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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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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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“Tamar leads us through their world with intelligence and humour, bringing the old tales to life and making them accessible to the contemporary reader; infusing them with a modern subtext to give them relevance in today’s world. Unconventional families, shattered typecasts, twisted myths and all presented with a tongue in cheek subtlety and wit. Mason has managed to take a complex and rather alien historical setting, merge it with up to the minute social mores and produce an amusing read.”

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

–Living True, LOTL (an Australian-based media development and events company with offices in Sydney and New York City)

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Note: I am re-blogging this post in honor of World AIDS Awareness Day on December 1st, 2018.

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.”

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.aids memorial quilt

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 was delighted to read this review which I excerpted below:

“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 read the entire review, click here

 

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders Janet Mason New W

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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.

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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I wanted to let you know that my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon) is featured by BlazeVOX‘s Zoom Blog.  BlazeVox (which also publishes books) is the press that published one of the first excerpts of THEY.

Thanks to BlazeVox editor Geoffrey Gatza for offering his heartfelt encouragement for so many experimental writers!

You can view THEY on the BlazeVox blog by clicking here.

 

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

 

Amazon THEY

 

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