Our stories, urselves

The Lammies are coming up soon, and the nominees have been announced, but I'm not nearly as interested this year as I have in the past. The Lambda Literary Foundation decided last year that the award could go to straight people, not just LGBT identified people, as long as they were writing about gay people.I almost don't even know what to say about this. There are plenty of awards that recognized straight generated depictions and support of queer people. Do we want the Lammies to become another GLAAD award Hollywood grovelfest?

Aren’t our books, and our relationship to our books unique and special, dammit? Lifesaving? Let me tell you, if I hadn’t read Lesbian Nuns Breaking Silence when I left the convent I have no idea where I would be now. Who could have written that book but a couple of dykes? Do we really want to dilute the queerness of our one small organization created exclusively to (as their mission statement says) “nurture, celebrate, and preserve LGBT literature.”

And finally (and for me, most importantly) can’t we privilege LGBT people telling our own stories in just this one little corner of the world? I trust some straight people to tell our stories sometimes, but can we learn a little bit from our history here?

I don’t have much faith in our mainstream LGBT organizations, so I can’t say I am really disappointed. But I do take this as a very serious reminder to do the work, to make the opportunities, to create the kind of community events and even (or perhaps especially) create interpersonal space where we support each other in telling our own stories.

Not quite an epidemic and yet

Victoria Brownworth's now classic anthology “Coming Out Of Cancer” won a Lambda Literary Award in the anthology category in 2000 and even twelve years later is ground breaking in its own way. It's surprising in some way, that most people, whether they are gay, straight, male or female or the many varieties of those four things that people can be, don't realize that some of the most open early writing about cancer was done by the iconic and very much out lesbian, Audre Lorde in her “Cancer Journals.”Even as a person quite affected by cancer (I've lost two partners in a row to the disease and have been involved in health advocacy over the years) I didn't know that this was the case until relatively recently. And while I get annoyed with the book title's insistence that there is a lesbian cancer epidemic (this is simply not scientifically true) I understand why the author went with this hyperbole.

As inundated as we are with the “think pink” era that found everyone everywhere, walking, running, riding a bike, singing, drinking (yes I saw that fundraiser) to raise money for women's cancers, by which most people mean breast cancer, we've forgotten that when the Cancer Journals came out, less than three decades ago, no one was talking about cancer. No one was talking about any cancer. My grandmother, who had Hodgkins Disease in the 70s, never even said the word cancer. She only spoke of “those hard days” which I thought meant the Great Depression but now I realize meant when she undergoing chemotherapy.

This is why the stories in Coming out Of Cancer still seem so raw and fresh twelve years later. Relatively speaking, it's a conversation that has just begun.

Grit and Tender Membrane

A great read from a great trip

Grit and Tender Membrane came out of a cross country trip that bisexual poet Samantha Barrow made on motorcycle to perform performance poetry. Gutsy, right? Or perhaps I should say, more accurately, Grit and Tender Membrane came out of a cross country trip that poet Samantha Barrow made on motorcycle to perform performance poetry at small town bars. Yup, really gutsy. Oh and wait it gets better: she got a prestigious Leeway Art and Change grant to do it.The book is written journal style and swings with Barrow's moods. The black blurb from Harvey Kataz of the Athens Boys Choir describes the book as “smart and sassy, empowering and brave. You can feel soul oozing out of each word.” And that's the straight up truth. Even when the author is technically using prose the prose itself reads like poetry. And then there's the poetry, that reads like, you guessed it poetry.

What is perhaps most interesting in the book is not the straight-forward adventures of Barrow as attempts to perform an erotic poem in a biker bar or fix her bike on a deserted strip of an Alabama highway. Instead, it's the way the overarching theme of loneliness comes through, even in lighter moments. Once, in a conversation with the author, Barrow mentioned that the tenor of American poetry has changed with recent technological advances. “No one's lonely in the bus station anymore” said Barrow, “you can always get in touch with someone.” In the pages of Grit and Tender Membrane, Barrow is not afraid to confront that bit of loneliness of being a a queer on the open road.

Gay Professor Sues Bible Committee For Discriminating Against Homosexuals

Three months later, the professor was in court.  The court room was packed to capacity. People were whispering amongst themselves, while newspaper reporters were busy flashing cameras and taking pictures. Of course, witnessing so much activity made the professor nervous. So much, he couldn’t stop patting his right foot up under the table. Every once in a while he’d looked back at his mother, who too, was just as nervous.


Then all of a sudden, he set his eyes upon Pastor Sanchez and Mrs. Sanchez; before noticing Cynthia and Janet sitting next to one another. Seeing them evoked him to smile. Yet, as he continued looking around the room, he noticed Michael was no where to be seen. Then finally, he spotted Melody and Wendy sitting together in the far back, as well as many of his students. However, he was shocked Michael wasn’t anywhere in the crowd.


Nevertheless, he continued waving at people who were either waving at him or smiling, hoping to cheer him up and support his defense. But the professor was mainly worried about Michael. Then twenty minutes later, the bailiff stepped forward and asked everyone to rise. Immediately, the room filled with a shuffle, as people stood from the hard wooden benches, anxiously awaiting the outcome. Then the judge entered and took his seat, immediately announcing for everyone to be seated. Almost simultaneously, everyone sat down, and immediately, there was a sudden calmness that overcame the entire room.

Next, the judge asked the news reporters to refrain from taking pictures during the proceedings. He then asked each attorney, if they were ready to proceed. Each of them answered yes, and began consulting with their clients. Still, the professor wondered where Michael was. So, he then turned and looked back over his shoulder, but still didn’t see his face. Suddenly, he grew nervous.


Finally, the judge instructed the professor’s attorney to make his opening statement. But before doing so, he leaned over and explained to the professor what he was going to eliminate from his statement. The professor nodded his head with agreement; and then, the attorney made his opening remarks.


“Your Honor, may I approach the bench?”


Of course the judge didn’t object. Suddenly, the attorney for the defendant stood and fastened his blazer and asked, “May I approach the bench, also?”


Immediately, the court room filled with sounds of whisper. “Please, both of you come forth.” The judge insisted.


“Your Honor, the plaintiff would like to clear the court room of all news reporters, if it’s possible? He and his mother are in protective custody, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize his safety.”


The judge looked at the attorney for the defendants, awaiting an objection, but there wasn’t any. He then replied, “Sure, I’ll clear the court room. And before we get started, let me remind you both, I don’t want any under handed practice in my court room; understood.”


Both attorneys agreed, before stepping back and walking over to their tables and conferring with their clients. Meanwhile, the judge announced for all reporters to cease recording and taking photos, or they would be asked to leave the court room. Then, the attorney for the plaintiff’s made his opening statement.


“Your Honor and people of the jury; my clients are asking you to weigh the evidence in this civil matter and make a firm judgment on their behalf, that would completely eliminate all future misinterpretation of the scriptures from including the negative connotation towards homosexuals within the Bible. Moreover, my clients are asking you to refrain from allowing your bias opinions towards homosexuals to dictate your judgments while proceeding over this case.’

“Furthermore, I will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants in this matter manipulated the Bible, with the intent to cause my clients mental anguish and emotional duress, which each of them has endured throughout their life both from the public and personal affiliations in society, since the misrepresentation concerning homosexuals has been published. And, as a result, I will be sharing several scriptures from the Bible to support their claims.”


The judge acknowledged the attorneys opening statement, and immediately looked over at the jury and questioned if each of them understood what had been said. Of course, no one objected; therefore, the judge allowed the attorneys to proceed.

 Immediately, the defendant’s attorney stood from his chair and walked towards the front of the room and made his opening statement. He then moved back to the desk and sat down.


The judge then looked over at the plaintiff’s attorney and nodded his head, as if he was giving him the clearance to proceed. Immediately, the attorney stood and called his first witness.


“Your Honor, I call Professor Brad Stanley, to the stand.”


The professor stood nervously and reached to fix his buttons on his grey suit jacket, before stepping from behind the table, and taking a quick glance back over his left shoulder and looked directly into his mother’s eyes, hoping to regain his confidence. Doing so made her smile, as she nodded her head acknowledging him.  Afterwards, the professor took his seat on the bench.


 Immediately, he was approached by the bailiff, who asked him if he’d swore to tell the truth, so help him God. The professor declared he would.


Then, his attorney approached him and began asking questions regarding his name, his profession and what the nature of his complaint was. The professor answered each question truthfully, but nervously. The attorney then asked, “In your own words, please share with the court- what evoked you to file your civil complaint.”


The professor cleared his throat and answered, “While doing research on various Bibles, I discovered I Corinthians Six verse nine, didn’t read the same from one Bible to the next, regarding homosexuality. Furthermore, I discovered there were many other scriptures that stated no one was to add words to the Bible, or take away words from the Bible or even interpret the words of the Bible. In addition, I learned no one was supposed to make a firm judgment as to where someone would go after life, be it up to heaven or to the world below.”


The court room suddenly filled with sounds of chit-chatter and whispers; causing the judge to begin hammering on his desk, demanding silence. Of course, everyone complied. Then the attorney moved back over to his desk and retrieved a Bible and asked the judge, if he could allow his client to point such scriptures out. The judge didn’t object and allowed the Bible to be passed to the professor, who began pointing each scripture out.


The judge looked at the defendant’s attorney and asked, “Is your client aware that the Bible included these scriptures?”


The attorney then asked, if he could confer with his client’s momentarily. He then informed the judge, “No, your Honor, my client’s did not know such scriptures were in the text.”


The judge responded, “Proceed.”


Then, the professor was asked what made him file the civil complaint. He cleared his throat and responded, “Growing up, I was often taunted by other children because I was different. People always mistreated me and said things to me that made me feel less assured about myself, as well as made me feel as though God was punishing me for nothing. Although I didn’t feel my sexual orientation was wrong in my heart. I always thought if God didn’t want me to be gay, he would’ve made me straight.”


The attorney paused, due to the up rise of chit-chatter in the court room. Moments after, he proceeded to ask more questions.


“Did your sexual orientation cause problems between your mother and you?”


The professor paused before answering, and then looked at his mother. “Yes, it caused my mother and me some grief in the beginning. When I told her I was gay, she immediately informed me that I was only following behind my friends. She also told me I wasn’t gay, because God didn’t make me that way. After that, she continued to treat me differently. It was as if she didn’t want to be in the same room with me at times; that too, often made me feel uncomfortable around her.’


“This has always played a serious role with my profession. I’ve had to endure taunts from students and faculty, who have disrespected me and made me feel less assured about myself, simply because they didn’t respect my sexual orientation.” He explained.


The attorney then asked, “How could anyone make you feel less about yourself, weren’t you secure in who you are?”


“As a child, no one is secure with their identity, as you know. I had to grow to learn how to accept being different. I knew that being gay was wrong in people’s eyes, because everyone else was with the opposite sex. But I didn’t find the opposite sex as attractive as I found those of my same sex. Besides, I didn’t know there were other people who had the same thoughts and feelings about same sex, when I was young, as I did. I honestly thought I was the only one God had made this way.”


“You say, you thought God had picked you out of many others and made you different, which evoked you to feel uncomfortable? How did you grow to learn there were others like you, at what age did you find this out?”


“I was twelve years old. In elementary school, I was picked on because I picked flowers for a boy I liked. Once the news got around the school, a few of the other male students came to me and told me they too, were just like me. Once I met them, my life took a change for the better, so I thought. I mean, even though I’d met others who were like me, I still was being nagged by female students, who would always try to force me to be their boyfriend. You know, threatening me and physically assaulting me.” He answered truthfully before He answere hushing, due to an out burst objection from the defendant’s attorney.


“I object! Your Honor, the plaintiff is rambling about childhood antics, which has nothing to do with my clients. I move to strike his last statement.”


“I’m going to allow the plaintiff to continue answering the question. You may be seated.” He insisted.


The attorney continued.


“You say children introduced themselves to you, which helped you become more comfortable, in whom you were? And, how did your father react when he found out you were gay?”


“My father was upset. At first, he asked if I wanted to wear women’s clothes. I told him no. Then, it was as if he went into a depressing state of mind. So much, our relationship didn’t continue on the same path as it once was. We didn’t have the normal father son laughing and joking with each other type of relationship, as we often did. It was as if he suddenly became cold and distant.”


“So how has your life been since you’ve come out of the closet, so to speak?”


“My life has been great since I finished college. Although I still undergo a lot of badgering from students and faculty from time-to-time; I take it in stride and keep going. I now know that what I do sexual is my own business. If someone doesn’t want to be bothered with me because of who I am; that’s their right. I just eliminate those individuals from my life. The world is too big for me to be bothered with such negative people. Besides, there are gay people all around the globe.”


“Are you religious?”

“Yes, I attend church and often a Bible study.”

“And, your faith is?”


“How long have you been practicing Christianity?”

“Since the age of ten; my mother had me baptized then; and since then, I’ve confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” He professed with confidence.

“And, have you studied other religions even though you are Christian?”

“Yes, I have. In fact, I’ve studied Taoism, Scientology, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Shinto and Jainism.”

“And, what did each of those teach about homosexuality?”

“They each differ on the subject. While one or two of them teach it is a sin, others embrace same-sex relationships as a normal behavior, or a right of passages in some aspect.”


“And, what do you think the Bible committee should do about their belief on homosexuals not inheriting the kingdom of God?”

“I think it’s important they review the scriptures and remain in compliance with what the scriptures teach. If we are to allow religion to remain an important part of our society, people shouldn’t be forced to discriminate against homosexuals based on one group of individuals’ opinion. Besides, there are scriptures that confirm- no one should add words or take away words from the doctrine. After all, doing so has caused many people to become homophobic and/or hate homosexuals altogether.”


The attorney stated he had no further questions and allowed the defendant’s attorney to proceed. The attorney stood and buttoned his suit jacket and approached the professor.


“If you will, could you explain what my client has done to you, personally?”

“Yes, your client has caused me to experience many years of hardship, ridicule and hatred from my peers and colleagues. As a result, such taunting has affected my self esteem as well as created unnecessary stress in my life.”

“And, how did my client do that when my client has never met you?”

“By making a generalization that taught society to dislike homosexuals.”

“And, how do you know you will inherit the kingdom of God?”


“I don’t and neither does your client. Not to exclude the ideology there is a scripture that states, the natural man does not know the things of God because he is spiritually discerned. Also, there is a scripture that states, no one knows who will go up to the heaven above or the world below. Therefore, your clients are wrong about their revision efforts.”

The attorney then stated, “I have no further questions, and returned to his seat.”


Read what happens in this new gay novel written by B.L.Fowler; available on Amazon.com


Why Homosexuals Deserve Equality Rights

Today there are many laws that protect the rights of homosexuals. However, what I find quite disturbing about the establishment of such laws; is why society would need to establish specific laws to protect the rights of homosexuals in the first place. After all, homosexuals pay taxes, attend church, teach in academic institutions, and adopt and/or give birth to children. Yet despite our many contributions to society, many continue to view the inclusion of homosexual equality as a fringe on their civil liberties. Even worse, past historians rooted the ideology that homosexuality was a psychological disorder.

Yet, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders. And luckily they did; after all, fifty years ago, identifying someone as a communist or homosexual often impaired his or her ability to gain sustainable employment. This reminds me of the hindrance placed on convicted felons, who are often deprived the right to gainful employment, because of past decisions. Nevertheless, I must ask, “Why does heterosexual society thrive to impede upon the rights of homosexuals?”

After all, through out history there have been countless arguments brought forth concerning the rights extended to all citizens, as well as arguments which deprive those who don’t live in compliance to the masses of their rights, which the U.S. Constitution implores. Therefore, it’s quite obvious our social structure is rooted in political warfare based on religious doctrine. But, if society remains divided based on political and religious indifferences, then this proves the Scripture to be true. After all, it suggest: …Every kingdom divided against it self is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. - Luke 11:17

Meanwhile, classifying a specific group of individuals as unworthy of attaining the same equal rights and respect demonstrates a blatant disregard for that specific group well being. After all, history is the cause of today’s generational curse on homosexuals.  In some instances, this is why such clauses as “defamatory communication” were established.

After all, an attack on a person’s character that tends to diminish their esteem, respect, goodwill, or confidence, in which he or she is held; or to excite adverse or derogatory and/or, unpleasant feelings based on opinions against him or her, has been ruled unfavorable by the United States Supreme Court, as so ordered in the infamous case of Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 86 (1966).


Learn what happened when I sued three leading Bible publishers for discriminating against homosexuals in my riveting empowerment guide Why Homosexuals Deserve Equality Rights-An Empowerment Guide.


Calling All Emerging LGBT Writers

I get frustrated with the Lambda Literatery Foundation sometimes, most recently because they made the decision to allow non-LGBT identified people to win “Lammies” which is the award for LGBT books. As if if straight people didn't have enough awards of their own, they have to barge in and win ours! I settled this for myself but vowing to avoid as much as possible books or other culture about gay people written by a straight person, since they always make themselves the heroes (The play Rent? The Movie Philadelphia?)Having said that, I'm pleased that they've got an awesome website run by an an awesome editor and I'm equally impressed with the The Writers’ Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices. The first year it happened was 2007 and every year someone I know comes back from it completely encouraged and motivated and having built really good skills. Some of the different teachers have included Dorothy Allison, Claire Carmichael, Bernard Cooper, Elana Dykewomon, Katherine V. Forrest, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Eloise Klein Healy, Fenton Johnson, Michael Nava, D.A. Powell, John Rechy, Ellen Bass, Ellery Washington and Nicola Griffith.

I think one of the secrets to the success of the Retreat is that they include as faculty members not just the superstar writers of the LGBT world; they include writers who really enjoy teaching and care about nurturing the next generation of LGBT writers. The Retreat is by invitation only; you have to send them twenty pages of fiction/nonfiction or 10 pages of poetry that are evaluated for craft, creativity and originality.  There are only eight to twelve students per workshop (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, genre) and it's really expensive as well. But there are substantial scholarships and I don't know anyone who has been a part that didn't think it was an amazing experience.



I Told You So

It makes me sad that younger LGBT stand-up comics are not as aware of the road that was paved before them by comics performing in the LGBT community. People mostly know about Wanda Sykes and Ellen who are both well established, hilarious and technically skilled comics, but who didn't start their early careers performing in the queer community. It's amazing and of course wondeful that they've enjoyed so much mainstream success, but there is a good chance it couldn't have happened without the benefit of 10-20 year of performing while closeted.

For comic Kate Clinton who has now been performing now almost 30 years, being out was not a question: she started performing in the women's community when comedy was becoming one of most treasured expressions of that community, in large part because of Kate. Comedy only requires a a microphone and folks eager to listen (and in some cases only the former) so as an art form, it was perfect for the growing movement.

In I Told You So, Clinton turns a half winking eye at the political process of 2000 through 2008 and records, not so much the personal that made it so heart rending at the same time it was hilarious, but the political. It's not easy to make fun of some of the real, well ridiculousness of the Bush years without almost instinctively flopping over into something akin to its own kind of cynicism, but Clinton never goes there. Instead, she uses wordplay, illogical logic, and a keen wit to pop the pomposity without suggesting that it could never happen again.

The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You

Bear Bergman's Butch Is A Noun has become a classic of sorts for sharing ground-breaking conversation coupled with a detailed storytelling style that makes the book extremely readable. The follow up to Butch Is A Noun, the Nearest Exit May Be Behind You is equally readable and enjoyable and continues some of the important conversations about gender, identity, and understanding started in Butch Is a Noun.For example, in one chapter, entitled It's Always Easier If You Can Be Something They Recognize, Bergman shares the story of trying to help a friend through a job interview process by helping him become essentially “Something They Recognize.” Bergman observes “counting on racism to interupt gender policing. Whee. And now if you'll excuse me I have to get to Fedex by five so I can put this paperwork in the mail to the Devil.” he later adds “I go about here and there [talking about the ridiculousness of the rigid gender binary] and people almost believe me...until they go outside and take a look around.” It could be a depressing observation in someone else's hands, but Bergman is able to make more of it, tell a tale that can invite us to learn a lesson.

Other chapters include his observations of people's reaction to his name, intrusive questions strangers ask, his relationship with his family and the art of and importance of helping strangers. Bergman explains why he stopped to help a family with a broken down car on a Wisconsin highway “ [as queer and Jews] we've been on the shit side of I'm Sure Someone Will Do.” This typifies one of the book's incredible appeals: it becomes collective, rather than individual memoir.

Butch Is a Noun

Butch Is A Noun was only published in 2006, yet in the short years since it was released, it has become a classic. The book, is a series of more than two dozen short essays about butch-ness; butch identity, butch interactions, butch/femme interactions, butch butch interactions, butch trans guy interactions and butch sex and in the quick moving world of gender talk, it hasn't become dated.My guess that the reason the book doesn't sound (or hasn't become) dated is that Bergman clearly made a conscious attempt to speak to his own experience, even while he was speaking about a close knit, often overlapping world that is fraught with potentially hurt feelings. This is particularly true when questions of identity, gender specificity and pronouns are being discussed.

Bergman's opening essay is I Know What Butch is, and it illustrates this perfectly. “Butch is a noun”starts Bergman “and an adjective. And a verb” and goes on to outline, in a way that is both playful and poignant the conflicting beliefs, and practices about people who are masculine of center.

Bergman proceeds on to discuss things like tranny bladder (“one could make a case that the trans community as a whole is a little bit cranky because we are all so chronically dehydrated”) about male bonding through athletics, breasts, the question of transition, passing it (butch culture) along; underwear, butch on butch attraction and the difficulty thereof, and butch misogyny. 

Whenever I am approached by other potentially masculine of center folks who are perhaps discoviering their gender identify for the first time and are looking for something like a beginner's guide, I tell them they should eventually read Stone Butch Blues, but never emulate it. I tell them to read Butch Is A Noun first, because it's more firmly themed on opposing personal destruction.

Help Write the Next "My Gender Workbook"

If you've been around the queer scene at all, you've probably run into the amazing work of Kate Bornstein who is a performance artist, author and all around gender- raconteur. Kate has been performing, writing and saving lives in our community for more than two decades.At any rate, she's been asked by the folks at Routledge Publishing, who published the first edition of My Gender Workbook to do a second edition. In the time (almost fifteen years) since My Gender Workbook a lot has changed on gender landscape. And although Kate doesn't mention this in her call for submissions a lot of that change has been because of Kate. So now she's asking her fellow gender warriors to help her update the book. This from her blog: “many of the cultural references and contexts—even the way some quiz questions are phrased—are out of date, and this sometimes gets in the way of grasping the important stuff”

Some of the changes Kate mentions since the time the first book landed on the shelves:more awareness of intersections of oppression and marginalization; more sophisticated understanding of & experience with the Internet; a more polarized geopolitcal world, etc.
She also points out that “Young Female-to-Male has replaced Middle-Aged Male-to-Female as the face of transgender in the world.” True that! So now Kate is updating the book and she's looking for new voices, more voices to add to the mix. She says “the idea is to maintain a running commentary of multiple voices through the book”

How do you submit? It's oh so easy, and cool.

All submissions for the workbook should be in the form of tweets. They can be as long as double tweets, up to 140 characters or possibly 280 characters including the mandatory hashtag (that's how Kate will find 'em) #MNGW (My New Gender Workbook). You can tweet your thoughts about gender, right now, this very minute. Or you can keep your eye on Kate's blog or her twittter feed for specific questions you can address. For example, her first question, posted in mid January is “what's your gender”

Oh yeah Kate has only one rule for submissions.

Don't be mean. Simple. But kind of revolutionary in its own way.