Category Archives: LGBTQIA

Book Review: Tomboy Survival Guide, by Ivan Coyote

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For several weeks, I’ve been hinting about a new freelance book review gig. I’m thrilled to announce that I am a new contributor to the popular book site Shelf Awareness.  My first review for Shelf Awareness was Ivan Coyote‘s memoir Tomboy Survival Guide about growing up transgender in the Yukon during the 1980s and their process of discovering and accepting their gender identity.

As coincidence would have it, this review was published last week — on Election Day, no less — and I share it with you now, during Transgender Awareness Week. In these uncertain and frightening times, Ivan’s voice becomes even more important.

Read more about Ivan’s story and my full review of Tomboy Survival Guide in the Biography and Memoir section of Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

Review: You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, by Arisa White

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You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened
by Arisa White

Augury Books
2016
100 pages 

Language is at the heart of poetry, with each word carefully considered for its meaning, cadence and place. In You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, the third poetry collection from Arisa White, language is elevated and emphasized in an innovative way.

As per the publisher’s description, “Arisa White’s newest collection takes its titles from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians, reworking, re-envisioning, and re-embodying language as a conduit for art, love, and understanding.” Because many of the titles are common words that may not be readily apparent as offensive in English (but are derogatory in other countries and cultures), White includes a glossary of the words’ disparaging connotations.

(“…how sexist the language was, the fear of the feminine, how domestic, how patriarchal, how imaginative, and the beauty I discovered when I paused to wonder about the humanity inside these words and phrases,” White writes in an Introduction to You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. While reading these poems, beauty might not be the first descriptor readers conjure up.  Arisa White’s work is raw and searing, delving into topics many find difficult and perhaps even ugly.

And that’s exactly what makes You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened a touchstone collection, especially in these unprecedented times when our societal discourse, national rhetoric and political exchanges from the likes of the Republican candidate for President of the United States (and his entourage) divulge into demeaning and crass language about women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, immigrants, and everyone who is perceived as different, flawed, “other” or “less than.”

If words could stick on people,
if spoken, they would become
a different creature.

Blinded and you’re turned
five times around. Nothing
in you knows what it knew.

It’s the best part of the game:
Prick the girls you like best
while pinning on the donkey’s tail.
(“Tail”) 

Arisa White’s poems are rooted in words that demean and belittle  — but their transformation is a product of the inherent beauty of humanity and love for each other.  We may feel your words but we are greater than them, Arisa White seems to be saying. We are more than your hurled venom, larger than your overpowering prejudice and stronger than strangers’ stigma.

We’re queer and you look too much boy good thinking
taking the rainbow off the plates in Maryland —
no one looked at us longer than was needed.
(“Strangers”)

As humans, as a people, we are encompassed by memory; we are love, we are our losses and life combined. (“I realized that the labels we use to name present us with a loss,” White explains in her introduction. “To name a person, an experience, or an object means we see it for that purpose, that utility, and gone to us is the ‘what else’ — the possibilities of everything the label can’t encompass.”)

Together since the year of my birth,
yet you are pantomime in the wings of our family’s speech
Why do you arch in shadows, 

accept the shade eclipsing her face? 
The holidays would be more gay 
if we didn’t ghost in dead air, 
in wooden boxes, letters folded over and over again, in locked rooms
where shames are secretly arranged— 
(“Auntie”)

Nestled within You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is an elegiac suite of poems titled “Effluvium.” (I needed to look up the definition; if you need a vocabulary lesson, too, dictionary.com tells us that it is “a slight or invisible exhalation or vapor, especially one that is disagreeable or noxious.”)  These poems, a remembrance “for Karen, 1963-2000,” focus on a loved one who died of AIDS. While several other offerings in this collection are slightly vague and indirect, this suite doesn’t need backstory.  The heartbreaking loss of a young mother in her late 30s is all we need to know.

For some, these will be difficult poems for their subject matter and the rawness of the language. It’s not a collection for everyone. But at the same time, it is for everyone because all of us have known pain and all of us have seen the ugly side that life can bring. And we’ve emerged through that experience changed by the way darkness can transform into light, and ugliness into beauty.

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About Arisa White
Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, and Black Pearl. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List and is a member of the PlayGround writers’ pool; her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of Play Ground Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2005 and 2014, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.

poetic-book-toursMany thanks to Augury Books for providing a free copy of You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened and to Poetic Book Tours for including me among the bloggers on this tour. No monetary compensation was exchanged for this review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Salon/Currently … October Surprises

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So much to tell you this week.  First and foremost, though, my thoughts are with all who are being affected by Hurricane Matthew and his aftermath. I know several of our friends and family had some stressful days this week and others are still dealing with the storms. And Haiti–my God, what a heartbreaking situation.

Speaking of storms, I can’t even with the political storm surrounding Donald Trump’s 2005 commentary about being able to grope any woman he pleases because he’s “a star.” Why anyone is shocked by this is beyond me, because all one needs to do is reference any of his rants on women (or anyone else, frankly) to know this is the Republican nominee’s true colors. I’d considered writing a post about such, but you probably have a pretty good idea of my thoughts on the matter. If not, they’re summed up pretty succinctly by the “You’re So Vain” video by the Patriotic Artists and Creatives PAC, which marks the first time ever that the incomparable Carly Simon allowed “You’re So Vain” to be used for political purposes. It’s perfect.

And in the poetry realm, Pittsburgh poet Jeff Oaks (who I was honored to read with at Acquired Taste) pens “The God Abandons Donald Trump: a dream”.  (“Now the smoke of sharpening scythes clings to your ties; the voices of the women you thought you’d smothered in gold are rematerializing.“) A great poem.

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YA author panel of Caleb Roehrig, Emma Mills, Anna Banks and Marissa Meyer being interviewed by Julie Hakim Azzam. October 4, 2016, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo taken by me.

We missed most of the Vice Presidential debates this week (Good God, was that just this week?) because we were at the Fall 2016 Fierce Reads Tour featuring YA authors Marissa Meyer, Anna Banks, Caleb Roehrig, and Emma Mills.  The Girl loves Marissa Meyer’s books, so she was the main attraction for us, but all of the authors were incredibly funny and entertaining. We especially enjoyed Caleb Roehrig, who we talked with after the event. His first novel Last Seen Leaving was published that same day and I started reading it while in line to get our books signed. I can already tell it is one I’m likely to enjoy.

the-literary-others-an-lgbt-reading-event-oct-2016There’s an LGBTQ storyline in Last Seen Leaving, which makes it a fitting edition to The Literary Others.  I’m participating in this LGBT Reading Event which is being hosted by Adam of Roof Beam Reader in honor of LGBT History Month. This week I read I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, a novella by Jennifer Finney Boylan about a family on a road trip trying to find their place in each other’s lives and the world. I loved this story, just as I loved her memoir I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted about living in a haunted house (on Philadelphia’s Main Line!) and her journey as a transgendered person.

I’m currently reading Just Kids by Patti Smith (we’re doing an event at work with Patti tomorrow night, and I’m really hoping to finish this in time) and in the car, I’m listening to The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman.

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Writing … 
So grateful to my friend Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, also a Pittsburgh blogger, who mentions my very short Halloween story “Extractions” in her post “Writers in Pittsburgh Are Going to Be Busy.”  This came as quite the surprise, especially since the Google Alert I have on every version of my name didn’t pick it up. Thank you, Elizabeth!

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Another surprise was discovering that my review of Judy Blume’s In the Likely Event was blurbed (with my name!) in the paperback edition!  I can’t believe it. This was a review I’d published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June 2015, and I had no idea about this until The Girl showed me last night. Crazy!

 

OK, time for a little reading before making the popcorn for tonight’s presidential debate and whatever surprises await us then.

 

sunday salon/currently …70/99

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With less than a month until Labor Day — not to mention two weeks (!!!) before school starts — summer definitely is winding down. The breeze on the deck is starting to feel a little different, in the same way that the light looks with the shortening of days.

Summer’s impending farewell means that my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project now enters the home stretch. This is post #70 and I will confess to you that while I’m glad I embarked on this (and I have all full intentions to continue for the next 29 days), part of me will be glad to say goodbye — to this particular project that is, not the blog itself!   Although 70 days is about 69 days longer than I anticipated lasting, I’m ready to switch my attentions elsewhere — to an exciting writing project I’ve been making plans for and certainly more time to read, which I’ve really been missing. Yesterday I spent most of the afternoon just reading while The Girl was at an all-day Teen Comic-Con event yesterday at the library — and it felt so decadent.

Reliance, IllinoisReading // Yes, I’m still reading Reliance, Illinois.  At the rate I’m going, you’d think this book was a thousand pages long rather than 368.  (It just misses qualifying for the Big Book Summer Challenge being hosted by Sue at Book by Book…which, speaking of, I need to get moving on if I have any hopes of finishing a 400+ page book by Labor Day. I have my doubts, though. Fortunately I have a few books in my pile that will easily meet that requirement — and if I supplement it with the audiobook version, this might actually be doable.

The Literary Others - An LGBT Reading Event Oct 2016Speaking of reading challenges, this week Adam from Roof Beam Reader announced The Literary Others, An LGBT Reading Event that he’s hosting from October 1-31, 2016. I will definitely be participating in this one and will likely do a longer post with some recommendations of excellent books to consider.

Watching // Rather, what I’m not watching: the Olympics.  It sounds terrible, I know, but I really have no interest. And everyone who is watching seems to be complaining that it’s more commercials than Olympics, so it doesn’t sound like I’m missing much.

Cooking // Made overnight oats (a.k.a., refrigerator oats) for the first time this weekend.  I checked out a bunch of new cookbooks yesterday from the library in my elusive hope of finding some new dinner possibilities. I created what I thought was a healthy dinner tonight — “steak” fajitas (peppers, portabella mushrooms) over brown rice — and it turned out pretty lousy.

Listening // Still on my political podcast binge.  Best of the week:

The Bob and Chez Show “The Yokel Whisperer” (8/4/2016) (I honestly cannot imagine this election season without listening to Bob and Chez. Love them.)

The Bob and Chez Show “The Evel Knievel of Racism” (8/2/2016) The opening to this episode had me laughing so hard on Tuesday’s afternoon commute home from work. Such great stuff.

Katie Couric has a brand new podcast (seriously, who doesn’t have a podcast these days?)  and  her 7/29/2016 show “Frank Luntz: Behind the Polls” includes an interview with the longtime political pollster.

And, just to prove that I still listen to other things besides political commentary:

Fresh Air: Novelist Jay McInerney (8/1/2016) Jay McInerney discusses getting fired from The New Yorker, dating Rielle Hunter, and his new book Bright Precious Days.

Linking // 
Paul Krugman’s op-ed “Worthy of Our Contempt” in the New York Times (8/1/2016)
“For rank-and-file Republicans, it’s presumably about feelings … . And indulging your feelings at a time like this amounts to your dereliction of duty as a citizen.”

From NPR yesterday: “Khizr Khan Says He Would Live This Week A ‘Hundred Million Times’ Over”

And to end on a humorous note, Nicholas Mirello’s piece for McSweeney’s on “Marie Kondo’s Election-Changing Magic to Saving the United States of America.”

Hope you had a great weekend!

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #70 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

sometimes there aren’t any words (16/99)

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I’m still trying to process Orlando.

I still don’t have the words.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #16 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

Photo taken by me at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh, PA
April 2015 

 

love and orlando (14/99)

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“It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love,
when you love, or how you love.
It matters only that you love.”

~ John Lennon (source unknown)

I had a different post planned for today.  You see, it’s our anniversary, and my thought was to write something related to that. Maybe about how we came home from Philadelphia this afternoon only to discover the fridge had leaked all over the kitchen floor and how — once again — our anniversary gift is a household appliance.

But like everyone else, I’m incredibly saddened and outraged by the mass shooting last night in Orlando that has, as of this writing, left 50 people dead and so many lives tragically, irrevocably changed.

I’m tired of the hatred and the anger, of the judgment and the stereotypes, of the inaction and ineffectiveness. I don’t understand why we fear those who are different from ourselves and why we cling to misconceptions and myths.

In a few minutes I’ll tumble into bed, exhausted from the last few days and the drive back home and the looming home repairs. In the last few minutes of this wedding anniversary, I won’t take for granted that I get to crawl into bed next to the person I love and who I am grateful to have celebrated 23 years with today.  I’ll wonder why it is that my marriage and my relationship is somehow seen as better or more superior than someone else’s just because of who I love, where I love, why I love, when I love, and how I love.

And I’ll wish for a day when those divisions dissolve, and for there to be less hate and more love. For everyone.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #14 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

I Am Not a Writer

Pittsburgh Bloggers Guest Blogger Event 2016

Today’s post comes from my friend Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers.  For April Fools, local bloggers are having some fun by showing up on other blogs with guest posts. You can see my post over on my friend Emily Levenson’s new blog harvest + bloom, where I talk about how a potential freelancing opportunity allowed me to see the value of time in a new way. 

And now, without further ado, please welcome Sue Kerr!

I am not a writer. There’s no unfinished manuscript in my life, nor any lingering regret about not pursuing a career as a journalist. I don’t write poetry and I’ve never kept a journal in my entire life.

In 2005, I began blogging as a community organizing tool (I’m a social worker, not a writer.) I never expected to still be at it in the year 2016. Didn’t expect to write – WRITE – over 2,000 blog posts. Didn’t see it coming that my blog would be the longest running LGBTQ blog in Pennsylvania (yep, the whole darn Commonwealth) nor did I imagine being asked to write things for other people’s sites. Sometimes, they pay me. Who knew?

I should also tell you that I am not an artist. But somehow I find myself now managing a multi-year community art project on my blog. I’m a blogger artist attached to a gallery and funded by a major foundation. How did that happen?

Blogging. Blogging happened and now I am fortunate enough to be curating a project called AMPLIFY which explores the everyday ‘lived experiences’ of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) neighbors in Western Pennsylvania. I collect their stories using an online form and publish them in a Q&A format without editing or modifying their words.

Blogging allows for many things. It allows me to publish without concerns for grammar or spelling overruling someone’s authentic voice. It allows me to modify the questions as we move through the project. I have the flexibility to use pseudonyms to protect identities. And I have the privilege of using my own voice via my original content to continue drawing people’s attention to this curated archive of their neighbor’s experiences.

We started in January 2015 and now find ourselves with more than 125 contributions from people with ties to 18 of the 26 Western PA counties in our cachement area. They range from 18 – 71 and run the gamut of identity, gender, race, religion, family status and so forth. Their stories are profound and ordinary; I’m sure you would find at least one anecdote that rings true for you, no matter who you are.

There are three reasons why I am doing this. First, I believe that the power of sharing one’s story is a positive experience and want to create a safe space for my LGBTQ siblings and neighbors to be able to do that on their own terms. Second, there is also power in having access to an archive of people’s stories that mirror your own experiences. A blog archive can be accessed anywhere in the world where there is Internet access. It serves both as a unifying experience now for today’s neighbors and a permanent record of what life is like in the mid 2010’s for LGBTQ residents in Pennsylvania, a state with marriage equality but no statewide non-discrimination protections. And, finally, I know that the act of being more visible is a dynamic force that creates change.

AMPLIFY will continue throughout 2017 so we have the opportunity to reach out and connect with people in the outlying counties, to gain their trust and invite their participation. After that, who knows what is next? I am working with the Senator John Heinz History Center to ensure that AMPLIFY’s archive is accessible.

In the meantime, I am publishing an AMPLIFY zine series and working with a local playwright to create a staged version of the blog posts. I just submitted a forum piece to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And there are three partially completed grant proposals in my inbox.

Clearly, this not a writer thing hasn’t worked out for me. And I couldn’t be happier.

Established in 2005, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents is the longest running LGBTQ blog in Pennsylvania. Editor Sue Kerr is a social worker, social media consultant and avidly shares pet pics to her Instagram account. She is currently a Resident Artist with Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery where she created the #AMPLIFY project. You can find her on Twitter at @pghlesbian24 and Instagram @pghlesbian

Thanks, Sue!  For more April Fools fun, visit the other participating Pittsburgh Bloggers listed below.  

Harvest + Bloom // Yes, Wear That! // jelly jars // Glam and Graffiti // To The Streets // In Pursuit // Pittsburgh & Pearls // Beezus Kiddo // Goodness Madness // Last Minute Panic // Steel City Intrigue // Crank Crank Revolution // Amanda Narcisi // Pittsburgh is Beautiful // From Cats to Cooking // Yum Yum PGH // Breelicious Bites // Parmesan Princess // Coffee & A Blonde // The Steel Trap // Wavy Alabaster // everybody loves you… // Eat with Emily // Don’t Forget to Eat // Sloping in the Sky // From Farm to Turntable // Secrets in the Wall // Red Pen Mama // Feedback Soup // The AP Collection // Blog Or Die PGH // Pittsburgh Happy Hour // Friendly Fitness Foodie // Small Town Dad // Josh’s World // Geeky Sweetie // Sean’s Ramblings // Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes // Try it and You May! // lil Burghers // Orange Chair Blog // Ya Jagoff // Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents // Melissa Firman