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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: 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.)

When I heard that the lesbian writer Vanda had a new book out, book three of her Juliana Series, I was very excited.  You see, I love historic novels and when a historic novel is written by a lesbian and includes lesbian characters that makes me very happy.

Vanda three

Paris, Adrift is the title of Vanda’s newest novel, and it may be written as the third book in a series, but it can be read on its own.  At the same time, there are allusions to previous circumstances that were in the early novels, that the reader all the entire series will get.  And if that reader is like me – who has read the series as the individual books were published – this means that the characters are even more real. They have become people with histories – backstories that make the novel I am reading even more complex.

The two main characters Alice (Al) and Juliana, a famous singer whose career Al is managing.  The two women are also lovers.  They are from New York City and when the novel opens in 1955, they are taking an ocean liner to Paris where Juliana is booked to sing in nightclubs.

The tenor of the times – which are so real that Al and Juliana experience blackmail – reveal to the reader that intense homophobia is as alive and well in Paris as it is in New York.  Vanda writes a passage from the point of view of Al that sadly echoes sentiments that I have heard in the not so distant past:

Of course, Max would have no choice but to fire me.  I’d lose all my clients. Who’d want to be represented by a mentally disturbed, potentially criminal, unnatural woman? A thing. I’d lose my gay clients too, like Marty. It would be too dangerous for him to be represented by me.  I’d never work again, at least not in show business or government or civil service; Is there anything left?  I’d be poor again. Maybe scraping by in low level jobs like my father.  I’d hate that.  I did have savings and stocks so I could hang on for a while. But my work in cabaret. I must have that. It was my life.  Still – I’d survive it.  Somehow. But Juliana….? She was used to being adored. If it came out that she was … The worst for me would be that this would most likely be the end of us, and that I didn’t know how I would live through.

The novel takes the reader through history – a factually accurate history – that provides for plenty of interesting asides and insights. But ultimately it is a love story between these two women Al and Juliana – and it is a tale of how their lesbian love which must remain hidden is able to survive.  As Vanda writes:

Oh, there have been a few women like us who lived in Paris somewhat openly; women artists who were already considered odd like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.  They weren’t really accepted by most, merely tolerated.  Many others who came here to write or be artists kept their relationships secret. No. I don’t think we’ll ever be treated like everyone else.”

    “Then let’s stay here all day and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. “

     She kissed me, and we made love again.  Everything would have been perfect …. [except]

 

There has been much written about the importance of telling our stories.   For me, as a member of the lesbian community, as someone who recognizes that our stories are so often marginalized and dismissed, the importance of telling our story – especially in an historic novel in a lesbian context – is proof that we do exist and, in fact, have always existed.

 

To read my review of Vanda’s first book in the series, Juliania, click here.

To read my review of Vanda’s second book in the series, Olympus Nights On the Square, LGBT Life in the Early Post-War Years (1945-1955), click here.

 

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

 

 

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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.)

 

Despite the fact that I am (still) filled with lesbian rage, I am a nonviolent person – if not by nature, then by principle.

But, at the same time, I have to admit that a woman hero avenging injustice gives me arainbow ww logo little thrill.  Lately, I’ve developed an intellectual reasoning to this:  we need more feminist heroines.  We need to keep believing that a woman protecting other women is possible and we need to keep thinking that it’s important.

Reading Chaser (a Jinx Ballou novel) published in 2018 by Pariah Press furthered my thinking on this.  The book was written by Dharma Kelleher who is heralded as one of the top authors in transgender crime fiction.

I don’t ordinarily read mysteries.  But when I do I am impressed with the suspense and tension inherent in the form, and I always learn something new.  As a non-mystery reader, I found that the book was a delightful and suspenseful page turner with heart.

The narrator, Jinx Ballou, is a bounty hunter hired to bring a teenage disabled girl — charged with her mother’s murder — back to face her charges in court. The girl has skipped bail which is why Jinx was hired to find her.

Jinx takes on this case after she is outed by a local newspaper as transgender and is fired by her former agency.

Jinx is astounded to discover that simply by knowing she is transgender can make it now obvious that her employer is small minded.  As the author writes:

“I sighed, even as my heart revved in my chest like a race car engine.  ‘I’ve always been a girl, Sara Jean.  It’s just that through some crazy mix-up of biochemistry or genetics, I was born with a boy’s body.  It’s hard to explain.’

“She fixed her gaze on me once again. ‘Ain’t nothing to explain. Boys is boys, and girls is girls. God made you what you are.  Ain’t no changing it.’

‘I wish it were that simple, Sara Jean, but it’s not. I’, — ‘

‘Perverts like you’s what’s wrong with this world.  Making it dangerous for God-fearing folks to use public restrooms.’

‘A pervert?  Seriously, Sara Jean, is that what you think I am?’  I rolled my eyes.  ‘Want to know what trans people do in public restrooms? We pee. We poop.  And we wash our hands which is more than I can say for some people.”

 

And so the author proves her point.  Discrimination that can be proven with the prohibition of use of public restrooms, is absolutely ridiculous.

Jinx goes on to find new work, gets her girl who she develops great empathy toward. While doing so, she confronts a mobster running a human trafficking operation.  I observed that in many ways this novel contained many mysteries including who outed Jinx to the reporter, and why should the fact that she is transgender matter anyway?

And so I learned a lot from Chaser, but perhaps most of all, I learned that yes, given the right circumstances, I can count myself as a fan of crime fiction.

 

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: This short reflection is re-airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show in honor of its thirtieth anniversary.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

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

 

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.”

 

To learn more about Janet Mason’s new novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders click here.

 

Janet-Mason-THEY

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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.

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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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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.

 

I was having a spirited, if heated, debate with an older colleague of mine on the bus in New York City.  She was insisting that by looking at life through a queer lens, that I was limiting myself.  My voice got louder as I explained that when I listened to her advice, I felt erased.

Another woman on the bus – who apparently had been listening intently  — interrupted us to tell us that we were almost at our stop.

I said to myself that I understand that not everyone gets everything.  So I decided that nothing gay was going to pass my lips for the next several hours.  We went to our meeting in Harlem and then on the way back, as the bus detoured around the Puerto Rican Day Parade, my colleague got into a conversation with a woman sitting in the seat in front of us. The conversation led from the detour to the list of parades that the woman – a lifelong New Yorker – talked about.  She was blasé and ended by mentioning the [quote] gay parade.  I simply smiled.  But my colleague muttered, “isn’t anyone normal anymore?”

The woman she was talking to – who was probably in her sixties somewhere between our two ages – looked at her calmly and said, “Anyone can start a parade. All you need is a permit. You can start your own parade.”

At this point, I still remained silent. But my suppressed laughter nearly propelled me into the aisle. Fortunately our stop was soon.  As I disembarked, I remarked to myself that the world really has changed. Ten years ago, I would have had to contend with both of them being homophobic.

My colleague and I have since gone our separate ways. But the fact is that she initially had a point – even if my ire got the best of me.  All of us – who identify as LGBTQ – lead multi-layered lives.  I was reminded of this when I read John Garabedian’s book, aptly titled, The Harmony of Parts. Written with Ian Aldrich, the book was published in 2016 by Orange Frazer Press.

 

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I learned a few things from reading the book.  One was about the radio industry. John was a top forty radio jock en route to his dream of owning his own station – a goal which he reached and after that took a foray into television.  I thought about his statement that baby boomers wanted music that was not only good but a reflection of their social values.  This statement is true.

John is Armenian-American, the son of an Armenian immigrant mother who taught him to pursue his dreams. John is also bisexual.  And both of these identities made him feel different growing up. Also, he writes about growing up in an earlier era when masculinity was different:

“Back then, fathers weren’t expected to be affectionate.  There was a certain ‘manhood’ they had to live up to.  Get a good job, provide for your family, keep to yourself.  Men didn’t hug or show affection back then, it was regarded as queer. Not a lot of ‘I love you.” Oh sure, I thought he loved me. I know he was proud of me, but he never felt comfortable saying those things. It just wasn’t in him to be affectionate.  He didn’t feel it was manly.”

The book illustrates that radio is an extremely volatile industry. Many of John’s positions ended abruptly.  At least in one instance John was fired from a radio show because people – specifically advertisers – found out that he was in a same-sex relationship.

John started his radio career in the late 1950s and early 1960s, around the same time he fell in love with another man.  He writes, “Clearly I was in love, but uptight and timid about letting the world know about it. In 1961, homosexuals were generally regarded as perverts, rapists, and child molesters.  Any sexual act outside of heterosexual intercourse in the missionary position was illegal in Massachusetts as a ‘crime against nature’ and punishable with serious jail time. I still did care what the world saw and what it thought of me. But I worried about what Joe thought, too, I didn’t want him thinking that I was a wimp.”

This is a book about many things – about pursuing your dreams and how family can be a strong part of the drive that is necessary as well as offering love and support. It is also a book about the radio industry and musicians he interviewed and how their music can change the world. I’m a big fan of the gay-icon Lady Gaga and, in full disclosure, was pulled in by her back cover blurb that, “If it weren’t for John Garabedian, no one in America would know who I am.”

It is also a book about honesty and passion and how that, too, fuels us.  But most of all it is a book about a multi-layered life.

The Harmony of Parts contains some important life lessons – especially when it seems that there will always be individuals who look down on others – whether it be through the lens of homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, racial and ethnic discrimination – just to name a few biases.  The book ends with John’s refrain that he signed off with for more than forty-five years:  “Learn from yesterday, live for today, dream for tomorrow, but most important, be your dream.”

 

 

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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.

Just when I was starting to think that well, maybe religion gets a bad rap, I was jolted back into reality by reading three recent books on the theme of religion written by queer writers.

The moniker “queer” embraces LGBT (what a friend calls the alphabet people) — which stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.” One thing we all have in common is that we are different — from each other and from the rest of society. This fits with the original definition of the word “queer” which meant strange or odd — “unusually different.”

An article in the Baptist News Global cites Pew Research Center’s findings that 62 percent now say “homosexuality should be accepted by society … 12 points higher than when the same question was asked in 2007, when acceptance of homosexuality stood at 50 percent.”

That religion is changing — and so rapidly — is a good thing.rainbow leaf

But imagine for a moment that you are a parent and the church you are in — and probably were raised in — tends to still be in the non-accepting 38 percent. Then imagine that your teenage child comes out as gay or lesbian. Or that your young child insists that he or she is the opposite gender.

Suddenly, your world is upside down. And the people in your congregation — the ones you would ordinarily trust in a crisis — have a good chance of being non accepting. You have the choice of leaving, of course. Or you could stay and help the people around you become more open minded — but this might possible hurt your child.

This may be part of the reason that young people — who tend to be more open minded about sexuality — are leaving religion in droves. According to The Christian Post, “a third of young adults in America say that they don’t belong to any religion.”

The reason that I thought that religion might be getting a bad rap is that I’ve been having a good experience as a Unitarian Universalist (and as one of the lay ministers) for the past four years.

But my secular upbringing undoubtedly made me more open to exploring religion and I found a “Welcoming Congregation” which means acceptance of all its members, including those in the queer community. In the case of the congregation that I joined, most of the congregants are straight and they are genuinely non-homophobic. But the fact is that we’re all different (and this is a good thing) so I would say that everyone is a little bit queer. And since, people are leaving religion in droves, perhaps religion itself is in danger of becoming queer in the original sense of the word.

Yet, we’re all spiritual people and religion does have something to offer. It can use its power to heal rather than to hurt.

The first book I read was To Drink from the Silver Cup: From Faith Through Exile and Beyond (Terra Nova Books) by Anna Redsand. As an adult, Redsand explored many of the same alternative spiritual traditions that have fueled me such as yoga and the Gnostic Gospels. But since she was raised fundamentalist (and encountered discrimination early on) she eventually found a Christian congregation that embraced her whole self. Redsand, who was raised by missionary parents in the Navajo Nation, is particularly insightful in her analysis of oppression.

Redsand writes movingly about the alternative reality that many, especially those from religious backgrounds, experience:

“Twenty-one when Stonewall happened [in 1969], I was then grieving the end of a guilt-ridden, clandestine affair with one of the nurses at the mission hospital.”

In Straight Face (Green Bridge Press) author Brandon Wallace writes eloquently about the reality of living a dual existence as a gay person who had entered the ministry of a fundamentalist religion that denounced gays. He shows us how this is extremely unhealthy. But he also explores how he felt called to come out of the closet, become his authentic self, and help others. This came after he read about a gay teen who had died by suicide:

“While I was reading, all of my past came screaming back at me. I thought about my own suicide attempts, and all the nights I Iay in bed and thought about doing the same thing.”

A Faithful Son is a novel by Michael Scott Garvin that explores the life of a young man growing up gay and fundamentalist in a small town in the South. “Boys like me grow up crooked…” he writes, and tells us the story of how and why the narrator had to leave the small town and move to Los Angeles. The narrator is devoted to his mother and writes movingly about her final days. Ultimately, he writes not about finding faith in the end — but about the narrator finding himself — and maybe in some ways that is the same thing

These three books are a testament to difference. These three author may all have come from fundamentalist backgrounds, but their stories are all different.

What they all have in common was that all three authors were raised in a strong faith that gave them something, but to preserve themselves, they had to leave.

This piece was previously published in The Huffington Post

 

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