“DICK: THE DOCUMENTARY”— Man’s Best Friend

dick-the-documentary-poster

“Dick: The Documentary”

Man’s Best Friend

Amos Lassen

“Dick: The Documentary” shows us that men have  complicates relationship with their penises, but this is not something we see in movies. This film changes that and we see guys getting naked and talking about their wieners and the difficulties and joys that they bring them. While this is not necessarily a LGBT film it certainly has a focus for our community.

 ‘In August 2008, filmmaker Brian Fender used Craigslist to invite strangers into his living room to strip down and reveal themselves physically and emotionally through personal stories about their relationship to their penises. Fender interviewed a vast cross-section of naked men about their prized appendage: from monks to transsexuals to ex-marines to designers, ranging in age from 21 to 80. Hoping to demystify, illuminate, and even celebrate this “member” in our society, this DIY documentary is a candid exploration of what it means to have a dick. Mr. Fender described the film: “it’s touching, it’s funny, it’s honest … an honest depiction of what it means from first perceptions all the way to the loss of function that men experience … I thought that they were incredibly thoughtful.” After finishing the first round of edits, the film played at selected festivals and for special screenings before being released as an Internet Premier Presentation.’

Fender recently told the Huffington Post, ‘I found that the men who participated were very thoughtful. I didn’t get any sexist thugs, which I was kind of disappointed about. I assume that men who are more conservative and judge sexual expression beyond the heterosexual paradigm — and would probably call these men, myself included, a pervert — would, I imagine, have less healthy sexual attitudes and feel threatened by the questions this film asks. But as educated as my subjects were, many of them told me that this was the first time they had said these things out loud and that they found it cathartic. I had also wanted to talk about using your dick as a weapon, but I got the feeling from these men that they weren’t sexually aggressive. The one thing that is funny is that there isn’t a glimmer of consensus about the dick. The opinions are as varied as the penises themselves.’

“The Dilly: A Secret History of Piccadilly Rent Boys” by Jeremy Reed— Male Prostitution in London

the dilly

Reed, Jeremy. “The Dilly: A Secret History of Piccadilly Rent Boys”, Peter Owen, 2014.

Male Prostitution in London

Amos Lassen

“The Dilly” is the first book that gives a comprehensive examination of male prostitution at London’s Piccadilly Circus from the nineteenth century to the present day. Piccadilly sits on the fringes of Soho and  has long been London’s principal location for the illicit sale of sex. Jeremy Reed explores the history of rent boys from Oscar Wilde’s notorious attraction to the place to the painter Francis Bacon’s taste for rough trade. This study  includes tales of Soho’s clandestine gay clubs from the days when homosexuality was illegal, of those who are inexorably drawn to the area; it looks at the development of the secret slang known as Polari or Palare, and at the Dilly’s influence on pop stars from the Rolling Stones to Morrissey. The author further examines the careers of a number of former male prostitutes who worked the infamous ‘Meat Rack’ and shows what drew them to risk their lives. There is also a chapter recording the author’s friendship with Francis Bacon and closes with an account of the fall of the Dilly trade when male escorts are booked online and this took the place of the boys hanging out on the neon-lit railings.

Jeremy Reed re-creates of the occupation of London’s tourist centre by lawless Dilly boys and he brings a pioneering piece of countercultural history to life through his own personal engagement. He had once worked as a rent boy in the early 1970s. He also has a strong sense of place and writes with colorful imagery and poetic flair.

“Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe since 1945″ edited by Jennifer V. Evans and Matt Cook— Urban Subcultures

queer cities

Evans, Jennifer V. and Matt Cook, editors. “Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe since 1945″, Bloomsbury, 2014.

Urban Subcultures

Amos Lassen

  “Queer Cities, Queer Cultures” looks at the formation and make-up of urban subcultures and situates them against the stories we typically tell about Europe and its watershed moments in the post 1945 period. The editors and the contributors look at the iconic events of 1945, 1968 and 1989 that influenced the social and sexual climate of the decades to follow, raising questions about the form and structure of the 1960s sexual revolution, and forcing us to think about how we define sexual liberalization — and where, how and on whose terms it occurs.

The contributions come from an international team of authors who explore the role of America in shaping particular forms of subculture; the significance of changes in legal codes; differing modes of queer consumption and displays of community; the difficult fit of queer (as opposed to gay and lesbian) politics in liberal democracies; the importance of mobility and immigration in modulating queer urban life; the challenge of AIDS; and the arrival of the internet.



By exploring the queer histories of cities from Istanbul to Helsinki and Moscow to Madrid, this volume makes a significant contribution to our understanding of urban history, European history and the history of gender and sexuality. 
Below is the table of contents as it appears in the book:

Table Of Contents

Introduction Matt Cook (Birkbeck, University of London, UK) & Jennifer Evans (Carleton University, Canada)

Pasts


1. The Queer Margins of Spanish Cities, 1939–2010 Richard Cleminson (University of Leeds, UK), Rosa Maria Medina Doménech (University of Granada, Spain) & Isabel Vélez (independent scholar)

2. Capital Stories: Local Lives in Queer London Matt Cook

3. The Queer Road to Frisind: Copenhagen 1945-2012 Peter Edelberg (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

4. Harmless Kisses and Infinite Loops: Making Space for Queer Place in 21st Century Berlin Jennifer Evans

5. From Stalinist Pariahs to Subjects of ‘Managed Democracy': Queers in Moscow 1945 to the Present Dan Healey (University of Oxford, UK)

6. Queer Amsterdam 1945-2010 Gert Hekma (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

7. Ljubljana: The Tales from the Queer Margins of the City Roman Kuhar (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia)

8. Mapping/ Unmapping: The Making of Queer Athens Dimitris Papanikolaou (Oxford University, UK)

9. Istanbul: Queer Desires between Muslim Tradition and Global Pop Ralph Poole (Salzburg University, Austria)

10. Queering Budapest Judit Takács (Hungarian Academy of Sciences)

11. Two Cities of Helsinki? One Liberally Gay and One Practically Queer? Antu Sorainen (Academy of Finland)

12. Paris: ‘Resting on its Laurels’? Florence Tamagne (University of Lille, France)

Closing Reflections


13. ‘Gays Who Cannot Properly be Gay’. Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City Fatima El-Tayeb (University of California, San Diego)

14. Seeing Like a Queer City Tom Boellstorff (University of California, Irvine)

 

“LGBT Activism and the Making of Europe: A Rainbow Europe?” edited by Phillip Ayoub and David Patternotte— Europe and Gay Rights

lgbt activism

Ayoub, Phillip and David Patternotte (editors). “LGBT Activism and the Making of Europe: A Rainbow Europe?”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Europe and Gay Rights

Amos Lassen

Why is it that Europe has long been regarded as a unique place for the promotion and furthering of LGBT rights? This new book is an important and compelling study that investigates the alleged uniqueness and its ties to a relatively long history of LGBT and queer movements in the region.  In doing so, it tries to answer that question.

Contributors argue that LGBT movements were inspired by specific ideas about European democratic values and a responsibility towards human rights. They looked for ways to see that activism bear fruit and to do so they often crossed borders so that the movement would be on a larger and wider scale. The essays here discuss the ‘idea of Europe’ as it relates to LGBT rights, the history of European LGBT movements, the role of European institutions in adopting LGBT policies, and the construction of European ‘others’ in this process.

We have not had many studies of the LGBT movement as a social movement so this book takes up the slack on that topic. It is interesting that activism in Europe has been ignored especially in the areas of the struggle for civil rights and the deepening of democracy at different territorial levels. The essays here are diverse and look at a variety of countries, geographies and the areas of LGBT activities from the legal aspects to the big party culture of Europe.

We get some exceptional insights into how gay rights came to be defined as a particularly European commitment. The articles show LGBT recognition politics were able to acquire  surprising symbolic weight, “as bottom up claims-making and organizing from social movements and civil society organizations are met with top-down practical policies and international political posturing by both opponents and advocates”.

The authors show how specific meaning-making practices were responsible for the drawing of the boundaries of modern and enlightened “Europe” around support for human rights for LGBT people. 

“Nora Webster” by Colm Toibin— A Young Widow and Mother

nora webster

Toibin, Colm. “Nora Webster”, Scribner, 2014.

A Young Widow and Mother

Amos Lassen

Nora Webster is a young widow and mother of four in Ireland and she has to deal with grief and fear as she struggles with hope. Colm Toibin sets his story of Nora in Wexford, Ireland. She became a widow at the young age of 40 and she was left with no money and four children. Her husband, Maurice, was the love of her life who saved her from the suffocating world that she was born into. Now with him gone, Nora is afraid she may retreat back into it again. She has been terribly wounded and living in a small community where everyone knows what everyone else does. She is drowning in her own tears and does see how her young sons suffer having lost their father. She has begun to sing again after having not done so for many years and it is in her singing that she finds a bit of solace and a haven.

Her oldest daughter, Fiona, is attending university in Dublin in preparation to become a teacher, and her younger daughter, Aine, is at boarding school. Her oldest son, Donal, is interested in photography and has recently developed a bad stammer. He and his younger brother, Conor, often fight with each other.

Maurice suffered a great deal before his death and he was in the hospital during which time the boys stayed with Nora’s sister for almost two months. It was then that Donal began to stutter and Conor began wetting the bed. Nora did not visit them and now that they are back with her she is having a hard time relating to them. The only money she has is from a small pension and some very little savings but she and her husband bought a small house that she is going to have to sell now. She has started working and her sister helps out all she can but this upsets Nora.

Toibin’s book is basically about Nora’s inner life—we are with her as she slowly tries to re-enter the world after her husband’s death. She tries hard accepting visitations from neighbors who want to express their sympathy. She takes her children on vacation and some of the family comes to visit and she works hard.

I get the impression that she and her children are not close. She does not intrude on her daughter Fiona’s life even when she finds liquor bottles in the house because she thinks that  not saying anything keeps the peace. She does the same with all of her children. She thought her own mother was too nosy and so she decides to be less intrusive into the lives of her children.

While the book is basically about Nora, we also learn about the troubles taking place in Ireland during the late 60s. Toibin never really gives us dates but from what I can sense, the 60s are the correct years. Nora was an enigma to me. Having grown up with a Jewish mother who was into everything I did, I found her passivity to be strange and not maternal. She seems to be a loner—people do not talk to her because she is so distant and emotionally unapproachable. When they try to befriend her, she does not respond with ease.

Maurice had been a well-respected teacher in the community. For Nora, Being widowed was hard enough but she also had the responsibility for the upbringing of her four children. Her two sons are still in their early adolescent years. Her first daughter is in university while the younger one is preparing to leave for university.  Each child is going through a different phase of life and Toibin portrays this beautifully. There are times that we see Nora Webster as a strong and intelligent woman who must rebuild her life, and face life’s challenges on her own terms.

 Nora is not just another character in a fictional story. She is the character that shows the reader how to live life. Toibin shows us Nora as she transforms from a struggling, impatient young widow to a self-assured and independent woman.  Others watch in awe and curiosity.

She is also beautiful, intelligent, vulnerable and strong. I had a hard time liking her but I also found it hard not to like her. Reading about her struggles and her determination is quite an experience since most of us will never know someone like Nora. Hers is a story of loneliness, death, longing, determination and the power that is within each one of us to overcome any obstacle, however seemingly insurmountable it may be. This is also a love story and one of a woman with courage, hope and compassion.

“The Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood” by Richard Blanco— The First Latino Gay Inaugural Poet

the prince

Blanco, Richard. “The Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood”, Ecco , 2015.

 The First Latino Gay Inaugural Poet

Amos Lassen

We live in a world full of surprises and I bet that Richard Blanco was surprised when he received the invitation to read at the President’s inauguration. He wowed us then and he continues to wow us now. Here is his coming-of-age story, beautifully written. He was born the child of Cuban immigrants and as he grew he tried to understand his place in America while dealing with his artistic and sexual identities. He sees his childhood and adolescence as something wedged between two imaginary worlds—his parents’ nostalgia about Cuba of the 1950s and his life here in this country that he saw on television reruns of the time. He wanted that life that he saw but he also wanted to see Cuba. He had to deal with these two worlds and this is what eventually led him to use language and words to deal with his identity and later to accept himself as a gay man and as a writer. His story is “sweet” (which is certainly not the word that I would ordinarily use to describe a man of his magnitude and importance but I cannot seem to find a better one) but his story is also sensitive, moving and “contemplative” as well as filled with humor and humanity. His is the story of America as he sees it and how we became a national personality almost overnight. Blanco is a humble man and I discovered this when meeting him before a reading. He also talks of those who influenced his life and reminds us that no one does what he did alone.

Blanco describes Miami in a way that we feel it as we read—the colors, sounds, smells, and textures of Miami resonate with how he found out he was/is and how he understands what it means to be an American. While his story is just that, HIS story, it is a universal one. Blanco “beautifully illuminates the experience of ‘becoming;’ how we are shaped by experiences, memories, and our complex stories: the humor, love, yearning, and tenderness that define a life”. He is a beautiful man physically and a beautiful man intellectually.

There is a theme in his poetry—the universal questions of who he is, where does he belong and where is he from. Now he gives us the answers to those questions. His stories are those of a boy who was both shy and precocious, a boy named Riqui that no one would have guessed that he would grow up to be the first Latino and first openly gay presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history. With that he also became a role model to others who grapple with the same questions.

His early life was one of contradictions—“coloring books and pig roasts, opera and mambo, Easy Cheese and pork rinds” that he had to deal with. His grandmother was a bookie who tried to make him become a man and this forced Blanco’s pushing his artistic slants and his sexual identity into a deep and dark closet. As a young man he worked at El Cocuyito (“The Little Firefly”), the family market where he was taught and mentored by both family and customers. From Miami of the 70s and 80s to Blanco’s awareness and sense of self was a long journey. Now he is able to incorporate his four sides—his “Cubaness”, his queerness”, his “Americaness” and his artistic drive into one man; the man that he is today. He tells us that his life has been one of “becoming through loving and loving through becoming: the way in which we are perpetually shaped by our experiences, our memories, and our stories of community and family”.

He describes his story in shorthand like this, “Made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, imported to the USA”. While this is his personal story, it is also a universal story of any of us who have tried to find a place. I found myself, a first generation American gay Jew thinking about my family in much the same way that Richard Blanco writes about his—our goals may not be the same but the way to achieve them is the same. We must know ourselves in order to know and be accepted by others.

Blanco writes with style and grace; he is a man of style and grace. Author Augusten Burroughs says “Forged from truth and grace, Blanco has crafted a deeply compelling and moving memoir about place, self and family.” If only I could say it so simply and beautifully as Burroughs. Blanco is a treasure, one that we are so lucky to have.

“The Accidental Marriage: A Novel” by Roger B. Thomas— Challenging the American Family

thee accidental marriage

Thomas, Roger B. “The Accidental Marriage: A Novel”, Ignatius Press, 2014.

Challenging the American Family

Amos Lassen

Roger Thomas brings us a critique of the American family here in which he defends both motherhood and fatherhood. This is a difficult topic to broach these days with concepts of the family now being so fluid yet Thomas explores it with humor and style. This is a story of contemporary love that looks at issues such as heroism, friendship, love and loneliness. We meet Scott and Megan who are both gay and friends and happy at their jobs. The occasionally “do lunch” together and have deep and interesting conversations. This time we learn that Megan’s partner wants to have a baby and Scott agrees to help but it is not as easy as it sounds. Complications arise which force Scott and Megan to have to consider just how much they are willing to sacrifice for their friendship and for the child that they have conceived.

Megan has a hard time and her situation begins to fall apart. This makes Scott share responsibilities that he had never thought about. Then his situation begins to give way and soon Scott and Megan have nothing but each other. Here is a tale that looks at just how free we are. As the story begins, we see that Scott and Megan act as we would expect them to do but as the story moves forward, they are forced to reconsider who they are and what they have and then they are forced into making new decisions that are uncomfortable and even a  bit scary. They cease being who we once thought they were (and even who they, themselves thought they were). In fact, I was reminded of people that I know who have had similar circumstances.

I had an idea when I first started to read this book as to where it was headed but I was surprised to see that it did nothing like my expectations. Nonetheless, I found myself engulfed by it and turning pages as quickly as I could. Scott and Megan had a relationship that was changing and at times, I wept for them  and at times I laughed with them. I often tell myself that most of the fun of being alive is not knowing what to expect and how we deal with that is what makes us human.

 Diane, Megan’s partner convinced Megan to have a baby knowing full well that they do not have the money to do so. To save a bit on artificial insemination, Megan talks to Scott who volunteers to donate his sperm as long as Megan will plant the seeds herself using a kit to do so. This did not work twice so they do it the old fashioned way. When Diane learns this, she loses it and cuts Megan off from health benefits and Scott wants to add her to his benefits but that means knocking his partner Greg off of his health program. Then they learn that for Megan to get Scott’s benefits they must be legally married.

While this could easily become farce, the author writes sensitively about how two people deal with the new situations that society lives with. We see Scott and Megan as two people struggling with the choices they have made (as a result of others). What we have is a story of two people—their partners barely appear and when Megan and Scott have sex, we become aware of the awkwardness of it all. I have only related a small part of the story—I want you to read and enjoy it so my summary is ending. Suffice it to say that there are more problems coming. There are also surprises coming. Above all else, we see that understanding love is a deep commitment and without that there is little else.

Writer Thomas skillfully avoids the obvious clichés that would hurt the text and the story and instead he gives a story about love and entertains and enlightens.

“The Vines” by Christopher Rice— Spring House

the vines

Rice, Christopher. “The Vines”, 47 North, 2014.

Spring House

Amos Lassen

Spring House is a beautifully restored plantation mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans that has long been forgotten and has quite a dark history. Something strange and sinister lurks between the grounds on which the house sits.

Caitlin Chaisson is an heiress and the current owner of the house. She saw her husband openly betray her at her birthday party and this depressed her so greatly that she attempts committing suicide in the gazebo at Spring House. She is unsuccessful but her blood drips on the ground and awakens the dark forces beneath it. Chaos follows and in the morning her husband has disappeared with no sign and his mistress has gone insane.

The house has a groundskeeper whose daughter, Nova, has always suspected something evil haunts the place and she wants to know what it is. After the terrible events of the birthday party and afterwards, she manages to talk Caitlin’s best friend, Blake, to help her find out what is going on at the house. They learn that vengeance from the mysterious force is quite expensive.

The story pulls us in on the front page and keeps there not only with the plot but also with the prose in which the story is told. The house is set amid the cane fields of Southern Louisiana and while the cane produces sugar, the grounds around Spring House are not sweet. When the blood falls from Caitlin, the bridge is mended between past and present.

I can hearing you saying, “So, is this another one of those crazy and hard to believe horror stories?”. I thought so at first but that was before I began to read and find myself swept up in the story. As the plot began to come together, I realized how wrong I was.

Christopher Rice has created a cast of unforgettable characters here. Nova and Blake stand out—Nova is sassy and very strong and quite funny while Blake had to almost relive a terrible past and he will remind all those who “came out” late in life of the horrors of living a closeted, therefore untrue, life.

There is unique horror and the story being set in quite an atmosphere that seems to impose fear helps the story along. It is almost as we are returning to sins that occurred before we were born and we see this in the way the past of the house terrorizes the modern characters. I found myself actually becoming one of the characters and I certainly took on some of their emotions as I read.

I was intrigue by Caitlin who seems to have several characters within her and this could be the reason I cannot really form a solid opinion of her. Christopher Rice has a gift of taking old ideas and making them new again and we have seen this before in some of his other writing. Here he looks (again) at the decadence of the South and makes it modern and up-to-date. I realize that I am rambling here but I also am trying not to give something away. I can say that the signs are here for the story to be continued but that does not mean that he book cannot stand alone—it certainly can. It is a quick read and the plot is, as I have said, dark and twisted.

Blake and Nova try very hard to find the destructive force at the house and at the same time, Nova’s father, Willie says nothing and claims he knows nothing. We learn that slaves built the house and this is important to remember. I am sure you will be surprised as you read—I certainly was.

“Is the Pope Catholic?” by Bryce Smith and Juan Lopez— Love

the pope

Smith, Bryce and Juan Lopez. “Is the Pope Catholic?”, CreateSpace, 2014.

Love

Amos Lassen

Most of us have learned that keeping a secret from everyone is a way of fooling ourselves. We see this in the story of Bryce and Juan. They met at the mall one day and had only sex on their minds. They had decided that they would meet each other, get it on and then go their separate ways. However, that is not what happened. Bryce though that he would return to work and to his wife and children and Juab thought he would go back to his studies and his machismo and Latin life.

When they met there was an instant connection and they realized that they wanted to be together and so they decided to meet again…and again…and again. They began to realize that it was their destiny to be together but there were two problems—Bryce was married and a father and Juan was not “out”. How could a romance like this succeed?

But it did succeed even with the obstacles and the hindrances. They are how lovers and friends and this book is their story. These men have surmounted what they once thought was insurmountable. To be with each other, they have battled everything from their own denial to their families’ critical reactions and beyond. This is the true story of their romance, and is sure to appeal to readers who are struggling with identity issues or having trouble coming “out” to themselves and those around them.

“Picaro: Psychopaths, Warlords, and a Rogue Journalist on the Dark Side of History” by Jeff B. Harmon— “A Rogue and a Troublemaker”

picaro

Harmon, Jeff B. “Picaro: Psychopaths, Warlords, and a Rogue Journalist on the Dark Side of History”,  CreateSpace, 2014.

“A Rogue and a Troublemaker”

Amos Lassen

 Pícaro is a rogue and troublemaker; a man who wanders the globe in search of adventure and barely escaping punishment or death. This describes Jeff B. Harmon, a war correspondent and filmmaker who covered twenty years of violent, clandestine history. Harmon also lived a double life; he was a gay man who infiltrated homophobic extremists in a right-wing Salvadoran death squad, Nazis in South America, and Afghanistan’s jihadists. Behind the scenes of his journalism career, he had secret dealings with the Mafia and CIA.  He is the son of Larry Harmon, TV producer of Bozo the Clown. He left his lunatic Hollywood upbringing to risk his neck covering the fall of Uganda’s homicidal dictator Idi Amin and the Soviet-Afghan war from both the mujahideen and Russian sides. During the war, he fought alongside Islamic holy warriors in an operation against the Soviet Army. Harmon’s unflinching documentation of war and hidden history provoked governments and rebel movements alike and caused three execution orders placed on his life. Along the way, Harmon encountered the famous and infamous, from comic genius Stan Laurel to the murderous Central African Emperor Bokassa, and Roberto d’Aubuisson, reputed head of El Salvador’s death squads.

This is a sensational and revelatory work exploring one gay adventurer’s exploration of war, danger, and sexuality in the most unlikely locations and contexts imaginable. The writing is brilliant and this is a powerful work that contains drama, secret history and  honesty. We read of dictators and warlords in great detail and Harmon walks a thin line between his private life and his adventures with homophobic extremists. Harmon continuously risked his life courting evil in the Third World. He was a reckless adventurer at home in the underground of Africa, Afghanistan and Latin America. He holds nothing back about himself or the characters he depicts.

Though the subject matter is very dark, it is also, at the same time, very funny. Jeff Harmon is Picaro and his blunt honesty, while at times quite harsh provides a well-earned look at his close encounters with death and the executioners he befriends.

 This is Harmon’s life and his memoir and it is wonderful.