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Posts Tagged ‘lgbtq book reviews’

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.

The Sunday morning, in June of 2016, that I learned of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I had a sinking sensation in my stomach.

Unfortunately, that sensation was confirmed when I found out that 49 people were murdered – at that time the largest number of people killed in a U.S. mass shooting.

I was intrigued when I heard about Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars a collection published by Flashpoint Publications in 2017 and edited by renowned lesbian writers Renee Bess and Lee Lynch. This book was both dedicated to the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy and born from that tragedy.

Ultimately, Our Happy Hours is a sobering book.Bars renee bess

Bess’s introduction resonated deeply with me:

“This book’s expedition grew during the pre-dawn hours of June 13, 2016, when so many of us watched the media’s coverage of the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub. That mass shooting pierced the soul of every LGBTQ person who knew the experience of finding safety, joy, and personal validation in a space where it was okay to slow drag with your same gender partner, or hold her/him/them lovingly in your gaze. For a moment we’d all been in that Orlando club, or we knew we could have been there.”

Co-editor Lynch stressed the importance of bars in LGBTQ culture by mentioning the Stonewall Inn which has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.  In 1969, the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement was born at this gay bar when patrons fought back against a routine police raid.

As she writes, “it’s fitting that our monument should be a bar. Human communities form where they can, spontaneously, and eventually develop traditions. Hellish as they can be, at times they were glorious, glorious! The music may have been loud past bearing, but we danced all night. Under the glitter balls we saw ourselves reflected in our peers like nowhere else. I was not the only shy one and eventually a few strangers would become friends, friends grew to circles. With a gay bar nearby, we never needed to be totally alone.”

Despite the fact, that it pays tribute to the importance of bars in our community, the collection does not glorify its origins. More than a few writers talk about the seedy results of alcoholism.  But all agree.  The bars were a starting point for meeting, often for being loved, and for learning about each other.

In “A Message for Steve” esteemed lesbian writer and editor Katherine V. Forrest writes,

“In the many years since that May night, friendship and camaraderie with gay men have taken their rich place in my life. Our two communities needed that time apart in the seventies to explore our own identities and culture, and then the devastation of AIDS brought us all together. You were the first gay man I ever knew. You were the first to show me the promise of what we have since brought into each other’s LGBT lives.”

Noted lesbian writer Karin Kallmaker writes that she found herself in bookstores but was grateful for the role that bars played in LGBTQ history.  In her piece titled,

“My Nose Pressed Against the Glass of History,” she writes:

“The Pulse Massacre at one of our safe spaces, a queer nightclub, was a gut-punching reminder. Yes, we are stronger together. Sometimes it’s not strong enough. When it’s not strong enough, we need each other more than ever. My daughter comforted friends online. I despaired that safe spaces are still an illusion.

And I reminded myself: Safety for our kind was an illusion in the 1950s, and yet we thrived. It was an illusion in the 1960s, the ‘70s, the ‘80s… And yet we thrived.

We thrive.”

 

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

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders

Click on the following for an invitation to a reading from THEY on January 30th at the Penn Book Center in Philadelphia:

Invitation Janet Mason_Penn Book Center_2019-01-30

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“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.     — Amos Lassen, on THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books)

Beyond the Boundaries of Gender

Amos Lassen

I have always found it interesting how coincidences come together. For the last month I have been in a study group about the Hebrew Bible or what is commonly known as the Old Testament. We have been studying the women of the Bible and trying to raise their position in the written text so I suppose we could call this redefining gender in the holy books. It also happens that in a very week weeks the state of Massachusetts will have a referendum on gender rights and it seems that all of sudden gender has become important in our lives whereas ten years ago we would not have heard a peep about it. The third coincidence is that I received a copy of Janet Mason’s new book. “They” in which the Hebrew bible is the background for the story of Tamar that goes beyond the boundaries of gender. I believe it takes a strong person to tackle gender in literature these days and the impression that I got from reading Mason’s last book is that she is a person who can do so… and she did so, quite beautifully.

“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.

To read the review in its entirety, click here.

 

Amazon THEY

 

 

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Note: This piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

As a lesbian writer, I am continually confronted with the fact that we are many things – at the heart LGBTQ but perhaps not in everything we do.  I’ve come to the conclusion that LGBTQ status shouldn’t matter even when it does.

Recently, I was reminded of this dilemma in the reading of two books from Other Press about men who happen to be gay in the Middle East. Both books are well-written and delightfully complex. Both also represent stories within a story. coexist rainbow flag two

In The Parting Gift (Other Press 2018), a novel by Evan Fallenberg, we meet an unnamed narrator who tells us the story by writing a letter to his former lover Adam who he knew in a university in the states when the narrator left abruptly for Israel where he fell in love with a for a time lived with an alpha male who was previously heterosexual – and who in fact, as the narrator tells us, may not have an orientation other than being macho and selfish.

The story line, like the sexuality of the two male beloveds, is fluid. “This story, like most stories, could begin in a number of different places,” writes Fallenberg.  His narrator explains that he chose to go to go to Israel “because if you’re a Jew you can get off the plane in Tel Aviv, tell them you want to be a citizen, and you get processed right there at the airport.  Full rights and benefits – housing, education, medical.”

Once in Israel he meets and falls in love and lust with a spice-dealer who is close to his ex-wife and his children. The gay narrator becomes totally ensnared in the relationship and once things quickly begin to go bad, he is forced to examine entitlement – first that of his lover but then also the entitlement that he himself grew up with even as he acknowledges that he is now on the receiving end of entitlement.  It is being used against him. The narrator explains to Adam (and to the reader) that he didn’t leave abruptly because, “I had no friends, no real prospects. I was suddenly a 1950s housewife, trapped and helpless.”

The Diamond Setter, a novel by Moshe Saka (Other Press 2017) which was translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen is a sprawling novel that traces the role of a blue diamond — a cursed but inanimate object with a storied past — in connecting people and communities.

A main character — Fareed a young Arab man from Syria who crosses the border and sneaks into Israel with the destination of Yafa – is gay. Fareed (who is carrying the diamond) finds himself in a community that evokes his past.

In addition to being culturally significant, or perhaps as a result, the novel has love at its core. It begins with a few paragraphs that contain the passage that this a story “from back in the days when the Middle East was steeped not only in blood but also in love.”

When Fareed is amazed at the acceptance of gays in Israel, one of his new friends in Yafa warns that,

“Most gay Palestinians in Israel are closeted. It’s a very conservative society. Even our leaders, the ones in the Knesset, say things like, ‘Arab society is not yet mature enough to contend with this issue.’ What is it mature enough for it to deal with then? … What’s for sure is that the Shami Bar, here in Yafa, is an oasis.  It doesn’t represent anything going on in this country, certainly not the discrimination and racism against Arabs.”

Perhaps the novel can be summed up by what Sakal writes in the Afterword:  “Anyone who lived in Palestine before the State of Israel was established in 1948 had tales of brave relationships that survived even the bloodiest of times, love affairs and friendships between Jews and Arabs … “

As complex as The Diamond Setter is, it can leave the reader with the feeling that with love, anything is possible.

 

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: a version of 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.

 

Before being a lesbian was trendy, before marriage equality, before we were part of the LGBT movement, lesbians were simply women –  labeled “sick” and “deviant” – who somehow found a way to live in an extremely oppressive environment.

Of course, those were the old days – when almost everyone was oppressed.

Fast forward half a century, at least. Things have changed so much. I am guilty of being lesbian statue of libertyone of the lesbians who think that society has moved on. Well, it should have at least.

But hate crimes are up – including hate crimes against those of us in the LGBT community.

And as The Advocate reports in its most recent issue, “Hate crimes (against those in the Progress doesn’t always move in a straight line. I was reminded of this when I read Olympus Nights On the Square, LGBT Life in the Early Post-War Years (1945-1955) (2017, Sans Merci Press) by Vanda.  I read  and reviewed the first volume of this series last year (Juliana (vol 1: 1941 – 1944) which gave me the back story – and while the first book, too, is an interesting page turner about lesbian history, it is not necessary to read the first book in order to understand the most recent book.

In Olympus Nights On The Square we meet Al short for Alice, a lesbian – although she was in denial for a long time – from a small town who moved to New York City and now works in the entertainment industry.  Vanda is also a playwright and dialogue drives her novels – making for interesting and engaging writing.  In the 1950s – during the time of the McCarthy witch hunts where homosexuality was often synonymous with communist – her characters reflect on the fact that things are harder for them than during the 1940s when they first met.

The novel gives us a panoramic view of the times seen through the eyes of her characters.

I found it all very fascinating.

I did at one point, however, find the oppressive tenor of the times tedious.  It was the sexism that got to me.  Women could not even be served in bars without a male escort.

Gay men and lesbians lived in fear of being found out as what society labeled a sick person, sexual deviant, or a pervert.  But the novel chronicles the changes in society too – as when Alice first sees the word “homosexual” in print (even a negative reference is an admission that such people do exist).

As the author writes in the introduction, “Knowing this history is important for both gay and straight.  It’s already starting to repeat itself.”

History is starting to repeat itself.  But things have changed. For one thing, we have stepped out of the shadows and we have allies.

In her CD, Dreamland (offered by Woodstock Arts), Jennifer Maidmen, writes of “The Conspiracy of Dreamers” where you can be anything you like there.” She sings of an invisible “revolution that is dangerous and free.”

Jennifer is transgender and identifies as “two-spirit” person. She recorded this album with her long-time partner Annie Whitehead on horns and she has toured with other musicians such as Joan Armatrading and Boy George.

Her music is haunting and liberating and tells us that not only have things changed – but that we are part of the change.

There used to be a saying in the lesbian community that we are everywhere.  Now things are different and most of us acknowledge that we are more alike than different.  Perhaps the new saying could be that, we are everyone.

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