If you’re bumming it on the beach, at the pool or in your nicely air-conditioned apartment this summer, here are some of our picks for reading material with queer twists.
“All That’s Left”
By Ward Anderson
This dramatic novel is the story of straight-laced responsible Steven, who has to travel from his middle-of-the-road life in the United States to Singapore to retrieve the body of his recently deceased free-spirited brother, Scotty, who lived a wild and hedonistic life. Along the way he encounters his brother’s sexy, smart girlfriend, who might be hiding the truth about his brother’s death.
Spoiler alert: Stop reading if you don’t want to know the plot hook to this story.
Steven finds out that his brother’s young and pretty girlfriend, with whom he is also infatuated, is transgender.
The author, who is straight, handles the story gracefully, without the predictable and sensational “ripped-from-the-headlines” turns one would expect from a writer outside of the community. In the process, he weaves together a believable and enjoyable page-turner that is worth checking out.
— Larry Nichols
“Bordered Lives: Transgender Portraits from Mexico”
By Kike Arnal
This inspiring photography book presents striking images that portray the transitions of a handful of transgender Latino/as in Mexico.
Celebrating, not stereotyping, each subject’s life and experience, Arnal’s photographs depict everything from Genesis getting a haircut to Angie putting on her bra, combing her hair and applying lipstick. One of the most powerful spreads has Jessica waxing her facial hair. A black-and-white shot of her with a beard is then juxtaposed with a color photo of her hairless face.
One of the most pleasing images in “Bordered Lives” is the wedding photo of Mario and Diana, the first transgender couple to marry in Mexico. Other shots, such as Himmel, the transgender Model of the Year, performing her nightclub act, or Oyuki, a transgender sex worker negotiating with clients, reveal telling visual details. A strong introduction by Susan Stryker compliments the photographs and gives the subjects context.
— Gary M. Kramer
“Gay is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny”
Edited by Michael G. Long
Long has compiled a staggering number of letters and documents in this comprehensive compilation and manages to sort through the story threads to bring sense to the era and the movement, as seen through Kameny’s pen. While this book has been out since last fall, its appropriateness going into the 50th anniversary of the Annual Reminder Day marches is obvious. It’s not a light summer read by any stretch, but it contains many fascinating aspects and some still-thought-provoking messages to be echoed.
With letters to politicians, psychiatrists, fellow advocates, news personalities and even Ann Landers, it becomes clear that Kameny was not only passionate about his crusade, but also extremely patient and thoughtful. Even when scolding, he presented articulate and intelligent letters that may read accusatory, but remain civilized.
Kameny was definitely a clear, insistent voice of the era. While reading his letters — whose recipients included educational, political and scientific figureheads — one might think Kameny was the person instrumental in guiding the country’s leaders on LGBT issues, and influencing those who had the public’s ear — and that’s a fair assessment: Frank Kameny was definitely the father of the LGBT movement in America.
— Scott A. Drake
“How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood”
By Jim Grimsley
As we stand at the cusp of a seminal U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, Grimsley’s memoir about his own experience with the effect of another landmark SCOTUS decision, Brown v. Board of Education, provides a timely look at the reality of deconstructing institutionalized prejudice.
Grimsley takes readers through his elementary and high-school years, as integration comes to the South. He provides an honest depiction of the evolution of his own attitudes toward race: When three black students join his classroom, he confronts one of them with a racist, sexist comment. Yet, he can’t quite understand his own motivations; no one ever told him he was superior to his black classmates, Grimsley wrote, yet he felt inexplicably as though he needed to assume that position.
His understanding of and dissatisfaction with those cultural roles grows and becomes further defined as Grimsley ages, dovetailing nicely with his recognition of his sexual orientation.
What makes “How I Shed My Skin” so powerful is that Grimsley is not attempting to apologize for his previous prejudice; but rather, he illustrates the process of becoming enlightened about the root of social structures, and the challenges of overcoming those expectations — a lesson still apt in today’s world.
— Jen Colletta
“I’m Special And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves”
By Ryan O’Connell
O’Connell sets up his wonderful memoir/self-help book in his fantastic preface. He tells Millennials to wake up, grow up and take responsibility for themselves. In his 10 LOL-funny chapters, O’Connell describes his life as a gay man with cerebral palsy. He drinks too much, takes too many drugs and goes on bad dates. His candor about his sexual initiation is as potent as his advice on building real friendships.
O’Connell’s life lessons are valuable, and his tone — which is as smart as it is smartass — is what distinguishes “I’m Special.” His observation that being gay is weird, hard and complicated is endearing. But his most salient point is that, while he acknowledges that he may be treated differently for being different, he is no different or better than anyone else. It is finding one’s own self-worth, not playing the victim, that provides the key to finding personal happiness.
“Lincoln Avenue: Chicago Stories”
By Gregg Shapiro
This slim volume of engaging short stories — several of which have been previously published — is easy to read in one sitting. Set in the pre-Internet age, Shapiro uses pop-culture references and Windy City streets and landmarks to provide atmospheric details. Many of the collection’s best tales depict young gay men experiencing the throb of desire. When characters in the stories “Dirty 30 and Two Dozen,” “The Breakdown Lane” and “Your Mother’s Car” meet a potential new boyfriend, readers will be equally beguiled.
Shapiro also nicely portrays the ache of a certain kind of heartbreak in “The Tracks,” his most ambitious story. While the author ably captures the awkward family dynamics between mothers and gay sons in “Rocking Sylvia’s World” and “Marilyn, My Mother, Myself,” the book’s lone non-gay entry, “Like Family,” about an abused child, feels completely out of place. Shapiro’s ability to create a sensation of nostalgia or longing is what makes “Lincoln Avenue” worth reading.
“Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas and Drug Dealers Plotted Against the Plague”
By Joyce Brabner, illustrations by Mark Zingarelli
This graphic novel is the true story of a group of friends and activists in the early 1980s who took on the emerging AIDS epidemic before it even had a name, using any means necessary.
The story follows Raymond, a queer male nurse who dabbles in pot-dealing when the opportunity presents itself. When HIV/AIDS starts emerging in the gay community, the apathy of the medical community and mainstream media motivated Raymond and his circles of friends to take matters into their own hands, using their professional and underground connections, to purchase and smuggle experimental antiviral meds not yet approved for sale into the country from Mexico.
Yes, it sounds like “Dallas Buyer’s Club” East, but Brabner and Zingarelli do a wonderful job expressing and depicting the emotional gravitas of the era, balancing the despair and sorrow of the situation with the hope and determination the community exhibited to figure out how to survive an epidemic that wasn’t clearly defined.
By Fredrik Eklund with Bruce Littlefield
Porn star-turned-wildly successful New York City real-estate broker and Bravo TV celebrity Eklund spills his trade secrets and keys to success in this New York Times best-selling self-help book.
Eklund, a rags-to-riches success himself, shares some of his personal stories, anecdotes and knowledge he’s gained from years in the biz. At the heart of “The Sell” is the realization that sales is a part of all of our lives, whether we realize or not. And most of us actually have tons of experience selling our most valuable asset: ourselves. Those who are successful have recognized this and use it to their advantage.
“The Sell” also includes advice for preparing, persuading and negotiating — crucial elements in any sell — keys to getting what you want out of life, according to Eklund.
“The Sell” is a must-read for any entrepreneur or business buff.
— Ryan Kasley
“The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins”
By Irvine Welsh
From the author of the infamous novel-to-movie “Trainspotting” comes a female-driven thriller set in Miami Beach that is equal-parts psycho-sexual mystery and guns-blazing, car-chasing action.
Protagonist Lucy Brennan’s life changes forever when she intervenes in what appears to be a gunman chasing two homeless men along the side of the road one night.
The fitness trainer becomes a hero and local celebrity overnight. But her time in the spotlight is up quicker than she would like when she finds out the gunman was actually a victim of child sex abuse and the two homeless men were serial pedophiles.
Vulgar, perverse, darkly comical and shocking at every turn, “Twins” is classic Welsh.
“Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen”
By Arin Andrews
High-school junior Andrews shares his very personal journey of transitioning from female to male and undergoing gender-reassignment surgery in this touching coming-of-age memoir.
“Assembly” captures the pain, joy, ups, downs and everything in between the 17-year-old’s life-changing decision. Relive the challenges that eventually led Andrews to get kicked out of his private school and brought him into a new relationship with another transgender teen.
Publishers Weekly called “Assembly” “a brave book that handles complicated and sensitive topics honestly and, at times, with humor.”
“Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights”
By Ann Bausum
Although she has a number of history books under her belt, Bausum admits in “Stonewall” that, when a fan uttered a whispered plea for an LGBT-themed book, she felt, as a straight ally, unqualified; but, the next day, New Jersey student Tyler Clementi committed suicide — an incident that prompted her to put her apprehension aside.
As the most recognized event in LGBT history, Stonewall anchors the book, yet Bausum effectively explores the political and cultural context leading up to and following the riots. She provides a rich and unbiased retelling, based on first-person accounts, of the riots themselves and later of their wide-ranging impact — so readers can trace the trickle-down effect the incident continues to have through today.
“Stonewall” is a quick read, and can be easily understood by readers of all ages — which is perhaps one of its most important aspects. As we become more and more distanced in time from the climate of the early LGBT-rights movement, educating our future generations about their significance becomes increasingly more important.
By Julia Bloch
This slim volume by Bloch, a local queer author, contains brief poems whose short lines call attention to recurring themes and self-conscious syntax. It contains fewer pop-culture references than her first book, “Letters to Kelly Clarkson,” a 2013 Lambda Literary Award finalist, but allusions to artists and poets abound.
“Valley Fever” is divided into three interrelated sections, but tracing the connections between them is left to readers. Images and phrases recur throughout, including birds, museums and the weather. Bloch isn’t recycling ideas, though; she’s mulling them over. In “Manhattanic,” for example, we learn that “Anything tipped/in metal must be good,” and a few pages later something — it’s difficult to determine what — is described as “Not precisely tipped in steel.”
“Haze,” the book’s central section, is a poetic travelogue of California’s Central Valley. Here Bloch, a Northern California native, looks beyond the region’s abundant agriculture, focusing instead on granite slabs and driving along the freeway. Perhaps this sequence is the “Californiad” mentioned in “Harpsdischord,” but if so, “Each exit is a lie/yet you have to exit,” as she writes in “Porterville.”
What emerges is an emotional landscape; to map it, one must read closely.
— Ray Simon
“What Else is in the Teaches of Peaches”
By Peaches, photographs by Holger Talinski
Out electro-pop musician Peaches hasn’t toured or recorded extensively in the United States since her tour for 2009’s “I Feel Cream,” but it turns out she hasn’t been dormant during that time.
With this coffee-table book, the talented, gender-bending singer takes readers behind the scenes of the last six years of her provocative live performances, DJ sets and performance-art projects around the world with an eye-catching collection of photos, as well as stories and testimonials by Yoko Ono, Ellen Page and Michael Stipe.
For fans of Peaches’ music and live shows, this book offers a candid, revealing look into her work you might have missed, because many of these ever-changing performances happened outside of the United States.
Whether on stage, backstage, in the studio or at home, Peaches always comes across as the adventurous and daring performer and personality her fans have grown to love. For both casual and hardcore fans of Peaches, this book is a must-have. n