Last gasp beach reads: A late-summer reading list

ObergThere’s still lots of summer left. Time for one last dip in the lake. A few weekends left for romantic getaways. Time to say goodbye to your new college freshman .. or senior. Time to spend a weekend at the beach. And time left for a good book, so why not try one of these…?


If a wedding was in your summer plans this year, you’ll still want to read Love Wins by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell. It’s the story of the people – lawyers and otherwise — who fought for marriage equality and won. Pair it up with Then Comes Marriage by Roberta Kaplan with Lisa Dickey, a book about the United States v. Windsor and the end of DOMA.

QVFor the reader who’s spent the summer looking for a spiritual home, Queer Virtue by The Reverend Elizabeth M. Edman could be what you need. This is a book about how the church needs LGBTQ worshippers to strengthen their core and to return the church to a true Christian faith.

Sometimes, all you need for the end of summer is a good romp in the paper, right? So look for Fun with Dick and James by Rich Barnett, and buckle your seatbelt. It’s a story of a rich Delaware man with an ex-wife and other assorted problems, who is plagued by a malicious dentist nemesis. How does he extricate himself from trouble? All it takes is a good boyfriend…

RELATIONSHIPS. How many times have you fallen in love this summer? Maybe more than you think, and you can find out by reading Happily Ever After… and 39 Other Myths about Love by Linea & Charlie Bloom. This book could enhance your relationship. It could make you lucky in love. It could make you fall in love with your spouse a time or two before summer’s over.

FOOD. No doubt, you’ve enjoyed a lot of good things to eat this summer. BBQs and cookouts re too irresistible, but did you ever wonder what your ancestors might have enjoyed under the stars? If you ever considered it, then read 100 Million Years of Food by Stephen Le and see how food has evolved, how palates have changed, and why we should care.

stuntwomen_coverHISTORY. Did you have your dose of adventure yet this summer? If not, then grab Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story by Mollie Gregory and hang on to your seat. It’s the story of Hollywood stunt doubles, the dangers they undertake, and their fight for recognition.

POLITICS. With politics on everyone’s mind (including yours!), you owe it to yourself this summer to read something that will make you think before you vote. In Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy by Dr. Julianne Malveaux, you’ll be asked a lot of questions that will require you to think deeply.

ANIMALS. Here’s something for animal lovers to take to the beach: Smoke the Donkey by Cate Folsom, the story of a small stray donkey found by soldiers in Fallujah. Who could resist a friendly animal like that? No soldier could, which is why Smoke became mascot, pet, friend, and ultimately, a new American resident. You can’t resist, either.

Filled with quirk, Goat Man by Thomas Thwaites is the story of a man who decides that it would be fun to be an animal for awhile. Seriously, so he “becomes” a goat and, in the meantime, learns a little about animals and himself. Pair it up with Pound for Pound by Shannon Kopp, you’ll read how one woman found several BFFs in an animal shelter in California. But who saved whom here?

HEALTH. If summertime’s got you down, then you might feel a little better with Ordinarily Well: The Case for Antidepressants by Peter D. Kramer. It’s a look at depression, the pills prescribed to fix it, and whether they’re a good idea or not.

And there you go — a lot of suggestions for a lot of summer left. Pick a book, because there’s time.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer



—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Queer like me

Jarrett Neal’s collection of fearless essays explores sexuality and race


Jarrett Neal

What Color is Your Hoodie? Essays on Black Gay Identity by Jarrett Neal (Chelsea Station Editions 2015) $18; 175 pp.

Born to a 14-year-old mother and raised in a household with an alcoholic grandfather, Jarrett Neal was in eighth grade when his gym class accidentally walked in on their coach, showering. It was Neal’s first glimpse of a naked man. It “ended my boyhood,” he writes.

He was well into college when he finally admitted to himself that he was attracted to men; still, the daily taunts from his more athletic and self-confident peers — and the absence of a father — haunted him. To counteract it, Neal joined a gym and worked out tirelessly, until he realized that he’d never have a body like He-Man. He was never going to make a living with his physique.

Instead, Neal knew that he had to write.

It was “write or die,” he says, though he’s been told that his style is “either too black or too gay” and he once assumed that “as a boy I wasn’t supposed to care about books.” Even so, he devoured the works of gay men — particularly those who were black. That voracity for books led to a teaching career.

In the essays compiled in this collection, Neal discusses the dearth of gay black men in films and television, and decries the lack of interest by white readers in the works of black authors. He looks at the sexuality of gay black men who, like most African-American men, live under sexual stereotypes that cause “a tremendous onus… to live up to.”
He writes about black men (some, gay) who have made history and changed perceptions within their neighborhoods or industries. And as a black man with a white husband, he notes that racism within the gay community is as big a problem as it is anywhere else.

What-Color-is-Your-HoodieNeal isn’t shy. There’s no waffling inside this book, nothing held back. He discusses gay porn as blithely as he does modern literature; he remembers his childhood with the same passion as he does coming out. Such power and force in writing serves to give readers — straight or gay — a solid understanding of the points he tries to make. We might laugh or raise our eyebrows but we also empathize or, as the case may be, sympathize.

What mars this otherwise well-done collection of essays is its sloppiness. What Color is Your Hoodie? is riddled with misspellings and punctuation mistakes which, because of the frequency, almost made me want to quit reading on several occasions. But if you can forgive that distraction, then this unusual book is a good read that may actually change minds. Truthful, blunt and thought-provoking (regretful mistakes aside), this should be read.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

­Confessions off the dancefloor

20 years ago, self-described ‘front row bitch’ Matthew Rettenmund wrote an exhaustive compendium of all things Madge. Now he revisits the ultimate tribute of literary superfandom, ‘The Encyclopedia Madonnica’


Matthew Rettenmund may not be Madonna’s bestie, but he certainly helped make her into a living legend — and gay icon.

Matthew Rettenmund is only kidding, but his enduring commitment to Madonna isn’t lost on him when he jokes, “She has me on speed hang-up.” It’s a statement that couldn’t ring truer if it were, well, true.

Except Rettenmund, the author known for quenching your man-thirst via his site Boy Culture, doesn’t know Madonna like you know your mom or a Facebook friend or even the hot Starbucks barista you shamelessly stalk.

He and Madonna have met, briefly, a few times, but they’re not musing introspectively on their way to Kabbalah classes, drafting, en route, a detailed plan for the icon’s next love-it-or-hate-it career conquest, though Retten-mund — who calls himself Madonna’s “front-row bitch” — would make an expert consultant. After all, he did document the life and times and first menstruation of Madge (actual entry: “Madonna first bled at age 10.”), when, two decades ago, he released Encyclopedia Madonnica 20: Madonna from A to Z. Now updated, this impressively crazy feat of fandom that goes deep (and deeper and deeper) into the pop empresses’ history is not just a book — when it comes to Madonna, it’s the Holy Bible.

 — Chris Azzopardi

Dallas Voice: You must know more about Madonna than Madonna herself.  Rettenmund: I think that’s true. That’s not to brag, but just like a lot of people, she seems to forget a lot of things about herself, and like a lot of stars enhances some things. I think I have more factoids than she’s ever kept at any one given time.

When did you decide that you would dedicate the rest of your life to this woman?  I’m not dead yet! I can still give her up! I first became really interested when I first heard her on the radio. I have a very clear memory of it, and it was when I first heard “Holiday.”  I was obsessed with the Billboard charts at the time, and I remember driving back from a Dungeons & Dragons session and I heard this song and thought it was amazing.

Of course it’s a cliché, but I thought she was a black girl. I really associate that song with “Let the Music Play” by Shannon because I was hearing them at the same time, and for some reason I was just so captivated by “Holiday” that I wanted to know more about her.

I liked being surprised by her even in small ways back then, and I liked a lot of different stars. I really liked Cyndi Lauper first, and so it took a while for all my forces to coalesce around Madonna. I would say when “Like a Virgin” came out it really kind of starting to hit its stride, and certainly by 1985 I had moved on from Cyndi Lauper, and Madonna was my woman — she was my main woman.

I found her really useful when I was talking to people too, because even back then I’d feel like when you were having a conversation about Madonna, it’s never just about Madonna; it’s about different suppositions and presets people have when they’re talking about her, and that’s not true of a lot of artists. She was kind of an icon from the beginning for that reason — she means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. She causes people to express things within themselves whether they intend to do it or not.

For me that was sexuality. I recall seeing the “Vogue” video and being awestruck that I could see boobage through that black lacey top. I associated Madonna with sex at a very young age. What facets of Madonna did you first cling to?  Oh, I mean that was definitely part of it. But before that, it was just the coolness. That’s true of almost any person you put on a pedestal. There’s a cool factor. But Madonna always had a certain effortless coolness. She never questions herself. She reminded me of Andy Warhol in that way. She had tunnel vision about what she wanted to do, that she was gonna do it really well and that she was the person to do it. I really admired that. I liked that she was so decisive and really so cool.

The sex part came along quickly, too. At the time, I was a teenager and had hormones flare-ups. And I was gay, and I just kind of felt that she was a kindred spirit. She’d come from Michigan where I came from — and where I’ll probably go when I die [laughs]. I just loved knowing that she had come where I had come from and was doing all this stuff and was so unafraid to be so expressively sexual in a way that I couldn’t be, so I definitely used her as a mode of expression as we do with any star. It was easier to say, “I love Madonna,” than it was to go into the hundreds of things that were wrapped up in that. I definitely used her as a kind of shorthand, and I liked that she used her music and her work as a shorthand to communicate back to her fans.

MatthewRettenmund3How would you describe your level of fandom when it comes to Madonna?  Front-row bitch. People always like to say, “I’m a crazy fan but I’m not crazy like that person,” but I don’t have a lot of wiggle room for that because I’ve written this huge book on her and people know me as someone who’s pretty far gone. But I would describe myself as someone who has complete respect and affection for Madonna, and the respect is very objective, and the affection is very subjective. I have a high level of both of those things, but I still think I’m able to be realistic, and I think that’s reflected in the book. As positive as it is, and as fawning as parts of it are, you do have to kind of step back and say, “This wasn’t so great, this let me down, this reveals a character flaw,” so I’m sort of a student of Madonna’s.

You definitely did not fawn over her film career.  Well, yeah. I think that’s a good way to tell if someone is too far gone as a fan: If they really like all of her movies. I think even she would admit that a lot her movies were not good. She may not agree why. [Laughs] She might say it was the script, it was the director. But also, you weren’t so great in them. So much of the criticism she gets is just ridiculously over the top and it’s unfounded and so mired in people’s hang ups and expectations: the way women and the way older women and the way public figures should act and behave. I’m someone who’s extremely sensitive, and as confident as I can be, I take stuff to heart in a way, and I like the fact that she’s able to present an extremely determined public face. And as much as it probably does affect her in some ways, it doesn’t stop her. That’s inspiring.

What compelled you to write this book 20 years ago?  When I wrote the first book and when I decided to update it, the way I approached it is: It had to be two different things. On one hand it is a serious reference book, but on the other hand there’s a ridiculousness about the endeavor. That’s the point of it. It is a pop artifact. I want it to be kind of ridiculous that we have a 600-page encyclopedia about this person, about any person. I was inspired 20 years ago by a dictionary on Marilyn Monroe and that one was very straight-laced. Basically entries with all the different people and places and things about her. I really kicked it up a notch from that. But that was my inspiration. So: I’m the Lady Gaga and those writers are the Madonna.

What does Madonna think of your book?  She loves it — no, I’m just kidding. I’ll tell you the truth: When I did the first book 20 years ago I approached her publicist to try to get them to potentially give me some information or help me out, and of course they ignored me. When the book came out, her publicist, Liz Rosenberg — and I’ll never forget it — called me at my new job and said, “I love this.” So I was thrilled that they liked it. What happened was they had me send a signed copy to Madonna and Madonna signed a copy for me. So she did see it and she was aware of it. But Madonna’s the kind of person who is not gonna be excited to hear that somebody wrote a book about her. She’s not gonna flip open a book and go, “Look at all this wonderful stuff he got right about me.” You just can’t picture that.

Who would wanna read a book about themselves anyway?  Nobody would, but especially someone who’s cool. She’d roll her eyes. This time around I did send it to her people again, got no negative feedback or anything. I haven’t gotten a signed copy this time, but I haven’t gotten a lawsuit either. If she gets it and flips through it — or maybe her kids would; I can imagine that happening more likely — I would hope she’d appreciate the affection that’s there.

Anything in the book that you’re uncomfortable with her seeing?  I wouldn’t want her to read about plastic surgery or my guesses about plastic surgery or any kind of personal health things. I don’t think I would care about her reading any of my impressions of her work. She understands that people have criticisms, and unlike most people who review her, I know that none of my reviews, even the ones that are negative, are outrageously off-base. They don’t come from a place of hating her.

Also, the last time, I was just some random kid doing a book and so nobody wanted to deal with me — except Allen Ginsberg, maybe because I was a young boy. But this time I was able to get some people to actually talk to me, and some of them said things that weren’t 100 percent positive, like the publicist from Desperately Seeking Susan who had a very long interview, and I put in every word. I found it really fascinating because he really respected her and thought she was talented musically early on. He was very frank in saying that there were times when it wasn’t cool to be seen with him, so she didn’t want to be seen with him, and so she’d blow him off.

This reminds me of the time we both interviewed Madonna in New York at the end of 2011, when, after I mentioned that people refer to her as the “queen of reinvention,” she snapped, telling me, “Don’t throw those tired, old clichés at me.” Which you note in your book! It’s forever immortalized. And you don’t even know how long that haunted me. I was happy to read that you thought Madonna was being “playful” with me, though.  I get it. I think when someone has that much power, any little swipe, any little movement can be taken with so much more powerfully. I sort of took it as she assumed that you were on the team and so it was fine to kind of give you a little kitty cat swipe.

Well, I’m glad. Aside from Madonna herself, you’d know best.  She told me it’s fine… just kidding. But I know what you mean. Before I met her I always wondered: What if I meet her and she’s horrible to me? Would I claim that I thought that was cool and amazing too? Or would I be deeply sad? Obviously you wouldn’t want her to be a total asshole, but luckily I got to meet her under positive circumstances, where she knew I was a member of the press. It wasn’t like I was coming up to her on the street and saying, “Oh my gosh can I get your autograph?” which would be like suicide and you might as well just step in front of a car.

How old were you when you first fell for Madonna?  I was born in 1968, Christmas ’68, so I would’ve been 13.

And is it true you have “literally over a ton” of memorabilia?  I do have a big archive. Up till about 24 years old, my rooms looked like they should be second-hand shops, but I did get over that pretty quickly. Now it’s all stashed away. So, if you walked into my apartment you’d know I like Madonna because there are three or four things on the wall, but they’re kind of tasteful, kind of cool high-end things, and then there’s a lot of other art. So it’s under control.

Over the years I have let go of things. And that’s a hard thing to come to grips with if you’ve kind of devoted a lot of time to collecting anything. It does make you think, “Do I really wanna get rid of all this?” and then you think, “Geez, do I really wanna die with all of this?”

What’s the first piece you ever owned?  Oh, that’s a good question. I know what it is: If you don’t count music, I remember very clearly buying my first Madonna poster at probably a Sam Goody’s or maybe even Coconuts near Genesee Valley mall. It was a caricature picture of her from Desperately Seeking Susan, and it’s really not a very good shot. Herb Ritts did the shoot and they’re all amazing but I always thought this shot was a little weird. She looks a little greasy, a little matted down [laughs]. But her face was amazing! The hair was just not quite right in this one shot. But I bought that poster, and that’s the one that replaced my Cyndi Lauper poster. In my opinion,
Desperately Seeking Susan is one of the best things Madonna has ever been associated with. I love that movie.

Even back then in Michigan, when I had to drive around, I had my routine where I would go to buy stuff and my approach to collecting was like that of a bug strip — anything that got close to me that had to do with Madonna was stuck to me and I kept it, or I found a way to get it. I wasn’t discriminatory at all. I bought music, I bought posters, I bought cheesy merchandise at stores. Old magazines, new magazines. For a long time I continued down that path.

I’m a big Mariah fan and, in fact, I remember getting a life-size Mariah cardboard cutout from Sam Goody’s. It was a hard day for me when I put it into storage in my late 20s. But you didn’t get rid of it?

No, no. Of course not.  [Laughs] That’s actually worse when it gets to that level, That’s when you go to a whole new level of crazy. So congrats.

Ha! Are you not at that level of crazy? You did write a 581-page book about Madonna that weighs four pounds.  Oh, I’m way beyond that. But I could probably be persuaded by the right entity to give my archives away, to donate them somewhere if I thought it’d be kind of kept well and made available. I mean, I have tens of thousands of clippings from magazines and newspapers. When you collect anything you have to decide if you’re collecting it to make a profit or collecting it because you love it.

For you, it’s because you love it, right? No, it’s just the money. [Laughs] No, I do love it. But I’m definitely not as crazy as I once was when it comes to collecting. If anything, I’ve gotten more successful in life and started making a little bit more money and deciding “I’m going to go to an auction! I’m going to buy something that she owns! I’m gonna buy a one of a kind thing!” You bump up from getting the latest foreign magazine to crazy shit you never thought you’d be looking into. It gets worse before it gets better.

‘Well, this has been great, Matthew. Thanks for the chat.  I appreciate you taking the time and I hope you didn’t read the Mariah Carey entry.

I did. It was the first entry I went to.  Fuck.

I didn’t want to sour this experience, but now that you have…  I do think it’s important to have a healthy sense of bitchery, but I will say that the whole “star wars” are tiresome when you get to be in your fucking 40s. It’s like, “I can’t read all this. There’s too many divas for me to hate.” Gaga fanatics would write me and say, “I hope you choke on your AIDS medications.” I loved that one. I definitely have been commented on posts about things I disagree with, but I’ve never gone to somebody’s Lady Gaga or Mariah Carey page to just start shit and say, “My favorite is better than your favorite.” So pointless. Come on guys. Promote the things you like and don’t worry about the things you hate.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

Love and (gay) marriage

The history of same-sex marriage is longer than you think; also, YA romance with a trans twist


The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World by Michael McConnell with Jack Baker (as told to Gail Langer Karwoski) (University of Minnesota Press 2016) $22.95; 200 pp.

As a child playing with neighborhood girls, Michael McConnell remembers wanting the same thing they wanted: to grow up and marry a handsome man. Their crushes were his crushes, but in the 1950s, that kind of thing wasn’t discussed.

By the time he entered college at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-’60s, however, McConnell had come out to his family and was comfortable with his sexuality. He met other gay men and enjoyed an active social life on campus. Then, on Oct. 29, 1966, he met Jack Baker.

For the first minutes of their get-to-know-you, McConnell thought Baker was much older, or perhaps straight. Baker’s demeanor was businesslike, almost military; McConnell had recently had his heart broken, and was guarded. Still, by the end of the evening, they were lovers; soon after, they were a couple.

Wedding-Heard-'Round-the-WorldBy the early ‘70s, though their relationship had to be kept quiet, McConnell and Baker were “out” enough to want to make real change. Baker, a Minneapolis law student, filed suit against the U.S. Department of Defense over an unfair downgrade in his discharge status. After following Baker north, McConnell fought job discrimination. And then there was the wedding Baker promised McConnell on Baker’s 25th birthday. It would happen — they just had to figure out how.

That would take some time, but Baker was on it. His legal training tickled his methodical mind, until he discovered two loopholes the state of Minnesota hadn’t closed. One led to the next, and both led to their history-making wedding in 1971.

That, of course, isn’t the end of the story. McConnell and Baker continued their activism but their nuptials — the first in America for same-sex celebrants — are the real focus in The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World. That’s a good thing, too, because the love story in this book is what makes it so readable. McConnell’s account is mostly what’s here, and it’s the quintessential romance: boy meets boy, boy marries boy, they live happily (almost) ever after.

Conversely, it’s the almost that makes this book so important: the battles the authors accepted caused emotional hardship in many ways and that almost caused a breakup.
And yet, for the sake of others that came after them, they continued to take on gay rights issues — stories of which are told humbly, yet proudly.

Overall, this is a sweet story wrapped inside a righteous fight, told with charm and grace. It’s deep, yet lighthearted and definitely worth a look. Start The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World — and you’ll have no defense.

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen 2015) $18.99; 416 pp.

Years from now, it’ll all seem so sweet. There’ll always be a soft place in your heart for your first kiss, your first I-love-you, and for the person who gave them to you. You’ll never forget the electricity of holding hands or the rush of being together even after, as for instance in the novel What We Left Behind, you start to pull apart.

Gretchen Daniels wasn’t sure why she didn’t tell her girlfriend, Toni, that they’d be attending college in different cities. Last spring, Toni applied to Harvard and Gretchen applied to Boston University — same city, opposite ends — both reasoning that they could at least spend weekends together. At the last minute, though, Gretchen decided to attend NYU.

What-We-Left-BehindShe didn’t tell Toni until the night before she left. They were juniors in their all-girl high school when Toni first saw Gretchen at a dance and was instantly in love. Everybody thought they were the cutest couple: Gretchen conferred upon Toni a new-found popularity. Toni taught Gretchen what it was like to be genderqueer — or at least she tried.

But the secret that Gretchen held all summer bugged Toni, and she was rightfully upset. She really didn’t have much to say to Gretchen, a silence complicated by Toni’s immersion into a campus group she joined. Freshmen weren’t allowed to be officers of the Undergraduate BGLTQIA Association but upperclassmen let her hang out with them and, under their tutelage, she began to explore labels for herself. She began to think about gender fluidity, and transitioning.

Toni’s lack of communication baffled Gretchen, and she discussed it at length with her new BFF, Carroll, a gay man who loved New York as much as Gretchen did. He was just one of the new friends she’d acquired, but she missed Toni and the closeness they had. She didn’t quite understand why Toni was questioning so much about herself, and she wasn’t sure how she’d fit in her girlfriend’s life if Toni became Tony. Would that change everything?

Better question: by the end of this book, will you care? I have my doubts.

What We Left Behind is very, very slow; in fact, it sometimes seemed to me that it was twice as long as its 416 pages of overly-detailed, same-old dialogue and young adults who were way too angst-y for my tastes. Yes, these kids do things that only increase the melodrama amongst themselves, which is ultimately not all that interesting but which creates an uneasiness in plot, making most of Talley’s characters mighty unlikeable.

And yet, I persevered. I was hoping to learn something from Toni’s gender-questioning. What I got instead was an abundance of language that seemed rather clinical and not always clear. Was that the point?  Shrug.

Romance readers may find a tiny smidge of amour here, if they’ve the time to look for it, but I really wasn’t a big fan of this book. For the most part, best you just heed the title and leave this behind.

And West is West
by Ron Childress (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2015) $26.95; 320 pp.

Six degrees of separation. That, supposedly, is the difference between you and any given person on the planet. Your dentist, for example, knows somebody who knows someone who… and pretty soon, you’re linked to a famous scientist or Hollywood star. It’s a fun pastime, that Six Degrees thing, and surprisingly easy to do but in the novel And West is West, it could also be a deadly game.

Living with Zoe wasn’t originally Ethan’s desire. She’d stayed at his Manhattan condo many times — they were a couple, after all — but he was still surprised when he heard himself ask her to move in, and equally surprised that she agreed. Yes, he loved her, which was something he only truly realized just before she left for a job in D.C.

3-And-West-is-West-edHeartbroken, Ethan turned to his other love: coding for United Imperial Bank. For him, it was the perfect job. UIB gave him an office and freedom to write algorithms to follow terrorists in order to follow the markets, creating serious money for Ethan and for his employers. That, plus Zoe, could’ve made him happy.

Except Zoe was gone, then someone set Ethan up to fail at work and his job was gone, too. And just as he thought things were looking up, Zoe was dead and Ethan was left holding the secrets of her life that her parents couldn’t tell her.

It always seemed as though Jessica Aldridge was running. She ran away from her mother’s alcoholism as a child. She ran away from family as a teen. She ran to the Air Force, where she became a highly-trained drone pilot but, since a remote strike had gone horribly wrong and someone had to take the fall for it, she ran from that, too.

But Jessica had just been following orders then. Her real mistake, she understood, was confiding her misgivings to the wrong person: her imprisoned father, whom she barely knew. She also understood that the government wasn’t going to take a breach of security lightly — and with the FBI on her tail, Jessica had to run again…

I have to admit that I was no big fan of And West is West when I started it. Its first few pages were more techy than I expected, and I wasn’t in the mood for that. Whoa, was I glad I stayed.

Once you get past the prologue, author Ron Childress takes readers in a whole different, unexpected direction with what seems like a profile of a psychologically flawed man. Ethan, in fact, is driven, indecisive, and so very imperfect — which makes him the perfect distraction from the page-ripping thriller that is Jessica. It seems unlikely, then, that the two are connected, but you’ll recall that six degrees stuff? Yep, and it doesn’t even take that many steps.

This is one of those keeps-you-up-at-night, miss-your-subway-stop kinds of books that you’ll pass around to friends. It’s one to take to your book club. For sure, And West is West is a solid 10.

Gay & Lesbian History for Kids
by Jerome Pohlen (‘Chicago Review Press 2016) $17.95; 180 pp.

Knowing someone who’s gay, lesbian, or transgender is nothing new; in fact, history indicates that our earliest ancestors acknowledged and were comfortable with people we now call LGBT. Homosexuality appears in mythology, royalty, battlefields, art (Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were said to be gay) and in some religions. In North America, many beloved 19th-century authors, poets and songwriters were gay or lesbian, and Native American culture embraced people who were of “two-spirits.”  Transgender individuals fought in the Civil War or were pioneers or settlers. We know that LGBT individuals existed elsewhere and at other times, too, because laws were made against them.

That was especially true through the early 1900s. Though we entered “the Progressive Era” in the beginning of the century, it was anything but progressive for people who were gay. When the country was stricken by the Great Depression in the 1930s, things got even worse for the LGBT community and many people had to hide their lives from mainstream society.

In some ways, things got better during World War II. The government needed military personnel and LGBT individuals, like everyone else, needed jobs, so they signed up in droves to fight for their country. Very few were denied a chance to serve but, sadly, after the war was over, many gay and lesbian personnel received “blue discharges,” and were denied veteran’s benefits. Once again, LGBT individuals needed to closet themselves and their lifestyles. Not doing so could mean arrest or worse.

Finally things started to turn around. Activism in the 1960s and ‘70s helped the LGBT community to gain rights and support on other issues, unfair laws were changed, and many people helped make things “get better.” All of which is fascinating information.

However I struggled with Gay & Lesbian History for Kids … though not for the reasons you might think. My biggest issue comes with its potential audience, vis-à-vis the content: mainly, that it contains either a lot of very advanced information for kids who are young enough to be excited about the “21 Activities” here; or a lot of silly, juvenile “activities” for kids who are old enough to handle very advanced information.  Then, too, the presence of said activities may be moot, since they mostly had little to do with LGBT history.

To the positive, I appreciated the pre-20th-century info that author Jerome Pohlen offers; it was interesting, but is it enough to save this book?  I don’t know: the target audience here is 9-and-up, which I think is way too young for the content. Fresh-eyed 12-to-15-year-olds may appreciate what’s inside, but hand it to a reader over 16, and the news probably wouldn’t be all that informative.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

—  Dallasvoice Before visiting Texas, read this book


If you’ve ever wondered what to read before visiting a state,, the online entertainment portal owned by New York Magazine, just made the list for you. In choosing 50 nonfiction books to read about 50 states, the website includes both national treasures like James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Alabama), Zora Neale Hurston’s Dust Tracks on the Road (Florida) as well as some kitschier choices like Vice President Joe Biden’s Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics (Delaware).

Before even scrolling down, I assumed their choice would be kitschier, if not dismissive. (Think Rick Perry’s presidential manifesto Fed Up.)


If you want to learn about Texas, suggests the groundbreaking Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by the late Gloria Evangelina Anzaldua, a well-known Chicana lesbian activist and writer born in the Rio Grande Valley. Released in 1987, the semi-autobiographical book challenges and explores, through poems and prose, concepts like borders and identity.

If you’re interested, the book is available at and if you’re lucky, your neighborhood library.

—  James Russell

Follow the yellow brick road at Rice Cinema

Wizard of OzThere’s Wicked and The Wiz, there’s the classic Frank L. Baum books and Tinman, but nothing can touch the 1939 Victor Fleming classic The Wizard of Oz, for pure transcendent delight. See it for free on the big screen as Rice Cinema (6100 Main room MS-549) presents the tale of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Dorothy (and her little dog too) Friday and Saturday, January 13 & 14, at 7 pm.

—  admin

25 ways to fight AIDS

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

Wait! Before you click the ‘next’ button or scroll down your news feed hear me out: The LGBT community has been living with AIDS for three decades now. For people of my generation the message to get tested and use condoms has been stated and restated so many times that it has faded into the background with the result that, all too often, people do not take the steps they need to to protect themselves. Harris County is responsible for 30% of the new HIV/AIDS diagnosis in Texas and men who have sex with men account for 64% of newly diagnosed men statewide. The threat is not over, the fight is not over, AIDS still endanger the LGBT community.

But I don’t want to just talk about just condoms and testing (as important as they are). Fighting HIV/AIDS is easier than you might think. I present to you 25 ways, in no particular order, to fight AIDS in Houston.

25. If you’re over a certain age talk to a young LGBT person about how your life has been affected by HIV/AIDS. You might be surprised how eager we are to hear your stories.

24. If you’re under a certain age listen to an older LGBT person tell you how HIV/AIDS has affected their lives. I know you aren’t eager to hear their stories, but listen anyway. You may find that learning the history of your community is more empowering than you’d expect.

23. If you are a sexually active gay man or transgender woman participate in the Baylor College of Medicine’s HIV Vaccine Study.

22. Ask your local public or school library to put books about HIV/AIDS on the shelf, not just in the back room where they have to be requested. Access to accurate information is crucial in fighting the spread of the disease.

21. Post HIV/AIDS stories to facebook.

20. Ask your clergy person what your community of faith is doing to fight the pandemic.

19. Sign up for action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition at

18. Actually follow through when the action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition arrive in your in-box.

17. Volunteer for organizations that deal with communities at high risk for infection: high school dropouts, victims of sexual assault, the poor, the homeless and sex workers. Fighting AIDS means fighting the injustice in our society that all too often contributes to new infections.

16. Say AIDS out loud.

15. Ask political candidates what they will do to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

14. Once they’re elected, ask those candidates why they aren’t doing more to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

13. Remind yourself that it’s OK to be tired of hearing about HIV/AIDS.

12. Thank a person who volunteers their time to the fight.

11. Take a moment to remember the people we’ve lost.

10. Take a moment to think of the people we may loose if this pandemic isn’t stopped.

9. Take a HIV/AIDS healthcare worker to dinner.

8. Wear a red ribbon.

7. Recognize that wearing a red ribbon isn’t enough.

6. Work with communities other than your own. HIV/AIDS effects us all.

5. Get angry.

4. Get over your anger.

3. Donate to an HIV/AIDS Charity.

2. When you pass a mobile HIV testing center, thank the workers.

1. Don’t pretend the fight is over, and don’t let other people pretend it’s over either.

—  admin

Watch What Happens When The RNC Chair Candidates Are Asked to Name Their Favorite Books


So, the candidates for Chairman of the Republican National Committee were asked, during their debate, about their favorite books, which include The Reagan Diaries, George W. Bush's recent masterpiece, and, well, a stiff gin martini after work (I'll let her explain).

But the kicker is when current Chairman Michael Steele clucks out War and Peace and then quotes from it, only to quote the first two lines of A Tale of Two Cities.


(via truth wins out)

Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Christmas Shopping At Wal-Mart Means Browsing ‘Faggoty Vampire Books’ With Your Daughter

Shawn, the mostly anonymous father behind the website (which has a whole section devoted to "expos[ing] the LIES of the Filthy Homosexual Agenda), went Christmas shopping with his daughter at Wal-Mart. They visited the books section. And while we already knew the store stocked anti-gay parenting guides, little did we know it also has a whole shelf devoted to gay vampires. Somebody call the quality assurance department.

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—  admin

This Is How The White House Will Cement Obama’s Name In History Books As The DADT Killer

In the White House's latest attempt to control the Don't Ask Don't tell propaganda machine, it has released this EXCLUSIVE BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEOS of last week's Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal signing. It's almost enough to distract you from the fact that Don't Ask Don't Tell, uh, has not been repealed. 12/12/10: Never forget.

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—  admin