Wow, wow, wow, I’ve had a lot going on recently, last quarter I was fretting about not having enough reading to make a post, now I have… almost too much. That is because I’ve picked up a number of epistolary substack stories being done like Dracula Daily and I took an online course on Tolkien and the Ancient World! So, for this quarter I’m going to be breaking things up a little differently as well as sticking this under a read more.Continue reading “Behind the Scenes – Summer 2022”
“Some Strange Disturbances” continues to be the gift that keeps on giving with the side story “A Cold Winter’s Eve,” a side side story and mini anthology.
We see our protagonists, Prescott, Delilah, the Comtesse and Brandt, gathered together on Christmas Eve, it is following dinner, prepared by Brandt, and they have gathered in the parlor to share spooky ghost stories. While the framing story as a whole is written by Craig Hurd-McKenny, author of the main series, each of the stories told by the characters is written and illustrated by a guest author. There are seven stories in total, Prescott, Delilah and the Comtesse each telling two and Brandt telling one.
All the stories are stunning and haunting in their own ways. I think my favorite is the second one told by Prescott, about a young man named Theo, who is haunted by the ghost of his lover Silas through the new telephone that was installed just after his death. It should be noted that there are stores that include racially and homophobia motivated murders. The murderers do get what is coming to them, but be careful if that is something you are sensitive to.
Lastly, I want to talk about Brandt and his story. Brandt is mute and, as such, his story is told entirely without dialogue. Delilah, who we learn early on in the book has a limited knowledge of sign language, is the one who translates the story for their group, and translating sign language to the print form of visual only story telling is inspired. We don’t hear Delilah’s overlay telling of the story, we just get the visuals. It’s still showing Brandt’s disability through the structure of the comic.
It is definitely worthwhile to pick up alongside the main story and I am very much looking forward to “Some Strange Disturbances: Nob’s Tale,” which is meant to be a companion piece to “A Cold Winter’s Eve” and is part of the HSP 2022 catalogue that is currently being kickstarted. The Kickstarter ends on November 4th, so be sure to jump on it soon (or sign up to get reminders for when it’s close to ending)!
The first thing I learned reading this was that I’m very out of practice when it comes to reading academic theory. The second was that I need to broaden the academic theory I read. Thankfully, “Black on Both Sides” has a deliciously robust bibliography which I have marked up for future reading.
Now I will say, this may be a somewhat challenging read for those who don’t have a background in academic theory, but I think it’s doable if you’re willing to stop and google things, which I still had to do myself despite my academic background. Regardless, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in gender studies, even if you haven’t delved into much theory yet. C. Riley Snorton has done an incredible job of pulling together a wide range of theories to curate his discussion of race and gender, and moreover, he explains those theories well.
As you may have already guessed, “Black on Both Sides” is not your run of the mill history book. It is a history, certainly, but one that goes one step deeper than just telling history. It asks questions about and provides an analysis of the history of Black gendered experience and how that has developed from slavery through to today.
The first chapter begins with a discussion of the Black female body as an object in the historical context of the origins of the medical field of gynecology. Major warning in this chapter for discussions of unethical experimentation and medical abuse.
The second chapter follows this, with a discussion of how “ungendering blackness” provided ways for fugitive slaves to use crossing gender boundaries in their movement toward freedom. This chapter uses two early slave narratives as examples of this and continues with a discussion of literature into chapter three, where Snorton moves on to discuss the female presence in post Reconstruction narratives of Black individuals.
Chapter four delves into the lives of several Black trans individuals and how the media portrayed their gender and transitions in the years surrounding Christine Jorgensen’s rise to fame. Snorton hits, quite early on, one of the major problems I have with the Jorgensen narrative, namely that it plays heavily into the tropes of the “good trans” who upholds white heterosexuality.
Lastly, chapter five discusses the the Humboldt killings and the Brenden Teena archive, the tragedy behind the documentary “The Brenden Teena Story” and the feature film “Boys Don’t Cry.”
I was particularly excited for these final two chapters, 1) because they brushed up with things that I’ve studied more in depth, and 2) because they offered different perspectives to the dominant narratives surrounding both Christine Jorgensen and the Brandon Teena archive. For the latter in particular I have gotten rather sick of cis feminists touting “Boys Don’t Cry” as The Best Trans Expression In Film as if it isn’t about the rape and murder of a trans man. Snorton’s look into the Humboldt killings prioritizes Philip DeVine, the Black disabled man who was murdered alongside Teena and Lisa Lambert, and who notably was removed wholesale from the narrative of “Boys Don’t Cry.”
I could go on and on about everything I loved about this book. It’s a very careful and detailed breakdown of queer theory as it pertains to Black and trans history. But as I do have to end this review, I will direct you to where you can get this book so you can experience it for yourselves.
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with religions. One that has been inherently distrustful even before I realized I was a queer trans man. Yet something about a higher power and the magic of religion has always fascinated me. I wasn’t raised religious, except in the vague Christian-normative way most secular families are. Christmas might not have been a “religious” holiday for my family, but it’s still a religious holiday underneath. You’d be hard pressed to find a wholly secular “Christmas” holiday, though the McElroys’ Candlenights does try its best, it’s ultimately pan-religious rather than secular.
Despite the fact that I wasn’t raised religious, religion was always an option. My mom, an ex-Catholic and religious history and comparative religion double major, made it very clear that religion was an option, should I ever want to pursue it. As a result, I had Hanukkah books and Kwanza books alongside my Christmas books, ate latkes and knew how to play dreidel, but also sang Christmas carols and got a new Christmas ornament every year. I also remember spending at least one holiday with a Jewish friend when I was in kindergarten or first grade, though I could not for the life of me tell you what holiday it was.
After briefly looking into what conversion would mean when I was in college, I didn’t actually make the decision to look into converting formally until I moved away from home. Approaching Judaism is not easy, it’s a journey, but it’s one I feel prepared to make, due to the fact I’ve made a similarly massive transition before with my gender. Just like with gender transition, converting to Judaism isn’t a massive change in my worldview, it’s just a change in how I approach the world.
That said, just because Judaism is what feels right to me doesn’t mean that it’s still not easy to grapple with the historical stigma that chases queer and trans people wherever they go. Noam Sienna’s “A Rainbow Thread: An Anthology of Queer Jewish Texts from the First Century to 1969” presents an incredible historical record, but it’s also one that isn’t wholly happy. In between loving homoerotic poems and stories, you also have first hand records documenting the persecution of queer people in history. While court or arrest records are sometimes the only historical documents that remain of queer presence, it doesn’t make it any less challenging to read them, especially when they come from a religion you are looking to join.
However, the way Judaism has evolved into it’s various branches means that the Judaism of then is not the Judaism of now and there is absolutely space in Judaism for queer people. This is made apparent through the existence of books like “A Rainbow Thread” and “Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentary on the Hebrew Bible,” as well as through the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which is a congregation in New York City that is explicitly for the LGBTQ community.
One other book that I have found particularly important in twining my conversion and gender together is “Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in the Jewish Community,” edited by Noach Dzmura. It’s designed with a readership of transgender people in mind and as a result is an indescribably cathartic read. Some might find the terminology dated, because the book is almost ten years old at this point and many of the authors writing are older, but that doesn’t detract from the messages that the book brings.
If you’re interested in pursuing something that isn’t Judaism. Some other books I would recommend are:
- “Holy Harlots: Femininity, Sexuality & Black Magic in Brazil” by Kelley E. Hayes, which “examines the intersections of social marginality, morality, and magic in contemporary Brazil by analyzing the beliefs and religious practices related to the Afro-Brazilian spirit entity Pomba Gira.” Pomba Gira being a figure who has been linked with trans women and gay men, which if memory serves is either talked about on in the book or in the accompanying DVD, “Slaves of the Saints.”
- “In from the Wilderness – Sherman: She-r-man” by David E. Weekly. “In from the Wilderness” is a memoir, that details Weekly’s life as a transgender man holding religious office in the Methodist Church.
- “Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach” by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. I haven’t read this myself, but I have heard very good things about it. It seems to be a more Christian approach, but I can’t tell if it’s geared toward any one specific denomination.
Last month, after a week of bidding I acquired one Earring Magic Ken doll. Mattel’s best selling Ken doll.
I know what you might be thinking. Thomas you are an adult, why on earth are you buying a Ken doll? And moreover why is that relevant to your blog?
Disregarding the fact, that I still have several Barbies from when I was a young lass. Earring Magic Ken is special, because he was inadvertently designed off of queer rave fashion of the early 1990s. Specifically, he’s wearing a cock ring as a necklace, which was a known queer fashion statement at the time.
After reaching out to their audience of young children Mattel learned they would like a new Ken doll to be cooler and more hip. So they went out looking for what was cool and as it happened the queer fashion worming its way into the mainstream was what they picked up as cool. Columnist Dan Savage wrote an article in 1993, the year the doll came out, detailing a really excellent explanation of what was going on. I would highly recommend it as reading for anyone interested in learning more.
“Cock rings exploded (ouch!)—as vest zipper pulls, as key rings, as bracelets; rubber ones, leather ones, chain ones. But the thick chrome variety, the Classic Coke of cock rings, was and is most often worn as a pendant,” (Savage).
In 2017, Savage said in an article by Bryan Young, that he thought the “Earring Magic Ken incident [was] more of an amusing cultural blip than some kind of important moment, noting that neither the doll nor the hubbub is well-known today,” and that he didn’t think that a gay man under 40 would know about it. Well, it’s 2019 and I’m 25, so here we are.
Now I’m a queer historian so I am well aware that I’m an outlier here, because I seek out this kind of stuff. However, I discovered Earring Magic Ken through a decently popular post on Tumblr. A post which currently has over 270,000 notes. That’s no small amount of people and I’m sure many of them, like myself, are on the younger side of things. With projects like Making Queer History and books like “Queer, There and Everywhere” emerging, younger members of the LGBTQ community are getting more and more access to their history. As a result, fascinating tidbits like Earring Magic Ken are resurfacing.
The Tumblr post does admittedly have some misinformation attached to it. There’s a reblog that says that there was no corresponding Barbie for Earring Magic Ken. There were two actually, a blonde and a brunette Barbie as well as a Midge doll, they just didn’t sell particularly well opposite Ken, who flew off the shelves.
Below, I have linked two different iterations of the Tumblr post, as well as a link to the Dan Savage article, the Bryan Young article and a few others.
Tumblr Post (the one with the bit of misinformation): https://transmanreno.tumblr.com/post/170000579996/gay-son-of-a-pastor-shoptiludropdead
Dan Savage article: https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/ken-comes-out/Content?oid=882402
Bryan Young article: https://money.howstuffworks.com/barbie-earring-magic-ken-gay-icon-1993.htm
The Man Behind the Doll article: http://manbehindthedoll.com/mbtd_earring.htm
As a queer historian and fiction lover, the Dates anthologies are basically literary catnip for me. The art and writing in these volumes is absolutely exceptional. It is clear that the authors and editors put an immense amount of love and care into producing the works in these books.
While the stories in these two volumes hardly shy away from the difficulties that present themselves in queer life, the stories are first and foremost, uplifting. These are not stories about the sadness and tragedy of being queer, they are here to bring happiness. More than just that, in a world where we are inundated with tragedy porn from cisgender heterosexual creators, happy queer stories by queer creators is incredibly important.
Volume one runs into some of the standard issues that a first volume can have. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it makes up for those rough edges time after time with the content it provides. Starting out with a comic set in prehistoric times, volume one of Dates really does have something for just about everyone, there are women who love women and men who love men, trans people of all sorts, asexuality, everything.
Volume two takes this even further, the few rough edges that I found in volume one are not present in volume two at all. It’s a longer book, which means it has room to fit even more than the first volume did. This is particularly noticeable in two stories. “The Ibex Tattoo” and “Intersexions.”
“Intersextions,” you might be able to intuit, is a comic about an intersex person. Having admittedly read the two volumes a couple months a part, I do believe this was the first instance of a story featuring an intersex person in Dates. The importance of “The Ibex Tattoo,” comes from a different place. The point of view character suffers from some sort of chronic pain. It is as much a story about the place of disability in a relationship and a community as it is about the lesbian relationship this character is part of.
Before I wrap this up I want to talk briefly about themes. There aren’t super explicit overarching themes in each of the Dates volumes. There’s no subheader saying “Love” or “Acceptance” or anything like that, but as I read through the second volume and reflected on my reading of the first a few things popped into my head. The first volume, in my reading, seemed to hold stories that were particularly involved in seeking acceptance, either self-acceptance or acceptance from others and the second volume seemed to deal more in stories of transformation, of making choices, of change. Now this is by no way concrete, as I learned when trying to sort my own writing into categories, queer stories, by definition, tend to defy the ability to be categorized, but it’s something to consider if you’re trying to figure out which of the two volumes you might prefer, if you’re only looking to get one of the two.
No snaps this time.
The queer historian in me was delighted and I knew immediately that I had to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, it costs 250 dollars and I just cannot drop half a paycheck on a book. I am but a poor broke millennial, who does not have the funds for that kind of book collecting.
But this post is not going to just be me agonizing over the fact that I couldn’t afford the book myself. Because it’s Christmas and my dad, his wife and my brother all went in to get me:
It’s really amazing guys, like I cannot begin to describe how fucking over the moon I am about this. I haven’t talked a ton about my collection of queer history books, because before this blog was mostly about book reviews. But in doing my thesis on queer identity and my capstone on queer history, I have amassed quite the collection, (I have an entire floor to ceiling bookshelf that’s all queer literature, fiction and nonfiction.) and this is basically now the crown jewel of that collection.
I hope everyone has had a wonderful and safe holiday season that wasn’t overwhelmed with awful family member.
Remember, queer folks that have to present as cis and straight for the holidays are stronger than any U.S. Marine.
[Edit: Originally published July 8, 2017]
Queer, There, and Everyone is a really wonderful book. It’s well researched, informative, and best of all it’s accessible. As I’ve discovered seeking out books for my thesis, when it comes to queer texts they aren’t always the easiest to get your hands on or even read when it comes to more theoretical texts. There are a lot of queer texts that are mainly geared at adults. Queer, There, and Everywhere, provides good summaries of the amazing lives of twenty-three incredible people in language that you don’t need to be a college student to understand. As a voracious reader myself, I breezed through it in a couple hours.
Several of the people included in this book were people whose memoirs I’d already read, including Lili Elbe’s Man into Woman (though what I read was the renamed Kindle version Lili: A Portrait of the First Sex Change) and Josef Kohout’s The Men with the Pink Triangle. Queer, There, and Everywhere does a really great job of summarizing the stories in these books. Of course Lili and Josef’s sections were not only summaries of their memoirs, in fact, it wasn’t until this book that I learned Josef’s name, because his name is not included in The Men with the Pink Triangle. He chose to remain anonymous when the book was first published.
Queer, There, and Everywhere is also one of those books that makes a great stepping stone for further research. The bibliography in the back is organized by section and so if there’s a particular person you find yourself wanting to look into further, it’s very easy to find other books or resources to pursue. I know I intend to invest in some of the books used as references for the sections on Renée Richards and Sylvia Rivera. The bibliographies of queer texts are your best friend when it comes to finding further readings, especially if you’re like me who’s really bad at googling things.
The people in this book range from the year 203 (Elagabalus) to today (George Takei). It’s not meant to be a comprehensive history by any means, there’s entirely too much rich and complex history for that. But our history has been one that gets overshadowed and ignored so often that this book feels really great.
There are a couple of deaths, Elagabalus’ and Harvey Milk’s that are, for this level of book, pretty graphically described. Those two both left me feeling distressed and I actually had to put the book down for a bit after the Harvey Milk section. It may have been the fact that both of these people were murdered that made their deaths hit particularly hard.
You can find it here.
Related Reviews: Christopher and his Kind