Transitioning

Need some beach reads this weekend to take you from summer to fall? Try a trans memoir and E. Lynn Harris’ parting potboiler

Nina-Here-Nor-There-author-CREDIT-Melinda-Bagatelos
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS | Krieger’s memoir tracks his passage from Nina to Nick.

Maybe you’ve always hated your nose, or your ears make you look like you’re part elephant. Or your lips are too pouty, your thighs too big, your arms too fat and you hate your butt.

You can change all of that, and then some.

But would you have the courage to alter the very things that define you to the rest of society?  In Nina Here nor There, you’ll see why one young man did.

When writer-blogger Nina Krieger landed in San Francisco’s Castro district, she felt welcomed. Her lesbian friends, the “A-gays,” folded her into their circle with parties. Old pals were glad to see Krieger, and she was glad to find an apartment with roommates she could tolerate. She even found a job that allowed her to continue writing.

But Krieger wasn’t happy. For years, she’d struggled with gender identity: She was not a lesbian, not exactly a woman … but she was, at least biologically. Being in the Castro gave her hope, though, and unwittingly, she had surrounded herself with people who could give her guidance: Greg, with his newly-flat chest and eagerness for life, was willing to share his experiences with surgery and testosterone shots; Jess, one of Krieger’s roommates, was transitioning and taught Krieger about “packing” and binding; Zippy, a long-time close friend, gave optimistic support.

“Before moving to the Castro, I’d thought becoming a man was as realistic as growing wings,” Krieger writes.

But living with her community gave Krieger the courage to try. Deciding that breasts were the worst part of who she was, Krieger bought minimizers and purchased the other body parts that she lacked. Little by little, she allowed her family careful peeks into the person she knew herself to be. She convinced herself that she belonged, yet she was uneasy. What exists between girl and boy? “I didn’t fully relate to either anymore,” Krieger writes.

Despite a fear of needles, unfazed by a list of realities, and heartbroken by a paternal lack of understanding, Krieger knew she had to find out.

Nina Here nor There is a bit of a conundrum. On one side, Krieger takes his readers by the hand, allowing us to see what he sees. As he explores the gender spectrum, we do, too. At the same time he’s seeing the blurred lines of woman and not-woman, we see it as well. The journey is a good one.

But by the time I got to the latter third of the book, I was good and ready for Nina to make up her mind. By then — just before the culmination of the story — Nina Here nor There becomes a struggle, both in content and story. And it’s with great relief that you’ll find what happens.

You have 24 hours in a day. Over 1,400 minutes, around 86,000 seconds, and you still can’t do everything you need to get done. Some days, you just want to clone yourself. With two of you, maybe you’d get finished. Double you, and you might actually get ahead.

Cobi Aiden Winslow just found his doppelganger in the last place he’d ever think to look. And in No One in the World, it might be the last thing he ever does.

Cobi always had whatever he wanted … except for one thing. From the moment he was adopted, he had maid service in a mansion in the best Chicago neighborhood. He had nice clothes, a law-school education, cars and antiques, but he didn’t have his father’s acceptance. Cobi was gay, and his father hated it.

But acceptance was never going to come. Cobi’s parents were killed in a plane crash, but not before telling him that he had a twin brother… somewhere. Absent a father’s love, a newfound brother was all Cobi could think about.

Sissy Winslow learned about the family business at her father’s elbow. She thought it would be hers someday, so when her parents’ will was read and her brother got half the shares, she was stunned. Cobi didn’t know a thing about Winslow Products. He was a lawyer, not a CEO. Worse yet, the will stipulated that Cobi had to be married to a woman by his 34th birthday or his share of the stocks would be sold. A takeover is imminent: Cobi turns 34 in less than a month and there is no woman on the horizon.

Quickly thinking, Sissy devises a plan to save the business. As she searches for a stylish, smart, society-worthy woman who can be bought, Cobi searches for his twin brother. But as he is finally reconnecting with a part of him he never knew about, he is also inviting trouble. Though he’s been successful in hiding it thus far, there was suddenly too many people who know he is gay. And that knowledge is going to cost him.

E. Lynn Harris has been gone two years now, and in his preface, co-author RM Johnson says that he and Harris collaborated on this novel before Harris’ death.  So is this book reminiscent of Harris’ other books, or…?

No-One-in-the-WorldNo One in the World is spicier than Harris fans might be used to. There’s an underlying feeling of threat that’s irresistible and though you might think you know what’s going to happen, you’d be wrong. There were times when I thought the story briefly got a little silly, but I did like how it unfolded overall and how there were surprises in the creases.

If you’re looking for something quick to take to the beach for a three-day weekend, you can’t go wrong with this. No One in the World will grab you in a second, and you’ll want to read it all day.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

All THIS, THAT and the OTHER

SPOKEN WORD | As the artistic director of Fahari, Harold Steward helps celebrate the queer-identified black arts community of Dallas with monthly programming like the spoken word event Queerly Speaking. (Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice)

Dallas’ black gay arts scene gets a future as Harold Steward refers to the past

RICH LOPEZ  |  Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Sometimes with death comes a birth — or maybe an outing.

When acclaimed author E. Lynn Harris died in the summer of 2009, Harold Steward, along with the rest of the gay black community and Harris’ fans, felt shock and sadness.

But with Harris’ death came the inception of an idea that is changing the face of arts in the Dallas African-American LGBT community.

“There had been nothing planned to memorialize him, so I approached View of Dallas [book club] about this idea,” Steward said. “I brought in the dance and poetry people while they read excerpts. We had about 30 people come … and Fahari was kinda outed at that point.”

Only 28, Steward speaks with the eloquence of a mature soul. In conversation, he throws in quotes from his heroes, and he often ends a thought with his go-to mantra: “All this, that and the other.”

But it is a wealth of passion and history that marks Steward as a visionary.

As the cofounder of the Fahari Arts Institute and the performing arts administrator at the South Dallas Cultural Center, Steward is in prime position to shape Dallas’ appreciation of its queer-identified African-American community and the arts that come out of it.

The road to Fahari began via his work at the SDCC. Queer artists constantly approached Steward about using the center as an outlet for their talents. In turn, arts organizations asked for references of artists to include in their shows or exhibits.

As the accidental conduit, Steward began looking for a solution.

“There was this disconnect. I wondered if I could be satisfied as a consultant and place people where they needed to be,” he said.

“There had to be a better way for this, but that led to me asking myself ‘What does a black, queer, LGBT arts organization look like?’ There couldn’t be much out there since I hadn’t heard about it.”

As it turned out, he was wrong — and gladly so.

In Steward’s research, he uncovered an entire culture of art and artists that overwhelmed him. He found movements that equated to a new renaissance.

A domino effect of research happened as he learned about one dancer that led to a singer that then led to writers, and so forth.

This not only nurtured the seed of an arts organization, it spoke to Steward himself.

“Finding so much history was affirming for me as an artist, and if I’m having this kind of experience finding these works, other people would too,” he said. “At the same time, I’m very comfortable in my position at the SDCC, so making Fahari happen wasn’t at the forefront.”

Steward grew up in the Singing Hills neighborhood in Dallas’ southern as the seventh of eight children. Instead of spending all his time playing on Sega or Nintendo like other kids, he spent his time demonstrating his artistic talents by drawing on the bathroom wall with his mother’s lipstick. And his parents encouraged his art — or he recalls it that way.

“First of all, I am a product of public schools when they worked, and I had teachers who cared,” Steward said. “I used to cover the whole wall with my imaginary thoughts. I think they [his parents] believed in me, even if they didn’t vocalize it, because they saw their child’s imagination at work.”

Steward didn’t discover his sexuality until middle school athletics, and despite moving over to the embracing arms of  Booker T. Washington arts magnet high school — where Steward found a mentor in his teacher, Vicki Washington-Nance — he struggled with being gay until his early 20s.

He had always been fascinated by his black culture, but hadn’t resolved his place as a gay man.

“I had a certain level of understanding in reading black literature. It was always a conscious thought to immerse myself in that,” he said. “Gay culture is something relatively new to me, but I saw a lot of parallel in my experience with the community.”

LADIES IN HIS LIFE | Steward pals around with his South Dallas Cultural Center director and boss, Vicki Meek and mentors Marilyn Clark and Vicki Washington-Nance. (Photo courtesy of Harold Steward).

When Steward began his research, all of his personal influences and heroes, such as James Baldwin, Langson Hughes and Alice Walker, were gay. When he discovered Haitian gay poet Assotto Saint, Steward found what he needed to proceed with Fahari.

“Saint talked about the importance of building cultural institutions and publishing houses and making sure they are not self-serving and they should out live you as a person,” Steward said. “He said we had to do this.”

Enter J.W. Richard.

Steward and Richard were acquainted because Richard had interviewed Vicki Meek, the director of the SDCC, on his Mandrake Society Radio program. Richard was in tune with the arts scene, as was Steward, but in varying degrees.

While Steward participated in the arts more, Richard highlighted and reported on them via his podcast. But Richard was more involved in political activism.

“When he [Steward] talked to me about the idea, it was on a learning curve and it still is,” Richard said. “I had not directly worked with anything much on the arts level even though I am an artist myself. This was such a unique opportunity.”

One thing was hanging on Steward’s mind. After the Harris memorial, he was intent on naming the still-forming idea of this nebulous arts organization. Perhaps giving it a name would give it weight, but he knew it needed to express so much in minimal fashion.

“I had been thinking about the program and titles are so important. And it is so easy to get tripped up on the right name,” he said. “We had names like Rainbow Connection but stuff like that is so played out. Fahari means ‘pride’ in Swahili. I wanted it to have a connection to our African community and it was perfect for, you know, all this, that and the other.”

Two guys, one idea — now came the hard part.

While Richard and Steward figured out what Fahari should offer, the answer unfolded amid Steward’s love life. He was dating a poet ,which drew him back into that scene of spoken word and slam poets, but it wasn’t one he liked all that much.

“It had become so sexist and misogynistic and that environment isn’t right,” Steward said. “So I wondered what a same-gender-loving-affirming event would look like?”

Queerly Speaking, a monthly event held on the fourth Friday, grew into such a success that it moved from its original home at the Backbeat Café downtown into the more accommodating SDCC. The growth was symbolic of a hunger for something more, whether it was in the gay community at large or in just a slice of the whole.

Fahari was onto something when the crowds showed up that were also unfamiliar to Steward and Richard. The impact began immediately.

But Steward acknowledges one important thing: He wasn’t the first. In Dallas’ history, many black organizations were making strides for their LGBT communities, such as the Legacy of Success and the DFW Senators. Without them or his heroes, Fahari may never have come into existence.

Steward expounded at length as if he felt the need to put his gratitude and sense of indebtedness out into the universe.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “The work they did set a platform, and if I’m able to be here, being interviewed about this work, it is a direct relation to their efforts.

“One of my things is to get black people to arrive and be known for our value. What would America and the world look like with no Alvin Ailey, no Color Purple, no Harlem Renaissance? Take all that way and people will understand who we are and what we bring,” he added. “I am standing on their shoulders because it is my responsibility.”

Steward didn’t realize that Fahari would hit the ground running although there was some personal frustration behind it. He tried to reconcile why Fahari had to happen now.

“It should not have emerged in 2009 as an entity in Dallas when it’s had such a history,” he said. “It is troubling when we’re the ‘first black’ this or that. When are we not going to be the first? But the stuff others and we are doing now is easy compared to what those before us did. See? It always ties to the history.”

Fahari’s other monthly event is the Queer Film Series every third Sunday that works in association with Black Cinematheque.

Local filmmaker Q-Roc Ragsdale was trying to start a film series highlighting queer directors. When Steward mentioned Fahari to her, the wheels turned. She became a key member, joining Richard and Steward to finish out the troika that pushed Fahari forward.

“It really was a marriage made in heaven,” Ragsdale said. “When the film series came to the point where I turned it over to Fahari, I knew it would be great. I still act as the curator and now so many black queer filmmakers will get some needed exposure.”

Born from that, two film festivals were added to its special programming: “The Marlon Riggs Film Festival” and “Short and Sweet.”

The latter is intended to open this summer featuring short films. The Riggs festival is a three-day event that had a successful run its first time out in February 2010.

The Fort Worth-born Riggs had profound impact with his revolutionary films giving black queer culture an identity, and that made an impression on Steward’s mission.

“I have these moments where I’m watching his film Black Is Black Ain’t and Riggs is on his deathbed due to complications from AIDS,” Steward said. “He says, on his deathbed, ‘as long as I have work, I am not dead.’ I couldn’t crucify or kill him all over again by not bringing his work to the forefront. AIDS wasn’t the end of him because in the end, his work will live on. I have to take up that personal charge.”

For Ragsdale, Steward symbolized something beyond the work he’s doing at this moment. This is more than just about Dallas’ black gay culture, it’s about the bigger picture.

“I really value him as a leader because he has extraordinary vision and great purpose,” she said. “The thing I love is how he makes sure Fahari is inclusive and so he actively invites lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and allies to the events and to the table.

“I foresee him being a leader in the overall queer community.”

Just don’t tell Steward that. If it were up to him, he’d likely return to his research, spending his late nights soaking in the history he so loves.

“I struggle with stuff like that, but I think of George Washington Carver. He said to start with what you have, make something of it and never settle,” Steward said. “I don’t know why it’s me in this position. There are days when I wanna throw my hands up, but I have to remember somebody paid the price for me to be here and so with that reason I do ask, ‘Why not me?’”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Slender read

Our critic looks at the best in gay li

Freeman Hall
Freeman Hall

The holidays are a good time to curl up with a book — or get one for the hard-to-shop-for literati in your life. Here are my suggestions for the best of the last year or so for the queer audience.

Best novel with a twist, 2010: Room by Emma Donoghue. You’ve undoubtedly heard a lot about this book — all of it true. Room is a bit of a challenge at the outset, but the plotline will grab you, especially if you let your own imagination run wild. What would you do if you’d never seen the world from anywhere but TV?

Best novel with a twist, ever: Five Minutes and 42 Seconds by T.J. Williams. There are drugs in the house, and you’ve got to get rid of them. The feds know about the drugs and they’re on their way. I added this oldie-but-a-goodie because it’s quick to read, it’s action-packed, it’s wildly fun and because it’s my list, right?

Best slam-bang didn’t-see-it-coming novel ever: So You Call Yourself a Man by Carl Weber. I wish I could tell you why. I’d love to give you reasons, and you’d understand why I screamed and laughed like I needed a straitjacket. But if I told you, then you’d see it coming, wouldn’t you?

Best humorist: Freeman Hall. As if Retail Hell wasn’t enough to make you laugh ‘til you peed your pants, along comes Stuff That Makes a Gay Heart Weep. Hall’s books are the kind you read when you’re tired of wallowing in pity and need a snarky snicker.

E. Lynn Harris
E. Lynn Harris

Close runner-up: Wade Rouse.

Author who will be missed most: E. Lynn Harris. Hands-down.

Novel that camps like Yosemite: Divas Las Vegas by Rob Rosen. Fun, silly, rompish and vintage Vegas, this mystery-ish novel about two friends in Sin City needs to be read in a tent by flashlight while eating s’mores.

Best book to share with mom: Where’s My Wand? by Eric Poole. A coming-of-age story with a bedspread, this book is cute, gentle and funny. My own mother loved it, and if you can’t believe a mom, who can you believe?

Close runner up, and sharable with your sister, too: Rhinestone Sisterhood by David Valdes Greenwood.

Happy reading!

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

E. Lynn Harris died of heart disease

E_Lynn_Harris_f

Here’s a report from David Taffet:

Author E. Lynn Harris, 54, died of heart disease, according to a coroner’s report released today. High blood pressure and hardening of the arteries were additional complicating factors.
Harris died on July 23 in Los Angeles. The Atlanta-based gay writer was on tour promoting his latest book, “Basketball Jones.”
Of his 11 books, 10 have been New York Times Best Sellers. He had 4 million copies of his novels in print.
Harris was born in Flint, Mich., and raised in Little Rock. He lived in Dallas for several years, working as a computer salesman. He left his sales job to write his first book, “Invisible Life,” in 1991, which he self-published.
Much of his work dealt with gay black men living on “the down low.” His last book was about the relationship between the narrator of the story and a closeted NBA basketball player.
He is survived by three sisters, including Zettoria McDaniel of Irving.

—  John Wright

E. Lynn Harris has died

Black gay author E. Lynn Harris

Black gay author E. Lynn Harris

UPDATE: Other news outlets have confirmed that E. Lynn Harris has died. Word from some sources is that he died of cardiac arrest.

A news report posted about 10:30 this morning on Arkansas Sports 360.com says that black gay author E. Lynn Harris has died.

I have not yet seen the report confirmed elsewhere.

The report describes Harris, 54, as a “cheerleading sponsor/coach for Arkansas and a passionate Razorbacks fan.” It says he was on a book tour of the West Coast.

Harris authored 11 books, mostly about the experience of being black and gay. His most recent book, “Basketball Jones,” was about a closeted gay NBA player and his lover.

—  admin