Monthly Archives: October 2021

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

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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

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The Complete Leonard & Larry Collection – Tim Barela (Rattling Good Yarns Press)

I remember “Leonard & Larry” from The Advocate as well as other publications, but I hadn’t thought of them for years. And even when I read them back then, they seemed less pointed than Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes to Watch Out For,” but I was heavily into activism and politics at the time. The gentle domestic humor seemed to escape me, but I hadn’t yet experienced domesticity and had no frame of reference. Forty-odd years later, however, I get it–and Rattling Good Yarns Press has done an admirable job of collecting these strips in a comprehensive coffee table edition you’re sure to enjoy.

For the uninitiated, Barela’s strip is populated by Leonard, a Jewish photographer, and his husband, Larry, a divorced father who owns a leather shop. Together, they negotiate the tricky straits of a monogamous relationship, parents, children (and grandchildren), and the usual tribulations life has to offer, and they do so with wit, grace, and good-natured bickering, remaining the constant in the lives of the other characters. This chronological presentation gathers all four “Leonard & Larry” books: Domesticity Isn’t Pretty, Kurt Cobain and Mozart Are Both Dead, Excerpts from the Ring Cycle in Royal Albert Hall, and How Real Men Do It along with some other unpublished curiosities.

Unlike many other comic characters of this era, Barela’s characters actually age, so the reader gets a sense of the passage of time and lives being lived. And how they live! One of my favorite characters is Larry’s leather shop employee, Jim, who gets involved with a priest and, eventually, a guy named Merle who becomes a television star. Then there’s Larry’s straight son, Leonard’s mother (who refuses to believe he’s gay and keeps setting him up), and for sheer, unadulterated strangeness, a terrific regularly reoccuring bit that has Johannes Brahms and Peter Tchaikovsky as gay ghosts.

Leonard and Larry and friends run the gamut, and are there to see the guys through everything from live childbirth (Larry’s grandson) to gay bashing to stalkers to new neighbors. The humor is always kind and somewhat subtle, but that’s not to say the strip doesn’t have balls. Barela was unafraid to take on any subject and if his takes occasionally slide into sitcom territory, he was taking his queer characters there before mostly anyone else, and it’s both liberating and smile-inducing.

So if you only vaguely remember the strip from its days in Gay Comix, The Advocate, or Frontiers, you never missed it, or you never heard of it, you’re in for a big, big treat. Kudos to Ian Henzel at Rattling Good Yarns Press for remembering these guys and giving them a loving, hardcover treatment. Highly recommended.


© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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