July 30, 2014

Reader Meet Author: Personal Advice from Author La JohnJoseph

Posted on July 27, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

Do you have problems with your love life? Do you hate your job? Is your social life lacking a certain zing? All of these questions and more can be answered through literature—or maybe at least by the people who create it. With that in mind, we here at the Lambda Literary Review have started our very own advice column called “Reader, Meet Author.” Think of the column as a sort of a “Dear Abby” for the LGBTQ literary set.

This month’s author is La JohnJoseph, a British-born, American-educated performance artist and writer living in Berlin. The original scriptwriter for radical Californian Dada drag revue BoyfriendRobotique, she is also a librettist and the author of the critically acclaimed solo memoir play Boy in a Dress. Her performance work has taken her from the San Francisco MOMA to the Royal Opera House, and across Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including The Gay Times Book of Short Stories, Bird Song, P.S. I Love You, Fat Zine, and 21st Century Queer Artists Identify Themselves. Everything Must Go , her first novel, debuted this spring.

 

Dear Author,

Are all healthy relationships inherently boring? I should feel blessed. I have dated a succession of great guys who are perfectly nice and stable. But like clockwork, after about twelve months of dating these stable guys, I grow terribly bored and break up with them. It is the crazy guys—the guys who scream and yell and don’t know how to communicate, the guys that never call when they say they will–that inspire the most passion (and the better sex!). Is it just me, or do I have problem with stability? Or is it a universal law that passion/lust and stability do not mix? Must I choose one or the other?

Signed,

Crazy Passion

Dear Crazy Passion (and Total Lack of Imagination),

You seem to be suffering from a delusion of reality, which is sadly a very common and unbearably dreary condition. If you’re telling yourself you can only experience fireworks with someone who treats you badly, may I first advise you to quit it with all of those J-Lo movies, or at least skip to the end where she realizes she loves herself for the person she really is? The person you really are is a very disturbed masochist, and I think that’s wonderful. It’s nice that you want someone to put their cigarettes out on your ass, you’re doing the world a favor in these days of eternal ashtray shortages. But did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, there is a pervert just as twisted as you out there, who will hold your hand and call you back, but is also unafraid to gag you with his piss-soaked jock strap after hours? Streamline yourself for a successful lover, and get a nice guy who can be both your life partner and your master—perhaps a dude with multiple personality disorder, or a Gemini.

Dream B-I-G,

X La JJ

 

Dear Author,

I have recently started dating a wonderful woman, who unfortunately has a twelve-year old daughter who is a real brat! The child is rude, does not respect her elders and runs roughshod all over the woman I am dating. I think the child need more discipline and a sterner hand. It’s getting to the point where I only want to hang out with the woman when she finds a sitter and we can hang out alone. We have only being dating for a couple of weeks—do you think it would be all right at this point for me to tell the woman that the child needs to be reprimanded for her awful behavior?

Signed,

Like the Woman, Hate the Child

Dear Dreadful,

First of all, I love children. They’re literally the only cool people left on this planet. They have the best outfits and the best candy, they’re always screaming about everything, and they never make you listen to such tedious problems. Basically, I agree with the twelve-year-old. I’m glad she’s smashing everything up and driving you up the wall. You’re probably quite awful yourself. I mean, if you have only been dating her Mother for two weeks, maybe you should inquire what the child was like previously. Perhaps she’s just acting out because she detests you. It’s a possibility; I have that effect on a lot of people—why do you think the Reformation came about? Seriously. If it does transpire that Little Miss Sunshine is simply trying to get rid of you, then I say, stick around—even move in—and see how out-of-hand things can really get.

It’ll all end in tears, so bulk-buy Kleenex,

X La JJ

 

Dear Author,

Is it okay to date a former intern? I am a mid-level manager at a small nonprofit, and we have a new set of interns every season. Two seasons ago, we had a smart and attractive intern (he is six years younger than me) and we really clicked. We had a great working relationship, and while I was attracted to him when we worked together, I kept it professional. He emailed me recently about a new job that he recently acquired, and he also asked me if I would like to grab a drink to catch up.  I would love to pursue a friendship and possible more with this former intern. Do you think it is appropriate to date former subordinates? Should I check in with my boss to make sure it is okay? I don’t want to seem like the office leech who picks up all the younger (former) guys who have worked in the office.    

Signed,

Keeping It Professional 

Dear K.I.P.,

I say, date everyone; if you’ve got it, flaunt it, right? Test the waters and have your new boy toy come pick you up from work, preferably in a 1948 Bentley Coupe and a boiler suit unzipped to the navel—see how your colleagues react. If they seem to be merely surprised, then bring him up to the office and reintroduce him to your work mates. Then fuck him on the receptionist’s desk. I promise you that you will see a twofold return on your investment if you follow my advice. For a start, your coworkers will certainly not think of you as ‘just’ a leech; they’ll be bewitched by your brazen attitude, and furthermore, the number of applicants for next season’s internships will soar. Moreover, you may well get fired, which will conveniently free you up to fuck whoever you like whenever you like without worrying what Marge from finance might say about it.

Thank me later,

X La JJ

Looking at ‘In Cold Blood’: Violence, Masculinity, and Compassion

Posted on July 26, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

My interest in violence is organic and manufactured like the testosterone I inject, the metallic fact of the needle I push into my thigh every Thursday. It’s socially enabled, like the startling effect my male body has on other men: the locker room size-ups, the threatened exes, the shoulder-swiped near-fights on the train. It’s relational as my own brush with death at the hands of a man who later went on to shoot two other men and kill one, or the father who modeled the worst kind of masculinity: predatory, crushing, anxious. Whatever the tangles—and maybe I’ll never fully understand, as much as I try to excavate and map, my own heart—what I do know is that my memoir, Man Alive (City Lights Books), which explores the way violence can be gendered and also undone by queering gender, owes its lineage to Truman Capote’s brilliant, chilling true crime classic, In Cold Blood.

For the uninitiated, Capote’s 1966 work was originally serialized to wild acclaim in the New Yorker and is a beautiful, epic piece of literary nonfiction that details the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas. Legend has it that Capote—fey, bowtied, tiny—read a 300-word New York Times story about the killings and traveled to Kansas accompanied, cinematically, by his good friend Harper Lee, to chronicle the search for the murderers and the effect the killings had on the town. Ultimately the two men responsible for the murders were captured and Capote spent six years on the book, forming a particularly close relationship with one of the accused, Perry Edward Smith, in the process. His portrayal of Smith is nuanced, almost affectionate, and, in many ways, deeply queer—a fact that caused rumors about the nature of their friendship even at the time.

I don’t believe the two men had an affair, but the fact of Capote’s identity, to this reader, is the lens that allows for a more complex, humane layer in a story that could easily have been reduced, normatively, into villains and heroes. Capote brings an ephemeral sympathy for the outsider, distinctive but not cloying, that asks us to see ourselves in Perry’s miserable life.

In one particularly poignant scene, Capote describe the recurrence of a lifelong dream Perry has while in prison: “Throughout his life—as a child, poor and meanly treated, as a foot-loose youth, as an imprisoned man—the yellow bird, huge and parrot-faced, had soared across Perry’s dreams, an avenging angel who savaged his enemies or, as now, rescued him in moments of mortal danger: ‘She lifted me, I could have been light as a mouse, we went up, up, could see the Square below, men running, yelling, the sheriff shooting at us, everybody sore as hell because I was free, I was flying, I was better than any of them.’”

Growing up, my biggest fear was that I’d become my father. The reality that I was actually a transgender man forced me into a crucible I’d never have chosen otherwise: at 30, as I grew ever hairier and muscular, as my voice dropped and I passed like a ghost through locker rooms and confused men in gay bars with my dissonant presence, I had to make peace with the shadows and ghosts that bruised every pronoun, every “sir,” every gesture of fraternity, every woman who crossed a lonely street to avoid crossing my path late at night.

The first year of my transition I monitored myself, alert to secret signs of impending evil, as if a blooming would accompany the testosterone shots—a secret, psycho gene just waiting to turn me into a boogie man. It was in this edgy borderland that I re-read In Cold Blood and wrote most of Man Alive. I waited for my worst self, resigned like a guy with a rifle watching the door in a horror film, out-powered perhaps but not going down without a fight.

There’s no doubt that Capote and his wild, dark book changed literary history. Many critics believe it popularized, if not fully created—the nonfiction novel. Even the critiques of his work are familiar to anyone working in this genre today—accusations of fabricated scenes or dialogue, places where facts are sacrificed to the gods of larger narrative. But for this writer, Capote’s effort here—tight, dark, sharp, kind—is cause for celebration for another reason entirely: its bravery. In Cold Blood taught me that I could dive into my shadows, face my would-be killer, plumb my heart for the kind of compassion that the worst kind of men never gave me, and find myself there. I’m not sure what Capote went looking for in Kansas exactly, but it’s impossible to not see his tenderness toward Perry, the kind of open heart that results from being vulnerable enough to identify with and integrate your most shadowy self, and to make room for the multitudes of others in that harrowing process.

I can’t speak for Capote, but the tilt of my masculinity, the outsider nature of my view, gave me access to both a deeper empathy and a broader lens for the world around me. In one of his pretrial hearings, my mugger and I made eye contact and I believed, for just a moment, that he recognized me. I held his gaze, I tried to see the humanity there. I’m not, as it turns out, my father’s son and here’s why: I knew, in that moment, that it was the least I could do. It’s just the kind of man I am. I’d never have known if I hadn’t been willing to look.

Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop: A Stellar Program for Writers

Posted on July 25, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop is a week-long intensive course for established writers. It’s also been one of the best experiences of my life. (more…)

Trans Women & The New Hypertext

Posted on July 8, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

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Encyclopedia Fuckme and The Case of the Vanishing Entree was one of the first Twine games I ever played. It’s a relatively simple game: the player takes on the role of the titular character and, by making a series of choices throughout the narrative, attempts to avoid becoming her ravenous date’s dinner. It’s funny, smart, hot — everything you probably don’t think of when you think about about videogames. (more…)

Re-Education at the Lesbian Herstory Archives

Posted on June 28, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

American history was never my strong suit. From grade school through those pesky requisite undergrad courses, the subject bored me to tears. Not only were historical narratives presented to us in a predictable, memorization-friendly format (name of notable event, date(s) of notable event, key figures in notable event). In many instances, these narratives were spit-shined, polished so well that colonization, capitalism, and eurocentrism’s smudges went entirely unnoticed. The “facts” written on the page were often half-truths; stories of critical social upheavals and their leaders–often women, often people of color, often queers–glaringly omitted from textbooks and, thus, American consciousness. Because the history of my communities were absent from the textbooks placed in front of me, it was easy to zone out as my Peanuts caricature of a teacher continued emphasizing the importance of the Louisiana Purchase. (more…)

Riley MacLeod on the Writing Trans Genres Conference

Posted on June 25, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

The Writing Trans Genres Conference was a four-day conference (May 22-24, 2014) held at the University of Winnipeg, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and co-hosted by the University’s Women’s and Gender Studies Department and the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies. The conference brought together scholars, performers, writers and activists to explore, discuss and create new directions in transgender, transexual, two-spirit and genderqueer poetry, literature and performance.

In the following post, writer and Topside Press editor Riley MacLeod provides a detailed snapshot of his time at the conference.

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Reader Meet Author: Personal Advice from Poet R. Erica Doyle

Posted on June 22, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

Do you have problems with your love life? Hate your job? Your social life lacking that certain zing? All questions can be answered through literature—or maybe at least by the people who create it. With that in mind, we here at The Lambda Literary Review have started our very own advice column called “Reader Meet Author.” Think of the column as sort of a “Dear Abby” for the LGBTQ literary set. You can send “Reader Meet Author” questions for publication to ReaderMeetAuthor@lambdaliterary.org. (more…)

Remembering Assotto Saint: A Fierce and Fatal Vision

Posted on June 19, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

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Assotto Saint and I were both finalists for a Lambda Literary Award in 1997. He was up for Gay Biography, I was up for both Lesbian Studies and Fiction Anthologies. Neither of us would win that year, but I would have other chances. Assotto and I had both won before, but in those days, when everything seemed so temporal, the moment was everything. I wanted the win for my political offerings and I wanted it for him for history. I was very ill that year, bedridden and almost unable to move, and Assotto was on my mind a lot–all of them were, the gay men I had loved, who I had lost. (more…)

Mabel Dodge and the Literary Salon of Taos

Posted on June 14, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

Literary Taos has strong ties to the LGBT community that have been nurtured through the 20th century, and continue today.

Northern New Mexico is home to this rich literary community nestled in the Rio Grande Valley of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Taos takes its name from the nearby Native American town of Taos Pueblo, a millennium old UNESCO World Heritage Site. The spiritual energy of the Pueblo has attracted creative types to the small town for well over a hundred years. Artists and writers began setting up colonies at the turn of the 20th century. One of the most influential and popular colonies is that founded by Mabel Dodge Luhan, a bisexual bon vivant, who cultivated a rich creative community of famous artists and writers from her arrival to Taos in 1918. (more…)

When I Call Myself Bisexual

Posted on June 1, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

I wrote this essay six months ago, to be posted online in conjunction with the June 2014 reissue of Bi Any Other Name, the landmark anthology of writings by bisexuals that Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka’ahumanu co-edited almost twenty-five years ago. I had originally intended the piece to serve as a personal statement about my relationships to the books I publish. However, the New York Times Magazine recently ran a cover story titled “Bisexuality Comes Out of the Closet,” an article that opens with “The scientific quest to prove—once and for all—that someone (even a man) can truly be attracted to both a man…and a woman.” With that kind of prelude, I knew the article would be hard going, and it was. There’s a lot of science and data discussed, much talk of “sexual arousal patterns” “genital monitoring,” and “evidence from prior studies.” On the whole the article is balanced and sometimes insightful, owing in no small part to the fact that bisexuals themselves are quoted throughout and important points are raised from their perspectives. I don’t take issue with how the subject matter is presented necessarily but that the Times felt they had to run the article in the first place: As if the jury was still out on whether bisexuals exist, and the Times would step in and hand down the verdict “once and for all.” (more…)