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Note: 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.)

One of the things that I value as a lesbian, is being connected to the rest of the world. Hence the rainbow flag and the saying that we are everywhere. We are. That fact led me to the novel that I was recently immersed in called Disoriental by Nagar Djavadi published in 2018 by Europa Editions.  It was translated from the French by Tina Kover.

That the narrator identifies as a lesbian, one could legitimately argue is a sub-layer of the book. But looking through this same prism through a different angle, one could argue that the narrator’s sexuality is critical.  Being a lesbian from an extremely homophobic culture gave the narrator an extra layer of courage to tell this important story.

disoriental

Disoriental, a finalist for The National Book Award, is the story of a young girl who grows up in revolutionary Iran and goes through the Iranian revolution with an inside view provided to her by her revolutionary father.  As a North American who was in college in the time of the Iranian revolution, I remember the media coverage and knew some of the facts including that the Shah was backed by the United States, but I did not know everything and have long been puzzled at the repressive outcome of the revolution.  As a result, this novel which was written with a protagonist who lived in Iran with her family who later were all forced into exile, was – for me – filled with “aha” moments. The protagonist’s revolutionary, intellectual father was opposed to the regimes of both the Shah and Khomeini.

The story is told through the lens of an adult woman, who is going through the medical process in France (the country she and her family was exiled to) to become a parent. The narrator writes that she always valued childhood as the best part of life and has long been determined to continue her line through giving birth.

I was particularly impressed with Djavadi’s handling of the importance of history and how personal history intertwines with world events. The writing of this novel caused her to reflect on the human rights violations against LGBT people in her native land:

“In Iran, homosexuality is considered a supreme violation of God’s will, and is a crime punishable by death. Women as well as men, sometimes only teenagers, are blindfolded and hanged from cranes in public. Homosexuality is generally not cited as the main reason for these executions, due to pressure from Western countries and the fear that these acts will damage their complex relationships with Iran. In any case, it’s estimated that, since 1979, more than four thousand of these public hangings have taken place.”

Reality is rarely comforting, but it is necessary. I was riveted by Disoriental and turning its pages I pondered the mysterious forces of fate and existence and the importance of familial bonds – in particular, the book raises the bonds between fathers and daughters.  Ultimately, I found it to be not only a very good read — but a work of literature that brought me to reflect more keenly on my own life.

 

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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Pissing off the religious right has long been a given in my life. But I have to admit to being a little rattled by the following retweet on Twitter of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret gender (Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon) :

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.” Revelation 22:18. (I know you don’t believe any of it but you’re in for a big shock. Enjoy your diseases!”

I have to admit that I don’t understand all of it – but it does sound unmistakably right wing.  I didn’t check the accuracy of the “prophecy” so I don’t know if it actually exists or if someone made it up.

But I do understand the phrase “enjoy your diseases.”

This is one of the times, I remember the words of my long-time friend the poet Jim Cory, who wrote in a poem, “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Think about it.

What is it about LGBTQ rights that makes you uncomfortable? Really think about it.

I wonder why I received this message today.  THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders was published in 2018.  It has been out for a while.  But why today – is it because the “United” Methodist Church decided to strengthen its bigotry against the LGBTQ community?

I wasn’t surprised to learn that its membership has been declining for some time now.  I’ve known more than a few Methodists over the years. They are good people who are praying for the fate of the LGBTQ people in their church. I’m not faulting individual Methodists.  At the same time, I’ve never been able to figure out how they can support such a rigid and bigoted hierarchy. I remember the 2005 inhumane treatment and defrocking of Beth Stroud, a former lesbian Methodist minister and neighbor. I remember the televised Methodist trial.  It was truly abhorrent.

It’s true that time will change everything, but in the meantime many children will suffer in thinking they are sub-standard human beings.

I will continue to lobby for the rights of those in my LGBTQ community. I will continue to be on the right side of history.  I am a Unitarian and Unitarians don’t believe in hell.  I can’t be threatened with it.

I’ll pray for you.

 

Here’s my tweet that was retweeted with the message.

Pleased to announce that my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books NY/Lisbon)(print & e-Book) is now available online & @ bookstores!

#Pushcartnominee
A
#queer bible story, #UU inspired

 

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Many thanks to Bill Berry, Jr., CEO of aaduna, Inc., for featuring my novel THEY in his literary magazine where he published one of the first excerpts and nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. You can read more below.

 

In 2015, aaduna published a novel excerpt by Janet Mason that was later nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  The excerpt (published in aaduna’s Summer/Fall 2015, Volume 2,Number 2 issue) titled, “The Mother” begins Book Two (the second and final part ) of THEY, Mason’s new novel that is a biblical tale of secret genders recently published by the small new press, Adelaide Books, New York/Lisbon in 2018.

 

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

Janet Mason

Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon – ISBN – 9780999516430

281 pages/ $22.30 US

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available as a print or e-Book on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/They-Biblical-Tale-Secret-Genders/dp/0999516434/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1544295095&sr=1-1-spelland  and other places online where books are sold.  It is also available through your local bookstore.

“THEY is a groundbreaking work that will prove to be lifesaving for those in the LGBTQ community and enlightening and liberating to others.

“In this novel, we met Tamar from the Hebrew Bible. Tamar lives as a hermit in the desert, is content with her life and is happily barren. She is attached to her pet camel. Her aversion to goat sacrifices becomes so strong that it prompts her to become a vegetarian. Tamar has a twin sister Tabitha who becomes pregnant after seducing a young muscular shepherd. Tamar plots with Tabitha to trick Judah (a patriarch from the Bible) into believing that the baby is his so that she can have status in society rather than being burnt at the stake. Tabitha gives birth to twins. Tamar becomes attached to the children (born intersex), who call her auntie, and follows their line of intersex twins.”

To read more (including a snippet from the story “The Mother” originally published by aaduna, click here.

 

Janet-Mason-THEY

I am revising my novel Pictures and decided to post this YouTube video of the chapter that was inspired by a photo that I found of Tina Modotti and Frida Kahlo.

Very shortly after I finished the first draft of my novel Pictures a year or so ago,  I heard from David Acosta (formerly known as Juan David Acosta) who invited me to be one of the readers at his new series at Casa de Duende. The piece that I read was a chapter set in Mexico which features the characters Frida and Tina.  The YouTube video, below, includes David’s wonderful introduction. If I were to rate this YouTube piece, it is definitely PG-plus.  It’s called “Ecstasy” and is influenced by lesbian sex, philosophy and LOVE.

You can view my reading on the YouTube video or read the piece below that.

 

 

Pictures, a novel by Janet Mason

(Chapter Nine)

January, 1927

 

“Oops,” laughed Tina, as she sat in the dinghy. She threw the rope again. Leaning over the side, she tied the rowboat onto some of the island’s thick vegetation.

Tina scrambled out of the boat and stumbled onto the small, square island.

“It’s okay,” said Frida. She had climbed out of the boat first a few moments ago and now sat cross-legged on the island. “The island is naturally spongy. Let yourself descend into it.”

As if to demonstrate, Frida started to sink.

She leaned back and stretched out. Lying on top of the vegetation, face up, she sunk slowly until she was barely visible.

Tina stretched out. She looked up at the juniper trees on the other side of the canal. The trees reached straight up into a sky blazing yellow and blue. The junipers looked like tall bottle brushes. Frida had steered their rowboat into a side canal where there were no other boats.

Tina kept sinking in the vegetation until she felt solidness under her. It felt like the island was built on a block of earth under the vegetation.

“Here I am,” said Frida.

Tina realized that Frida was lying alongside of her.

There was a rustling. Tina saw a hand and then a face. Tina pushed aside the vegetation between them.

The roughness of Tina’s dungarees rubbed against the light fabric of Frida’s dress.

“Don’t worry about touching me,” said Frida huskily.

“It doesn’t look like I have a choice,” replied Tina. “Not that I mind,” she added playfully.

They were in Xochimilco, a borough on the outskirts of Mexico City. Edward had told Tina that the islands were once floating rafts where the Indians raised vegetables and flowers. He also said the Indians had put soil on the rafts to plant seeds and that the roots had migrated from the rafts to the soft loam at the canal bottom.

Xochimilco was located of the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco. The canals were part of the far-reaching system of waterways that connected the districts that made up what was known as the Valley of Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest in the early fifteen-hundreds.

When Tina was here with Edward, they had just drifted by on a canvass covered boat and admired the islands. Edward had wanted to come back with his camera, but he never did.  Probably he had been afraid of dropping it in the water. Tina had wanted to stay, but Edward insisted they leave. Xochimilco reminded her of the canals in Venice. She had gone there with her father when she was a child, when they still lived in Italy.

“Don’t worry about getting wet — at least not from the canal,” teased Frida. “Some people say that they are floating islands. But a woman whose family was here for generations told me that the islands are man-made extensions built up from the bottom of the canal bed. They were originally made with wire fencing used to contain the soil. The vegetation will hold us. You may have noticed that the vegetation starts above the water-line so we don’t have to worry about the water crashing down on us either. Since the vegetation is thick, no one can see us — even if a boat goes by.”

Tina looked up and saw a veil of lacey green. Yellow sun dappled through it. She was lying next to Frida on squashed vegetation, but it felt stable. Frida wrapped her arms around her. Tina felt secure.

“How do you know that no one can see us?” asked Tina.

“I’ve been here before,” said Frida.

Tina decided that Frida was more adventurous than Edward.

“I heard that some of the juniper trees are bare at the top, because the mistletoe is taking over,” stated Frida.

“Mistletoe?  Like the mistletoe that we had at Christmas in Italy?” asked Tina.

“That’s right,” replied Frida. “Like me, Mistletoe is from Mexico.”

“Then I guess I have to kiss you,” teased Tina.

“You don’t have to. But you can if you want. My guess is that you do.”

Coming out in a growl, Frida’s voice sent a thrill through Tina. She did want to kiss Frida — and more.

“How did you know?” asked Tina.

“I see you looking at me. Besides, you’re always wearing dungarees. You know what they say about women who wear trousers.”

“Mmmmm,” murmured Tina. “Maybe you’re right, but what about Diego?”

“What about him?”

“You told me that you’re in love with him.”

“Mmmm…” Frida closed her eyes and ignored Tina’s question.

Tina didn’t know why she was worrying about Diego. She had modeled for him and they had been lovers. It was around the time that Edward left for good. Edward had thought the world of Diego. After Tina had secretly become involved with Diego, Edward seemed to start losing respect for him. One time she overheard Edward referring to Diego as “the elephant.” It was what people — including his so-called friends — called Diego behind his back. Tina wondered if Edward suspected she and Diego of having an affair. She didn’t feel guilty. Her body was hers to make love to whomever she desired. Besides, she knew for a fact that Edward had other lovers.  Diego wasn’t her type. She preferred men who were slender and slightly effeminate. But Diego was a great artist. And she could tell that he wanted her. That was always part of the allure.

She met Diego when she was photographing Mexican murals. Then she had befriended his wife Lupe. Lupe was pregnant and suspected Tina and Diego of having an affair. Diego said his marriage was coming to an end anyway. Tina felt bad about Lupe. But at least her affair with Diego had helped Lupe end a bad marriage. Tina lost interest in Diego about the same time that Lupe left. Maybe it was because she didn’t want him getting any ideas about settling down with her. She didn’t believe in marriage. It was just legalized ownership of a woman by a man.  Besides, even just being the lover of a great artist was overrated.

Tina met Frida through a friend who wanted Tina to see Frida’s paintings. Tina remembered being particularly struck with Still Life With A Parrot. Everything was perfect: the golden citrus fruits in the foreground, the slice of pink watermelon, the green parrot behind it perched on a purple guava fruit; the azure wall behind everything. Frida started coming to the small parties that Tina threw at her apartment. Frida had met Diego a few months after Tina had ended it with him. Tina could see sparks fly between them. Frida was beautiful and intense. Her dark eyes smoldered. Tina’s eyes followed Frida. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her? Tina was surprised when she realized that she wanted Frida. It wasn’t the first time she desired a woman, but it was rare.

She thought her feelings would pass. Frida was young. She could still be anything. But Tina could tell she was going to be a great artist. She was petite — especially compared with the mammoth Diego. But she was strong. She had muscles like steel. She looked like she could endure anything.

 

On the small island with the plants growing over them, Frida lay next to Tina. Tina parted the leaves that had sprung up between them. Even with her eyes closed, Frida looked like magic. Tina moved her face closer. Frida parted her lips.

It would be easy to kiss Frida — too easy.  Tina decided that first she would repeat her question.  She wanted to make Frida wait.

“What about Diego?”

Tina inhaled a scent that was green: like lush foliage and the loam that it sprang from. The musky scent smelled like Frida.

Frida’s almond shaped eyes flew open. Her shiny dark hair was parted in the middle and pulled straight back. Under her high, pale forehead, lush eyebrows looked like the top arches on the wings of a black swallowtail butterfly.

Frida raised and lowered her eyebrows in one movement.

“So, I love him. That doesn’t mean I can’t seek pleasure with others. You are here now. I am Mexican and I am an artist. I believe in free love. I am not a member of the bourgeoisie.  Besides, Diego doesn’t have to know.”

“But what if he figures it out?” answered Tina.

“He won’t, believe me. He’s too preoccupied with his work. He is like most men. He thinks all women are for him. We have some pleasure for ourselves. I have no need to confess. I had enough of that – having been raised in the church. The priests want to hear your sexual sins — so you commit them twice. Once in the doing – once in the telling. The church knows this. They count on the fact that the telling is often better. When you suppress something and feel shame about it, it’s bound to pick up more energy. Confession becomes an addiction.” Frida’s lips moved closer to Tina’s.

Tina inhaled Frida’s hot, sweet breath.

“Hmm, what you are saying makes perfect sense,” murmured Tina. “I always used to exaggerate my sins when I went to confession — to make them more interesting. I always thought the priests must be bored in those small boxes, just sitting in there and listening to people. Once I heard a priest snoring. I decided that I would give him a reason to stay awake. When I was a girl of twelve in Italy, before we moved to San Francisco, I made up a story for the priest about how I had to masturbate in order to go to sleep.”

“Did the priest tell you to drink a glass of hot milk instead?”  Frida snuggled closer.

“No, he didn’t,” replied Tina. “He didn’t say a word. I thought he had fallen asleep on me again. I kept talking. I gave him a very detailed description of how I rolled over and put the pillow between my legs and ground circles on it until I was lost in ecstasy. I think the priest liked hearing that from a young girl. But the funny thing was that I hadn’t done any of that. I had just heard my older sister moving around in her bed.”

Frida laughed and shifted closer. Tina’s denim clad thigh lodged between Frida’s legs.

Frida pulled her dress up and moaned.

“I’m getting wet,” she said. “But not from the canal.”

“But I am not done my story,” said Tina. “You will have to wait.”

She lifted her leg back so there was a small space between them. She thrust her hand into that small space and felt the wetness coming from the cotton crotch of Frida’s panties. She ran her hand up the front, feeling the outline of Frida. When she came to the elastic waist band, she slid her fingers underneath.

“Wait a minute,” Tina murmured. “I didn’t finish my story. I heard the priest breathing heavily. When he started breathing normally again, he told me that I wasn’t doing anything that other young girls didn’t do. But he said I mustn’t do it again. Then he told me to do twelve Hail Marys. I waited that night until just before I went to bed. I knelt beside the bed. I remember it like it was yesterday. A full moon was coming in the window. I did my penance — twelve Hail Marys — in my nightshirt. Then I climbed into bed and did exactly what I had told the priest. I ran my fingers over my sex. I pulled the pillow between my legs. Then I rolled over and made circles on it.  I must have been correct in my thinking about the mechanics of bringing myself to ecstasy.  The priest already gave me penance, so I did not feel ashamed as I made circle after circle with my hips.”

Tina petted Frida’s lush pubic hair. Frida was silky and wild. She writhed under Tina’s hand. Tina dropped her fingers down and put her middle finger into the wetness that was waiting for her.

“One more thing,” said Tina. She withdrew her finger.

“Please,” gasped Frida. “I want you inside of me.”

“Not so fast,” replied Tina. “I want to ask you one more question.”

“Anything,” moaned Frida.

“Anything?” asked Tina. “Let me think. Ah, I remember. If we don’t confess to anyone, then will it be our secret? When we look at each other, will we feel a current run down our bodies because only the two of us know this secret — only we know the pleasure that we bring to each other?”

“That’s right,” said Frida. “It will be our secret. Knowing that we share that secret makes it that much more pleasurable. The secret will always be there — when we speak to each other, when we look at each other, even when we are with our other lovers — maybe especially then.”

“Hmmm,” murmured Tina. “Especially then?”

“Yes,” said Frida. “That is part of why you want to kiss me. You are so beautiful that you are always surrounded by men. I was watching you with them and realized that you must get bored with men. You can have your pick of them, any day of the week, so what is the big deal?”

“Hmmm…,” said Tina, “so smart, so strong, so right.”

Her face shifted, just slightly. Her lips found Frida’s lips. Their lips parted. Tina started to put her tongue in Frida’s mouth. Frida was faster. Tina sucked on Frida’s tongue. Then she put her tongue in Frida’s mouth. Their tongues intertwined. Frida’s legs parted. Tina inserted two more fingers. Frida pushed her deep inside. Tina felt the lushness of Frida’s pubic hair on the palm of her hand. She slid her fingers back out. Then she felt the opening flower of Frida’s engorged clitoris and massaged it in circles. She felt the wetness that was Frida rain down. She plunged her fingers back in. The inside of Frida felt slippery and spongy. The vegetation pressed in on them. The wetness came not from the canal, but from their bodies, from the mystery of desire. Their faces parted.

Tina felt guitar strings vibrating under her nimble fingers as they moved to an ancient rhythm. Drums beat in the blood that rushed through her veins. Tina and Frida writhed. They panted. Their bodies moved as one. They danced a primal tango.

Frida threw back her head, opened her mouth and moaned with an intensity that felt like the world cracking open.

 

To read more excerpts — including published excerpts and to view another YouTube video of excerpts from pictures, click here.

 

Tina and Frida

I was very excited this week to give a reading from my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon) at the Penn Book Center.  I read with Anjali Mitter Duva who read from her novel faint promise of rain (She Writes Press).

It was very cold outside, but inside the bookstore it was warm and cozy. It was warm in many ways with many of my favorite books lining the shelves — and a few new ones that I did not know about.  There was a packed house and the reading was complete with snacks before the question and answer period.

Many thanks to the Penn Book Center (an independent bookstore on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania  campus — 34th and Sansom) and to the Working Writers Group that hosts the All But True reading series.

You can watch the reading on YouTube or read my selection from THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders below the video.

From Chapter Ten of THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

 

Maybe the passerby was just lost. There was no point in taking chances. Tamar brought a few clay pots outside with her. She started to rinse them out with a bucket of water from the well. They were just dusty so they didn’t need to be scrubbed. She rinsed the pots and kept her eyes on the horizon. The figure was close enough that she could make out that the rider was wearing a black and white striped robe. First, Tamar saw the brown veil draped across the rider’s face. Then she saw something bouncing up and down with the camel’s steps. The rider had breasts – and over them, silver necklaces, glinting in the sun, rose and fell.
Tamar held a clay pot on its side and washed out the inside even though it was already clean. She placed it in the sun to dry.
The visitor came closer and stopped. The camel knelt down and the visitor disembarked and stood in front of Tamar.
“Tamar,” said a husky, familiar voice. “It is me.”
Tamar was silent.
The rider took off her veil and revealed herself.
“Are you glad to see me?”
“I thought I’d never see you again,” said Tamar. She held her wet rag to the inside of a clay pot, swirled it around and set the pot in the sun.
“I needed some time to myself,” said Judith. “And in that time I realized that things were
different. I am different.” She reached down and put her hands on her stomach. There was a slight bulge. “For one thing, I am with child.”
“Are you sure?”
“It has been more than three moons since I last bled,” said Judith. “Plus I feel different. For one thing, I don’t have the sickness that I suffered the last six times. A child is stirring in me, and I am sure it is a girl. And there has been no one else but you.”
Tamar stared at Judith. Rubbish, she must of laid with someone — probably Bram, she thought.
She didn’t believe her. But happiness bubbled up in her and spilled over. Tamar was happy for Judith. She had helped Judith create a daughter — even if she had just paved the way by teaching Judith to silence the old voices in her mind and how to value herself as a woman.
“I see you are again wearing the silver necklaces that Bram gave you,” said Tamar.
Judith nodded. “I figured that it didn’t matter anymore — since I am with child. I am certain that it must be a daughter. And since I always liked the necklaces…”
While Judith was busy making excuses, Tamar remembered the words of one of the old woman from the province of Arzawa who told her that in the ancient days women gave birth to daughters without the intervention of men. The old women told her that many of the goddesses were born this way. Suddenly, Tamar felt as proud as a father announcing the birth of a son.
So, it is true, thought Tamar. But outwardly, she bristled. She was proud but, at the same time, she could not believe it.
“Are you sure you did not lay with Bram?” she asked.
“I am sure,” replied Judith. “I would’ve sent word, but if Bram finds out that I am with child, he will be angry. You know how men are. He will assume that I was unfaithful and lay with another man. And you know what happens to wives who commit adultery.”
Tamar nodded gravely.
“I have decided that I love you and want to live with you. I brought some of my belongings, enough for a few nights, in these baskets behind me. I can send for the rest. Bram is off on a journey to settle new lands. He probably won’t even notice that I am gone when he comes back.”
Tamar looked at the baskets. They were wide and deep. They looked full. Judith needed this much stuff for a few nights? How many more baskets would she send for? Tamar considered the fact that Bram was a powerful man. He would come for his wife, or send someone. He would find out that she was with child. He would have them both burned at the stake.”Wait a minute,” said Tamar, holding up her hand. “You belong with Bram. You created six sons together.”
“But I want to be with you. Your people are my people. I will lodge with you, and be with you always.”
Tamar was silent.

—-

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through bookstores and online where books are sold.  It’s also available through your local library.  If the library doesn’t already have it, just ask your librarian to order it.

For more information on THEY, click here.

 

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders

 

This week on the LGBTQ radio syndicate, This Way Out (TWO), lesbian author and playwright Vanda, reviews my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon).  The producer added the hymn “The Waters of Babylon” to the review.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

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

“What I liked most about the book was that I was a part of the discovery.  I would be reading about Tamar and her family and friends and then suddenly one of them would mention a relative or acquaintance who lived in another land; gradually I would come to realize this person was a famous Biblical character, for instance Naomi and Ruth from “I go whither you goest,” fame.

As a young teenager I was in search of answers, so I read the Bible from cover to cover twice. l   don’t know that I found any answers, but I enjoyed the stories. I was able to connect to those ancient people. The stories in They are told in simple, everyday language; they do not sound Biblical. They sound human.”

–reviewed by Vanda, author of The Juliana Series

To hear the entire review, click here

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through bookstores and online where books are sold.  It’s also available through your local library.  If the library doesn’t already have it, just ask your librarian to order it.

For more information on THEY, click here.

THEY Scottie

 

Many thanks to the Philadelphia Gay News for the article they ran this week before my reading at the Penn Book Center (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at the fiction series at the Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St., on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

Mt. Airy author Janet Mason is well known on the Philadelphia literary circuit and within the local LGBTQ community for her provocative writing that includes poetry, memoir and fiction. Her last book, “Tea Leaves,” won the Golden Crown Literary Award for lesbian memoir.

Mason’s new novel is set primarily in biblical times. “THEY: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders” (Adelaide Books, $22) is quite different from Mason’s other work. The novel details the story of Tamar of the Hebrew Bible and a twin sister Tabitha, Tabitha’s intersex twins and the dawning of the concept of defining male gender as preferential, along with the concept of gender as finite — two genders with no variants.

Mason, who will be reading (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at a fiction series at the Penn Book Center on Jan. 30, delves deeply into the variants with her lesbian protagonist and the character’s family.

It’s a complicated story that evolved over the past couple of years as Mason experienced her own awakening with regard to religion, the Bible and gender.

“I was raised secular,” Mason said. Her mother, the subject of “Tea Leaves,” was “a Bible-burning atheist.”

About five years ago, Mason joined the Unitarian Universalist Church where she became a lay minister.

they_cover1_300“I started reading the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, which I’ve always been curious about,” Mason said. “There is some great stuff in both books of the Bible, but there’s also a fair amount of misogyny and violence. I remember that in my high-spirited 20s, I announced at some opportune time that someone needed to rewrite the Bible.”

Mason says while reading the Bible for the first time, “I came across the story of Tamar in Genesis, the muse descended, and I was off and running. I was also influenced by taking yoga and developing a daily practice that included Buddhist meditation.”

Other influences included “knowing a young family on my block whose child transitioned at age 5 to become a happy little girl. I was also reviewing several books on trans issues,” Mason explained. “Later, when I was finished writing the novel, I found out that Biblical scholars — including a rabbi who published a piece in The New York Times — had found that the Hebrew Bible, in particular, did have original words such as ‘they’ to connote both and all genders.”

 At a time when the political climate has turned anti-LGBTQ and evangelicals seem to have taken ownership of the Bible, Mason said she wanted to “send the message that we are all valued. The evangelicals definitely don’t ‘own’ religion, even if they think they do. Many of their children are staying in the religion and changing it to be more liberal. And there are plenty of liberal religions — and they are changing, too.” Religion, she says, “is becoming more inclusive of LGBTQ people.”

For Mason, “Working on ‘THEY’ was my way of entering the stories and myths of the Bible made real to me by my imagination. My hope is that ‘THEY’ might be an opening for some to enter the stories and find that there’s room for them, too.”

Though Mason is currently promoting her new book with readings and book signings, she is also working on new projects, which include revising another novel titled “The Unicorn, The Mystery,” of which several sections were recently short-listed for the Adelaide Literary Prize.

“It’s a novel that is set in an abbey in medieval times where several nuns who happen to be in love with each other live. A monk and a talking unicorn narrate
the story.”

Mason will be reading (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at the fiction series at the Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St., on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

(interview by Victoria Brownworth for PGN)