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Note: This piece is re-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.)

History is a messy business.

After all, it does involve human beings.

I have not thought this until now — specifically when I read the 2017 biography titled Oscar’s Ghost, The Battle for Oscar Wild’s Legacy by Laura Lee by Amberly Publishing in England.

 

Oscar Wilde

The book covers some new territory. It portrays the struggle for literary control over Wilde’s estate.

But the first one hundred and fifty pages or so were about the events of Wilde’s life — event that led up to the struggle over his writing by the two men in his life.

This was fortunate for me because (in full disclosure), I had not read any of the previous biographies about Wilde. Here’s the short version. Wilde was born in 1854 in Dublin, Ireland, went to college in England, married a woman as custom dictated, became a well-known writer, discovered he was gay, fell hopelessly in love with a younger man named Lord Alfred Douglas and went to jail for that love in 1895. He was then released from jail in 1897 and in 1900 died penniless.

It was interesting to read that the well-known line — “the love that dare not speak its name” — was a line of poetry written by Lord Alfred Douglas that was used in the court case against Oscar Wilde. It was equally fascinating to read that when Oscar spoke of his devotion to Lord Alfred Douglas (nicknamed Bosie) in the courtroom that the attendees of the trial applauded. This is proof that people (at least some of them) are always more enlightened than the laws that govern them.

Oscar was found guilty and went to jail. In prison, he wrote what is arguably his best work titled De Profundis (Latin for “from the depths”), a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas. We have this work because Oscar handed it to his good friend and literary executor Robert Ross who was also his occasional lover.

The long-essay did not portray Lord Alfred Douglas in a good light. After all, Douglas was the reason that Oscar had gone to jail and lost everything. Nevertheless after Oscar’s release from jail the two men reunited and for a short time lived in Naples. After Oscar died an untimely death from a rare disease in 1900, Lord Alfred Douglas learned of the existence of De Profundis and that it was written as a letter to him. Because of this, he considered it his personal property and went into a litigious rage.

The two men knew of Oscar’s involvement with each other and for a while they were good friends. The enmity that grew between them after Oscar’s death was unfortunate. But we do have Robert Ross to thank for establishing Oscar Wilde’s legacy.

In the conclusion, the author notes how fast things have changed:

“In March 2014, same sex marriage became legal in the UK. A little more than a year later it became the law of Oscar Wilde’s native Ireland. In January 2017, Wilde was posthumously pardoned, along with 50,000 other gay men who had been convicted under a law that no longer exists. It can only be hoped that we are finally entering an era when men who love men can, indeed, be dead to all sense of shame.”

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

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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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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.

When I first heard about two new books for queer people coming out of heterosexual marriages, I thought good.  Someone needs to talk about how this is done ethically.

In other words, honesty is the best policy – and this means not leading a double life (for any reason).

I was not disappointed. In fact, both books evoked compassion on my part.  As a long-time lesbian-feminist with a long-term partner in a world that has seen many advances in LGBT rights, I’ve managed to stay in a bubble where it seems like homophobia rarely touches me. And when it does, I manage to get away.

flags

 

But these two books focus on the rest of the world where our rights are under attack – indeed where progress is met with a backlash. Sadly, this world does exist.

As Darshana Mahtani writes in Greetings from Janeland (edited by Candace Walsh and Barbara Straus Lodge and published by Cleis Press):

“As an Indian daughter in Barbados, I was told who I was before I could figure it out for myself. My whole life was a preamble to marriage. How to budget for groceries, remove greasy stains from marble tables, make chai, entertain and dress accordingly, pay compliments, satisfy my husband, impress the in-laws, and most importantly, listen without having an opinion –“

So how to get out of an arranged marriage – or, for that matter, any heterosexual marriage?

The answers lie in the pages of this book – which is organized into short stories focusing on the experiences of each woman.

Many of the writers are mothers, some were raised in strict religious traditions, others come from small towns and others come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. More than a few were terrified of losing their children and the support of their families.  But they did manage to leave heterosexual marriages that were not working for them.  In the process, they were able to create lives where they defined themselves.

Married Men Coming Out (CreateSpace) by David Christel is written out of the author’s experience of facilitating the Married Men’s Coming Out Group for six years.  It is a step-by-step guide for coming out with the goal – as he puts it in the subtitle – to become the man you were born to be.”

Christel starts off with the sage advice of paying attention to your emotions.  As he writes: “I know, you’re a guy, so checking in on your feelings isn’t what you do. Do it anyway! Not dealing with your feelings is a cultural myth about men that’s been promulgated for eons – men don’t feel, men DO! Yet, men do have feelings that are fundamental to their being.”

The author then goes on to makes suggestions for telling the female spouse:

“Her pain is going to be palpable. Whatever you do, don’t go stoic on her.  Let yourself be vulnerable with her.  After all, you did marry her and you may have had children with her. Your marriage is based on something and you need to have that come through.  This way, she won’t feel completely abandoned by you and let feelings of worthlessness overtake her.”

This book is written with humor interlaced through it, and is very comprehensive.  Christel includes coming out to children, other family members, old friends, co-workers and even touches on the gay community. He also mentions support groups for coming out and also groups for dealing with addiction.

Toward the end, he advises: “If you are in a situation where you will lose social standing, please do not choose to hide or lie about who you are. People will actually hold you in higher standing for being truthful, though they may still shut the door on you. That’s their prerogative and you need to be aware of that. In the years to come, some people may still treat you as a topic of disdain, but there may be one person who will say, ‘At least he was truthful with us.’”

To read about my just released novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, click here.

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Amazon THEY

Adelaide Books (New York and Lisbon)/ March 11, 2018/  0-9995164-3-4

 

Janet Mason has a storyteller’s gift, weaving rich imagery with provocative twists to create a world where gender is as complex and fluid as the emotional bond between twins. With its Biblical, Pagan, fantastical and modernist roots, THEY is not easily categorized – and even harder to put down.

Susan Gore, PhD, Editor, Coming Out in Faith: Voices of LGBTQ Unitarian Universalists

 

 

“Whoever heard of a divine conception?”

Tamar rolled her eyes. She looked skeptically at her twin.

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is a novel written by Pushcart nominee Janet Mason.  It is now available on Amazon  and will be available in bookstores soon.

In THEY, we met Tamar from the Hebrew Bible. Tamar lives as a hermit in the desert, is content with her life and is happily barren. She is attached to her pet camel. Her aversion to goat sacrifices becomes so strong that it prompts her to become a vegetarian. Tamar has a twin sister Tabitha who becomes pregnant after seducing a young muscular shepherd. Tamar plots with Tabitha to trick Judah (a patriarch from the Bible) into believing that the baby is his so that she can have status in society rather than being burnt at the stake. Tabitha gives birth to twins.  Tamar becomes attached to the children (born intersex), who call her auntie, and follows their line of intersex twins.

THEY is written for both the reader with and without a biblical background. The reader without a background will have an interesting romp through the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. THEY is also influenced by other spiritual traditions and laced with humor. The reader who is versed in biblical history will have an entertaining read and a new spin on an old story. The novel is strongly influenced by the Gnostic Gospels and by the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism.   

THEY is a groundbreaking work that will prove to be lifesaving for those in the LGBTQ community and enlightening and liberating to others.

Janet Mason is an award-winning creative writer, teacher, radio commentator, and blogger for The Huffington Post. She records commentary for This Way Out, the internationally-aired LGBTQ radio syndicate based in Los Angeles. Her book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, published by Bella Books in 2012, was chosen by the American Library Association for its 2013 Over the Rainbow List. Tea Leaves also received a Goldie Award. She is the author of three poetry books.

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, is now available on Amazon

The Philadelphia launch of THEY will be held at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in the Mt. Airy neighborhood.  Stay tuned for more details.

Following is an excerpt of THEY — The Descent of Ishtar with Asushunamir the two spirited, intersexed, trickster — performed at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue in Philadelphia.

 

 

Click here for more YouTube videos and text excerpts of THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders.

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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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Note: I am re-blogging this post in honor of World AIDS Awareness Day on December 1st, 2017.

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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(Note: the following is my fiction excerpt titled “The Artists” that was just published in Adelaide Magazine.  The piece of short fiction is excerpted from my recently completed novel Pictures. Following is several paragraphs of “The Artists” followed by a link to the full story at Adelaide Magazine. Below that is an excerpt from Pictures on You Tube that I read at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia. And below that is a link to some other published excerpts of Pictures.)

 

THE ARTISTS
By Janet Mason

(October, 1926)

After dinner,  Nan and George refilled their wine glasses with a deep red Bordeaux and went to the sitting room where they waited for their spouses to join them.  George put a record on his new Victor Victrola.  It sat in the corner on its own end table. Its sound horn with its fluted edges resembled a large silver lily. The opening was turned toward the wall.

Nan stared at the fluted horn.

“I turned it to the wall so that the sound would echo through the apartment,” said George.

“The music sounds turbulent,” said Nan.

“That’s the point,” replied George.  “Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring portrays the violence of the Russian pagan rites. A maiden dances herself to death in the sacrificial dance.  Stravinsky uses Russian folk music in the score.  He was sketched by Picasso, and Picasso undoubtedly influenced him.  They both discovered artistic primitivism at the same time — Picasso in his cubist painting and Stravinsky in his experimental music.”

Nan  cocked her head and listened to the strains of music amplified by the phonograph.   She imagined violin bows slicing air. She heard cubism in the music. The bass of kettle drums sounded.  She cocked her head so that one ear was turned to the sound horn as she listened intently to the high tones of the piccolo and flutes.

Despite what George had said, Nan didn’t care for the music.  She didn’t say so though — out of politeness to her teacher and friend.

Emma came in and joined them, sitting down on the burnt umber leather sofa next to her husband. Wilna was still missing.

She must be in the powder room, thought Nan.

“I hear that the piece started a riot in Paris when it debuted,” continued George.  “But that was because of the bad ballet dancing under the direction of Nijinsky.”

….read more here in Adelaide Magazine.

Pictures was, in part, inspired by my discovering and reading about Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason by Joseph P. Eckhardt (WoodstockArts).  I went to see the show in Woodstock at the Historical Society and here is one of the photos (Nan is on the left; Wilna is on the right:

 

 

Click here to see more photos Woodstock Hist. Society -- portrait of Nan Mason & Wilna Herveyfrom the show about Nan and Wilna at the Woodstock Historical Society.

 

 

Read other published excerpts of Pictures (and see other YouTube segments) by clicking here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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