When you hear wonderful David Rakoff's debut novel (coming July 16) spans the entire 20th century yet is only 128 pages, it's easy to assume it was unfinished at his death last August at 47. The more relevant aspect, which the publisher has understandably downplayed, is that the book is a novel in verse. This, and the panoramic timeframe, may also explain David's atypically unwieldy title Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish [Kindle]. Doubleday says,
If you're missing any of his three previous collections of humor essays, stock up now: Fraud [Kindle], Don't Get Too Comfortable, and Half Empty [Kindle].
"The characters' lives are linked to each other by acts of generosity or cruelty. A daughter of Irish slaughterhouse workers in early-twentieth-century Chicago faces a desperate choice; a hobo offers an unexpected refuge on the rails during the Great Depression; a vivacious aunt provides her clever nephew a path out of the crushed dream of postwar Southern California; an office girl endures the casually vicious sexism of 1950s Manhattan; the young man from Southern California revels in the electrifying sexual and artistic openness of 1960s San Francisco, then later tends to dying friends and lovers as the AIDS pandemic devastates the community he cherishes; a love triangle reveals the empty materialism of the Reagan years; a marriage crumbles under the distinction between self-actualization and humanity; as the new century opens, a man who has lost his way finds a measure of peace in a photograph he discovers in an old box—an image of pure and simple joy that unites the themes of this brilliantly conceived work."
Born in 1904, the upper class Parisian Daniel Guérin became an ardent leftist and socialist in part by having sex with tough guys. He said, "It was there, in bed with them, that I discovered the working class, far more than through Marxist tracts." In the 1930s he became a political and union organizer after hating the colonialism he saw during his travels in Southeast Asia and the Mid-East. In the late 1940s he lived in the United States and was appalled by the treatment of black Americans and, back in France, he fully supported the Algerian drive for independence. Of his many books best known is Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, published in 1965, with later editions carrying an introduction by Noam Chomsky. He did not begin his activism on behalf of gay rights until the 1970s, especially as part of the Front Homosexuel d'Action Révolutionnaire [FHAR], a group from which he later broke. People discouraged by today's apolitical comsumerist gays may do well to remember that a quarter-century ago Guérin was disgusted by the apolitical hedonist gays whose "superficial pursuit of pleasure" was "a million miles from any conception of class struggle." Which is not to say he became anti-sex in his later years. His last significant relationship was with a man sixty years his junior. He died at eighty-three in 1988.
Interesting artistic decision or blatant sell-out? Broadway is not my thing so you be the judge of Harvey Fierstein's comments on Michelangelo Signorile's radio show confirming that "no one's gay" in the new musical version of the movie Kinky Boots about big men who do drag. Sure, it's based on a true story but a gay character could be there somewhere. Perhaps the more compelling dynamic would have been to depict a mix of sexualities on stage, to highlight their differences and surprising similarities, etc etc. I'm skeptical that the choice to exclude and erase is really all that brave and progressive. But the establishment loves it -- Kinky Boots is the most-nominated show (13!) at the Tonys three weeks from tonight.
Signorile recaps on HuffPost:
"Fierstein says he wrote and clearly portrays Lola as heterosexual, yet not one critic or reviewer has picked up on it, assuming that the character must be gay because he’s doing drag.
“I mean, he’s not gay,” Fierstein said in an interview on my SiriusXM radio program about the character based on a true story which was made into a 2005 British film of the same name. “I wrote this character as a heterosexual transvestite. He’s very clear that that is what he is. I thought this was a really interesting character to put up on the stage...rather than arguing the same arguments I’ve argued in 'La Cage,' to do something different. The really interesting thing to me is that not one critic -- not the gay critics, not the straight critics, -- not one critic picked up on him being straight. Not one. They all talked about, ‘Harvey’s gay liberation message or whatever.’ There’s no gay liberation message in this! No one’s gay in this! It’s so interesting to me that our prejudices are so strong that we hear what we think we hear.”
"Because your gay friends have it all figured out. And you don't."
"At my wedding? We gave guests Cheez-Its and a mini bottle of water. Keith & William gave us two tickets to Italy. And $40,000."
Basically, the season finale was an all-gay SNL. Also, because this was Bill Hader's last episode, Stefon got a send-off with a send-up of The Graduate's wedding. With a very special surprise groom.
Radcliffe Institute fellow and author of The Night Is Young: Sexuality in Mexico in the Time of Aids, Hector Carrillo penned this opinion piece for the NYT asking how the recent great strides for lgbt rights in Central and South America -- including Tuesday's judicial ruling that may lead to marriage equality throughout Brazil -- can be reconciled with "the stereotype of Latin culture as a bastion of religiosity and machismo?"
"Since the 1970s, protest movements helped end military dictatorships or long periods of one-party rule; this democratic opening empowered left or center-left governments that have strongly emphasized human rights and individual freedom... gay and lesbian activists piggybacked on this wave of democratization.
"The recent expansion of same-sex marriage rights has come about in part through alliances of left-of-center legislative majorities with progressive executives... judges have played an important role in advancing the cause of gay equality, as evidenced this week in Brazil, where the National Council of Justice, which oversees the judiciary, ruled that notary publics may not refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. (Judicial appeals, or legislative action, could reverse the decision.)
"These achievements were not inevitable; for decades the left, with ideological roots in class struggle, could be as patriarchal and homophobic as the capitalists and soldiers it condemned. So to understand why the politics changed, we must also look to society.
"In the 1990s, I interviewed dozens of Mexicans, straight and gay, in Guadalajara, the country’s second largest city. They spoke about how they wanted their lives to differ from their parents’. Women wanted to be recognized as sexual beings, with legitimate desires and the ability to pursue them. Men felt the old models of machismo were constraining, not empowering. As the anthropologist Matthew Gutmann found in Mexico City around the same time, this was the first generation of Mexicans for whom machismo was a dirty word.
"This desire for individual autonomy — which in some ways lagged behind the sexual revolution in the United States — extended to gay and lesbian people. The emergence of aids as a global epidemic coincided with a period of energetic democratization. Of course, increased visibility generated homophobic reactions, but it also motivated gays to declare their identities and organize politically."
Here's the essay in full.
For more, read these:
Changing Men and Masculinities in Latin America, Matthew Guttmann
Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About, Carla Trujillo
The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, Manuel Munoz
And get the current PEN Faulkner winner Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Only yesterday on FB, Garth "Mitko" Greenwell and Bob "Selfish and Perverse" Smith were raving about the seven wonders in Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how):
Hilary Mantel: "I’d like to be at home, in my apartment by the sea in Devon, just a few yards from the waves, sitting in the sunshine by a window, smiling, and picking up some vast immersive novel, like Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith [Kindle]: a book which, when it was new, I read as if I were a child, utterly thrilled and beguiled by it. In my ideal reading day there would be no time limit, no e-mails stacking up, and dinner would appear on a floating tablecloth, as if brought by spirit hands. In practice, this never happens. I read in snatched hours on trains, or late at night, or purposively and on a schedule, with pen in hand and a frown of concentration. But when I think harder . . . my ideal reading experience would involve time travel. I’d be 14, and in my hand would be the orange tickets that admitted to the adult section of the public library. Everything would be before me, and I would be ignorant of the shabby little compromises that novelists make, and I would be unaware that many nonfiction books are just rehashes of previous books by other writers. My eyes would be fresh. I would be chasing glory."
For five years the EU has failed to pass the lgbt Anti-Discrimination Directive drafted by the European Commission in 2008. Today, marking the annual International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency released the results of its first massive online survey of 93,000 lgbt Europeans and the findings are grim:
Study these interactive maps, charts, and graphs of the survey's findings.
Although the most discrimination was found in Eastern European countries, ILGA's communications manager Juris Lavrikovs implied a backlash in western countries that have seen "tremendous" lgbt advances. "Look at France, which used to be considered a very liberal, very open country. Now it is scary for a gay couple to walk hand in hand in Paris because of the increase in violence."
Tomas Raskevicius of the Lithuanian Gay League said, "Lithuania has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe. We have this real feeling that a lot of suicides are connected to homophobic bullying. The authorities don't talk about it out loud, and the daily harassment and remarks in the streets and public places is very widespread."
One of the countries keen to join the EU is the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Today in the capital Tbilisi, a few dozen people gathered for IDAHO. The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church called the pride rally "an insult" and - nonsensically - "a violation of the majority's rights," sparking 10,000 anti-gay protesters to demonstrate against the small pro-gay group. The antigay faction became increasingly enraged and eventually stormed the police ranks who had been protecting the lgbt marchers. As the gay group was hurried away, the mob threw rocks at their buses. BBC has footage.
Need a laugh? Booker winner Howard Jacobson has become the first author to twice win the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, the UK's only award for funny literary novels. Having won the inaugural prize in 2000 for The Mighty Walzer, he's got it again now for Zoo Time, about a blocked novelist in love with his wife and her mother. It beat these four finalists:
Yay! In the queer spirit of Gertrude Stein writing The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas (if that book had not ended up being about Stein), Booker finalist and Granta Best Young Novelist alum Philip Hensher's eighth novel is a semi-fictionalized memoir hybrid evoking his husband Zaved Mahmood's Bengali childhood. Now Scenes from Early Life [Kindle] has won the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize, beating Zadie Smith, Patrick Flanery, Liam Carson, Sarah Moss, and Gavin Francis, author of Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins, who wore a kilt to the black tie event. (Hensher wore a double-breasted maroon velvet jacket with a green crushed velvet shawl collar. Liam Carson wore a bright cobalt blue dinner jacket with a bolo string tie held by a chunk of turquoise.)
This years judges were Julia Blackburn, Ian Jack, and Margaret Drabble, who called Hensher's novel "an unostentatious tour de force."
You will have noticed the finalists include both fiction and nonfiction -- the £10,000 prize honors any book that captures the spirit of a place. Among prior winners are great modern masterpieces such as Rory Stewart's The Places In Between and Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes. Other winners are Adam Nicolson, Graham Robb, Hisham Matar, James Meek, and Louisa Waugh.
The award is named for its benefactor Christopher Ondaatje, OBE, business shark, philanthropist, adventurer, and former Olympic bob-sledder for Canada. He also funds the Ondaatje prize in portraiture and is the older brother of novelist Michael.
The Commonwealth Prize for fiction has announced this year's five regional winners who will compete for the overall prize announced on May 31.
Canada & Europe: Lisa O'Donnell, The Death of Bees
Africa: E.E. Sule, Sterile Sky
Asia: Nayomi Munaweera, Island of a Thousand Mirrors
Pacific: Michael Sala, The Last Thread
Just since 2009 when she turned 70, pioneering queer filmmaker Barbara Hammer has had a retrospective of her work at MoMA in New York, the Tate in London, and the Jeu de Paume in Paris; her short called "A Horse Is Not a Metaphor" won a Teddy at the Berlinale; her brilliant and inspiring book Hammer!: Making Movies Out of Sex and Life [Kindle] won a Publishing Triangle Award, won a Lammy, and was a favorite on Thebes' queer lit poll; and this year she won a Guggenheim. All deserved, and all infinitely more gratifying when you remember she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006. Her decades of creating dozens of experimental work to record queer lives (Dyketactics, A Gay Day, Superdyke Meets Madam X, etc.) reached a new high in 1992 with her first feature documentary Nitrate Kisses, acclaimed at Sundance, festivals worldwide, and at the Whitney Biennial. She says, “I choose film and video to make the invisible visible. I am compelled to reveal and celebrate queer and other people whose stories have not been told. I make a multi-level cinema that engages audiences viscerally and emboldens them intellectually. My current work has turned towards recovering missing histories of lesbian artists and is inspired by the words of Gayatri Spivak who cautions against an uncritical archivism leading to nostalgia.” The MoMA curator wrote:
... she came out as a lesbian, an act that helped radicalize her approach to directing. Galvanized by the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, she soon became a pioneer of queer cinema. Hammer has since directed more than eighty films, using avant-garde strategies to explore lesbian and gay sexuality, identity, and history, along with other heretofore unrepresented voices. In the 1970s her films dealt with the representation of taboo subjects through performance, and in the 1980s she began using an optical printer to make films that explore perception. In the 1990s she began making documentaries about hidden aspects of queer history.
Barbara was born in Hollywood, graduated from UCLA, and earned two masters degrees at SFSU. She has lived in New York City for many years and still teaches each summer at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.
Riding the hype of the HBO movie on May 26, Tantor today releases a new paperback of Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace with a brand new afterword by the now-straight Scott Thorson. They've also issued an ebook and an audio read by Peter Berkrot.
Director Soderbergh told New York: “I wanted to make something really intimate. I liked the Sunset Boulevard aspect of Lee and Scott—older, younger; powerful, not powerful. With some show business thrown into it. During his career, Liberace was the most successful act to play Vegas—he made up to $400,000 a week during the seventies—but he was very private. The film is about a part of his life that he didn’t share with anyone; it is an act of imagination, but I wanted it to be sincere. I didn’t want it to be unkind, because everyone loved Liberace. He was the nicest man.”
Not quite. A famous gay author posted on FB how mean Lee was, but now I can't find the link.
Here's an uncomfortably long list of a dozen current tv shows with lesbian or gay characters that got canceled: The New Normal, Happy Endings, Go On, Smash, The Office, 1600 Penn, Don’t Trust the B___ in Apartment 23, 90210, Emily Owens, M.D., The L.A. Complex, Partners, and Southland. Several of these shows deserve to vanish and in no case could you say it was the gay character that killed the show, maybe with the possible exception of The New Normal. IMHO, among other problems what doomed The New Normal wasn't an excess of gay as much as an absence of women that viewers could identify with. Successful gay shows have strong roles like Claire and Gloria, or Grace and Karen, and here weak Goldie didn't satisfy. (Nana and Rocky were inconsistent and often absent.)
Overall, commercial tv ratings continue to decline.
Next year you'll have a lot of bromance. And the return to sitcoms of Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michael J Fox and new stints for Anna Faris and Rebel Wilson and Andy Samberg, and Jane Lynch's voice in the animated Murder Police, and the JLo-produced hourlong drama of a blended family raised by a lesbian couple called The Fosters, and Sean Hayes as a very, very familiar type in this. (Modern Family, New Normal, Fosters, Sean.., it will soon be illegal to show a gay tv character NOT raising kids.) I do love Thomas Lennon and Linda Lavin. Usually.
Late yesterday Minnesota's senate (37-30) followed the house (75-59) in passing a marriage equality bill ahead of the governor's promised signature, and this morning that news is nowhere to be found on the front page of the websites of the NYT, the Washington Post, or USA Today. It's the 12th state - plus DC - to achieve marriage equality and many people think the story is already ho-hum. But as a tipping point, Minnesota is huge: the first heartland state to get same-sex marriage through the legislative process. (Iowa got it via judicial ruling.) It is also a stunning turnaround from six months ago, when voters were asked by the likes of local nut Michele Bachmann to confine marriage to one woman + one man. On election day, only six states allowed same-sex couples to marry. Now it's doubled.
God bless the trailblazers back east but many of the gay marriage states cluster at the bottom of a ranking by population: Vermont #49, Delaware #45, Rhode Island #43, New Hampshire #42, and Maine #41. With 5.4 million people, Minnesota is one of the more populous states to get marriage equality.
To understand the state's gay past, read Stewart Van Cleve's Land of 10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota.
Below, the state's only out senator and author of the marriage bill, Scott Dibble, begins his speech with 54 seconds of Langston Hughes.
Growing up in a prominent conservative Southern family in North Carolina, Armistead Maupin always knew he was gay yet his natural reserve kept him from acting on those feelings until after college, after serving in the Navy, when he was twenty-six. He came out the year he turned thirty. Good thing, because 1974 is also when he began publishing his panoramic observations about San Francisco and its pansexual inhabitants in the Marin paper, The Pacific Sun. In hindsight the next steps look obvious -- move the column to the Chronicle in 1976, morph them into a novel called Tales of the City in 1978, repeat, repeat, and achieve literary renown as the creator of one of the most cherished character driven book series of the century. The film adaptations in the early 90s starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis were widely praised and greatly loved, and, inevitably, vociferously attacked by conservatives, especially because the first film was shown on PBS. Several state legislatures in the South officially condemned the series. No surprise, the frightened suits at PBS ignored the record breaking ratings and awards, instead opting to cancel the sequel. Enter Showtime, which produced the next two adaptations and earned a total of six additional Emmy nominations. Maupin's bravery in print was matched in action, fighting aids and for gay rights. Author of three other novels (Maybe the Moon, The Night Listener, Michael Tolliver Lives), he has written the screenplays for four adaptations of his work and wrote the excellent narration for The Celluloid Closet. After a twelve-year relationship with Terry Anderson, Maupin met and is now married to Christopher Turner. Last year they left their beloved San Francisco and moved to Santa Fe, where he is working on a new novel. (photo by sfleo67)
A contemporary heir to Patrick Leigh Fermor's genius in travel writing, Bruce Chatwin's literary talent was matched by his personal panache. So brilliant, so handsome, so acclaimed, so willing to buck British convention, yet so tormented by his own prejudices. Unable to accept that he was gay, he married a woman, Elizabeth Chanler, in 1965, when he was twenty-five, and exclusively pursued men throughout their fifteen years of marriage. (She didn't mind, although she did ask for a separation in 1980.)
Chatwin's reflex for making up cover stories appears to have extended into his nonfiction. The local people of his marvelous travel books like In Patagoniaand The Songlines disputed the accuracy of some of his writing, claiming he embellished or created characters and conversations described as fact. Many episodes in those essays only make sense if you realize he is sleeping with the men he meets. Although there's nothing outright gay in his much loved first novel On the Black Hill, it concerns two long-time bachelor brothers who sleep in the same bed for decades. Even when he was dying at forty-eight in 1989, he remained so closeted he said he had a rare, fatal blood disease contracted in China from a bat bite, rather than say he had aids. One of his lovers was Jasper Conran; Chatwin died in the South of France in a house owned by Jasper's mother, Shirley Conran, and his ashes were scattered near Leigh Fermor's home in the Peleponnese.
Rupert Smith's output is so big and versatile he needs three names to cover it. His own literary fiction includes most recently the award-winning Man's World which follows two storylines of gay Londoners decades apart, both revolving around a trio of similar types made memorable by individual quirks: a quieter man whose best friend is screamingly camp and whose off-again-on-again lover is a hot bloke with serious self-acceptance issues. As in The Swimming-Pool Library, the historical characters (and the old men they become) are more interesting than the funnier but shallower contemporary club denizens. Rupert James is his name for swift, swirly commercial Jackie Collins-ish fiction like Silk and Step Sisters. And James Lear delivers gay erotica in clever settings with actual wit: a country house whodunit (The Back Passage), a murder on a long journey aboard the legendary train The Flying Scotsman (The Secret Tunnel), a Civil War romance between a spoiled white heir and a runaway slave (Hot Valley), and a Robert Louis Stevenson-style romp through Scotland in the 1750s (The Low Road). A brand new James Lear book comes at you next month. Generously, Rupert has posted on his site a list of his 101 favorite novels with a wonderfully opinionated paragraph about each. At #17 is Arnold Bennett's 1908 classic The Old Wives' Tale.
Could a plastic bag caught in the wind on a lower Manhattan street change your life? Alan Ball watched one float for ten minutes and made it a hallmark of his first movie script, American Beauty, which won five Oscars including best picture, best director, best actor, and his own best screenplay. He parlayed that success into writing and directing his gay-positive mortuary series Six Feet Under, for which he earned an Emmy, a DGA, and a PGA. It lasted five seasons and won a total of 46 awards. Ball returned to feature films in 2007 with Towelhead, and continued his partnership with HBO with the supremely sexy, bloody, metaphorical, vampires as minorities ("God Hates Fangs"), Emmy-winning True Blood that launches its sixth season next month. Ball and his partner live next door to another Oscar winning writer-director, Quentin Tarantino, who sued Alan in March 2011 over the "obnoxious pterodactyl-like screams" of their exotic bird aviary.
Four days of ornithology. Twenty of us took a boat to the uninhabited, unvisited Barren Islands. More photos here. The very best reference book on same-sex activity in nature is Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity [Kindle]. A must own title.