August 22, 2014

James Jenkins: Publishing Lost Gay Classics

Posted on August 21, 2014 by in Features, Interviews

As a young reader, several of my favorite science fiction authors were lamentably out of print, so a trip to a used bookstore was a treasure hunt. There was always the possibility that I would find a rarity, or even a book previously unknown to me. As an adult reader, I’m continually surprised at the breadth and depth of gay fiction. The Stonewall riot may have been the start of a civil rights movement, but it was not the beginning of our history. Intuition, coded cover art and friendly guidance has led me to many a title, and I’m glad that there are still surprises on this journey, chief among them Valancourt Books. My friend Trebor Healey interviewed them recently at the Huffington Post, where I learned that they’ve been reprinting gay classics and Gothic and horror books since 2005. I immediately went to their website and was startled at the number of books that they’ve resurrected, and the obvious care and diligence that went into those books’ recovery. I’ve since chatted up one of the publishers, James Jenkins (his partner in books and marriage, Ryan Cagle, handles the horror side of the business), to learn more about some of the gay titles they’ve brought out. (more…)

‘If This Be Sin’ by Hazel Newlevant

Posted on August 17, 2014 by in Comics, Illustrated

I love comics about musicians, especially behind-the-scenes bios about their life and creative processes. So for me, Hazel Newlevant’s comic If This Be Sin, which features three music related stories, was like getting triple scoops of my favorite flavor. Plus, one of the stories is about the falling out of rock star musicians Wendy and Lisa with Prince, which this former Minnesotan couldn’t wait to read. What better way to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Purple Rain than with a little reality check on what Prince is really like? (more…)

’1960s Gay Pulp Fiction: The Misplaced Heritage’ Edited by Drewey Wayne Gunn and Jamie Harker

Posted on August 15, 2014 by in Nonfiction, Reviews

Gay pulp novels of the 1960s sell at steep prices these days. Their racy covers have great camp value, and since they were cheaply produced and meant to be easily disposed of, gay pulps are now collectors’ items. Gay pulps have even made inroads with academics, who have come to regard pulps as repositories of historical information. But it hasn’t always been so. (more…)

Bad Romance: Writers and Suicide

Posted on August 13, 2014 by in Features, Opinion

Suicide.

It goes against the grain of our very DNA. We are hard-wired to survive. Our autonomic reflexes tell us, live, breathe, run, live. For God’s sake, live.

Sometimes our brains rewire themselves. Sometimes pain outdistances DNA. Sometimes we want to die. Sometimes dying is not the threat, but the promise. (more…)

‘All I Love and Know’ by Judith Frank

Posted on August 10, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

Relationships can be a source of strength and a solace. Matt learned that when he gave up his druggy friends in New York for the older Daniel in Northampton, Massachusetts. But tragedy tests couples, regardless of how established they are. The death of Daniel’s twin brother and his wife in a café bombing in Jerusalem was devastating. But after gaining custody of their two young children, Matt and Daniel have no choice but to carry on. Judith Frank’s All I Love And Know is a quick-witted and moving novel that acutely explores the ways in which families mourn, the toll death takes on relationships and the resilience that allows people to survive–all against the backdrop of a uniquely tempered portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (more…)

‘Let Me See It’ by James Magruder

Posted on August 5, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

James Magruder’s Let Me See It  (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press) is a collection often interlocking stories that follow the lives of Elliott Biddler and Tom Amelio, first cousins who grow up separately in places like Kansas City and Chicago and find each other as they come of age as gay men in the 1980s. Much of the poignant beauty of Magruder’s book hinges on the very different ways the two young men confront their sexuality and the crises and consequences that await them in adulthood. (more…)

‘Looking After Joey’ by David Pratt

Posted on August 2, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

Calvin, an aging gay man who ticks the minutes of the evening down anticipating the porn he will watch when he returns home, is about to get a surprise. For one, he’s about to get sucked (pun intended) into the world of gay porn. Not the adult industry, but into actual porn-land, where every man’s girlfriend is away for the weekend (and they’re just horny, and have needs, you know?), the pizza delivery guy never has change but can always work something out, and every body is perfectly sculpted. ThinkPleasantville, but with more lube and moaning. (more…)

‘Returning to Reims’ by Didier Eribon

Posted on July 31, 2014 by in Bio/Memoir, Reviews

One of the most alarmingly overlooked issues facing lgbt politics is the impact of social and economic class divisions within the lgbt community. Today, as lgbt organizations increasingly promote the image of the upper middle class professional as the face of its campaign for rights, it is more important than ever that we understand the role social and economic class plays in the queer world as issues such as gentrification, homeless youth, and affordable healthcare affect the more vulnerable members of the community. Didier Eribon’s Returning to Reims presents a fresh insight into examining social class as an integral part of gay identity. Part personal memoir, part philosophical treatise on the relationship between sexual identity and social class status, Eribon’s book is both a delicately told tale of a young Frenchman crafting a gay self in the working class world and a stunning analysis of how acculturation into a social class identity affects sexual identity and vice versa. (more…)

‘Fearful Hunter’ by Jon Macy

Posted on July 27, 2014 by in Erotica, Illustrated

I first read Jon Macy’s comic Fearful Hunter as single issue floppies, but never saw issues beyond the first two. Now it’s expanded to a beautifully rendered 316  pages, with additional “fan fiction” takes of the story by other cartoonists, thanks to Kickstarter support and Northwest Press. (more…)

‘The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality’ by Suzanna Danuta Walters

Posted on July 24, 2014 by in Nonfiction, Reviews

The first thing that came to mind after finishing Suzanna Walters’ excellent and original piece was a quote from longtime social critic Fran Lebowitz from the 2010 Martin Scorsese documentary Public Speaking where she stated:

[...] I mean, do I think gay marriage is progress? Are you kidding me? This was one of the good things about being gay! I mean, I am stunned that the two greatest desires of people involved in gay rights movements are gay marriage and gays in the military. I mean to me, these seem like the two most confining institutions on the planet: marriage and the military. Why would you be beating down the doors to get in? Usually a fight for freedom is a fight for freedom, this is like the opposite…I mean people used to pretend to be gay to get out of going into the army!

As Walters argues, and I believe this is something Lebowitz herself would agree with, today’s gay rights movement and its allies who believe that “access to marriage and the military are the brass ring of gay rights” and that once we “have achieved these goals we will have moved into a post-gay America” are not only wrong but also doing an injustice to the gay rights movement by promulgating such rhetoric over demanding full equality, bar none. Yes, gay marriage and equal access for those LGBT individuals who want to be in the military are important, but they are in no way the be all and end all of the gay rights movement that has greatly changed its makeup from the individuals behind the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 to those of today. Undoubtedly Walters will not only receive an insurmountable amount of criticism for pointing this out but also, as a result of her excellent book, she’ll disillusion the idea of progress, as we see it today, as not progress but rather small steps in the “deep claim for full civil rights” that is still unknown to the LGBT community. Walters posits that the LGBT community needs to recommit itself to fighting for full civil rights rather than accepting whatever comes our way in small gradual steps.

The major crux of Walters’ argument is in her deconstruction of the popular battle cry “It’s not a choice.” Walters believes the “born this way” argument is harmful to the gay rights cause as it allows individuals to utilize substandard science that reduces human sexuality into normative categories and classifications. As Walters, whose bluntness throughout the book is a breath of fresh air, states:

Most gays and their allies believe that gays are “born that way” and that proving biological immutability is the key to winning over reluctant heterosexual and gaining civil rights. Most gays and their allies believe that the closet is largely a thing of the past and that we have entered a new era of sexual ease and fluidity. Most gays and their allies think that we have essentially won the culture wars and that gay visibility in popular culture is a sign of substantive gay progress. Most gays and their allies believe that gay is the new black: hip, happening, embraced….Most gays and their allies believe that we are almost there: we can see the end of the tunnel, where a rainbow world of warm inclusion awaits us. These people are wrong.

Walters pinpoints the scientific arguments behind the “born this way” argument to show not how gay rights activists are wrong but to express the tragic consequences behind historically categorizing and measuring people’s activities. There is no one way to look at sexuality and human nature and Walters does an excellent job of utilizing a type of reverse psychology, not to change the minds of anti-gay individuals but to ask members of the gay community and its allies to think how they argue for the “born this way” argument and how it may be a type of appeasement to the “accept us” agenda. It isn’t demanding full equality under the law, but only partial equality as seen in allowing LGBT individuals the rights to marry, file joint taxes, and even die for their country.

Although Walters is not the first person to critically lash the gay rights movement today, à la David Halperin’s How to Be Gay, her argument has caused me to reexamine the ways I not only accept tolerance but also how I continue to identify as a modern gay rights activist. Simple tolerance and acceptance is becoming a thing of the past and “as long as tolerance is [the] reigning ethos [and] as long as we deny our difference in the service of misplaced allegiance to gender and sexual norms, we [will ultimately] deny ‘the unique genius in being queer.’” While we have won many battles on the gay rights front in the past two years, the coming storm for full equality is looming in the distance. Regardless of how the outlook appears, a victory can in some ways feel like a loss and even when we think we are near the finishing line, we, gay rights activists and allies alike, will realize that we have miles to go.

 

 

The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality
By Suzanna Danuta Walters
NYU Press
Hardcover, 9780814770573,  343  pp.
May 2014