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Archive for the ‘gay and lesbian’ Category

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It’s LGBT Pride Month, and you will definitely want to take a look at something very cool. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s website features a first-ever Gay Pride Month slideshow with a sampling of designated LGBT historic sites. My book The Queerest Places (1997) is quoted in the entry about Louis Sullivan.

Which is your favorite site? Vote here! I’ll start it off. My fave has to be the Elsie de Wolfe-Bessie Marbury House on E. 17th Street, very close to where I used to live. They were a lesbian power couple if ever there was one — Elsie an interior designer, Bessie a theatrical producer. They called themselves “The Bachelors” — you can read my post about them here.

Happy Pride!

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Today I welcome author Joan Opyr, whose novel Shaken and Stirred has just been released by Bywater Books. Shaken and Stirred is the story of Poppy Koslowski, who is trying to recover from a hysterectomy while her family has other ideas. Poppy is the one with the responsibility to pull the plug on her alcoholic grandfather in North Carolina. So she’s dragged back across the country from her rebuilt life into the bosom of a family who barely notice the old man’s imminent death. “And it’s a comedy,” remarks Joan. “Really. It’s quite funny.”

Considering that Joan Opyr’s first novel was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, this new novel should be a terrific read!

So where does her inspiration come from? Joan told me the queer writer she’d most like to sit down with for a chat is the Bard of Avon himself, William Shakespeare. Here’s Joan:

It doesn’t surprise me that the greatest writer in English, the most deeply kind, funny, and forgiving in his approach to humanity, was a bisexual.  Shakespeare was open to the world, to all that it had to offer.  And I have no time for the fruitcakes who argue that a glover’s son from Stratford could never have written such tremendous body of work.  In truth, you’d have to be a working man or a working woman to understand the broad spectrum of life.  Shakespeare was perfectly placed.  He knew people from the bottom to the top. And he knew love in all its guises.

Has Shakespeare influenced my writing?  It seems obnoxious to say yes, but it’s the truth.  You don’t have to compare yourself to Shakespeare to see that knowing his work broadens your perspective, or makes you more aware of language, and how you can use a vocabulary and an accent to sketch out a character.  Chaucer did this too, of course, but you asked for queer writers.  I like bawdy comedy.  I like slapstick and farce.  I also like the histories and the tragedies, but I’m not ready to write one of those yet.  I’ll need to be a little closer to taking the old dirt nap before I get to tragedy.

Sometimes, I think my story is about addiction and adultery. Other times, I think it’s about bad luck with the Avon lady. And not just one—one I could chalk up to chance. Two rotten Avon ladies feel more like a curse.”

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My classic novel, Out of Time, first published in 1990, is being re-issued as an e-book by Bywater Books any minute! History fans will appreciate the blend of past and present in this story about a woman who finds a photo album from the 1920s and is haunted by it … or is she? Take a look at the trailer!

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For those readers who live in California … or maybe make a yearly trek to San Francisco … or  just love queer historic sites — there’s a new Facebook page you should definitely check out. It’s called Preserving LGBT Historic Sites in California, and it’s an online archive created by a group of preservationists, dedicated to documenting and preserving the sites of significance to queer history in the Golden State. Meeting places, homes, gay rights landmarks, bars, hangouts — you name it, you’ll find information on it there. So drop in and “Like” this great new resource!

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My guest today is Hilary Sloin, author of the new novel Art on Fire, which is due out from Bywater Books at any minute. I personally can’t wait to read it.

Art on Fire is the apparent biography of subversive painter Francesca deSilva, the founding foremother of “pseudorealism,” who lived hard and died young. But in the tradition of Vladimir Nabokov’s acclaimed novel Pale Fire, it’s a fiction from start to finish. It opens with Francesca’s early life. We learn about her childhood love, the chess genius Lisa Sinsong, as well as her rivalry with her brilliant sister Isabella, who publishes an acclaimed volume of poetry at the age of twelve. She compensates for the failings of her less than attentive parents by turning to her grandmother, who is loyal and adoring until she learns Francesca is a lesbian, when she rejects her. Francesca flees to a ramshackle cabin in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, working weekends at the flea market. She breaks into the gloomy basement of a house, where she begins her life as a painter. Much to her confusion and even dismay, fame comes quickly. Art on Fire is a darkly comic, pitch-perfect, and fearless satire on the very art of biography itself.

If you’d like to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Art on Fire, leave a comment here about what excites you about this book and why you, too, can’t wait to read it. A winner will be drawn at random.

And now, some thoughts from Hilary about her writing process:

 

To be quite honest, I am something of a dilettante. If I had lived in Victorian England, people might have rolled their eyes when speaking of me and said I was subject to “enthusiasms.” Or I might have been a witch burned at the stake for being a little excitable. Sometimes I give up writing altogether and take up something else with fervor—for a while it was painting, for years it was music; these days, I am obsessed with finding and restoring antiques. There have been many phases in my life, but always I return to writing of some sort. Ultimately I can’t fight the fact that I need it like I need food and air. My friends all think I am very disciplined because I work all day from very early in the morning at whichever enthusiasm I am currently ruled by. Truth is, I am keeping the meaninglessness away. And nothing keeps meaninglessness away like writing, which, when I am doing it, I can do around the clock. Even when I don’t hold pen to paper, I stare off into space and think about my characters, imagine them walking across the room, lying down to bed. While I walk my dog I hear them talking. I see them sitting opposite one another with nothing to say or with everything to say but too frightened or angry to say it.

 

The one thing that holds true with everything I write—and finish—is that I fall in love with what I am working on, whether it be the story, the place, or the characters. Ideally, all of the above holds me sway. With Art on Fire, which was my first attempt at a novel after many years of writing plays and stories, I fell in love first with Isabella, the protagonist’s mentally ill and acutely intelligent sister.  Isabella is so much smarter and wittier than I have ever proved to be and, of course, this fascinates me.  How can I create a character who surpasses me by leaps and bounds? Soon I fell in love with Francesca, too, but that was for entirely different reasons: I had created my dream lover: a cowboy in girl’s clothing, the one who cannot be possessed, who oozes with the need to express herself but cannot. And again, I was fascinated because to this day I am still not sure whether Francesca’s paintings were any good or whether, as some of the critics in the book postulated, she was simply in the right place at the right time, an icon of pop culture. I fell in love with Evelyn Horowitz, Francesca and Isabella’s terribly human grandmother, because she is basically my grandmother and every time I read the chapters where she appears I cry, missing my own Gram all over again. And then there is Lisa Sinsong, who bears all the tragedy and much of the poetry of the story, who is victim to family legacy in a way that seemed to me to be inevitable in this particular book. How could I not love and want to save her?  I was able to write Art on Fire because it held my attention. It made me laugh and cry as I was writing it. Sometimes I just sat back, took a drag of my cigarette, and felt very good about creativity and that it was the one constant in my life. Like all things that come from the heart, it is a flawed product, but it breathes and pulsates and that is the kind of writing I seek out. Anything else fails to hold my attention. I hope this book will hold yours.

 

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Bloomington, Ind.
Kinsey Institute

Indiana University

 

My partner was recently at a conference at Indiana University and took a tour of the awesome Kinsey Institute. Alfred C. Kinsey (1894-1956), a professor of biology at the university, initiated the now legendary Kinsey Report because is students were inundating him with questions about sex and sexuality. “They came to him,” the official report explained, “because they hoped that he as a scientist would provide factual information which they might consider in working out their patterns of sexual behavior.”

With the support of the university, the staff of the Institute for Sex Research (the Kinsey Institute) undertook a massive study of human sexual behavior, beginning in 1938. Their initial report, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” was published in 1948, and followed in 1953 by “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.” Kinsey researchers established a simple numerical scale from 1 to 6 to classify sexual behavior, with “1” indicating exclusive heterosexuality and “6” exclusive homosexuality.

Based on a survey of approximately 8,000 men, the Kinsey Report knocked everyone’s socks off with its finding that one in 10 identified as exclusively homosexual, a percentage that continues to be debated and contested. Even more shocking was Kinsey’s assertion that over one-third of the men surveyed had had at least one adult same-sex experience and that fully half admitted having erotic responses to other men. The figures for women were slightly lower but carried the same wallop.

Though not intended as such, the Kinsey Report — both studies were instant best-sellers — was a milestone in gay and lesbian history. For gay people, it gave scientific credence to the idea that “we are everywhere,” and for Americans in general, it paved the way for a more open discussion about human sexual desire.

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Fonthill

Doylestown, Pa.

Henry Chapman Mercer home

“Fonthill”

84 South Pine Street

So I’m sitting in the vet’s office, waiting for my dog, Lucy, who’s in the back getting an X-ray. (Don’t worry – she’s okay.) And they only have two magazines to read – Parents and Bark. Since I’m not a parent (well, not of a child, at least), I pick up Bark and start thumbing through it. It’s one of those content-light glossies crammed with pictures of cute dogs, the kind that make you say “Aw-w-w” right out loud.

I get to an article called “A Dog’s Castle: Delightful Discovery in Doylestown,” and suddenly I’m interested enough to read more than the first paragraph. The story is about Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), a rich guy who, in the 1910s, built a concrete castle for himself called Fonthill, which is today a big tourist draw in Doylestown. The author of the article talked about how cold the castle seemed to her, until she learned more about Mercer. “He may have been a bachelor and an eccentric,” Sally Silverman wrote,” “but he also was an avid dog lover and advocate for all creatures.” That’s when my gaydar started going off, so I read on: “Mercer was a private man and destroyed much of the personal information that might have given historians a window into his life…” Ding ding ding ding ding!

Fonthill is apparently something to see, with 44 rooms, 32 stairwells, 200 windows, and 18 fireplaces. It’s filled with pottery and tiles, which Mercer collected. It turns out that he was also an antiquarian and archaeologist, a founding member of the Bucks County Historical Society, and the founder of the Mercer Museum and the Moravian Tile Works, both also in Doylestown. When I got home from the vet, I tried to locate any source that suggested he was gay, but all I could find was a small reference to him in Will Fellows’ excellent book, A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture.

Mercer deserves more study by gay scholars, although probably much of what we would have found useful was in those files he destroyed (as did so many other queer personages of the past). I did find a reference to his having come down with gonorrhea after a trip to Europe as a young man (and the suggestion that that was why he never married). If anyone has other information about Mercer, I’d love to hear about it.

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Me (left) and Katie

In looking through some old photos, I found one of me and my partner Katie in 1992, when we were newly a couple and took our first trip together, to visit friends in L.A. Apparently, I was crazy for queer sites even then, as my friend snapped a shot of us paying homage to the cement hand- and footprints of Joan Crawford in the famous forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Click here for a guide to other stars’ signatures at Grauman’s.

I love playing bitches. There’s a lot of bitch in every woman – a lot in every man.”

-Joan Crawford

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Thanks to Steven Reigns of The Gay Rub, I had enough materials to go out into the field yesterday and do a rubbing of artist Andy Warhol’s tombstone. If you missed my post about Steven’s project, click here. Directly behind me in the photo is the grave of Andy’s parents.

And here’s what the decorations and mementos on Andy’s grave look like right now. In addition to the soup cans and Coke bottles, someone left an envelope of their writing at the side of the stone, and there’s a plastic egg for Easter, too. For more about Andy, see my earlier post.

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Lowell, Mass.

Jack Kerouac Commemorative

Eastern Canal Park

Bridge Street

Following on the heels of my most recent post on City Lights Books… Writer Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was born in this old mill town to French-Canadian parents, and did not learn to speak English until he went to school. Kerouac left Lowell at 17 for New York City, where he briefly attended Columbia University. In 1944, his girlfriend, Edie Parker (later his first wife), introduced him to Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, and the triumvirate formed the core of the Beat poets.

Kerouac’s most famous novel, On the Road (1957), was written in three weeks on a scroll that he made out of sheets of paper taped together so that he could type without interruption. A tour of the scroll began making its way to universities and museums around the country in 2004.

Kerouac married three times and had one daughter. (Also a writer, Jan Kerouac committed suicide in 1996.) He also had a variety of male lovers, among them his fellow Beats and writer Gore Vidal. An alcoholic, he died young of complications of the disease.

Lowell erected this sculpture to its native son in 1988, after several years of dispute about whether the town should memorialize an alcoholic. Citing his literary contributions, Kerouac supporters won out, and Ginsberg read some of his early poems at the dedication. “Kerouac is the heart and spirit of what has brought us together!” Ginsberg proclaimed. The granite panels, created by artist Ben Woitena, are inscribed with excerpts from Kerouac’s work, including the opening paragraph of On the Road.

There are other tributes to Kerouac in different parts of the country. Most notably, the bungalow in Orlando, Fla., where Kerouac was living when On the Road was published and where he wrote much of The Dharma Burns (1958) now houses the Jack Kerouac Project, a residency program for writers.

For the Kerouac Commemorative I sought images which sculpturally communicate and honor his philosophy of life and the genius of his literary talent. Conceptually, the park is structured in the form of a mandala; that is, a diagram of symbolic geometric arrangements designed to make clear the relationship between the quoted texts and the visual images which inspire them.”

-Ben Woitena

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