“Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left” by Emily K. Hobson— Rethinking Liberation

Hobson, Emily K. “Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left”, University of California Press, 2016.

Rethinking Liberation

Amos Lassen

Many think of LGBT activism as a self-contained struggle, inspired by but set apart from other social movements. In “Lavender and Red”, Emily Hobson shows a different story by providing us with a history of queer radicals who understood their sexual liberation as part of the solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism movements. These politics was born in the late 1960s but survived well past Stonewall and actually propelled a gay and lesbian left that flourished through the end of the Cold War. This left was centered in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where sexual self-determination and revolutionary internationalism came together. Through the 1970s, its activists took on socialist and women of color feminism and crafted queer opposition to militarism and the New Right. In the Reagan years, they challenged U.S. intervention in Central America, collaborated with their peers in Nicaragua, and mentored the first direct action against AIDS. Through archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today. I remember all to well that as I was coming of age and entering the gay world, activism meant radicalism and I suppose that is always the way I will remember it. It is really hard to forget sitting in a jail cell because of protesting for something that had always been due to us.

The LGBT left of that time was vibrant and even though it was centered on the West Coast, its implications were felt everywhere that there were unliberated gay people. In the 70s and 80s the LGBT left saw itself as part of the international left and this certainly changes how we look at our history, not just as activists, but in general. For whatever reason, what we knew about the LGBT left was lost to history until Hobson resurrected so much of it in this book. This is a deeply researched account of the ways a politics of affiliation can expand forms of organization, practices, vision and impact. The stories we get here give us new new historical narratives as well as resources that can certainly change our futures just as it did our pasts.

LGBT activists n the 1960s were committed to ending U.S. imperialism, militarism, racism, and all forms of oppression and exploitation. They fought not only to be accepted by the mainstream society but also to overturn it. Emily Hobson revises the history of the American Left and shows through a political and intellectual history that “queer radicals understood and re-fashioned anti-imperialist, nationalist, feminist, and Third World thought to imagine new meanings for sexuality, community, and emancipatory politics”. Contrary to what many believe, gay liberation was a force before Stonewall.

The gay liberation and lesbian feminist movements linked sexual liberation to radical solidarity including the mobilizations against imperialism, capitalism, and racism, demanding universal health care and ‘money for AIDS. LBGT activism was NOT a single issue and it was not racially whitewashed as many would believe. This is exactly why I find what happened at Chicago’s 2017 Dyke March so reprehensible. The lesbian organizers used anti-Semitism to prevent three Jewish women from marching and carrying rainbow flags with Stars of David and this is not just shocking, it is inexcusable and the repercussions have been very strong. Here an apology hardly suffices and we can only wonder how our leftist activists would have reacted to this.

Below is the book’s Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Abbreviations

Introduction

  1. Beyond the Gay Ghetto: Founding Debates in Gay Liberation
  2. A More Powerful Weapon: Lesbian Feminism and Collective Defense
  3. Limp Wrists and Clenched Fists: Defining a Politics and Hitting the Streets
  4. 24th and Mission: Building Lesbian and Gay Solidarity with Nicaragua
  5. Talk About Loving in the War Years: Nicaragua, Transnational Feminism, and AIDS
  6. Money for AIDS, Not War: Anti-militarism, Direct Action against the Epidemic, and Movement History

Epilogue

Notes

Bibliography

Index

“Strays: A Lost Cat, a Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America” by Britt Collins— Saving Each Other

Collins, Britt. “Strays: A Lost Cat, a Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America”, Simon and Schuster. 2017.

Saving Each Other

Amos Lassen

If you have ever doubted the bond that exists between a person and his pet, you need to read “Strays”, the true story of Michael King, his rescued stray, injured cat and how they save each other. King is homeless, alcoholic, and depressed. He lives in a UPS loading bay on the wrong side of the tracks in Portland, Oregon. One rainy night, he finds a hurt, starving, cat and takes her in, nursing her back to health, he names her Tabor. When winter comes, they travel from Oregon to the beaches of California to the high plains of Montana, and along the way, people are drawn to Tabor and moved to help Michael, who either has Tabor riding high on his backpack or walking on a leash. Tabor comforts Michael when he’s down thus giving Michael someone to love and care for. She also inspires him to get sober and to come to terms with his past family traumas and grief over the death of his life partner.

Man and cat become inseparable as each heals the scars of each other’s troubled pasts. However, when Michael takes Tabor to a veterinarian in Montana, he discovers that Tabor has an identification chip and an owner in Portland who has never given up hope of finding his beloved cat. Michael has a difficult choice to make but he decides to return to Portland and reunite Tabor with her owner. He is then left to create a new purpose in his life after Tabor. What we see so beautifully here is the healing power of love and the profound bond between humans and animals. We see the ability that animals have to transform people and we also get a humanizing look at the factors that lead to homelessness. 

Tabor’s journey and willingness to persevere, is a wonderful reminder of how animals can help create extraordinary circumstances, which help people join together in even the toughest of times. The prose here is beautiful and the story is compelling. The narrative moves back and forth between Michael and Tabor as they hitchhike across the Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana and then to Portland as it gives us details the tough life of stray cats and homeless people living on their wits alone.

“Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction” by Francesca Barbini— A Quick Mention

Barbini, Francesca. “Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction”, Luna Press, 2017.

A Quick Mention

Amos Lassen

“Gender identity and sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction” is the result of a Call for Papers of Academia Lunare, the non-fiction arm of Luna Press Publishing.

“The papers explore how society, as reflected in real life, literature, movies, TV, games and cosplay, is currently dealing with gender identity and sexuality in speculative fiction, asking an important question: do we have a problem?”

The papers are the writings of Juliet E McKenna, Kim Lakin-Smith, Cheryl Morgan, A J Dalton, Jyrki Korpua, Hazel Butler, Lorianne Reuser, Anna Milon, Rostislav Kůrka and Alina Hadîmbu.

“KOUDELKA: SHOOTING HOLY LAND”— A Creative Genius

“Koudelka: Shooting Holy Land”

A Creative Genius

Amos Lassen

Josef Koudelka is a Magnum genius photographer who journeyed all over Israel and Palestine looking for what would make a perfect photograph. Director Gilad Baram followed him on the search.

Septuagenarian Koudelka is known for unmerciful photographs and his ironic humor. His black and white photos have a real sense of loneliness, of desolation, of disconsolation. They are quite merciless and that mercilessness and ironic humor is what we see in Baram’s film, a documentary is which nothing really happens. For about an hour, nothing happens, hardly anything is discussed, scenes shift abruptly and, after about an hour, the film just sort of ends. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, however, “Shooting Holy Land” is immensely successful, enjoyable and instructive film.

Koudelka simply photographs Israel and the West Bank, with particular attention on the security wall. Despite the subject matter, “Shooting Holy Land” is not overtly political. Both Baram and Koudelka are clearly against the existence of the wall – Koudelka, at a couple points, even compares it to the “Iron Curtain” that he lived behind in communist Czechoslovakia and Baram’s editing choices clearly focus on the wall’s negative aspects, with particular attention paid to Hebron, one of Israel’s most obviously terrible situations.

The wall is concrete, imposing, foreboding, gray and ugly with all of the markers of authoritarian oppression. This ugliness seems to be Koudelka’s main objection to the wall. He really makes no comments on the political situation and instead has something to say the ecological problems of the wall and the violence done to the landscape. In “WALL”, the book that is made up of the pictures in “Shooting Holy Land,” the wall seems to be a wound upon the land. Many of the compositions show the wall splitting the landscape, the earth itself, in two. The focus, is on the land, not its people. It is about Koudelka and his process, about photography and about a way of seeing. The film follows a strict formula; static shots show Koudelka moving and fidgeting around a landscape looking for the perfect shot. We watch him, and wait for the sound of the camera’s shutter. Then, more often than not, we are given a look at the resulting image.

We are forced to be patient before the shot and to take everything in before we hear the click. Eventually, we start to look at the scenes from a photographer’s point of view, composing our own images and we see the scenes from yet another degree of remove – first, removed by the temporal and physical distance of film, and then again, the scenes on the film become potential photographs that they belong to us as much as the director who created them and the photographer who inhabits them. We are not given much insight into Koudelka’s method, we simply look at the care with which he takes his photographs. Missing are the contact sheets, the missed takes. The film shows us that, in addition to a good eye and good timing, photographers are totally dedicated to their craft.

Baram is also a photographer and we see this in the film’s photographic compositions and the static nature of the camera. Baram’s film is a collection of “moving photographs.” He sets up beautifully composed shots – which, due to the static nature of the camera, initially appear like photographs – and simply allows Koudelka to move around and become part of the process.

We come to see the wall as aesthetic violence and here political violence often takes the form of aesthetics. We see the relationship between Baram and Koudelka as well as the ecological destruction, the terrible blankness of the concrete that points to deeper issues that separate the land and its people, from each other and from themselves.

“An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic” by Daniel Mendelsohn— One to Wait For

Mendelsohn, Daniel. “An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic”, Knopf, 2017.

One to Wait For

Amos Lassen

As a reviewer, I am often asked who my favorite writers are and I usually answer that I have no favorites but there are those that I seem to be always waiting for to write a new book. One of those writers is Daniel Mendelsohn whose books have a special place in my home library. It has been a while since we have last heard from him but there is good news in that he has a new book coming to us on September 12. It is not just what Mendelsohn writes about or how he writes that make him a special author; what I love is that he makes me think and sometimes he does this in every word and sentence he puts down.

“An Odyssey” is sensitive and moving record of Daniel and Jay Mendelsohn, father and son, who relive Homer’s “The Odyssey” as they go on a transformative journey together. At the age of 81, Jay Mendelsohn enrolled in an undergraduate seminar on Homer’s epic at Bard College that was taught by his son, Daniel. Before long, the two men find themselves on an emotional and intellectual adventure.

Jay is a retired research scientist who tends see the world through a mathematician’s eyes and he decides that the time has come for him to learn about the great literature that he had not studied as a young man. This also was to be a final opportunity to more fully understand his son, a writer and classicist. I can only imagine the discomfort that Daniel must have felt having his father in a class that he taught but something very important happened here. As the two men studied Homer together in the classroom, Jay often and persistently challenged his son’s interpretations. The two men decided to embark on Mediterranean journey together and retrace Odysseus’s voyages and here it became quite clear that Daniel was to be his father’s student. As Jay’s responded to both the text and the travels, secrets that were once buried come to light and allow the son to understand his difficult father at last. Soon, Daniel’s narrative becomes an echo of the “Odyssey” as father and son face the themes of “deception and recognition, marriage and children, the pleasures of travel and the meaning of home”. The story soon becomes both a personal narrative and an exploration of literature. If only I had had such an experience with my father, my life surely would have been very different.

Combining literary investigation and human , we get a book that is like no other in recent years. The two men shared a journey that is often filled with humor and is always sincere as it pulls at the readers’ heartstrings.

“Something for the Weekend” by James Wharton— Leaving the Army

Wharton, James. “Something For The Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld”, Biteback Publishing, 2017.

Leaving the Army

Amos Lassen

After his army service, James Wharton had many opportunities to start a very successful civilian life. He has his husband, their two dogs and two cars, a very nice house and a book deal. But by a year later all of this gone having fallen apart for various and different reasons. Wharton was feeling alone and dejected, living in a single room and trying to adjust to the gay life he was not allowed to enjoy while in the service.

As he searched for new friends and potential lovers, he became part of London’s gay drug culture and was soon addicted to partying and ‘chemsex’. In this book, he recreates his journey through this dark but popular world and examines the motivating factors that led him to the culture while at the same time examines the paths taken by others. He shares the real goings-on at the weekends for thousands of people after most have gone to bed, and how modern technology allows them to set up, congregate and furnish themselves with drugs, spending hours, often days, behind closed curtains, with strangers and in states of heightened sexual desire. This is a look at a growing gay subculture that has now moved beyond London and established itself as more than a short-term craze. I found it to be frightening to read about this but likewise it is important to know.

 

“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer— A Transformational Journey and a Transformational Read

Greer, Andrew Sean. “Less”, Lee Boudreaux, 2017.

A Transformational Journey and A Transformational Read

Amos Lassen

Arthur Less is a mid-list novelist who is nearing his 50th birthday and he knows that he needs to grow up. He also needs to get out in the world. His younger and very good looking ex-boyfriend, a poet, is about to get married and Arthur does not want to go to the wedding and in order not to do so, he accepts every literary invitation he receives, negotiates with his frequent flier miles and leaves San Francisco for a trip around the world. He goes to Mexico, Spain, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Vietnam, India, and Japan and as he travels, he finds love, despair, adventure, and misadventure. He comes to terms (by force) with the fact that he is getting older as well as with realities of life.

I found myself laughing on every page and it is rare to find a book that causes a reader to do that. Of course, I can only urge you to read this and tell you that you will be missing a wonderful experience if you do not. Having been reviewing for several years now, I feel safe in saying whether a book will be a hit or not so I have no trouble saying that “Less” will be one of the book to read in 2017 or in whatever year you decide to read it.

One of the biggest issues that gay men face today is that of being oneself. It was not that long ago that we could do so openly so trepidation is a part of the coming-out and being at home with oneself. As Arthur, Greer tells us that first it is important for us to be ourselves and once we are comfortable there is little that we cannot do. I know that I mentioned the humor of the story but let me also tell you that there are other emotions at play here because, after all, Arthur Less is human. We deal with so many emotions on a daily basis that it is hard to put these into prose although writer Greer has no trouble doing so.

Arthur Less cannot seem to control the adventures and the misadventures that he becomes involved in (and pulls us along). Because he is so filled with awkwardness, he makes us feel good. While I am sure it is the writer’s intention that we laugh with and at Less, sometimes the situations hit so close to home that we cannot help recognizing them. There is a phrase in the Hebrew bible that has become my motto, “there is nothing new under the sun” but there are new ways to talk about them and that is where Greer totally succeeds.

Quite basically this is a love story (wait a second, I have not mentioned that aspect of the novel and neither will I do so), it is also a sensitive look at friendship and the meaning of doing and living what you love. I feel like I have made a new friend in Andrew Greer even though we have never met and all I know about him is that he wrote this book. As a writer myself, I share the same anxieties as Arthur and as a naturally shy person (I hear my naysayers not agreeing with that), I have the same apprehension about visiting somewhere new and meeting new people even though I have had to do so several times in my life like when I moved to Boston without knowing anyone here.

Something else that we learn here is the importance of living the moment, something many of fail to do. When Greer tells you to do so in his beautiful prose, you cannot help but comply.

I have not yet mentioned the supporting characters. Each and everyone is a pleasure and they all have something important to say. I could not help being a bit nostalgic as I read and I was taken back to my coming out days in New Orleans and then the decision to chuck it all and move to Israel where I had to once again deal with coming out but in a different language and environment and years before Tel Aviv became the gay capital of the Middle East.

As I read, the more I began to love Arthur Less as I came to understand that here in this one character is a microcosm of the world we live in. Not many authors can create a character like him.

 

“Queering Sexualities in Turkey: Gay Men, Male Prostitutes and the City” by Cenk Ozbay— A Country of Multiple Standards

Ozbay, Cenk. “Queering Sexualities in Turkey: Gay Men, Male Prostitutes and the City”, I.B. Tauris, 2017.

A Country of Multiple Standards

Amos Lassen

In the Middle East, Turkey is often seen as more liberal and democratic when compared to many other countries. However, the more conservative elements within Turkish politics and society have made gains over the past decades. As a result, like many other countries in the region, Turkish society has multiple standards when naming, evaluating and reacting to men who have sex with men. Cenk Ozbay claims that self-identified gay men (as well as men who practice clandestine same-sex acts) are marginalized, ostracized and rendered ‘immoral’ in both everyday practices and social institutions most of the time. Here he analyzes the concept of masculinity as central to redefining boundaries of class, gender and sexuality and in particular he looks at the dynamics between self-identified gay men and straight-acting male prostitutes, or ‘rent boys’. Through in-depth interviews with both self-identified gay men and rent boys, Ozbay explores the changing discourses and meaning of class, gender and queer sexualities, and how these three are embedded within urban and familial narratives. Just as a note, this does not so different to what many researchers have done here but the results are sure to differ.

This is also a study of heterosexually-identified young men with rural family origins who engage in compensated sex with middle-class gay clients in Istanbul (in other words, they work as prostitutes). Ozbay brings together ethnography, in-depth interviews, and theory and places it within a cultural and political-economy framework. This is a powerful intersectional analysis with thick description and theoretical depth that shows how a closely studied case illuminates broader theoretical questions that are necessary and central to understanding the key roles of class, the body and heteronormativity regarding the shaping of embodied masculinities and sexualities. As we read, learn of the “shifting dynamics of gender relations, sexual identity and sex work in neoliberal contexts.” We gain a needed focus

on the regional operations of class, gender and sexuality.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Queer Sexualities in Turkey

Chapter 3: Gay Men, Rent Boys and the City

Chapter 4: Virilities for Rent: An Interplay of Masculinities

Chapter 5: Rent Boys as Queer Subjects

Chapter 6: Rent Boys as Neoliberal Citizens

Chapter 7: When Gays Sell Sex

Chapter 8: Conclusion

 

 

“While My Wife’s Away” by James Lear— A Journey to Self-Discovery

Lear, James. “While My Wife’s Away”, Cleis Press, 2017. July 11, 2017

A Journey to Self-Discovery

Amos Lassen

James Lear is a literary pornographer and that is not a term that I give away easily. I have reviewed all of his books and find that he just keeps getting better even though I rarely read gay erotic writing. I believe it was about ten years ago that I was first introduced to Lear (when I was one of Cleis Press’s regular reviewers before the company was sold). He knows how to create a situation that he make erotic in very few words and I can safely say that he has written some of the best and some of the hottest gay prose that I have ever read.

He does the same in his new book, “While My Wife’s Away” and just the title reeks of eroticism and sexy thoughts. Try to remember your first time with a married straight man (so many of us have done this) and see if it doesn’t rank with some of your most erotic experiences. Here we meet Joe Heath who seems to be a typical (“typical” is a word that bothers me because I am not sure that such a thing exists anymore) straight married man, living with his wife and two teenage children. He commutes to work, plays sports and enjoys beer but there are some things about Joe that very few people know and those that do have been his sexual partners. No one really knows that his marriage is sliding as is his relationship with his wife. They sleep in separate bedrooms and really have stayed together for their kids. only staying together until the kids have left home. Something else that others do not know is that Joe wants to have sex with another man.

When a chance meeting with a trainer at his gym occurs, it sets Joe off as a series of other sexual encounters with men. In fact, Joe has all kinds of encounters from casual to serious to dangerous. This is way James Lear goes to town. It did not take long before Joe began living a double and dishonest life (as far as his family is concerned). Joe earns for his family by day and becomes a sexual adventurer by night. His hunting ground is the internet where he can find whatever he wants.

Now you may ask where is the literary aspect of James Lear’s work. I see it in Joe’s self-discovery of who he really is. While he is not the kind of guy that I would want to call a friend, I cheer him on as he learns abut himself and we can only hope that self-acceptance will follow. Lear is a sophisticated writer whose pornography is also sophisticated and there is a profundity in this novel (and I will let you discover that yourselves). Yes, the prose is sexually stimulating but it is also, to a degree, intellectually stimulating. There is an inner psychological drama here and we see this clearly when we look at the lies that Joe need to use in order to be himself. Joe faces himself when dealing with what he considers to be personal need and not morality or the lack of it. He is not happy in a marriage that has run its course but we do not know who gets the blame for this.

This is in no way a romance—it is hard erotica with no emotions and no hanging around for coffee in the morning. While the sex is plentiful, it is not gratuitous in that they contribute to the growth of Joe’s character. It took the accident at the gym and the attentions of the trainer Adrian for Joe to realize what had been missing in his life. When Adrian helps him at the gym, Joe becomes aroused and this is where his journey begins. He sets out on a quest from which, in all probability, there will be no return. If he does not go about it in the right way he could destroy himself and everyone involved with him.

The novel just ends and it leaves us with several unanswered questions making me think that we have not seen the last of Joe.

 

“Empire Made: My Search for an Outlaw Uncle Who Vanished in British India” by Kief Hillsbery— Love Found and Loyalties Left Abandoned

Hillsbery, Kief. “Empire Made: My Search for an Outlaw Uncle Who Vanished in British India”, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Love Found and Loyalties Left Abandoned

Amos Lassen

Kief Hillsbery’s “Empire Made” is the story of a 19th century English gentleman in British India that has been lost in time for generations. It has been a source of family mystery” of love found and loyalties abandoned” that can finally be told.

In 1841, twenty-year-old Nigel Halleck left for Calcutta to clerk in the East India Company. He went on to serve in the colonial administration for eight years before suddenly and abruptly leaving the company under suspicion and disappearing somewhere in the mountain kingdom of Nepal and was never heard from again. Most of the hints of his life were destroyed in the bombing of his hometown during World War II, Nigel was never quite forgotten and he remained the myth of the man who headed East and disappeared. This story was carried down in the family for generations.

Author Kief Hillsbery is Nigel’s nephew many times removed and he embarked on his own expedition, spending decades researching and traveling through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal in the footsteps of his long-lost relation hoping to find out what happened to his uncle. We are taken back to a moment in time when the British Empire extended around the world. Hillsbery’s book is both a powerful history and a personal journey that brings together a clash of civilizations and the search to discover one’s own identity as well as the emotional tale of one man against an empire. We see through Nigel’s story how difficult it was to escape one’s preordained class and societal expectations in Victorian England. Gossip never really helps anything and it was gossip about the homosexual life style that drove Nigel to disappear as he did.

The book is part travelogue, part family memoir and a wonderful story all the way through. We know that Nigel wrote many letters home and it was from these that Hillsbery was able discern Halleck’s jobs and journeys. Added within the tale of Halleck, Hillsbery shares his own fascination with India and his travels which he began as a student in the mid-1970’s. On that first trip, he traveled through present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India and looked for the places mentioned in Halleck’s letters. Some he found while others no longer exist anymore. He was also trying to find Halleck’s gravesite and the cause of death. There had been some speculation that Halleck ended up being eaten by a tiger, after having given up his British identity in Nepal.

We get an incredible look at the Raj, with the politics, economics, and societal factors written from primary sources. Hillsbery dwells on topics from personal identity to the sexual habits of male Pashtuns. Some of these are unnecessary yet fun to read. Because Nigel’s story is so mixed up, it is often difficult to follow so I do not recommend this to be bedtime reading. The narrative moves back and forth between the uncle’s story, the author’s personal story, historical background of the times, and whatever else the author wanted to write about.