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.



‘Mean Boys’ raises questions of life, death, and belonging

New memoir wanders but enjoy the whiplash



(Boom cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Mean Boys: A Personal History’
By Geoffrey Mak
c.2024, Bloomsbury 
$28.99/267 pages

It’s how a pleasant conversation is fed, with give and take, back and forth, wandering casually and naturally, a bit of one subject easing into the next with no preamble. It’s communication you can enjoy, like what you’ll find inside “Mean Boys” by Geoffrey Mak.

Sometimes, a conversation ends up exactly where it started.

Take, for instance, Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” which leads Mak to think about his life and his inability to “cull the appropriate narratives out of nonsense.” Part of that problem, he says, was that his living arrangements weren’t consistent. He sometimes “never really knew where I was living,” whether it was Berlin or California, in a studio or high-end accommodations. The parties, the jokes, the internet consumption were as varied as the homes and sometimes, “it didn’t really matter.” Sometimes, you have to accept things and just “move on.”

When he was 12 years old, Mak’s father left his corporate job, saying that he was “called by God” to become a minister. It created a lot of resentment for Mak, for the lack of respect his father got, and because his parents were “passionately anti-gay.” He moved as far away from home as he could, and he blocked all communication with his parents for years, until he realized that “By hating my father, I ended up hating myself, too.”

And then there was club life which, in Mak’s descriptions, doesn’t sound much different in Berghain (Germany) as it is in New York. He says he “threw myself into night life,” in New York Houses, in places that gave “a skinny Chinese kid from the suburbs… rules I still live by,” on random dance floors, and in Pornceptual. Eventually this, drugs, work, politics, pandemic, basically everything and life in general led to a mental crisis, and Mak sought help.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” Mak says at one point. “Sometimes life was bad, and sometimes it wasn’t, and sometimes it just was.”

Though there are times when this book feels like having a heart-to-heart with an interesting new acquaintance, “Mean Boys” can make you squirm. For sure, it’s not a beach read or something you’ll breeze through in a weekend.

No, author Geoffrey Mak jumps from one random topic to another with enough frequency to make you pay close to attention to his words, lest you miss something. That won’t leave you whiplashed; instead, you’re pulled into the often-dissipated melee just enough to feel almost involved with it – but with a distinct sense that you’re being held at arms’ length, too. That some stories have no definitive timeline or geographical stamp – making it hard to find solid ground – also adds to the slight loss of equilibrium here, like walking on slippery river rocks.

Surprisingly, that’s not entirely unpleasant but readers will want to know that the ending in “Mean Boys” could leave their heads swirling with a dozen thoughts on life, belonging, and death. If you like depth in your memoirs, you’ll like that — and this.

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

Continue Reading


New book offers observations on race, beauty, love

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World’ is a journey of discovery



(Book cover image courtesy of Tiny Reparations Books)

‘How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir’
By Shayla Lawson
c.2024, Tiny Reparations Books
$29/320 pages

Do you really need three pairs of shoes?

The answer is probably yes: you can’t dance in hikers, you can’t shop in stilettos, you can’t hike in clogs. So what else do you overpack on this long-awaited trip? Extra shorts, extra tees, you can’t have enough things to wear. And in the new book “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” by Shayla Lawson, you’ll need to bring your curiosity.

Minneapolis has always been one of their favorite cities, perhaps because Shayla Lawson was at one of Prince’s first concerts. They weren’t born yet; they were there in their mother’s womb and it was the first of many concerts.

In all their travels, Lawson has noticed that “being a Black American” has its benefits. People in other countries seem to hold Black Americans in higher esteem than do people in America. Still, there’s racism – for instance, their husband’s family celebrates Christmas in blackface.

Yes, Lawson was married to a Dutch man they met in Harlem. “Not Haarlem,” Lawson is quick to point out, and after the wedding, they became a housewife, learned the language of their husband, and fell in love with his grandmother. Alas, he cheated on them and the marriage didn’t last. He gave them a dog, which loved them more than the man ever did.

They’ve been to Spain, and saw a tagline in which a dark-skinned Earth Mother was created. Said Lawson, “I find it ironic, to be ordained a deity when it’s been a … journey to be treated like a person.”

They’ve fallen in love with “middle-American drag: it’s the glitteriest because our mothers are the prettiest.” They changed their pronouns after a struggle “to define my identity,” pointing out that in many languages, pronouns are “genderless.” They looked upon Frida Kahlo in Mexico, and thought about their own disability. And they wish you a good trip, wherever you’re going.

“No matter where you are,” says Lawson, “may you always be certain who you are. And when you are, get everything you deserve.”

Crack open the front cover of “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” and you might wonder what the heck you just got yourself into. The first chapter is artsy, painted with watercolors, and difficult to peg. Stick around, though. It gets better.

Past that opening, author Shayna Lawson takes readers on a not-so-little trip, both world-wide and with observant eyes – although it seems, at times, that the former is secondary to that which Lawson sees. Readers won’t mind that so much; the observations on race, beauty, love, the attitudes of others toward America, and finding one’s best life are really what takes the wheel in this memoir anyhow. Reading this book, therefore, is not so much a vacation as it is a journey of discovery and joy.

Just be willing to keep reading, that’s all you need to know to get the most out of this book. Stick around and “How to Live Free in a Dangerous World” is what to pack.

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

Continue Reading


Story of paralysis and survival features queer characters

‘Unswerving: A Novel’ opens your eyes and makes you think



(Book cover image courtesy of University of Wisconsin Press)

‘Unswerving: A Novel’ 
By Barbara Ridley
c.2024, University of Wisconsin Press
$19.95 / 227 pages

It happened in a heartbeat.

A split-second, a half a breath, that’s all it took. It was so quick, so sharp-edged that you can almost draw a line between before and after, between then and now. Will anything ever be the same again? Perhaps, but maybe not. As in the new book “Unswerving” by Barbara Ridley, things change, and so might you.

She could remember lines, hypnotizing yellow ones spaced on a road, and her partner, Les, asleep in the seat beside her. It was all so hazy. Everything Tave Greenwich could recall before she woke up in a hospital bed felt like a dream.

It was as though she’d lost a month of her life.

“Life,” if you even wanted to call it that, which she didn’t. Tave’s hands resembled claws bent at the wrist. Before the accident, she was a talented softball catcher but now she could barely get her arms to raise above her shoulders. She could hear her stomach gurgle, but she couldn’t feel it. Paralyzed from the chest down, Tave had to have help with even the most basic care.

She was told that she could learn some skills again, if she worked hard. She was told that she’d leave rehab some day soon. What nobody told her was how Les, Leslie, her partner, girlfriend, love, was doing after the accident.

Physical therapist Beth Farringdon was reminded time and again not to get over-involved with her patients, but she saw something in Tave that she couldn’t ignore. Beth was on the board of directors of a group that sponsored sporting events for disabled athletes; she knew people who could serve as role models for Tave, and she knew that all this could ease Tave’s adjustment into her new life. It was probably not entirely in her job description, but Beth couldn’t stop thinking of ways to help Tave who, at 23, was practically a baby.

She could, for instance, take Tave on outings or help find Les – even though it made Beth’s own girlfriend, Katy, jealous.

So, here’s a little something to know before you start reading “Unswerving”: author Barbara Ridley is a former nurse-practitioner who used to care for patients with spinal cord injuries. That should give readers a comfortable sense of satisfaction, knowing that her experiences give this novel an authenticity that feels right and rings true, no faking.

But that’s not the only appeal of this book: while there are a few minor things that might have readers shaking their heads (HIPAA, anyone?), Ridley’s characters are mostly lifelike and mostly likable. Even the nasties are well done and the mysterious character that’s there-not-there boosts the appeal. Put everyone together, twist a little bit to the left, give them some plotlines that can’t ruined by early guessing, and you’ve got a quick-read novel that you can enjoy and feel good about sharing.

And share you will because this is a book that may also open a few eyes and make readers think. Start “Unswerving” and you’ll (heart) it.

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

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade