Posts Tagged ‘history’

Following is a YouTube video of me reading from Catwalk a new novel that I am currently revising.  The same story — that of revisiting and revising Sodom and Gomorrah — is printed in my blogpost below the video.

Based on a fictional interpretation of the life of my maternal grandfather,  Catwalk opens in 1927 when Joseph leaves his wife and two daughters to find himself.  He is in love with his best friend Vince, but does the love that dare not speak its name exist in the 1920s?

It does – in speakeasies, honky tonks, in the back rows of silent film houses, the alleyways near Times Square, between sailors in Gulfport, Mississippi and in the Merchant Marine where Joseph and Vince enlisted at the beginning of the Great War. Still, Joseph is torn between being a “normal man”  (in the vernacular of the time) and a “degenerate.” He tells himself that he is not a “fairy.”  He just loves Vince. He day dreams about the two of them setting up house, and  having a life together.

But this son of a Southern Baptist deacon raised in Biloxi, finds himself constantly at odds with his own demons.  Catwalk is a tale of romantic adventure where historic settings come to life. This excerpt of Catwalk takes place when Joseph falls asleep on the beach in Biloxi Mississippi and dreams of a different world.




Joseph opened the car door and stepped out onto the shoulder of the road. He walked around the front of the car to the beach. He felt the sand sink under his shoes. Unsteadily, he put one foot in front of the other and walked to the water’s edge. He relieved himself and when he was done he staggered backwards and found himself sitting on dry white sand. He sat cross-legged and dug his right foot into the sand.  A clump of sand fell into his shoe. Joseph reached down and untied his shoe. He took it off and held the black leather shoe upside down. He emptied the sand onto the beach. He put the narrow toed shoe on again and tied the laces tightly. He ignored the grains of sand clinging to his pant legs. He tied his shoes. He felt the sand in his shoe again. Joseph started to reach for his shoe to empty it out again but let it go. What did it matter?
He stared up. Bright stars punctured black sky. Vince was out there somewhere.  Perhaps he was looking at the stars, too. Joseph wanted to stop thinking about Vince, but he couldn’t think of anything else. Joseph clutched his hand to his chest and rocked back and forth. He rarely cried. He didn’t even cry at his mother’s funeral. But now he was alone in the dark. He was drunk. He spent the day with a cadaver that looked like Vince. Joseph could still smell the acrid scent of the embalming fluid. Joseph looked to his left at the sand dunes and then to the right at the vaults and tombstones. He twisted around and stared back at a vault that was behind the tombstones at the top of the beach. The cross atop the vault shimmered.
Joseph was alone with the tiny white stone house of death that was waiting for him. A flash of inspiration came to him. The only way that he could escape his memories of Vince was to leave Biloxi. Vince’s presence was too strong here. The two of them had grown up here together as boys. They had run off together and joined the Merchant Marine when they were young men. As adults, they had talked about returning to Biloxi.
Joseph lay down on the sand and curled into a fetal position. The humid summer’s night air wrapped around him like a blanket. He shut his eyes and listened to waves wash over pebbles. His crossed his arms so that they made an X across his chest. The fingertips of his left hand burrowed into cool grains of damp sand. He fell asleep and dreamed that he was standing in the cemetery with a shovel.  He was digging into the sand — digging and digging.  A familiar voice called. It was deep and pleasant   But it was distant. Joseph had to find Vince. The voice brought back everything that he had ever loved. They had been boys together, sitting next to each other in church, swimming through the waves to a deserted isle where they could pretend they were shipwrecked sailors. Vince was a part of him.  His voice brought everything back: Vince being bullied when he was a boy; the scar that was left on his cheek when Joseph had defended him — the two of them becoming fast friends, boys growing to men. The first time they had made love was in the memories of sea foam. Even Joseph’s jealousies of Vince’s girlfriends seemed important now. He realized that this had been part of the love that formed him, before and after they had joined the Merchant Marine.  Their shared experience of being fathers was part of their love for each other, too.  Vince was at his happiest when he had become a father, twice over.  Joseph had been genuinely happy for him. He had almost been as happy when his own children were born.
Vince called to him in a deep, melodious voice that was separate from Joseph but part of him, too. The voice was louder with every shovel full of sand that Joseph dug up and flung over his shoulder. He began digging faster, faster. The voice still sounded like it was far away. He dug the hole so deep that he could no longer reach the bottom. Joseph thought he saw translucent arms reaching toward him from the hole. They were attached to broad shoulders, a barrel chest. Joseph saw Vince’s olive skinned face with the scar above his cheek.  His mouth was open. He was calling to Joseph. Joseph could see Vince’s chiseled face, but Vince looked like a ghost. Joseph hoped that Vince wasn’t dead.
Like a man dying of thirst, Joseph peered at the apparition. His eyes were that parched for a glimpse of Vince. Suddenly the apparition became filled with blinding light. Joseph stared into the light. He saw that it was a tall figure with wings the span of an Albatross.

angel in city
Joseph realized, as he stared into the light, that it was Vince disguised as an angel. Vince was one of the angels who came to visit Lot in Sodom. But instead of an angel disguised as a man, he was a man disguised as an angel. But it wasn’t one angel that visited Lot. There were two angels. Joseph knew that Vince was alone and lonely. He was searching for Joseph. Joseph could be the other angel. They would be together again. Together they had visited Sodom where the neighboring men from the town had knocked on Lot’s door, saying that they wanted to “know” the angels. But in his version of the story, the angels would leave together, arm in arm, rather than assisting God in burning down Sodom and Gomorrah.
They would leave together and fly off with their Albatross wings to a land in the clouds where two men could love each other. Their love would be bright and true.  Their love would be so strong that it could change everything, including a world that denied they existed.
Joseph only had to tell Vince that their love could change everything — that they could create a world that was so good it was brilliant.
If only Joseph could touch him. Joseph cast down his shovel and dove into the hole. When he reached the dazzling angel that was Vince, he fell right through him. It was as if he was plunging through flaming hoops at the circus.  Yet the flames did not burn or scorch him. The fire cleansed him. It was as if he were precious metal. He could feel the dross dropping away. His intent was purified.
The Bible said that Godly fire would consume the wicked, but not the righteous.
His love for Vince was righteous.
He fell through the light into the darkness.  As he entered the darkness, he knew that his love was as pure as the fire of God. Vince returned that love. They would be reunited.  Together they would spread the gospel of love.
Love was the energy that created the world.
The fire did not destroy him.  It fueled him.  He would find Vince. He had faith in the power of love. He would seek love, and he would be rewarded in this life and the next.
His joy would be fulfilled through Vince. This was his word.
Joseph tumbled heels over head through the long tunnel that he had dug.  The apparition of Vince and the blaze of the angel vanished.  But Joseph could hear Vince calling to him from far in the distance.
“Joseph. Joseph.”
Joseph kept falling through darkness.
“Joseph. Come closer. Closer.”
Joseph kept falling. He created a V with his arms behind him so that he could fly more smoothly with the wind rippling off his body. He was no longer falling. He was soaring downward.
Vince was somewhere in this tunnel.  Together, their love would illuminate the darkness.
Joseph kept soaring.  He was determined to find Vince — even if he had to plunge straight through to the other side of the earth.


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Note:  this review is being aired this week on the international LGBTQ radio syndicate This Way Out, headquartered in Los Angeles. To listen to the entire news wrap, click here.

One evening before a local class that I teach, I was telling an adult student that I review LGBT books.  I live in a very diverse area where it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re gay and I’ve been coming out to my students for so long that it feels like breathing.

This particular student was a little different than the others. She was around my age – so if she had done her homework or at least paid attention over the years – she would have known that they was a time not so long ago when coming out was not so easy.

She sniffed (in a way that let me know she didn’t have a cold) and responded, “Really – only LGBT books? –“  then without pausing, she added (rather disdainfully I thought), “I guess that’s your thing.”

pride parade black and whiteWhat I didn’t say to my student is that I find LGBT books to be more interesting. I want to know how people survive – and often thrive — outside the box in a culture that is based on conformity.  I didn’t say this, because my student might find to be a defensive statement.  Maybe it is.  Perhaps it is because I am a lesbian that I find diversity to be more interesting. I am the first to admit that I like to see myself reflected on the page.  But I am also captivated by the lives of imaginary characters who are different than me.

Recently, I opened the pages of a book that had come across my desk and was reminded of this. The book is titled Acquaintance, a novel (part of Medicine for the Blues trilogy) and is by Jeff Stookey (PictoGraph Publishing in Portland Oregon, 2017). The book is a historical novel set in the early 1920s and the protagonist is a doctor who happens to be gay and is complete with references to artistic giants and gay icons Eakins and Whitman.

It is a love story written in a time when gay love was clandestine. And as the author writes:

“Love stories get especially messy when the love is forbidden.  The story of Romeo and Juliet would have been a simple one is their families had not made their love dangerous.  But love will flourish, even when it is forbidden.”

In the novel, I learned about gay life way before the liberation of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. I also learned about the medical profession, fishing, Portland Oregon, music – especially jazz – and the origins of the Ku Klux Klan.  There’s an interesting subplot regarding the connection between racism and homophobia and another subplot addresses the realistically drawn lesbian couple in the narrator’s life – of whom he is jealous of before he settles down with his male partner. Acquaintance is a well-developed and interesting page-turner, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

So, as I answered my adult student, LGBT literature is “my thing.”  Not only does it contain our history, but it proves that yes, we do exist. And because of this, we make things more interesting.

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keeping our dreams intact when we are forced to work mind-numbing jobs

This morning, Sunday September 3rd, I co-led a Unitarian Universalist service on Labor Day Weekend.  The theme was labor.  As part of this service, I read from my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

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



Good morning.


Today on Labor Day weekend our theme is labor.  I immediately thought of this section of my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters. This is a story about the survival of how we keep our dreams intact when we are forced to work mind-numbing jobs.


My mother and I both stared at the iron legged ottoman, covered with a faded tapestry that my grandmother wove more than a half century ago.  Whenever I looked at the patterns of the ottoman, the faded edges and the lines of darker colors, I saw my grandmother, a single mother who worked in the Kensington section of Philadelphia in a textile factory.

My grandmother was a woman of great dignity.  The Episcopal Church, especially after she had divorced and returned to the city, was one of the major pillars in her life.  I don’t know, in fact, that she was particularly religious.  But I remember visiting Saint Simeon’s with her, and I could see the appeal of the church, especially to a poor woman who had little, if any, luxury in her life.

She might have been saying prayers that she no longer believed in as she sat there, her head bowed and covered, next to her two girls—my mother squirming in the aisle seat and my aunt sitting next to her daydreaming as she stared at the stained glass windows. The shiny brass organ pipes reached to the ceiling and looked as beautiful as sound.  The pews were polished mahogany, the wood smooth and cool. The scent of incense and flowers permeated the air.   All St. Simeon’s needed was some red-velvet seat cushions and gilded cherubs on the ceiling and it could have been easily transformed into the sensuous lair of an opera house or, perhaps, a bordello. Sundays at St. Simeon’s was a respite from the rest of my grandmother’s life.


Her days in the textile mill encompassed her like the full spectrum of shadow falling from a sundial.  The morning light filtering through the small windows of the dark mill would have been diffuse.   Her hair would have been tied back into a bun as the light fell around her.  She would have bent over the heddles that kept the warp lines in place as she threaded the machine.  The colors on the ottoman— rust red, dusty blue, olive green, black—would have filled the spindles that unraveled furiously into the automated looms as her hands kept pace.  When the morning light turned into afternoon and the heat rose in rivulets of sweat dripping from her skin, my grandmother would have reminded herself that she was lucky to have found a job.  The soup lines were getting longer.  The unemployed and the homeless were marching in the streets.  Even if my grandmother didn’t know anyone who committed suicide, she would have read the listings in the daily papers.

I wondered what it was like for my grandmother, a woman with dreams and aspirations, a woman whose life dictated that her only option was to work in a mill or to clean someone else’s house, which was what she did after she left the mill. Did her dreams keep her going through the tedium of her life?  Or did knowing that her dreams would never come true make her life close to unbearable?  And if her life was unbearable, what kept her going?  Did the thought of her girls having better lives make it all worthwhile?

When my grandmother worked at the textile mill, she was a woman who was no longer young but not yet old.  She still had her girlhood daydreams as an escape from the pure tedium of her life.  At the same time, the features of her face would have been hardening themselves into the lines of her future.  Her lips may have opened easily in laughter, but they were on their way to becoming a stitch in the center of her face.

My mother told me that when she was a girl my grandmother would tell her stories about her own childhood when she and her cousin took bit parts in the People’s Theater, the local community theater.

My grandmother’s memories would have swirled through her mind as she stood sweltering in the textile mill, reloading the spools that needed to be filled faster than her fingers could go. Her back might have been aching and her fingertips numb—she might have been wondering how she could afford to pay the rent—but in her dreams she was stately as a queen as she stood center stage.  Her imagined green chiffon dress was a waterfall cascading down her.  A diamond tiara sat on her head, sparks of light reflected in Romeo’s eyes.

Sitting in the living room with my mother, I could hear the distant applause, replaced suddenly by the din of the mill.  The noise of the loom, the thud, the thwack, entwined with a ceaseless rhythmic tramp—the tread of hundreds and thousands marching through history.



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originally in The Huffington Post

Every now and then comes that rare book that brings your life rushing back to you. How To Survive A Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France (Knopf 2016) is one such book.

The book chronicles the AIDS epidemic from the early 1980s – when the mysterious “gay cancer” started appearing — to 1995 when hard-won advancements in research and pharmaceuticals made AIDS a virus that people lived with rather than a disease that people died from.

It was an epidemic of massive proportions. As France writes:

“When the calendar turned to 1991, 100,000 Americans were dead from AIDS, twice as many as had perished in Vietnam.”

The book chronicles the scientific developments, the entwined politics, and medical breakthroughs in the AIDS epidemic. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a chronic infectious condition that is caused by the underlying human immunodeficiency virus known as HIV. The book also chronicles the human toll which is staggering.flags

I came out in 1981 and while the devastation France writes about was not my world, it was very close to my experience.

In my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), I write about how volunteering at an AIDS hospice helped me to care for my mother when she became terminally ill:

“The only caregiving I had done at that point was tending to an old cat and reading poetry to the patients at an AIDS hospice, called Betak, that was in our neighborhood. A friend of ours, who was a harpist, had started a volunteer arts program for the patients. She played the harp, [my partner] Barbara came and brought her drum sometimes, and I read poetry. These were poor people—mostly African American men—who were in the advanced stages of AIDS and close to death. The experience let me see how fast the disease could move.”

In those days, the women’s community (what we then called the lesbian and feminist community) was mostly separate from the gay male community. Understandably, gay men and lesbians had our differences. But there was infighting in every group. Rebellion was in the air, and sometimes we took our hostilities out on each other.

Still, gay men and lesbians were also allies and friends (something that is reflected in France’s writing).

I’ll always remember the time my partner and I took a bus to Washington D.C. with the guys from ACT-UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, an international activist group that is still in existence) from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. to protest for reproductive rights. The women then went to protest with ACT-UP at AIDS-related protests. Remember the die-ins in the streets?

One thing that lesbians and gay men had in common was that we lived in a world that was hostile to us. At that time, many gay men and lesbians were in the closet because we were vilified by society and in danger of losing our employment, families, housing and, in more than a few instances, our lives.

AIDS activism necessitated coming out of the closet. Hate crimes against us skyrocketed.

There is much in this book that I did not know, even though I lived through the era. In 1986, in protest of the Bowers v. Hardwick ruling of the US Supreme Court (which upheld a Georgia law criminalizing sodomy – a decision that was overturned in 2003), about 1,000 angry people protested in a small park across from the legendary Stonewall Inn in New York City, where the modern gay rights movement was born after a series of riots that started after a routine police raid of the bar.

At that same time, Ronald Reagan (then president) and the President of France François Mitterrand were celebrating the anniversary of the gift of the Statue of Liberty.

“’Did you hear that Lady Liberty has AIDS?” the comedian [Bob Hope] cracked to the three hundred guests. “Nobody knows if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Ferry.’”

“There was a scattering of groans. Mitterand and his wife looked appalled. But not the Reagans. The first lady, a year after the death of her friend Rock Hudson, the brunt of this joke, smiled affectionately. The president threw his head back and roared.”

How to Survive A Plague is told in stories, including the author’s own story. This is apt because the gay rights movement was full of stories and — because of the epidemic — most of those stories were cut short.

Almost every June, my partner and I would be part of the New York Pride Parade and every year we would pause for an official moment to honor our dead. The silence was cavernous.

This silence extended to entire communities. A gay male friend, amazed when his test came back negative, told me that most of his address book was crossed out. He would walk around the “gayborhood” in Center City Philadelphia surrounded by the haunting places where his friends used to live.

And we were all so young then.

When I turned the last page of How To Survive A Plague, I concluded that this is a very well-done book about a history that is important in its own right. The plague years also represent an important part of the American experience. And an understanding of this history is imperative to the future of the LGBT movement



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(I presented this novel excerpt at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia where I am a lay minister.  The segment is also on You Tube. Click here  to see the video or you can view the segment below and below that on this blog, you can read the excerpt. (At the bottom of this post is another video link to YouTube featuring me reading from a different part of Art — and talking about the Saints.)

Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.)


This excerpt is from a novel that I wrote recently titled Art: a revolution of love and marriage.  The novel is based on the working class landscape in which I grew up and takes place in the seventies.  The main character is named Art and is based on a real person (who is not me). So here is a short excerpt from her story. The Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality is a good hint at the happy ending.

 Art, a revolution of love and marriage

Art strode from the counter, past the grill and the fryers and into the backroom.  She tore her yellow headscarf off triumphantly as she clocked out.  Then she put on her sweater and her padded royal blue jacket. She slammed the metal back door behind her.

The sun was setting. It was about ten after five.  Her brother was scheduled to pick her up at five thirty. Art stood behind the building. She put up her hood and looked up. The sky was streaked with violet.  Long white wisps of clouds unfurled like banners. A single bright star came out from behind a cloud.  She watched it for a moment.  It stayed in one place so she knew it was a star, not an airplane.  It was bright enough to be a planet: either Jupiter or Venus.rainbow love

She thought about the fact that the star was light years away.  Maybe her junior year physics teacher was right.  Perhaps they were made from the stars they wished on. Most of the atoms spinning around in her body were made from stardust. Art would never admit it — in physics class last year, she had just rolled her eyes along with the others — but the fact was that she did have dreams.  She wished that she could be with Linda forever. She wished that Linda’s mother would stop telling her daughter that it was a waste of time to study trigonometry and that she would stop telling Linda that her life was going to turn out just like hers. She stared at the star.  It was so bright that it seemed to be burning a hole in the winter sky.  She wished she and Linda could make a life together.  She wished they could get married.  She wished that they could even have a kid or two. But first they had to get through this last year of high school. Getting into the trig class would be easy compared to the rest.

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Note: This piece of commentary was written as part of a tribute for President Obama for This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show. Click here to hear the piece on this week’s This Way Out — which includes President Obama’s words and music from Emma’s revolution. The lead story is on President Obama’s good news about Chelsea Manning.

My partner, who ordinarily is allergic to the news, and I sat rapt in front of the television, the first time when President Obama first said LGBT and then the words “lesbian” and “transgender” at one of his state of the nation addresses.

Of course, by then we knew this president was on our side. We were on his side, too.  We stayed home from work to watch his first inauguration.  I still remember watching President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.  We both held our breath because we knew that not everybody would be happy to see the first African American president.


Between our moments of awe, my partner tended to be nonchalant. “It’s about time,” she remarked drily when I told her that the because of the Obama administration hospitals that took money from the federal government had to honor the medical power of attorney papers of same-sex couples. She was right, of course. It was about time that we had some protections under the law.

We are of that generation of lesbians who were used to not having any rights. My partner is a drummer and to be honest we came to enjoy marching in the streets. There always seemed to be a drum contingent to hook up with.  At the time, I was a performance poet and I could count on offending people at my readings at the more conventional venues.  It was no secret that I rather enjoyed it when people walked out.  Okay, I bragged about it.

My partner and I never imagined we’d be legally married some day.

The morning after President Obama won re-election in 2012, I was working on a literacy project in an elementary school in an impoverished neighborhood in Philadelphia. An African American first grader looked up at me with large brown eyes and shyly said, “I know who the president is.”

At the second inauguration for President Obama, we learned about a poet named Richard Blanco. He was the first Hispanic person and the first openly gay poet to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. I reviewed several of his books for This Way Out.

President Obama made history again at this inauguration on the Capitol steps after he was sworn in, when he stated:

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

He also mentioned the Stonewall Inn riots — the pivotal LGBT rights rebellion in 1969 when gay men, lesbians, and trans people stood up against police intimation.

Thank you President Obama for eight years of your service, for your personal sacrifices, for the wonderful example you set with your beautiful family, and for being a secure man. Thank you also for your commitment to the LGBTQ community.  Because of you, we are stronger and ready to take on whatever comes next.

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Last weekend, my partner Barbara and I went to the DVD release party in Philadelphia of Sharon Katz and The Peace Train.  It was an excellent concert, complete with dancing.  It was a large extremely diverse (across the board).  Sharon and her partner/producer Marilyn are from South Africa where they began The Peace Train — taking kids of all races across the country on a train.  They did the same thing in this country just this past year and made a movie about the original Peace Train and another movie about the trip they just took.  One young person who was on The Peace Train with them talked about how empowering it was to meet Americans all of types who sang and danced with them.  Marilyn who introduced Sharon and the band said that she worked hard for the Hillary campaign and was very broken hearted but that now is the time to reach out across the divide to let people get to know us.  Diversity is fun! The Peace Train attests to this.  Below are some photos and some short YouTube video clips of The Peace Train. Enjoy!























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