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Mark Merlis’ ‘JD’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

Merlis-JD-A-Novel-cAt the beginning of Mark Merlis’ engrossing, ambitious new novel, we meet Martha, a 75-year-old illustrator. For decades she has lived alone in her New York City apartment, bearing the double loss of her son, killed in Vietnam, and her husband, Jonathan, who died of a stroke just a few months later.

Now her routines—painting, walks, solitude—are interrupted when a young academic approaches her about writing a biography of her husband, an obscure writer who flared briefly into fame before being forgotten again after his death.

We quickly learn that her marriage was anything but idyllic. She married Jonathan after becoming unexpectedly pregnant; she refers to him early in the novel as “the-man-who-got-me-in-trouble.” Early in their marriage they come to a tacit agreement that each can seek intimacy outside of their marriage: Martha in the summers she spends outside of New York, Jonathan in the bars and alleyways he trawls for sex—often anonymous, sometimes purchased—with young men.

Their relationship is further strained when Jonathan begins writing openly about his erotic life, in what Martha calls a “ghastly little volume of poems” and in his single great novel. It’s the erotic aspect of his work that—to Martha’s dismay—attracts the interest of his would-be biographer, Philip, who tells Martha what it was like to discover Jonathan’s poetry: “I opened this little book and there was a man telling in such a plain voice…the truth. I mean, my truth, a guy who could say outright what was beautiful in the world, which was the same as what I thought was beautiful.”

Martha’s first impulse is to deny Philip access to Jonathan’s papers, not least because she worries about how the book he’s writing will treat her. “I am not a career widow,” she says, “I have made a life of my own. But it will end on the same page as Jonathan’s.” Even so, she knows that a biography of Jonathan is the best chance she has of being remembered—and, more importantly, of preserving the memory of her son, Mickey.

And so Martha finds herself going through Jonathan’s papers, which she hasn’t seen for years, and reading for the first time the journals he kept. Merlis gives us these entries as Martha reads them, a formal conceit that allows us to share in Martha’s discoveries. It also lets us hear Jonathan’s voice and gives us access to the world that’s changing so quickly around him.

The voice in the journals is thrilling: by turns angry, needy, lyrical, and longing. In the first entries, from 1964, Jonathan writes about the pre-Stonewall gay world in New York City, where he moves between salons full of urbane, literary men he envies and bars full of working-class men he desires. As years pass and gay men become more visible and politically organized, Jonathan feels ambivalence, even disgust: “Fairies are just the too richly feathered canaries in the mine,” he writes, “warbling the truth about all of us: that we don’t believe in tomorrow.” At the end of his journal, in the early seventies, he’s bewildered to find himself surrounded at the bars by men who are open about their identity; he tries “to just relax and practice not scowling at the gay people.” 

Jonathan begins keeping a journal because he feels stymied as a novelist, and we follow him as he realizes that the subject of his next book will be the young men he longs for. The passages where Jonathan writes about his desire and his encounters are some of the best in the novel, lit with an electric longing, “an ecstatic hopelessness that was more like longing for God than longing for dick.” “I look at the emergent body of a boy stretching into a young man and see into the heart of the cosmos,” he says, though he will come to question his facility for turning sexual desire into metaphysics.

Merlis-Mark-2014-cThe title of Jonathan’s great book, JD, stands both for “juvenile delinquent” and for James Dean. Martha calls it “a love song to baby-faced hoodlums”; for Jonathan, it’s at once a hymn to “boys as they are now” and a dissection of “The tension between their…animal yearning” and “the monochrome, valueless world we expect them to grow into.”

It’s also, more than he realizes as he’s writing it, a book for his son. Merlis’ novel is deeply moving in its portrayal of Jonathan and Martha as they try to care for their child. They watch helplessly as he seems to slip through their grasp, failing out of school and spending his few waking hours smoking pot, until finally he’s called up for the draft. “Some time in his teens,” Martha remembers of Mickey, “when he should have been white-hot with lust for the world, he forgot how to speak in the future tense.” 

Reading Jonathan’s journal, Martha will be shocked and acidic about what she sees as Jonathan’s hypocrisy. “He railed against the society that drained the boys’ manhood,” she says when she reads of his paying an underage hustler for sex, “and then knelt to catch the last drop.”

She will also learn a great deal about the years when her son withdrew from her, and about the possible causes for that withdrawal. She will be devastated by a shocking, heartbreaking act of trespass Jonathan commits, and she will also come to question her own role in her son’s turning away from the future.

Both strands of Merlis’ novel—Jonathan writing from the past, Martha speaking to us in the present—are vibrant, tense and alive. Merlis has written a profound book about sex and identity and family, about the perils of artistic ambition, about radical longing and the changing social fabric of America. JD is a beautiful novel.

Previous reviews...
Helen Humphreys’ ‘The Evening Chorus’
Kim Fu’s ‘For Today I Am A Boy’
Joyce Brabner’s ‘Second Avenue Caper
Shelly Oria’s ‘New York 1, Tel Aviv 0’

Garth Greenwell’s debut novel, What Belongs to You, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in early 2016. His short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review and A Public Space. 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.


Researchers To Drive 'Final Nail In Coffin' Of Mark Regnerus Study By Showing It Actually Supports Gay Parenting

University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus' discredited "New Family Structures Study" actually shows, when corrected, that children with gay parents fare as well as those with "intact biological families."  

RegnerusThat's according to two sociologists who will publish research they're calling "the final nail in the coffin" of Regnerus' widely debunked, right-wing funded study.  

The sociologists — Brian Powell of Indiana University and Simon Cheng of the University of Connecticut — cleaned up Regnerus' data and eliminated respondents who clearly weren't raised by gay parents. 

Right Wing Watch reports: 

By eliminating suspect data — for example, a 25-year-old respondent who claimed to be 7’8” tall, 88 pounds, married 8 times and with 8 children, and another who reported having been arrested at age 1 — and correcting what they view as Regnerus’ methodological errors, Cheng and Powell found that Regnerus’ conclusions were so “fragile” that his data could just as easily show that children raised by gay and lesbian parents don’t face negative adult outcomes.

“[W]hen equally plausible and, in our view, preferred methodological decisions are used,” they wrote, “a different conclusion emerges: adult children who lived with same-sex parents show comparable outcome profiles to those from other family types, including intact biological families.”

In other words, as University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen put it, “when you clean the data and fix the things that are fixable, the results just don’t hold up.” 

Powell and Cheng's work will appear in Social Science Research, the same journal that drew heavy criticism for publishing Regnerus' flawed work. 

Powell and Cheng found that one-tenth of 236 respondents in Regnerus' study never lived with a gay parent, and another one-sixth lived with a gay parent for less than a year. Once those respondents are recategorized or eliminated, the researchers found only one negative outcome out of 40 for children raised by gay parents — they are more likely to have extramarital affairs. But Powell and Cheng say that finding is statistically insignificant. 

Despite nearly universal condemnation of Regnerus' study, including from his own sociology department at UT, he has continued to defend it and try to use it in court to oppose same-sex marriage. In Michigan last year, a federal judge rejected Regnerus' testimony, calling it "entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration."

No word on whether researchers also plan to look into Regnerus' more recent claim that the "normalization of gay men's sexual behavior" will cause a surge in the "practice of heterosexual anal sex."

Read the full Right Wing Watch story here


Gay Florida Couple Wins Battle To Have Son Baptized At Episcopal Church: VIDEO

McCaffrey

After a week of national outcry, an Episcopal church in Florida has decided to baptize a same-sex couple's baby after initially canceling the ceremony. 

The controversy began last Saturday, when Rich McCaffrey (above with his husband, Eric) reported on Facebook that the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando had canceled their son's baptism because some members of the congregation objected: 

JackWe chose Sunday, April 19 for the baptism. We attended Sunday services and recommended classes, becoming more familiar and pleased with our choice. We invited friends and family, both local and from out of town, and we looked forward to celebrating with Jack on what was to be an important day. On Thursday, April 16 we received a message from Dean Clark asking us to contact him regarding “a development” concerning the baptism. With relatives in the room, I called and what I heard still creates a lump in my throat. The Dean shared there were members of the congregation who opposed Jack’s baptism and although he hoped to resolve the conflict, he was not yet able to (the Bishop of Central Florida, Greg Brewer, was also involved). After probing further the Dean said “the issue is with you and Eric being the first two men who will baptize their child at the Cathedral.” He offered his apologies and further explained this was a bigger deal because of the exposure that comes along with the baptism taking place at the Cathedral. In essence “this is not no forever, just not now.” Three days before our son was to be baptized he was turned away. At that moment, he was unwelcomed by the church, and denied his rite to be recognized as a Christian. I was speechless, angry, and heartbroken.

McCaffrey's post was shared more than 1,000 times and garnered national media attention. An online petition calling for the church to baptize Jack reached almost 25,000 signatures.  

The outcry prompted Brewer, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, to reach out to the couple. And McCaffrey reported Friday that Brewer had agreed to allow Jack to be baptized in the church: 

Bishop Brewer extended an invitation to meet with us and we had the opportunity to speak with him yesterday evening. We spoke frankly and openly about the chain of events. ... He genuinely wanted to learn about us and expressed his apologies for how it had been handled. Most importantly, he was clear he is supportive of Eric and I, two dads, baptizing our son at the Cathedral and offered to be a part of it. 

We are appreciative and are looking forward to the baptism to take place this summer. At the same time we know on many fronts there is healing to be done which will take time. ...

I close with one more lesson for Jack – Aspire to live your life with grace and forgiveness. You will be better for it.

Change is seldom easy. I thank each of you for listening to us, supporting us, and engaging in the conversation.

Watch a report from WFTV.com, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Gay Florida Couple Wins Battle To Have Son Baptized At Episcopal Church: VIDEO" »


UK Court Rules In Favor Of Gay Dads in Surrogacy Battle

Gay dads

A High Court in the U.K. has ruled that a baby girl conceived through surrogacy will be removed from her biological mother and live with her father and his same-sex partner, reports Reuters.

The decision follows a legal pursuit over the nature of the parents' agreement when the child was conceived. The father said the mother had agreed to be a surrogate but she said they had agreed that she should be the baby's main parent.

Ms Justice Alison Russell ruled that the mother had misled the two men and had always intended to keep the baby, rather than changing her mind during the pregnancy.

Russell said:

"Very sadly this case is another example of how ‘agreements’ between potential parents, reached privately to conceive children to build a family, go wrong and cause great distress to the biological parents and their spouses or partners.

"[The mother] has consistently done all she can to minimize the role that [the father] had in the child's life...Far from being a child that she conceived with her good friend, as she describes it, her actions have always been of a woman determined to treat the child as solely her own."

The woman also made a deliberate attempt to discredit the two men in "a homophobic and offensive manner", according to the judge:

Natalie Smith, a trustee of Surrogacy UK, said:

"A contract which forces a woman to give up the right to make decisions about her body as part of a paid-for service would be a move towards a commercial model. This raises a raft of ethical questions... and the risk of surrogates being coerced through financial gain.”

Surrogacy in Britain is legal but it is a crime to advertise for a surrogate, to offer your services as a surrogate or to pay a surrogate a direct fee. The birth mother remains the legal mother of the child and is not obliged to give the baby up once it is born.


Texas Same-Sex Marriage Plaintiffs Endure 2nd Harrowing Child Birth With No Parental Rights: PHOTOS

Dimetman

Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman were inspired to become plaintiffs in a marriage equality lawsuit during the birth of their first child. 

DeLeon experienced delivery complications, and if something had happened to her, Dimetman wouldn't have had any parental rights — even though they were legally married in Massachusetts.  

After Dimetman became pregnant with the couple's second child, it was an argument the couple's attorneys repeatedly raised as they urged federal courts to lift a stay of a February 2014 decision striking down Texas' marriage ban

Over the weekend, Dimetman gave birth to a baby girl (above), and again there were complications. 

DeLeon“Labor is scary and anything can happen," Dimetman said in a statement on Monday. "I had an infection as a complication of labor that led to an emergency C-section. A day that should have been one of the happiest of our life was terrifying for Cleo. If I had not made it through the childbirth, Cleo would not have been our daughter’s legal mother because her name is not allowed on the birth certificate in Texas.”

DeLeon said the couple was overjoyed about the birth of but disappointed that Texas' marriage ban remains in place. 

"It is unfair to deny loving parents like us the basic legal protections that provide stability and security so critical to child rearing," DeLeon said. "We pray for the day when all Texans are treated equally under the law and we do not have to live in fear that something bad could happen in childbirth and I would not be considered the child’s parent by law. We hope the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court make all marriages legal in Texas and across the nation.”

Neel Lane, one of the couple's attorneys, noted it's been more than two months since the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the Texas marriage case, but the three-judge panel still hasn't ruled. 

“This otherwise joyous day for Nicole and Cleo is a sad one because, in the eyes of Texas, Nicole is an unwed mother," Lane said. "Her valid marriage to Cleo is declared void by a Texas law that U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia declared unconstitutional more than a year ago. Court after court have agreed with him, and no one doubts the U.S. Supreme Court will do the same."

The other plaintiffs in the Texas marriage lawsuit, Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes, issued a statement congratulating DeLeon and Dimetman. 

"We are so thrilled for them!" Phariss and Holmes said. "Unfortunately, Texas law does not recognize Cleo as a parent, even though Cleo and Nicole have been married for more than 5 ½ years. As a result, they must spend money to go to court to fix that, money that could be saved instead for their daughter’s future education, health care, and welfare. The time has now come for marriage equality to be recognized in Texas for the sake Nicole and Cleo and their daughter and for the sake of all gays and lesbians in Texas, including Vic and me who, after 18 years together, desperately want to marry the person we love in the state we love.”


Dolce & Gabbana Backtrack (Again!) on Same-Sex Parenting, Claim to 'Love Gay Adoption' - VIDEO

D&G

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have continued the damage limitation battle with an appearance on CNN - but failed to apologize for their controversial comments on “non-traditional families.”

The controversy began last week when the Italian Catholic designers said that "the only family is the traditional one" and that children born through in vitro fertilization were "synthetic.”

Following worldwide criticism and a call for a boycott by Elton John, Martina Navratilova and others, the former couple attempted to whitewash their comments.

Dolce said:

"I respect all the world, all the culture. I believe in the traditional family. It is impossible to change my culture for something different. You think what you think….I believe in the tradition of family.”

Gabbana added:

"We love gay couple. We are gay. We love gay couple. We love gay adoption. We love everything. It's just an express of my private point of view.”

Watch the interview, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Dolce & Gabbana Backtrack (Again!) on Same-Sex Parenting, Claim to 'Love Gay Adoption' - VIDEO" »


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