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Posts Tagged ‘Janet Mason’

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.)

 

I was just telling a friend that the Left Bank of Paris in the 1920s and 30s – and the TWO Repert 2lesbians that still live on in history and my imagination — is my favorite era. Then a copy of Never Anyone But You arrived. This book is heralded as “A literary tour de force,” is written by Rupert Thompson and published by Other Press in 2018.  The writing does live up to its reputation and, just as importantly, the story holds together.

As the novel wanders through Paris, the reader glimpses cameos of legendary places and people – most notably the bookstore “Shakespeare and Company” run by Sylvia Beach and her partner Adrienne Monnier.  But as I turned the last page and wiped the wetness from my eyes, I realized that it wasn’t the history that got to me.  It was that the author exquisitely captured the life time of love that existed between these two women who are actual historic figures.

The story opens in 1909 when teenage Suzanne Malherbe and Lucie Schwob meet, fall in love and scheme about how to have a life together.  Through a series of events, Suzanne’s mother marries Lucie’s father.  This renders the two teens step sisters, a convenient cover for the social mores of the time. Suzanne paints and Lucie writes.

The two “sisters” reinvent themselves with male names.  Lucie takes the name Claude and Suzanne goes by Marcel.  They move to Paris (from a provincial town in France where they were from) and become involved with the Surrealist movement. In the 1930s with anti-Semitism on the rise (Claude is from a Jewish family), they leave Paris for the island of Jersey, off the coast of France, where eventually they are forced to deal with Nazi occupation.

Along the way are interesting asides, such as this quote from the well-known writer of the time and place Djuna Barnes, who described Paris as having “the fame of a-too-beautiful woman” meaning that as Thomas wrote, “One could be overwhelmed by Paris. One could become sated.  And it was hard for a city to retain that kind of allure.”

Early in their relationship when the two girls chose their male names, the author writes:

            “And then, in a finger snap, my new name came to me, the name that would be mentioned in the same breath as hers, and it flew straight from my brain into my mouth and out into the air.  “Marcel Moore.”
“What?” Claude too, it seemed, had been in something of a trance.  I repeated what I had said.  Marcel, after her uncle.  I had never met him, but I admired him, both as a writer and as a spirit.  And there was another factor.  Marcel was a man’s name, and yet it sounded feminine. I liked the way it loitered between the genders, as if it couldn’t make up its mind.    Claude was nodding. “And Moore?”     “It’s an English name.”   “You wanted to set yourself apart … “        “Yes.” Though the truth was, I had chosen the name to appeal to the Anglophile in her. Also, she claimed she was related to George Moore, the Irish novelist.   “How did you think of it?”             “I don’t know.  It just arrived.”     Claude leaned her elbows on the table, her slender forearms upright and considered me.  “Marcel Moore,” she said.  “That sounds like someone I could love.”

 

The novel covers a fair amount of history.  And while it is obviously well-researched, enlightening and the thing that first hooked me, it was the love that I remember, the love between these two women Suzanne and Lucie and the names they gave themselves, Marcel and Claude.

 

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

 

Amazon THEY

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This morning, I led a Unitarian Universalist Memorial Day service on the topic of forgiveness.  In my talk about forgiveness, I debuted my latest novel The Unicorn, The Mystery. The YouTube video of part of  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.

 

 

For me, forgiveness is a thorny issue.  I suspect I’m not alone.  I may forgive – but I do it on my own terms and this means taking the time that I need to understand the deeper reasons of why I was offended by someone’s actions. So, for me, learning to be more forgiving is wrapped up with protecting myself and having good boundaries.

As a practicing Buddhist, I understand that forgiving others is a way of forgiving yourself.  But as I did research on forgiveness, there were so many conflicting theories, that really the only thing that ultimately made coherent sense to me was this quote from Oscar Wilde:

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

A few years ago, I was leafing through a slim book on Christianity and was surprised to read that forgiveness is expected in the Christian tradition.  As a tenet, this one is not so bad. But it did occur to me that a reason why traditional religion has never appealed to me is that, on principal, I would never believe what someone tells me I should believe.

So when it comes to forgiveness, I process things the way that I usually do – in my writing. The novel I am currently writing The Unicorn, The Mystery, is set in the late Middle Ages and addresses some religious themes.  I am going to read you a short excerpt of a monk talking with his Latin teacher, also a Priest:

purification

 

“One of the things that Augustine is known for is his ‘doctrine of love.’ He wrote about forgiveness – which of course is related to love.  In addition to forgiving others, it’s important to forgive ourselves. In fact, some argue that you cannot forgive another without first forgiving yourself,” said my teacher.

I smiled and nodded.  This all made sense. No words were necessary from me.

“He also was the first to write about loving your neighbor as yourself. In saying this, he infers that it is first necessary to love yourself. When you truly love yourself, then you can love your neighbor and you can love God unconditionally,” he stated.

The Priest was silent – and so was I for a moment.

My curiosity got the best of me and I asked, “What if you are ashamed of yourself – how can you find it in your heart to forgive yourself? And if you can’t, how can you ever love your neighbor and how can you love God?”

The Priest looked at me oddly.

“That’s a good question,” he replied finally. “I do not know the answer. Perhaps I am not the best person to talk about love. I take the Christian writings seriously.  I try to follow them.  I follow my heart and each time it is a disaster. I love teaching and I love my students. But each term, things go too far, and I have my heart broken again,” he cried.

I looked at him with sadness.  He had his reasons for hating himself. Perhaps that’s why he was snippy at times. How could he forgive himself, when the church told him he should be ashamed of himself?

This time I cleared my throat. I looked at him with tears in my eyes, and said, “Father – it is true that you know how to love and it is true that you are worthy of love – from others, from God. I came to your office that night after vespers a few months ago. I saw you bent over the desk with Gregory – I saw the love that surrounded you.”

The Priest looked at me as if he had seen a ghost.

 

 

I attended the Episcopal Church until I was about five — when my mother became a card-carrying atheist.  It’s a long story.  I remember reciting the Lord’s Prayer. When I think about forgiveness, I think about the lines:

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive them that trespass against us;

 

As I did my research, I was fascinated to learn that in the “Book of Matthew,” chapter 6, of the New Testament, the line after the Lord’s Prayer says:

 

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

 

Of course, in my Unitarian Universalist interpretation, God the Father could be the Universe, the Great Spirit, or the Mother/ Father God or God the Father.  It depends on what day it is.

If I’ve offended anyone, please forgive me.

 

Namaste.

 

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

 

Amazon THEY

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Note: This short reflection is re-airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show in honor of its thirtieth anniversary.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

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

 

This is Janet Mason.

I’ve been writing and recording commentary for This Way Out for almost two decades. I’ve long been intrigued by the intimate nature of radio.  I have memories of being shaped by the radio — whether in the car, in the house or early in my life as an adolescent, alone in my room in my parents’ house but connected to the world through the magic power of radio.

It was through radio that I heard the voices of my favorite writers — often people I would come to read, and sometimes — when I was lucky — people I would later meet and on at least once occasion take classes with. As a child, I discovered the world through books. It makes sense that I would want to keep those worlds alive by writing and recording commentary on literature, particularly literature that reflects queer life.

When I first came out — or a few years before — I would listen to my local lesbian-feminist radio show. Yes, I said lesbian-feminist.  It was that long ago.  A lot has changed.  But some would say the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Occupying queer space on the radio airwaves is as important now, as ever, to the LGBT community.

It has been my privilege to work with This Way Out, to provide you with queer literary commentary over the years. Every now and then I hear from a listener and always I am moved.  Not only do I get to be part of a very important worldwide LGBT news wrap and vehicle for queer culture, but I get to be part of the listener’s world also.  In being connected to the world-wide LGBTQ movement, I feel larger than myself.  In the words of the great gay bard Walt Whitman, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

 

To learn more about Janet Mason’s new novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders click here.

 

Janet-Mason-THEY

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I am posting  a segment of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books — New York / Lisbon) and available on Amazon

A variation of this excerpt was published in the fortieth anniversary  issue of Sinister Wisdom.

The next evening, Tamar’s tent flap opened, revealing a triangle of soft light.

“Hello there,” said Tamar.

“Hello,” said a low voice.  

Tamar was expecting Judith and the voice did sound like hers — Amazon THEYexcept that it was low and hesitant.  Shy? Judith entered the tent. She pushed back the hood of her dark robe. Shiny dark hair spilled out.   Tamar had set the table with her best pottery.  Juicy red pomegranate seeds glistened in a small round bowl.  In another, black orbs of oil cured olives shimmered.  Chunks of white goat cheese sat on a small terracotta plate next to a bowl of fresh figs. Next to that was a small bowl of almonds.  Purple spikes of hyssop extended from a clay vase. Tamar had put Aziz outside for the evening, and she had swept the tent with brooms of hyssop. She had bathed earlier that day. Then she had oiled her skin. She even oiled the inside of her mouth. After she had spit out the mouthful of olive  oil, she  could  feel  her  tongue  slippery against her teeth. Shortly before Judith came, Tamar had lit the oil lamp but set it back further in the tent — instead of on the table — so the light was dimmed.  A goatskin of wine peeked out from behind the vase. Judith’s eyes flickered toward the table.  Her gaze returned to Tamar.

“How beautiful,” she said.

Judith had been coming to her several times a week for two moons now — since they started meditating together.  She never wore her silver necklaces. Even tonight when they were meeting for pleasure, she didn’t have them on.  She rarely mentioned her husband and sons.  Tamar had told her that even to complain about them was to give them power. Judith hadn’t conceived yet, but she was ready. She had been coming to Tamar’s tent several times a week.  She had told Tamar that every morning she set aside time to sit quietly and watch her breath.  Judith said the old voices were leaving her — making room for the new. Tamar had conquered the old Judith with love. She had assisted at the birth of the new Judith. This Judith was even more beautiful. Her long dark hair glistened like it was surrounded by shooting stars.  Her sea green eyes looked like an oasis in the parched desert.  They were deeper and darker than ever. Judith’s eyes were shaped like almonds. They were wide in the middle and narrow on the ends. They slanted up slightly at the outside edges.  Lines of smudged kohl rimmed Judith’s eyes. The low light reflected from the single strand of gold around her neck. For a flickering moment, she looked like an Egyptian princess from ancient times, a dark eyed seductress painted onto a frieze. 

RandN 4 stained glass….

Judith suggested that they have a toast. “The goblets are beautiful,” said Tamar. “And the wine is here to be drunk.” Then she filled their goblets. They held them aloft and clinked them against each other. “To us.” “To us.” It didn’t matter which one spoke. The feeling was the same.  Their eyes met over the rims of the wedding goblets.   They put the goblets down. They sat on the floor next to the low table on the double camel hair blankets that Tamar had folded. “Let me feed you,” said Judith. She picked up an olive, held it between her fingers.  Then she broke off a piece of the oiled bread. She reached out and fed it to Tamar.

Tamar felt Judith’s cool fingers on her lips. When she was done, Tamar fed Judith.   They saved the fresh figs for last.

“For my sweetness,” said Tamar.  She felt Judith’s warm lips on her fingers.

Then Judith put some pomegranate seeds in Tamar’s mouth. Tamar began sucking on Judith’s fingers. She was emboldened by the wine.  They had been taking sips from their goblets and refilling them. They were on their second goatskin. Judith pushed the bowl of figs away.

“I’ve had enough food,” she said.  She leaned in toward Tamar.  “But I could never have enough of you.”

Their lips met and it was good. This was the first time that Tamar had kissed someone — with the exception of the kisses that she sometimes gave to Aziz on his furry forehead or the kisses that she had given to Pharez and Zerah when they were small. This kiss was born from passion and tenderness. Er had been incapable of both.  Tamar was consumed by moisture. They were both made of water and light — like wild hyssop plants flowering in the arid desert.  A brilliant sash of longing encircled them. Tamar’s lips parted. Judith’s tongue slipped in. Tamar’s nipples tingled.  Her vulva opened.

 “I’ve never felt this way,” Judith whispered.

She opened her robe.  In the dim light, her nakedness gleamed. Tamar’s breath caught in her throat. She dropped her own robe and took Judith’s hand, leading her to the softness of the bed that she had made for them. 

She and Judith put their arms around each other. Tamar felt the silken smoothness that their bodies made together. She was not ashamed of her nakedness.

 

You can also read an excerpt of THEY, written as standalone short fiction, in the online literary journal BlazeVOX15

Another excerpt is in the recent issue of Sinister Wisdom — the fortieth anniversary issue

A different excerpt is also in the aaduna literary magazine  (this excerpt was nominated for a Pushcart Prize)

View YouTube videos of readings and performances of THEY by clicking here.

Text excerpts from THEY and my introductions presented at UUCR (Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration) can be clicked on below.

To read the text to the “Descent of Ishtar” and the introduction (where I talk about ancient Babylon), click here.

To read the text to “Forty Days And Forty Nights” as well as my introduction, click here.

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I am re-posting some published excerpts of my novel, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders that was just published by Adelaide Books (New York/ Lisbon). (For more information about the book — click here.)

This piece was first published in aaduna and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

The Mother  

(sometime early in the first century)

 

In the beginning was the Mother.

In the womb, Tamar took mental notes. The heavens trembled — at least it felt like the heavens. Maybe it was just gas. The Mother shifted. At first, it was too dark to see. But Tamar could feel. At first it felt like chaos — like everything was unconnected. But then she felt something holding her. A curved wall. She was leaning into it. It was soft and warm. She felt her backbone curve behind her. She was half of a circle. Was she floating? There was a chord attached to her belly. She relaxed once she realized that she wouldn’t float away.

There were appendages coming out from her shoulders. She looked down below the chord. On the lower part of her body there was a small bump and on either side of that were two more appendages. There was liquid all around her. She felt warm and safe. She didn’t have to worry yet about breathing.

Whoosh. She flinched. Slosh. Gurgles whizzed by. There was an abbreviated bubbling. After it repeated three times, she identified the sound as a hiccup. After a few moments, there was silence. Then there was a contented hum coming from the distance. Tamar knew it was the Mother, and it calmed her.

Amazon THEY

The darkness lifted. She saw a distant light glowing through the pink barrier. She looked down and noticed tiny extremities with red lines moving through them. They were attached to the ends of two appendages, on each side of her. She found that she could move them, as if she were trying to grasp something. She knew that these movements would come in handy later. The light went out. Darkness. Tamar felt herself in her body.

She was perfect.

When she woke again, she blinked for the first time. It felt good so she did it again. The pinkish yellow glow came back. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. She rubbed the short one across the tips of several of the others, and felt a roughness. She felt a nourishment rushing from the chord through her body. And it was good. She went back to sleep for a long while.

When she woke, she stretched and yawned. She saw a pinkish yellow glow. It was faint and came from the other side. She looked toward the light and saw the sack next to her. There was someone inside who looked like her. It even had a light glowing around its edges — just like she did — down its extremities and around its fingers and toes. She remembered now that she had entered one body of two. Her twin was beside her. There was a large, round dome attached to a small body like hers. The big round dome faced her. The eyes looked at her. One blinked and the other stayed open. The two corners of the lips went up. Somehow she knew that this was a smile. Her twin was welcoming her. She wanted to welcome him back, but something stopped her. She didn’t know who her twin was. Was her twin part of her? She wasn’t sure she wanted to be part of someone else. She definitely didn’t want to share her Mother.

There were appendages on both sides of his body. There were five fingers attached to the end of each appendage. The fingers clenched and unclenched. They seemed to wave at her. Tamar thought about waving back, but she didn’t. She wasn’t sure if the thing next to her in the translucent sack could see her. So she pretended that she didn’t see it. Then she looked down and saw something protruding. At first she thought that she was seeing a shadow. She moved her head slightly. The shadow was still there. She looked down at her own body and saw that she also had a third appendage on the lower part of her body. It was much shorter than the two other limbs. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. They were all there — five on each side, including the shorter ones at the ends. None of them had fallen off. She looked down again. Somehow she knew that this protrusion made her a boy and knowing this made her angry.

She knew her name was Tamar, but she had forgotten where it came from. She knew that Tamar was a girl’s name, and that she was a girl. She had a vague memory in her cells that she had come from a single egg, fertilized by a trail of light that had come just for her. And she remembered that another egg, fertilized with its own stream of light, was next to her and that the two eggs had merged. They crossed over and into each other, exchanging some vital information. Tamar’s egg knew that it was female. But it absorbed a sequence of information that told it that its genetic material that it would be male and female. The secret language of the cells said that each of the eggs would be XX and XY.

The thing next to her had a longer protrusion than her. She took comfort in that. Perhaps this meant that she was really a girl after all. But the thing next to her — gradually, she came to think of him as her twin — would most likely be lording his superiority over her forever.

On the sides of the protrusion were two lower appendages. She found that she could use her mind to stretch them. And once she stretched them, she realized that these were her legs and that her feet were attached to the ends of them. She kicked at the inside of the pink cushion that surrounded her.

“Ow,” said a woman’s voice. It was the voice of the Mother. Tamar knew that she had to get the Mother’s attention first. She kicked again.

This time she felt a gentle hand push down on the other side of the pink cushion. Her twin nudged the Mother back.

“What are you trying to tell me, my son?” asked Mother.

I’m a girl — a girl just like you Mother, Tamar tried to say. But speech eluded her. She had yet to utter her first cry. But she had to get Mothers attention —

to read the entire piece in aadduna, click here

 

 

 

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horiz me and Virgin MaryI’ve long been interested in the origins of religion, particularly with the matrilineal cultures that have come through the Judeo-Christian traditions — if you read between the lines.

This partially comes from research and partly from following my own intuition. For instance, many have observed — and it is obvious to me — that the Virgin Mary and her son, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) are based on the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis and her son Horus.  The goddess underpinnings, no doubt, account for the popularity of the Virgin Mary/Blessed Mother and the cult of the Black Madonna in many different cultures.Janet-Mason-THEY

I joined a Unitarian Universalist church about five years ago, began learning about religion ( I was raised secular) and started reading the Bible (which was not required).   There is some good stuff in there — if you pick and choose.  I began to wonder how marginalized people survived in the fierce desert. In particular, I began to wonder how strong women and LGBTQ people (long before labels) survived.

I wondered about people who were born intersex, those who may have identified with a different sex than they were born into, and those who identify as non-binary.

This is the origin of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders.

THEY was recently published by Adelaide Books (New York/Lisbon).

My good friend, the poet, Maria Fama (who I have long discussed these issues with), says of THEY:

In her novel THEY, Janet Mason tells a fascinating tale in a bold, iconoclastic style, tinged with humor.  She turns the Judeo-Christian biblical landscape upside down as she examines patriarchy, gender roles, and the fluidity of sexuality and gender.

–Maria Fama, author, Other Nations: an animal journal

 

You can read more about THEY by clicking here.

You can view some YouTube videos of THEY being performed and read by clicking here.

 

Virgin Mary sky

 

(the photo of me holding THEY was taken by Barbara J. McPherson — the rest were taken by myself)

 

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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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