Connect with us


SPRING ARTS 2017: Books — Gays at home

New Atwood photography book one of many LGBT-themed spring tomes



new books spring 2017, gay news, Washington Blade

Doug Spearman, left, and Marc Samuel at their home. The photo is from ‘Tom Atwood: Kings & Queens in Their Castles,’ a new coffeetable book that shows LGBT people in their homes. (Photo used with permission from Atwood)

Does a 15-year project of photographing 350 LGBT subjects sound overly ambitious? Not for Tom Atwood, who has done just that with his breathtaking photo series, “Tom Atwood: Kings & Queens In Their Castles” (Damiani, March 28). Atwood’s monumental project, which has been named the most comprehensive LGBT photo series ever conducted in the U.S., portrays the intimate moments of prominent figures ranging from Don Lemon to Alison Bechdel.

If you’re a poetry fan, “New American Best Friend” by Olivia Gatwood (Button Poetry, March 28), is a stunning celebration of contemporary womanhood, gender and sexuality by one of the most venerated young poets and queer writers in America. Gatwood effortlessly segues between themes of pleasure, violence, youth and adulthood, and ultimately transitions into a fearless ode to women and the messy journey faced in finding oneself.

If you’re crafty and creative, “Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community” by John Chaich and Todd Oldham (AMMO Books, April 1), is a delightful compilation of crochet, embroidery, quilting and sewing masterpieces by an international mix of 30 LGBT artists. To elaborate on how queerness has influenced their fiber and textile work, the artists are interviewed by renowned leaders in creative fields — many gay themselves.

As we still grieve his sudden passing, “George Michael: the Life: 1963-2016” by Emily Herbert  (Lesser Gods, April 4), will provide closure on the life and legacy of one of Pop’s most beloved and unapologetically gay icons. Herbert thoughtfully touches on George Michael’s early life, rise to fame, sex scandals, struggle with depression and addiction, and mysterious death, ultimately revealing that his legacy is as rooted in (often anonymous) charity as it is in music.

In “The Secrets of My Life” by Caitlyn Jenner (Grand Central Publishing, April 25), readers can dive much deeper into the remarkable story of the most famous transgender woman in the world, told in her own words. Jenner recounts intensely personal stories of her struggle to find self-acceptance in the  context of being an Olympic legend and global symbol of masculinity, as well as the patriarch of the ubiquitous Kardashian family.

In “No One Can Pronounce My Name: A Novel” (Picador, May 2), Lambda Literary Award-winning author Rakesh Satyal tells the multigenerational story of a community of Indian Americans living in a Cleveland suburb.  Harit, a lonely Indian immigrant in his 40s, finds himself dressing in a sari every night to pass off as his deceased sister for his grieving mother. He later befriends Ranjana, who writes paranormal stories to find escape during her husband’s suspected infidelity. Their unlikely friendship is a hilarious and touching account of navigating American society and the divide between Eastern and Western cultures.

After a generous profile in the New Yorker last year, “Nature Poem” by Tommy Pico (Tin House Books, May 9), is definitely one of this year’s most anticipated LGBT releases. In a book-length poem, Pico tells the story of Teebs, a young, queer, American-Indian poet who prefers city life and struggles to write about nature, the subject white people and wider American culture equate him with. Pico himself identifies as queer and grew up on the Viejas Reservation near San Diego, so “Nature Poem” is very much a meditation on his own life in Brooklyn and his American-Indian identity.

No matter your age, “It’s Not Like It’s A Secret” by Misa Sugiura (HarperTeen, May 9), is a young adult fiction novel about two girls of color falling in love that will touch even the least-high school nostalgic of readers. In this poignant coming-of-age story, 16-year old Sana moves to California, where she meets the beautiful and intelligent Jamie Ramirez. Jamie spurs Sana to finally spill some of her many secrets, the hardest to admit being that she wants to be more than friends with Jamie.

For more poetry, “How To Get Over” by T’ai Freedom Ford (Red Hen Press, May 9), is a spellbinding debut that fearlessly confronts the author’s past hardships, including those related to sexual identity, sexual assault and substance abuse. Ford grapples with themes of homophobia, bullying, anti-black racism and gentrification, incorporating important reminders of slavery’s legacy as well as directly addressing modern-day pop culture icons like Kanye West and Nicki Minaj.

“The Voice Book for Trans and Non-Binary People: A Practical Guide to Creating and Sustaining Authentic Voice and Communication” by Matthew Mills and Gillie Stoneham (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, May 18) is a comprehensive guide for trans and non-binary individuals interested in achieving a different voice that feels more authentic to their identities. Written by two language and specialist speech therapists, this book provides a thorough overview of the process to develop new vocal skills, and includes exercises on resonance, intonation and pitch.

In her much-anticipated second memoir, “Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me” (Atria Books, June 13), Janet Mock details the existential growing pains she faced during her early 20s, many of which will feel relatable to readers despite her status as one of the most revered transgender rights and racial justice activists of her generation. “Surpassing Uncertainty” candidly unfolds with Mock’s uncomfortable failures and incremental successes in love and intimacy, career development and learning to advocate for herself as a transgender woman of color before advocating for her wider community.

This year, we’re blessed with not one but two memoirs written by bisexual writer Roxane Gay. In “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” (Harper, June 13), the much-buzzed-about author explores her struggles with food, weight and body image with restorative vulnerability and honesty. Through her own journey, Gay provides invaluable lessons on self-care and self-love.

Other releases of note include:

• “Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy” by Elizabeth Winder (Flatiron Books) is a beautiful love letter to one of the most celebrated icons of all time, specifically profiling her time in the Big Apple from 1954-1955: a year of independence, success and relief for Monroe. The book is $27.99 and releases March 14. The author will present the book at East City Bookshop (645 Pennsylvania Ave., SE) on Wednesday, March 15 at 7:30 p.m.

• “The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir” by Ariel Levy (Random House) is a sardonic reflection on the famed New Yorker writer’s life, telling the story of her traumatic loss of her unborn child in Mongolia through her signature queer feminist lens. The memoir is $16 and releases March 14.

• “The Tree of Healing of Love Love & Missed Opportunity” by Rev. Steven R. Fleming is an allegorical and evocative journey through seven symbolic gates that takes readers from pain and anger to acceptance and new possibilities via colorful, lyrical prose. It’s out now. Details at

• “The War on Sex” (March, Duke University Press) explores the history of sex offender registries, criminalization of HIV and laws against sex work in a series of essays edited by David M. Halperin and Trevor Hoppe.

• “The Lotterys Plus One” (March 28, Levine) is the latest from lesbian bestselling author Emma Donoghue, her “middle-grade debut” (i.e. for grade school readers), which tells of family life when a grandfather with dementia comes to live with a family with young children.

• “The Spartacus International Gay Guide 2017” (Bruno Gmuender) is a must-have for gay and bisexual men who love to travel abroad. This year’s edition ($24.99) is out April 1, just in time for summer travel planning.

• “Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey,” by Ila Jane Borders and Jean Hastings Ardell (University of Nebraska Press), is the autobiography of Ila Jane Borders, the first woman to play men’s professional baseball in the modern era and, at the time, was a closeted gay athlete. It is $26.95 and is out April 1.

• “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities,” by Chen Chen (BOA Editions Ltd.), is the author’s debut collection of poems that investigate love, family and identity from queer, Asian-American and immigrant perspectives. It’s $16 ($9.99 e-book) and releases April 11.

• “LGBT: San Francisco: the Daniel Nicoletta Photographs” (Reel Art Press) is an arresting compilation of the legendary photographer’s images of gay 1970s San Francisco, which include iconic photographs of Harvey Milk. The book is $60 and releases May 23.



A timely biography of drag queen Doris Fish

An eye-opener to queer life in Sydney and San Francisco



(Book cover image courtesy Amazon)

‘Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag’
By Craig Seligman
c.2023, PublicAffairs
$29/352 pages

Tennessee, home of Dollywood, just passed legislation banning “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.”

“If I hadn’t been a girl, I’d have been a drag queen,” Dolly Parton has said. (Make of that what you will, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.)

Nothing is more timely than cultural critic and writer Craig Seligman’s new work of queer history “Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag.”

One day in the 1980s, Doris Fish, a San Francisco drag queen, sat for a shoot in a beauty salon. Sitting under a dryer, “curlers in his yellow fright wig, wearing a fuchsia top, turquoise pedal pushers, white peep-toe pumps and (too much) matching makeup, wide-eyed in what looks like despair,” Fish modeled for West Graphics, a local greeting card company, Seligman writes.

These greeting cards featured queer humor. “BOTH YOUR DOCTOR & HAIRDRESSER AGREE! THIS TIME IT’S GOING TO TAKE MORE THAN A COMB-OUT,” the caption to the card with Fish’s stunning beauty parlor photo, read.

Then, most gay people weren’t proud or irritated by these greeting cards, reports Seligman in his captivating history of drag told through the life of Fish, who was legendary in San Francisco from the 1970s until he died from AIDS in 1991.

The greeting cards were just funny to queer people at that moment, Seligman writes, “which was how the rest of the country saw them, too.”

“Yet it’s hard to envision their taking off the way they did a decade earlier,” he adds, “The very people who might once have been appalled to learn they had a queer family member were snapping up these artifacts of gay humor.”

This is one of the many insights into cultural changes in attitudes toward queer people and drag to be found in Seligman’s illuminating bio of Fish.

Fish was born into a middle-class, Catholic family in 1952 as Philip Clargo Mills in Manly Vale, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. (Even the most ironic novelist wouldn’t have come up with that name!)

Doris considered himself to be what we, today, would call cisgender, Seligman reports. 

Fish’s Australian friends and family referred to Fish as “he” and “him,” Seligman writes.  When Fish’s queer male friends called him “she,” it was “Mary camp banter,” not “gender confusion,” he adds. For these reasons, Seligman refers to Fish with masculine pronouns.

After a childhood spent quietly drawing, Fish became a star of the Sydney drag queen scene. He performed with, what Seligman calls a “psyche troupe” of drag queens, Sylvia and the Synthetics.

After moving to San Francisco in the 1970s, Fish performed in the beloved drag shows “Sluts a Go-Go” and “Nightclub of the Living Dead” as well as the outrageous sci-fi drag film “Vegas in Space.”

Fish, Seligman makes clear, was complex, talented, and creative. Along with being a drag queen, he was a sex worker and artist. Fish was disciplined in all these areas of his life, Seligman writes.

“All three of those personas centered on his gayness,” Seligman adds, “at a time when homosexuality was just beginning to make its way toward the center of the conversation in both of the countries [Australia and the U.S.] he called home.”

Fish’s life and work were entwined with queer history – from Club 181 to Anita Bryant’s vicious anti-queer “Save Our Children Campaign” to the heroic role that Dianne Feinstein (as mayor of San Francisco) played during the AIDS crisis. Many queer histories, especially of the AIDS crisis, focus on New York. Seligman’s work is an eye-opener to queer life in Sydney and San Francisco. 

Seligman’s husband,  Silvana Nova, was part of “Vegas in Space.” A hat tip to Seligman for working his spouse seamlessly into this thoughtful history.

Drag shows aren’t just entertainment. They accomplish “satire’s deepest dream: not just to rail against society, but to change it,” Seligman writes.

If only Gov. Bill Lee and his ilk could be changed by “Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag.” 

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading


‘Oscar Wars’ an exhilarating read for film critics and fans alike

Awards a conflict zone for issues of race, gender, representation



(Book cover image courtesy of Harper)

‘Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears
By Michael Schulman
c.2023, Harper
$40/589 pages

Get out the guacamole! The game, beloved by millions — especially queers — is being played. This Sunday, the 95th Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles will be seen worldwide.

Few have written more compellingly about the ego, campiness, politics, and intrigue of the Academy Awards than Michael Schulman in his new book “Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears.”

The Oscars are “the closest thing America has to royalty,” writes Schulman, a staff writer at The New Yorker. “They’re the only thing forcing Hollywood to factor art into commerce.”

Schulman likens the Oscars to a horse race and a relic. The Academy Awards prop up Hollywood, a multibillion-dollar business, canonize movies and showcase fashion, he notes.

“They’re an orgy of self-congratulation by rich and famous people who think too highly of themselves.” Schulman adds, “They’re the Gay Super Bowl.” 

You can bet that every year, something will throw the Oscars off their game. Last year, it was the Slap (when Will Smith, upset by Chris Rock’s joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, hit the comedian).

There are the insipid production numbers and lackluster hosts. More seriously, there is the continuing racism and sexism in Hollywood.

You have to keep the Academy Awards in perspective, Schulman wryly notes. “The Oscars … are always getting it wrong,” he writes, “Twenty-four centuries after Euripides came in third place at the Athenian dramatic festival, Brokeback Mountain lost Best Picture to Crash, and the outcry will probably last another twenty-four centuries.” 

It’s tempting to view the Academy Awards annual bash as enjoyable froth. To lap up the glam, glitz, and camp. But in “Oscar Wars,” Schulman persuasively argues that the Oscars should, also, be taken seriously.

“The Oscars are a battlefield,” Schulman writes, “where cultural forces collide and where the victors aren’t always as clear as the names drawn from the envelopes.”

“In recent years,” he adds, “the Oscars have become a conflict zone for issues of race, gender, and representation, high profile signifiers of whose stories get told and whose don’t.”

Thankfully, Schulman’s nearly 600-page book isn’t an Oscars encyclopedia. Volumes of Oscar facts and trivia already exist. Even if you’re a movie buff, these books will make your eyes glaze over. “Oscar Wars” is filled with Schulman’s painstaking research and in-depth reporting. It’s not surprising that he’s said in interviews that he worked on the book for four years.

Schulman, author of “”Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep,” is a powerhouse. While writing “Oscar Wars,” Schulman produced numerous hard-to-put-down profiles at his New Yorker day job. Tongues are still wagging over his profile of actor Jeremy Strong (Kendall Roy in “Succession”).

In 11 intriguing installments, Schulman illuminates how, from the first Academy Awards in 1929 to our present #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo era, conflict has been embedded in the Oscars.

The Academy Awards was started in an effort to squelch labor unions in Hollywood. Spoiler alert: the effort of Louis B. Mayer and other Hollywood moguls to stop the unions flopped as the awards caught on.

There’s much in “Oscar Wars” to engage Old Hollywood aficionados. There’s the sad tale of Peg Entwistle, a 24-year-old actress, who, in 1932, played Hazel in “Thirteen Women, a movie about a group of former sorority sisters. Hazel stabs her husband. Entwistle’s 16 minutes in the movie were cut to four, Schulman writes, because the Hays office felt “that her scenes with another actress had unacceptable lesbian undertones.” After a series of horrible events, the actress killed herself.

There is the story of how one of Bette Davis’s husbands divorced her because she read too much.

It’s well-known among cinephiles that Bette Davis (for “All About Eve”) and Gloria Swanson (for “Sunset Boulevard”) were up against each other in 1951 for the Oscar and lost to Judy Holliday (for “Born Yesterday”). But Schulman brings new depth and insight into this saga.

The Academy Awards are steeped in Hollywood and entertainment. But Schulman makes it clear that the Oscars, from the Black List of the 1940s-1950s to the racism of “Gone with the Wind” to sexism to homophobia, are entwined with cultural attitudes and politics.

“Citizen Kane” was one of the greatest films ever made. Yet, there was no way it could have won an Oscar because the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst was furious that “Kane’s” protagonist was based on him.

One of the most campy, but poignant, accounts in the book is that of Allan Carr, who produced the 1989 Oscars. Carr, who was gay, dreamed up a tasteless, unintentionally campy production number. It featured Rob Lowe and Snow White (Google it.) Yet, he created, Schulman reports, some innovations that are still part of the Oscars (such as the red carpet).

“Oscar Wars” is an exhilarating read for everyone from film critics to fans.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading


Spring break books for every taste

From young adult to engaging histories, check out these reads



(Book cover images via Amazon)

Spring break is coming, and who says young adults get all the fun? There’s plenty of enjoyment for readers this spring, so why not spend your pre-summer months enjoying a few great books?

Start your spring reading with “Confidence: A Novel” by Rafael Frumkin (Simon & Schuster, out now). It’s the tale of two friends-sometimes-lovers, Ezra and Orson, who meet at Last Chance Camp, which is where bad boys go before they’re placed in Juvenile Detention. But rehabilitation isn’t on Ezra and Orson’s minds; pulling off the con of the century is. This book is a clever tale, a suspense novel, and the perfect caper all rolled into one.

For something more tangled, catch “The Humble Lover” by Edmund White (Bloomsbury, May 2). Eighty-year-old artist Aldych West could afford to have exactly whatever he desires – and when he sees ballet star August Dupond, well, West wants him. But West is not the only one who falls for Dupond; a wealthy woman West knows becomes smitten with the dancer, too. Imagine the situation, and then read this book.

Coming-of-age-novel fans will want to find “The Adult” by Bronwyn Fischer (Algonquin, May 23). When 18-year-old Natalie moves to Toronto to start college, she’s lonely and quite unsure of herself. Everyone else seems so at ease; why isn’t she? Natalie is relieved when Nora, an older woman, takes an interest in her and enfolds Natalie into her life – but Natalie can’t help but feel that Nora’s not telling her the truth about something. How’s that for a book you can’t stop reading?

If lighter fare is more to your liking, why not try a Young Adult book?

Getting stuck in a time-loop is nobody’s idea of a good time and that’s the case for a boy named Clark. But in “If I See You Again Tomorrow” by Robbie Couch (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, April 18), the loop ends on a surprising Monday and he meets a new boy named Beau. They’re able to spend the whole day together – is the time-loop broken? – but Clark must be careful. You can’t have a future with someone you might never see again. Meant for kids ages 12-and-up, a book like this can be fun for a grown-up who craves something easy-breezy.

If history is your thing, but uncovering a path to explore sounds good, too, then look for “Lesbian Love Story: A Memoir in Archives” by Amelia Possanza (Catapult, May 30). After Possanza moved to Brooklyn, she began noticing queer stories everywhere. She was alone in her new neighborhood; could the tales of lesbians in Brooklyn steer her to love, friendship, and happiness? Try this absorbing book; even if novels are your “thing,” you won’t be sorry.
And finally, for something totally fun, reach for “A Very Gay Book: An Inaccurate Resource for Gay Scholars” by Jenson Titus (Andrews McMeel Publishing). Who – and what – is gay? The answers will surprise and delight you.

For more must-have books to celebrate spring, check with your favorite bookseller or librarian. Then settle in; Spring Break Reading is for everybody.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade