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Posts Tagged ‘Gay Voices News’

It’s been a cold winter. Very cold. One of the things that I’m doing to keep warm is to take an imaginary LGBT cruise in my head — through books — to exotic lands.

The first stop was the land of queer history, which I entered by reading Katie Gilmartin’s mystery Blackmail my Love from Cleis Press. This who-dunnit traces a lesbian narrator, Josie, tracking down her gay brother’s disappearance in 1951 in San Francisco. The book begins with Josie donning her brother’s clothes, exploring gender as she interviews people who knew her brother. One person she talks to is a deeply closeted, gay, school teacher. At that time, gay school teachers had to keep their sexuality under wraps at all costs or lose their jobs. One of the chief misconceptions was that “homosexual” was synonymous with being a child molester. The thought of being thusly accused is at the heart of this gay teacher’s internalized homophobia. He watches himself scrupulously — his every movement. The story of intrigue also leads us through the underworld of gay bars. This page-turner of a mystery is rooted in historic fact and is a reminder of how LGBT people survived before gay liberation.

My next stop was sunny Thailand in Ladyboy and the Volunteer by Susanne Aspley (Peace Core Writers). I learned a little bit about the Peace Corps but far more about the culture of Thailand where sixty percent of foreign men entering the country participate in the sex industry. I also learned about “ladyboys”, who are male to female transgendered women, who in many ways are accepted in their culture. Many of the ladyboys participate in the sex industry to send money home to their families. In my favorite passage in the book, the straight but not narrow female narrator asks her ladyboy friends what their clients do when they find out. One replies:

When I do tell them, they get more excited, because they have never been with a ladyboy. Susan, all men are a little gay. Homo in some way. They just don’t admit it. When they travel to Thailand, no one knows them here, so they do things they would not do back home. Experiment.

When I picked up Love Together, Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen, I thought I would be reading about an experience vastly different than mine. But what I found was that as a lesbian in a long-term relationship (thirty years now and counting), I have a lot in common with these guys. The author interviews many couples by the length of time they have been together, starting with ten to twenty years and ending (in Section Six) with couples together sixty to seventy years. Overall, I enjoyed reading the commonalities between all the couples. Many talked about making each other laugh and gave commonsense advice such as being kind to your lover.

I loved reading the words of the men who had been together many decades — maybe because they had much wisdom to offer or because they made me feel young again (possibly both). In particular, I enjoyed reading the words of John McNeill described as “one of the true giants of the gay and lesbian community.” McNeill is a former priest and in 1976, penned the groundbreaking book The Church and the Homosexual. He’s been with his partner Charlie for almost fifty years. In the interview, he says:

Spiritually, I take very seriously that statement in the scripture that God is love. Any if anyone loves, they know God. I have always believed that this includes a gay love relationship, which is a genuine human love and therefore contains the Divine. It’s another way of knowing God. That certainly has been the fundamental belief system for me in my relationship with Charlie for the last forty-seven years.

The temperatures were dropping, but I was a little warmer when I came back from my cruise.

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In recognition of President Obama’s historic announcement on immigration reform, I’m reposting this piece that first appeared in The Huffington Post.

 

Like many LGBT Americans, I was profoundly moved by President Obama’s recognition of gays and lesbians in his inaugural speech. Even my straight-talking retired postal worker partner who usually has something to say about everything (when it comes to gay rights, her usual comment is “it’s about time”) sat quietly in front of the television taking it all in. It is about time and it is still amazing.

There were quite a few historic firsts at the inaugural ceremony, but the highlight for me was the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, the first Hispanic and the first openly gay poet to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. For me a poem is a slowing down of time, an opening, and a good poem always presents a teaching moment, that is once in a while life-altering, and leaves you experiencing the world differently.

There were two such moments within Blanco’s poem, “One Today,” and with the help of thecamera panning the immediate crowd, we can see the immediacy of those moments on the listeners. The first was when, Blanco recited the words “…. on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives– to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.”

The camera panned to Michelle Obama who looked up from her poetic reverie and opened her eyes when Blanco mentioned his mother. The look in her eyes was solemn, one that appeared to be based in compassion and identification.

The second teaching moment occurred closer to the end of the poem when Blanco was reading the words, “Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días in the language my mother taught me…” And then the camera panned to Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor. Shortly after the phrase “buenos dias,” he twitched. In all fairness, Cantor may have been twitching all day — it was cold and he couldn’t simply sit in his warm home and turn off the television like so many other Republicans undoubtedly did. And it could have been worse. If Blanco had read a poem with explicitly gay content, Rep. Cantor might have done more than twitch.

I had been wondering, how Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) could stand there and listen to Blanco’s poem and not be moved by it. I was profoundly moved. I was the first in my family to go to college and I was close to my mother. When I began to write my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012), I was primarily a poet. And even though I haven’t written poetry in years, I still have poetic sensibilities.

I wrote Tea Leaves to make some sense of losing my mother to cancer and being, along with my father, one of her primary caretakers. I also explore my working class background in this book, in particular writing about grandmother’s life who was a spinner in a textile mill in Philadelphia.

It is because of my class consciousness that Blanco’s poem resonated so strongly with me. Many immigrants have taken jobs that others would not do and whether it was picking fruit, packing meat, bagging groceries, or taking care of other people’s children they provide the services that this country could not do without. Then if they are “illegal,” they are deported or at least must always live in fear of deportation. Don’t we owe it to them to provide them with citizenship?

This week, both parties plan to introduce overhauled immigration legislation and they have the opportunity to do the right thing. Cantor, predictably, is solidly against immigration reform. His record speaks for itself. In 2007, he voted to declare English as the official language of the United States. In 2006, he voted yes on building a fence along the Mexican border.

More recently, Cantor was consistent in his conservative views in voting against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and in 2012 stated that taxpayer money should never be used to “kill innocent life” and in 2011 he voted in favor of banning federal health coverage that includes abortion.

There has been much talk about how Republicans lost the Hispanic and female vote in the Presidential election — and how they have to appeal to these groups of voters if they want to have a future as a viable party. While I have found these discussions interesting, I am not personally invested in the Republicans improving their lot.

But I do think that Republicans should do the right thing on immigration reform.

And if they do, then maybe some credit can be given Richard Blanco’s poetic moment.

In short, we are more alike than different. And if you doubt that, remember Blanco’s one word sentence,

Breathe.

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I was elated with the recent victory for same-sex marriage. The dominoes are falling — even if we still have a fight ahead of us. I was delighted to read, in Michelangelo Signorile’s post on the right’s new strategy, that one of the crusaders against gay marriage is “furious and stunned.” It is a complex issue — states rights vs. federal law and Signorile’s warning that “we had better pay attention” is an apt one.

I am a new convert to the cause of same-sex marriage. I have been a lesbian for most of my life and a second generation feminist. When I was young, I never dreamed of being married. When I came out (in the early 1980s), I was hugely relieved that I had dodged the matrimonial bullet.

It was only after turning 50, that I began to see the light. I was so hugely relieved — yes, relieved — when marriage became legal in the state in which I live, that I stopped to think about the fact of having lived under layers of oppression my entire life.

Recently, I read two books — Redeeming The Dream by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson and All I love and Know, a novel by Judith Frank — that put this into perspective.

Redeeming the Dream, The Case for Marriage Equality (Viking, 2014) tells the reader how two establishment lawyers, one liberal, one conservative, David Boies and Theodore B. Olson decided to work together to defeat Proposition Eight, a history making case that ended up at the Supreme Court of the United States along with Edith Windsor’s landmark case against DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act).

The book (complete with photographs) is a good primer on the history of LGBT rights as well as a compelling read about the behind the scenes context of this historic legal battle.

A central argument to the belief systems of the authors and the case was that the illegality of same sex marriage is related to bullying, hate crimes, and all other forms of discrimination that LGBT people face.

Another central argument is that everyone has a right to marry. The authors cite Loving vs. Virginia (the landmark case decided by the Supreme Court in 1967 which struck down laws against interracial marriage) as a legal precedent:

Loving had confirmed that marriage was a fundamental right, and that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited states from infringing on an individual’s right to marry without a sound basis.

 The central argument from the opposition was that marriage is for the purpose of procreation. After winning the case against Proposition Eight at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the proponents of Proposition Eight appealed and the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

When faced with the refutation of the procreation rationale, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan asked about the constitutionality of denying the right to marry to heterosexuals over the age of fifty five.

Justice Kagan interrupted to say, “No, really, because if the couple — I can assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of fifty-five, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

All I Love And Know, a novel by Judith Frank (HarperCollins, 2014) explores the lives of a gay male couple who unexpectedly become parents when one of character’s brother, who lived in Israel with his wife, was killed along with his wife by a suicide bomber. The brother and his wife had previously made arrangements for the gay brother and his partner to become the guardians of their two children, an infant boy, and a little girl with a developing and edgy personality.

In addition to dealing with their own tragic loss, the two men are suddenly faced with the reality of becoming parents. The novel is multi-layered, the writing is illuminating and compelling (and takes up the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and the issue of gay marriage doesn’t come up until late in the story. However, the two gay men continually face the issue of homophobia. The (non-Jewish) partner of the man whose brother was killed does his best to become a good parent (and is, in fact, a natural) — but a rift develops between them based, in part, on the discounting of their relationship.

It is a novel about many things but mostly it is about family — including the legal ties that bind a family.

The novel is set in Israel and Northampton, Massachusetts, at the same time that Massachusetts is the first U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

At the risk of revealing too much I will say that the little girl with the very big personality is thrilled that these two men can get married.

And that is what it is all about.

 

first published in The Huffington Post

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I hope you will join me and my partner, Barbara McPherson (on percussion) for a Pride poetry performance at

Moonstone Poetry @ Fergies Pub

Wednesday June 25th at 7 pm

1214 Sansom Street.
Philadelphia, PA 19102

“Love and Marriage” with Janet Mason and Barbara McPherson

Celebrate Pride with an evening of poetry and percussion and a reading from Janet’s recently completed novel:

Art, a novel of revolution, love and marriage

Janet Aalfs (far left), Renee Bess, Judith Witherow and Janet Mason at Big Blue Marble Books

Janet Aalfs (far left), Renee Bess, Judith Witherow and Janet Mason at Big Blue Marble Books

It was pleasure to emcee a wonderful reading last weekend with Janet Aalfs, Renee Bess, and Judith Witherow at the Big Blue Marble bookstore in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia.  I also read with Maria Fama and Judith Witherow on Saturday afternoon at The Wooden Shoe Bookstore on South Street. Both event were wonderful and it was good to be in the company of good friends and good discussion.

 

Janet Mason emceeing reading at Big Blue Marble Books

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“So are we all legally married?” was the question that I posed to our long-time friends, Mary and Joanne, and my partner as we all drove to a Thai restaurant. Last summer, the four of us went to the Montgomery County Courthouse when a judge went rogue, got married, and afterwards went to a nearby Thai restaurant.

“I don’t know,” replied Mary with characteristic drollness. “But I don’t think it’s fair to call Pennsylvania ‘Pennsyltucky’ anymore since Kentucky struck down its same sex marriage ban.”

This time we were having Thai again and had lots to catch up on after the long cold weather that kept us in our respective homes. My partner Barbara and I have been together for 30 years and Mary and Joanne have been together for nearly as long. We have known each other for decades. Joanne and Barbara used to work together at the Post Office.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon sitting on the patio behind Mary and Joanne’s lovely home. We talked about many things — chiefly about how we all were living on less money (both of us consist of one partner who is retired and the other self employed) and how we actually have a higher quality of life.

Gradually, the talk turned to marriage.

We all agreed that same-sex marriage is redefining the institution of marriage. For one thing, we are not taking each other’s last name. (Straight women often disappear into their husband’s last name — unless they choose to keep their own.) As lesbian-feminists, all of us dislike the word “wife” and refuse to use it to describe ourselves.

We were having such a good time sitting in the sun and laughing, that we forgot to check the news, even though we knew that the ruling on the PA constitutional ban against same sex marriage was due soon. It wasn’t until my partner and I had had left and were driving down the street, that Joanne came running after us and told us the good news.

I gave my friend a high five, kissed my partner (now my legal partner/spouse), and as we drove home, we joked about putting a sign and a trail of tin cans on the back of our car.

“Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 U.S states and the District of Columbia: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington,” according to CNN.

The Huffington Post quoting the Associated Press, explains:
“Pennsylvania’s ban on gay marriage was overturned by a federal judge Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III called the plaintiffs — a widow, 11 couples and one of the couples’ two teenage daughters — courageous.
‘We now join the 12 federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage,’ Jones wrote.
An appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely. Gov. Tom Corbett’s office had defended the law after Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it unconstitutional and refused to defend it.
State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
In all, 18 states give legal status to gay marriage. If Jones’ decision stands, Pennsylvania would become the 19th and legalize gay marriage throughout the Northeast.”

The ACLU has an online petition requesting that the PA Governor (who is running for re-election this year) respect all families in the state by not appealing the ruling. I signed the petition and hope you will too.

I have to admit it feels good to have equal rights.

(from The Huffington Post)

Post Script:  Today (5-21-14), I read the news that the PA Governor is not going to appeal the ruling.  Now it feels REALLY good to have equal rights.

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from The Huffington Post

I knew about Edmund White as a writer long before I read his books. I knew that he was a gay icon and had written many books, fiction and nonfiction. I knew that he was especially known for his coming of age novel, A Boy’s Own Story, written in 1982, around the time that I came out. I knew that he had lived in Paris for a time and had written a biography of Jean Genet, the controversial French poet, playwright and novelist who was born in 1910.

When I heard about White’s latest book, Inside a Pearl, My Years in Paris (2014, Bloomsbury), I decided that it was time to read Edmund White. As a lesbian writer, even as one who has known many interesting people, I have very little in common with White. When I started reading Inside a Pearl — which is replete with namedropping — complete with a description of one of Elton John’s parties, this became clear to me. But for whatever reasons I have long been interested in Paris thanks to Gertrude Stein and the Left Bank Sapphic crowd — I kept reading. And what I found was an Edmund White I could relate to — one who could lay his life on the page.

It was when I read about White’s experiences as a caretaker of friends and lovers with HIV and being HIV positive himself — along with the ups and down of his friendships with both men and women — that I began to relate to him. His vulnerabilities made him human. He ruminates about his decision to live in Paris:

“I asked myself why I was here. Sure, I’d won a Guggenheim and a small but regular contract with Vogue to write once a month of cultural life. Right now I was writing a piece about why Americans like Proust so much. Back in America I’d worked around clock heading the New York Institute for the Humanities and teaching writing at Columbia and New York University. I never seemed to have time for my own writing. When I was president of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the biggest and oldest AIDS organization in the world, I hadn’t liked myself in the role of leader; I was power mad and tyrannical… And secretly I’d wanted the party to go on and thought that moving the Europe would give me a new lease on promiscuity. Paris was meant to be an AIDS holiday. After all, I was of the Stonewall generation, equating sexual freedom with freedom itself. But by 1984 many gay guys I knew were dying in Paris as well — there was no escaping the disease.”

White goes on to write about his life in Paris about the friendships that he forged, many through his writing projects, about his lovers — his “great love” was “from Zurich, the manager of a small chain of Swiss cinemas, whom I met in Venice” — and his familiarity with French customs. “The French seldom drank after the wine was cleared away with the meal — wine is a good, not a conversation enabler to be poured hours after the dinner.”

He also writes about the European tradition of older gay men calling their younger lovers, their “nephew.” He writes about an interaction between two gay men when one says to the other, “Do you know my nephew?” and the other replies, “Yes, he was my nephew last year.”

He writes about taking care of his former lover turned friend John Purcell who was in the advanced stages of AIDS. White tells us that he told John he would take him anywhere he wanted:

“India? France? He chose Disney World in Orlando. I thought it might be a hoot, but I found it boring and tacky. At Epcot, we went to some horrid replica of the Eiffel Tower when we’d lived in the real Paris for years.”

When White lived in Paris, he took many trips to England. He recounts the conversation at one London party. “Pat (who was notorious is London literary circles for her affair with Jeanette Winterson), looked around and said, “What’s annoying about Paris is that every woman looks like a lesbian but none is.” White goes on to write, “Pat was one of my favorite people.”

In his sardonic style, White introduces us to the cast of characters that he has met and interacted with on the road of life. Not surprisingly, many, such as Susan Sontag, did not like being written about in his previous works and he writes about that also. It is true that Edmund White has been in the company of many well-known people. But Inside a Pearl left me with was a deeper knowing of Edmund White, the gay icon, the writer, the human being.

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from The Huffington Post

I was reminded of the quote from the late poet Muriel Rukeyser — ”What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open” — when I read Judith K. Witherow’s collection of essays, Strong Enough To Bend, Twin Spirits Publishing, 2014. Then when I read The Rules by S. Renee Bess, a novel published by Regal Crest Enterprises, 2014, I was reminded of this quote again.

Judith and Renee are both lesbian writers who bring their truth home through their writings.

In her collection of essays, Strong Enough To Bend, Judith K. Witherow describes herself as a “back up writer, one of many who stand in the background, providing the harmony and staging the recognition for those whose names are on the covers of the books or the mastheads of the publications.”

She describes Strong Enough to Bend as her solo performance. And what a performance it is. I found that I could not put Strong Enough To Bend down — except for time to recollect how much the essays reminded me of friend’s lives and my own.

Native American lesbian and truth teller, Witherow starts her collection with essays on her background being raised poor in the northern Appalachian mountains.

“We never lived in a place that had screen doors or screens in the windows. This allowed everything, including snakes, to come and go at will. We learned at an early age to pound on the floor before getting out of bed.”

In the second section, Judith talks about how she came out with three sons that she gave birth to during a marriage to an abusive man. Raising her sons in the 1970s a time when lesbians were losing their children to custody battles with ex-husbands, presented Judith with an ongoing dilemma of when to officially come out to her children. It’s not surprising that her three sons, who were raised by Judith and her long-term partner, Sue, knew that their mother was a lesbian far before she told them and were fiercely protective of their two mothers.

She devotes another section of the book to her multiple health issues which stem, no doubt, from her poverty ridden childhood, and to her struggles with the medical establishment. In 1979, Judith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Judith’s health issues are numerous and it is clear that we are lucky to have her with us on this planet. Hers is a voice that we were not meant to hear.

A strong feminist, Judith is a role model for valuing herself. In the 1996 U.S. presidential election, Judith was a write-in candidate prompted by her belief that she “was the best qualified of any of the candidates. Her belief was bolstered by,

“Clinton’s first shot at four years of Democratic leadership…Don’t Ask Don’t Tell sounds like a warmed over version of the Reagan’s ‘Just Say No.'”

When I read The Rules, a novel by S. Renee Bess, I was reminded that truth can be found in fiction. Ranee is a Black lesbian and in these pages we meet an assortment of characters, most of them Black lesbians, at least one of whom lives by the rules — meaning that she lives her life by a certain code of ethics but sometimes she is confused by what the rules are. The protagonist, a woman by the name of London, defends herself to her long-term lover who is leaving her.

“What do you mean?”
“You don’t seem sure about your blackness.”
“What are you talking about. I know I’m black.”
“Do you? You could have fooled me. Most of your friends aren’t black. You don’t talk like a black person. You couldn’t even keep working for a black-owned construction company.”
“My friends are all different colors. I speak the way I was taught to speak, and I left Clive Wittingham’s firm because I wasn’t climbing the ladder there, not because I didn’t want to work for a back man’s company.”

Two of the characters are profoundly influenced by their childhoods — and in fact we meet them as children when they were friends. As adults they are joined by a cast of characters complicated by intrigue and lesbian love. Equally intriguing to me was the prism of race and class.

I read this lesbian duo back to back and when the last page was turned, I felt the world split open — just a little.

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