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Posts Tagged ‘Queer Writers’

originally 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.flags

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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“Light” a short fiction excerpt from my novel “Looking at Pictures” was just published by Five:2:One Magazine.  You can read a brief excerpt below which links to Five:2:One Magazine.

Light
(June, 1926)

On the left bank of the Seine, a boulevard wound around. It was lined with hotels and shops with tall windows and wrought iron railings. Tina turned down one side street and then another. Then she saw him again: the old bent over man with the large format camera on a tripod. He walked along the street like a crooked stick in his black cloth jacket. Tina hung back so he wouldn’t see her.

He stopped and set up the camera. Tina stood still and watched. He surveyed the scene in front of him. First he angled the camera toward the empty chairs on the street outside of the cafe. Then he moved it so that he was looking at the empty street in front of the cafe. Far in the distance was a street light. In front of the street light, black branches of a horse-chestnut tree filtered morning light. A dark wet spot glistened on the bare pavement in front of the empty chairs. The cafe owner must just have been outside with a bucket of water. The cafe would open in an hour or two. These chairs would be full of people having brunch. Conversations and arguments would ensue. The poor artists of Montparnasse would be renting tables by the hour because they couldn’t afford studios.

The old man seemed oblivious to what might happen — as if he were as captured by the moment as much as he captured it.

read more at Five:2:One Magazine…..

 

Looking at Pictures is the novel that I spent last winter writing. It gives us a glimpse into the loves and lives of well known artists and ordinary people, both queer and not, all of whom live outside the box.  It is a novel influenced by history — it takes place in 1926 — and by the people who lived in that time.  Many of the characters are actual artists, including fine art photographers.

This novel was inspired, in large part, by the work that I have been doing with Jeanette Jimenez on the archive of her father Alexander Artway (an architect and photographer who photographed New York City in the 1930s). The archive is extremely interesting and the photographs brilliant!

The first short fiction excerpt –titled Looking At Pictures — of my novel was published by devise literary and is partially excerpted below. Very shortly after I finished the novel last Spring, I heard from David Acosta (formerly known as Juan David Acosta) who invited me to be one of the readers at his new series at Casa de Duende. The piece that I read was a chapter set in Mexico which features the characters Frida and Tina.  The YouTube video, below, includes David’s wonderful introduction. If I were to rate this YouTube piece, it is definitely PG-plus.  It’s called “Ecstasy” and is influenced by lesbian sex, philosophy and LOVE.

 

Fiction: Looking at Pictures

Issue 1.2

by Janet Mason

(May, 1926)

Tina looked at the image in front of her and wished she still had her camera.

She was walking along the deepwater port looking into the hold of a ship that had backed up to the cement pier. She could see both levels. Initially she assumed that first class was on the top and that steerage was down below.  Then she noticed that the people below were almost all women and children.  They looked like immigrants from Europe wrapped in their drab shawls and holding their squalling infants.  None of them looked up.

……read more at devise literary

 

Ecstasy“@ Casa de Duende:

 

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

 

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.”

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Looking at Pictures is the novel that I spent last winter writing. It gives us a glimpse into the loves and lives of well known artists and ordinary people, both queer and not, all of whom live outside the box.  It is a novel influenced by history — it takes place in 1926 — and by the people who lived in that time.  Many of the characters are actual artists, including fine art photographers.

This novel was inspired, in large part, by the work that I have been doing with Jeanette Jimenez on the archive of her father Alexander Artway (an architect and photographer who photographed New York City in the 1930s). The archive is extremely interesting and the photographs brilliant!

The first short fiction excerpt –titled Looking At Pictures — of my novel was just published by devise literary and is partially excerpted below. Very shortly after I finished the novel last Spring, I heard from David Acosta (formerly known as Juan David Acosta) who invited me to be one of the readers at his new series at Casa de Duende. The piece that I read was a chapter set in Mexico which features the characters Frida and Tina.  The YouTube video, below, includes David’s wonderful introduction. If I were to rate this YouTube piece, it is definitely PG-plus.  It’s called “Ecstasy” and is influenced by lesbian sex, philosophy and LOVE. (A photograph of all the readers is below the YouTube video.)

 

Fiction: Looking at Pictures

Issue 1.2

by Janet Mason

(May, 1926)

Tina looked at the image in front of her and wished she still had her camera.

She was walking along the deepwater port looking into the hold of a ship that had backed up to the cement pier. She could see both levels. Initially she assumed that first class was on the top and that steerage was down below.  Then she noticed that the people below were almost all women and children.  They looked like immigrants from Europe wrapped in their drab shawls and holding their squalling infants.  None of them looked up.

……read more at devise literary

 

Ecstasy“@ Casa de Duende:

 

 

 

 

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The readers at Casa de Dunende’s queer reading series last Spring at the Da Vinci Art Alliance: (first row — left to right) David Acosta; Susan DiPronio; Lamont Steptoe; (second row – left to right) Cyree Jarelle Johnson; Janet Mason; Thom Nickels; (third row back Maxton Young-Jones.

Many thanks to David Acosta, Artistic Director for Casa de Duende, for bringing us all together!

 

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I like surprises. And (almost) nothing is better than a good book that takes me to an unexpected place. I recently picked up Lesbian Marriage: A Sex Survival Kit (2014) by Kim Chernin and Renate Stendhal, and then I picked up Active Duty: Gay Military Erotic Romance, edited by Neil Placky, and Rookies: Gay Erotic Fiction, edited by Shane Allison. The latter two books were both published in 2014 by Cleis Press. I like to mix it up a little. What the books have in common is that none of them was what I expected.

When I first heard of Lesbian Marriage: A Sex Survival Kit, I expected a book about, well, sex. But the book is written by a lesbian couple in a committed relationship who in 2013 celebrated the anniversary of 28 years together by getting married. The book is about relationships and is told from the first-person perspectives of the authors as well as other coupled lesbians. Its 12 chapters — each starting with a story that presents a relationship challenge — are followed by a “Dos and Don’ts” section following up on the relationship challenge.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that the book is so well-written and useful, given that I was familiar with the work of one of the authors, Kim Chernin, who in 1982 published In My Mother’s House, which, although I didn’t know it at the time, was probably one of the major inspirations for my book Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters.

When my partner of 30 years and I married this past year, we did so to claim our equality for legal rights. We were also caught up in the mad rush of history. But the fact is that there are many pros and cons of marriage — even when claiming your equality. As Chernin and Stendhal point out in Lesbian Marriage, “half the people who get involved in it for the first time get back out again. The second time they try, sixty percent leave it behind.”

When I was younger, I never wanted to join the rest of the population in what is, basically, a failed institution. But then my partner and I got older. Suddenly we had to face the inequalities of being a same-sex couple — including a lack of hospital visitation rights. Considering that many, if not most, of the lesbian couples who marry are younger, the question posed by Chernin and Stendhal is a valid one:

We are obviously not intending to make gay marriage a replica of conventional marriage … so what do we want? It’s probably a good idea to have the discussion before we, and as we, and after we rush down to stand in line all night at City Hall.

 
 

The authors address the issue of “lesbian bed death” — the dwindling of sex in a long-term relationship. They put it in context by stating that “all the couples we know, and I mean all the heteros and a lot of the boys, too, are complaining about not having sex,” and by concluding that “marriage is not the remedy for couple trouble.”

Some highlights include sex after menopause (don’t think you are defined by your hormones), arguing fairly (don’t berate your lover), issues around monogamy, listening to each other, and scheduling time for play (“time is like freedom; no one gives it to you, you have to take it”).

Thinking about marriage left me thinking about gays in the military, another mainstream institution that I have had a change of heart about. While I once had the viewpoint that no one, including the LGBTQ community, perhaps especially the LGBTQ community, should have anything do with the military, I came to the conclusion that having equality is far better than not having it.

After I read Active Duty: Gay Military Erotic Romance, I scanned the bios in the back of the book and did not see anything that led me to believe that the writers were actually in the military. Many of the writers in this anthology must have talked to friends in the military, however. In addition to being well-written, most of the stories got to the heart of the matter of what it means to be openly gay in an hostile institution. The editor of the anthology, Neil Placky, explores the experiences of two prisoners of war, both of whom happen to be gay, in Afghanistan. The two men manage to escape — but, of course, not before a tryst. In this story, which is remarkably written with a strong sense of place, as in many of the others, there is a sense that the two men want to get together again after they return to their respective units.

There is overlap with the other anthology from Cleis Press, Rookies: Gay Erotic Fiction, particularly in the story “Busted” by Johnny Murdoc, when the cop character talks about his brother being a soldier in Afghanistan: “I miss Bobby. Then I think about him shooting at people in cars and I hate this whole fucking country.”

So the cops in this anthology have moral compasses, and they have fully developed characters. They cross the line, as in “Busted,” from arresting a man for smoking a joint to smoking one with him (and having sex with him). In another piece a rookie cop and his partner find themselves in the position of having to investigate a park where men meet for sex. The ending of this piece, by Eric Del Carlo, is perhaps predictable, but it’s touching, as the partner satisfies his rookie partner’s long-suppressed longing.

There is something appealing about cops stepping over the line, but as I read these two books I began thinking about something else. The characters in these anthologies are young — as the writers most likely are. They are from a post 9/11 era. Some of the men have husbands. And some are planning to have families. There is little to nothing written about the horrors of war or the perils of a police state. At first I was concerned for them — that they may be more conservative, despite the gains that the LGBT movement has made. Then I let the thought pass. They are of their time; they’ll figure things out just like we did.

from The Huffington Post

 

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As a white lesbian, I am equally dismayed about the not guilty verdict rendered in the case of Trayvon Martin and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act as I am elated about the recent Supreme Court ruling repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and striking down Proposition Eight.

These issues are by no means black and white. The LGBT movement cuts across every race, ethnicity, nationality and class division. That is what the rainbow flag represents. It is a reminder that we are all connected. In the recent Supreme Court rulings alone, this country has taken a huge step forward and a huge step back.

I am happy for my friends who live in states where same-sex marriage is legal that they can receive full federal benefits, am hopeful for myself and my partner that we can be part of the change and that it happens in our lifetimes. In thinking about the legalization of gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act and the not guilty verdict rendered in the murder case of Trayvon Martin in the state of Florida, I cannot help but agree with my retired postal worker partner that states rights is contradictory. “We’re not the divided states of America,” she pointed. “We’re supposed to be United.”

Look at the interracial marriage which was still illegal in sixteen states when the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virgina — ruled in favor of Loving, overriding the laws of the states.

Unfortunately, it is safe to assume that had the U.S. Supreme Court, has not reached its verdict in 1967 — that many states would have kept their laws against interracial marriage for as long as they could.

My thinking about the connections between Civil Rights and LGBT rights was deepened further when I read the recently published novel The Sin Warriors by Julian E. Farris (Lethe Press, 2012). The novel is based on the actual events, in 1956, in the state of Florida when, as is written in the afterword of the novel …

read the entire blog post in The Huffington Post

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