“Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall” by James Magruder— “Dorm of Fools”

love slaves

Magruder, James. “Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall”, Queen’s Ferry Press, 2016.

“Dorm of Fools”

Amos Lassen

I love reading the work of James Magruder and am always glad when something new by him comes out. This new book will be published on May 31, 2016 so I thought I would share a few thoughts about it. Set at Yale in 1958, the story begins when the new residents of Helen Hadley Hall, a dorm for graduate students arrive on campus. Here is what I have been able to discover about the book:

“Every September since 1958 a fresh batch of residents arrives at the Yale graduate dormitory that bears the name of one Miss Helen Hadley, a nineteenth-century ectoplasmic emanation still residing at 420 Temple Street, New Haven, Connecticut. Every year she selects her favorites, follows their adventures, cheers on their romantic shifts and stratagems, and picks up their lingo. With the university presently threatening to bulldoze her home, she has decided to chronicle her favorite year, the nine months in 1983–84 when Silas Huth, Becky Engelking, Nixie Bolger, Carolann Chudek, and Randall Flinn took up the manacles of erotic attachment and parsed meaning from every little movement of their rapacious, beating hearts. In Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall, Miss Hadley promises her readers carnal congress, a near-homicide, and a wedding finale, for her tale of communal bondage is one of love surprised, love confessed, betrayed, renounced, repelled, of suspect leanings and trembling declarations, of hymens under siege and innumerable searching looks in the mirror”.

“The Rope Swing” by William Corbett— Outsiders

the rope swing

Corbett, William. “The Rope Swing”, University of West Virginia Press, 2016.

Outsiders

Amos Lassen

Having been outsiders for so long, the LGBT community will find a lot to identify with in William Corbett’s “The Rope Swing”. These tales are set in West Virginia in a small town that has basically died. With the railroad’s leaving, the residents find themselves shut off from the rest of the world.

Stop to think for a moment about who are the outsiders in the world today. We meet a young boy whose sexuality pushes him to explore love with another boy; we learn what happens when a lost soul gets to New York City; what transpires when an old woman searches for and struggles with having life with platonic love for years. I think that with these three examples that the characters in these stories live outside of what is accepted in their small town. The town is what holds the stories together and as you read, you might think that these are not stories but a novel told with a powerful narrative. The writing is filled with the emotions of the characters yet they are also filled with the hope of love— they are looking for sensitivity and tenderness.

I said earlier that the narrative is powerful and that is because the writing is so beautiful and the ideas are so profound that it might be very difficult for some to read this with dry eyes.

“BOUND AND THRASHED”— Pushing Past the Sexual Boundaries

bound“Bound and Thrashed”

Pushing Past the Sexual Boundaries

Amos Lassen

Bradley John Smith’s “Bound and Thrashed” is a short film that is provocative to see and that asks some very interesting questions. Far from a polished film, this is a sexy look at what happens when a young man is asked to push his sexual boundaries by becoming the dominant in some S&M play. He has never been comfortable with this but as he assumes the role of master, he learns about what being a man is all about. Here are a few words from the director:

“Bound And Thrashed” is a story which echoes the idea that its not until we are put in a situation that may seen unnatural to us, that we can truly uncover what we desire and what we are capable of. Nathan (Andrew Hood) is depressed and unable to move on from a former lover, his concerned friend Tess (London Gabraelle) persuades him into going on a blind date with Geoffrey (John Cunningham), an older man who has an unusual appetite. Nathan’s encounter with Geoffrey ultimately assists him in moving on from the past and leads him to self- discovery and sexual fulfillment.

“The Spartacus International Hotel Guide, 2016”— Where to Stay

spar

“The Spartacus International Hotel Guide, 2016”

Where to Stay

Amos Lassen

Once again at the beginning of this year’s travel and holiday season the editorial team has spared no effort checking out all listed hotels, resorts and other lodging in the new guide. The result is the brand new 15th edition of the Spartacus International Hotel Guide 2016 

The current guide offers information – as in the previous guides – with an extensive selection of photos. More than 900 hotels in 85 countries were checked. This guarantees the gay travellers open-minded owners and staff as well as secure accommodation. The extensive research of all properties makes this popular guide almost unrivalled; a variety of carefully researched facts, up-to-date reviews and especially valuable insider tips simplify the gay holiday feeling!

In the new edition the proven pictogram system helps the reader to get the important information easily, quickly and clearly. The bilingual guide, with a multilingual introduction, is popular worldwide and combines crisp information texts with high quality colour photography. Each entry offers information on prices, opening and season dates, as well as full address and contact details.

Particularities:

  • The only guide with gay and gay-friendly accommodations worldwide
  • Various discounts offered to SPARTACUS readers
  • Many properties feature photos, giving a better impression
  • Useful facts such as room rates and breakfast times
  • Introduction and general information in 5 different languages
  • Unique pictograms give further information at a glance
  • English and German texts describe the benefits for the gay traveler

“Against Citizenship: The Violence of the Normative” by Amy L. Brnadzel—Hypocrisies and Oppression

aganst Citizenship

Brandzel, Amy L. “Against Citizenship: The Violence of the Normative”, University of Illinois Press, 2016.

Hypocrisies and Oppression

Amos Lassen

In “Against Citizenship”, author Amy L. Brandzel shows that “that there is nothing redeemable about citizenship, nothing worth salvaging or sustaining in the name of ‘community,’ practice, or belonging”. According to Brandzel, citizenship is a dehumanizing mechanism that is violent and “makes the comparative devaluing of human lives seem commonsensical, logical, and even necessary”. She further argues that “whenever we work on behalf of citizenship, whenever we work toward including more types of peoples under its reign, we inevitably reify the violence of citizenship against nonnormative others”.

Brandzel’s focuses on three legal case studies–same-sex marriage law, hate crime legislation, and Native Hawaiian sovereignty and “racialization” and in doing so she exposes how citizenship confounds and obscures the mutual processes of settler colonialism, racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Therefore, she argues that citizenship requires “anti-intersectionality” or strategies that deny the mutuality and contingency of race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation–and how, oftentimes, progressive left activists and scholars follow suit. Her book therefore is an impassioned plea for a queer, decolonial, anti-racist coalitional stance against the systemized human de/valuing and anti-intersectionalities of citizenship.

The importance of what she says will make this an important book for queer and feminist theory of its generation. Brandzel unites feminist and queer studies with critical ethnic studies and critical Indigenous studies to present a model for the kind of intersectional analysis required to understand and challenge the violence of normativities. She

exposes the “irredeemable violence’s” of U.S. citizenship and brings together “case studies that are rarely considered within the same frame”. She documents the violence of anti-intersectional politics, epistemologies, and citizenship practices within cases of hate crime legislation, same-sex marriage, and the tensions between civil rights and indigenous rights and effectively argues that the politics of alliance requires activisms against US citizenship and it has been constructed through a process of human devaluing.

“Drag Teen” by Jeffrey Self— A Drag Race to the Future

drag teen

Self, Jeffrey. “Drag Teen”, Scholastic Press, 2016.

A Drag Race to the Future

Amos Lassen

Jeffrey Self makes his literary debut with the fabulous and funny story of a high school senior who has one ambition in life— to be the first in his family to leave Clearwater, Florida, and go to college. The problem is, he has no way to pay for school. But then…. his friends convince him to compete in a drag teen competition for a college scholarship.

JT lives an insulated life . His mother shops all day on QVC, his father is absent even when he is at home, and most of the kids at school pretty much ignore him since he’s too overweight to be popular (or so he thinks). But JT’s boyfriend is the hottest guy in school as his boyfriend and he has another great friend, Heather, who is dealing with her self-image and issues about her weight. To help JT find the money so that they can go to college together, Seth finds out about a contest in New York City that has a large financial prize and that would pay for his education. However, JT once had a bad experience when he dressed up in drag and sang “Part of Your World” for the school talent show.

The two main themes are weight issues and self-acceptance. I felt it could have been a bit deeper but it is a refreshing read nonetheless. We certainly see how times have changed when we consider that in this book being gay gets the same attention as being overweight.

“Beyond the Binary: Thinking about Sex and Gender” by Shannon Dea— Sex and Gender

beyond the binary

Dea, Shannon. “Beyond the Binary: Thinking about Sex and Gender”, Broadview Press, 2016.

Sex and Gender

Amos Lassen

Lately we have all been dealing with gender issues in the world. One of the big questions is whether there is a relationship between sex and gender. Shannon Dea looks a the questions surrounding gender from many cultures and disciplines over periods of thousands of years. Her main emphasis is on the relationship between gender as it is understood as a psycho-socio-cultural category, and sex as it is understood as a type of physiological classification.

Questions about sex and gender are not new products of modern Western culture; they have been discussed for centuries and across many traditions by some of the greatest thinkers of history. We get excerpts and examples from historical and contemporary sources throughout and there are a number of illustrations demonstrating varied depictions of human anatomy from different cultures and contexts. Dea takes a pluralistic and historically informed approach and thereby gives readers a background to what is now being debated about sex and gender in the media, health sciences, and public policy. Below is the table of contents.

Chapter One: Introduction

Chapter Two: Methodology and Terminology

Chapter Three: Aristotelian and Judeo-Christian Models of Sex Difference

Chapter Four: The Second Sex

Chapter Five: The Third Sex

Chapter Six: The Third Gender

Chapter Seven: Intersex

Chapter Eight: Trans Issues

Chapter Nine: Biodeterminism

Chapter Ten: The One-Sex Model

Chapter Eleven: Difference and Equality

Chapter Twelve: Sex/Gender as Social Construction

Glossary

Annotated Bibliography

“From Up River And For One Night Only” by Brett Josef Grubisic— A Hopeful Act of Creation

from up ne river and one night only

Grubisic Brett Josef. “From Up River And For One Night Only”, 2016.

A Hopeful Act of Creation

Amos Lassen

Dee, Gordyn, Em, and Jay are indecisive members of the greatest New Wave band to ever come from River Bend City. Before they graduate from high school and leave the town, they have their sights on making something from nothing as a test-run for planned careers of total glamour in New York City. The novel takes place between Labor Day 1980 and a Battle of the Bands contest in February 1981. It follows the band during their hopeful days of creation. Filled with dark comedy and autobiographical references, this is a story that looks at the “detours, setbacks, compromises, ethical quandaries, and illicit opportunities” that the band comes into contact with as it moves towards its e fifteen-and-a half minutes of fame.

It is the language and the writing that makes this a must read. It contains wild misfits, the drudgery of day jobs and dreams of stardom all told to us in Grubisic’s intoxicating, immersive language. We go on a road trip with no destination and this becomes a one-of-a-kind coming-of-age story.

“:A THIRD WAY”— Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors

athrid way poster

“A Third Way”

Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors

Amos Lassen

We are living in a time of polarization and conflict around Israel/Palestine and Judaism and Islam. In “A Third Way”, we get a story that inspires and educates as it humanizes the characters and gives us new ideas to think about. During a recent social justice movement protest, a new slogan emerged—“Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies.” This film looks at the reality behind such a slogan especially at it applies on the West Bank. It is there in the disputed territories that Jewish settlers (Israelis) and Palestinian Arabs continue to be locked in a struggle for their countries’ futures.

a third 1

Because of frustration with the direct negotiations with Israel yielding no results, the Palestinian Authority has petitioned the United Nations for recognition as a member state. The Israeli government vigorously opposed what they termed a “unilateral” act. The Palestinians also refuse to back down even in the face of U.S. opposition to their UN bid, including cutting off $200 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians by the U.S. Congress.

Meanwhile the diplomatic confrontation still continues with no results, and in the two countries there is a very tense atmosphere. Recent mosque desecrations has spread from the West Bank to Israel proper and the threat of Palestinian demonstrations looms large. This is the backdrop of increasing tensions that has brought about a movement of Israeli settlers and Palestinians to explore ways to communicate and co-exist. This movement known as the “third way,” is now struggles to stay alive.

These settlers and Palestinians have been meeting with each other in an effort to find a new road between domination and confrontation. The members of this small but slowly growing movement are pushing the norms of Israeli-Palestinian relations that sometimes puts them at odds with their respective communities.

Rabbi Meacham Froman, the rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa, is regarded as the spiritual father of the movement. Froman is famed for befriending Yasser Arafat as well as meeting several times in Gaza with the now deceased spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin. He has become a major voice of reconciliation.

Recently, settlers vandalized a mosque in the Palestinian village of Qusra following the Israeli Defense Force’s demolition of illegal houses in the Migron settlement outpost. In response, Rabbi Froman visited Qusra to a way to apologize for the deeds done by his co-religionists. Leading the crowd in chants of “Allah Hu Akbar,” the Rabbi “tried to show that the two sides belong to the same land and share the same destiny, whether or not they’re willing to acknowledge it”.

In the past few years, a new generation of settlers has arisen to continue on Froman’s path. Two of these are Nahum Pachenik and Eliaz Cohen whose activism is informal and individual. There is also a similar group, called Eretz Shalom, that meets semi-regularly. Eliaz Cohen lives in Kfar Etzion, the first West Bank settlement, founded in September 1967, and has been meeting with the mukhtar of a neighboring village. He has been pushing the local Israeli government to pave the single road in the village, as well as to give locals permission to repair the village minaret, which Israel has refused to do for almost 30 years.

Eliaz believes that there’s a struggle “for the soul” of the settler movement currently underway and there is new thought that challenges the old way of, orthodoxy that has characterized relations between settlers and Palestinians. Rabbi Froman proclaims that he is “a citizen of the state of God, it’s not so important who is the government.” There are others hold that, whatever the future political arrangement, it will not be relevant if Israelis and Palestinians can’t learn how to live together.

We see that the number of states does not matter but what does matter is that without good relations between people, nothing would work. There are those settlers and Palestinians who are interested in being good neighbors even though they risk being censured. The Palestinians fear censure not just from their families but also from the Palestinian Authority as well.

Mohammed A. lives in a Palestinian village just south of Gush Etzion, the first of the settlements where there is a permanent Israeli guard tower and gate at the main entrance to the village that is often closed during times of tension with the neighboring settlements that are located on three sides of the village. Nonetheless, for several years now, Mohammed has been meeting with settlers as often as he can. He tells them the story of his grandfather, who was killed on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence. For many Israelis, the Lone Tree of Gush Etzion is a symbol of Israel “regaining” control over the settlement after the 1967 war and this is where Mohammed’s grandfather was killed. For Mohammed and other Palestinians, the tree has a different meaning altogether. But it is by describing his grandfather’s connection to that place to Israelis that Mohammed hopes that there will; be a new understanding and new thoughts about what is going on there.

a third2

While the filming of this documentary was taking place, we learn that this group of Israeli settlers and Palestinians on the West Bank has challenged some of the pre-conceived notions that some people hold about the conflict, so much so that the word “settler” has become quite an explosive word. The significance of the West Bank, the “cradle” of biblical Judaism, has added a religious element to the conflict and made a rational solution difficult to imagine. Add to this what we are taught about hospitality for he stranger and it becomes even more complicated. We “were strangers in the land of Egypt” and this has taken on a very real meaning for us and for the people we’ve met. These settlers are predominantly religious and they have taken this decree to heart.

There are tremendous difference between the two groups and we really see this when looking at the fact that while some settlers have reached out to visit Palestinians in their homes, the Palestinians by and large haven’t reciprocated. The imbalance is symbolic of the larger situation — Israelis have more freedom of movement than their Palestinian neighbors.

The film documents some of this face-to-face work to establish a more equal relationship. These few brave Israelis and Palestinians may be at the forefront of a movement whose end result even they cannot know.

Nahum and Ziad met through the work of Rabbi Menachem Froman, the notorious “settler for peace” (who himself was a friend of Yasser Arafat), and we could say they’re both Froman’s protégés. They believe that, whatever the eventual future of Israel/Palestine, the smartest idea is to become friends now. Ziad and Nahum meet as equals. Nahum has visited Ziad’s home many times. They’ve walked together near Ziad’s town and they’ve broken bread and mutual fasts together. But on a political/social level, they are not equals by any means: Nahum chooses to live in the West Bank, and he could choose anytime to move to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Ziad has no choice. His family and ancestors have lived in their town for more than four generations. And for now, Ziad can’t visit Nahum’s home in his settlement.

a third 3

Nahum himself takes it little by little. He wants to know if there’s an Arab minority in Israel, why can’t there also be a Jewish minority in Palestine? A few months ago, he organized a demonstration, confronting Israeli soldiers, when several Palestinian homes were demolished in Ziad’s town. The relationship is unequal now, but we can hope that one day Ziad and Nahum may be able to meet as complete equals.

We meet Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian from Beit Ummar (near Hebron), and Shaul Judelman, an Israeli who grew up in the United States and moved to Israel 14 years ago, spending much of that time in settlements: first to Bat Ayin and, a few months ago, to Tekoa.

The story of what brought them together goes through Tekoa, which was home to Rabbi Menachem Froman (who died two years ago). As I said earlier, Rabbi Froman believed in dialogue and connection with his neighbors. He held meetings with Hamas figures, with whom he found it possible to talk from one religious person to another. This documentary is the story of his work in the last five years of his life, and an examination of the legacy he left behind.

, “A Third Way – Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors” was directed by Harvey Stein. Stein, who moved to Israel from New York close to a decade ago and first met Froman in late 2008 to make a small film about him, and was taken with the way he was building bridges in a place full of disconnect. Stein describes the rabbi as

“totally irreverent. I remember him asking me once, ‘What’s a settler?’ Then he made his hand like a claw and went grrr. He was able to hold contradictions and say that he loves his neighbors. My Jewish tradition told me to love my neighbors, and so I do.’”

Froman sometimes went to great lengths to show the love he felt. We see him visiting a West Bank mosque that was torched and vandalized by settlers, who also spray-painted insulting messages about the Prophet Mohammed on the walls. Wearing his kippah and tefillin (phylacteries), Froman stands on the stairs and calls out repeatedly to the Palestinians waiting below, “Allahu Akbar!”

One of them was Ali Abu Awwad. Raised in a politically active family in Beit Ummar, he was a teenager during the first intifada and jailed twice by Israel because he threw stones. However, after losing his brother to the conflict, he began to embrace nonviolence and became one of the pivotal members of the Bereaved Families Forum, speaking locally and internationally with Israelis who have lost loved ones. He demanded that both Arab and Israeli turn a new page.

Many Palestinians quietly started coming to meetings organized by Froman and his Hasidic followers and they were impressed that Froman met with Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza in 1998 – as well as Yasser Arafat. Awaad says that what prevents us from having rights are not the left-wing camp in Tel Aviv. It’s the right wing in the settlements,” Abu Awwad says at Roots, the center he is establishing with Judelman, Froman’s widow, Hadassah, and several other Israeli and Palestinian activists.

Abu Awwad and Froman and his wife met some seven years ago at Sulha, a gathering of Arabs and Jews whose name is based on the traditional Arab form of reconciliation between sparring parties. He liked what Froman had to say but not where he lived.

Abu Awwad met Judelman, an environmentalist and the two became friends. At about the same time, John Moyle, an American clergyman became involved in trying to help Awwad and Judelman build a grassroots peace movement. In January 2014, they founded a movement with a shack on land owned by Abu Awwad’s family. Since then they’ve been holding meetings at people’s homes around the West Bank . They have brought together Israeli settlers and Palestinians and say that they are not involved

in a political plan, but rather deal with human beings and breaking down stereotypes.

“Nine Lives of Morris: Great Tales from One Cool Cat” by Morris L. Taylor— A Memoir

nine lives of morris

Taylor, Morris L. “Nine Lives of Morris: Great Tales from One Cool Cat”, Arts & Antiques, ; 2016.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

“Nine Lives of Morris: Great Tales from One Cool Cat” is a memoir told in an amazing collection of short-story style memoirs, watercolors and poetry. Writer Morris L. Taylor takes us on a voyage of life with all of its struggles, surprises, sadnesses and joy. He begins life as a poor child who is taken in by Starting out poor and taken in by Christian fundamentalists and he explores and discovers who he really is. He becomes a professional musician, father of family of four, college professor and then later a gay man, and leather man who becomes a leader in the leather community. Morris is a great guide. The journey contains wonderful watercolor works that comment on and accent the story.

We might call this a flash memoir made up of thirty narratives that tell the episodes from his childhood in the Great Depression of the 1930’s to his eighty-fifth birthday. Morris writes in the first person, present tense thereby giving us a feeling of immediacy. A dozen poems are shared throughout the prose along with forty of his original watercolors. There are also four photographic montages picture that show various aspects of Morris career as a concert pianist, a professor of music, a watercolorist and gay leather man. In he first memoir, Morris tells about finding his biological father’s family in Appalachia and in the last memoir we learn about his marrying a man. We are so pulled into the story that we do not want to stop reading. As a child Morris discovers many aspects of who he is. Through experiences in the U. S. Army and World War II, Morris tells his tales. We share the sorrow of soul upon the fatal accident of his wife and the suicide of his gay son, Leonard. We are with him as he shares the spiritual journey as a Seventh-day Adventist in raising up a church only to find out how difficult it is to find his own place as a gay man. Morris shares the adventures of his retirement years when he joins the leather community with vigor and starts a new career as a watercolor artist. Even when he is diagnosed with bone marrow, the author maintains his equilibrium and honesty. Morris thrives as he brings together his roles as a child, pianist, artist, soldier, father, missionary, professor, gay man, master and leather man. Everything about this book is first class and we see that those who are wounded must take heed to heal themselves. Taylor’s stories are told gracefully and we become members of his family while we read.

I was so taken in that I read the book in one sitting and I know that I am not alone in that.