Happy Publication Day to pop music critic and culture journalist Rashod Ollison and his memoir Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl! In Soul Serenade, Ollison tells his story of growing up gay in central Arkansas, searching for himself and his distant father, and how the consoling power of soul music guided him through the tough times. We caught up with Ollison before he geared up for his book tour, beginning today in Virginia Beach, VA, to ask him what writing the book meant for him and the inspiration that went into it. Check his event calendar to see his tour dates. And once you settle down with his book in your hands, put on his playlist featuring the songs that brought his memoir to life.
When I was fifteen, I stepped into a warm bath on my church's sanctuary stage. I was a bit of an outsider—the occasionally bullied Chinese-American kid in the white suburb—and I had found a place of belonging at this Chinese immigrant church. I made a joke about how I felt the same way about my new faith as my sixteen-year-old friend felt about her new driver’s license: I had no idea how I ever lived without this. Even my pastor chuckled as he clasped my hands, preparing to dunk me. Then I heard the splash of the warm water, the muffled underwater silence and the burst of cheers as my body broke through the surface. Smiling through currents of water, I saw the congregation beaming back. I had begun my new life in Christ.
From there, my story followed a steady path toward lifelong evangelical devotion. Equipped with the good news, I led youth group Bible studies and then attended college where I became an evangelical activist, leading my campus ministry's weekly gatherings of more than 100 students. Some friends called me the “super Christian,” the kid who was “on fire for Jesus.” Mentors from church and my campus Christian club encouraged me to join their staffs. I longed to be in ministry and these opportunities fit the disciple’s narrative. There I was at the precipice of adulthood, armed with my fiery devotion. But just a few years later, the flame went out.
People often ask if it was hard for me, as a journalist, to write a memoir. It wasn’t. In many ways, the people I interviewed over the years for news stories—many of them immigrants, many of them poor—taught me to trust the power of personal stories. One of them was Alaaedien. He drove cabs in New York City, and one day, he picked up a man outside of Grand Central Station. The man was young, and he wanted Alaaedien to take him to upstate New York. The cab ride would cost almost a thousand dollars, Alaaedien explained. That was fine. The young man’s new girlfriend lived upstate. He would pay Alaaedien when they got there.
Alaaedien was thinking about his own girlfriend. She was in Egypt, and he wanted to bring her to New York. He wanted to marry her. A thousand dollars would help. He drove the young man upstate. Seven hours later, they pulled onto a residential street and the young man disappeared into a house. Alaaedien had gambled on the American Dream and lost, but that’s not how he looked at it. I tried to be a good man, he told me. In fact, he had even lent the young man fifteen dollars for food on that long drive north. I nodded and wrote it down, and when the story was published the next day in the Metro section of the New York Times, a reader called. She didn’t know Alaaedien, but she wanted to give him the thousand dollars he had lost on the cab fare.
Beacon Press author John J. McNeill died at the age of ninety on September 22, 2015 in Florida after a full and world-shaping life. He leaves literally thousands of survivors, people like myself whose lives were enriched, in some cases even saved, by his courageous and prophetic work as a gay religious pioneer.
John McNeill was a Jesuit priest who wrote the first substantive treatment of Catholicism and same-sex love in his 1976 book The Church and the Homosexual. It was originally granted the required Imprimi Potest, but that permission to print was shortly withdrawn by his religious superior when it became obvious that John had touched a nerve.
Contra Catholic teaching, John argued that homosexuality was part of the will of God. Far from being a threat to the family, he claimed that lesbian, gay and bisexual persons (transgender people were not in his view at that point) had new experiences to share about sex unconnected to procreation. He proposed that same-sex love, rather than alienating people from God, could instead bring them closer to God. So much for the Catholic teachings on Sodom and Gomorrah, of heterosex only, and that without condoms or other forms of contraception. He articulated post Vatican II moral theology with intellectual rigor and pastoral insight.
It’s almost that time of year again—and we don’t just mean Halloween. The eagerly anticipated fifth season of the American Horror Story anthology on the FX television channel is ready to air.
AHS is something of a guilty pleasure for the two of us, not least for its superb casts, vivid (if grotesque) blending of history with American popular culture, and wild, even haunting, flights of imagination that often touch on themes of dehumanization, prejudice, fairness, and justice.
The two of us aren’t alone. Many people love to be terrified out of their wits by fictional ghosts, psychopaths, and disturbed strangers who lurk in shadows at the dark end of the street—just so long as nobody really gets hurt and the story finally ends.
When I edited the first edition of One Teacher in Ten in 1994, I did so because I recalled how lonely it felt for me to come out as a teacher in 1988. I never wanted others to feel that way again.
1994 was a very different time. Same-sex sexual relations were illegal in one-third of American states (a condition that would persist until, a decade later, the Supreme Court struck down so-called “sodomy laws” in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case). Same-sex marriage was not legal in a single state: it would once again be a decade before a landmark court decision (Goodridge v. Massachusetts DPH) made Massachusetts the first state to grant marriage equality. President Clinton had just signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law as an official policy of the federal government.
LGBT teachers didn’t need President Clinton to tell them about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” as it had long been the (unwritten) policy of our nation’s schools: you could be LGBT as long as you never, ever talked about it. So the first edition of One Teacher in Ten was a radical act, as we were defying the de facto law of the land.
The collection reflected the climate of fear and hostility LGBT teachers faced in 1994. Some contributors were out but many chose to use pseudonyms for fear of the repercussions of telling the truth on their careers.
Nevertheless, the collection achieved its goal of breaking the silence around LGBT teachers and contributed to a climate that was different by the time I edited an all-new second edition of One Teacher in Ten in 2004. By then sodomy laws had been struck down and the march to marriage equality had begun in Massachusetts. Many more contributors were out than in 1994 and I left feeling very hopeful about the future.
What a momentous day! America couldn't be more proud to have the Supreme Court legalize gay marriage nationwide. This year's Pride celebrations will reach fever pitch with our country's step towards "making our union a little more perfect," as President Obama said in his address. The fight for LGBT rights has been a long and arduous one—and it isn't over yet. For Pride month, we have a short list of recommended readings to sink your eyes into, a list that outlines some of the complex issues at large in the LGBT community throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We thank Ann Pellegrini for suggesting this eclectic mix of classics and brand-spanking new titles.
Before it was published in 1956, Baldwin’s publisher told him to “burn” the novel. Its theme of homosexuality would purportedly alienate him from his black readers. We’re thankful that Baldwin did not heed these words. The story of an American expatriate whose life changes dramatically after he begins an affair with an Italian bartender speaks to the broader issues of social alienation—Baldwin had recently emigrated to Europe—as well as homosexuality and bisexuality.
Lorde’s collection of fifteen essays and speeches takes on racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and class disparity from her unique black lesbian feminist perspective. In her unflinching, lyrical, and trenchant prose, Lorde proposes social difference as the mechanism for action and change. Her messages of struggle and hope are still relevant more than twenty years after they were first published.
Sedgwick argues that our standard gender binary, limiting sexuality to homosexuality and heterosexuality, limits freedom and understanding. It is also just too simplistic. Focusing largely on language’s impact on sexuality, her book propounds queer sexuality, the “third sex”, to attack the binary system set up by society. This is one of the inaugurating texts in what is now LGBT studies. Especially wonderful is her introductory chapter “Axiomatic,” where she provides a deceptively simple list of axioms for thinking about sex and sexuality, beginning with Axiom 1: “People are different from each other.”
Hot off the presses, Petro’s book is the first to chart the history of religion and the AIDS crisis in the United States. He draws from a broad gamut of religious people, not just the religious right, to reveal the origins of the rhetoric, both secular and religious, that fuels the debates over public health, birth control, and gay marriage.
Can straight white men be just as sexually fluid as straight white women? Ward explores the social spaces—fraternity and military hazing rituals, online personals ads—where heterosexual man-on-man action isn’t indicative of going gay, but rather it reasserts their racial and gender identity. Indeed, as time goes on, notions of heterosexuality become increasingly complex. This hotter than hot book will be published on July 10.
A true mark of today’s paradigm shift is seeing how quickly the media and American society at large learned to address Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox by their new gender identities. The widespread visibility of diverse LGBT identities continues to expand. This is the kind of progress that’s important to see, especially for children who are gay, trans, or nonconforming to binary gender.
Myth 16: There's No Such Thing as a Gay or Trans Child
Over the past two decades, more and more young people have been declaring, and at younger and younger ages, that they are gay or trans. But these gay and trans youth are consistently told that their feelings are not real and will just go away. Some parents fear that if mainstream culture accepts same-sex desire and gender noncomformity as normal, healthy, and positive, their children may be encouraged to engage in it. They are correct. Different models of sexual behavior and gender, especially the widespread visibility of LGBT identities, do offer new ways for people of all ages to behave and identify themselves. The increase in children actively identifying as trans is a direct result of the greater cultural visibility of transgender adults since the mid-1990s.
This is more than a question of identity, and adults know it. Think about all the work parents and educators put into teaching children how to be proper young men and women and shielding them from sexually explicit material. This considerable labor reveals the fear that underlies the myth that there are no gay and trans children: a child, especially your own, might somehow become gay or trans. Given this cultural tension, it is no surprising that when young people assert that they are gay or trans, many adults become very nervous and upset. Clearly, these young people not only know too much about sex and gender, but they know far too much about the wrong forms of sex and gender—and are willing to say so publicly.
The best way to silence to voices of children and ensure they grow up the "right way" is to create a special social category around them that adults control. This may sound odd to us now, but it is exactly what has happened. In the not-so-distant past, adults created this category. It is called childhood. Conceiving of childhood as a separate phase of life is a distinctly modern way of defining an individual by age. In his 1962 landmark book Centuries of Childhood, Philippe Ariès dates the invention of the child to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
One prominent theme of the oral arguments on April 28 in the Supreme Court marriage equality cases (Obgerfell v. Hodges) was the justices’ fear that recognizing same-sex marriage would lead to child marriage, incest, and polygamy. “Slippery slope” is the phrase we use in law-school classrooms to describe a trajectory, or “parade of horribles.”
As we wait for the decision, it’s worth asking how slippery this slope is. Is it like a forested hillside or more like a playground slide? If the legal and social context is like a forest, then a person skidding from the top of a hill would be blocked by the trees. But if it’s more like a slide, she would almost inevitably reach the bottom. The answers are different for child marriage, incest, and polygamy.
Before getting into specifics, I should say a few words about how I see marriage, since the institution has meant so many things in different times and places. As a contracts professor, I focus on its contractual aspects. (If you, too, like the idea of consent and reciprocity in relationships, check out my new bookLove’s Promises: How Formal & Informal Agreements Shape All Kinds of Families.) Linking love and contracts has a long history. Since the founding, US law has seen marriage as a mix of status and contract, in different proportions at different times. Generally speaking, a status relationship is forever; while contractual relationships usually can be dissolved by the parties according to the contract’s terms.
As feminist reforms such as married women’s rights to hold property and make contracts took root in the mid-nineteenth century, Sir Henry Maine famously observed in Ancient Law that the trend in progressive societies has been from status to contract.
Training a contractual lens on the slippery slope reveals that marriage equality for gay people is unlikely to lead to child marriage or incest. Polygamy, though, is a different story. For a decade now, the movement for marriage equality and gay rights litigation more generally has inspired fundamentalist Mormons to seek to decriminalize their sacred institution, and if that succeeds they may well seek marriage equality for themselves.
As we move into LGBTQ Pride month we are being met with a deluge of public discussions, events, breaking news stories, and potentially groundbreaking legal decisions that impact not only the queer community but American social and political life. The Supreme Court is poised, by the end of the month, to make a major decision. Not on the fate, but the expansion of marriage equality. Caitlyn Jenner’s blossoming appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair moves the public discussion of transgender lives forward in major and surprising ways. The Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision set a new bench mark for legal definitions of “religious exemptions” and the constantly contested interplay between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom in America.
A decade ago, executive editor at Beacon Press Gayatri Patnaik asked me to edit Queer Ideas and Queer Action, two new series for Beacon Press. We were acutely aware that while smart books on LGBTQ issues are always needed, the news cycle of these issues, not to mention the rapid advances that the movement has been making, could easily render today’s vital topics less important, or even passé and obsolete tomorrow. The challenge was to identify contemporary, critical social and political issues, and find people to write about them in ways that would transcend the political moment and shape and form the conversation for years to come. Looking back, I believe we have done that and more.
In Love’s Promises, Martha M. Ertman, a law professor at the University of Maryland’s Carey Law School with an extensive background in contract law, explores how deals and contracts create and transform all kinds of families. Love’s Promises forces us to radically “rethink our commonplace—often wrong—assumptions about how we love, commit, trust, and thrive in relationships,” writes Beacon Press’s Queer Action/Queer Ideas editor, Michael Bronski.
In advance of my wedding this month, I thought it would be beneficial to check in with Ertman to see how couples (including yours truly) can use her book as a roadmap to “plan for the expected and the unexpected.”
Nicholas DiSabatino: In Love’s Promises, you talk about the difference between contracts and deals, with contracts being enforceable by the courts and deals being as simple as “I pay the bills and you do the grocery shopping.” In my own relationship with my fiancé, Josh, we have a sort-of unspoken rule. He’s always going to be the brains behind dinner, planning ahead with Ms. Rachael Ray’s 30-minute meals (because who has time for more prep than that?) while I’m always on clean-up patrol. Should we put this deal in writing?
Martha M. Ertman: First, congratulations!! It’s an amazingly exciting thing to find someone you want to spend your life with, and better still one with whom you enjoy dinner rituals. Your deal is probably the most common one of the many I read and heard about while writing Love’s Promises. While some couples do put this kind of domestic swap into writing—sometimes a playful document that no-one expects will be legally binding—you’re also typical in making an implicit deal through your actions over time. That’s the same way my wife Karen and I came to put gardening on my to-do list and balancing the checkbook on hers. The most important thing is that you and Josh both see the deal. Then if you start sloughing off on the dishes he may suggest you step it up or take over one of his tasks. Grocery shopping perhaps??
Update: As of June 1, Bruce Jenner has officially announced that she would like to be known as Caitlyn. We have updated this blog to reflect her name change and pronoun usage.
Since coming out last month as a transwoman during her interview with Diane Sawyer on 20/20, former Olympian, track and field athlete, and TV personality Caitlyn Jenner has cast more light on gender identity. Her celebrity status grants her a privileged position to do so and has been propelling a paradigm shift in American society’s regard toward the standard female/male dichotomy. That Jenner came out to millions of viewers while still phenotypically male is encouraging. In fact, she inspired singer and actress Miley Cyrus to come out and admit her non-binary gender. These and the stories of others give guidance and hope to those living between and outside of the narrow definitions of masculine and feminine. If you or someone you know is at the crossroads of gender identity, we would like to share some books and resources that we hope will be helpful in the journey.
Matt Kailey lived as a straight woman for forty-two years until he took the steps toward becoming a man. In Just Add Hormones,he shares the story of his transformation through surgery and hormone therapy, the change in the behavior of others because of his new gender identity, and the transition towards acceptance of one’s self as a person who straddles two genders. For those who have been questioning their gender, Kailey’s book is full of sound advice and answers all the questions you may have about what it’s like to live as a transsexual.
Trans Liberation is a collection of activist Leslie Feinberg’s inspirational speeches in which ze calls for acceptance and tolerance for those who live at the boundary of sex and gender expression. Pointing out the similarities between the struggles of the trans and gay, lesbian and bi communities, Feinberg advocates for respect towards the cross-dressers, transsexuals, intersex persons, Two Spirits, drag kings and drag queens.
It’s hard to believe that the world lost Matt Kailey and Leslie Feinberg just last year, but we hope their lives and work continues to inspire and help others.
In My Gender Workbook, author, performance artist, playwright, and gender outlaw Kate Bornstein provides a hands-on, accessible guide to help readers discover their own gender identity. Through quizzes, exercises, and puzzles, you may discover that you’re a “real man”, a “real woman”, or “something else entirely”.
Professor J. Jack Halberstam appoints Lady Gaga as a symbol for the new era of gender identity in Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal. With the burgeoning influence of pregnant men, late-life lesbians, SpongeBob SquarePants, and queer families in the twenty-first century, gender and sexual politics have broken away from the status quo of heteronormativity. Halberstam urges readers to embrace the gender and sexual fluidity of the new feminism that Lady Gaga embodies.
Our parent organization, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), offers a Transgender 101: Identity, Inclusion, and Resources section on their website that includes a list of ten ways to be more welcoming and inclusive of transgender people, basic gender identity definitions, films for congregational viewing, and much more. You may also be interested in Standing on the Side of Love, a public advocacy campaign sponsored by the UUA that participates in LGBTQ activism. The campaign’s mission is to challenge exclusion, oppression, and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, race, religion, or any other identity.
Before becoming the gender outlaw we know and love today, Kate Bornstein was Al Bornstein, husband, father, and strappingly handsome lieutenant of the Church of Scientology’s Sea flagship vessel. In this selection from her memoir,A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate details the events leading up to her excommunication from the Church.
In Europe, Scientologists wrote us checks made out to the Religious Research Foundation, a shell company that maintained a Swiss bank account that was in no way linked to the Church of Scientology. Any money we deposited would be used in the service of the Church without having to pass through any country’s tax system—it’s a common business practice used by many international organizations. Of course, L. Ron Hubbard had no connection with that Swiss account because it was vitally important to keep all his personal finances on the up-and-up so that no enemy of the Church could use any inadvertent financial glitch against him. But that was unthinkable—(a) because he was so powerful, and (b) because he had both the Sea Org and the Guardian’s Office to protect him, and we protected him fiercely.
So, life was . . . great. Thanks to my high income, I’d become a Sea Org star. Crew members actually lined up at the doors to send me off on tour, or welcome me home. It all came unraveled on a sunny autumn day in Zurich, 1982. I had just finished making a sizable deposit to the Swiss bank account. I was out on a quickie one-week tour on my own; Becky was back in Clearwater. This was my first time inside the bank’s home office. What a beautiful old place it was! The reverence for wealth was manifest in the severe architecture, lightly touched here and there with tasteful elegance.
January is a time of new beginnings, fresh starts, ambitious goals. At Beacon, we publish some of our most exciting titles in January, books we think will have a long shelf-life. This January, we explore a geopolitical conservation effort, redefine the cause of hate and hate-driven violence, return Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to his radical roots, and expose the hypocrisy of “merit-based” admissions practices. These are books you will be thinking about and discussing for the rest of the year.
There’s an article making the rounds on the internet that’s become quite popular among a certain sort of feminist. “Why Hasn’t Anyone Tried This Before?” by Marie De Santis, executive director of the Women’s Justice Center in Santa Rosa, California, claims that within a span of five years, Sweden has reduced street prostitution by 65% and that “sex-trafficking” of immigrant women has ceased.
Swedish feminists accomplished this “miraculous” abolition of “male violence … [and] the exploitation of women and children” by convincing legislators to look at prostitution from a “female” point of view (47.3% of the Riksdagen, the Swedish parliament, are women). The female POV holds that no woman wants to be a sex worker and that every woman working in the sex industry is coerced into it. By this logic, men are the criminals: they are sexually violent and should be punished for paying for sex; women are victims who need re-education and opportunities to hold safe and respectable jobs. According to De Santis, this is an idea “so firmly anchored in common sense” that it’s a wonder not every country has similar laws.
Sometimes with a book, you don’t hold onto passages or plot lines but rather places. And not even the places where you read the book or the places in the book, but other places. Places that somehow feel more true to the book than anything else.
For example, if someone asks me, “What do you remember about first reading Stone Butch Blues?” I am not able to answer with absolute honesty. I will want to say, “The conference room, I remember the conference room,” but then the other person will think I read Leslie Feinberg’s groundbreaking 1993 novel in a conference room, and that’s not what I mean. So, I don’t say it but the conference room is the first place that comes to mind when I think about Stone Butch Blues.
To continue our remembrance of Leslie Feinberg, who passed away earlier this week, we put together a short list of recommended books—essential reading by some of the most unique and beloved voices from the transgender community, including Les hirself, to help to raise awareness of transgender issues and perspectives.
Those who were fortunate enough to hear Leslie Feinberg speak in person know how powerful and inspiring s/he was. Trans Liberation gathers a collection of Feinberg’s speeches on trans liberation and its essential connection to the liberation of all people. This wonderfully immediate, impassioned, and stirring book is for anyone who cares about civil rights and creating a just and equitable society.
Transgender Warriorsis a fascinating, personal journey through history. Leslie Feinberg uncovers persuasive evidence that there have always been people who crossed the cultural boundaries of gender. This is is an eye-opening jaunt through the history of gender expression and a powerful testament to the rebellious spirit.
We were shocked and saddened by the news that Leslie Feinberg, author and pioneering advocate for trans liberation, died this weekend from “complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections.” Feinberg was the author of two books from Beacon—Trans Liberation and Transgender Warriors—and is best known for the underground classic Stone Butch Blues. A tireless and impassioned activist for all human rights, Feinberg campaigned extensively for AIDS awareness, racial and social equality, and pro-labor causes, as well as for “trans liberation,” a term s/he coined to align the struggle for transgender rights in the continuum of other human rights struggles. As Feinberg said in a speech given at the 1997 True Spirit Conference in Laurel, Maryland, “None of us can ever be free while others are still in chains.... Trans liberation is inextricably linked to other movements for equality and justice.”
That speech is collected in Feinberg’s 1999 book, Trans Liberation, which is the last book Feinberg published with Beacon Press. We wanted to remember the remarkable energy, intellect, and spirit of Leslie Feinberg—whose last words reportedly were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist”—by reprinting an excerpt from a different speech, also collected in that volume. It was given at the 9th Annual Texas “T” (Transgender) Party in Richardson, Texas, but Feinberg could have been talking to all of us. As one local bookstore appropriately put it, “Rest in power, Leslie Feinberg.”
Center City gay-bashing suspects (courtesy Philadelphia Police)
On September 11, 2014, around 11pm, a gay male couple walking home through Philadelphia’s fashionable Center City was accosted and badly beaten by a group of 12 well-dressed white 20-somethings, both men and women, who shouted anti-gay epithets before and during the attack. Both victims ended up in the hospital, one of them beaten so badly he suffered broken bones in his face and had to have his jaw wired shut. The case has attracted a lot of attention both because the alleged perpetrators were so clean-cut and apparently well-to-do and included women and men—not the stereotype of who commits “hate crimes”—and for the way it was solved: via social media. After the police released street-side surveillance video showing a group of young people walking away from the crime scene, citizens of the twitter universe began circulating the videos, matching faces to Facebook updates, and eventually pointing the police to suspects. Three arrests have since been made of two men and one woman, Philip Williams, Kevin Harrigan, and Kathryn Knott, each of whom has been charged with two counts of Aggravated Assault, two counts of Simple Assault, two counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, and one count of Criminal Conspiracy.
In her lyrical, coming-of-age memoir A Cup of Water Under My Bed—a heartfelt exploration of family, identity, and language now available from Beacon Press—Daisy Hernández chronicles what the women in her Cuban-Colombian family taught her about love, money, and race. Nicholas DiSabatino, publicity assistant at Beacon, recently spoke with Hernández about her new book, her literary and cultural influences, and the process of finding herself, both within her immigrant community and within the new, queer life she created for herself.