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SPRING ARTS 2016: books

Toasting the women we love, fighting teen bullies and more in spring books



spring books, gay books 2016, gay news, Washington Blade

Toasting the women we love, fighting teen bullies and more in spring books.

Since you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been, “Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation by Jim Downs (Basic Books, March 1) is a great look back at the efforts, activism, and advocacy for gay rights. Davis dug deep to find stories that aren’t usually told — tales of religion within the gay community and its efforts, how African Americans have figured in LGBT history, where violence has occurred and the behind-the-scenes politics of equality.

Gender identity has also been in the news a lot lately, and in “A Murder Over a Girl” by Ken Corbett (Henry Holt, March 1), you’ll read about 15-year-old Larry King, who’d recently begun identifying as Leticia, and her murder at the hands of a 14-year-old classmate at a junior high school in California. Corbett was at the ensuing trial and had access to interviews and records, making this book a true crime fan’s must read. You may also want to share this book with parents you know.

Spring may have you thinking thoughts of love, and “The Golden Condom” by Jeanne Safer, PhD (Picador, April 5) can help your thoughts wander. This book is about love lost and found, saved and destroyed, but not just love of the romantic kind. Safer, who is a psychotherapist, also looks at friendships, sibling rivalry and amour from afar.

If you’re a man, why would you want to perform in women’s clothing?  In “Why Drag?” by Magnus Hastings, introduction by Boy George (Chronicle Books, May 17), you’ll get an idea of the fun and the frustration, including pictures and thoughts from drag queens of TV and stage. Some are sassy, some are philosophical, all lead up to individually fascinating answers to “why?”

If sports are your thing, then “Fair Play” by Cyd Zeigler (Akashic Books, June 7) should be on your roster. Zeigler, an authority on sports and the LGBT community, looks at LGBT athletes, the issues they face, and the myths they have the power to dispel. You’ll read about three in-the-news gay athletes, and how gay and lesbian sports participants will one day change the current level of acceptance of LGBTQ players in the game.

Other releases of note include:

• Each of us was created for something great — we just need to figure out what it is and find the courage to do it. Gay-affirming pastor/author Rob Bells shows you how in “How to Be Here: a Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living.” It’s $14.99 and releases March 8.

• “The Spartacus International Gay Guide 2016” is an annual must-read if want to find gay hot spots abroad each year. This year’s edition ($24.99) is out March 15. Similarly, the “Damron’s Men’s Travel Guide’s” 51st edition is $22.95 and releases April 15.

• “Visions and Revisions” by novelist and critic Dale Peck is part memoir, part extended essay in what he calls the “second half” of the first wave of the AIDS epidemic. In focusing on the period between 1987-1996, Peck writes a “sweeping, collage-style portrait of a tumultuous era.” It’s $16 and will release on March 22.

• “Double Life: a Love Story from Broadway to Hollywood,” the name-dropping page turner from long-time partners Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine is out in a new MP3 CD edition on April 5.

• “Manties in a Twist: the Subs Club Book III” by J.A. Rock is a tongue-in-cheek look at the gay kink scene finds the narrator lamenting the loss of his favorite dom of yore, Hal, while left to navigate life with the new “Subs Club,” a group that meets to rate “suck-ass” doms. If this is your scene, it’s a riot. It’s $17.99 and releases April 4.

• “True Homosexual Experiences: Boyd McDonald and Straight to Hell” is a memoir of the famed author (1925-1993) of the “Straight to Hell” series, a collection of readers’ “true homosexual experiences,” that in the pre-liberation era let gays know not only that they weren’t alone, but what their fellow gays were doing in the bedroom and beyond. It’s $25 and releases April 1.

• The title of “The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Nurturing and Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes” from Diane Ehrenhaft and Norman Spack speaks for itself. In this up-to-date comprehensive resource, Ehrenhaft explains the mix of biology, nurture and culture to explain why gender can be fluid rather than binary. It’s $15.95 and out April 5.

• LGBT lawyers share their experiences in “Out and About: the LGBT Experience in the Legal Profession,” a joint effort from the American Bar Association Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and the National LGBT Bar Association. It’s $49.95 and out April 7.

• Gay men write lovingly of their female idols in “The Women We Love: Gay Writers on the Fierce and Tender Females who Inspire Them.” Read Rufus Wainwright’s tribute to his sister, Martha; Kevin Sessums on a childhood maid; and Wayne Koestenbaum on Jackie Kennedy. It’s $18.95 and out April 7.

• As editor-in-chief of, Aryka Randall has become the authority on lesbian love, especially for women of color. In “She’s Just Not That Into You: the Fab Femme’s Guide to Queer Love and Dating,” she gives advice on queer dating, relationships, open commitments, living arrangements, sex, money, lust and more. It’s $14.29 and releases April 5.

• In “Queer Philologies: Sex, Language and Affect in Shakespeare’s Time,” Jeffrey Maesten studies the terms used for sexuality in the Bard’s era and analyzes the methods used to study sex and gender in literary and cultural history. This scholarly work is $59.95 and releases April 19.

• Robin Stevenson explores what Pride means to members of the community and the history of its development in “Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community.” It’s $24.95 and releases April 19.

• Not sure what kind of arrangement is best for you or what the true differences are? Explore your options in “Making it Legal: a Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions” by attorneys Frederick Hertz and Emily Doskow. It’s $29.95 and releases April 29.

• Want to veg out with some naughty comic book fun? “Big Loads Vol. 3: the Class Comics Stash” by Patrick Fillion and Robert Fraser features eye-popping art and situations you’ll recognize in comics like “The Bromance,” “Dead of Winter” and “Lost Love.” It’s $29.99 and releases May 1.

• Ma-Nee Chacaby shares her remarkable life story overcoming abuse, poverty and alcoholism in “A Two-Spirit Journey: the Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder.” It’s $27.95 and releases May 17.

• Frustrated by the notion that homosexuality and Christianity are incompatible, Rev. Elizabeth Edman shares in “Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How it Can Revitalize Christianity” that the faith, at its scriptural core, is “inherently queer” and how she feels queer believers are “gifts to the church.” It’s $25.95 and is out May 17.

• David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the truth: David wants to be a girl. “The Art of Being Normal” by Lisa Williamson is $17.99 and releases May 31.

• When her best friend Hannah comes out the day before junior year, Daisy is all set to let her ally flag fly. But she soon finds out it’s not so easy to change their school’s ban on same-sex dates at school dances with homecoming looming. “The Inside of Out” is a young-adult novel from Jenn Marie Thorne. It’s $17.99 and releases May 31.

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‘Queer Country’ explores origins of growing genre of music

Tracing an evolution, from k.d. lang to Lil Nas X



(Book cover photo courtesy of University of Illinois Press)

Queer Country
By Shana Goldin-Perschbacher
c.2022, University of Illinois Press
$110 hardcover; $24.95 paperback/288 pages

Two steps.

This way, two more that way, tap your heels together, step-and-bow left, step-and-bow right, turn and again. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of doing this and you won’t bump into everybody on the dance floor. Also eventually, you’ll see that country music has a place for you even when, as in the new book “Queer Country” by Shana Goldin-Perschbacher, you never thought you had a place for it.

Usually, when one thinks about country music, rural living comes to mind: cowboys, pick-ups, Christian values, conservatism, heartbreak and honky tonks. Stereotypically, few of those things have seemed LGBTQ-inclusive and listeners might have felt unwelcome, were it not for today’s boundary-breakers and “queer country,” which, says Goldin-Perschbacher, is becoming more of a music category with fans. 

Goldin-Perschbacher is quick to say that “queer country” is not a genre on its own. Some out musicians might closer identify themselves with Americana or folk music; k.d. lang’s music is more countrypolitan, but with humor; and you can attend queer Bluegrass festivals, if you want. None of this defines the various artists: In many ways, LGBTQ artists have really had no other options than to embrace all labels. 

Then there’s the issue of how to do queer country: Goldin-Perschbacher refers often to Patrick Haggerty, who was the first gay artist to officially record the album “Lavender Country.” He recorded it in Seattle, shortly after Stonewall; at that time, Haggerty was especially determined that his album be honest and sincere in its reflection of gay life – things that continue to concern queer artists who use irony, drag, and camp in their work. 

And there’s that struggle to go mainstream. Goldin-Perschbacher writes about k.d. lang’s career and how it progressed. You’ll read about Chely Wright and Lil Nas X and how they used non-traditional ways to rise to stardom. And you’ll read about many artists who do what seems best for them, and count LGBTQ listeners and cis audience members among their fans.

There really is no way “Queer Country” could ever be considered a “beach read.”

This isn’t the relaxed, rangy kind of book you want to sunbathe with; instead, author Shana Goldin-Perschbacher speaks to the academic, rather than the casual listener, with language that seems to fit better in school, than in sand. The analyses border on the high brow just a bit, with some amount of repetition to underscore various points.

Even so, this is an important work. 

In writing about this almost-hidden branch of country music, Goldin-Perschbacher also tells of the efforts she’s made to help some artists to gain a wider audience. This lends more of an insider feel; the intimately extensive interviews with artists, and excerpts from other works, let readers know that they should keep their eyes (and ears!) open.

 Give yourself some room to absorb, if you tackle this book. It’s not for everyone, but C&W listeners and “queer country” fans may find it necessary. Step one is to find somewhere comfortable to sit. Reading “Queer Country” is step two.

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Danica Roem’s new book is far from a typical politico’s story

‘Burn the Page’ an inspiring, gonzo page-turner



(Book cover image courtesy of Viking)

Burn the Page
By Danica Roem
c.2022, Viking
$27/320 pages

Party drinking. Heavy metal gigs. People doing yoga to the soundtrack of “The Pursuit of Vikings” by the Swedish metal band Amon Amarth. Car breakdowns. Vivid descriptions of anxiety-induced vomit. More energy than a zillion shots of Red Bull. Inspiring and badass stories that will make you, no matter how cynical, want to tell your own story, be kind to people and work to help change what’s messed up in the world.

This isn’t what you’d find in most politicians’ memoirs. But “Burn the Page” by Danica Roem is far from a typical politico’s book.

Roem, 37, isn’t your usual politician. In 2017, Roem was elected as a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates. In 2018, she became the first out transgender seated state legislator in the country.

Roem was reelected in 2019 (becoming the first trans person to be reelected to state office). She was elected to another term in office in 2021.

On May 9, Roem announced that she is running in the 2023 election for Virginia’s state Senate, the Blade reported. If she wins then, she will become the country’s second out transgender state senator.

In “Burn The Page,” Roem lets us know that running for office, along with many other things in her life, wasn’t easy for her.

She grew up in Manassas, Virginia. After her father died by suicide when she was three; Roem was raised by her mother and her grandfather.

It was hard for Roem to sort out her sexual and gender identity at a time when many queers weren’t out. Heavy metal became a safe place for her (you could wear make-up in a heavy metal band).

Roem graduated from St. Bonaventure University with a bachelor’s degree. Before entering politics, she was a journalist. Because Roem wrote for local papers, she was not paid a livable wage.

“Picture it: a five-foot-eleven, long-haired brunette metalhead trans lady reporter wearing a rainbow bandanna, an A-line skirt, and a black hoodie,” Roem writes about herself as she was in 2016 just before she thought about becoming a candidate for office.

Then, though she had been a reporter for a decade and interviewed governors, Roem had to work two jobs.

She drove a 1992 Dodge Shadow America and worked at a kebab shop for $5 an hour.

Along with the kebab gig, Roem worked part-time for a local paper. When she interviewed for the job, the editor, Roem writes, asked her why “the fuck” she wanted to work there. She had no health insurance.

Roem feels bad, she writes, about behaving like a “lady dick” then, because she was so exhausted. For good measure, a “transgender rights organization in need of a storyteller,” she writes with sardonic humor of her 2016 life, “passed her over…for another transgender storyteller with flashier credentials.”

As if things didn’t suck enough, Roem hardly ever got to see her partner or step-daughter because she was commuting so much for her jobs. 

But, despite those hardships, “Burn the Page” isn’t a pity party. It’s a kick-ass account of how Roem has reclaimed her story and got things done.

When members of the anti-queer Westboro Baptist Church protested Roem, the heavy metal band Lamb of God led some 200 protesters with kazoos in a counter demonstration. 

As a legislator, Roem has worked not only on LGBTQ issues, but on traffic congestion, Medicaid expansion and other issues that impact her constituents.

“This is a book about both the importance of the stories we tell one another,” Roem writes, “and the power in setting fire to the stories you don’t want to be in anymore.”

As the anti-LGBTQ laws being passed nationwide make all too clear, transphobia still exists. But there is power in shaping the narrative about your life. “Everytime you share your own story,” Roem writes, “you do something to counteract another narrative that sometimes lurks in the shadows and other times is not so subtle.”

 “Burn the Page” is an inspiring, fun gonzo page-turner. It’s a must-read.

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Two lively, entertaining new books from Deaf creators

DiMarco’s memoir and Novic’s ‘True Biz’ give visibility to oft-ignored community



(Book covers via Amazon)

‘Deaf Utopia: A Memoir–and a Love Letter to a Way of Life’
By Nyle DiMarco
c.2022, William Morrow
$22.99/336 pages

‘True Biz’
By Sara Novic
c.2022, Random House
$27/388 pages

In the 1970s, while riding the T in Boston, a man tried to get my attention. He seemed to be talking animatedly with his hands. Knowing nothing about sign language, I thought he might be drunk. I ignored him, unfolded my white cane and got off at my stop. I’m legally blind, but have some vision. But, I don’t always recognize people whom I’ve met.

Later that day, I learned that the fellow on the T’s name was Fred and that he was Deaf. He’d seen me at a party and was signing hi to me. Fred, I’m so sorry for my rudeness! 

Then, aside from the sad-sack Deaf character in the novel and movie of the same title “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” Deaf people, like queer people, largely, weren’t present in books, movies, TV – anywhere in pop culture. Except as victims, villains or metaphors for loneliness or deviance.

Thankfully, after decades. this is changing. As Troy Kotsur, said of “the Deaf community, the CODA [children of Deaf adults] community and the disabled community,” when he became the first male Deaf actor to win an Oscar, “This is our moment.”

Today, Deaf and disabled people, queer and non-queer, from models to artists to filmmakers to authors are pop culture creators and icons. Two of the most lively, entertaining, moving books out now are by Deaf creators.

“Deaf Utopia” is a fascinating memoir by Nyle DiMarco with Robert Siebert. DiMarco, 32, is proudly Deaf and queer. His parents and grandparents are Deaf. He knows how to keep your attention. His stories range from his first kiss with a man to auditions with reality show execs (who want him, a Deaf guy whose native language is American Sign Language to “use his voice”) to harrowing accounts of being abused by his father.DiMarco is an activist, producer, actor, and model. In 2014, he became the second male winner and first Deaf contestant on cycle 22 of “America’s Next Top Model.”

In 2015, DiMarco, with his professional dance partner Peta Murgatroyd won the Mirrorball Trophy on season 22 of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” His acting credits include roles on “Difficult People,” and “Switched at Birth.” DiMarco, a Gallaudet University graduate and Washington, D.C. resident, was executive producer of the Netflix docuseries “Deaf U.”

Growing up, he and his twin brother Nico had “gotten a taste of the cruelty of hearing people toward the Deaf when childhood bullies mocked our signing,” DiMarco writes.

As with queer people who are mocked as children, DiMarco as he got older came to see that bullying could “take more harmful and sinister forms: blatant oppression and discrimination.”

He learned from his mother that in 1995, five years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, his grandfather was denied an interpreter when he was in the hospital. When he went into surgery, his family didn’t know if his “life was in danger,” DiMarco writes.

The Deaf community isn’t immune to homophobia. As a youth, DiMarco was told the story of an acclaimed, handsome Deaf track sprinter. After marrying a woman, having two children and living the life of the “picture-perfect” family man, he killed himself.

Years later, DiMarco discovered that the legendary athlete was gay, when he met the sprinter’s Deaf European out male lover. The athlete told his lover that he couldn’t come out.

“I wondered how long it would be before I saw him again,” the athlete’s lover told DiMarco, “I never did. Soon after that, he took his own life.”

Despite these sad stories, “Deaf Utopia” is far from a downer. It is filled with moments of pride and exuberance from DiMarco’s mom being there when he and Murgatroyd were awarded the Mirrorball Trophy to when he was asked to be an executive producer of “Deaf U.” 

Coming out, DiMarco had to deal with homophobia and being excluded from the queer community because he’s Deaf. He met a lot of “cool” gay people at LGBTQ events and he spoke in American Sign Language at the 2016 Human Rights Campaign annual dinner. 

Yet, “my new gay acquaintances were hearing and didn’t know ASL,” DiMarco writes.

But he didn’t give up. With time and patience, DiMarco taught hearing queer people ASL, and hearing LGBTQ people began to include him in their conversations.

“Deaf Utopia” has entertaining dish about what it’s like behind the scenes of reality shows. But it’s not a celeb tell-all.

The memoir is an exhilarating mix of stories of DiMarco’s life and intriguing narratives of Deaf culture. Take just one thing “Deaf Utopia” made me get for the first time: silent movies, with no spoken dialogue, were accessible to Deaf people.

If you’re hearing, you’ll likely be surprised by one sobering story of Deaf history: Alexander Graham Bell was instrumental in having sign language, the native language of Deaf people, banned from schools for the Deaf.  

If you like reality shows, dancing and parties laced with queerness and Deaf culture, “Deaf Utopia” is the book for you.

“True Biz” is the dazzling new novel by Sara Novic, a brilliant Deaf writer. Like DiMarco, Novic, author of “Girl at War” and “America Is Immigrants,” is proud of being Deaf.

“To be a member of the Deaf community has been a great source of joy in my life,” she writes in an “author’s note,” “it has made me a better writer, thinker, parent, and friend.”

Schools for Deaf people have been vitally important for Deaf culture, language and community.

“True Biz” is set at the fictional River Valley School for the Deaf. Riverdale is facing closure. The novel’s main characters are February Waters, the headmistress, and two teenage students Austin and Charlie.

February is a CODA (child of Deaf adults). She and her hearing wife Melanie love each other. But like many marriages, their marriage has its strains. February must deal with everything from teen sex to Riverdale’s impending closure. 

Austin is a proud Deaf teen. His family has been Deaf for generations. Nothing shakes up his life until he meets up with Charlie, a new student.

Novic is a master of creating characters that burn themselves into your heart. Charlie, who is Deaf, will tug at your heart the most. Her divorced parents are hearing. Her folks won’t let Charlie communicate in American Sign Language. Charlie attends mainstream schools where she meets no Deaf people. Her mom insists that she have a cochlear implant.

When she fails academically, Charlie is sent to Riverdale. Adjusting is hard for her  because the Riverdale students communicate with ASL. She has to quickly learn to sign. February asks Austin to help her fit in.

You’ll miss and root for these characters after reading this page-turning novel. You’ll want February and her wife to stay together and good things to happen to Austin and Charlie.

“True Biz” is an American Sign Language idiom. In English, it means “seriously” or “for sure.”

Seriously, read “True Biz.”

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