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Lambda Literary Awards Handed Out for Best LGBT Books

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The 26th annual Lambda Literary Awards were handed out last night at Cooper Union College in NYC. The Lammys, which recognize LGBT books, were in 25 categories and are awarded by the Lambda Literary Foundation.

For the first time this year, an award was handed out in the category of LGBT Graphic Novel.

The winner in that category, and all the others, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Lambda Literary Awards Handed Out for Best LGBT Books" »


Mark Gevisser’s ‘Lost And Found In Johannesburg’: A Memoir: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

Mark Gevisser’s extraordinary new book takes on several projects at once: It’s a memoir of his own and his family’s history; an exploration of the geography of Johannesburg, both human and natural; and an ambitious portrait of LGBT South Africans of all races both during and after the apartheid era. It's also the most exciting book of nonfiction I've read in a very long time. 

Gevisser-lost-and-foundIt begins with a childhood game. In the 1970s, whiling away the hours of a privileged childhood, Gevisser would choose a name at random from the Johannesburg Telephone Directory, and then use his parents’ street atlas to plot a route from his home to the stranger’s address. But when he happened upon an African name in the directory, Gevisser found that his atlas provided no route between their neighborhoods, no way to plot a course from his bucolic suburb to the townships “where the black people who worked for us would go to church or to visit family on their days off.”

And so Gevisser’s game became a kind of political education, giving rise to a lifelong fascination with borders—how they are constituted and how they are crossed. What’s most powerful in this very powerful book are the leaps it makes across its own boundaries, the connections Gevisser makes between his different projects of memoir and reportage. He finds “links between my own sense of alienation because of an illicit sexuality and the subordinate position of the majority of my compatriots,” and he tracks these connections through his personal history and the history and geography of his city.

As he pores over old maps, newspapers, and photographs, Gevisser realizes that “apartheid was embedded in the development of Johannesburg from the very start.” The very topography of the city—marked by hills formed by gold mining and sinkholes where the honeycombed terrain caves in—inscribes a social structure in which the subterranean many work for the obscene benefit of the few. In its carefully enforced boundaries, Johannesburg was “a world…defined by what it had been walled against, dammed against: I was safe in direct relation to the insecurity of those outside.”

Much of Gevisser’s work as a journalist has focused on collecting the stories of LGBT people in South Africa, and he finds that it was often in queer communities that the lines so carefully policed in the larger society were crossed. White gay men hosted parties in their homes where men of all colors could congregate past curfew; at a beach popular among gay men, “white and colored or Malay men cruised across the color bar.” Hillbrow, a gay area, became “Johannesburg’s first deracialized neighborhood in the 1980s.”

But Gevisser is careful not to romanticize this history: many gay whites fled Hillbrow once blacks moved in, and he makes clear how privilege, including protections for LGBT people, continues to be distributed with wild inequity. “You can rape me, rob me, what am I going to do when you attack me? Wave the Constitution in your face?” one black drag queen says to him in a moving passage about LGBT protections written into the South African constitution. “I’m just a nobody black queen.” But even in this case things are more complicated still: “She paused,” Gevisser goes on, “and then her face lost its mask of bravado and bitterness. ‘But you know what? Ever since I heard about that Constitution, I feel free inside.’”

Gevisser doesn’t minimize the risks LGBT people still face in South Africa, especially the many LGBT immigrants who flee their own countries in hope of greater freedom. Instead, they find both that they are denied the protections offered to LGBT citizens, and that in addition to homophobia they face growing hatred of immigrants.

Mark-GevisserIf the crossing of borders is often a liberating, even exhilarating prospect in these pages, it is also fraught with danger. Shortly before finishing this book, while he was visiting friends, Gevisser was the victim of a brutal, terrifying home invasion. This experience, which he alludes to in the book’s first pages, hovers over everything he recounts. He is typically complex as he narrates it, terrified and enraged but also unwilling to dehumanize his assailants. “These were well-brought-up boys, once, before they became monsters, emasculated by poverty, by unemployment, by the culture of entitlement, by the AIDS epidemic, by the degradation of traditional life and the failure of urbanism to provide any sane alternative.”

Gevisser’s account of the remarkably varied shapes LGBT lives take in South Africa finally focuses less on the hardships they face than on the remarkable ways they manage, despite those hardships, to find whatever joy they can. It’s impossible to do justice either to the scope of Gevisser’s book or to my admiration of it in a short review. It accomplishes what I take to be the work of serious literature: it leaves me with a greater sense of marvel and compassion for the lives of others, a richer and more complex understanding of the world.

Previous reviews...
Emma Donoghue’s ‘Frog Music’
Tatamkhulu Afrika’s ‘Bitter Eden’
Rabih Alameddine’s ‘An Unnecessary Woman’
Edmund White’s ‘Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris’

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. His new novel, What Belongs to You, is forthcoming from Faber/FSG in May 2015. He lives in Iowa City, where he is an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Lessons from the Jo Becker Gay Marriage Book, Part 1: Driving Rosa Parks

BY LISA KEEN

Now that the great public gnashing of teeth has subsided over New York Times reporter Jo Becker’s history of the Proposition 8 litigation, Forcing the Spring, there’s an opportunity to chew on some of the book’s useful disclosures.

Parks_griffinFor all the consternation it has caused, Becker’s trespass in portraying American Foundation for Equal Rights founder Chad Griffin as the Rosa Parks in the fight for marriage equality is not much worse than all the many times newspapers, magazines, and even knowledgeable people in the LGBT community have casually pronounced Stonewall as the start of the gay civil rights movement and rioting drag queens as the pioneers. The movement started decades earlier, and its pioneers were people who pushed back against discrimination in many different ways.

It also appears that Becker’s idea for dubbing Griffin, now president of the Human Rights Campaign, as a Rosa Parks type hero came from a National Archives development official. On page 381 of Forcing the Spring, Becker recounts how Jesika Jennings was showing Griffin and the plaintiffs around the Archives’ “Courting Freedom” exhibit. According to the Archives website, the exhibit “explores the evolution of American civil liberties with highlights from the evidence and judgments in important court cases, including documentation from the police report on the arrest of Rosa Parks.” While showing the group through that room, wrote Becker, Jennings told the plaintiffs that she was honored to show them around and that their own records “will be here in twenty to twenty-five years.”

“It’s like having the opportunity to give Rosa Parks a tour of the Declaration and the Constitution,” Jennings said, according to Becker. And Jennings, who now works elsewhere, confirmed the Rosa Parks quote as “quite accurate.”

SmithIt’s also worth noting that much-respected gay legal activist Paul Smith (right) called the Proposition 8 litigation “hugely significant,” according to a quote on page 387. Smith is the attorney who successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down sodomy laws in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case. He was also, according to what Olson told Becker, the first co-counsel Olson sought to work with on the Prop 8 case, but Smith turned him down. According to Becker’s account, which she said she got from an interview with Smith, Smith had “entertained the idea of bringing a federal challenge to same-sex marriage bans” in the wake of his 2003 victory in Lawrence. He had just joined the board of Lambda Legal when Olson approached him about filing such a challenge in 2009. But Smith declined, telling Olson that he decided against filing a challenge to the marriage bans “after talking to a number of former Supreme Court clerks.” The clerks had convinced Smith that it would not be easy to win Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote to strike down state laws banning marriage for same-sex couples.

SullivanBecker said Olson “considered” asking another respected openly gay attorney for his co-counsel: Kathleen Sullivan. Sullivan had been co-counsel on one of LGBT legal history’s biggest losses: Bowers v. Hardwick. That 1986 decision at the Supreme Court, upholding the right of states to prohibit private sexual relations between people of the same sex, was used to the detriment of gays for years, by courts far and wide on a range of issues –from employment, military, adoption, and custody of one’s own biological child. It essentially labeled all gays as law-breakers and, in some states, as felons. And the hostility and disregard for gay people in the language of the Hardwick decision affected public discourse for years to come.

Olson never asked Sullivan, concluding that, because her name was mentioned in the press as a potential nominee for President Obama to name to the Supreme Court, it wasn’t a good idea.

“If she joined the [Olson] team and then was nominated and confirmed,” wrote Becker of Olson’s thinking, “she would have to recuse herself in the event the case reached the Supreme Court, which would make the odds of winning much steeper.” (Left unsaid was what working on the Prop 8 legal team might have done to Sullivan’s chances of being nominated.)

Becker also famously paints a dramatic scene in which two well-respected legal activists from Lambda Legal and two of their allies from the ACLU storm out of a meeting early on with Griffin, several of his associates, and attorney Ted Boutrous from the Olson team. Becker wasn’t at that meeting, which took place on May 14, 2009. It was a meeting at which Griffin and his team were reportedly trying to seek support for their lawsuit from the LGBT legal establishment groups.

This was eight days before Olson’s team filed the lawsuit and arguably not the best time to make a sincere solicitation of input from lawyers who have been in the trenches representing the LGBT community’s legal rights for decades. It may have felt a little like, “Rosa Parks, we’re taking over this bus and driving all the way to the Supreme Court!” LGBT legal activists knew they were heading to the Supreme Court over marriage equality eventually, but they had been working meticulously on building the correct vehicle for the journey to maximize their chances for victory and avoid another Hardwick setback.

According to Becker’s account of the meeting where the AFER-Olson lawsuit was unveiled to LGBT legal groups, Hollywood producer Rob Reiner, who hosted the meeting at his home and was helping raise the money to fund the litigation, gave the four invited attorneys a synopsis of the plan, and Olson colleague Boutrous noted, “Someone is going to bring a federal marriage lawsuit and you won’t find a better advocate than Ted Olson.”

Next week: The big blow-up revisited: When Hollywood met the LGBT movement’s hired guns.

© 2014 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.


Oxford University Press To Release 672-Page Book On Trans Issues

Following five years of writing and editing, Oxford University Press will release a 672-page book entitled, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves in the middle of May.

TransbodiesTo ensure a wide range of experiences, the book includes contributions from over 200 transgender and/or genderqueer writers from across North America, as well as quotes and findings from an online survey of over 3,000 people.

The book’s description states:

“Each chapter takes the reader through an important transgender issue, such as race, religion, employment, medical and surgical transition, mental health topics, relationships, sexuality, parenthood, arts and culture, and many more.”

The book’s title also pays homage to the 1973 feminist health book Our Bodies, Ourselves which featured women and female health experts discussing women’s health issues to a female audience.

Wendy Sanford, a co-founder of the collective that published Our Bodies, Ourselves, wrote in her afterword of Trans Bodies, Trans Selves:

"a community of people who are the best experts on themselves has come together to create a resource of information, mutual support, and political advocacy that will strengthen many. The revolutionary point is that we can name our gender identity for ourselves and rightfully expect respect and recognition."


Emma Donoghue’s ‘Frog Music’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

On September 14, 1876, as San Francisco suffered under the twin plagues of record-breaking heat and an epidemic of smallpox, a young woman was shot dead through the window of a rented room at a railway station just outside of the city. Her name was Jenny Bonnet, well-known to the police for the crime of wearing men’s clothes, a predilection for which she was arrested numerous times. With her was a 24-year-old French burlesque performer and prostitute, Blanche Beunon.

Frog MusicEmma Donohue’s new novel, her first since her international bestseller, Room, takes these facts as the basis for an historical fiction that is less a mystery—Blanche is convinced through most of the book that she knows who killed her friend—than a portrait of these two characters and, even more successfully, of the time and city in which they live.

Jenny Bonnet is a wonderful creation, seemingly determined to live life on her own terms, with a recklessness that looks very much like freedom. “Jenny’s an odd kind of woman,” Blanche thinks, “part boy, part clown, part animal. An original, accountable to no one, bound by no ties, who cocks her hat as she pleases….” In her self-reliance and refusal to be bound, as well as in her flashes of compassion, she could almost be a fully grown, female Huckleberry Finn.

Blanche, Donohue’s protagonist and our guide through the world of the book, is somewhat less easy to love. She’s famous for her shows at the House of Mirrors, the bordello where she’s known as “The Lively Flea” for a particularly popular routine, and she’s wonderfully unapologetic for her appetite for sex: even if her partner is a paying client, “Men are tools Blanche uses for her satisfaction.” She lives with her lover and pimp, Arthur Deneve, a man whose apparent charm gives way, over the course of the book, to shocking brutality.

Blanche is also a mother, though not a particularly good one. She and Arthur have arranged for their child’s care at what they believe to be a farm outside the city, where the country air will be good for his health; instead, as Blanche discovers to her horror, he has been kept in a terrible, dank home for unwanted children. Blanche’s desire to find her child, and guilt over what she has done—she knows that she was relieved to be free of the burden of an infant, and that she was blithely unconcerned about his fate—are the primary motivations for her actions after Jenny’s death.

Killing off your most appealing character is a remarkable risk for a novelist. But Jenny doesn’t disappear from the book after her murder; instead, the book adopts an odd, occasionally cumbersome strategy, dividing into two interwoven strands. The first follows Blanche through the days immediately following the shooting; the second tells the story of her friendship with Jenny, beginning a month before the opening scene and moving toward what we know to be the friendship’s inevitable end.

The novel becomes enormously poignant as it nears its end, when we see the friendship between Blanche and Jenny blossoming in unexpected ways even as we know Jenny’s death is nearing. And Blanche becomes an ever-more appealing character as we see how she has been changed by that friendship, moving toward a future more open to possibility because of the ways in which Jenny challenged Blanche’s assumptions about her own life. Though Blanche claims to have no talent for friendship, she comes to realize that Jenny “is the friend Blanche has been waiting a quarter of a century for without even knowing it.”

DonoghueFor all its human drama, the real protagonist of Frog Music is the city that enlivens every page. Donoghue’s San Francisco of the 1870s is a rich, vibrant, unpredictable place, equal parts Wild West and cosmopolitan city, full of casinos and saloons and immigrants of all kinds, many of them transient. “As if the City’s just a mouth, swallowing them whole,” Jenny observes, “and the rest of America’s the belly where they end up.” It’s also a place of music, and the book is full of songs, many of them from Blanche’s native France—one meaning of Donoghue’s title—but others distinctly American, whether the minstrel songs of Stephen Foster or Black spirituals.

Donoghue’s San Francisco is finally a frontier town, a place where boundaries are at once starkly drawn and constantly shifting: lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, all are fiercely asserted and yet repeatedly crossed. As we learn more about her past in the book’s final chapters, it’s clear that in Jenny Bonnet, Donoghue has created a thoroughly human embodiment of our impulse to cross all lines.

Previous reviews...
Tatamkhulu Afrika’s ‘Bitter Eden’
Rabih Alameddine’s ‘An Unnecessary Woman’
Edmund White’s ‘Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris’
Randall Mann’s ‘Straight Razor’

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. His new novel, What Belongs to You, is forthcoming from Faber/FSG in May 2015. He lives in Iowa City, where he is an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


New Book Says 45 Percent Of Men Quit Having Sex After Just Two Minutes

Sex_clock In Harry Fisch’s new book The New Naked: The Ultimate Sex Education for Grown-Ups, he reports that 45 percent of all men finish having sex within two minutes of engaging intercourse. This is a 30 percent decrease from what sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found in his sex studies of the 1940s and 1950s, so that’s good.

But The New Republic additionally reports that a 2004 paper in the Journal of Sex Research suggests that heterosexual men may mind their short endurance time more than their female counterparts, as men tend to idealize themselves lasting a longer amount of time than women do.

Sadly, a 2009 paper in The Journal of Sexual Medicine has correlated a longer duration of sex with more women achieving orgasm.

No word yet on how much this applies to gay men and women. Although a 2011 study on gay and bi men's sex lives over an entire lifespan did yield plenty of interesting finds.

(via jmg)


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