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Archive for May, 2019

This piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

(TWO is the first international LGBTQ radio news magazine.)

 

Is cruising a lost art?

There might be several answers to this question according to Alex Espinoza the author of the book Cruising, an intimate history of a radical pastime – a book about the experiences of gay men.

 

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When I first started reading this book, I explained gay male cruising to my partner, as a way of some men hooking up with random strangers for casual sex. I told her that the gay men might wait for hours for the right guy to come along – just as straight guys on a fishing expedition might wait for hours to land a fish. It was, as you probably can imagine, the kind of semi-hilarious conversation that lesbians might have about men.

But then I started reading the book and I have to admit I was fascinated. I learned a lot. The first thing that I learned was that cruising can have a cultural context.  On reflection, I realized that this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Everything has a cultural context. Growing up as a Mexican American, Espinoza’s first memories of “cruising” was his brothers and their friends dressing up to go out to pick up girls. As the author writes:

“It’s hard to trace exactly how the term became associated with anonymous sexual encounters in the gay community. People cruised in their cars. My brothers and their friends [quote] “cruised for chicks.” All of these involve, to some degree or other, the act of leisurely crossing and re-crossing the same place.  They involve the acts of seeing (and being seen), of pursuing (and being pursued). Yet, no one knows exactly when or how the phrase became synonymous with secret sexual encounters. We know the word has its origin in the Latin word crux, or cross.”

I learned about the history of the gay bar, in places called “molly houses” in London in the 1700s where men would meet, as Espinoza writes, “to stage drag shows, mingle and have sex.” It was, of course, at the time, a crime. Many were arrested. In one raid in 1726, Mother Claps – London’s most infamous molly house at the time – forty men were arrested. More than a few gay men resisted arrest – resistance that might have been overcome at the time, but which portended changes to come.

As he travels through history, Espinoza writes about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and how it devastated the gay community and subsequently changed the behavior of many gay men.  He writes that the massive losses of the time caused many gay men to turn to long-term monogamous commitments. He also writes of the history of online chatrooms and the gay hook-up apps of the day.

He writes that, “An argument can be made that, because of its ability to pre-screen and its exclusionary practice, using apps like Grindr does not qualify as ‘cruising.’”

He also writes about the drawbacks of using poplar gay hookup apps in repressive countries:

“…while such apps have helped people connect, they have also become tools for authorities. In countries like Russia and Uganda – the latter known as the most dangerous place in the world to be gay — the act of modern-day cruising, with its digital paper tail, can be a death sentence.”

But Espinoza also writes that the act of cruising is eternal:

“We are doing something we know is illegal and subversive. The act itself becomes a protest, an uprising. Cruisers are renegade outlaws. And like all revolutionaries, we continue moving between the light and the dark, our lives forever tethered to one another.

As it always has been.”

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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I was delighted to read this review in Sinister Wisdom, A Multicultural Lesbian Literary & Art Journal! These paragraphs are from the end of the review.

 

In this modern, provocative, deeply layered book, Mason presents allegory as powerful knowledge: how far or how little we can see and use this knowledge—depending on perspective—tells us how far we have come or how far we have to go—perspectives are the choices written between the lines, illuminating a different kind of spiritual guide, born from matrilineal teachings and ideas passed down and remixed into an inclusionary spirit of today, Mason uses exquisite story-telling skills to envision a place where a more just and equal world can co-exist with all its differences.

As the premise of the LGBTI movement as coalition goes, our alliances with different genders, colors, and religious belief—; Mason teaches us with a grace and vision as exquisite as it is otherworldly fun.

THEY reviewed in Sinister Wisdom, A Multicultural Lesbian Literary & Art Journal (http://www.sinisterwisdom.org/ ) by Roberta Arnold

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders Janet Mason New W

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This morning, I gave a talk for the annual Mother’s Day service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue in Northwest Philadelphia. I read about an interaction that I had with my mother – when I was a preteen – that I had never before written about or read.

Despite that I am a creative writer and that I have written extensively about my life, I have never written about the following incident with my mother.  I haven’t written about it because it is horrible in a way that could make you snicker when you say the word “horrible.” And I never wrote about it because I recognize that I am from that generation of women that has life so much easier than our mothers. I also recognize that my mother’s frustrations and, let’s call it what it was, her molten rage, forged me.

You can see my words below on the YouTube video or read the talk below that.

 

 

I’ve been teaching creative writing for about twenty years, and just the other night I had a first. A student – a woman who appeared to be in her late forties – stood up and walked out in the middle of the class. I had just given the assignment of writing dialogue.  I mentioned that the people could be real or imagined or it could be you responding to the voice in your head.

I was looking at this student carefully when I gave the assignment. That evening, in the beginning of class when we had our check ins, she mentioned that she had a very critical voice in her head that came from her mother, telling her that nothing she ever did was good enough.

This student is someone I identified as having great potential. I told her that the world needed to hear her story and I meant it. The next morning, I pondered over the fact that my writing class is so much like group therapy – but that my students have produced some excellent writing out of this experience.

When this student left, she told me that she wasn’t feeling well. But since it was two minutes into the writing exercise, I didn’t quite believe her. The next morning, my partner told me that maybe the exercise made my student feel sick and that sometimes we have to feel worse before we feel better. She also advised me that I should write the story about my mother that I had been talking about.

Despite that I am a creative writer and that I have written extensively about my life, I have never written about the following incident with my mother.  I haven’t written about it because it is horrible in a way that could make you snicker when you say the word “horrible.” And I never wrote about it because I recognize that I am from that generation of women that has life so much easier than our mothers. I also recognize that my mother’s frustrations and, let’s call it what it was, her molten rage, forged me.

Tea Leaves book cover -- inset photo 1929 Jane Mason

Tea Leaves is available through you local bookstore and online through Bella Books and other outlets: http://www.bellabooks.com/9781594932786-prod.html

I owe a great debt to my mother – to both of my parents really. My mother, in particular, raised me to be an artist. This incident that I have been referring to started when my mother found a toy gun in the backyard when she was gardening.  However, I didn’t know that it was a toy.

I was about twelve or thirteen — in the awful preteen years. My mother came in the house; held the gun to my head; and said, “If you don’t clean your room, I’m going to kill you.”

Now, this was about fifty years ago, before so much gun violence was in the headlines. But my mother’s frustration and rage was very real to me.

I remember crying, trembling, and pleading, telling her that I’d be a better daughter, if only she would put the gun down.  She let me cry, plead, and tremble for a little while longer and then she put the gun down and cheerfully said, “I was just kidding. It’s a toy, see?”

As a Unitarian Universalist and a writing teacher, I believe that everyone’s story is important.  This means that my mother’s story is important and that my story is important, too.

So this year, along with the flowers of Mother’s Day – let’s remember that motherhood at times can be frustrating and trying.  My maternal instincts have been – and still are – mostly toward my characters and to the protection of my writing time.  Coming out in the mid-eighties in my early twenties was, of course, complicated. But I distinctly remember the huge feeling of relief that came with knowing that I wouldn’t be expected to get married and have children.  Whew! Dodged that bullet!  But then everything changed.

When I was younger and mentioned motherhood as a possibility for myself, both of my parents wisely cautioned that motherhood wasn’t for everyone.  I still haven’t read too much into that.

When I was in my mid-thirties, my mother was dying. I, along with my father, cared for her. Her death broke me open and I wrote my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (published by Bella Books in 2012) about the maternal line of my family.

You’d think the incident with the toy gun would have made me change my pre-teen behavior.  And maybe I did clean my room after that.  But I rebelled so badly in my teen years, that I managed to erase all the voices in my head, including, one could argue, the voice of common sense.

But the voice I have in my head now is cultivated and wise.

I have no doubt that voice comes from my mother.

Namaste

 

 

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To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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