Old Lurker, the Queen of Giving

It appears that the latest fad is to bestow presents upon our fellow bloggers this season. And what better time than during a pandemic, when our wallets are already stretched thin? There is nothing Baby Jesus likes more than credit card debt. Still, one must maintain appearances, and who am I to go against the flow?

Sixpence has dealt with a lot of isolation this year. Maddie got him a car, but if he is to venture outside he still needs protection.

Maddie has had a tough time too, but not as tough as figuring out what to buy for the queen who has everything. But surely everybody can use a new pair of shoes?

Dear Debra has been doing a heroic job of entertaining us, so she is due for some gourmet treats to satisfy her sweet tooth.

RTG and Anne-Marie have patiently been waiting for a vaccine, but once things are back to normal they would probably enjoy a cultural adventure.

I know Willym is into culture and stuff, so what better gift than some music for his ears?

Let us not forget the Duchess Deedles and her green thumb. I had hoped to find some living plants to cheer her up, but all I came up with was a packet of potential. May her new hobby prove fruitful.

Poor Steven is another tough one to shop for. Fortunately Jimmy (the dear!) recently posted some video which inspired the idea of some handcrafted art.

I have no good idea of what to send Jimmy. Some yuppies for his neighborhood, maybe?

I do know Sassybear likes comic books, so how about some movies featuring his favorite characters? Or maybe a different movie?

I also know RJ is into art, so how about a nice wall calendar to inspire him all year long?

Let’s not forget Dr Spo. He is not doing much driving these days, but come January 20th the plandemic will be over and he will be commuting to Mesa and his office. Maybe he is due for some new wheels?

As usual, I have left a lot of people out. Some of you are tough to shop for. Others have been naughty. JP has not blogged for a while so I do not remember his likes and dislikes. Regardless, there are lots of stocking stuffers for all of you to enjoy.

Books for Sixpence

Sixpence Nottthewiser (the dear!) recently posted an entry about the importance of reading. He writes about being horrified when he finds no reading material in some beautiful man’s apartment. Although I am in no danger of receiving a visit from Sixpence (or anybody else), and although anybody who did visit would be horrified for different reasons, I do sometimes read books. When Sixpence asked us for a favorite book to recommend, I had to speak up. So here are a few of the favorite books I have read over the past five years or so. Although I occasionally read books for straight people, for this entry I picked out books that are related to LBGTQ+ authors or themes in some way.

The Young in One Another’s Arms

by Jane Rule

Jane Rule is an amazeballs lesbian writer. Her strength is writing about the nuances of relationships. The Young in One Another’s Arms is about a one-armed landlady interacting with her boarders. The novel consists of the flow of everyday human relationships in a boarding house punctuated by surreal, sometimes violent episodes of ultradrama. It is such a strange novel.

Unlike some of her other works (eg Desert of the Heart) this book is not explicitly lesbigay, but it is so strange I feel compelled to recommend it. My guess is that you will either like it or be bored stiff.

Tomboy Survival Guide

by Ivan Coyote

Several autobiographical essays by a thoughtful, observant writer. I was not expecting to find an ally in the homosexuality wars from a butch lesbian who transitioned to male (sort of?) but there you go. (I think my allies in the homosexuality wars try to bring us together rather than driving us apart. But what do I know?)

Particularly memorable to me was the story “We’ve Got a Situation Here”, which tells the story of Coyote being scheduled to talk at a high school, and then the local Concerned Parent Organization finding out.

The Naked Civil Servant

by Quentin Crisp

Yes, it’s a classic. Yes, you have very likely read it. Read it again. Yes, it’s hilarious, because Quentin Crisp is a comedic genius who can turn a phrase like nobody’s business.

In some ways it is a very sad story about a crossdressing homosexual who just couldn’t bring himself to fit in regardless of the cost. I for one am grateful that this book helped him find his place in the world.

Real Live Nude Girl

by Carol Queen

As you know, I don’t fit into lesbigay culture that well. I feel like a freak and an outcast even among the homosexuals. Carol Queen gives me hope that there might be a place for freaks in this world. Queen is a sex radical to the sex radicals. She is partnered to (and has sex with) an openly gay man. She has such adventures! She goes to work as a peep show model to see what it is like! She trains doctors how to give pelvic exams by sitting in stirrups with her pants off! She goes to graduate school and watches seventeen simultaneous porn movies projected on a giant wall!

I am nothing like Carol Queen. But something about her approach to sex, about her rejection of labels, about her acknowledgements that sexuality is tough for everybody (even the straights) resonates so deeply with me. If I had to recommend one book that matched my sexual politics most closely, it might be this one. I was skimming through some illicit photocopies I made of some of the essays in this book, and I just want to type them all out for you word for word. This book is probably going to be difficult to find (it was published in 1997) but it is completely worth the search. If I had to pick a single recommendation, this would be it.

Far from the Tree

by Andrew Solomon

This book starts out fairly lesbigay. Solomon has an unusual family structure. He and his husband have some children and he is the sperm donor to some others. They make a complicated family. Solomon is gay, of course, and his gayness launches the explorations of this book. Gay children usually have straight parents, and the book explores how parents deal with children who are very different from them.

But the book does not stop with parents of gay children. It explores the lives of parents whose children have become criminals, about the lives of parents whose children are profoundly disabled, about parents whose children are on the autistic spectrum, and even about parents of children who are child prodigies. None of them have easy lives (do any parents have easy lives?) but the explorations are fascinating.

You might know Solomon from another landmark book: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. This book changed the way I think about my broken brain. If you suffer from melancholia (or maybe even if you don’t) that book is also a worthy read.

Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War

by James Loney

This is yet another book that does not come across as particularly lesbigay (and it is yet another book written by a Canadian. What’s up with that?), but Loney’s sexuality is definitely a factor in the story.

You might remember James Loney’s story. He was a member of a pacifist group called Christian Peacemaker Teams, whose role was to use their First-World privilege to intervene in scenes of conflict, with hopes to de-escalate the situation. Loney was in Iraq when he and three of his fellow CPT members were kidnapped and held for ransom. Much of the book relates Loney’s experiences in captivity, and the complicated feelings he had about his treatment and his rescue. The book is full of contradictions, but Loney is aware of these contradictions, and faces them directly and with honesty.

In this hyper-polarized world Loney somehow looks for the humanity in everyone — even the captors who mistreated him. He fell in love with a philosophy that spoke to him, and he tried to live that philosophy at the expense of his own well-being. But he does not come across as a saint or a martyr. He is just a guy trying to live out his values.

The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Get Pregnant

by Dan Savage

I have documented my affinity for Dan Savage before, and I continue to feel an affinity for him even though he is uncool and mainstream. He can be awfully strident at times, but he is also articulate and smart and once in a while he allows himself to demonstrate vulnerability. I like a good Dan Savage rant as much as the next mainstream homosexual, but Savage is at his best when he is off his soapbox.

I appreciated the ambivalence Savage showed in having children at all, and the mixed, politically-incorrect anxieties he felt in learning about the troubled history of his birth mother. (She’s giving up her unborn baby to fags. Duh.)

This book is very much a time capsule. I will never ever ever get pregnant or have a baby, but it is worthwhile look into the lives of a couple that really wanted one.

Saving Alex

by Alex Cooper and Joanna Brooks

The subtitle of this book is “When I was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began”. The subtitle is not a lie. Alex’s nightmare, in this case, was being sent off to a reform house to punish away the gay. It’s harrowing. It made me angry. But it was well worth the read.

My Husband is Gay: A Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Crisis

by Carol Grever

What’s interesting about this book is that it was written in 2001, long before having a gay husband was acceptable. Much of this stuff is similar to stuff you will read on the “Gay Husband” corner of the blogosphere, but it is written well and all in one place.

Men who come to terms with their sexuality, come out of the closet and live their lives with authenticity have to go through an emotional journey. So do their wives, but we homosexuals often neglect that part. To some extent, this book fills in the gaps.

Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey to Manhood and Back Again

by Norah Vincent

Norah Vincent (a lesbian) wanted to know what men were like. So she went undercover, posing as Ned, a somewhat metrosexual man. She joined a bowling league. She went to a monastary. She tries to date women posing as a straight guy. She visits strip clubs. She goes to John Bly manhood groups. Sure enough, she learns what life is like in exclusively male spaces.

I learned a lot from this book. Despite being fairly male, and despite participating in some communities that are largely male, I have never felt in tune with male culture. I have never played poker or been to a strip club or joined the clergy. I do not really know what it is like to be a real man interacting with other real men. Ned enters these spaces and observes, and I am the richer for it.

We talk a lot about “toxic masculinity” these days, but I am still not sure what that is, or how it differs from regular masculinity. I guess this book offers some clues. It also offers sympathy, which appears to be a common theme of many of the books I am recommending.

It is worth noting that this book took a toll on its author, which Norah Vincent documents in her followup Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin.

Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming-Out Stories

edited by Patrick Merla

Back when I participated in an LGBTQ+ reading group at the Lurkville Community Centre, I read a lot of LGBTQ+ anthologies. Many of them were mediocre, with a few standout stories. This collection was much better than average.

I wrote about this collection before, in my entry about Chip Delany, but there were a number of other standout stories as well. We have all read a lot of coming out stories, both in blogs and in print. I am not certain that this collection has anything new to say, but it says those things in an interesting way.

The New Moon’s Arms

by Nalo Hopkinson

A flawed fiftysomething woman adopts a young boy who may or may not be a sea creature. I thought that this was going to be tedious and boring, but I was pleasantly surprised. It also does not seem to be particularly lesbigay, but keep reading.

Do I Sound Gay?

Overall, my gaydar is pretty terrible, but over the years I have developed an ear for “the gay accent.” If I was better-versed in linguistics I could describe it to you, but you know what I am talking about.

We tend to emphasize the gay accent when doing drag or speaking in camp, but many of us possess (or suffer) from the accent even in our everyday speaking voices.

Many of us internally-homophobic wannabe-straight guys don’t like the gay accent. There are many disparaging, often misogynistic phrases for it: “He looked so butch, but then he opened his mouth and a purse fell out.” I confess that I did not like the accent either, but as I have gotten more involved in the LGBTQ+ community locally I would like to think that I have gotten over it. Nonetheless, I detect the accent in my voice, and I hate it. Why can’t I sound butch, like the straight guys I idolize so much? What did I do to develop this? Was it conscious? Subconscious? Is it something in my biology? Where does this accent come from, and why is it so prevalent in gay men?

A few years ago a filmmaker named David Thorpe made a movie about the gay accent called Do I Sound Gay?. Like me, Thorpe struggled with the accent in his voice, and like any good documentarian he went on an adventure to learn what it is, where it comes from, and whether he could get rid of it. He visited speech therapists and interviewed famous gay people like Tim Gunn, Dan Savage, and George Takei. I read press for the movie when it first came out, but did not get around to watching it until recently.

The documentary is.. okay. I learned a few things about what makes the accent the accent. I learned that there are LA speech therapists who promise to train you out of the accent. Also, David Sedaris is kind of dreamy, in a David-Lettermanesque way.

The movie definitely has its flaws. Thorpe offers some explanations about how gays develop the accent, but they are uniformly disappointing, hearkening back to 1950s psychological theories of possessive mothers. The ending is very sad. The movie also contains gratuitous shirtlessness, which might be upsetting to some of my readers with more delicate constitutions. On the other hand, the movie is well-made and heartfelt. I don’t feel that I wasted my time in watching it, which is rare for me. (I keep trying to watch Hollywood movies, and I keep being disappointed.) If you are looking for a way to fight off existential dread for an hour and seventeen minutes, watching this movie is not a bad way to do so.

Saving Alex

Recently I read Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began by Alex Cooper with Joanna Brooks. It is well known that I have a short temper, and I can often be heard shouting angrily at podcasts. Usually I am calmer with the written word, if only because books can be closed until I calm down. Not so this time. I cannot remember the last time a book made me so angry.

The long subtitle of the book indicates its subject matter: Alex was a teen growing up in a Mormon household. She caroused more than a good Mormon girl should, and more importantly she fell in love with girls. Then her parents sent her away to an unlicensed “residential treatment program” (aka a home in Utah) where her spirit was broken and she was emotionally and physically abused. Among other things, she is forced to stand against a wall wearing a backpack full of rocks. For multiple weeks.

The people who ran this “treatment program” are monsters. I cannot express how much ill-will I feel towards them. Of course, they get away more-or-less scott free, which just makes me angrier.

This book reminded me of two others. The first was a psychological horror book for teens called The Fog by Caroline B Cooney, which also featured authority figures gaslighting children. The second was James Loney’s memoir Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War, which documents an international incident where he and three other Christian Peacemaker Teams workers were kidnapped and held hostage. At least in the latter case we identified the Iraqis as kidnappers and terrorists. We would never call nice Mormons who psychologically torture troubled kids the same, but in some ways they treated Alex and her housemates worse than the Iraqi kidnappers.

The thing is that this kind of psychological gaslighting is happening to kids all over the world right now, and not just to LGBTQ kids either. I can’t deal with it. It touches some raw psychological wound in me; it reminds me of some of the garbage that was going on in my household when I was a teenager. I cannot express how damaged I feel I am because of those experiences. Intellectually I know that this stuff is going on, but psychologically I just cannot bear to face it. Never again am I willing to feel as helpless as I did back then.

Some people (including Alex Cooper) are using this story as an argument to outlaw reparative therapy. Some people (not including Alex Cooper) are using it as an argument against Mormonism in particular and religion in general. I see why people make these arguments, but my argument is much broader: children are controlled by authority figures, and sometimes those authority figures are abusive in horrific ways. You don’t need to be religious to be an abuser (although certainly religion can be used as a justification for this kind of abuse). You need not be trying to turn the child straight. All you need to do is gaslight them and isolate them so they cannot get help.

I should never have signed out this book. I should have known better. That does not mean it is a bad book. To the contrary: I doubt I would have been so enraged had it been poorly written. But unless you are made of stronger stuff than I, I am not sure I can recommend it.