Nevada

Posted by Kevin on July 15, 2014

nevada coverBinnie, Imogen. Nevada. Topside Press. 2013. $17.95. 262p. PB. 978-0983242239.

In Nevada, Imogen Binnie’s debut novel, the reader is taken deep inside the mind of Maria, a 29-year-old queer, trans woman living in contemporary Brooklyn. She spends a lot of her time thinking about all of the negative stereotypes and perceptions that trans women face and how that affects their lives, which in Maria’s case has left her at the “tween stage” of her emotional development. Maria, a punked-out, bike-riding, bookstore-working slacker with a penchant for thinking whatever at life’s big and little hiccups, defies stereotypes. She left her small town roots and transitioned years ago but is now facing, perhaps, an even more perplexing situation—life after transitioning.

The novel begins with a sex scene between Maria and her girlfriend, where faking it has become the norm, much like in the rest of Maria’s life, which has been unraveling for a while. The girlfriend and the job are giving up on her, but Maria hasn’t noticed–that is, until a series of events force Maria out of her head and into action. She “borrows” her girlfriend’s car and hits the road, heading for some vague notion of a fresh start and an embrace of irresponsibility.

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Categories: Adult,Fiction

On Loving Women

Posted by Kevin on July 4, 2014

On Loving WomenObomsawin, Diane. On Loving Women. Drawn & Quarterly. 2014 $16.95. unp. 978-1-77046-140-6.

The first loves of the French-Canadian animator’s friends are the focus of this collection of 10 amusing graphic vignettes from 5 to 14 pages long. Each story begins with a half- or full-figure drawing of the woman with an animal head and her name. The women’s coming-out anecdotes, told through a spread of anthropomorphic drawings, range from childhood crushes to long-term heartbreak to the realization of queerness. Themes of religion, rejection, and childhood experimentation recur frequently.

While many queer women will relate to at least one women’s story in this collection, it becomes repetitive towards the end. The simply-told, matter-of-fact tales stories are accompanied by whimsical, but equally simple black and white drawings. The lack of clear organization of story themes or time period makes it hard to decipher one character from the next. The repetitiveness may appeal to readers who feel “different” in their environments and need to see a common experience.

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Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More

Posted by Kevin on July 3, 2014

Redefining RealnessMock, Janet. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. Atria. 2014. $24.98. 263p. HC. 978-1-4767-0912-3.

According to Janet Mock, the media’s discovery of transgender people still is “erasing the presence of trans youth from low-income communities and/or communities of color.” She hopes her memoir will offer young trans women of color an experience closer to their own, while recognizing that each person’s story is unique and hers should not be taken as representative of any group. Even so, Mock’s reflections on her life thus far will be meaningful to a wide range of readers and provoke them to ponder how we look at gender, at women, and at what we mean by “real.”

Born in 1983 in Honolulu of Hawaiian and Black parents, Mock is very concerned for the fate of other transwomen who share her childhood disadvantages of poverty and racial minority. In her case, however, those disadvantages were balanced by some unusual advantages: having a teen friend who was also transgender, finding a sympathetic endocrinologist who did not make her endure puberty twice, and discovering support within Hawaiian culture for persons who are mahu.

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Teaching the Cat to Sit: A Memoir

Posted by Kevin on July 3, 2014

Teaching the Cat to SitTheall, Michelle. Teaching the Cat to Sit: A Memoir. Gallery Books. 2014. $24.99. 288p. HC. 978-1-4516-9729-2.

In alternating chapters, Theall tells the dual stories of growing up as a lesbian in a very religious Catholic family and raising her son, Connor, with her partner with the decision to remove him from his Catholic preschool. Theall’s description of her childhood include a rape by a friend’s father and her slow recovery as she chooses not to tell her parents about the assault. Her determined clinging to Catholic beliefs despite the Church’s rejection of her sexual orientation keeps her sending Connor to a Catholic school until she discovers that his baptism was performed in secret.

Another personal crisis for Theall is coming to grips with her growing realization that her mother, who lives far away in another state and barely speaks to her, still controls Theall’s decisions. The theme of what makes a family–whether it be our family of origin or our family of choice—prevails throughout her memoir.

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God and the Gay Christian

Posted by Kevin on July 3, 2014

God and the Gay ChristianVines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian. Convergent Books. 2014. $22.99. 224p. HC. 978-1-60142-516-4.

After the viral success of his video lecture on the Bible and homosexuality, Vines has continued his study of the topic and published his compiled findings. Starting with introductory comments and continuing through the six “clobber passages” from the Bible most commonly used to condemn same-sex relationships, Vines draws from biblical scholarship, language studies, ancient history, and other texts contemporary to biblical writings to show a different way of looking at the arguments against homosexuality.

The factual information is punctuated with snippets from Vines’s own coming-out experience with his father. The final chapter highlights modern church reformers such as Kathy Baldock of Canyon Walker Connections and Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network, as well as discussing Vines’s own work in the Reformation Project. Extensive endnotes indicate that Vines has, indeed, put much time and effort into thoroughly studying this topic. Rather than giving pat answers or simple slogans, Vines walks the reader through the historical context of the arguments against same-sex relationships and explains how the church (and the world) has viewed this issue throughout history.

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Categories: Adult,Nonfiction

Caught in the Crossfire

Posted by Kevin on July 3, 2014

Caught in the CrossfireRich, Juliann. Caught in the Crossfire. Bold Strokes Books. 2014. $11.95. 192 p. PB. 978-1-6263-9070-6.

When Jonathan spends his seventh summer at Spirit Lake Bible Camp, but his life has become complicated. Ian, a new camper sent to camp by his foster parents, shows Jonathan that he isn’t like the other guys at camp. As Ian gladly chooses his sexual orientation despite his faith, Jonathan is unsure, caught between what he was taught is right and what he feels is right.

This well-written summer camp story is complete with all the typical camp hijinks, s’mores, pranks, and plenty of mosquitoes. The easy pace and conversational style of writing fit perfectly with the campy atmosphere, and the characters are believable and likable. The plot–while being the standard “protagonist discovers he’s gay and doesn’t want anyone to find out”–is well-developed, with the added twist of the protagonist’s Christian beliefs.

As a survivor of many summers of Christian camp in the Midwest, I was a bit confounded, however, by the author’s depictions. This camp seems like a stereotypical summer camp with a few serious Bible-based discussions thrown in. Alcohol is available for kids to sneak out of the cafeteria, one boy smuggles in a huge stack of porn, and the campers go skinny dipping. One girl, homeschooled with her nine siblings, is expected to “dance seductively” in a play that campers are performing on Parents Day. There is only one brief mention of a Sunday service, rather than daily or twice-daily services typical at Christian camps. The story didn’t ring true to me for a Bible camp; instead it represents a standard summer camp with a few Christian discussions.

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Categories: Fiction,Youth

Sisterhood

Posted by Kevin on July 3, 2014

SisterhoodEnszer, Julie R. Sisterhood. Sibling Rivalry Press. 2013. $14.95. 96p. PB. 978-1-937420-57-4.

In Enzer’s second collection of poems, universality encompasses themes much deeper than Jewish and lesbian ones for which she is typically known. Although the poetry makes the reader feel conflicted, it’s not negative in the usual sense. Instead it is a true snapshot of the human condition. For example, the author dives into womanhood and self-actualization in “Moon.” A mother’s realizations, worldly advice, and knowledge are thrust upon the narrator. In this introduction to the secret society of women, they are connected not only by biology but also by shared experiences. Think of how many women “could feel / dreams seeping out / between [their] legs, wiped / away with cheap cotton.” Enszer makes something so common, so ordinary–like women’s menstrual cycles–into something sacred, full of emotion and, at times, full of disappointment.

This is but only one example of what Enzser’s impressive achievements in this collection. While there are poems that express cultural views and emotions, such as “Zyklon B” and “The Former Prime Minister,” most of the work muses on what it means to be connected to other women. A predominant concept is the unexpected death of her sister and how her remorse and sentiments all play their part.

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Categories: Nonfiction,Poetry

Running for Trap Doors

Posted by Kevin on July 3, 2014

Running for Trap DoorsHoffman, Joanna. Running for Trap Doors. Sibling Rivalry Press.2013. $14.95. 80p. PB. 978-1-937420-47-5.

“This is what therapy and remedy forget–that I love the sound of my own heart breaking.” This line, found in the opening poem of Hoffman’s 2013 collection, encapsulates the energy that this collection contains. Whether they deal with oafish love affairs , awkward family relationships, bumbling friendships, or troubling inner voices, these poems stab at the unvarnished reality of these situations. While Hoffman shows life has difficult moments, she also displays the life and energy in them. Sometimes, she helps us find the dry humor in these messy times.

It’s hard to distill why a collection works as well as Running for Trapdoors. Part of the reason is the sheer number of times that I had to get out a pen to underline lines that I wanted to remember. Like this line from “Brooklyn Primer”: “I had just told her not to be scared, and she looked at me as if it were the most absurd thing anyone could have said. Or this line from “Pride”: “So when my friend asks me why there is no Straight Pride Parade, I tell her, You can’t be proud of something you’ve never had to fight for.” The entire collection combines a lyrical quality with a down-to-earth presentation that makes it not only engaging and engrossing but also relatable on many levels. The fact that the poems are easy to read masks an unmistakable depth and honesty.

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Categories: Nonfiction,Poetry

Purpose and Devil Piss

Posted by Kevin on July 3, 2014

Purpose & Devil PissSiek, Robert. Purpose and Devil Piss. Sibling Rivalry Press. 2013. $16.95. 79p. PB. 978-1-937420-50-5.

In long block poems, Robert Siek’s first collection of poems explores daily life through a lens that shows the way that the ordinariness of the outside world often conceals extraordinarily dark inner workings. This unflinching gaze combines the erotic with the ordinary, bringing both to life through a contrast in which Siek excels.

“It’s troubling to decide if I’m disgusted or horny,” Siek writes in “All the Life Forms,” and it’s that attitude that seems to encapsulate so much of this collection. There is an explicit eroticism in this collection that shines a light on Craigslist hookups, anonymous chat rooms, gay-for-pay porn, and the everyday lust that hits people in the most mundane moments. These poems often feature a juxtaposition of the ordinary with the lecherous. The poem “Auto Shop Mixer,” for example, starts with the speaker lifting a used car battery out of his car to exchange it for a new battery, but it quickly changes into an analysis of how one of the Latino mechanics “walked like a hustler approaching a john” that prompted thoughts of “bathroom blowjobs, glory holes, and slow-motion cum shots.” This explicit combination repeats throughout the collection and forms one of the highlights of Siek’s voice.

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Categories: Nonfiction,Poetry

Ra1bows of th3 Abyss

Posted by Kevin on July 3, 2014

AbyssBlair, Steven James. Ra1nbows of th3 Abyss. Brian Wrixon Books. 2012. 90p. PB. 978-0-9917214-4-3.

I was a wannabe rule-breaker kid, the type to get straight A’s but to idolize those who lived messy, chaotic, and seemingly more free lives. Naturally, I applauded anybody who broke the rules, especially in literature and poetry. When I was in high school, my theatre teacher had an anthology of poems on her desk that I read off and on. I worked my way through the whole thing by the time I graduated. I preferred free verse, but this collection had something different. It was Mark Jarman’s Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism. These were poets who wanted to play by the rules but say something new.

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Categories: Nonfiction,Poetry