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Equality: What Do You Think About When You Think of Equality? – Paul Alan Fahey, ed. (Vine Leaves Press)

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Paul Alan Fahey’s collection of essays about equality tasks twenty-four other writers with this question. Given the topic of this collection, I wondered how the contributors reflected this concept.  The anthology has roughly an equal number of female and male writers (twelve and thirteen, respectively, since Fahey includes an essay of his own), and a majority of the contributors fall on the LGBT spectrum, but not all aspects of the LGBT rainbow are equally represented.   Most of the authors appear to be American, with one Canadian and two British; and with a couple of exceptions, they also appear to be overwhelmingly of European descent.

All this is to say that equality is an ideal, and thus elusive and rarely encountered (it also is not the same thing as diversity).  It is therefore not at all surprising that most of the contributors do not dwell on what equality is, so much as what it is not.  Few people have experienced equality, but everyone has certainly experienced inequality, whether it is a result of one’s actual (or perceived) race, gender, age, and/or sexual orientation.  Most of the contributors reflect on when they first encountered inequality (usually when directed at themselves, but also when they first noticed it directed at others; and some, even from the height of privilege, realized that there were not as “equal” as they thought, since others were higher than they).  As a result, most of the essays in this volume are deeply personal in nature, and focus on inequality as a result of race (“Lani Silver: A Voice for Equality” by David Congalton), gender (“Give Us Our Birthright: Why the Equal Rights Amendment Needs to Be Revived—and Ratified” by Susan Reynolds), or age (“The Last Acceptable Prejudice” by Barbara Abercrombie; “Inequality” by Felice Picano).  And several essays examine inequality as a result of sexual orientation, especially as it relates to marriage equality (“Limit” by `Nathan Burgoine; “Have You Met My Husband?” by Larry Duplechan; “Ambiguously Ever After” by Jeffrey Ricker; “Two Mountain Weddings” by Jeff Mann), or how it intersects with other inequalities (e.g., “Equality in High Def” by Jewelle Gomez, which examines inequality both via race and sexual orientation).

Although the contributors are all equally adept writers, several essays stand out in this collection.  Christopher Bram’s contribution, “The Magic Words,” a meditation on the beginning of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”), examines the paradoxes inherent in these words (i.e., that the “men” named in this famous quote were strictly defined as only literal men, and moreover white, land-owning men) and how this narrow notion of “equality” gradually grew more encompassing, a point expounded upon by other essays in this collection.

Two thought-provoking essays examine equality through the prism of the Golden Rule.  Barbara Jacksha’s contribution,”Everyday Equality,” examines her own thoughts and attitudes to determine whether she treats people equally; no surprise, she doesn’t.  But then she turns her experiment on herself and then learns that she doesn’t treat herself as equal to others, either.  Similarly, Catherine Ryan Hyde tries to “Imagine a world in which we all applied our beliefs to our own lives and left everybody else the hell alone” in “When I Think of Equality.”  Doing so is especially difficult when it means letting another person make a choice that appears entirely and egregiously wrong.

Despite the fact that equality remains elusive, and the long road to achieving it has no obvious end, this collection chooses to be hopeful, stressing the strides already made along that road.  Released on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2017, before the inauguration of the 45th American president, this collection is especially timely.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Queer and Celtic: On the Irish LGBT Experience – Wesley J. Koster, ed. (Squares and Rebels/Handtype Press)

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Queer and Celtic–a niche market? You bet. But there’s much to learn for everyone in this slim volume from Squares & Rebels, which taps a culture as rich and earthy as the smell from its turf fires. Wesley Koster has collected a diverse smorgasbord (yes, I know that’s Scandinavian, but I don’t know the Irish equivalent) of poetry, drama, memoir, and fiction that entertains as it educates. No mean feat, that.

The collection features old friends like Jeff Mann along with some authors I’d never heard of before who turned in some stunning work in terms of both depth and interest. Mann is represented by both poetry (“I Looked for You,” “Irish Coddle”) as well some wonderful travel writing in “Ireland,” which sees him in several cities from Dublin to Galway to Inishmore, as enamored of romantic ideals as he is confounded by reality as when he arrives in Dublin:

I’m not sure what I expected. Leprechauns and Celtic harps on every corner, perhaps, the atmosphere aswirl with almost palpable magic, with poetry and folklore. But Dublin is just another city. Building construction growls everywhere, with its ugly cranes, grit, and mud. The streets are too crowded and, to my surprise and disgust, scattered with litter. I regret not having read more James Joyce, whose works might have been able to gloss this unattractive reality with literary meaning.

But Mann is not the only one to find contradiction in the Emerald Isle. Trisha Collopy’s “21 Meditations on the Catholic Body” illustrates some disparities between the theory and practice of Catholicism, Robin NiChathain contrasts what does and doesn’t translate in “Debt of Light,” and Michael O’Conghaile shows us brilliantly what can and cannot be forgiven in his touching essay, “Father.”

Indeed, family is as important as anything in the Irish culture, and this is well represented in Diane Searls’s short scene “The Goldie Boy” as well as the escape from family as in Isaac Swords’s “Angry Sheep: Recollections of Growing Up Gay in Northern Ireland.” For me, however, the very heart of this book lies in the final entry, Brian Merriman‘s “The Gentleman Caller,” which sees a modern gay man reflecting on the death of a village octagenarian. Perhaps the last of a dying generation, this gossipy old man is a “confirmed bachelor” and tireless worker for the Church. Merriman leaves open-ended the question of whether or not Martin, the old man, was in fact gay. But Merriman uses the possibility as a springboard for rumination about his own life, his gayness, and his place in society.  Mesmerising and emotionally powerful, this piece is one I turned over in my mind long after I finished the book.

And those are just a few reasons why this important volume should not be overlooked by any ethnic group. It’s lessons are timeless, universal, and beautifully written.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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