Monthly Archives: December 2017

“Not Guilty: Queer Stories from a Century of Discrimination” by Sue Elliot and Steve Humphries— An Oral History

Elliott, Sue and Steve Humphries. “Not Guilty: Queer Stories from a Century of Discrimination”, Biteback. 2017.

An Oral History

Amos Lassen

It was just fifty years ago in the United Kingdom when sex between men was a crime. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act changed that in part, but it was only the beginning of the long fight for equality in the eyes of the law and society in general. “Not Guilty” is an oral history telling that story through the lives of gay men who lived through those years.

It is a bit hard to imagine that in Britain, a glorious handful of campaigners helped change life forever. We hear the voices of gay men who lived through the years when equality was unimaginable. Reading this is listening to the voices that were strong and had hope and who were there during the struggle for legitimacy That struggle continues to this day. The men whose stories we follow come from very different backgrounds, and different times, ye they provide us with the strongest possible testament to the need for awareness and action.

“Breaking the Ruhls: A Memoir” by Larry Ruhl— The Reality of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Ruhl, Larry. “Breaking the Ruhls: A Memoir”, Central Recovery Press, 2018.
The Reality of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Amos Lassen

Writer Larry Ruhl’s memoir explores the reality of childhood sexual abuse, a terrible practice that in some neighborhoods hides in plain sight. Victims often remain silent, preoccupied under the weight of their own guilt, shame, and addiction. They face
trauma, boundary violations, and abuse within the family, and struggle with their own emotional and psychological effects. Using his own experience, Ruhl looks at sexual confusion, shame, PTSD, addiction and recovery, marital issues, career struggles, and therapeutic breakthroughs. He presents vindication on a range of issues and shows that it is possible to heal and thrive afterwards.
Ninety-three percent of juvenile sexual assault victims knew their perpetrators. In 80 percent of these cases, the perpetrator was a parent. Ruhl focuses on sexual abuse and helps others shed the shame that sexual abuse survivors carry through no fault of their own.
Ruhl is a board member for Taking Back Ourselves, an organization that facilitates weekends of recovery for survivors of sexual abuse. He is a registered speaker with RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) and previously served as a board member at Male Survivor, a leading organization in the fight to improve the resources and support available to male survivors of all forms of sexual abuse. His qualifications indeed make him a person who knows what he talks about.

“SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE”— We’ve Come a Long Way

“Some of My Best Friends Are”

We’ve Come a Long Way

Amos Lassen

“Some of My Best Friends Are” is set in 1970s in Greenwich Village just one and a half years after the Stonewall riots gave national exposure to the LGBT community. Even today, prejudice and hatred against LGBT people is very much present in Manhattan. We now see how it was back then. At a local bar “Blue Jay”, a group of straight women and gay men are celebrating Christmas Eve. There are no secrets or untold stories at Blue Jay as the drama and hectic lives of the staff members and clientele are the highlights of the evening.

The bar is managed by Louis Barone (Larry Reed), a mobster and is a temporary home for three women, Sadie (Sylvia Syms), Helen (Fannie Flagg) and Lita Joyce (Rue McClanahan), as well as several gay men, Michel Mireaux (Uva Harden), Tanny (Tom Bade) and Kenny (Paul Blake). Louis lends money to some of regulars and he is ok with them but he cannot abide Leo (Jeff David), an Italian homosexual who’s constantly looking for newbies to pick up. The bar is a safe space for storytelling and fun, as long as the manager keeps bribing Pete Thomas (Allan Dellay), the policeman who wants to raid it.

The patrons of the Blue Jay Bar still feel like second-class citizens where dancing between two men is prohibited and those who have come out about their homosexuality are

being rejected by their family and friends.

The film brings up some great issues, but it all seems to be on the surface and this was a chance where some depth would have made this a significant film. Unfortunately the direction lacks style and the dialogue is generic. The camera simply cuts from one group of people to another as they chat among themselves. Because everything takes place in the bar, we get a claustrophobic feeling.

The best moment is when Gary Sandy who plays a man in denial about his homosexuality becomes enraged when he finds that the woman (Candy Darling) he has been dancing with is actually a man and beats her up. The riot that ensues is interesting and we get to see a bit of action in a movie that is basically a talker. The scene where a mother enters the bar and openly disavows her son after finding out that he is gay is also well done but a bit too short.

Fannie Flagg gives an engaging performance as a snarky lady who never seems at a loss for words or verbal comeback. Rue McClanahan is also good as a bitchy, aging blonde and so is Dick O’Neill as a conservative old-timer who shows great disdain for the ‘pansy pad’ once he finds out that it is a gay bar. (However, he is reluctant to leave it).

The Blue Jay is a long, narrow firetrap with a bar in front and a large room in back for dancing. The film came out a year and a half after “The Boys in the Band” so naturally there were comparisons and we have dopey sentiments, as well as of self-hatred and of self-exploitation and it is almost impossible to differentiate between an intentional second-rateness and serious moviemaking of no great quality.

Mervyn Nelson, who both wrote the screenplay and directed the film, shares with his characters not only a large amount of self-pity, but also the kind of romanticism that permits characters to define themselves in the clichés of an old-fashioned Hollywood soap opera. The characters sound like parodies of real emotions and that is too bad.

Director Nelson manages to discover and exploit every stereotype of homosexual literature. In addition to the confused married man, there are the kid who is new to the game, the hustler who hates himself, the wise-cracking swish; the defrocked choirmaster; the straight guy who comes into the Blue Jay by mistake and the angry mother who tells her homosexual son that from now on she considers him dead.

“There’s violence, abuse, betrayal, back-stabbing etc. in   a very sad gay movie about— Christmas Eve in a New York gay bar and we see how far we have come in gay themed films.



“Groomed” by Jerome L. Whitehead— Abuse

Whitehead, Jerome L. “Groomed”, Page Publishing, 2017.


Amos Lassen

Estimates say that one in every six boys experience a sexual encounter with an adult at some point in their lives before they reach the age of consent. Parents, regardless of intent, tend to blame the victim and this further perpetuates feelings of guilt and shame in the child. They don’t know what questions to ask, and if they do, they may not believe the answer no matter how honest the child is capable of being at that moment.

“Groomed” is the story tells the story of abuse and how it changed the life of Jerome Whitehead, the author would have been. The story is told from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old victim and a fifty-five-year-old survivor.

Whitehead puts into perspective the reasons why a victim may stay silent. Many might not realize that in a lot of ways the victim has been groomed for his behavior. The abuse of male children is not often discussed, and many times, a parent asks the wrong questions or any questions about someone acting inappropriately with the child.

By using his own experiences, the author gives us gives us insight to abuse and how we are either silent about it or in denial of it.

“How I Went to Asia for a Colonoscopy and Stayed for Love: A Memoir of Mischief and Romance” by David Gilmore— Reclaiming His Life

Gilmore, David. “How I Went to Asia for a Colonoscopy and Stayed for Love: A Memoir of Mischief and Romance”, David Gilmore, 2017.

Reclaiming His Life

Amos Lassen

If there were awards for the most interesting titles of books, “How I Went to Asia for a Colonoscopy and Stayed for Love” would most certainly be a hot competitor. It is the true story of one man on a fascinating journey to reclaim his life and it is irreverent, hilarious, and racy ride through the enchanting lunacy of Southeast Asia. The book follows the author’s 7 years of travels through Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and finally Malaysia as he searched for a mate. One day on a bus in Malaysia, he gets an invitation for something unimaginable. Then he returned to the United States where he was shot at on his bicycle. Feeling defeated, in America, he moved to Kuala Lumpur and it was there, in a Muslim country that he found what he had been searching for. 

This is a memoir of true self-revelation. It begins as a bold tale of a hapless Westerner in Asia, who gives some entertaining looks at the world of sex and medical tourism and it becomes a story of deep love and acceptance.

Gilmore is a wonderful writer and he has an incredible story to tell. This is a sensual memoir that is filled with travel advice. It is also a journey of love in an unforgiving world and it is filled with emotion that is relayed to the reader. He shares gory details of his travels and experiences and it is his cynical sense of humor that wins readers over.

“Ariel: A Literary Life of Jan Morris” by Derek Johns— Quite a Wait Yet

Johns, Derek. “Ariel: A Literary Life of Jan Morris”, Faber and Faber, 2018.

Quite a Wait Yet

Amos Lassen

We will have to wait until this coming June to read about Jan Morris , one of the great British writers of the post-war era. Morris was a soldier, a journalist, a writer about places, elegist of the British Empire, novelist. She has developed a distinctive prose style that is elegant, fastidious, supple, and sometimes deliciously gaudy. For many readers she is best known for her candid memoir “Conundrum” in which described the gender reassignment operation she underwent in 1972.

As James Morris she was the journalist who brought back the story of the conquest of Everest in 1953 and who discovered incontrovertible evidence of British involvement in the Suez Crisis of 1956. Rebecca West says that Morris is the finest prose stylist of her time, and her essays span the entire urban world. Her many books include a classic on Venice, a 1,600 page history of the British Empire, and a homage to what is perhaps her favorite city, Trieste. Her writings on Wales represent the most thorough literary investigation of that mysterious land.

Derek Johns was Jan Morris’s literary agent for twenty years. and “Ariel” is not a conventional biography. Instead it is something of an appreciation of the work and life of someone who besides being a delightful writer is also a generous, affectionate, witty and irreverent friend. “Ariel” is to be published to coincide with Morris’ 90th birthday.

Writer Derek Johns quotes copiously from Morris’s wonderful writing as well as analyzes her style and we are reminded what a wonderful journalist we have had in Morris. ‘Ariel” is as much an anthology of excerpts from Morris’s writings as it is a literary life of an author whose writings should be celebrated and enjoyed.

“Pray the Gay Away” by Michael and Zach Zakar— “Mom Knows”

Zakar, Michael and Zach Zakar. “Pray the Gay Away”, Zakar Twins, 2017.

“Mom Knows”

Amos Lassen

“Pray the Gay Away” is most certainly not great literature— it is not even literature and the Zakar twins are not writers. However, that does not mean that this is not a fun read. It’s all about coming out, telling mom and so on— you know the exercise, we play it all of the time.

Coming out is hard and it is continuous– a daily part of life whether to a new friend, a co-worker, or most importantly yourself. The book looks at Michael and Zach Zakar as they face “awkward sexual encounters, drug-fueled escapades, coming out to each other, and their biggest foe – Mom, a woman who not only gave birth to what she calls one regret – but two.” This is a memoir looks at what it’s like growing up as gay, Iraqi twins in modern America. I understand that the book was inspired was inspired by the night their mother snuck into their bedroom and force fed them “holy grapes,” determined to “de-gay” them. The Zakar Twins are two of the new voices speaking out against generations, particularly within the Iraqi culture, who look down on being gay.

At times the book is very funny while at other times it is a heartbreaker. It reads very quickly and it takes no thought to understand what is written here. There are moments of humor, shock and raw emotion and we see that normal does not necessarily mean perfect and that life is a journey that usually ends up better than when it started.

“Alice in Shandehland” by Monda Halpern— Settling

Halpern, Monda. “Alice in Shandehland: Scandal and Scorn in the Edelson/Horwitz Murder Case”, McGill-Queen’s University Press , 2015.


Amos Lassen

In 1931, Ben and Alice Edelson had been married for twenty years and had seven children. Nonetheless, Alice had been having an affair with Jack Horwitz, a married man. On the night of November 24, Ben, Alice, and Jack met at Edelson Jewelers to “settle the thing.” Words were exchanged and a brawl erupted during which Jack was shot and killed. This brought about a sensational legal case that captured Ottawa headlines in which Edelson faced the death penalty. Through a detailed examination of newspaper coverage, interviews with family and community members, and evocative archival photographs, Monda Halpern has reconstructed a long-silenced murder case in Canada during the Depression. She contends that despite his crime, Ben Edelson was the object of far less contempt than his adulterous wife whose shame or disgrace (shandeh)-seemed indefensible.

Alice faced the censure of both the Jewish community and the courtroom while Ben’s middle-class respectability and the betrayal he suffered gained him favored standing and, ultimately, legal exoneration. The tensions around ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and class are looked at in detail here as the book explores the divergent reputations of Ben and Alice Edelson within the growing yet insular and tenuous Jewish community, and within a dominant culture that embraced male success and valor during the emasculating 1930s.

“Alice in Shandehland” is based on fine research and it is an excellently-written and illuminating portrait of Jewish life in Ottawa and the struggles toward a middle-class respectability. This is the story of the surprising investigation of a once-prominent scandal and the aftermath. It was a case, Halpern learned, that no one wanted to talk about and she had a difficult time interviewing surviving family members who were reluctant to talk. One of the surprises here is the extent of anti-Semitism in Ottawa at the time and it was shocking to read how the Jews were treated.

“Point… of the Pink Triangle” by David Edmonson— His Name Was 75224

Edmonson, David. “Point… of the Pink Triangle”, Beau to Beau Books, 2017.

His Name was 75224

Amos Lassen

The number 75224 that was to become his name was tattooed on his arm with a filthy needle and it would stay with him as a reminder of what he was forced to experience in the most infamous and notorious of Nazi concentration camps, Auschwitz.

Pieter Belinsky was a handsome and spirited boy ho had grown up in a small village in Poland. He had no father and he was raised by a loving mother. They were forced into hiding and then transported where he was sexually and physically enslaved by a Block Commander at Auschwitz. His only chance of survival was by submission, chance and circumstance. He was forced to wear the pink triangle that labeled him as a homosexual. Homosexuals in the camps were considered to be inferior to everyone else. Those wearing the pink triangle were often given impossible work details, severely abused, beaten and tortured, and in some cases castrated.

When he was finally liberated and began a new life in Americas, Pieter became Peter Ballantine, star of the Broadway stage. When a chance encounter with his former Commandant in a hotel lobby in New York City gave him an opportunity for revenge made him wonder if that would avenge all that he had been through. It most certainly would not erase it.

He tells us of when the Lagerfhurer satisfied himself at the expense of a young and innocent Jew while he put thousands of others to death for social deviancy and for defiling the racial laws of the Nazi State.


Between the years of 1938-1944, 50,000 to 63,000 citizens of all nationalities were systematically rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Many were Jews, some were not, but all were further stigmatized and forced to wear the pink triangle that became known as the badge of shame. what became known as a badge of shame.

“Terror Has No Diary: Annals of a Gay Jew and His Comrades Behind a Holy Wall in Nazi Europe” by Michael Melnick— Twelve Survivors

Melnick, Michael. “Terror Has No Diary: Annals of a Gay Jew and His Comrades Behind a Holy Wall in Nazi Europe”, Deer Mountain, 2013.

Twelve Survivors

Amos Lassen

Of the 7000 Jews who were living in the Baltic seaport of Libau (Liepaja), Latvia when the Germans invaded on June 21, 1941, only 200 remained alive when the city was liberated May 9,1945. Of these, maybe two dozen were hiding within Libau itself. This is about 12 of them. Eleven adults were in the care of Robert and Johanna Sedols who hid them in a cellar behind a false wall constructed with the bricks of the demolished Choral Synagogue. Then there was once child who was cared for by a widow, Otilija Schimelpfenig. She took him into the secure comfort of her home. For their courage and moral stature, the Sedols and Mrs. Schimelpfenig are memorialized as “Righteous Among the Nations” at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. How these twelve Jews arrived at their hiding places, and how they endured until liberation, is the remarkable story that is told here.

Because so little was known about those that perished, we often get stories of characters that are semi-drawn. That is not the case here. Writer Michael Melnick gives us a complex portrait of ordinary people in extreme circumstances in which we meet true heroes. We read of the e moral and emotional ambiguities of those hiding and those enabling them.

The diary of Kalman Linkimer is the compelling story of how 11 ordinary people survive the worst period in the history of the world by living in hiding in a cellar for 18 months.