July 30, 2014

‘All In’ by Nell Stark

Posted on July 29, 2014 by in Reviews, Romance

A twenty-something named Annie Jump Navarro, known to fellow online poker players as “Nova,” is about to experience a life-changing event as All In begins. It seems as if everything is going Nova’s way.  She’s just won big in on-line gaming and is about to use her winnings to buy a house, enabling Nova and her roommates to live at peace and away from a crazy, homophobic neighbor. However, the stars are not exactly aligned for Nova and her friends, and things start to fall apart quickly. (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

Judith Frank: On Mourning, Taking on Volatile Subject Matter, and Queer Relationships

Posted on July 22, 2014 by in Features, Interviews

All I Love and Know (William Morrow), by Judith Frank, is a brilliant, thoughtful, unexpectedly funny new novel about a gay couple, Daniel Rosen and Matt Greene, who live in Northampton, MA. It opens with a café bombing in Jerusalem that kills Daniel’s twin brother Joel and Joel’s wife Ilana. When it is revealed that Joel and Ilana designated Daniel the guardian of their two small children should they die, a firestorm erupts in both Daniel’s and Ilana’s families about the possibility that the children will be taken out of Israel and raised by gay men. The novel explores what happens to Daniel and Matt’s relationship in the wake of this conflict and this trauma. It is also page-turner that keeps the reader deep in the story until the very last page. And thinking about it afterwards for days. (more…)

‘State of Defiance: Challenging the Johns Committee’s Assault on Civil Liberties’ by Judith G. Poucher

Posted on July 20, 2014 by in Nonfiction, Reviews

I approached Judith G. Poucher’s State of Defiance: Challenging the Johns Committee’s Assault on Civil Liberties with a degree of skepticism. It wasn’t long ago that I reviewed Stacy Braukman’s masterful Communists and Perverts Under the Palms (2012), also about the Johns Committee, and I had my doubts that a second book in three years would reveal much more necessary information about the post-McCarthy witch-hunts that the committee launched in Florida. Fortunately, Poucher has found a different approach to the material, emphasizing the contributions of five individuals who, when confronted by the committee, fought back through lawsuits, cleverly combative testimony, and, in the case of gay individuals, refusing to name names. (more…)

‘And a Time to Dance’ by Chris Paynter

Posted on July 17, 2014 by in Reviews, Romance

As And a Time to Dance opens, Corey Banner and Judy Wagner meet at a softball tournament for the first time. Without hesitation, the two women begin a romantic dance punctuated by everyday life. The relationship lasts for six years, and Corey and Judy are still in love, although Corey is somewhat frustrated at the long hours Judy’s job demands. When tragedy strikes unexpectedly, Corey is devastated and set adrift on a tumultuous sea of loss and uncertainty. Even an attempt to return to normalcy by engaging in a new relationship two years later ends in disaster, when Corey is accused of living in the shadows of her past. The end of a relationship Corey was never sure she wanted in the first place leaves her jittery and forces her to take a long look at where her life is headed.

In an impulsive move, Corey decides to head off from her Michigan home to explore the Rocky Mountains, something she and Judy had talked about doing together when it seemed that life, and their relationship, would go on forever. She strikes out for a stay in Grand Lake, Colorado, hoping to find work as well as healing. At her destination, she meets Erin Flannery and her Aunt Tess, co-owners of the Rainbow Lodge, Corey’s initial destination. Tess quickly takes Corey’s measure and offers her a position at the lodge as head of the maintenance department using her expertise honed working for her dad’s construction business. Erin, however, is not as quick as her aunt to trust Corey’s abilities—or her friendship.

Erin has had her own hard knocks. Abandoned years before by someone she thought she’d be with for the rest of her life Erin now runs from any kind of commitment, playing the field in order to avoid heartbreak. She beds one short term resident at the Lodge after another and tries to think it’s enough.  Her aunt is concerned. Her mother is appalled. Erin thinks she’s happy; but denial is a poor cover for the sadness and loss she feels.

As the two women are thrown together in their work and in their personal lives, walls start to crumble. But crumbling walls are difficult to clear away and the rubble makes joining in a romantic dance difficult. Miscommunications come across as unfeeling, even uncaring, as Corey and Erin battle their way toward making tentative advances trying to find a dance steps they are willing to take together. If they can’t find their way, they may be destined to dance alone—or not at all.

In And a Time to Dance, Paynter portrays the beauty of the Rocky Mountain scenery without taking us out of the story. She has given us a heart-wrenching story of love and loss and the journey of two women who long to find their way to the healing and romantic possibilities of their lives  Corey and Erin are likeable and the story has a background melody that makes us long for them to reach out to one another before it’s too late. In a plot tinted with melancholy and longing, these two women try to over and over again to trust their hearts and reach out to one another toward wholeness, life, and the promise of love. However, they will only get there if they’re willing to take a risk, and sometimes even the promise doesn’t seem like it’s enough, especially when Erin’s so-called relationships keep getting in their way, trying to cut in on Corey and Erin’s dance. In the end, it is confronting and overcoming fear that may finally these two open their hearts and allow them to stop running. And a Time to Dance tells a story of two women working to get beyond confusion and tumult. It’s an achingly beautiful story set in the splendor of the Colorado Mountains. Who could ask for more?

 

 

And a Time to Dance
By Chris Paynter
Blue Feather Press
Paperback, 9781935627647, 202 pp.
June 2013

Lorrie Sprecher: On Being—and Writing—a Lesbian Punk Feminist

Posted on July 13, 2014 by in Features, Interviews

Lorrie Sprecher’s fiction stars women whose lives are propelled by a passion for activist culture and an almost painful compassion for the disenfranchised of the world. For Amanda, the protagonist of new novel Pissing in a River (The Feminist Press), a love of punk rock and distaste for U.S. foreign policy drives her to take shelter in England. There, she finds her way toward friendship and romance while forming a band, keeping tabs on her lifelong obsessive-compulsive disorder, and dealing with fallout from the rape of her partner, Melissa.

Amanda is funny and, when it comes to standing up for her beliefs, not afraid to be intense—qualities shared by her author. Sprecher took the time to talk via email about her new book, the next two she has planned (one a sequel), and her thoughts on being an American at a time when advances in gay rights coexist with dramatic steps backward in reproductive rights and national policy. (more…)

‘Positive Lightning’ by Laurie Salzler

Posted on July 9, 2014 by in Reviews, Romance

Positive Lightning (Blue Feather Books) tells the story of the intersection of two lives—both a little lost, both trying to find a way back to wholeness. Faith Hutchins is blind as a result of a recent tragic accident. The once independent, athletic woman has been reduced to activities tinged with a tentativeness that she hates. Twice before, she has signed up for the guide dog program to help her become more mobile, but both attempts failed, leaving her with only her white cane and a too-clingy ex-lover to help her get around. (more…)

‘Pissing in a River’ by Lorrie Sprecher

Posted on July 6, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

Amanda, the narrator of Lorrie Sprecher’s Pissing in a River, is a sort of human radio. The station format? Mostly British punk, with a little airspace left for guiltier pleasures such as Heart and Oasis. She interprets her life through lyrics—a Patti Smith song supplies the book’s title–and can barely go a full conversation without name-dropping a band or album title. We meet her as a college student on a study-abroad year in Exeter and check in with her periodically as she embarks on a career as an AIDS activist and Ph.D. student. (more…)

Stacey D’Erasmo: On Music, Writing Straight Characters, and Creating a Literary Legacy

Posted on July 6, 2014 by in Features, Interviews

Stacey D’Erasmo is not musically inclined—at all. Yet, that didn’t stop the Lambda Literary Award and Ferro Grumley Award-winning author from writing a striking, harmonious novel about music that will resonate with anyone who has ever picked up an instrument—or admired someone else holding one.

Wonderland (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) tells the story of Anna Brundage, a statuesque and fiery forty-four-year-old down-and-out indie rock star who has given up everything for a second chance to do what she loves—and the love affairs that she stumbles through on her way.

D’Erasmo was kind enough to sit down for a jam session via email, in which we covered her own musical abilities, making your mark on the literary world, art versus relationships and what songs are currently stuck in her head. (more…)

‘Nightingale’ by Andrea Bramhall

Posted on July 2, 2014 by in Reviews, Romance

Charlie Porter is an out and proud young woman who’s delayed starting college to recuperate from losing her first love to tragedy. While auditioning for a place in a prestigious music program, Charlie has a chance encounter with Hazar Alim, a pianist and the accompanist for the program auditions. The title of this story, Nightingale, as Hazar reveals, comes from the translation of her name and is a symbol that will prove significant as the story unfolds. (more…)