Monthly Archives: January 2018

Not the Son He Expected: Gay Men Talk Candidly About Their Relationship with Their Fathers – Tim Clausen (CreateSpace)

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Ask any Gay man—hell, almost any man for that matter—about his relationship with his father, and surely the most common response you will hear is “It’s complicated.” (A close second might be “Relationship? What relationship?”) Even now, after a generation or two of expanding gender roles, changing expectations of fatherhood, and increased visibility of Gay men, the relationships between men and their fathers continues to be a fraught minefield, and for Gay men exponentially so.

Into this emotional landscape Tim Clausen offers, not a map exactly, but a guide from those who have traveled it and survived. In Not the Son He Expected, Clausen presents twenty-six stories of Gay men and their relationships with their fathers, beginning with his own. He selected the additional twenty-five stories from eighty-two interviews that he conducted between 2015 and 2017. Included at the beginning of his book is the 28-question questionnaire Clausen asked each man; however, each chapter reads as a stream of consciousness narrative rather than a strict question and answer interview.

The interviewees demonstrate a wide diversity in race, age (from early twenties to late seventies), location across North America (from both rural and urban areas), educational backgrounds, and career paths. Although he strove for a wide range of stories, Clausen notes in his introduction that he purposely chose stories that included men coming out to their fathers, specifically since coming out is such a milestone event in the lives of Gay men. The reactions of each man’s father span the gamut from unconditional acceptance to disowning; and the interviewees did not always experience the reaction they expected (whether positive or negative) from their fathers when they came out.

Although each story is unique, certain themes emerge: the kind of relationships these men have/had with their fathers often depends on the kind of relationships that their fathers had with their own fathers. Several of the men are now fathers themselves, either biologically, through surrogacy, or adoption; some would like to become fathers. Another important theme that runs through most of the stories is that the relationships between Gay men and their fathers is never static, but is rather dynamic: this is especially true of men who end up caring for their sick or dying fathers at the end of their lives—flipping the role of caretaker. Also, even men who had bad coming out experiences with their fathers might still find that their relationships improve over time. (Or not. There are no guarantees.)

Perhaps the most unusual—and unexpected—story is Justin’s, whose father transitioned and is now living as a woman. Justin’s coming out eventually led to his father gaining the courage to live life as honestly as possible, and their relationship has changed immeasurably. Indeed, it is worth stressing that each man’s “father” is not strictly his birth father, but may refer to a step-father, uncle, or other father figure; several stories narrate the disappearance of (biological) fathers in the early lives of the interviewee through either death or desertion. One individual (George Morris) states explicitly that when he was thirty, and newly out, he had many male friends, all older men, men he wanted to impress and have respect him—an attempt on his part to gain the approval he never received from an absent father while growing up.

Certainly for any boy, his relationship (or lack thereof) with his father has a profound effect on his development: many of the men herein state not only how they take after their fathers physically, but also in terms of temperament and character. And while not necessarily a how-to guide for Gay men to improve their relationships with their fathers, many of these stories provide common sense advice and examples of how to do so; regardless of the kind of relationship you might have/had with your father, you will no doubt see yourself in these pages.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Postcards from the Canyon – Lisa Gitlin (Bywater Books)

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Back in August of 2010, I reviewed Lisa Gitlin’s debut novel, I Came Out for This?, which I liked a great deal. So, I was at the front of the line when I heard Bywater was about to release her second book, Postcards from the Canyon, and I must say I was not disappointed. Eight years is a long time to wait, but it’s done nothing to dull Gitlin’s talents.

Our protag, Joanna Jacobs, is a writer whose latest novel about 9/11 has been rejected soundly by a number of publishers. As if this wasn’t disappointment enough, she also has to deal with the recent death of her mother. As authors often do, she tries to write through her grief by setting down an account of her childhood in 1960’s Cleveland. Her anxiousness also manifests itself in a threatening call to a conservative Congresswoman on a talk show, causing a visit from the FBI. Not to mention the juvenile delinquents from upstairs who have drilled a hole into her closet and invaded her apartment.

Gitlin’s voice in both the flashback childhood segments as well as the adult present story is every bit as sharp and observant as in her first book. And Joanna is a character with great aplomb. Nothing seems to faze her. Her childhood encounter with a pair of lesbians on her block (The Blobs), her time as a pyromaniac and her resulting stay in a mental institution, her rage-filled father, her brushes with racial prejudice and riots in Hough–all of this is handled with the dispassion and doesn’t-this-happen-to-everyone? attitude I often see in children. Her adult self deals with just as much–career failure, lesbian drama, death, homelessness–but carries over much of that dispassion. That, however, doesn’t mean she can’t be outraged, as when the juvenile delinquents invade her apartment:

Finally, I had the presence of mind to look in the closet and there was a huge hole in the ceiling! Those crazy kids had apparently chainsawed a hole in the floor of the Chinese people’s closet in order to obtain access to my apartment! Jesus Christ, I cannot believe they had the nerve to do this! I just kept standing there like a dope. I heard a guy talking in Chinese through the hole in the closet. I looked over at the boys and saw them all poking on their phones except for the Jewish kid, who was sitting next to the good-looking kid banging his head against the back of the sofa. I realized I had to do something, so I shut the closet door and walked over to the seating area and planted myself in the middle of the rug like an old maid at a beer party. “What are you people doing in here?” I yelled.

But she doesn’t call the cops. She befriends them, looking forward to their daily arrival and becoming somewhat involved in the lives. Like you do with teenagers who invade your living space, right? This does not go unnoticed by her childhood friends, who have remained in touch as they became adults, attempting to steer her on a somewhat more conventional path. It doesn’t work.

If I have a complaint, it’s that the ending feels a bit rushed in comparison to the way she rolls out the rest of the story. Dealing with her mother’s effects and closing up the house is relegated to only one chapter, but all loose ends are tied up with nothing left to question. And that caveat is a minor one you may disagree with.

In short, Gitlin has created a funny, inspiring character who succeeds in spite of herself in a warm, involving book. Postcards from the Canyon is mail you won’t want to miss.


© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler




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The Kinda Fella I Am: Stories – Raymond Luczak (Reclamation Press)

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We’ve all seen the Craigslist, Grindr, and Scruff  ‘need-not-apply’ lists — fats, fems, non-whites, etc., but queer disabled men are so invisible they rarely even appear in those litanies. However, Raymond Luczak puts them front and center in this great collection of powerful and empowering stories, The Kinda Fella I Am.

The umbrella opened by the word “disability” is large, so this collection has a lot to deal with and it does so admirably–in less than a hundred and fifty pages. Quads, paras, psoriatics, Deaf men, and men whose disabilities are never revealed all have representation here, and that’s a beautiful thing. You’d expect the stories to be either rageful or “samey” after a while, and although that anger-fueled voice does appear from time to time, these tales are anything but alike.

The title story, first in the collection, tells you right up front what you’re in for:

When I show up at the Eagle, I scare the shit out of strangers. There’s the mud-splattered spokes of my wheels, the beat-up edges of my seat, the crud-smoothed-over bike bar handles behind my shoulders. You could say this older chair’s my Harley-Davidson. I got on my t-shirt and leather vest, and my jeans folded underneath my stumps…But tonight is different. I’ve caught you standing by the wall with your buddies, drinking and talking…You’re in your thirties. Cute smile. Sharp flattop. Nice ass…Oh yeah. I’m gonna snooker you before the night’s over. You just don’t know it yet. 

The bravado of this voice is not a defense, an act, or a persona. The character reveals it as a well-honed honesty pared to a sharp edge by years of disappointment and anger intermingled with flashes of kindness and humanity from others. It is challenging and meant to be so.

Picking favorites here is tough because each of these pieces has something to recommend it. However, some of them have stuck with me in the days that followed after I finished this. “Cartography,” about a man with psoriasis who prowls the bathhouses wearing a t-shirt to hide his lesions, was a hopeful lesson in connection, as was “A Crip Fairy Tale.” I also liked “This” a great deal, an involving story dealing with two Deaf dancers, one of whom always provides money, home, and a safe haven for the other, despite the way his friend takes advantage of him time and time again.

I also liked “September Song,” a very engaging tale about an able guy working at a carnival. This kid is terrified of his homosexuality and afraid to come out until he meets a straight paraplegic he helps onto the ferris wheel he’s tending. After he puts the guy back into his wheelchair, the para outs him:

“You’re a homo…It’s okay if you are. Fellas like you were always nice to me after I got my legs chopped off, so I don’t care if you’re that way. Doesn’t matter none to me…You looked at me. Everybody pretends I’m not there, and if they see me, all they want to do is to thank me for serving in Germany. Or they act like I’m a freak show. Dames think that if you got your legs chopped off, you got your dick chopped off too. Damn, I can’t find me a girl. But you–you’re different. You didn’t get flustered or tell that I can’t go up or it’s unsafe for me to get on the ride. That’s all I want from anyone.”

That lesson in involvement, in engagement, in inclusivity, gives the kid the courage to think about quitting his dead-end carny life and moving to Greenwich Village so he can be truer to himself.

And that, ultimately, seems to be the goal of The Kinda Fella I Am–to provide lessons on how to be true to yourself despite those around you who encourage you to do otherwise. Highly recommended.


© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Channeling Morgan – Lewis DeSimone (Beautiful Dreamer Press)

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If you’ve ever attended a writing class (or possibly a literature class) you’ve no doubt heard of, or discussed, “voice”—that unique quality that sets a writer apart: all writers are suppose to cultivate their own distinctive voice. Unfortunately, Derick Sweetwater, the protagonist of Louis DeSimone’s Channeling Morgan, has spent his writing career disguising his: as a freelancer (read: ghostwriter) he has penned many a memoir for someone else. So when he spends a week in Provincetown at a workshop to work on his novel, he ironically lands his biggest potential client to date: Clive Morgan, a hunky (and closeted) movie star who hires him to write his autobiography, with promises to “tell all.” Surprisingly, the perennially single Derick also meets a new boyfriend (Jared) while at Provincetown. Once he returns to Manhattan, Derick’s progress on his novel takes a step backward, but all other aspects of his life begin spinning out of control.

(And if I may indulge in an aside of my own: DeSimone’s voice is full of wry asides, irony, and captures perfectly the banter of long-time friends and the absurd paradoxes of modern life.)

A novel whose protagonist is a writer, and who attends a writing workshop for the first half of the narrative, might lead one to expect that it is primarily about how to write. And it is true that many of DeSimone’s zingers in the first part of the novel are launched at the world of publishing, literary workshops, and the people who travel this world. Nevertheless, the primary theme of this novel is truth.

Of course, DeSimone does this in the devious way that all novelists do: he invents a completely false set of characters and circumstances—in other words, he crafts a deliberate set of lies. Oh, the characters and circumstances may be based on people DeSimone knows (maybe even DeSimone himself) and actual events that he has heard about or even experienced, but after all this is fiction. And the purpose of fiction is to tell the truth—by telling a story. Derick is admonished constantly (in mutually exclusive ways) to write more “honestly” to tell his (own) story: the workshop leader strikes out all the adjectives and adverbs in Derick’s novel excerpt, as a way to strip his story down to its essence; however, when they meet up in a bar at the conclusion of the workshop, he then suggests that Derick ought to emulate his hero E. M. Forester by writing about straights, to use people completely unlike him, in order to tell his story.

Armed with the ambiguous advice gained at the writing workshop, Derick must use it to navigate a life full of contradictions and paradoxes when he returns to Manhattan. Because writing more honestly is really a metaphor for him to live more authentically: Clive Morgan provides an anti-example—even when he isn’t playing a role, he is still acting the part of a straight Hollywood heartthrob. On the other hand, Jared notes that he feels more honest, and does less actual acting while in drag, than at his daily temp assignments; is it any wonder that Derick feels conflicted and confused? Only an opportune intervention finally succeeds in setting Derick straight, so to speak. (And forgive the spoiler, but in one final bit of irony, Derick leaves ghostwriting behind only after meeting an actual ghost.)

Truthfully, as a send-up of publishing, literary workshops, Hollywood hypocrisy, and Manhattan A-list Gays, Channeling Morgan makes compulsive reading—come for the story, but stay for the truth.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske


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Femme Confidential – Nairne Holtz (Insomniac Press)

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Being a lesbian seems…complicated. I thought gay men were preoccupied with roles and structure, and we are, but we have nothing on the ladies–especially the ones portrayed in Nairne Holtz’s latest book, Femme Confidential.  But Holtz invests those labels with enough heart and character so that they’re people instead of concepts, creating a work as interesting as it is instructive.

Bad girl Veronika, along with Liberty, the daughter of left-leaning Quaker hippies and trans woman Dana and a host of tangential players (Beth, Diamond, Holly, and others) come together and fly apart again in what, at times, is a dizzying whirl of one-night stands and two-week relationships as they all try to find their places in both the lesbian community and their own lives. But most of all, these are people who are trying to find a way to be comfortable in their own skins and have room left over for love.

Make no mistake, the cast of characters is a large one considering the people who flit in and out of the clubs, the discos, and the sex establishments, but Holtz manages to keep everyone straight (pun fully intended) while smearing the rather strict role structure that pervades the community. All three of the main characters, however, have a divide they try to bridge or negotiate in some way. Liberty is trying to find a way to be all things. As she says while getting ready for a night at the club:

My black velvet bra was accompanied by an onyx pendant, and my red silk boxer shorts that were a size too small and more like hot pants were paired with army boots. Some people might have called my look “genderfuck,” except it wasn’t really. Masculinity or even androgyny just wasn’t me. I wanted butch and femme to be like shoes, something you could slip on or unlace, but it wasn’t that simple.

But as a trans woman, Dana has the most difficult path to walk because she’s seeing the divide from a totally different perspective:

It was sort of depressing the way masculinity, something Dana wanted to eradicate from her being, was so embraced, so desirable in this community she was supposedly part of. She had thought Liberty didn’t want to be with her because her body could never be female enough, but it was more complicated than that. Dana not being butch was also a problem…Did every femme want a butch and every butch want a femme? It had seemed that way to her until the night she discovered that some of her butch teammates wanted each other.

Her story was the most engaging to me, especially after she has her bottom surgery and becomes involved with Holly after seeing her at a BBW (Big Beautiful Woman) event. But, really, all the characters here are interesting and leave the reader with something to think about as far as roles, gender fluidity, and expectations go. Highly recommended, and a great way to start 2018.


© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler


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