficult time for all of us, black and white. Grimsley reminds us of our pasts and they were complex and included tremendous cultural, intimate and personal changes. This was when we truly lost our innocence. Jim Grimsley is very honest here. I do not think that many are willing to admit to the attitudes they had forty years ago. He did not even realize that he had attitudes toward blacks until he was forced to accept integration. It was only when black children went to school that he understood just what they attitudes were. They were not conscious and no one told him that whites were better than blacks—it took him seeing that black people were forced to sit at the back of the bus and that some restaurants refused to serve them and that black people had to use different water fountains and bathrooms, for him to accept his beliefs.

 At school though, the white children played with the white children and the black children played with the black children. Students didn’t respect the few black teachers they had. There were countless subtle ways that white people in that small town exhibited their racism. Grimsley tried to connect what he could relate to in the black children’s feelings while at the same struggling with his own feelings as a gay student. There was a major difference between the two—homosexual feelings can be hidden while race is always evident and obvious. At that time in history, the attitudes towards a person’s sexuality were very similar to how people thought about other races.

Unlike some of the author reviewers who read this book, I feel that it was written with honesty and candor especially when the author shares with us that the way he was raised was to believe racism to be normal and for the greater good. I am sure writing this was therapeutic for the author but I do wish that it had gone just a little deeper into his own lack of knowledge and understanding as to why he resented blacks.

Of course the question of whether one can lose the ill feelings toward the black community and that is a difficult question to answer. One thing this book did for me was to make me face my own hidden and this should lead me to rethinking some of what I feel.

“And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality” by Mark Segal—- One to Watch For, Coming in October

and then I dances

Segal, Mark. “And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality”, Open Lens, 2015.

One To Watch For

Amos Lassen

Mark Segal is considered by many as the dean of American gay journalism and has been over the past five decades. He played a key role in organizing the Stonewall demonstrations in 1969 and in founding the Philadelphia Gay News in 1975. He has been seen on television and in politics and he is committed as an LGBT advocate. He is highly respected by his peers for pioneering the idea of local LGBT newspapers and he is one of the founders and former president of both the National Gay Press Association and the National Gay Newspaper Guild. Segal was recently inducted into the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association’s Hall of Fame and was appointed a member of the Comcast/NBCUniversal Joint Diversity Board, where he advises the entertainment giant on LGBT issues. He is also president of the dmhFund, though which he is building affordable LGBT-friendly housing for seniors. He lives in Philadelphia. This book is his memoir.

Segal’s story is a look at how the battle of LGBT civil rights was played and won and it is told by one who was there and deserves credit for that. It is his passion that is great and serves as a testament to all he has done for our community. We see here so much about who we are from a man who witnesses it all and help make it happen.

It was on December 2, 1973 that Mark Segal disrupted a live broadcast of the CBS Evening News when he sat on the desk directly between the camera and news anchor Walter Cronkite, yelling, “Gays protest CBS prejudice!” It was this incident that made LGBT people visible. But actually this was just the beginning and there were many more battles to fight and to win and Segal was there fighting and winning. He felt it was his job “to show the nation who gay people are: our sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers.”

 Because of activists like Mark Segal, today we have openly LGBT people working in the White House and throughout corporate America. “An entire community of gay world citizens is now finding the voice that they need to become visible.”

“THE MAN WHO LOVED YNGVE” (MANNEN SOM ELSKET YNGVE”— The New Boy

TheManWhoLovedYngve

“The Man Who Loved Yngve” (“Mannen som elsket Yngve”)

The New Boy

Amos Lassen

Jarle (Rolf Kristian Larsen) is a teen in Stravanger, Norway and he has a great girlfriend. He is busy starting a rock band with some friends when a new boy, Yngve comes into his class. Suddenly Jarle finds himself fascinated with the new student and he realizes that his world is beginning to change. The movie is set in 1989 so there are many references to music that was popular then—The Smiths; Combat Rock; Joy Division; Jesus and Mary Chain; REM. 
 Jarle is filled with angst about being in love with two people. The new boy is handsome and he and Jarle become friends quickly. This is a story about story about boy loves girl, boy gets girl, boy also loves boy.

Jarle, who miraculously seems to have the best it can be. However, Yngve (Ole Christoffer Ertvaag) causes everything to change. The film is beautifully shot and has strong performances by the young cast and this is well-made coming-of-age story.

“BALLEN” (“BALLS”)— Short but Important

ballen

“Ballen” (“Balls”)

Short but Important

Amos Lassen

t

Teun, a 22-year-old student is diagnosed with testicular cancer and he has to move back home in order to undergo chemotherapy. His dorm mates and his friends organize a farewell dinner for him and even though it all starts out pleasantly, emotions run high. This is quite a profound look at an important issue for men. Cancer of this kind is rough but we must all be aware of it. This is a very honest look at the effect testicular cancer has not only on the person who has it but on his friends as well. We become aware of the feelings of Teun as he deals with his feelings. There is a challenge in the film that adds to the story but I believe the main purpose of this movie is to alert us to the dangers of cancer and how we should deal with it.

“SONS”—Stopping the Abuser

sons

“Sons” (“Sønner”)

Stopping the Abuser

Amos Lassen

Lars (Nils Jørgen Kaalstad) is a 25-year-old guy with few prospects for the future. Then he discovers that an older man is fooling around with the teenage boys in his suburb and this triggers anger and terrible rage in him. He decides to mount a crusade to stop the man but it soon spirals out of control and his actions end up putting those that he set out to protect in danger.

While working as a lifeguard, Lars sees Hans (Henrik Mestad) swimming with the kids. Lars hadn’t seen Hans for years, but he’s still haunted by the stories of the things Hans used to do to young boys that Lars knew when he was a kid. Lars is determined to get Hans barred from the pool but his boss refuses to do anything about it unless there is proof. Lars decides to get some and leaves his post with a camera and follows Hans. He expected what he would see so he was not surprised and he does get photos on tape of Hans with one of the troublemakers at the pool, Tim (Mikkel Bratt Silset).

Because he left the pool, Lars lost his job but that does not stop him in his mission. He goes to Tim and begins to blackmail Hans. Eventually he gets to Hans’s apartment and his computer where he stores the pictures of the boys that he has been with and these go back some ten years. Now Hans is certain about what he has to do. He finds Joakim, one of the boys whose picture Hans has. Joakim is now working for the TV news department and he agrees to show the video on the air. When he does he says that it was made by a group known as Anti Pedo Action—and within hours, the TV station is flooded with emails of support, as well as cries for help from other young boys. When Tim sees the number of emails, he realizes that he must come forward and help others. Granted this is not an easy film to watch but it could have been much heavier. There are some very disturbing moments but they are not as graphic as they could be. The focus is in on the characters and not the action. The screenplay is quite well written and the story is quite moving. We see inside the mind of a pedophile as well as the people that he touches. Han seven goes so far as to become a surrogate father to some of the young victims, all the while manipulating them as he feeds them and makes them feel important. We also see some of the victims years later and some are angry while others don’t even want to think about it, much less talk about it. As Tim, Silset gives a powerfully convincing performance as the young boy who isn’t sure who to trust and what to believe. With a strong cast playing even stronger characters, “Sons” tells a gripping story that you won’t soon forget.