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SPRING ARTS 2019 BOOKS: Stonewall 50th inspires new books

Dustin Lance Black shares memories of growing up gay and Mormon in ‘Mama’s Boy’

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2019 gay books, gay news, Washington Blade
Stonewall milestone inspires spate of new books.

In I.M.: A Memoir (Flatiron Books, just released), American fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi shares his experiences growing gay in a Syrian Orthodox Jewish family, living through the AIDS epidemic and struggling with weight, insomnia and depression.

In their highly anticipated Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, March 5), LGBT rights activist and host of MSNBC’s Queer 2.0 Jacob Tobia reflects on their relationship with gender from being labeled male at birth to identifying as genderqueer today.

Love and Resistance: Out of the Closet into the Stonewall Era (W. W. Norton & Company, March 5) brings together over 100 powerful photographs from the LGBT liberation movement, with a focus on queer activism in the ’60s and ’70s. Put together by Jason Baumann, Kay Tobin Lahusen and Diana Davies, the book will come out just in time for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.

First released as a play at the Young Vic Theatre in London, Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance (Faber & Faber, March 5) gives a glimpse into the lives young gay men living in New York City after the peak of the AIDS epidemic.

When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History (St. Martin’s Press, March 5) takes a new look at LGBT life in Brooklyn from the mid-1850s to modern day. Written by queer historian Hugh Ryan, the book explores LGBT history in New York beyond Greenwich Village, Harlem and the rest of Manhattan.

In Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States (Little, Brown and Company, March 5), Daily Beast reporter Samantha Allen offers a glimpse into LGBT life in Red America. A trans woman who holds onto an undying love for “flyover country,” Allen shares the incredible stories of the activists and everyday Americans who chose not to leave their homes for the coasts. 

In The Last 8 (Sourcebooks, March 5), debut YA author Laura Pohl tells the story of Clover Martinez, a bisexual aromantic girl and one of the few survivors of an alien invasion on Earth. After the invasion, Clover meets a group of other teens her age but suddenly becomes conflicted about her decision to join them when she learns they don’t want to fight back.

Award-winning playwright and debut author Mariah MacCarthy introduces us to Jenna Watson in her novel Squad (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, March 12). A cheerleader whose life turns on its head when the girls she views as her best friends stop inviting her out with them, Jenna starts to date a trans boy and explore life beyond cheer.

Award-winning writer and former public school teacher Mathangi Subramanian provides a glimpse into queer life in India in her first work of literary fiction. A People’s History of Heaven (Algonquin, March 19) tells the story of a group of five girls — queer, trans or otherwise marginalized — who fight back against the government officials who want to tear down their homes in the 30-year-old slum they call Heaven. 

In Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience (Atria Books, March 26), former U.S. Marine Captain Anuradha Bhagwati reflects on her experience as a bisexual woman growing up with strict Indian parents and her fight that ultimately allowed women to serve in combat roles in the U.S. military.

In This One Looks Like a Boy: My Gender Journey to Life as a Man (Greystone Books, March 31), Canadian writer and former police officer Lorimer Shenher shares the story of his transition, from his gender dysphoria and struggles with alcohol to his decision to be open about his identity and receive gender reassignment surgery in his 50s. “This One Looks Like a Boy” is Shenher’s second book, following “That Lonely Section of Hell: The Botched Investigation of a Serial Killer Who Almost Got Away.” 

In He Said, She Said: Lessons, Stories, and Mistakes from my Transgender Journey (Harmony, April 2), famous beauty Youtuber Gigi Gorgeous shares the story of her transition, from her early years as a self-described “high school mean girl” to her decision to be open about her gender identity and sexuality. 

Soraya Zaman’s American Boys (Daylight Books, April 2) showcases a visual representation of trans-masculine identity across the United States. With an introduction from trans porn star, director and icon Buck Angel, the book offers a new look at gender expression and what it means to be a man.

In The Meaning of Birds (HarperTeen, April 16), young adult author Jaye Robin Brown gives a glimpse into Jess’s world after the love of her life Vivi passes away. Jess abandons her plans to attend art school and finds some new friends as she processes her grief. 

Gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black won an Academy Award for his work on “Milk,” the 2008 biographical film that depicted the life of Harvey Milk. He also comes from a Mormon family that didn’t initially want to accept him. In Mama’s Boy: A Story from Our Americas (Knopf, April 30), he tells the story of his coming out and how his family remained close in the years following.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, The New York Public Library put together The Stonewall Reader (Penguin Classics, April 30). With a forward from gay novelist Edmund White, the book shares diary entries, literature, articles and more from the years preceding and directly following the uprising.

Debut author Arabelle Sicardi is giving LGBT kids a few icons of their own in Queer Heroes (Wide Eyed Editions, May 7). The children’s book shares the lives of 52 prominent LGBT figures throughout history, from Audre Lorde to Frida Kahlo. 

Debut author Tanya Boteju’s Kings, Queens and In-Betweens (Simon Pulse, May 7) mixes drag, identity and self-discovery. In the novel, Nima Kumara-Clark grows bored with her life in Bridgeton and heads to the other side of town for a change in scene. She becomes wrapped up in a world of drag and learns more about herself than she expected. 

The much-anticipated coffee table book We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation (Ten Speed Press, May 7) takes a sweeping look at queer history from the pre-Stonewall era to modern day. Written by the creators of the widely popular @lgbt_history Instagram account, Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown, the book combines about 300 photographs with extensive historical narrative to provide a new and more comprehensive window into LGBT life and resistance. 

In Red, White & Royal Blue: A Novel (St. Griffin’s Press, May 14), first-time author Casey McQuiston tells the story of America’s First Son’s meeting with the Prince of Wales and the international ramifications of the love the two develop for each other.

In Like a Love Story,” (June 4) Abdi Nazemian details the teenage years of Reza, an Iranian boy who moves to New York City in 1989. Reza begins to date a girl named Judy but soon realizes he must find a way out of their relationship when he falls for her best friend Art. 

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Books

Book details fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Clinton-era policy was horrific for LGB servicemembers

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‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
By C. Dixon Osburn
c.2021, self-published $35 hardcover, paperback $25, Kindle $12.99 / 450 pages

When Senior Airman Brandi Grijalva was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, she talked with a chaplain’s assistant about some problems she had at home. The chaplain’s assistant said what she told him would be confidential. But when she revealed that she was a lesbian, the chaplain’s assistant no longer kept her conversation with him confidential. Grijalva, after being investigated was discharged.

Craig Haack was a corporal in the Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan. Haack, who had made it through boot camp, felt confident. Until investigators barged into his barracks. Looking for evidence “of homosexual conduct,” they ransacked everything from his computers to his platform shoes. Haack was too stunned to respond when asked if he was gay.

In 1996, Lt. Col. Steve Loomis’ house was burned down by an Army private. The Army discharged the private who torched Loomis’ house. You’d think the Army would have supported Loomis. But you’d be wrong. The army discharged Loomis for conduct unbecoming an officer because a fire marshal found a homemade sex tape in the ashes.

These are just a few of the enraging, poignant, at times absurd (platform shoes?), all-too-true stories told in “Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by C. Dixon Osburn.

As a rule, I don’t review self-published books. But “Mission Possible” is the stunning exception that proves that rules, on occasion, are made to be broken.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official U.S. policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military. Former President Bill Clinton announced the policy on July 19, 1993. It took effect on Feb. 28, 1994.

Sexual orientation was covered by DADT. Gender identity was covered by separate Department of Defense regulations.

Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010 (the House on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Senate on Dec. 18, 2010). On Dec. 22, 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law. 

DADT banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people who were out from serving in the U.S. military. Under DADT, it was not permitted to ask if servicemembers were LGB. But, LGB servicemembers couldn’t be out. They couldn’t talk about their partners, carry photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends or list their same-sex partner as their emergency contract.

It took nearly a year for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go into effect. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy {DADT} would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion or recruiting and retention,” Osburn writes.

Before DADT, out LGBT people weren’t permitted to serve in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was intended to be a compromise—a policy that would be less onerous on LGB people, but that would pass muster with people who believed that gay servicemembers would destroy military readiness, morale and unit cohesion.

Like many in the queer community, I knew that DADT was a horror-show from the get-go. Over the 17 years that DADT was in effect, an estimated 14,000 LGB servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to the Veterans Administration.

But, I had no idea how horrific “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was until I read “Mission Possible.”              

In “Mission Possible,” Osburn, who with Michelle Benecke, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), pulls off a nearly impossible hat trick.

In a clear, vivid, often spellbinding narrative, Osburn tells the complex history of the DADT-repeal effort as well as the stories of servicemembers who were pelted with gay slurs, assaulted and murdered under DADT.

Hats off to SLDN, now known as the Modern Military Association of America, for its heroic work to repeal DADT! (Other LGBTQ+ organizations worked on the repeal effort, but SLDN did the lion’s share of the work.)

You wouldn’t think a 450-pager about repealing a policy would keep you up all night reading. But, “Mission Possible” will keep you wide-awake. You won’t need the espresso.

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‘Two Omars’ is uneven, but remarkable memoir

Celebrated actor’s gay grandson charts own path

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Omar Sharif Jr. came out during Arab Spring. (Book cover image courtesy of Counterpoint Press)

‘A Tale of Two Omars’
By Omar Sharif Jr.
c.2021, Counterpoint Press $26.00 / higher in Canada / 224 pages

You always wanted to make your mark.

There’d be no footstep-following in your life. You’d carve your own path, select your own adventures, seize the opportunities that appealed to you, and blaze trails for the sake of others’ journeys. You’d take the best of those you knew and loved, and you’d go your own way. As in the new memoir, “A Tale of Two Omars” by Omar Sharif Jr. you’ll also make your own mistakes.

Born into a family that had ties on several continents, Omar Sharif Jr. never had to worry about money or a place to live. On one side of the family—his maternal side—the Holocaust left a mark on his mother’s parents, who’d barely escaped the concentration camps. On the other side, Sharif’s paternal grandparents were both famous and beloved actors with roots in Egypt. Sharif was close with his entire family, but particularly with his grandfather, Omar Sharif.

Sharif recalls many a dinner party, listening, while his grandfather held court at dinner, laughing and telling stories. Everyone, everything seemed so elegant and refined and those meals showed Sharif a life that he could have if he wanted it. As time passed, the lessons he received were paid back: He was one of the few allowed to help his grandfather as Alzheimer’s took hold at the end of the great actor’s life. 

But this is not a story of a famous actor or a grandfather. It’s the story of a man who’s not just half-Jewish and Egyptian. He’s also gay, a part of himself that Sharif kept hidden until well into adulthood, although he says that other children must’ve sensed it when he was young. It was a part of himself that he feared revealing to his father. It helped him land a dream job that ultimately became a nightmare. 

The title of this book—”A Tale of Two Omars”—is a bit of a misnomer. Judging by what author Omar Sharif Jr. writes here, there are several Omars: The activist; a globe-hopper; a son and grandson; a writer and a grandfather whose life was impactful but who has a surprisingly small footprint in this book.

Which is not to say that readers will like them all.

Indeed, parts of this book may seem as though you’ve read them before: Bullied as a child, fear of coming out, the college revelation, the mismatched first love. Those ubiquitous bits are here, but they pale in comparison to Sharif’s ultra-urbane life and the hair-raising, terrifying account of getting and getting out of what seemed like the ultimate job with a wealthy sheikh, a job that slowly grew dangerous. That story-within-a-story is so edgy, so mouth-drying, that you’ll throw away the thriller you bought last week.

Then there’s the part about his life-threatening activism, a tale that starts and ends this book …

And so, beware at the unevenness of this memoir, but understand that the tedium doesn’t linger. Skip past the ho-humness of “A Tale of Two Omars” and the rest is remarkable.

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Books

‘Charm Offensive’ suffers from too much drama

A cute story but we all know how it will end

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‘The Charm Offensive: A Novel’
By Alison Cochrun
c.2021, Atria $17.00 / 368 pages

The applause is all for you this time.

It’s deafening, really — perhaps because there’s a standing ovation beneath it. All the work you did, the emoting, the emotions, you know how much your fans appreciate it. So take a bow. Drink in the love. As in the new novel, “The Charm Offensive” by Alison Cochrun, that’s one thing that’s sometimes missing in life.

Dev Deshpande was good at his job. He knew it, his colleagues knew it, it was fact. He might personally be terrible at love – case in point: he was still smarting from a three-months-ago break-up with his boyfriend, Ryan – but Dev was a pro at his job as producer for the reality TV show, “Ever After.” In fact, he’d been in charge of making dreams happen for six years’ worth of beautiful “Ever After” contestants; it helped that he believed in fairy tales.

Maybe one day, he’d find his own Prince Charming.

Just not this season.

This season, his lead director made him handle the “prince” instead of the usual “princesses,” and that was a challenge.

Charles Winshaw was 28, devastatingly handsome, extremely wealthy, and a nervous, introverted nerd who rarely dated. Geeky, awkward, and prone to panic attacks, he sincerely had no clue how to be romantic. Truth was, he was only there because his best friend and agent put him on “Ever After” to counter a reputation for being weird.

Still, Charlie was weird, and it was up to Dev to make him work for the show.

Shoring up Charlie’s confidence didn’t work, and neither did a pep talk. He couldn’t seem to just perform a role without freaking out and it was becoming obvious. By the time Dev’s assistant suggested having a few practice dates, Dev was willing to try anything.

He took Charlie to dinner. He spent time doing jigsaw puzzles with him, and he got Charlie to relax a little. If sparks flew, well, it was one-sided: Charlie was completely straight.

Wasn’t he?

You know what’s going to happen in the end, don’t you? Of course, you do. You’ll know it by page 30, step-by-step, with virtually no surprises, which leaves a long way to the final sentence of “The Charm Offensive.”

Now, it’s true that this novel is cute. It has its lightly humorous moments and author Alison Cochrun gives it a good cast, from contestant to show creator. It doesn’t lack details; in fact, reality dating show-watchers will feel right at home here. It even has the ubiquitous panoply of exotic locales for the “challenges” that the contestants must endure.

At issue is the length of this book. There’s too much of it, too many shirts that creep up, too many mentions of vomit, too much needless drama, too many will-he-won’t-he, when we know full well he will. This extra doesn’t ratchet up the tension, it makes things slow.

And so: cute story, familiar scenes, good characters in “The Charm Offensive.” But if taut is what you want in a rom-com, leave this book and bow out.

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