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: Out at the Movies: The History of Gay Cinema

Over the decades, gay cinema has reflected the community’s journey from persecution to emancipation to acceptance. Politicised dramas like Victim in the 60s, The Naked Civil Servant in the 70s, and the AIDS cinema of the 80s have given way in recent years to films which celebrate a vast array of gay life-styles. Gay films have undergone a major shift, from the fringe to the mainstream and 2005’s Academy Awards were dubbed ”the Gay Oscars” with gongs going to Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Transamerica. Producers began clamouring to back gay-themed movies and the most high profile of these is Gus Van Sant s forthcoming MILK, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the first prominent American political figure to be elected to office on an openly gay ticket back in the 70s. So loved was he that his brutal and homophobic assassination by ex-policeman Daniel White sparked the biggest riots in gay history.

The book also includes information on gay filmmakers and actors and their influence within the industry. Interspersed throughout the book are some of the most iconic scenes from gay cinema and the most memorable dialogue from key films.

With a foreword by Simon Callow.

Review by Erastes

I wouldn’t consider this as a research tool, it’s more like a box of chocolates. Rather than a weighty tome dealing with the subject on a serious level, it’s more a coffee-table decoration and one that lets you pick it up, delve inside and read their view.

Sadly, I didn’t find it a “history” rather than a rainbow coloured meander down a yellow brick road. And that is probably its aim–for a book to truly do justice to subject it would need to be about four times the length.

Despite a very lengthy foreword by Simon Callow I felt disappointed by this book for several reasons.  Many of the films I wouldn’t consider gay at all–but simply “films that have become favourites of gay men.” Films like Mildred Pierce are included, I assume, because Joan Crawford has become such a huge gay icon. But the film itself? Not gay in the absolute slightest. And “The Women” is listed–again, because of the performances and gay icons within and gay men love the film, but neither film is one I would consider to be “gay cinema.”

As well as films that were included–and many of which were awarded their “gay oscar ” accolade at theend–there were notable omissions–the main one being “The Celluloid Closet” which baffled me, unless it was consdered to be a rival. I feel it was an important enough film to at least be mentioned.

It’s an attractive book, with a beautiful layout, lush with photographs and I can’t fault it in that respect. Each era is nicely handled, and not one era is top heavy. It is certainly informative, I just don’t think that it’s as informative as it should be, given the title.

It strikes me like someone’s favourite list, and not a tome for serious study. But it depends what you are coming to this book for, I suppose. If you want a book you can flip through and read snippets about star gossip and what the author thinks gay men take from the “not gay” films–interspersed with actual gay movies, but missing several important films out entirely–then you’ll probably enjoy it. It’s probably suitable for leaving on your coffee table for your friends to leaf through, but if you want a concise book for research on the subject, don’t waste your money.

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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.

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Author’s website

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Review: Man, oh Man: Writing M/M for kinks and cash by Josh Lanyon

Lambda Award finalist Josh Lanyon takes you step-by-step through the writing process: from how to find fresh ideas and strong hooks, to how to submit your carefully edited manuscript. With help from the genre’s top publishers, editors, reviewers, and writers – experts in the field of M/M and gay romantic fiction – Lanyon offers insight and experience in everything from creating believable masculine characters to writing erotic and emotionally gratifying M/M sex scenes.

Review by Vashtan

I’m not giving five stars lightly, but five stars is what this is. Full disclosure: I bought this paperback with my own money last year, read it, loved it, and put it on my creative writing books shelf. I own a huge amount of creative writing literature. I’m weird like that—reading about creative writing makes me want to write, which is really the main reason why I keep buying them. And to sometimes do exercises to get the muses kickstarted, or to be able to recommend a good creative writing book to beginners. And I love reading about how other writers go about it; there’s some kind of comradely or even voyeuristic pleasure there.

Josh Lanyon doesn’t really need an introduction, award-winning writer, one of the big names in this tiny fishpond of m/m and gay fiction, and he tells us what’s what. I found myself nod an awful lot, and agreeing with almost everything he says (and the details are down to personal opinion).

With this, he has written an eminently useable book for m/m writers of all levels of experience, covering all the angles from finding ideas to writing that dreaded synopsis. He covers why men in fiction aren’t women plus penis, how men interact, and gently points out what so many m/m writers still get wrong (and no, it’s not the anatomical detail).

Lanyon has added a lot of great quotes from writers, reviewers, editors and publishers, which give a very good idea about whatever topic he’s currently covering. All his advice is hands-on, never preachy, and comes with a good dose of humour. It’s much like you’re sitting in a cafe with him while he chats about writing, the genre, his method, and what he thinks needs some work. He has included an outline, a synopsis, a query letter, and added an appendix of m/m writing contests, as well as a list of m/m publishers, so this book saves you a lot of work. Every chapter comes with recommendations for further reading (usually creative writing books), and his choices are for the most part excellent.

If I had to voice one criticism, then that there are a lot of fonts involved in the printing and the text looks a bit “busy” with those slightly gimmicky fonts, but I really prefer my layouts to be as clean and sparse as possible.

For anybody writing in the genre, or thinking about jumping into the little pond, this should absolutely be required reading. I would hope that this book helps prevent some of the train wrecks I’ve seen in the genre. Get it today.

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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.

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Textbook: A Gay in the Life by Erin McHugh

$12.95

Read the stories of the writers and artists who <br>pushed the gay movement forward.


A Gay in the Life: A Compilation of Saints and Sinners in Gay History (Portable Queer) (Hardcover)


Erin McHugh • Alyson Publications • Release date: October 2007 • 142 pages • Hardcover • ISBN-10: 1593500335; ISBN-13: 978-1593500337


Those who have changed the face of homosexuality over the centuries are not completely heroic. Learn about the first great gay activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, read of brave men and women of the Matachine Society and of the Stonewall riot, and relive the stories of the writers and artists who pushed a movement forward. Intriguing, shocking, and ultimately hopeful!


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

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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