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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.

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

 

I have long been fascinated by the figure of Alain Locke – who I knew as the first African American Rhodes Scholar (in 1907), the philosopher that the civil rights leader Martin Luther King spoke about, the influential Howard University professor (the historically black university located in Washington D.C.), and perhaps most importantly (to me) as the philosophic architect of the Harlem Renaissance. Locke was known for the fact that he championed such writers as Zora Neale Hurston.

That I had heard he was gay only made him more interesting. Then I learned that the long-awaited biography of Locke was coming out written by Jeffrey C. Stewart titled, The New Negro, The Life of Alain Locke had been published in 2018.  It was published by Oxford University Press and received the 2018 National Book Award for nonfiction.Alain Locke

Then the book arrived.  I have to admit that I was daunted by its 800 pages – 878 to be exact. Also, like many people, if not most, I rarely read biographies.  But once I started reading this one, I found it so fascinating that I could barely put it down – even though it is physically hard to pick up because it is so heavy.  So, even if you rarely read biographies, I would suggest reading this one.  It’s a real page turner and you’ll learn a lot of important historical information.

Locke – as Stewart writes – was “a tiny effeminate gay man – a dandy, really, often seen walking with a cane, discreet, of course, but with just enough hint of a swagger, to announce to those curious that he was queer, in more ways than one, but especially in that one way that disturbed even those who supported Negro liberation.  His sexual orientation made him unwelcome in some communities and feared in others as a kind of pariah.”

Some of the intriguing things that I learned was that Locke was very close to his mother, in fact after her death in 1922, left him bereft, and after a stint in travelling in Europe where he could be more sexually open, and after being fired for a time by Howard University for being too vocal on race relations (although he was later hired back), he poured himself into their shared love for art and commenced on starting the Harlem Renaissance, with the idea that there was liberation in art that was African American identified.

The Harlem Renaissance loomed so large in my mind that even though I already knew that it was basically over by 1929, when the American stock market collapsed, it was rather depressing to read about it again.  Harlem, long the African American section of New York City, was hit very hard by the Great Depression.  The Harlem Renaissance, however, remains an important part of history – and many African American identified visual artists and writers were influenced and inspired by it long after the 1920s, as Stewart writes.

Some of the things that I learned that intrigued me was that Locke was very close to his mother and that after her death, he replicated his relationship with her to some extent with several older women who were important to him.  I also found it fascinating that the campus of University of Oxford (where Locke found himself after he won the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship), was a hotbed of gay male activity – and that this was the same university that the gay legend Oscar Wilde was graduated from in 1878, three decades before Locke arrived.  I also learned that Locke faced less racism in Europe.  However, some of the major racist obstacles that Locke faced at Oxford were created by other American Rhodes Scholars.

Most of what I learned was that Locke, a black, gay man, faced major obstacles in his life because of racism and homophobia. Despite these obstacles he thrived, and he changed the course of history.

His life is inspiring.

 

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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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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.)

One of the things that I value as a lesbian, is being connected to the rest of the world. Hence the rainbow flag and the saying that we are everywhere. We are. That fact led me to the novel that I was recently immersed in called Disoriental by Nagar Djavadi published in 2018 by Europa Editions.  It was translated from the French by Tina Kover.

That the narrator identifies as a lesbian, one could legitimately argue is a sub-layer of the book. But looking through this same prism through a different angle, one could argue that the narrator’s sexuality is critical.  Being a lesbian from an extremely homophobic culture gave the narrator an extra layer of courage to tell this important story.

disoriental

Disoriental, a finalist for The National Book Award, is the story of a young girl who grows up in revolutionary Iran and goes through the Iranian revolution with an inside view provided to her by her revolutionary father.  As a North American who was in college in the time of the Iranian revolution, I remember the media coverage and knew some of the facts including that the Shah was backed by the United States, but I did not know everything and have long been puzzled at the repressive outcome of the revolution.  As a result, this novel which was written with a protagonist who lived in Iran with her family who later were all forced into exile, was – for me – filled with “aha” moments. The protagonist’s revolutionary, intellectual father was opposed to the regimes of both the Shah and Khomeini.

The story is told through the lens of an adult woman, who is going through the medical process in France (the country she and her family was exiled to) to become a parent. The narrator writes that she always valued childhood as the best part of life and has long been determined to continue her line through giving birth.

I was particularly impressed with Djavadi’s handling of the importance of history and how personal history intertwines with world events. The writing of this novel caused her to reflect on the human rights violations against LGBT people in her native land:

“In Iran, homosexuality is considered a supreme violation of God’s will, and is a crime punishable by death. Women as well as men, sometimes only teenagers, are blindfolded and hanged from cranes in public. Homosexuality is generally not cited as the main reason for these executions, due to pressure from Western countries and the fear that these acts will damage their complex relationships with Iran. In any case, it’s estimated that, since 1979, more than four thousand of these public hangings have taken place.”

Reality is rarely comforting, but it is necessary. I was riveted by Disoriental and turning its pages I pondered the mysterious forces of fate and existence and the importance of familial bonds – in particular, the book raises the bonds between fathers and daughters.  Ultimately, I found it to be not only a very good read — but a work of literature that brought me to reflect more keenly on my own life.

 

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 week on the LGBTQ radio syndicate, This Way Out (TWO), lesbian author and playwright Vanda, reviews my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon).  The producer added the hymn “The Waters of Babylon” to the review.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

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

“What I liked most about the book was that I was a part of the discovery.  I would be reading about Tamar and her family and friends and then suddenly one of them would mention a relative or acquaintance who lived in another land; gradually I would come to realize this person was a famous Biblical character, for instance Naomi and Ruth from “I go whither you goest,” fame.

As a young teenager I was in search of answers, so I read the Bible from cover to cover twice. l   don’t know that I found any answers, but I enjoyed the stories. I was able to connect to those ancient people. The stories in They are told in simple, everyday language; they do not sound Biblical. They sound human.”

–reviewed by Vanda, author of The Juliana Series

To hear the entire review, click here

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through bookstores and online where books are sold.  It’s also available through your local library.  If the library doesn’t already have it, just ask your librarian to order it.

For more information on THEY, click here.

THEY Scottie

 

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Many thanks to the Philadelphia Gay News for the article they ran this week before my reading at the Penn Book Center (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at the fiction series at the Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St., on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

Mt. Airy author Janet Mason is well known on the Philadelphia literary circuit and within the local LGBTQ community for her provocative writing that includes poetry, memoir and fiction. Her last book, “Tea Leaves,” won the Golden Crown Literary Award for lesbian memoir.

Mason’s new novel is set primarily in biblical times. “THEY: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders” (Adelaide Books, $22) is quite different from Mason’s other work. The novel details the story of Tamar of the Hebrew Bible and a twin sister Tabitha, Tabitha’s intersex twins and the dawning of the concept of defining male gender as preferential, along with the concept of gender as finite — two genders with no variants.

Mason, who will be reading (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at a fiction series at the Penn Book Center on Jan. 30, delves deeply into the variants with her lesbian protagonist and the character’s family.

It’s a complicated story that evolved over the past couple of years as Mason experienced her own awakening with regard to religion, the Bible and gender.

“I was raised secular,” Mason said. Her mother, the subject of “Tea Leaves,” was “a Bible-burning atheist.”

About five years ago, Mason joined the Unitarian Universalist Church where she became a lay minister.

they_cover1_300“I started reading the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, which I’ve always been curious about,” Mason said. “There is some great stuff in both books of the Bible, but there’s also a fair amount of misogyny and violence. I remember that in my high-spirited 20s, I announced at some opportune time that someone needed to rewrite the Bible.”

Mason says while reading the Bible for the first time, “I came across the story of Tamar in Genesis, the muse descended, and I was off and running. I was also influenced by taking yoga and developing a daily practice that included Buddhist meditation.”

Other influences included “knowing a young family on my block whose child transitioned at age 5 to become a happy little girl. I was also reviewing several books on trans issues,” Mason explained. “Later, when I was finished writing the novel, I found out that Biblical scholars — including a rabbi who published a piece in The New York Times — had found that the Hebrew Bible, in particular, did have original words such as ‘they’ to connote both and all genders.”

 At a time when the political climate has turned anti-LGBTQ and evangelicals seem to have taken ownership of the Bible, Mason said she wanted to “send the message that we are all valued. The evangelicals definitely don’t ‘own’ religion, even if they think they do. Many of their children are staying in the religion and changing it to be more liberal. And there are plenty of liberal religions — and they are changing, too.” Religion, she says, “is becoming more inclusive of LGBTQ people.”

For Mason, “Working on ‘THEY’ was my way of entering the stories and myths of the Bible made real to me by my imagination. My hope is that ‘THEY’ might be an opening for some to enter the stories and find that there’s room for them, too.”

Though Mason is currently promoting her new book with readings and book signings, she is also working on new projects, which include revising another novel titled “The Unicorn, The Mystery,” of which several sections were recently short-listed for the Adelaide Literary Prize.

“It’s a novel that is set in an abbey in medieval times where several nuns who happen to be in love with each other live. A monk and a talking unicorn narrate
the story.”

Mason will be reading (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at the fiction series at the Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St., on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

(interview by Victoria Brownworth for PGN)

 

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I wanted to let you know about my upcoming reading at the Penn Book Center this January 30th (Wednesday) at 6:30 pm.  I’m reading with novelist Anjali Mitter Duva.

The address of the Penn Book Center (in University City, Philadelphia) is 34th and Sansom Streets.

The series is hosted by the All But True Working Writers Group. 

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Note: I recently co-lead a workshop on exploring myth in words and visual art at the Art Room in Philadelphia where I read the following excerpt of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders. The YouTube video is below and under that the text of my reading — which features the biblical version of Ruth and Naomi. There is a lesbian tradition of linking Ruth and Naomi together as lovers. (Ruth and Naomi are frequently pictured embracing.) And the writer and Biblical historian Gore Vidal agreed that it looked to him like Ruth and Naomi were lovers. I know it certainly informed my vision of traditional religion — and I’m honored to pass this tradition along.

 

 

 

Tamar looked down on herself. Her body lay on her bed.
Tabitha was at Tamar’s side. Her eyes were wet. Tamar knew why her sister was crying. They were almost the same person, from the same womb, from the same egg split into two. They were identical in looks, if not in spirit. They shared the same secret — that of tricking Judah. Zerah and Pharez were still living in Egypt with Judah.
Tamar saw a well-built man, younger but no longer young, dusting sand from his hands. He must have been digging the hole outside. Tamar somehow knew that the hole was where her body would be buried.
Shaggy salt and pepper hair brushed his shoulders. Light circled his head. She remembered that he was the young shepherd who had lain with Tabitha. Tamar had met him several times when he was a boy and his mother had brought him to her tent.
Tamar came back to herself, opened her eyes, and stared at her sister.
Tabitha looked down at her and said, “I am past my bleeding time now, so there won’t be a scandal.”
“Good,” Tamar said. That was her final word.
Tamar took her last breath — or so she thought. But in death, she found that she was breath.
She was the gentle breeze sweeping from her mouth as her lifeless body was put in the ground.
From the sky above their heads, she looked down and saw a small group of mourners. Judith was there. She was wearing her brown and white striped robe. It did not look like she was wearing her silver necklaces. A fat tear slid down her face, leaving a glistening trail. Judith was holding the hand of her youngest. She was now old enough to walk and to understand that the woman she had known as “Auntie” was no longer with them. But Tamar was not sad. She felt like herself — only like more of herself. She was the silence. Then she realized that someone else was with her. Aziz. (Her late pet camel) He had gone before her. He had died in the last growing season. She had made arrangements to leave Azizi (the baby camel she adopted when she was still alive) to Tabitha who had matured and was more of an animal person. When she was still living, Tamar had thought of Aziz every day. Now she felt a soft furry breeze next to her. They were together again. She caressed the face of the mourners. She lingered for a moment on Judith’s tear stained cheek. Then, in a gust, she took off across the desert. She had places to go.
Her first stop was the marketplace. She had told Tabitha not to tell Naomi that she was dying.RandN 4 stained glass
She only saw Naomi when she went to her tent to make the camel cheese. But they had struck up a friendship. Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth was left on her own when Naomi’s son had died.
Naomi had confided to Tamar that she loved Ruth. The famine was still bad in the land, and Naomi feared that Ruth might starve since she was on her own. Tamar had known that Ruth was fretting, and that was why she forbade Tabitha to tell Naomi that she was dying.
Tamar was a breeze blowing through the marketplace. She wanted to caress Naomi’s rough face, to thank her quietly for bringing her Azizi and for teaching her to make the camel cheese. But most of all, she wanted to thank Naomi for being a friend. A friend was hard to come by in the harsh desert. But Naomi’s stall in the marketplace was empty. So Tamar flew to her tent and found that she could slip inside the flap.
Naomi was still small and stooped. Tamar recognized her black and white striped robe. But it was no longer new. Time had left it in tatters. Ruth had aged too. Tamar had been right about Naomi’s skin. It had become brown and crinkled like the skin of an almond.
Ruth was beseeching Naomi: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
The two women embraced.
“I will think of a plan,” said Naomi, in her gravelly voice, “so that we can be together.”
The younger woman looked at Naomi with shining eyes. Tamar saw that they loved each other as lovers. The two women began caressing each other so tenderly that they looked like they might create a daughter.

 

 

With They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders, author Janet Mason posits that there could have been a hidden tribe of intersex children, kept under the radar by a pair of savvy twin sisters. Matriarchs Tamar and Tabitha can set the record straight on biblical heroes like Joseph and Jesus, along with other miracles of conception and reincarnation they’ve had to keep to themselves. — Windy City Times

available in bookstores and online where books are sold

Amazon link https://amzn.to/2UgefCb

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What if you could meet a secret society of welcoming misfits—omitted from patriarchal biblical history—just because they are not in keeping with gender norms?

With They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders, author Janet Mason posits that there could have been a hidden tribe of intersex children, kept under the radar by a pair of savvy twin sisters. Matriarchs Tamar and Tabitha can set the record straight on biblical heroes like Joseph and Jesus, along with other miracles of conception and reincarnation they’ve had to keep to themselves. — Windy City Times

available in bookstores and online where books are sold

Amazon link https://amzn.to/2UgefCb

Amazon THEY

 

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