Call For Papers LGBTQ history conference

What is LGBT(Q) History and where do we stand? History Postgraduates and LGBT History
Wednesday 7th  November 2012
Queen Mary, University of London

http://whatislgbtqhistory.blogspot.co.uk/

Decades have passed since the first published histories examining aspects of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex or queer life, or analysing social movements made up by LGBTIQ people. Historical work on LGBT or queer “issues” is now more accepted in the academy than ever before, and has enriched our knowledge enormously. However, postgraduate historians working on LGBT research topics – at least in the UK – have no recognisable network to call upon, lack any clear idea of what this “generation” of researchers’ agenda, approach and methodology might be, and many academics and researchers appear curiously aloof from community projects such as LGBT History Month.

This conference aims to bring together postgraduate historians and early-career researchers working on any aspect of LGBT or Q history, in any country or era. We want to highlight and discuss the range of topics and methodological approaches being pursued by this generation of researchers; to consider the intersections and differences between historical work on L, G, B, T and Q topics, and  to explore how LGBTQ history relates to wider narratives, and the modern historical profession.

This will be followed by an evening panel event chaired by Sue Sanders, co-chair of LGBT history month. She will be joined by Professor Julian Jackson, whose latest book concerns homosexual politics in France in the post-war period, and Lindsay River, an activist in the 1970s with – among others – Gay Liberation Front, and more recently the founder of Age of Diversity, which aims to provide a national voice for older LGBT people in the UK (other speakers tbc). This evening event will give us the chance to explore some of the definitional, historical, political and activist implications of “LGBT history” and to explore how researchers might better engage with LGBT history month and community history.

Postgraduates at any level, and early career researchers are invited to send abstracts of not more than 400 words to Charles and Craig by Friday 13th July 2012. We would especially welcome papers discussing adapting research work for a non- academic audience. We are also interested in interdisciplinary approaches to LGBT(Q) history and welcome papers from those whose research is not necessarily based in history departments. The conference is kindly supported by LGBT History Month and Queen Mary, University of London. Travel grants may be available for postgraduates.

Charles Smith c.smith4@lboro.ac.uk

Craig Griffiths c.griffiths@qmul.ac.uk

Review: Living the Spirit: a Gay American Indian Anthology, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe

“For centuries throughout America, both before and after the arrival of the Europeans, gay and lesbian Indians were recognized as valued members of tribal communities. Combining make and female roles, gay Indians worked as mediators, artists, healers, and providers for their tribes.” (from the back of the book)

Living the Spirit: a Gay American Indian Anthology, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe, Coordinating Editor, St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Review by Tedy Ward

Rather by accident, several years ago, I found myself studying Native American cultures and writing about them. I did my graduate work focusing on European history, particularly the medieval and Renaissance periods, and while I took the requisite courses in American history, it wasn’t nearly as interesting to me as the darkly complex European periods. But when I started writing fiction, I found myself drawn to the period of American expansion referred to as ‘the American West’, a period from about 1830 to 1930 in which American ‘white’ culture spread itself economically, politically, and culturally across the wide plains and deserts of the heart of continental America.

Of greatest interest to me is the cultural clash between the indigenous peoples who lived there and the ‘American culture’ that moved in and took then over. The study of these Native American cultures – and there were far more than ‘one’ – is ongoing and probably always will be. Most of these cultures did not leave behind written documents, and the more they were exposed to ‘white’ culture, the more they changed, even when they didn’t want to.

Most of the records we have of the various cultures were left by Europeans and Americans who encountered them. It is from the French trappers who wandered through many of the Native American settlements that we get the word ‘berdache’, a term they used “to describe Indians who specialized in the work of women and formed emotional and sexual relationships with other men” (Preface, page 1). This concept, of the Native American acceptance of alternate gender and sexual roles, is the focus of the book Living the Spirit, compiled by Gay American Indians, Will Roscoe, Coordinating Editor, published by St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

The book is an interesting collection of modern writings from gay and lesbian Native Americans – poetry, short stories, essays – and historical studies of alternate sexuality in some of the tribes. “Tinselled Bucks: a Historical Study of Indian Homosexuality” by Maurice Kenny discusses the problems of lack of primary source material, and also the differences between the berdaches – men who lived as women and women how lived as men – and men and women living their gender roles who preferred to be sexually and emotionally involved with others of their gender and gender roles. He discusses the different terms and customs of berdaches in various tribes, as well as the levels of importance that many berdaches held in certain cultures, where they were often respected as people of great magic.

“Toleration of the berdache varied from tribe to tribe. Some tribes, such as the Illinois, actually trained young men to become homosexuals and concubines of men. The Cheyenne and the Sioux of the plains may not have purposely trained young men to become berdaches but certainly accepted homosexuals more readily than perhaps other tribes.” (“Tinselled Warriors”, page 26).

The thesis of “Sex/Gender Systems in Native North America” by Midnight Sun is as follows:

“Social, and specifically sexual, life is embedded in the economic organization of society – an organization that gives rise to a variety of cultural forms.” (page 32). This article discusses Native American sexuality as a function of the roles that men and women played in the survival of the various tribes. The author uses three specific case studies, of the Mojave, the Navajo, and the Peigan. All three tribes acknowledged cross-gender identities. “The Mojave believed that cross-gender individuals, especially hwames [female cross-dressers] were lucky in gambling and could become powerful shamans, while shamans and chiefs often married alyhas [male cross-dressers].” (pp. 37-38).

In Navajo culture, cross-gender people were called nadle:

“Because they were believed to have been given charge of wealth since the beginning of time, a family with a nadle was considered fortunate and assured of wealth and success.” (p. 41).

The Peigans, whose culture placed more importance on the role of men and the masculine-warrior ideal, had the ‘manly-hearted woman’, who was, unlike with the Navahos and Mojaves, not a sexual identity but an economic one. The ‘manly-hearted woman’ was a woman who dominated her husband but who was respected by the tribe because she was able to win and control property in traditionally masculine ways – inheritance, ingeniousness, and gifts of respect. The discussion of this article centers mostly on the roles that sexuality played in the respective tribes, and how equal the respect for women and men were, which seems to be dependent on whether the tribe supported itself through farming and agriculture (Mojave and Navaho), where women were often seen as equals to men, or hunters (Peigan) where men were more important and allocated more power and control.

“Strange Country This: Images of Berdaches and Warrior Women” by Will Roscoe, the contributing editor for the book, is a collection of short essays about cross-gender people in specific tribes, as seen in primary sources from European and American explorers during their early exposures to these tribes. Most of these essays are accompanied by pictures, either drawings or photographs taken at the time of these encounters or soon thereafter. There are twelve different Native American tribes represented in these essays and illustrations, covering all regions of North America. “Ever Since the World Began” is a collection of myths and tales from ten different tribes involving their cross-gender members or icons.

The second half of the book is a collection of autobiographical essays, short stories, and poems written by contemporary gay Native Americans; while many of them are modern, they often include family histories that discuss life on the reservations in the mid-1900s if not before, and the struggles that gay Native Americans faced then and now as their tribal culture has changed, taking on the values of the European and American culture.

This anthology isn’t technically an academic study; while some of the essays have internal notes, they don’t have individual bibliographies which makes it difficult to find the primary sources. That said, the history is fascinating, especially the individual views into various tribes and how tolerant and receptive they were to the ideas of homosexuality and cross-gender roles. To be clear, not all tribes were tolerant; the respect and tolerance varied depending on the tribe and how balanced the roles of women and men were in the tribe’s survival.

Overall, it is an interesting read, and a good resource for Native American concepts of sexuality and gender roles. It’s a little dated, politically as well as historically, and I’d very much like to see an new anthology from the Gay American Indians Organization, especially with the more recent interdisciplinary studies between anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians. It’s appeal may be a little more specific than other books studying gay history, as it’s focus is on gay Native Americans, a very select group historically and currently, but it’s also an interesting look at how a dominant culture – in this case, European/American ‘white’ culture – interprets and eventually changes and redefines other cultural values.

I’d rate this at a 4; it’s informative and engaging and in many ways, a view into an alien world.

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Review: The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s by Ricardo J. Brown

From Publishers Weekly

“Kirmser’s was the underground queer bar in St. Paul, a hidden sanctuary for homosexual men and women in the 1940s. It was the haven I found in 1945 after being drummed out of the navy for being a homosexual.” This extraordinary memoir of postwar, pre-Stonewall Midwestern gay life is as historically crucial as it is eloquent. Born in 1926, Brown died in 1999 before publishing it. Growing up in a poverty-stricken Catholic family outside of St. Paul, he realized he was gay early in high school. He fled to Greenwich Village at 18, but, upset by its openly gay culture, joined the navy and was dishonorably discharged after announcing his sexual orientation to his superiors. While Brown’s life is the spine of his brief narrative, its flesh is in the stories of the women and men who frequented Kirmser’s, the working-class bar run by an old German couple that was “a fort in the midst of a savage and hostile population.”

Review by Erastes

Whist a little rustic, I would consider this to be essential reading for anyone thinking about writing about small-town gay America in the 1940’s.

A personal memoire, without being overly personal, The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s is a snapshot of something that definitely shouldn’t have existed at the time, a gay bar in Wabasha Street, St Paul, Minnesota. At the time it was a run-down area, not one one would like to be alone at night, today (looking at Google Maps) it’s a airy, clean shopping district smug in its pristine-look.

Ricardo learns his sexuality young, very young in fact. There’s no description of this, but it’s clear he’s in Junior school when he gets his first experiences. By the time he’s 18, he’s well aware of himself, and in fact gets himself “undesirably” discharged from the army by outing himself to his superiors, being unable to hide himself any longer.

What I liked was the “postcard” way of presenting the events. There is no stream of narrative, as it were–just segments dealing with this character or that. One chapter talks of his relationship with Lucky, for example–how they met, how they continued to maintain that relationship; another deals with “Flaming Youth” – an overweight queen who, whilst in a long-term relationship – “steps out” with others. (a delightful term.”

What is charming is the way that, although the “queers” as they call themselves, flock together in this peculiar place–straight by day, queer by night–they hardly mix. They know each other by sight, and by name–although they keep a coded life of discretion and nicknames–but they are hardly linking arms and can-can-ing around the bar. They slink in, hiding outside until the coast is clear, and they aren’t spotted by neighbours and friends, and they retreat to the dark black booths, made sticky and ebonised by decades of varnish. Hiding, almost from each other.

Ricardo–before discovering Kirmser’s–escaped to Greenwich Village but he didn’t stay long. He had a dream that it was going to be full of aethetes and queers, walking in the sunshine, but he soon found that the scene that he was introduced to, a dingy underground drag bar full of what seemed to him to be unpleasant stereotypes, was not his cup of tea at all, and he fled back to Minnesota, and found Kirmer’s shortly afterwards.

It’s hugely interesting to see how baffled everyone is with everyone else. The lesbians use the gay men for accompanying them in dodgy areas–although both are uneasy with each other’s “perversions”–the menage a trois threesome, nicknamed “Three Kind Mice” for their quiet appearances in the bar, baffle everyone and indeed creep the gays and lesbians out, as Ricardo says, they can’t understand the relationship, the warping of the marriage act, and what they don’t understand, they distrust.

A menage aw twah Lulu Pulanski pronounced it, then grandly explained to us what the expression meant. It boggled our minds. Most of us were in one-to-one relationships of whatever kind for whatever period of time, but here was the husband and wife and the husband’s boyfriend carrying on God-know-what-kind of perversions. We were naivey offended at this flouting of conventions, this mockery of marriage, this awful ambiguity. Most of us were defined, even confined by our sexuality, and these three seemed to move fluidly from one partner the another. It confounded us. Marriage, we’d always been led to believe, was for two people only. What these three were doing was more scandalous than divorce. At least people had heard of divorce.

It is actually sad to see that bigotry runs in all directions–and of course, such bigotry still exists on all sides today.

Most of the anecdotes are veined with pathos, and one is positively sad–although the death involved isn’t homophobic–but although overall, you are left with the image of a group of people clinging to a place–(if not each other because even in the relative safety of the bar, which isn’t very safe, they absolutely do not show affection, or give themselves away)–itis heartwarming, that each and every one of them has the grit to continue on with their lives and make the best of the restricted way they are forced to live. There’s the two men who have been together for 14 years, both over 40 who live with one of the men’s parents, even sleeping in the same bed. There’s “the man with crabs” (again another nickname) who is the pariah in the bar because of rumor, who finally brings a new boyfriend into the bar with him, and there’s Ricardo himself who has an inner strength that really shines through.

This is a short book, but I highly recommend it. It’s not a perfect book–I found it a little too jumpy and disjointed, and the memoire style won’t be for everyone–but if you do try it, and you enjoyed books such as “It Takes Two” by Elliott Mackle – you’ll enjoy this.

It is a great shame that this book didn’t get published until after Brown died–although he was working towards publication–and a greater shame that he never got to write about what happened next, because I’m sure his entire life would have been as full as great characters as this book.

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Review: The Hadrian Enigma by George Gardiner

An emperor’s search for love destroys the very person he most adores. Crime/mystery/romance historical fiction based upon real events and characters of pagan Rome. Set two centuries before Rome’s recognition of Christians, it is an era of intrigue, torrid relations, raging ambition, wild sensuality, & unconventional love. Caesar Hadrian’s ‘favorite’ is found one dawn beneath the waters of the River Nile. Is it a prank gone wrong, a suicide, murder, or something far more sinister? Barrister & historian, Suetonius Tranquillus, & his courtesan companion Surisca are allowed two days to uncover the truth on pain of penalty. They discover more than they bargained for ..

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

I got this book a couple months ago and started right away – then my own writing went insane and all reading fell to the wayside. I re-started about a week ago and read The Hadrian Enigma” straight through, which is always a good sign.

So, yes, I liked this book. The backcover blurb is a bit ambiguous – the investigation into the death of Antinous, Emperor Hadrian’s “favourite” (read: lover) is not conducted by Emperor Hadrian himself, but rather by three men he orders to investigate. The investigating team is led by Suetonius, historian, scandal-monger and author of “Lives of the Caesars”. That, alone, is a genius idea. When I read that part – the whole set-up of Hadrian ordering Suetonius to investigate, I was immediately smitten. The novel begins with a lot of verve, told in first person, and I really enjoyed Suetonius’ voice there.

The year is 130 after Christ. Emperor Hadrian, grief-struck, orders Suetonius and a couple others to investigate the death of Antinous, who apparently drowned in the Nile. They have three days to accomplish that, and the investigation centers on the travelling court in Egypt, where several people have a stake in Antinous’ life and death. There are rivals, old enemies, politicians and courtiers, and during the course of this enormous 476 pager, the author draws a lively picture of life in the second century, court politics and the Roman and Greek world. From what I remember of my history courses, the research is spot-on, nothing struck me as wrong in the way the historical setting is presented, so full marks on the history.

When it comes to the gay elements, the book spends a fair amount of time explaining the Greek erastes/eromenos model versus the Roman “anything goes, as long as love isn’t involved and only slaves, youths and women are penetrated”. Erotic relationships are pursued with no regards to gender, race or culture, and we see people further their own agendas with sex, sex traded as a commodity, and sex as expression of love. Again, full marks on how the author treats gay history and gay culture – he gets the sexual morals of the time right, and spends a lot of time discussing sexual morals and codes of conduct of the time, and also shows characters be shocked that Hadrian and Antinous seem to have breached the Roman concept of what is proper in a relationship between an older man and a younger man – their relationship was far more reciprocal than was politic at the time. In fact, the accusation of Emperors taking the passive/female role is one of the most damning things a Roman historian could say about an emperor, just look at the character assassination of Heliogabalus/Elagabal.

This leads directly to the criticism of the novel. It’s the nature of the beast that reviews spend more time on the flaws or perceived faults of a book than what the reviewer liked, which is really unfortunate. It’s also unfortunate that I have to rate the book with the same ratings system that covers everything from fluffy little romances to all-out porn. This book is an epic undertaking of three or four years of research, and it shows. Rating that along the same lines as a formulaic historical romance or porn in historical customs is awkward.

It’s important to say what the book is not. It is not a historical romance, or even a historical m/m romance, despite what it says on the back cover. In my book, it’s a historical crime story, which happens to explore a gay relationship, in a fairly bisexual setting. The book does spend time exploring how Antinous and Hadrian “happened”, the courting, the politics, Antinous’ enemies, and discusses the sexual morals at length. There are two sex scenes, but the focus is not, like m/m romances require, on the relationship as it develops.

For once, Antinous is dead when people talk about him, and is only resurrected in the lengthy accounts of how things happened. He is talked about and the center of the novel, but not the protagonist of the novel. His lover, emperor Hadrian, remains mostly closed off. This is a relationship as witnessed, not as lived.

The author tries to get closer to the characters and lets those witnesses look into Hadrian’s and Antinous’ heads, but the way it’s told, all this has to be guesswork, because the characters themselves are not involved. Another thing – m/m romances as currently marketed and sold require a “happy ever after” or a “happy for now”. Well. Hadrian’s and Antinous’ relationship ended a few weeks before the young man’s death, with is what is being investigated. Death is a no-go area in m/m romances as they are currently sold. Death is a no-go area for the romance genre, period (as I learnt the hard way when I tried to sell “Test of Faith”).

For me, personally, it was too much history (I know, that’s a weird thing to say). There were many instances when the characters were telling the readers things about their world and culture (somebody explains in the book that the Roman world is “phallocentric” – that’s not something I expect a Roman of the 2nd sectury after Christ to say), and exploring at length and in detail themes that they would find quite natural. We never question our natural assumptions, so this felt awkward. Having Greeks talk about the erastes/eromenos model with such academic detail felt like they were doing so for the reader’s benefit, as mouthpieces of all that enormous bulk of research. This is a key challenge of writing historical characters – the research shouldn’t draw attention to itself. In this book, it sadly did.

In addition, the point of view was all over the place. We start with first person, go into third person, and then we have the lengthy interviews with the witnesses before we go back to first person to wrap things up. The characters tell things they cannot know (such as what Antinous and Hadrian were thinking/feeling). Even statements such as “he told me over a cup of wine” fail to convince. Here, the book falls short on suspending my disbelief. I know the author really wants to tell me about Antinous’/Hadrian’s emotions, but he does so in a way that breaks my fictional dream. I can’t believe a character who is clearly not (just) a character but a tool to tell things that he or she cannot possibly know. One chapter that deals with the Dacians doesn’t have a narrator at all – who’s telling this? We don’t know.

The style can be officious at times, which works for a court setting. I’d have liked it to be toned down a little. We know, for example, that Augustus, despite his drive towards “pure classical Latin” cursed like a sailor in private and spoke a gibberish of Latin and Greek. I’d expect a writer like Suetonius to write with more of a poisoned pen at times – whereas passages dealing with Antinous are more hagiographic than I’d expect from that barbed historian. He was the Perez Hilton of his time, he could easily have been more sarcastic and generally funnier. Roman wit is acerbic and devastating, and the book could have used a bit more of that – it would also be very in character for the narrator.

Overall, the book could use a good cutting – all the self-conscious history, a few characters (we really only need one Special Investigator, and possibly the helper, Surisca) and the repetitions on themes. If it has been explained what the erastes/eromenos relationship is, we don’t need that repeated several times in dialogue. People reading this kind of book can be trusted to remember such things.

In terms of plot, the book works great as a crime novel, far less so as a romance, and I could see a mainstream appeal for the book. Historical crime is big as a genre – much bigger than m/m romance.

So what we see here is a very ambitious debut which has a few, but pervasive craft issues, but it’s strong enough on other counts to still be very readable. There is an undeniable energy in the prose and writing, a fearlessness to tackle that kind of project, imagination, boldness and heartblood. If the issues mentioned above would get fixed, the POV settled, the self-conscious research sorted, the cast streamlined a bit, this would be a great book, a definitive five-star read for me and more likely than not, had potential to make it in the mainstream.

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Review: Queer Cowboys by Chris Packard

“Brokeback Mountain” exploded the myth of the American cowboy as a tough, gruff, and grizzled loner. “Queer Cowboys” exposes, through books by legendary Western writers such as Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, and Owen Wister, how same-sex intimacy and homoerotic admiration were key aspects of Westerns well before “Brokeback’s” 1960’s West, and well before the word “homosexual” was even invented. Chris Packard introduces readers to the males-only clubs of journalists, cowboys, miners, Indians, and vaqueros who defined themselves by excluding women and the cloying ills of domesticity and recovers a forgotten culture of exclusively masculine, sometimes erotic, and often intimate camaraderie in the fiction, photographs, and theatrical performances of the 1800’s Wild West.

Review by Gerry Burnie

While my usual genre is historical fiction, I am always on the lookout for research of a historical variety. Therefore, although it has been around for a while, “Queer Cowboys: And other erotic male friendships in nineteenth-century American literature” by Chris Packard (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) is one such work.

The stated objective of this thesis is to explore the “bonds that hold … [same-sex partners, i.e. ‘sidekicks’] together, particularly the erotic affection that undergirds their friendship.” To do this it painstakingly explores the “originary” texts of seminal, nineteenth-century writers who, individually and collectively, created the prevailing stereotype of the devoted same-sex partners. Moreover, the author undertakes to “teach readers how to recognize homoerotic affection in a historical discourse that was free from the derogatory meanings associated with post-1900 evaluations of male-male erotic friendships”—a not overly presumptuous ambition, given that Packard teaches literature and writing at New York University and New School University.

Okay, I am one such hypothetical reader, so let’s see how well Professor Packard achieved his objectives.

At the risk of oversimplifying Packard’s thesis, it starts with an underlying premise that before 1900—i.e. before “the modern invention of the ‘homosexual’ as a social pariah”—cowboy relationships were freely represented as quite a bit more affectionate than they are after that date. Moreover, although the stereotypes generally depicted ethnic warfare; citing the threat of “savagery” as justification for ethnic slaughter, and the freeing-up of territory to make way for European homesteaders, writers like James Fennimore Cooper wrote about friendships, “even marriage rituals,” between members of warring groups based on shared values. In addition friendships between young whites and natives were quite common. These mixed friendships usually had the natives tutoring the boys in the primitive ways of the wilderness, and included rituals of brotherhood, i.e. exchanging blood, and other physical, nuptial-like rites.

Notably absent from this literary same-sex scenario is any role for femininity, which is described by one quoted authority, Walter Benn Michaels, as “…the problem of heterosexuality.”  The ‘problem’ being the threat of reproduction in a period when fear of mixed-ethnicity through sex or marriage was keen in American culture. Moreover, femininity and reproduction ran contrary to the strong, independent, and particularly ‘free’ nature of the cowboy characters.

“Within canonical as well as ignored literature, high culture as well as low, homoerotic intimacy is not only present, but it is thematic in works produced before the modern want him to be queer. America’s official emblem of masculinity is not one who settles down after he conquests … rather, he moves on, perpetually conquering, and repeatedly affirming his ties to the wilderness and his male partner.”

Having thus stated his hypotheses, Packard then goes on to support these with an anthology of mostly “canonical” writings—i.e. Cooper’s “The Leatherstocking Tales,” Owen Wister’s “The Virginian,” and Walt Whitman’s poetry.  He also introduces some lesser known examples, such as Claude Hartland’s “The Story of a Life,” Frank Harris’s “My Reminiscences as a Cowboy,” and Frederick Loring’s “Two College Friends.”

While circumstantial, when read from a homoerotic perspective Packard makes a very compelling case, over all.  There are no ‘smoking-gun’ examples, of course, because such blatancies would have been considered excessive by Eastern readers—meaning east of the Mississippi, but it is evident that the implication was there just below the surface. Consequently, he has also taught us how to recognize homoerotic affection in “historic discourse.”

To get to that level of edification, however, the reader has had to wade through an Introduction that I found to be a jumble of complex ideas, confusingly presented and fraught with academic jargon—i.e. “nexus,” “praxis,” “lingua franca,” and so forth. A case on point:

Given the instant and undying popularity of cowboys in U.S. popular culture during a period of rapid national expansion, to identify a homoerotic core in its myth about the supremacy of white American masculinity is to imply that American audiences want their frontiersmen to practice nonnormative desires as part of their roles in nation building. In other words, if there is something national about the cowboy (and other frontier heroes of his ilk), and if there is something homoerotic about American national identity as it is conceived in the American West.

Perhaps I am a bit slow on the uptake, but I didn’t find the “In other words” any more elucidating than the original statement.

Happily, once he launches into the body of the argument his tone becomes somewhat less esoteric, and apart from belabouring some points—giving a new dimension to the term ‘moot point’—he presents a very interesting and informative perspective on nineteenth-century thought.

Those looking for titillating erotica, however, are bound to be disappointed but well-informed after reading this work.

This review was originally posted on the reviewer’s blog here

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Review: Outbursts! A Queer Erotic Thesaurus by A.D. Peterkin


Erotic slang words from Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, and other English-speaking nations number well into the tens of thousands. But the history of terms used to describe the sexual activities of gays and lesbians have opposing sources: one, the discreet networks of gay men and lesbians who sought to come up with a new terminology for the pleasures of their secret lives; and the other, those who found gay sexuality repellent, and created phrases that denigrated and insulted its proponents. The result? A coded language, for better or worse, that celebrates sexuality in all its queerness.

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

This unusual reference book was published in 2003, but it is still (to this reviewer’s knowledge) the only one of its kind. It is a brave attempt to catalogue all the words used in English for “queer” (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) subjects, post-2000 and in the past.

In his introduction, the author explains some of the challenges of compiling this book:

“queer language is in a state of near constant flux much in keeping with the ever increasing visibility of gays and lesbians in contemporary culture.”

Peterkin goes on to explain that the need for secret “passwords” in more homophobic times gave rise to such elaborate identifying markers as:

“the secret male language called Polari (more or less from ‘parlare,’ to speak in Italian) used by gay men in London from the 1930s to 1970s. The language of Polari contained some 500 words about sex, the body, physical appearance, meeting places, straights and gays. . . some Polari terms, like ‘bod,’ ‘trade,’ ‘troll,’ basket,’ and ‘cottage’ are still used today, and many have been absorbed into mainstream vocabulary as well.”

According to Peterkin, the increased acceptance and visibility of queer culture since the birth of the “Gay Rights” movement in 1969 has not decreased the need for specialized vocabularies, especially as new sexual identities and sub-communities have emerged. The author claims: “As an example, in the 1990s we saw the emergence of bear culture and terminology to describe hirsute, physically large gay men and their admirers.”

The alphabetical entries begin with “abdomen,” “androgyne,” “anus,” “aphrodisiac” and “aroused.” The synonyms for “androgyne” include “morphodite,” a mysteriously insulting word that this reviewer remembers being used by other teenagers in rural Idaho in the 1960s, regardless of whether they knew what it meant. (The word was applied to male “sissies” and female “tomboys” in a rigidly gendered culture.) Peterkin confirms my suspicion that it is a corruption of “hermaphrodite,” originally the name of the child of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology.

Queer words meaning “aroused” include “having a pash for” (which was used as early as World War I, although usually in a heterosexual context) as well as “hot as a firecracker,” which the author describes as a Canadian term first used in the 1920s.

Strangely enough, “Canadian” is listed as a euphemism for any gay male. Perhaps it is not surprising that this use of the word seems unknown in Canada, although “Lebanese” for lesbian (which was widely used in the 1980s on the Canadian prairies, where actual immigrants from Lebanon were rare) is not listed at all. The author explains that the word “lesbian” itself was originally based on a place-name, since the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who wrote about love between women in the seventh century BC, came from the island of Lesbos. Presumably any native of that island can still be called a Lesbian, regardless of sexual identity.

According to this book, the use of place-names to indicate queer sexuality or queer culture continues in references to San Francisco (no surprise there) as well as to less-obvious locations such as Santa Fe. References to ethnicity or culture are included in traditional terms such as “the English vice” as a (non-British) term for BDSM (bondage/discipline/dominance/submission/sadism/masochism) and “French letter” as a (non-French) term for a condom. More recent references to culture in queerspeak include terms for those who are attracted to a particular race or ethnicity, such as “rice queens” (gay men who prefer Asian partners) and “Zebras” (white queers who prefer black partners and vice versa).

Other listed words for those whose sex practices are unusual or controversial even in the queer community include “Butcher boy” for a gay man who has sex with lesbians, “vampire” for a gay man who steals other people’s partners, “Gillette blade” for a bisexual woman, and “switch hitter,” derived from baseball terminology, for a bisexual woman or man.

“Beard” is listed as a term for a woman who dates gay men to help them “pass” as heterosexual. Besides being notable as a term used in Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” (written in Middle English in the 1380s) to mean a practical joke, this use of “beard” seems similar to “fag hag,” except that a “hag” is usually assumed to initiate friendships with gay men for her own reasons.

As the author explains somewhat apologetically in his introduction, more queer terms (especially those that refer to the body and to specific sex practices) apply to men than to women. Considering this, it is notable that the word “gay” itself (which literally means happy) first seems to have been used as a sexual term in Shakespeare’s time to refer to women who were thought to be promiscuous. Like other feminine terms which have been appropriated by feminine men, “gay” came to apply to men who were also considered slutty because they were homosexual (even if monogamous). The extension of this use of the word to lesbians brings it back to women by a roundabout route. This book includes a more recent woman-centric term (which could possibly be extended to males) to mean “aroused:” the cute acronym “NDL” for “nipples don’t lie.”

This book is hard to summarize; it really needs to be read from cover to cover. Many of the black-and-white illustrations between blocks of print are vintage porn images from yesteryear. The flexible binding of this book enables it to be spread flat for easy reading. It deserves to be added to the growing library of scholarly material on queer culture through the ages.

chauncey-gay-new-york3

Author’s website

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Review: The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick

Looking at The Lord Won’t Mind from a historical perspective

Title: The Lord Won’t Mind
Author: Gordon Merrick
Published: 1970; republished in 1995
Length: 255 pages

Charlie Mills and Peter Martin are both young, handsome and well-endowed. They meet and fall madly in love. The book follows Charlie’s path from a closeted gay man to a person who accepts himself. Charlie is terrified of rejection, especially that of his rigid, moralistic grandmother whom he loves but who expects him to marry and have children. Charlie at first attempts to live a double-life, expressing his homosexuality through acting and painting. But his life is incomplete without Peter.

Charlie eventually throws Peter out and marries a woman to protect his reputation. Charlie’s wife later suspects his homosexuality, and perpetrates a horrific act of violence on her husband. As Charlie works through the aftermath of the attack, he slowly comes to realize that honesty and self-acceptance are the only way out. Charlie finally confesses his love for Peter, and they move in together.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

I have a review posted for The Lord Won’t Mind over at reviewsbyjessewave. There I critique the book from the perspective of being an important piece of gay literary history; for this critique here at Speak Its Name I’ll consider it as historical fiction, because, bottom line, that’s what it is—or at least supposed to be.

The story allegedly takes place in the late 1930s. It opens at Charlie’s grandmother’s summer estate in Rumson, New Jersey. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of confusion on this point. Googling the book and reading various synposes and descriptions posted here and there, many people (wrongly) state that the book is the story of two Ivy League college students in the 1960s. Looking at the original cover of the book, it is easy to see how someone could make this error. Their hair, oxford cloth shirts with rolled up sleeves, no ties…the casually tied sweaters tied over their shoulders—yup, definitely preppies from the 60s. I might even have dated one or both of them.

But what about within the pages of the book? Doesn’t that give any clues? Not really. There are vague mentions of “the war” but no one actually ever goes away nor does anyone get killed. Keeping with the sixties theme, it could have been the Viet Nam War, so that’s not really a hint.

Dress, technology, locales? All vague. Park Avenue is Park Avenue; Charlie and Peter dress to look sharp but nothing that particularly ties them to the era; they talk on the phone and drive cars. In fact, near the end of the book, they drive back and forth to Stamford, Connecticut (from New York City) twice. I vaguely wondered when gas rationing began—after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I later discovered, so even that wasn’t a giveaway clue.

Manners of speech—Peter says “Golly” a lot and sounds like Mickey Rooney in the old Andy Hardy movies. They call each other “darling” (endlessly) which reminds me of the Nick and Nora Charles movies. So maybe that would be accurate to time. But then “baby” creeps in and worse, “darling baby.” Maybe that’s just sappy speech but it doesn’t sound historical to me.

Sexual behavior—Charlie and Peter have lots of sex and use a lubricant. Was that term common in the 1930s? I don’t know. K-Y jelly (water-based) was invented in 1917; Vaseline (petroleum-based) was invented in 1872. I know that in my experience, I used “Vaseline” as a generic term for years; it wasn’t until the spread of AIDS and the need to use water-based products with latex condoms that the word “lubricant” became more common in the vernacular. However, the author, Merrick, was gay and he might very well have been traveling in different lubricant-circles than the ones I inhabit so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

On the other hand, Charlie’s wife takes him to task that he doesn’t pleasure her enough and give her enough orgasms. She even suggests that he might read a book on female sexuality. In 1939? I don’t think so. Remember that the Kinsey reports didn’t come out until 1948 (men) and 1952 (women). Thus I don’t think Hattie’s admonishment to Charlie rings true for the time. In fact, her comment sounded like it came straight from the pages of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, published in 1969. For me, this was definitely an anachronism.

So how can Merrick write a historical fiction book and not have it be…historical? A couple of points might provide insight. First, Merrick went to Princeton in 1938 and dropped out during his junior year. In the book, Charlie has just finished college. So Charlie is clearly drawn from Merrick’s life experience. Since he was there, and lived it, it is not surprising that details get omitted in the telling of the tale—they are not in the forefront of his mind. Second, for people reading in the 1970s, the forties were only three decades prior. They probably remembered those days quite clearly—I know my mother would have (and I am sure she read this book—but I am wondering how she kept it hidden from me!). Thus readers in that era did not need the historical grounding that we in 2009 might require. Last—even though the story is set in the thirties, it could be any time. Time and place is really irrelevant. I think Merrick just set it when he did based on his own life experience, as noted above.

So tallying up: historical evidence: a few words, such as “Golly” and “Darling.” Anachronisms: female orgasmic behavior and the cover of the book. Neutral: places, clothing, transportation, communication (telephone), mentions of “the war.”

Recommendation: if you are in the mood for a gay soap opera with lots of melodrama, sex, and a happy ending, read the book. If you are interested in a slice of gay literary history, give it a go. If you want accurate historical fiction full of interesting details, you probably should pass. For me, one and two outweigh three and thus I think it’s worth reading. Four stars.

Note: The book was originally published in 1970 and re-published by Alyson in 1995. Although it is out of print, it is easy to find used copies. I bought mine for this review off Amazon for less than $5. And–I bought the book so that serves as my disclaimer.

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Review: The Golden Age of Gay Fiction

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

It was the first great explosion of gay writing in history. These books were about gay characters. They were written mostly by gay writers. Above all, they were for gay readers. And, as this entertaining chronicle of the emergence of gay literary pride makes clear, it was a revolution that occurred several years before Stonewall!

Their characters were mostly out or struggling to get out. The books were definitely out—out on the revolving paperback bookracks in grocery stores, dime stores, drugstores, magazine agencies, and transportation terminals across the nation for youths and senior citizens, in the cities and the rural areas alike, to find and to devour.

Here 19 writers take you on a tour of this Golden Age of Gay Fiction—roughly the period between the first Kinsey Report and the first collection of Tales of the City—paying attention to touchstone novels from the period but, even more, highlighting works of fiction that have been left unjustly to gather dust on literary shelves.

Written by authors, scholars, collectors, and one of the publishers, their essays will inform you. They will sometimes amuse you. They will take you into literary corridors you only suspected were there. And the some 200 illustrations, chosen for their historical as well as their artistic interest, provide a visual record of why this was the golden age.

REVIEW:

Pop Quiz: You enjoy reading m/m romances and gay fiction. Which of the following describes the depth of your familiarity with the genre?

A. You name it, I’ve read it, the more obscure, the better.

B. I’ve read Maurice and bought a used copy of The City and the Pillar off eBay to read…someday.

C. I read Brokeback Mountain in The New Yorker back in 1997 and that got me hooked.

D. I never heard of m/m until #amazonfail last spring – that’s when I read False Colors.

Whether you selected A or D or fall somewhere in between, run, don’t walk, to your favorite bookseller to order a copy of The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. If you are solely a reader, or a reader and writer both, this book is an essential resource that provides context and understanding for the gay fiction genre.

Edited by Drewey Wayne Gunn, the book is a collection of 22 essays from 19 contributors, organized in four sections: I) O Brave New World; II) “I Know It When I See It”; III) Frightening the Horses; and IV) Secrecy and Adventure. The Introduction by Gunn grounds the reader as to the purpose and scope of the book: a comprehensive review and analysis of gay fiction from its Golden Age, dated as 1948-1978. The books reviewed include “the pulps” – paperback novels that were cheaply printed, broadly distributed, and widely read. While often not paragons of great literature they were extremely influential in bringing gay writing—and many gay men—out of the closet. Gunn notes that “scholarly” writing about gay literature has largely ignored these books; bringing them to the forefront and recognizing their importance is a major strength of The Golden Age.

The essays are uniformly well written and interesting; some are funny, some are serious, depending on the topic at hand. On Being There…Or Not by William Maltese had me laughing out loud. Lonnie Coleman Remembered by Nowell Briscoe was a touching memory of an author who is now, unfortunately, largely forgotten. I particularly enjoyed Conversation in a Coffee Shop by Dennis Bolin. He notes that in any serious conversation about “important” books that one “must” read, six titles always rise to the top: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote; The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal (both published in 1948); Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, published in 1956; two from the sixties, City of Night by John Rechy and Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man; and last, but not least, Maurice by E.M. Forster, published in 1971 but written in 1914. Bolin bought all six, read them, and discusses them thoroughly. I freely admit that I have gaping holes in my own personal “must read” background—take me out and shoot me, I’ve never read To Kill A Mockingbird—but I’ve filled those holes (sort of) with essays like Bolin’s. So, thank you, Dennis, for doing the hard work since now I don’t have to. I probably won’t bother trying to plow through Pillar; I’ve never been much of a Vidal fan, anyway. But A Single Man sounds interesting and I may dig out my old copy of Maurice which is packed away in the attic for a second re-read, almost forty years later.

One bonus for readers is that many of the books discussed are being re-issued in new editions, so titles that catch your attention may be readily available in print and for some of them, as ebooks. Have you always wanted to read The Man from C.A.M.P. by Victor J. Banis? You can. Other Voices, Other Rooms has the “scandalous” picture of Capote with his bedroom eyes and come hither stare, only this time it’s on the cover, not the back.

But if you want to see what Capote looked like on the original cover, then turn to page 27, because this is another wonderful feature of The Golden Age: more than 200 full-color illustrations of book covers, many of them which are now very difficult, if not impossible, to find. The amount of work that went into tracking these down must have been phenomenal and we all benefit by having them preserved within the pages of The Golden Age forever.

The Golden Age of Gay Fiction is beautifully designed. I love the font that was used for the chapter titles (which is the same as on the cover, in case you want an example). The cover painting was commissioned by MLR Press for the book and was done by an Ohio artist named Paul Richmond (who also did the cover for Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville, in case his style looks familiar). I read the book as a PDF for this review but I will be ordering a print copy for my collection. While it is available as an ebook, really, you need to have it in print to do it justice. It is worth the $70 investment.

Scholarship throughout the book is evident. References are cited and the back matter includes a ten page “Index of Fiction Discussed” which includes not just the index to the book but also complete bibliographic data for the books that are cited, even in a casual mention. The book also includes a bibliography of secondary sources for further reading. I am so impressed with the index and bibliography, I daresay they will become the gold standard for a comprehensive listing of gay literature, both fiction and non, for the time period covered in the book.

Last, the contributors, who are the heart and soul of the book. I am going to list them all at the end of this review because they deserve to be recognized. They have an eclectic mix of backgrounds and experience, ranging from authors, avid readers, and book collectors to known scholars and academicians. As noted earlier, the writing is uniformly excellent. Clearly all the contributors have a passion for their chosen topic. They also pulled off a feat that eludes many contributed non-fiction collections: the book is interesting and fun to read. This is not some dry, dusty tome that will be relegated to the libraries of esoteric researchers; rather, anyone who is interested in gay fiction, even if only marginally, will find something enjoyable to read in The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. I am willing to bet on it.

Kudos to Laura Baumbach and the MLR Press team for bringing this book to fruition. It really is a jewel in the crown of her published titles and she should be very, very proud of this accomplishment.

Gunn, D.W., ed. (2009). The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. Albion, NY: MLR Press. Contributors: Victor J. Banis, Dennis Bolin, Nowell Briscoe, Michael Bronski, Philip Clark, Fabio Cleto, Neil DeWitte, Dave Doyle, Jan Ewing, Drewey Wayne Gunn, Earl Kemp, Josh Lanyon, Rob Latham, William Maltese, Rob McDonald, Tom Norman, Joseph M. Ortiz, Paul Richmond (artist), Roger H. Tuller, Ian Young.

Note: This review is also posted at Reviews by Jessewave. Thanks to Erastes and Wave for allowing me to post in both places and further spread the word about this excellent book.

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chauncey-gay-new-york3

Review: Barbarian Tales:The Inheritance by Sabb

This is the story of how Hilaron was in danger of losing his life to his evil father s greed. And how Konan, perhaps with the gods help, arrived at his farmhouse on the very day that help was most needed.

Konan, the Great Barbarian, is legendary throughout the ancient world for his huge size, his strength and his appetites. He is a famed lover of men, taking them wildly and often and in his wild, free, wanderings and adventures he finds many men who have longed to meet him, and know him fully. But there are also men he meets who have whatever magic it is that makes Konan want them dangerously too. And none of them are ever the same again once they have been taken and filled by what the great barbarian has to offer.

And one of the men who had the magic to make Konan want him was Hilaron the young man who he met on the day he was to come into his inheritance and become the master of a fine estate.

ebook – novella

Review by Erastes

I’m afraid that I was immediately put off that the author couldn’t find a more original name for the barbarian–I mean, Konan? There’s no set time and place to the tale other than “there’s a barbarian calls at a farm.” There is mention of someone called The Great Mongol, who could be Genghiz Khan, could be Akbar the Great.

It’s rather more porn than anything else, to be honest. There’s a thin plot which intersperses the sex scenes – and the sex itself stilted, graphic and frankly laughable at times such as when Konan’s tongue is described as being as long as a sword.

There’s a different POV with each chapter, the son, the father, the guests, the servants which all gets a bit confusing and there’s a hefty sex scene in each chapter as everyone is homosexual and happy to have sex with just about anyone.

Historically I couldn’t warm to it, at all–and the the sex wasn’t to my taste either. You can find the same level as this on any porn fiction site. The title implies there might be a sequel. I hope not.

I’m not sure who Sabb is, I couldn’t find a website and had not heard of him before – this is all I could find, which is obviously a spoof!

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Review: Oblivion by Harry J Maihafer

On Saturday, January 14, 1950, at 6:18PM, Cadet Richard Cox left his room at theU.S. Military Academy at West Point to goto dinner with an unidentified visitor. The man was supposedly someone Cox knew when he served in Germany. Cox never returned from that meeting.

Thirty five years later, a retired history teacher named Marshall Jacobs decided to pursue the mystery that had been a national story. Jacobs plunged into a labyrinthine search of Army and FBI records – and what began as a hobby became an obsession. After piecing together the puzzle for seven years, he found the one witness who enabled him to bring the case to closure.

Review by Erastes

An interesting find, this. The story was pointed out to me by a friend with a penchant for random surfing and it sparked my interest. I looked into it a little more and found this book which I promptly bought. I believe it’s out of print, but I picked up a copy for pennies.

Richard Cox is the only West Point Cadet ever to have disappeared without trace for for many years the American police, the Criminal Investigation Department and the FBI were involved in trying to track him down. It brings to mind just how easy it might have been (or might still be) to disappear in a country as large as the States.

But – did he disappear or was he murdered? The theories are thick and fast and the amount of threads that lead away from Cox’s last sighting are legion. The trail leads to New York gay bars, Washington spy masters, German secret missions and even behind the Iron Curtain.

There were a few questions I would have asked, however – why on Earth did West Point allow people on site that they didn’t know? Why didn’t this mysterious visitor give his full name and why didn’t anyone ask it? Why wasn’t a certain woman’s second marriage investigated? I suppose it was all a more innocent age – I bet that West Point is a little more rigorous in their security now.

The book was, for me, a real page turner – I had an idea from the reviews on Amazon that many people were not convinced or impressed by the Marshall’s conclusions – but that’s the great thing about conspiracy theories one can form one’s own and you are unlikely to be proven wrong.

I would like to think that – in these days of computers, networks, DNA testing and the like, that someone will – once again – pick up the enormous body of research compiled by Marshall since 1985 and seek out a more definitive answer, and proof that Marshall’s conclusion was the true one. Because I’d like to be sure what happened to Cox – it’s impossible not to want to know for sure by the end of the book.

Despite the labyrinthine tangle of facts, Maihafer catalogues the case well without too much irrelevancies and it kept me absorbed right until the very end. If you are a fan of cold cases, conspiracy theories and other subjects of that ilk – then you’ll probably enjoy this.

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Review: Sappho Sings by Peggy Ullman Bell

Here SAPPHO SINGS in her own words. Ancient phrases become the warp and weave of an intricate tapestry so delicately woven it becomes impossible to distinguish the imported threads from the weaver’s own.

Readers familiar with the myriad translations of the few fragmented lines of Sappho’s work left available to us may recognize a word here or a conjunct there but, as one renowned expert in antiquities discovered, the author has herself become the voice of The Poetess to the extent that invented passages read like newly discovered wonders from the past.

Review by: Margaret Leigh

This novel relates the life, loves and sorrows of “Sappha” as the poet called herself. It is a richly crafted novel which draws from what little survives of Sappho’s works and threads these through the story, whilst also adding the author’s own original compositions to them. Sappho comes to life in these pages. The story shows the author’s admitted deep love for Sappho in every page.

This is a book which requires concentration to read, and not one I would recommend if you’re looking for a few hours of easy escapism. The world portrayed within its pages is lavishly detailed and drawn with the masterful brush strokes of an artist.

I found myself falling in love with Sappho and deeply involved in her story, wanting to know if she would eventually triumph, and how. I could relate to Sappho’s deep need to be recognized and to become more than just an ordinary Aeolian woman of her times. Her repeated prayers for her voice to be heard are heart-cries that couldn’t fail to stir the sympathy of anyone who has ever felt stifled or voiceless.

Sappho lives her life, sings her songs and makes her mark all over again in this beautiful retelling of her life.

The threads of poetry interleaved within the story, both those written by Sappho herself, and those crafted by the author lend an authenticity to Sappho’s voice and keep the reader ever conscious that this is a poet, a songstress, dare I think even a prophetess?

Points that might weigh against it:

It can be a little heavy handed at times with descriptions of setting and place which, though necessary to bring the reader into the world, occasionally verge on being distracting rather than evocative.

Overall , I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good, solid, historical read and doesn’t mind the need to really concentrate and focus on it.

Author’s website

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Review: Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk

Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk is a full-length historical novel set in Vienna, Austria, in an inner city hotel managed by a transvestite and doubling as a brothel for men who like boys dressed up as girls. The entire book takes place during a one-day time period — March 12, 1938, the day Hitler “invades” Austria. Told from the perspectives of twelve different characters including various hotel personnel, hotel guests, brothel employees and brothel clientele, we also have a talkative Viennese official, German police, Nazi SS, and a darling street boy.

This is a terrible book. Yes, that got your attention, didn’t it? I don’t mean terrible as in bad, though, obviously. Rather than it’s a gripping and terrifying read.

Terrible

1. distressing; severe: a terrible winter.
2. extremely bad; horrible: terrible coffee; a terrible movie.
3. exciting terror, awe, or great fear; dreadful; awful.
4. formidably great:

So I’m taking this as definition 4. Resoundingly.

The story takes places in about 24 hours of the Hotel Redl in Austria (Redl being the name of a homosexual who committed suicide in 1913) where Frau Friska Bielinska is the manager. It’s the day of the Anschluss – the day of the “reunification” (read invasion) of Austria by Germany. The city had been demonstrating against it, but gradually support and pro-Hitler force has grown to the stage where no-one dare speak out against it. Brownshirts prowl the streets beating up anyone they suspect to be Jewish (there’s a terrifying scene where Jews are put onto a merry go round which “can’t be stopped”) and are probably dead.

The Hotel Redl is a metaphor for the treatment of homosexuals/transvestites and many other types in German occupied territory. Every guest has something to hide, and every aberration from what the Germans consider the norm has been committed here. It’s difficult to describe the activities within the hotel without using language that might offend the gay readers as I don’t want to blanket them with the term “perversions” as clearly some of them – in our more enlightened world – such as enjoying men dressed as women, and homosexual behaviour – are not. However I must warn readers that there are also descriptive sections of necrophilia, rape, incest, suicide and murder.

It’s clear from the first page, being what it is and when it’s set, that this is not going to be a happy book. Yet Dementiuk does manage some incredible characterisation in very sparse prose. He paints his characters deftly, bringing them to life before our eyes with hard bold strokes rather than any flowery watercolour.

You feel for them all: from the pathetic Kaufmann who loved his boy-whore so much that he couldn’t bear to hear the boy call him old, to Kurt who struts around in his brownshirt thinking – all so wrongly – that it will save him from the SS when they discover him with his mouth on a man’s cock. (The SS was ironically founded by homosexuals, which was something I didn’t know). There’s Helmut with his breast fixation and Wanda with huge breasts but no interest in men. I could go on but I think you should discover them for yourselves.

There’s some wonderful narration too, and discussion of why some men dress as women, why some men want to pursue men dressed as women – which rather threw me out of the story when I first encountered it, but once accostumed to it it’s hard to look away and hard to be unconvinced by the arguments set down. If I disagreed with any aspect of the book it was the section with dealt with gang rape. I found it inconceivable that the raped woman would have climaxed with every man who raped her. Once – perhaps- one’s body is capable of betrayal, but women don’t work like that. More so that we are shown that this woman doesn’t climax “normally.”

My favourite character was the male-identifying-as-female Frau Bielinska who had such empathy and understanding even for the most troubled of her guests, but – although the characterisation isn’t deep (hard to do with 12 POVS) it’s convincing and you’ll find yourself empathising with them all and their doomed lives.

The most resounding feel of the book, however, is one of hopelessness; that the Juggernaut is coming and there’s no escaping its clutches. This is a book of people who have no hope – some who are running – some who have run as far as they can. A book about people completely unable to prevent something terrible they know is ahead, but how terrible it will be they can’t see, can’t possibly believe – or they’d be running harder and as fast and as far as they could.

Be brave and read this book. Yes, it’s hard to take, visceral and bloody and frankly disgusting in some of its clarity and honesty. But it needed to be this way. To not accept the fate of the Redl and consequently the true fate of many queers in Germany occupied territories would be to deny that any of this happened. Bravo.

There’s an excerpt here

Mykola Dementiuk was born in 1949 of Ukrainian parents in a West German DP camp, immigrating to America when he was two. After Catholic grade school & public high school in New York City, he graduated from Columbia University in 1984. A writer with varied employment, from gyro seller at
Lollapalooza to roustabout at the Big Apple Circus, Mykola helped create the magic of the Cirque du Soleil performances of “Alegria” in Santa Monica, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, and New York with his electrical work. After suffering a massive debilitating stroke in 1997, Mykola eventually returned to writing, using one finger to execute the fantasies and psycho-sexual stories of his min
d.

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Review: “Napoleon’s Privates” by Tony Perrottet

NAPOLEON’S PRIVATES
2,500 Years of History Unzipped

by Tony Perrottet
Harper Entertainment, ISBN 978-0-06-125728-5

From the blurb on the author’s website:

What were Casanova’s best pick-up lines?
(They got better as he got older).
Which Italian Renaissance genius “discovered” the clitoris?
(He could have just asked the Venetian nuns).
What was the party etiquette at Caligula’s orgies?
(Holding one’s own could be a stressful business in ancient Rome).
How were impotence sufferers put on trial in medieval France?
(And why this should be a new reality TV show).
What were the kinkiest private clubs of Hogarthian London?
(Austin Powers would have blanched).

And what was the truth about Napoleon’s privates?
(Was it a big baguette or petit éclair? And did size matter to Josephine?)

There are some books you just have to order, even if you fear the worst when it comes to content. I hang my head in shame – when I stumbled over “Napoleon’s Privates” (now please don’t take that literally!) I couldn’t resist. Yes, yes, I know, my mind’s in the gutter at times. But if everything else fails, there’s still eBay, right?

I’m happy to report that I won’t have to deal with eBay. “Napoleon’s Privates” is an amusing collection of the high and mighty’s “raunchy little secrets” all through history. Reading it transported me back to the days when I was a really young teenage girl and read with a friend “Dr. Sommer’s Sex And Relationship Tips” in a teenage magazine. Means: lots of giggling and the occasional “d’oh?”-experience!

Author Tony Perrottet knows how to keep his readers captivated. In the slick tone of a gossip journalist (an almost extinct species capable of forming complete sentences), he shares the tale of the whereabouts of Napoleon’s little emperor with as much wit and glee as the rather mind-boggling “Holy Guide to Coital Positions”. Perrottet completely won me over with his “Impressionist Misery Index”, listing the social backgrounds, personal dramas, career lows and wretched dotages of artists like Monet, Cézanne, Renoir et al just like Marvel Comics would have described the special powers of their super heroes.

Some chapters are almost exclusively of a speculative nature, though – was Abe Lincoln gay or not? – but to his credit, the author points this fact out and notes that it really wasn’t uncommon for men to share a bed back in those days. So “Napoleon’s Privates” is also a journey through the urban legends of the past.

However, all gossip and giggles aside, the misogynistic roots of some anecdotes are pointed out several times. The “Boys Club” could not deal with strong women, the church tried its best to keep them down, and many of the rumours still clinging to great women’s names – Katharina the Great and her “horse lover”, for example (complete rubbish, of course) – have been born out of this attitude. It’s also interesting to see how disparaging rumours about sexual prowess, sexual orientation or even shape of genitals have been used – and are still used! – to impair an enemy’s reputation.

For those interested in the history of sexuality in general, beauty ideals, gay history, gossip and saucy details, this book offers a lot of material to shake your head over. Kinky clubs in 18th century Scotland, proof of (im)potence in front of witnesses and the court, brothels, ancient sex toys, horny popes and knitted condoms, syphilis and why castrati made better lovers – “Napoleon’s Privates” offers all this, and more.

The book consists of stand-alone chapters, so you can easily put it away for a while. I read the whole thing in one go, though, so I can now impress my friends at the next party with my amazing knowledge about Napoleon’s dick and dickery between the sheets. I might even throw in the amazing tale of “The Invention of Smut”, should anybody ask.

Especially you navy folk will be pleased to hear that the Duke of Wellington, if actress “Mademoiselle Georges” (a former mistress of Napoleon) can be believed, “was by far the more vigorous.”

In conclusion:
a) “Napoleon’s Privates” is a book wellworth buying, and
b) people are funnier than anybody.

In case you’re interested: the author’s website.

“Napoleon’s Privates” is available from Amazon UK, Amazon US and as e-book from Harper Collins.

* * *

(c) Emma Collingwood

Review: Maurice, directed by James Ivory

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Review by Hayden Thorne

FROM MERCHANT IVORY PRODUCTIONS:
The traditional bildungsroman, or novel of education, ends with a marriage. E.M. Forster’s Maurice (1914), the second of his novels to be adapted by Merchant Ivory, takes on a subject that no major novel in the genre had ever addressed: the problem of coming of age as a homosexual in a restrictive society. First published in 1971, after Forster’s death, and long neglected by critics, it is only recently (and largely since the release of the film adaptation) that critics have come to set Maurice in its unique place among “Reader, I married him” narratives. Starring James Wilby (Maurice) and Hugh Grant (Clive) as two Cambridge undergraduates who fall in love, the film is set amidst the hypocritical homoerotic subculture of the English university in Forster’s time. In an environment in which any reference to ” the unspeakable vice of the Greeks” is omitted, and any overture toward a physical relationship between men might be punishable by law, Maurice and Clive struggle to come to terms with their own feelings toward each other and toward a repressive society.

REVIEW:
The dichotomy of love – that of the idealized (intellectual/platonic) and the physical – is beautifully captured in Merchant and Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel, Maurice.

The film is made with a remarkably sharp eye for detail. England becomes a lush panorama that enriches every scene – the green, rolling countryside, the sprawling grandeur of Penge (or Pendersleigh in the movie), the grayness of rain-soaked London. We’re treated to the rich traditions that define university life in Cambridge, with young, aristocratic students sharply-dressed and immersed in their Greek translations or raucously celebrating athletic victories. The side characters are also used to paint a detailed picture of the mores of those times, both within social classes as well as between.

James Ivory takes his time in feeding us Maurice’s world, and the pace is luxuriously idle without turning dull. The cinematography is gorgeous, but it never distracts us from the characters and the story. One can say that Ivory turns England into a character in the movie, and in many ways, she is. She’s the hidden puppet-master who controls and dictates the tension within and between characters with her history, faith, and laws, and everyone’s powerless against her.

The acting is strong (though Kingsley seems a bit uncomfortable in his role as a hypnotist with an odd American accent) and effective in expressing the way turbulent yet natural emotions are confined by a rigid, intellectual veneer that very much defines the English upper-class. Unlike his counterpart in the novel, Clive is actually made into a more sympathetic character, with more believable reasons (compared to those in the novel) for choosing the path he takes. Hugh Grant, in one of his better performances, captures the fear, the despair, and the resignation that will shape Clive’s life for the rest of his days.

James Wilby fleshes out Maurice with great skill, moving from innocence to love to heartbreak to hope with a subtlety that’s alternately admirable and gut-wrenching. His portrayal certainly defies common – and bigoted – misconceptions of ineffectual softness or effeminacy as the defining character of a gay man – yes, even as a refined, upper-class gentleman. He’s athletic, well-built, and his scenes with Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves, who gives his role a cheeky roughness and vulnerability that makes one hope like heck that he’ll get his man in the end) show a nice blending of masculinity and deep emotion.

Unlike Clive, Alec is unpolished and unabashed in his expressions of love, constantly seeking Maurice’s companionship, which terrifies Maurice at first but eventually leads him to make a decision that’s both bittersweet and satisfying though largely improbable on another level. Given the social atmosphere of pre-World War I England, after all, class, no matter how much we wish it weren’t so, was a ruthless force in defining people’s behavior. Maurice, in fact, has shown himself to be a snob in several instances. The chances of a successful relationship with a social inferior are open to question. On the other hand, it’s the romance of a “what if?” situation that should be allowed the final word.

In a time and a place that were dominated by convention and the soul-deadening hypocrisy of the status quo, a slow and quiet stroll down the paths of improbability and romanticism sometimes make the best medicine.

The DVD contains several deleted scenes in a separate disc, one of them involving Maurice’s relationship with young Dickie Barry. It’s dismaying seeing those scenes taken out of the final theatrical release because Dickie’s presence marks another turning point in Maurice’s development. The boy inadvertently introduces Maurice to feelings of lust, which Maurice rather pathetically hopes to explore by dropping hints regarding his sleeping arrangements (just up the stairs from Dickie’s assigned room, thank you). Another deleted scene involves Lord Risley’s fate after his disgrace, which would have been an even more desperate call for Clive and Maurice to dive back into the closet. Yet another shows Clive (still a university student) showing signs of rebellion at home and dispensing his duties with a pretty cynical (even bitter) attitude. Here he gives his staff presents for Christmas, and had the scene been left in the movie’s final form, it would’ve given us our first glimpse of Alec Scudder.

Given the film’s length as it is, I can understand the need to excise those scenes, but it’s still unfortunate that we miss a few excellent – even significant – moments because of it. Thank the stars that they’re at least part of the final package for us to view again and again.

Buy the DVD: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries, ed. by Rictor Norton

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Reviewed by Hayden Thorne

FROM THE AUTHOR’S BOOK PAGE:
My Dear Boy is an anthology of gay love letters documenting the heartbreak and joy of love between men for almost two thousand years. Emperor Marcus Arelius, Bo Juyi, Saint Anselm, Erasmus, Michelangelo, Mashida Toyonoshin, Thomas Gray, William Beckford, Walt Whitman, Tchaikovsky, Henry James, Countee Cullen, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg are just a few of the correspondents included, who range from kings and aristocrats, musicians and artists, military men and monks, to farm labourers and herring merchants, political activists and aesthetes, black poets and Japanese actors, drag queens and hustlers.

For more information, visit Mr. Norton’s page.

REVIEW:
Rictor Norton’s book is a treasure trove of primary sources for writers, scholars, and casual fans/readers of homosexuality (or homosexual romance) through history. The book’s introduction is long and detailed as Norton explains the purpose of the volume in relation to its place in the study of same-sex love through the centuries. He gives us a quick history lesson on the nature of love letters between men from different periods and countries, which ultimately sets the basis of the book’s contents.

The letters aren’t comprehensive, and one really shouldn’t expect the entire book to be. What we’re given is a rare collection of private exchanges between lovers, a representative “cluster” of letters between men that can certainly serve as starting points for further research or scholarly exploration for writers of historical fiction. They also provide more casual fans of historical gay romance a fascinating glimpse into the private lives of famous figures. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, but always thought-provoking, these letters become one of the most intimate connections – if not the most intimate connection – we can have with past lives.

The sampling of these letters is eclectic, with the contents arranged chronologically. The book begins with exchanges between Marcus Aurelius and Marcus Cornelius Fronto (letters dated circa 139). From there we’re given letters between Erasmus and Servatius (letters dated 1482-1490), Mashida Toyonoshin and Moriwaki Gonkuro (letter dated 1667), Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne (letters dated 1851), and Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg (letters dated 1947), among several others. Photos (mostly artistic male nudes) and portraits are also used for illustration and aesthetics though not all couples are given visuals.

Each “chapter” or cluster of letters has its own introduction. Only very lightly biographical in their discussions of the men involved, these introductions are there mainly to give the letters the necessary historical context in terms of their creation. This book is an invaluable collection, and considering how the letters are merely a representative of a much larger and very complex subculture, one can’t help but wonder how many other love letters exchanged between men – men unknown to fame and fortune, that is – were ultimately lost in history.

Buy the book: Amazon UK, Amazon US

Textbook: Mother Clap’s Molly House, (The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830) by Rictor Norton


Review by Alex Beecroft

First published in 1992 by GMP Books. A Second, Revised and Enlarged edition published in October 2006 by Chalfont Press (Tempus Publishing, UK).

Available through Amazon, or via Rictor Norton’s site  HERE which is a great place to go for a more detailed run down of the contents.  It’s also a fascinating site in itself, where you can find essays on all sorts of queer issues from the homosexual pastoral tradition to bawdy limericks.

Table of Contents
Introduction
1. The Renaissance Background
2. The Birth of the Subculture
3. Mother Clap’s Molly House
4. The Sodomites’ Walk in Moorfields
5. Maiden Names and Little Sports
6. Caterwauling
7. Popular Rage
8. Blackmail
9. The Third Sex
10. The Warden of Wadham
11. The Case of Captain Jones
12. The Macaroni Club
13. The Vere Street Coterie
14. A Child of Peculiar Providence
15. Men of Rank and Fortune
16. Tommies and the Game of Flats

Review:

Basically, for anyone interested in what it was like to be gay during the 18th and early 19th Century, this book is a must.  By combing through records of criminal prosecutions for buggery, and the documents kept by the Societies which persecuted gay men, Rictor Norton has amassed an enormous wealth of evidence about a heretofore unknown subculture.  He’s able to prove that our own century was not the first to have cruising grounds, gay bars and even a sense of gay pride.  On the contrary, our own views on homosexuality and our own modern gay culture have their roots in the culture which came to light in the 18th Century.

I say ‘came to light’ because as the book shows, it’s entirely possible that this gay subculture had already evolved by the 16th Century.  The first chapter of the book describes King James Ist’s court, in which the King’s love for George Villiers made the court a relatively tolerant place for gay relationships to flourish.

Norton holds that the specific subculture we see in the 18th Century did not spring to life in that century, but was merely revealed as a result of the purges organized by the newly formed Societies for the Reformation of Manners.  These societies organized ordinary people to shop their neighbours for immoral behaviour, and as a result an awful lot of gay men were prosecuted for buggery.  With the result that there were a lot of executions, but also that for the first time we have documented existence not just of one or two isolated individuals but of a whole culture of homosexuality.

In successive chapters, Norton explores some of the plays that show the playwright’s knowledge of this culture; the locations of the cruising grounds; the most famous gay bars (or Molly Houses).  Incidentally, I was amused and a little relieved to find out that Mother Clap’s molly house was so called because it was run by a gay-friendly lady called Margaret Clap, and not because that was what you could expect to acquire there!

Norton also covers the molly’s slang, some of their stranger rituals – like the practice of having pretend marriages, and sometimes even pretend childbirth.  We’re introduced to an enormous variety of characters, from blackmailers to Dukes.  I have to admit my heart was warmed to read of the butcher ‘Princess Seraphina’, who borrowed the clothes of his female neighbours and was obviously treated as one of the girls by the neighbourhood.  It was also good to read of Reverend John Church, the ‘child of peculiar Providence’, who as a gay priest had worked out a theology of God’s love long before our own time, and officiated at some of the marriages at The Swan molly house.

Less happy, however, are Norton’s accounts of so many trials and executions, and the enormous hatred of the general public for the mollies.  Such hatred that even those who were only sentenced to the pillory often barely made it out alive.

There is also a very interesting final chapter on Tommies or Lesbians – Norton is able to show that the word ‘lesbian’ was already in use in its modern sense at this time.

The strength of this book is its reliance on primary sources, so that the reader almost feels she is meeting the people described and participating in their tumultuous, dangerous, but ultimately surprisingly positive lives.  They seem to have been, despite the level of hatred and persecution surrounding them, confident, unashamed and well able to justify themselves to themselves.  The sense of positive, courageous joy in life is a welcome antidote to the statistics of trials and persecution.  I came away impressed by their resilience and convinced that it was not necessarily all doom and gloom, after all, being a gay man in the 18th Century.

The weakness of the book, I think, also comes from its reliance on primary sources.  There is a sense that although we’re meeting a number of fascinating individuals, the writer hasn’t managed to synthesize this information into very much of a larger picture.  There was a feeling of listening to repeated anecdotes, and by the end I yearned for some sort of pulling together of the evidence into a summary.

That didn’t happen.  I didn’t get any sense that an argument was being made, or a logical plan was being followed through the sequence of chapters.  There’s a sense in which this is simply a disorganized dumping of information on the reader.  But really, it’s such interesting information, and so lightly and amusingly told, that asking for more would be grasping.

A must have book for anyone writing m/m historical fiction from the late 17th Century to the early 19th.

Buy: From the Author: Amazon UK: Amazon USA

Textbook: Homo History by Erin McHugh

$12.95

From ancient Rome to gay pride, here is a time capsule of gay history, <br>presented in quick, short takes. Strange, fascinating, <br>and historically revealing!


Homo History: A Compilation of Events That Shook and Shaped the Gay World (Portable Queer) (Hardcover)


Erin McHugh • Alyson Publications • Release date: October 2007 • 126 pages • Hardcover • ISBN-10: 1593500319; ISBN-13: 978-1593500313


From the Old Testament to the New World Order, the centuries have not always championed homosexuality. But the past has also been checkered with surprising liberal periods. From ancient Rome to gay pride, here is a time capsule of gay history, presented in quick, short takes. Strange, fascinating, and historically revealing!


About the author
Erin McHugh is a writer and former publishing executive. She lives in New York City and South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

Buy it from Alyson Books

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