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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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New Isherwood biography an insightful read

An honest, sympathetic look at prolific writer’s life and work

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'Christopher Isherwood: Inside Out' (Book cover image courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

‘Christopher Isherwood: Inside Out’
By Katherine Bucknell
c.2024, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$45/864 pages

“Christopher Isherwood: Inside Out” is an insightful biography of the prolific English writer, author of “Goodbye to Berlin” (the inspiration behind “Cabaret”), “A Single Man,” and “Christopher and His Kind,” among others. Katherine Bucknell, director of the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, as well as editor of several collections of Isherwood’s diaries and letters, draws on his letters, journals, creative work, and interviews to build an extensive look at this talented writer.

Isherwood was born in 1904 to landed gentry, with properties, a large house, and servants. His father was in the British Army and the family moved around for a while, including a stint in Ireland. His father went to fight in World War I and died in France, leaving his mother to look after Isherwood and his younger brother. This clearly affected Isherwood, although he wouldn’t discuss it until much later. While this section of his childhood is important to Isherwood’s later development, the many details make for slow reading.

The book really picks up when Isherwood travels to Germany in 1929, where he fully embraced his sexuality. In Berlin, he first lived next door to Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science, one of the first sexology research centers advocating for decriminalization of homosexuality. Isherwood met many young German men, falling in love with Heinz Neddermeyer, who he tried to help get out of the country as the Nazis gained power. His short novels “Mr. Norris Changes Trains” and “Goodbye to Berlin” are fictionalized versions of the people he met and his experiences there, although they don’t tell the whole truth about his sexual adventures.

Decades later, as the German translation of “Christopher and His Kind,” a nonfiction account of Isherwood’s time in Germany, was to appear, Neddermeyer, now with a family, wrote to Isherwood despairing that the book would out him. The translation wouldn’t be published until after Isherwood’s death.

Isherwood emigrated to America with his school friend, the poet W.H. Auden, in 1939. The two collaborated on several plays and covered Japan’s invasion of China, even sleeping together several times. This move, near the start of World War II, plus Isherwood’s pacifist refusal to fight, caused bitter feelings with some friends in England.

He settled in Los Angeles where he discovered the Vedanta Hindu-inspired philosophy. He translated the Bhagavad Gita with the religious leader Prabhavananda, who he deeply admired. Although Isherwood struggled to practice all of Vedanta’s teachings, including celibacy, the religion accepted him completely.

He also met Don Bachardy, with whom he’d spend the rest of his life. Thirty years younger than Isherwood, Bachardy shared with Bucknell the challenges in their relationship. While Isherwood encouraged him to study art in England, Bachardy had affairs there, as did Isherwood back in LA. In their letters, Isherwood was “Dobbin” while Bachardy was “Kitty.” Seeing their love grow and develop is one of this book’s pleasures.

Despite the biography’s length and slow start, it reveals an honest yet sympathetic look at Isherwood’s life and work. It should inspire readers to pick up his books, either again or for the first time.

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New book explores ‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’

The benefits of coming out at work

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(Book cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’
By Layla McCay
c.2024, Bloomsbury
$24/240 pages

You can see the CEO’s office from the outside of your workplace.

You’ve actually been in that office, so you know what it looks like inside, too. Big, expansive desk. Cushy, expensive chair. Ankle-deep carpet. The CEO got there through regular means over the course of his career – something you’d like to do, too. But as you know, and as in the new book, “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” by Layla McCay, you’ll have to take a different path.

Of all the thousands of board seats and C-suite occupiers in American businesses, only a very tiny number – less than one percent – are occupied by people who identify as LGBTQ. In London, says McCay, no one on the Financial Times Stock Exchange identifies as such. Just six of the world’s leaders, past or current, have come out as LGBTQ.

The reasons for this are many, from discomfort to a sense of a lack of safety or just plain mistrust. Employees often don’t talk about it and employers can’t or don’t ask, which can lead to a lot of issues that cis, heterosexual employees don’t have to think about.

LGBTQ employees make less money than their straight co-workers. They experience discrimination ranging from sexual violence on one end, to micro aggressions on the other. Discrimination can be found in educational settings, and networking events, in a lack of mentorship, and the feeling that one needs to “code-switch.” Even an overseas job offer can be complicated by identifying as LGBTQ.

And yet, says McCoy, there are benefits to coming out, including a sense of authenticity, and feeling as if a load has been removed from one’s shoulders.

If you are an employer, McCoy says, there are things you can do to help. Include LGBTQ people in your diversity programs at work. Insist on it for recruitment. Make sure your employees feel safe to be themselves. Make all policies inclusive, all the time, from the start. Doing so benefits your business. It helps your employees.

“It’s good for society.”

Pretty common sense stuff, no? Yeah, it is; most of what you’ll read inside “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” is, in fact, very commonsensical. Moreover, if you’re gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or queer, you won’t find one new or radical thing in this book.

And yet, inside all the nothing-new, readers will generally find things they’ll appreciate. The statistics, for instance, that author Layla McCay offers would be helpful to cite when asking for a raise. It’s beneficial, for instance, to be reminded why you may want to come out at work or not. The advice on being and finding a mentor is gold. These things are presented through interviews from business leaders around the world, and readers will find comfort and wisdom in that. You’ll just have to wade through a lot of things you already know to get it, that’s all.

Is it worth it? That depends on your situation. You may find nothing in “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling,” or it may help you raise the roof.

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‘The Other Olympians’ explores the making of modern sports

New book highlights Fascism and queerness

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(Book cover image courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

‘The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports’
By Michael Waters
c.2024, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$30/368 pages

He’s going to win.

It’s apparent: much as you’re trying, hard as you’re running, as much as your lungs burn, he’s ahead by two paces. You had a good start but he’s the better athlete. You know this now. He’s going to win this competition and you’re going to lose. But, as in the new book “The Other Olympians” by Michael Waters, there may be another outcome.

Young Zdnek Koubek avoided sports as much as possible.

Born nearly seven years before the creation of the Czechoslovakian state, he always understood that he was “different”: in school, he had a fierce reputation for fighting, but he couldn’t relate to rough-and-tumble male classmates or their games. The world of girls was also baffling to him, even though, “To the world, he was a girl.”

At eight years old, Koubek participated in his first organized sporting event, a sprint he lost by “a second” that he never forgot. Seething with years-long anger, “his contempt for sports only grew” as he matured but in the fall of 1927, he had a change of heart: he’d landed a ticket to a track and field sporting event, at which he noted how “free” it must feel to run.

“In the following months,” says Waters, “Koubek couldn’t get enough of track and field.” He began competing in – and winning – women’s events, unaware that ” he wasn’t alone” in his differences.

In the early 1930s, in fact, several world-class athletes were quietly questioning their own gender; meanwhile, coaches and second- and third-place finishers cried foul over losses to “manly” women. Some athletes, assigned as female at birth, “could not evade the gender anxieties of the era.” Others lost their chance to be an Olympic competitor due to politics, and some just quit.

For other athletes with Olympic dreams, the 1936 games loomed large as they rose to celebrity status. They did so, even though Adolph Hitler and his followers had “launched a campaign to crush Germany’s queer community.”

If a book starts out with a long list of acronyms, pay attention. Take that as a sign that you may be in for a deep look and some confusion.

Indeed, author Michael Waters seems to leave no pebble unturned in this story, which tends to drag sometimes. Readers of “The Other Olympians,” for example, may wonder why long pages are sometimes devoted to people who are never mentioned again in the narrative. Were those individuals imperative to the history here? You may never know.

And yet, there’s that depth.

Waters takes his audience back to a time when heterosexuality was the absolute norm and LGBTQ people were considered to be anomalous and intriguing. The turn-around from that perception doesn’t end well, and its causation feels particularly familiar here – in more ways than one.

This is probably not anyone’s true idea of a beach read; instead, it’s timely, relevant, serious and interesting – but only if you study it fully. Don’t, and you’ll be lost. With patience, though, “The Other Olympians” is a win-win kind of read.

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