By Richard Labonte
“Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution,” by David Carter. St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages, $24.95 hardcover.
There have been chapters here, a section of a book there, scattered oral remembrances in assorted history books – even Martin Duberman’s 1994 study, “Stonewall,” focused on just six Stonewall participants. Until now, astonishingly, there has been no exhaustive narrative about those fabled June, 1969 “riots that sparked the gay revolution.” Carter started 15 years ago to mine the memories of people present at Stonewall – including straight folk singer Dave Van Ronk. He unearthed contemporary news stories, detailed police reports, and excited letters written in the days after the riots. He conducted several interviews – as recently as 2000 – with the captain who led the raid on the Stonewall Inn 35 years ago. The result is a gripping, hour-by-hour reconstruction of three fierce nights when dykes, fags, drag queens, and trannies fought back. And that’s only half of “Stonewall.” In the pre-riot chapters, Carter nimbly details the Mafia control, police payoffs, and restrictive dress regulations that marked bar life back then; closing chapters describe the early, fractious days of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. This definitive account of a historic queer rebellion against the straight status quo is long overdue, but well worth the wait.
“My Tender Matador,” by Pedro Lemebel. Grove Press, 170 pages, $20 hardcover.
It helps to know something of recent Chilean history in order to truly appreciate “My Tender Matador.” So, briefly: in 1973 a U.S.-backed military coup assassinated Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president; army general Augusto Pinochet reigned as a ruthless dictator until 1990; and in 1986, student-led resistance fighters nearly succeeded in killing Pinochet by bombing his motorcade. That sociopolitical context powers this mesmerizing novel – which, audaciously, is also a lyrical love story. The “Queen of the Corner” is a hopelessly romantic homosexual who ekes out a living embroidering linens for the wealthy wives of the ruling military elite, and Carlos is a muscular young heterosexual who befriends the aging “maricon” in order to stash munitions in his house. Lemebel’s lush, delicate depiction of an unlikely relationship between the lonely drag queen and the impassioned revolutionary is by turns comic, tragic, and exquisite. His stirring evocation of political repression and youthful rebellion is riveting. And his depiction of dictator Pinochet as a preening, self-absorbed homophobe – rather daring, as Pinochet is still alive – is delicious.
“An Inexpressible State of Grace,” by Cameron Abbott. Alice Street Editions, 218 pages, $16.95 paper.
Legal thriller, family drama, and sexy romance – this is a lesbian potboiler that touches all the genre bases. Ashleigh is an unhappily married, high-powered lawyer bedeviled by life on several fronts. At home, she’s trapped in a sexless relationship with a man who bores her; at work she’s targeted by a law firm partner who dislikes women; and in between she’s cavorting, guiltily, with an insatiable seductress. Add to the emotional mix the complication of an unsettling letter from the father she never knew, and beleaguered Ashleigh’s days are a morass of misery – made even worse when she’s assigned a demanding new client by the chauvinistic partner, who hopes she’ll botch the job. The client’s lawyer is openly lesbian Renee, a woman who knows what she wants. And that would be Ashleigh, naturally – who shucks the husband, helps Renee uncover the client’s financial skullduggery, finally confronts volatile family secrets, and rekindles the long-suppressed Sapphic passion of her college years. Whew. Busy. But Abbott’s prose flows so smoothly that the predictable plot is nevertheless engaging and entertaining.
“Becoming a Visible Man,” by Jamison Green. Vanderbilt University Press, 264 pages, $24.95 paper.
The personal, the factual, and the political mesh perfectly in “Becoming a Visible Man.” This measured memoir by a leading advocate for transmen and transwomen is primarily a candid account of Green’s bumpy but self-assured passage from woman to man, including a poignant description of his own mother’s resolute disapproval. With writing that is always lucid and accessible, the book then shifts into textbook territory for an intelligent but not overly scholarly exposition of the medical, physical, and emotional hurdles confronting FTMs. And, finally, it argues with implacable common sense that the transsexual movement – like the struggle for queer equality that preceded and now parallels it – is essentially about fundamental, overdue human rights. Green, married to a woman and the father of children, is particularly connected to the chapter “Transparent Feelings,” about transpeople as parents and about parents and their transchildren. As a longtime activist, he also brings firsthand knowledge to the chapter on history and community. There’s been no shortage of transsexual-topic books recently – Green cites more than a dozen published since 2000 – and his is an invaluable addition.
She had done so much for her dear Carlos, and she was capable of doing so much more, in return for nothing more than his delicious company, she thought later, while alone in the room on the roof, her dry eyes drilling into the view she commanded of the street below where she had seen him disappear three days before. Every time he left, this landscape opened up into an unfathomable abyss. Again she thought of him as so young and of herself as so old; he so beautiful and she so ravaged by the years. That young man was so subtly masculine, and she so disgustingly queer, so flagrantly effeminate, that even the air around her smelled of fermented butterflies.
“from “My Tender Matador,” by Pedro Lemebel
Sasha Alyson once swore me to secrecy when I asked if he was indeed Johnny Valentine, author more than a decade ago of four pioneering children’s books for gay parents – back before gay parenting was the vogue it is now. The secret’s been out for a while, of course – “Johnny Valentine” even has his own website, www.johnnyvalentine.com, linked to Sasha’s. And, after being out of print for several years, three of Alyson’s four books are again available: “The Daddy Machine” and “The Duke Who Outlined Jellybeans,” both illustrated by Lynette Schmidt, and “One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads,” illustrated by Melody Sarecky. Alyson Books (founded by Sasha in 1980; sold by him to the publishers of “The Advocate” in 1995) reissued them this month. After selling Alyson Books, Sasha started a gay travel company, Alyson Adventures, which merged in 2002 with Hanns Ebensten Travel in Key West. Earlier this year, Sasha donated several boxes of out-of-print and rare early Alyson editions to the ONE Institute’s gay and lesbian research library in Los Angeles, before heading to Thailand, where he plans to start a publishing company. Bonus revelation: Sasha was also “Jack Hart,” author of an early edition of “Gay Sex: A Manual for Men Who Love Men,” and editor of several anthologies, including “My Biggest O: Gay Men Describe “The Best Sex I Ever Had”.” Alyson Books has continued to use Hart as a “house name,” though Sasha hasn’t edited or written the books for several years. Bonus connection between the pseudonyms: Johnny/Jack; Valentine/Hart. Get it?