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Posts Tagged ‘history’

Note: I am reblogging this in honor of World Awareness Day on December 1st 2019.

This piece of commentary was previously aired on This Way Out, the LGBTQ news and culture syndicate headquartered in Los Angeles and published 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.”

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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.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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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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As a writer, I am usually under a rock — however my partner and I did get out to several events in this past week when a friend told us about “Golda’s Balcony” — a movie of the off-Broadway one-woman play about the life of Golda Meir.

My partner and I saw the play when it was in Philadelphia (Golda was played by the late Valerie Harper.)

The movie was based on the original New York play in which Tovah Feldshuh starred.

I remember, of course, that this play conveyed an integral piece of world history.  When I saw the movie this week, I pondered that the actress said at the end of the play (Golda was the fourth prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1973) that she had resigned in part because she could no take the destruction, the loss of life, anymore.

The film was shown at the National Museum of American Jewish History and afterwards we headed upstairs to see the special exhibition on the Notorious RBG. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the first Jewish woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.1D32011E-0840-41C7-8789-D1BA5A7306DF

The exhibition runs to January 12, 2020 and is really interesting — even to people like me who’ve seen the movies about RGB and who have read about her extensively. One of the many things I didn’t know about RGB is that in her years at Cornell University, RGB had the then unknown Vladimir Nabokov as an English professor.  As the caption read he taught her to put exactly the right word in the precise space. I just learned, that the 86 year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized with what the Court describes as a stomach bug.  I am among those sending her good energy for a swift and healthy return.

 

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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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Last night, I attended a magical gathering at the main branch of the Philadelphia library where we gathered to listen to U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo read her poetry, sing and speak.
Joy talked about many things — including the importance of forgiveness so that we don’t make ourselves sick with anger and resentment.
She wondered what the world would be like if we all experienced each other’s stories.
What would the world be like if we all had that much compassion?
She spoke on #worldkindnessday — and that was auspicious. It made me think that #worldkindnessday should be everyday.
In the short video below, Joy Harjo talks about the trickster, explaining that the trickster in all cultures usually sits near the person in power and reminds that person when power is bestowed on him or her, the power does not belong to the person.  Power is meant to be shared.

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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Every now and then I connect with an independent bookstore.  This time it was Quail Ridge Books located in the North Hills of Raleigh North Carolina.

Quail Ridge Books is promoting November 30, 2019 as Small Business Saturday.  But for those who work for and run independent bookstores, everyday is Small Business Saturday.

So support your local independent bookstore, support reading, support your community and yourself.

 

Here is the Quail Ridge Books link to my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

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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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THEY, A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason (an excerpt)

Genre: LGBT Literature or Fiction

The following is excerpted (Chapter Five) from THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders by Janet Mason (Adelaide Books ñ New York/Lisbon) the novel of which LGBTQ icon and Biblical scholar, Amos Lassen, has written:

THEY is a groundbreaker and I am sure that the author will agree with me that attempting to add new meaning to given bible stories is tantamount to heresy. I have no doubt that she will suffer repercussions from those who do not agree with her approach. Personally, I found her story to not only be wonderfully written but charming and liberating to us who have lived in a binary world for too long.THEY Scottie

“Close your eyes and imagine the long ago city of Babylon, in a land called Mesopotamia, near the mighty Tigris.  A gentle wind blew.  There was a beautiful Goddess named Ishtar. She was also known as the Queen of the Night,” said Tamar.

“Which night, Auntie?” asked Pharez, sitting on the floor of Tamar’s tent, playing with one of the  figurines.  Zerah crawled toward the camel Aziz.

“Zerah, look at Pharez’s doll. See how pretty? Here’s another one just like it.” Tamar grabbed a clay figurine from the woven basket.  Zerah came crawling back.

“Ishtar was called the Queen of the Night because she was known as the goddess of love and …  well of love,” said Tamar.

Ishtar was the goddess of love, war, fertility, and sexuality.  And she may have been a sacred  prostitute.  Tamar felt protective of the twins.  They were too young to hear about war and sex.

“What did the goddess look like, Auntie?”   Zerah looked up at her with big brown eyes under long thick lashes. The child was sitting cross legged.

“She was tall and beautiful and she had wings,” answered Tamar. “She had a face like… well a goddess … with wide set eyes shaped like almonds and a high forehead under a crown that was piled very high with ridges like a fancy temple. She held her arms up. Her hands grasped two

loops of rope that also may have been hand mirrors. Her two pet owls were usually by her side.”

“Ooooh owls! Do you have an etching?” Pharez dropped the figurine.

“I have one that we can look at later, but first I want to tell you the story of someone “That’s what happens to us eventually. We cease to exist.  But don’t worry.  It won’t happen for a long, long time. And if you meet a spirit guide like Asushunamir it might not happen at all.”

Tamar told herself that lying was okay if it made people feel better — especially children.

“How did the spirit guide save the goddess?”

Tamar could tell now that it was Pharez who was asking the questions.  Pharez’s nose was a little

more snub than Zerah’s.  They had the same oval faces ending in pointy chins.

“I was just about to tell you that,” continued Tamar.

“Ishtar wanted to go somewhere new and she had never gone to the underworld where her evil sister, Ereshkigal, ruled.”

“Ha. Ha.”  Zerah covered hir mouth with a small hand.

“Evil sister,” repeated Pharez. “It sounds like you and mama.”

Zerah shot Pharez a look.

The twins were silent.  Both looked down. The fringe of their long lashes covered their secrets.

Tamar wondered what Tabitha had told them.  Her sister had left the twins while she went shopping at the market.  She said she would be back this afternoon. They had agreed not to tell the twins that they were sisters, so that they wouldn’t have to worry about one of them blurting it out around Judah. They told them that Tamar was a good friend of their mother’s. The twins called her “Auntie.”

Unless she was busy, Tamar always watched the twins.  Sometimes it felt like they were her children. She loved them that much.

“Ishtar wanted to go to the underworld.  But first she had to ask the other gods if she could go. They ignored her so she asked again and then again. Finally, they said she could go.”

Tamar paused.

“The underworld had many gates,” she continued.  “There were seven in total.  Ishtar came to the first gate and rang the bell. Claaanggg. There was one ring for the first gate and two for the second gate and so on. Ishtar rang the bell and waited.  She tapped her foot.  Finally, the gatekeeper came, but he did not open the gate.  Like most goddesses, Ishtar had a temper.

To read more on LGBT Book Buzz, click here:
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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One of my inspirations for my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — NY/ Lisbon) is the Gnostic Gospels.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945.  Originally written in Coptic, these texts date back to ancient times and give us an alternative glimpse into the Gospels that are written in the New Testament. They are so important that they are banned in some conventional religions.

In my book, that’s a good reason to read them.

Reading them led me to think of myself as a Gnostic – meaning one who has knowledge and who pursues knowledge – including mystical knowledge.

The first place where I heard the Gnostic Gospels was in the music composed and played on the harp by our friend Julia Haines.

Julia has a wonderful composition of Thunder Perfect Mind. 

Thunder Perfect Mind is one of the ancient texts of the Gnostic Gospels.

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I am inspired by the Gnostic Gospels in part because they let in the light.  In particular, they let in the light of the feminine.

As Julia says in her rendition of Thunder:

I am godless

I am Goddess

To learn more about Julia’s music, you can click the following link to her CD Baby Page that features HER Songs, Thunder: Perfect Mind and Odyssey.

  https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/JuliaHHaines

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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This morning, I took part in Poetry Sunday, a Unitarian Universalist summer service that is a tradition. The theme was social justice. In my talk, I reflected on the nature of poetry in creating empathy and talked about Carolyn Forché’s memoir, What You Have Heard is True about her time in El Salvador. I also talk Carolyn’s influence on me as a teacher and my migration from poetry to prose.

The YouTube video of my talk  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

“Poetry makes nothing happen”

This oft quoted line is from W.H. Auden’s poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.” In our culture nothing is a negative word – but I posit that nothing is a good thing. It gives us a chance to pause, to reflect, to think for ourselves and to see what is in front of us.

I have observed that poetry creates empathy. It slows down time so that we can observe a detail and then feel a feeling. And since empathy starts with the self, it may be that almost all poetry is social justice poetry.

Recently, I have noticed that I am sighing and feeling depressed whenever I see a headline. There are lots of reasons to feel depressed – especially in the news. But as someone who actively combats depression by doing Buddhist chanting every day and practicing yoga, the feeling was strong enough for me to recognize it.  At the time that I was feeling this way, I was reading Carolyn Forché’s memoir of witness and resistance titled after a line in one of her most well-known poems written about her time in El Salvador in the late 1970s,What You Have Heard Is True. Carolyn, who was in El Salvador in the time that was building up to a civil war, is an internationally known poet and professor.

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It was during the reading of this memoir and possibly because of it, when I decided that depression was a luxury I couldn’t afford.  I am, after all, a writer.  And words matter. I first met Carolyn at a week-long poetry workshop at Omega Institute that I took with my friend Anne Arfaa (who is playing the piano today. Thank you, Anne.) I was twenty-nine — the same age as Gertrude Stein when she first started taking herself seriously as a writer.

There is a lot that I have forgotten about that workshop, since it was a long time ago. But what stayed with me was my daily discipline of writing and a line of poetry from a poet I had never heard about before but came to love: Mary Oliver. I didn’t know who Carolyn Forché was before the workshop, but my partner – Barbara – told me that she was an important poet and that I would love her work.  Barbara is usually right. This time she was very right.

The lines of my poetry became longer – and began to include dialogue – so I migrated from poetry to prose.  I didn’t think about it then, but the discipline and the lyricism I had learned in that poetry workshop was with me when I wrote my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (published by Bella Books in 2012) and my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books in 2018).

I remember Carolyn staring at me during the workshop when she talked about the importance of a daily writing practice. I may have imagined it, but in this moment of doing nothing – no words were spoken – it’s quite possible that I picked up the mantle of responsibility.  I was one of the students who would write daily.  And long before I was a Unitarian Universalist, I considered my daily writing practice to be a spiritual practice.

Carolyn Forché’s memoir brought this all back to me. What You Have Heard is True is particularly significant in light of the tragic mishandling of the crisis of immigration and asylum seekers we are witnessing at our borders. The memoir is a reminder that the poverty and violence people are fleeing in the South and Central Americas was created in part by the U.S. government. Our tax dollars helped the government support brutal corruption in the name of suppressing what the U.S. government called “communism.” What this really did was to keep the masses of people impoverished.

The information wasn’t new to me. In the old days there was lots of overlap between progressive communities. Still, I found the information to be as gripping as it was appalling.  I couldn’t put the book down.

Forché extensively quotes Leonel Gomez Vides, the man who brought her to El Salvador.  I will leave you with his words to ponder.

“You want to know what is revolutionary …? To tell the truth. That is what you will do when you return to your country. From the beginning this has been your journey, your coming to consciousness.”

Namaste

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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