The Rebellious Tide – Eddy Boudel Tan (Dundurn Press)

Buy from:

Dundurn Press

I enjoyed and wrote about Tan’s first novel After Elias last year, totally impressed with his intense characterizations and interesting plotting. So, I was looking forward to this release. I won’t keep you in suspense but can share that it’s on a par with if not superior to Tan’s first book. Moreover, when I finished it, I didn’t feel as if I’d read it before. As with After Elias, The Rebellious Tide is an excellent ride that keeps its destination a secret until the very end.

Thirty-year-old Sebastien Goh has just lost his mother, and his father is only known to him as a mysterious sailor who abandoned them. Despite this (or because of it), Sebastien becomes obsessed with finding him. He actually tracks his father down, finding him the commanding officer of a cruise ship sailing the Mediterranean. He joins the crew, observing his father and trying to figure out why he ran away. In the meantime, an assault on one of the crew causes some outrage. Sebastien sides with the workers in a revolt against the officers. Engaged in that battle, he also finds the secret his father has hidden on the ship. The question is what to do with it.

Goh borders on stalkerish at first, but Tan refuses to make him a one-note character, giving him the more neutral air of a detective on the hunt for his father until the plot turns on a dime, and the book becomes bewitchingly layered. But Goh isn’t the only creep in the midst. His father is particularly loathsome in many respects, but that’s where I have to stop cold. I don’t want to give away any of the wonderful turns upon which the narrative is predicated.

You could also call this book The Militancy of Sebastien Goh, because in a number of respects that’s exactly what happens here. Goh is not only politicized because of the workers’ revolt, but this event transforms his worldview and gives him a place to look other than back on his relationship with his now-dead mother. And the revolt comes with its heroes and villains and martyrs, all of whom are delightful to meet–including Goh’s love interest. But we know these guys will never be a couple. It’s just not Goh’s destiny.

Rich in detail and deft in plot, Eddy Boudel Tan’s The Rebellious Tide is a wonderful read that will keep you intrigued until the last page. Highly recommended!

JW

© 2022 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Let’s Get Back to the Party – Zak Salih (Algonquin Books)

Buy from:

Algonquin Books

Two gay Millennials, once childhood friends, cross paths at a wedding in D.C.. Their brief, frosty encounter reopens unfinished business from the past and begins an intertwined search for meaning and connection. Firmly grounded in our modern times, Salih’s début novel endeavors to say something about our world. Indeed, its marketing materials proclaim: What does it mean to be a gay man today?

That’s a gutsy endeavor as we’ve come to appreciate the many shades of diversity within diversity and their impact on lived experience and identity. To put it more realistically, Salih’s novel sheds some light on how middle class, cis gender gay male Millennials are doing today. As gay literature has been dominated by Boomers and Gen Xers, a younger perspective is exciting. For me, an ol’ Gen Xer, it was also unexpectedly bleak.

One begins with Salih’s choice of flag-bearers for his generation, which establish a surprisingly uncharitable portrait from the start. Sebastian Mote, perhaps the more sympathetic of the two leads, is frozen in an inner world of insecurities, obsessions and jealousies, such that, while opportunities for emotional connection surround him, he comes across as wallowing and narcissistic. Oscar Burnham enters the story as a bitter, self-involved wedding guest, ducking through the affair, immersed in his cell phone where he’s rifling off texts to potential hook-ups about how dreary it is to have to participate in the celebration of the two grooms.

None of this is positioned with wit or contrasting viewpoint, and Oscar doesn’t get much more likeable from there. Oscar despises everything about the mainstreaming of gayness (vocally, and violently at times), and at thirty-five years old, he idolizes the good ol’ days in the rebellious, liberated 1970s and 80s, which of course he knows nothing about.

Things are not off to a good start for the modern gay man.

Characters need not be likeable to show the reader something true about the world, of course. Funny, reading Salih’s book reminded me of reading the work of Andrew Hollerhan and Alan Hollinghurst from the 1980s, whose characters cast unflattering reflections on gay men of that era, yet one could not deny they were honest, familiar. I think most readers will say the same about Salih’s Sebastian and Oscar. You know these guys as friends, acquaintances, and maybe, if you read on through the cringes, you can even admit you see a bit of yourself. The deft crafting of these flawed young men is an impressive achievement, and, while one wants to grab and shake them at times (“Have you really earned the right to be so jaded and self-loathing in our era of substantial social progress?”), there are moments where one feels for these guys.

Sebastian is hurting from a recent failed relationship with a guy he thought was “the one,” and his defensiveness is forgivable given the challenging landscape of gay dating apps and instant gratification. He’s also a hard-working high school teacher, cultivating student interest in art history, of which he’s passionate and profusely knowledgeable.

Oscar is transparently hurting on the inside as well while he brings down every boys’ night out with his diatribes against heteronormativity and his drunkenness. For anyone who’s had their favorite queer watering hole overtaken by heterosexual bachelorette parties, his outrage resonates. He wants to be “seen” in a world of evaporating queerness: nightclubs closing to make way for high-end real estate development, gay men blending into the suburban scenery. With LGBTQ+ sociopolitical progress, we’ve lost a sense of culture and community, which is particularly important for single gay men like Oscar. He’s also estranged from a homophobic family.

Yet, Salih takes strange turns with Sebastian and Oscar’s stories that don’t quite create compelling character arcs or insight really. Taken as character studies, their stories are exciting, even thrilling at times, but in endeavoring to show character change through complex circumstances, Salih seems to have bitten off more than he can chew. As Sebastian withdraws the world, immersing himself in his work, his need for emotional connection demands to be dealt with and leads to an obsession with a student who’s living an out and proud life. Oscar pursues solutions for himself through an equally intense emotional bond with an author of some repute who chronicled his sexual escapades in the 70s and 80s.

One sees Salih’s purposes with the juxtaposition: one man looking to the future for answers on how to live as a gay and the other looking to the past. But the desperation of their pursuits feels, if not forced, rather shallow, even pathological. In each case, there’s no real empathy for the object of their desire; it’s a narcissistic exercise. Seventeen-year-old Arthur becomes a projection of who Sebastian would have liked to have been, and when that fantasy disintegrates, Sebastian turns coldly away from the boy at a time when Arthur could use his support. The same pattern plays out for Oscar and his hero Sean Stokes. What Sebastian and Oscar have learned from these experiences is unclear, and their stories’ endings are further muddled by the evoking of a national tragedy as a catalytic event for their growth. It’s not quite convincing.

Of note, Salih’s prose is crisp and effective in forward-moving scenes, but some of his stylistic choices are distracting and unpleasant. Dialogue embedded in dense paragraphs. Chapter names taken from classical paintings for Sebastian’s point-of-view.

Sexually provocative chapter names for Oscar’s, somehow tied to Sean’s book-within-the-book. Alternating scenes from past and present that choke the narrative flow. There’s just a bit too much going on.

Ambitious, provocative, textured, overly complicated and overreaching at times, it’s exactly what a good début novel should be. So, what does it mean to be a gay man today? You won’t find all the answers, but Let’s Get Back to the Party is certainly a good conversation-starter among friends.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Don’t Cry For Me – Daniel Black (Hanover Square Press)

Preorder/Buy from:

Hanover Square Press

A Black gay man imagines family histories and confessions from his dying father in an epistolary novel that excavates the generational meanings of Blackness, masculinity, fatherhood, and more. Insightful and emotionally moving, Don’t Cry for Me is a story that is immensely accessible and powerfully healing for scores of readers who have struggled with the pain of parental rejection.

In his final days of dying from cancer, Jacob, a sixty-something man bequeaths to his son Isaac a series of letters to express the many things he never had the courage or the ability to say face-to-face. Born in the 1940s in rural Arkansas, Jacob recounts his memories coming into the world in a family that was only a few generations removed from slavery and shaped by scarcity, segregation, and the psychic damage of human subjugation. Due to tragic circumstances that are gradually revealed, Jacob was raised by his grandfather, who worked a farm year-round, seven days a week.

Boys like Jacob attended school when they were not needed to help with farming, thus education was a luxury. Most of what Jacob learned about living in the world came from his grandparents, neighbors, and other boys his age. The prerogative was survival. There was no time for notions that children needed emotional nurturance or that anyone had a right to personal fulfillment. Such conditions produced hardened people. Jacob’s grandfather only took a half day off from work for his wife’s funeral, for example. Now an older man, Jacob is circumspect about the environment in which he was raised, but he was inevitably a product of the times for Black people, and fathers of that era generally.

Jacob’s “voice” makes his storytelling unexpectedly compelling and sympathetic. Even when he confesses participating in a horrific act of violence against an effeminate boy at his school, one cannot help seeing events from his perspective and feeling his shame and horror. Black men of his generation were taught to be strong, decisive, and unemotional, and however harshly they treated “weaker” men, it was meant to correct a deficit and bring them back to their essential nature. His story illuminates that deeply imbedded role in Black communities where gender transgressions hit men personally, threatening their place in a world that has stripped away their power. As Jacob writes to his son, he couldn’t understand why a man would want to give up his manhood when so much has already been taken away from them.

Later, when Jacob married Isaac’s mother and Isaac came along, Jacob wanted more than anything to be a good father. He used what tools he knew, setting paychecks aside to give his son more than he’d been given, encouraging his education and taking him to baseball games. But he was unequipped to provide gentleness and love, particularly as Isaac’s gayness became evident.

Through his letters, Jacob ponders many issues, from race relations, feminism, the Black Power movement, and the disintegration of Black communities through flight to urban areas. It’s a coherent narrative however, as all these things figure in to his central aim: to explain to his now estranged adult son that he loves him and he deeply regrets that he couldn’t be the father Isaac needed. Isaac appears in the story through Jacob’s eyes, and through that, he’s well-developed. From a young age, he was a sensitive boy, clinging to his mother and with interests in music and arts. As he grew, he became moody and brooding, and he rejected his father’s attempts to spend time with him.

Jacob lays bare the injuries he inflicted on his son, destroying his action figures when Isaac used them to act out love stories, walking out of Isaac’s school theater performances, and striking his son when Isaac turned to his parents for understanding of his gayness. It’s a familiar story for gay men of Isaac’s generation, and like many, he left his hometown at the earliest opportunity to distance himself from the traumas of his childhood. His relationship with his father was permanently broken.

Yet, Jacob’s struggle to understand his son is a heartbreaking story of its own, and in that, Don’t Cry for Me offers a powerful lesson in redemption and reconciliation. The mistakes he made are his to bear, now dying alone after a life spent trying to be the man he thought he was supposed to be. While necessarily tragic, Black has written a novel that will resonate for countless readers and activate our better instincts to forgive.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I, Gloria Grahame – Sky Gilbert (Dundurn Press)

Buy From:

Dundurn Press

Although I always enjoy a good genre novel, I also love to find something I haven’t read before. If you’re as jaded as I am, that’s not easy, but occasionally, I’ll run across something like I, Gloria Grahame, by Sky Gilbert, whose unconventional plot line takes me some interesting directions before I wind up someplace totally different than I expected to be.

Professor Denton Moulton is a bit of a schlub. He’s gotten his tenure, his teaching schedule is ideal, and his life really isn’t much of a challenge. However, his one desire is to see his beloved stage treatment of Shakespeare’s poem, Venus and Adonis come to life–with the cutest boy he can find playing Venus. Oh, and he thinks he’s Gloria Grahame, the Oscar-winning Fifties actress who married not only director Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause) but Ray’s son as well.

Okay, he’s not delusional enough to actually think he’s Grahame, but he identifies with her closely and uses getting into her head and writing her story as a retreat for when his own existence threatens to overwhelm him. And as he moves through the interviews for a grant to bring his show to the stage, the forces line up to do just that, dealing him one bureaucratic blow after another. If it’s not his unsophistication with pronouns, it’s his racial identity being up for grabs. These dialogues are among the funniest, most frustrating in the whole book.

Not that Grahame’s life is all that rosy. Her husband, brilliant director Nicholas Ray, is also an abusive alcoholic who needs to kick open his closet door. But his career won’t allow that. Instead, he takes his frustrations out on Grahame and Tony, his son from his first marriage. The scene where he catches them together (it’s not a spoiler; it’s Hollywood legend) is genuinely terrifying because you don’t know what Ray will do. And author Gilbert has crafted an excellent voice for his legendary actress, which sounds altogether different from that of Professor Moulton. You don’t have to depend on chapter headings to tell you whose head we’re in.

Gilbert’s alternating storylines work well for him. The heaviness of Grahame’s life gets a nice balance with the equally-desperate-even-if-he-doesn’t-know-it actions of the professor. Grahame and Moulton are both seekers trying to find their way against a repressive society, and in that way their stories are similar even if their circumstances are not.

More than the sum of its parts, I, Gloria Grahame comes at you from a number of different directions, weaving the plotlines together beautifully until it transcends genre and becomes a creature of its own. I really enjoyed this and hope you will as well.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Vamp Until Ready – James Magruder (Rattling Good Yarns Press)

If you didn’t know I was gay, you certainly would have looking at my Facebook feed over the Thanksgiving weekend, as it was jampacked with Sondheim tributes on the occasion of his demise. I’ve often wondered what it is about the stage that attracts a disproportionate number of gay men, and although James Magruder’s Vamp Until Ready doesn’t provide much explanation of that phenomenon, it certainly proves the point.

Vamp Until Ready tracks the exploits of the cast and crew of the Hangar Summer Theatre, a summer stock outfit based in Ithaca, NY, over several seasons. Its five parts span this time period through the eyes of five characters: gay Cary Dunkler, adopted along with his gay brother Dave, Kristy Schroyer and Isa Vass, who both love Kristy’s husband, Judy Gabelson, who goes to Ethopia to put on a show, and straight guy Mark Shinner, who dates Kristy post-divorce. They all weave in and out through each others’ stories, their relationships changing as they come together, split apart, and reconnect through the years.

Cary’s first story details his affair with Larry Brownstein, a Hangar bigwig, as he’s being cast in the chorus of the Hangar’s presentation of Damn Yankees, directed by Gavin Steeg, who also happens to be Cary’s brother Dave’s boyfriend. Cary splits his time between Ithaca and NYC, sometimes working at the Army/Navy store in Ithaca with his friend and manager Kristy Schroyer. She and her Greek nanny/housekeeper/Hangar actress Isa are the focus of the second part, where Isa has an affair with Kristy’s husband, Wayne, as Kristy drops him and starts dating Mark Shinner. Isa also starts Kristy’s daughter, Darcie, on the stage. Then we go from Ithaca to Ethopia as we follow Cary’s friend Judy Gabelson and her attempt to stage, produce, and write songs for an Ethiopian student’s play, Mango Roses. Then, back to Ithaca as Mark Shinner tells his side of the Kristy Schroyer debacle, and we pick up the story of her daughter, Darcie, who’s now a big star thanks to a well-timed soap opera part. There’s also a death (no spoilers), then we circle back to Cary for the finale.

Magruder’s plot and prose are so engaging and the stories so intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish a favorite, but because of the flavor and color of its locale, I had to choose Judy Gabelson’s trip to Ethiopia as a high point. She doesn’t begin as a strong character, but she certainly develops strength living there and courting her muse at the same time she’s trying to get used to a totally new (to her) culture.

That’s not to short the domestic side of things. The goings-on at the Hangar are always interesting, both in terms of people and of art. I’ve seen Damn Yankees, but not a stage adaptation of Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson or Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. This is probably as close as I’ll get to those, not to mention Mango Roses. But no matter if your taste runs to the mundane or the absurd, you’ll find plenty to love in Vamp Until Ready.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Quilt for David – Steven Reigns (City Lights Booksellers & Publishers)

Steven Reigns, a poet and educator from Los Angeles, has authored an impressive curricula vitae: two collections of poetry (Inheritance and Your Dead Body Is My Welcome Mat), more than a dozen chapbooks; he also edited My Life in Poetry, a collection of the writings from his first autobiographical poetry workshop for LGBTQ seniors. To this list he now adds A Quilt for David, a collection of short poems and prose pieces that recounts the forgotten story of Dr. David Acer, a Gay dentist accused of infecting his patients with HIV, most notably Kimberley Bergalis.

Gay Men of a Certain Age may remember the bare bones of David’s story: an HIV positive Gay dentist, eight of his patients sued him for infecting them with the HIV virus, despite there being (still!) no reliable evidence of a dentist infecting a patient. During the hysteria of the late 1980s, when a diagnosis of HIV was almost an immediate death sentence (David himself died two years, ten months, and twenty-nine days after his diagnosis), there was no reliable treatment, but there was a lot of fear surrounding the disease, and misinformation about how it spread. (For example, it was claimed that AIDS could be spread through mosquito bites.) David was called a “murderer,” while his patients were “innocent victims.” Kimberley Bergalis, possibly the best known of his “innocent victims,” insisted on her virginity in court: she eventually had statues erected in her honor, a beach named after her, a cover article in People magazine; when she died, an article in the Palm Beach Post proclaimed (unironically) “Hundreds Mourn Bergalis: Fort Pierce Woman Was ‘Voice of All AIDS sufferers.’” David Acer, one such AIDS sufferer, died in a hospice four hours from his home, under an assumed name, unmourned.

A Quilt for David is replete with these contrasts. Perhaps the most dramatic contrast is that David himself has no quilt panel memorializing him in the NAMES Project (hence the title of this collection):

I’d sew a quilt for you.

I would grab a needle,

put the thread in my mouth,

moistening the fibers together.

I’d pierce into the eye.

I’d hem, backstitch, sidestitch

a remembrance of you.

I’d put your name in large letters

wanting no one to forget you died of it

too. I’d sew you into that larger quilt because

no one else has. I’d select patterns, design a quilt

representing your lifelong loves.

Kimberly has four panels, photos, and a large starfish.

Of course, David’s story is bound up with Kimberly’s, and Reigns weaves her story as well as the stories of Richard Driskill, Michael Buckley, Sherry Johnson, Lisa Shoemaker, John Yecs, Jr., and an unidentified man. A nine-page bibliography with ninety-seven entries attests to Reigns’ extensive research: much of what Reigns has unearthed runs counter to the long accepted narrative of the virginal Kimberly and the others, maliciously infected by David. Reigns wisely lets the facts speak for themselves, without poetic embellishment. David’s story, long untold, is retold simply, with stark power.   

Reigns has performed a valuable service, recovering the story of David Johnson Acer and reminding us all that often what is designated as “history” or “fact” or “truth” is only the narrative that gets repeated the most, and/or the narrative that typically serves the powerful majority.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tygers – J. Warren (Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press)

I’ve always found it interesting that the LGBTQI+ movement has never been sufficiently radicalized to resort to violence in an attempt to gain our legitimate rights. Outside of Pride marches, which these days have become subsidized and used by corporations to turn an almighty buck on the queer back, the closest we’ve come is the palpable anger briefly engendered by ACT UP in the late Eighties when the AIDS epidemic was at its most deadly. J. Warren’s Tygers, however, envisions a much different world. Or is it?

In Warren’s 2015, conservatism is running rampant enough to allow the enforced round-up of young gay men into camps designed to “cure” their homosexuality. Aaron White, a young gay man, is recruited into a radical terrorist cell by one Daniel Young, another young man with a penchant for U2 and a soft spot for Aaron. He introduces Aaron to Marcus, one of the terrorist leaders, Daniel, however, is rounded up by his church and sent to one of the camps, where he commits suicide. His death sparks Aaron to retaliate, and a suicide bomber is born.

Alternating between prose and prisoner interview transcripts, Tygers is suprisingly long on character for a book that opens with the suicide bombing of a wedding in a Catholic church, but the act is so heinous that we need to know who these people are. And Warren delivers on that in spades. By the time the narrative again reaches the point where the bombing occurs, we understand quite well how Aaron became a victim as well as a participant.

I also liked the juxtapositioning of the prose and transcript sections, the latter providing a pulling back of sorts from the characterization to allow the reader time to breathe and reflect while at the same time advancing the plot. The balance is tricky at best, but Warren pulls it off brilliantly–and, in doing so, also manages to paint a fairly detailed portrait of not only the prisoner (one of Aaron’s co-conspirators) but his captors.

Warren has also chosen to set this in a forseeable future (especially in light of the current political climate) rather than a more distant, science-fictiony time, which lends the story a credibility it wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s dystopian, yes, but its dystopia is that of today rather than tomorrow.

All said, Tygers is a terrific read, full of interesting characters, dark paths, and enough twists and turns to keep the most jaded reader turning pages.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Unbreakable – Cari Hunter (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy from:

Bold Strokes Books

Cari Hunter is relentless, which might just give her the title of her next book. Unbreakable hits the ground running and never looks back, but you already know that if you’re a fan. If you’re not or you haven’t read any of her work, you need to remedy that immediately. From her Dark Peak series to her standalones, you won’t be disappointed no matter which you choose.

As Dr. Grace Kendal leaves work for the day, she’s kidnapped by a badly wounded Elin Breckenridge, who was injured during a ransom dropoff for Elin’s kidnapped daughter, Amelia. But the origin of Elin’s injuries is of less concern to Grace than their severity. Grace manages to keep Elin alive, but as they bond, the larger problem of getting Amelia back looms. They have a satchel full of money and a dead man in their wake. Detective Sergeant Safia Faris finds the dead man, killed by an unknown assailant who also shot Elin during the drop, but what should be a simple case turns into something more complicated as she and her partner, Suds, chase after Grace and Elin, uncovering layers of complexity that build to a tense climax.

Hunter establishes the tension immediately–a trademark of hers–and then runs with it, dropping in bits of characterization here and there during dialogue and whenever she pauses to let the reader catch their breath. Once she has you caring about the pair of fugitives, you’re hooked in and totally unable to stop reading. Is this a formula? Yes, but Hunter is so skillful in executing it that you don’t even notice her manipulations and distractions.

She also has quite the way with character. Although Grace and Elin have the more obvious bond, I also enjoyed the interplay between DS Faris and Suds, who shatter the rules in order to let Grace and Elin play out their hand and catch the kidnapper. And the British-isms Hunter peppers throughout the book provide a solid sense of place without being burdensome or confusing.

Along with Cheryl Head and J.M. Redmann, Cari Hunter is one of my favorite mystery/thriller authors, and Unbreakable is a very solid notch in her column. It has action, heart, and suspense. Try reading a couple of chapters and going to bed. I dare you. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Deviant: Chronicles of Pride – Samhitha Reddy, ed. (Inkfeathers Publishing)

The anthology Deviant: Chronicles of Pride, complied by Samhitha Reddy, is a collection of nine stories and twenty-seven poems by twenty-two authors who belong to different parts of the globe, and is a fitting volume to celebrate the wonderful diversity of the LGBTQ+ community, especially during LGBT History Month (even though it ostensibly is a work of fiction, and not history per se). The collection begins with broad sections titled Spectrum Stories, Identities Beyond Boundaries, and Envision Transition, before focusing on specific stripes of the LGBTQ+ rainbow: Sapphic Classics, Gay Pride, Bi Visibility, Trans Narratives, Queer Factor, Asexual Confessional. One important lesson of the earlier sections is that the colors of the rainbow typically bleed one into the other—we are never just one identity; many of us experience an intersection of marginalizations and identities.

As noted above, this collection combines both prose and poetry, with a marked emphasis on the latter. The prose tends to be mostly autobiographical in nature, with a couple of obvious fiction contributions: “The Feathered Folk” by Amy Sutton (a delightful fable and a favorite of mine) and “Pardon me, do you do Weddings?” by Adam Gaffen (an excerpt from his science fiction series The Cassidy Chronicles, which follow the adventures of Aiyana Cassidy and Kendra Foster-Briggs, describing their wedding).

Among my favorite poems are the invocational “All Flowers Belong” by Deborah Mejía, which appropriately opens the book, and contains stanzas to numerous aspects of the LGBTQ+ spectrum, including non-binary, asexual, and trans members. Another favorite is “Our Queer Thoughts” by The Queer Community and Lily Rosengard. (Originally started by Rosengard, she later crowd-sourced material for the latter two thirds of the poem.) Like a piece of ancient wisdom poetry, it contains multitudes of paradoxical statements as well as back and forth questions and answers:

Queer means am I queer enough?

Queer means you have always been queer enough.

Queer means who is the gatekeeper of queerness?

Queer means there is no gatekeeper of queerness!

Queer truly does mean you are queer enough –

you have always been not just queer ‘enough’ –

but queer abundant

Another stand-out is the poem within Trans Narratives, “I am a Trans Woman and I am Tired,” by Christy Pineau. The narrator describes an LGBT film festival she attended, meant to celebrate LGBT heroes, only to discover that the “T” was represented by

The story of Brandon Teena.

The young trans man who was raped

and murdered by his friends

when he was discovered to be trans.

I re-read the poster on my way out of the library.

“Come witness the legacies of the pioneers of the LGBT movement!”

The “legacy” is one not of courage, but rather, loss and erasure. The dismay, anger, and fatigue expressed by Pineau is underscored by the fact that this is the only trans narrative in the collection.

As Reddy notes in her introduction, it would be impossible to represent every possible permutation of the LGBTQ+ spectrum (especially in such a slim volume); nevertheless, you may be surprised by the variety of voices contained herein. So if you are, say, an asexual lesbian you can find yourself represented here, and celebrate it; and just as important, if you are not an asexual lesbian, you can read her story and learn from her perspective.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Tale of Two Omars – Omar Sharif, Jr. (Counterpoint Press)

Omar Sharif, Jr. grew up under the shadow of his world-renowned grandfather, an acting legend and a hero in his home country of Egypt and beyond. The fact the younger Omar is gay will likely be sufficient to pique interest in his memoir from LGBTQ+ readers, and being in the closet, living a double life, and coming out are indeed major themes. More than that, Sharif has a heart-rending and at times surprising story to tell about how he became a global spokesperson for tolerance and intercultural understanding.

Sharif begins his memoir with his 2012 letter in the Advocate, through which he came out as both gay and half-Jewish and urged a reckoning in Egypt on the unfulfilled democratic goals of the 2011 revolution. Sharif considers himself a proud Egyptian, and he spent a good portion of his childhood there after his parents’ divorce. Sharif’s memoir includes his political observations and his hopes for Egypt and the greater Muslim world. But his approach is personal, sharing his own stories about how homophobia, racial prejudice, and religious condemnation challenged his ability to live an authentic life and ultimately shaped his humanistic convictions.

Sharif’s childhood was one of change and contrasts. His parents divorced soon after he was born, and he spent the school year in Montréal with a close-knit family that included his Jewish mother, his aunt, and their parents who were Holocaust survivors. A gentle, pretty boy, he was the target of anti-gay name-calling and bullying at school, while at home, he experienced vicarious trauma as he witnessed the lasting impact of the Holocaust on his grandparents Bubbie and Zadie. Then each summer, he took unchaperoned transatlantic flights to stay at his grandfather’s luxury properties in Egypt and Europe. In Montréal, his life was complicated, tough and introspective. In Egypt, it was carefree and indulgent, and since Omar Sharif, Sr. was a star, no one would dare make fun of his grandson.

Fame and fortune did not protect Sharif from life’s worst discontents, however, and his story demonstrates how homophobia is the ultimate equalizer. Childhood peers taught him to hate his gayness, and he knew intuitively his mother and father would disapprove of him (and they did for years after he came out). He contemplated suicide. In his teens, his only outlet was furtive and sometimes dangerous sexual encounters with older men. Though gifted with good looks and an easy sociability, he struggled to find romantic companionship in his young adulthood and suffered from depression. Later, he stumbled upon an opportunity to work for a wealthy and powerful Sheik, which turned out to be a nightmarish psychological and sexual imprisonment from which he could seek no aid from family members for fear of their stern judgment of his sexuality. These are harrowing tales of gay survival that need to be told, and they are no less courageous coming from a young man of privilege, a circumstance that Sharif acknowledges.

Furthermore, one appreciates the high stakes for Sharif in telling his story. After coming out in the Advocate, he received death threats, and for the sake of his personal safety, he could not attend his grandfather’s funeral in Egypt three years later. In Egypt, homosexuality is criminalized and reviled. His countrymen campaigned to revoke his citizenship. Interestingly, in the 1960s, his grandfather was also a target of expulsion from the country due to his Catholic Lebanese heritage and his affair with Barbara Streisand (the elder Sharif converted to Islam when he married the Egyptian actress Faten Hamama).

Sharif credits his grandfather with instilling him with the values of tolerance and inclusion as well as a love of languages and being the life of the party. There’s some complexity in his characterization of Omar Sr. however, as he does not shy away from mentioning his grandfather’s infidelities nor his mental decline late in life. Sharif’s reflections on his grandfather’s dementia are some of the most affecting passages in his memoir.

His purposes get muddled a bit as he jumps around to adventures in fashionable districts of London and his arrival in Hollywood, which come across as name-dropping moments to authenticate the author’s insider status. But overall, Sharif’s memoir succeeds where it needs to the most. By the end of the book, one feels like they know him. As a reader who knew next to nothing about the younger Omar, I can say he’s gained a fan.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized