“Different From the Others: LGBT History Month and the Century-Old Legacy of an Early Gay Rights Film” By Chase Dimock

A still from Anders Als die Andern (1919)

 

 

Different From the Others:

LGBT History Month and the Century-Old Legacy

of an Early Gay Rights Film

By Chase Dimock

 

October is LGBT History Month, and this year it is as important as ever to study our past. With all of our recently won civil rights and our dramatically increased visibility in society, the LGBT community sometimes assumes that the features of our culture and the values of our politics are recent inventions. Conversely, sometimes we make the opposite mistake and assume that LGBT people of the past (even before the terms gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender first came about) thought of themselves and the community exactly as we do today.

These misconceptions are primarily due to the fact that American culture has closeted LGBT history for so long. We learned little to nothing about the history of the LGBT community in school and have thus been denied the benefit that comes with studying history or even being aware that we have a history. I remember, as a teenager, reading gay poet A E Housman in my English textbook, not knowing that his poems written about his male “friends” were actually addressed to the men he loved romantically. It was more important for those who created the curriculum and standards for our education to lead us into misunderstanding the material than to risk admitting to young people that men could love other men in the 19th century or today for that matter.

Having a history is an essential part of having a cultural identity. A history explains where we are in the present and allows us greater insight into the direction in which we are heading. It reminds us that ideas, values, and expressions do not materialize out of nothing; they are the product of the collective communal action of the people over time. This history is always evolving and our story is never finished being told because we are constantly discovering more about it. Finally, knowing our history cautions us against the uncritical belief in a progress narrative. It is easy to assume that we live in the most civilized and enlightened of times and that progress inevitably arcs toward justice. In reality, civil rights are often a cycle of advancement and blow back. Social action is usually greeted by an even greater and opposite repressive reaction. We cannot afford to presume that our current social standing is permanent or that it will naturally improve in the future.

This insight that studying LGBT History grants us is featured in the first film to seriously discuss LGBT identity, Anders Als die Andern(Different From the Others) made in Germany in 1919. Directed by Richard Oswald and co-written by and co-starring legendary sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, the silent film tells the story of a music teacher in love with an adult student. He falls victim to blackmail and in despair, he looks for answers. A quack offers a cure through hypnotherapy, but when that fails, he seeks out Dr. Hirschfeld’s advice. Hirschfeld assures him that his inclinations are normal and that it is not homosexuality that is shameful, but rather, it is our intolerant society that deserves scrutiny. I don’t want to go too far into the plot because I would rather you watch it for yourself. 

 

One reason why this film is an important part of our cultural legacy is that it reminds us that many of the same basic issues we confront today were part of the same struggle 100 years ago. Grappling with a culturally enforced notion of “difference,” dealing with the disproportionate rate of depression and suicide among LGBT people, and finding access to queer friendly counsel and health care are still difficult parts of the coming out process. Yet, much has changed since Hirschfeld’s time. The idea of sexuality as distinct from gender identity was still evolving. Most psychologists still subscribed to the inversion model of the homosexual man as “a woman on the inside” and a homosexual woman as a “man on the inside.” Hirschfeld himself proposed the idea of the homosexual as a “third sex,” though he later revised that idea after further work with his associates. Continue reading

Jeffrey Betcher: “Billy Dew Meadow”

 

 

This is the second in a series of posts remembering the work of poet and activist Jeffrey Betcher (1960-2017).

 

Preface: Left “believing in the pack mentality of strays,” the poetry of Jeffrey Betcher speaks from the entire collective of American queer stray culture, that very lost-and-found narrative of reinvention on the docks of survival. These docks, being the green-heeled sanctuary of San Francisco from 1986-2016, these docks gave birth to an examination and liberation of meaning, as wildly honest and true-to-mirror as every queer breath weʼve danced. From this collection of Jeffrey Betcherʼs poems, “The Fucking Seasons, Selected Poems 1986 to 2016,” we hear the journeys into witness, touch the lips of knowing “love has been here. Hungry footsteps, breath released, and touch can change the land forever.” A San Franciscan born of rural Ohio, Jeffrey Betcherʼs poetry informs the landscape of nature, saying simply, “Iʼm a witness. Love has been here.”

– Toussaint St. Negritude,
Poet, bass clarinetist, composer

 

Billy Dew Meadow

Mountain meadow,
sonant place (and
I thought of love, of
wanting it so) that
only the locals

know. The pass: im-
passible, Barbara and
Robert, old lovers,
say. But they like us,
four wheel drive us

over the folded
earth, along the
tree-toothed grin of
grass. We laugh as
everything is young, or

time doesn’t mean much.
Named for a miner. “A
frenchman.” Ah, then
Dieu, perhaps. Billy, dear,
What is your name? What 

man amongst men were
you? And where are you
buried? With whose lock of
hair? Here’s history un
kempt. Fir shacks sagging. Mer-

ci, Billy, from friends at
play in your sweet
meadow. Jim lying
stoned in grass, and
me perched ready to

fly through men, their
names and touches and
fields and shag of
beard where a stream
presses the center of

story scorched by
prairie-fire, orange
yellow and purple
rods and golden
faces bristling with repro-

duction as dragonflies
swarm. My shadow,
standing on shadow
rock: I’m shirtless and
could be twelve or

Icarus. Expectation
winging long as
afternoon, backlit 
ass on fire! A
halo you may re-

call, dear Billy.
Above the wooded
ridge: it’s blue sky
moon, Billy. Vastly over a
century old. Still,

find my billet-
doux tomorrow, Billy,
find your meadow
tomorrow in every
shaven face.

      -July 25, 1996, Fish Camp, California

 

(C) 2017 Jeffrey L. Betcher Living Trust

 

About the Author: Jeffrey Betcher donned many hats over more than 30 years in San Francisco, yet maintained an integrity of purpose. A writer, an educator, an advocate for the prevention of violence against women and children, and a grassroots community organizer, he gained national attention as a leader in the “guerrilla gardening” movement, helping transform his crime-ridden street in the Bayview neighborhood into an urban oasis. His intimate poetry was also cultivated over the decades, exploring survival and engagement, and the labyrinth of the heart. Though he dodged the HIV bullet in the plague-torn years, a terminal bout of cancer cut his life short in 2017. In addition to his chapbook of Selected Poems (1986-2016), he completed an epic sonnet, Whistling Through, an odyssey into the cancer machine and death itself

 

More By Jeffrey Betcher:

Dear Allen Ginsberg

 

Image Credit: Vincent Van Gogh “Wheat Field at Auvers with White House” (1890) Public Domain

“Early Exits: New Books from Two Poets Lost to AIDS” By Mike James

 

Early Exits: New Books from Two Poets Lost to AIDS

By Mike James

 

 

Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader
Edited by Jamie Townsend
Nightboat Books, 2019
$19.95

Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney
Edited by Jim Cory
Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019 
$18.00

 

One of the reasons Steve Abbott is so refreshing is because he takes his lusts the same way he might drink orange juice: straight up. There are poems and essays about queerness and AIDS (his ultimate killer), but also ones about transcendence, poverty, and fatherhood. This collection pulls together essays (including a stunning piece on Bob Kaufman), fiction, poetry, cartoons, letters, and memoirs across a wide range of styles. His work reads like a mind never at rest.  

Abbott was part of the generation of queer poets who came of age in the 1970’s. This generation, which included Tim Dlugos, Kevin Killian, Steve Carey, and Jim Brodey, did not hide their sexuality even if some did not make it the center of their work. (A freedom taken for granted by heterosexual poets.) Prior to the 1970’s, most queer poets who took sex as a subject were either outliers (Harold Norse and John Weiners) or artfully oblique (Hart Crane and W.H. Auden.) 

Abbott’s work has a freedom and casualness not found in many poets prior to his generation. He’s able to toss off lines like, “The sky is so full / you hear footsteps on the roof” or drop in a line like, “So far as I know / Chairman Mao never wore a dress.”  It’s his knack for not taking the world too seriously which makes Abbott such an endearing writer. His work is casual, but never sloppy. He’s always precise. Check out how he starts this poem. 

It’s A Strange Day Alysia Says, A Green

“It’s a strange day,” Alysia says, “a green
bug in my room & now this mushroom growing in the car.”

She’s right. Under damp newspapers & cigarette
butts, from the floor, protrudes a slimy brown thing. 

Maybe I should get a new car or at least
clean it up, fix the window like the kids say. 

But how can I do this & still talk to angels?

Poets get absorbed in strange quests,
question not the creative regimen of poverty. 

I wanted to meditate on this but before I could
a hitchhiker we pick up crushes…

The poem continues in side-chat fashion, but this gives an idea of his voice. Tucked between the cigarettes, the ampersands, and the hitchhiker, this poem belongs to the 1970’s as surely as shag carpet, disco balls, and Pontiac Firebirds. And just like those well-remembered items, it’s tactile and timeless. The poet records a conversation between his self and soul about parenting, poverty, and poetry and lets the reader eavesdrop along the way.  

Because of Alysia Abbott’s fine and tender memoir, Fairyland, Steve Abbott is better known as a subject than as a writer. Beautiful Aliens should start to correct that oversight. 

Despite some obvious similarities (queer and San Francisco based) Karl Tierney was a different sort of poet than Steve Abbott. The new collection, Have You Seen This Man? illustrates that point. 

First, it must be noted, this collection was a love labor from Jim Cory, Tierney’s friend and literary executor. Tierney committed suicide in 1995 after an AIDS diagnosis. Cory spent the next 20 plus years submitting Tierney’s poetry to magazines and trying to gain interest from publishers for a collection. Cory, a wonderful and heart wrenching poet in his own right, kept the focus on Tierney rather than himself. This collection is a testament to Tierney’s talent as a poet and to Cory’s skill as an editor. Cory’s insightful introduction is worth the price of the book. 

But poets have to be judged by the quality of their work, not by the sadness of their lives. So, what kind of poet was Tierney? In a word: lustful. As Cory correctly notes, Tierney seems to channel the Roman poet Catullus in both his direct, almost comedic, style as well as in his subject matter. Like Catullus, Tierney writes like a man on a mission. The mission is getting either a or b or both into bed and the best poems (there are numerous gems) concern fleshly wants or their aftermaths. 

Here’s are a few lines from a typical piece to shows what he does well. 

Part-Time Whores In Doorways

Some of them are handsome, 
even if two sheets to the wind 

shaking skin and bones. 
Little meat upon them 

except between the legs 
meticulously exposed when rising

towards tweaks, Johns, or numbers. 
There is no need for pity. 

They milk even the bosom of Mary 
and display…

The poems continues and catalogs Tierney’s world of wants, fulfilled and unfulfilled. His characters go to every party and hate to go home alone. Tierney’s characters, are like so many party hungry, lonely people. As a poet though, he is unique. His poems are postcards of fanciful directness, finally delivered after so many years.

 

About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has been published in numerous magazines throughout the country in such places as Plainsongs, Laurel Poetry Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Tar River Poetry. His fourteen poetry collections include: Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has served as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review and as publisher of the now defunct Yellow Pepper Press. More information about him can be found on his website, mikejamespoetry.com.

 

More By Mike James:

Grace

Paul Lynde

Two Prose Poems

 

Image Credit: World AIDS Day Ribbon. Public Domain

“The Inner Life of Midwesterners Rarely Spoken: A Review of Marc Frazier’s Willingly” By Chase Dimock

 

 

The Inner Life of Midwesterners Rarely Spoken:

A Review of Marc Frazier’s Willingly

 By Chase Dimock

 

     In the poem “Iterations” Marc Frazier claims “There is no limit to the times a poet can mention the body.” Frazier’s latest book Willingly is true to his own words as nearly every poem is about inhabiting a body or the embodiment of ideas and emotions:

this body that stirs, or fails to
this barely defined shoulder
my body beside someone’s but not yet yours.

Frazier’s bodies are sites of memory, pain, desire, and the hope of transcendence through sensual connection with other bodies. These bodies are both familiar and alienating: his own body ranging from childhood to middle age, the alternately tender or cold bodies of lovers and objects of desire, and the bodies of his family members wracked with mental illness and the ravages of old age. Thus, Willingly is about how bodies are shaped by their environment, nurtured or neglected by family and community, and legible through scars:

Body, exhausted by metaphor–limited, earthbound.
Words can’t capture how it falters, breaks,
how there may be something more.

Words cannot capture a body in the sense that capturing means possessing and immobilizing it the way the possessiveness of desire sometimes wishes we could. But as a poet, Frazier’s words can depict the impressions of the body in motion, the way it ages, cowers in pain, and yearns for the touch of others.

      Frazier begins his collection with the poem “little death; dissociative identity,” which sets the tone for his subsequent explorations of identity and desire. I imagine “little death” as a reference to the French “la petite mort,” a term that refers to the after effects of an orgasm. As the majority of the poems intersperse recollections of his dysfunctional family and meditations on his sexuality from childhood to present, the idea of sex culminating in a small death frames this relationship between his identity as a gay man and his upbringing in the midwest. The pleasures of the body mean that a part of him must die: namely the lingering trauma of a childhood that shamed his queerness as a man and an artist.

      In “Synopsis” Frazier gives us exactly that: a run down of his infancy to manhood: “mother threatens to kill me during the seventh month of my life… mother is admitted for insulin and electro-shock therapies…I have to survive my father a difficult battle to win.” Living with a mentally ill mother and a stern Catholic father adds up: 

I live as a person
divided
the religious youth
and the man
cruising men
my fragile self fueled
by porn alcohol

While an upbringing does not determine one’s sexual orientation, it does heavily inform how one navigates their sexuality and what they want to get through it. By alternating poems about his family from the nostalgic to the traumatic with poems about his loves and lusts, Frazier’s poetry investigates how the wounds of the past drive us to heal through desires of the flesh. 

        All discussions of sexual desire carry the stigma of taboo in our culture, yet Frazier’s poetry is unafraid to be vulnerable and confessional. His work is especially brave because he does not merely reveal erotic desires, but also the pain of rejection, the lingering feelings of inadequacy, and the moral ambiguity of his sexual past. In two back to back poems, “Without Words” and “Sergio”, Frazier connects his difficult relationship with his mother to a failed romantic relationship. Addressing his mother, he writes: “Even now, I stiffen when you hug me,/ frozen in an infant’s body”. Through poetry, he attempts to find healing for his trauma:

Each word I write aims to uncover the damage,
to express trauma that happens before language

But a body remembers what happened.
How I want to surrender, to let you reach me:

My body’s wanting to love is not the same as loving
though wanting to be loved is the same as loving

The problem of wanting to love and be loved in a traumatized body that cannot process or receive love as the mind wants emerges as well in Frazier’s poems about sexuality. In these poems, he explores the dual nature of sex: the sensual and the carnal. I was particularly struck by some of the poems in which he positions the carnal as a reaction to the frustrations and disappointments in trying to make a sensual, romantic connection. In “Without You” he writes:

I bring bodies alive with a quarter
        Watch them laboring
Like pistons and cylinders,
        Without sound

To unlearn the beauty of you
        the pornography does best

When a body he loved slips away, he responds with a carnal possession of another, virtual body he can always control. In “Sergio” this reactionary attitude is echoed as he writes “the more I have sex, the more I get even.” It’s brave to explore this unflattering, yet all too human and universal aspect of frustrated desire. 

      Despite the strong focus on a traumatized past and painfully honest poems about the darker and stickier elements of desire, Frazier’s book still maintains a certain level of optimism in the promise of sensual connection through bodies. In these poems, he crafts some of his most beautiful images and lines. In “Architecture” he writes

I hear each cell crave to be more
my desire to be less
anchored deep in the kiln of your chest

In “Heart Tide” Frazier writes of the hope for transcendence through vulnerability:

My clear heart rests in your hand
                  beyond death’s fingers
                  It holds itself, freed of geography and time.

That line beautifully sums up the aspirations of Frazier’s book. We recover traumas through the body. We feel the pain of shame, rejection, and frustration through the body. But at moments, bodies can intertwine and transcend the damage of the past and the physical constraints of the present. There are indeed no limits to the times a poet can mention the body, and through poetry we reshape and we rethink the bodies we inhabit each time they are mentioned.

 

Willingly is available from Adelaide Books

 

About the Author: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship has appeared in College LiteratureWestern American Literature, and numerous edited anthologies. His works of literary criticism have appeared in Mayday MagazineThe Lambda Literary ReviewModern American Poetry, and Dissertation Reviews. His poetry has appeared in Waccamaw, New Mexico Review, Faultline, Hot Metal Bridge, Saw Palm, and San Pedro River Review among othersFor more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More by Chase Dimock: 

A Review of John Dorsey’s Your Daughter’s Country

A Review of Jumping Bridges in Technicolor by Mike James

Leadwood: A Conversation With Poet Daniel Crocker

 

“Cycles of Grief Go On and On” By Jeanette Powers

 

 

Cycles of Grief Go On and On

In no good world is it right
for a mother to leave behind
two young boys when she dies
or for the family to fight
over her crumbs, her car
the paint by number of a white horse
the hand-painted sculpture
of a monkey, hanging
from a real rope
the raining oil lamp
with the naked woman inside
there’s no justice
in fighting over her wedding ring
while those two boys
sit in pews praying
for their mom.

There is no kindness in giving
your queer granddaughter
a bible for graduation
after fifteen years of her
hiding behind the pulpit
knowing she can’t be baptized
into the faith of her family
and cutting off her college fund
when she’s caught red-handed
with a woman at the movie theater
then sending her out into the world
without a safety net
unable to pray without
remembering being cast away.

For the abandoned
it feels like everyone
is beating on them for their whole lives
and they are the only ones paying the price
it seems like everyone
is just getting away with so much cruelty
dressed up as the Christian thing to do
and we, abandoned through grief,
loss, through being different
find our own solace
and too often in razor blades,
another dozen bottles
always bashing our heads
in prayer against a wall
we can’t find our way out from behind.

Are we raising a generation
of hungry ghosts, sleeping
with clenched fists, ready to punch back
at first waking, unable to be given
an apology they can hear
every reason just an excuse
always believing everyone
is going to be right at our throats
the second we show our self
our rage an impacted tooth
our memory a suppurating ulcer
the only cheek turned, always our own?

 

About the Author: Jeanette Powers: poet, painter, philosopher, professional party dancer and working class, anarchist, non-binary queer. Here to be radically peaceful, they are a founding member of Kansas City’s annual small press poetry fest, FountainVerse. Powers is also the brawn behind Stubborn Mule Press. They have seven full length poetry books and have been published often online and  print journals. Find more at jeanettepowers.com and @novel_cliche

 

More By Jeanette Powers:

Reflections in the Windows of Your First Car

 

Image Credit: Karl Blossfeldt “Dipsacus laciniatus” (1928) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

“Paul Lynde” By Mike James

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Paul Lynde

Died on an early January Sunday in Beverly Hills. If he’d been born in early January, he’d be a Capricorn. He was a Gemini. During the 1970’s it was popular to tell people “your sign.” Like shag carpet, that’s less popular now. Paul trusted astrology. Call him a man of the times. Call him Liberace without a piano, add a scarf. Geminis love illusions and music. Prefer light blue and yellow. The great talents of Geminis “are in the social realm.” Does that include cooking? Paul Lynde liked to drink white wine while cooking. He loved to cook.

.

 

About the Author: Mike James has been widely published in magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His thirteen poetry collections include: Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle)and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has served as an associate editor for the Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press, as well as the publisher of the now defunct Yellow Pepper Press. He makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee.More information can be found on his website at mikejamespoetry.com.

 

More By Mike James:

Grace

Two Ghazals

“It Ain’t No Lie, Baby” By Daniel Crocker

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It Ain’t No Lie, Baby

By Daniel Crocker

.

My first boyfriend killed himself. We didn’t call ourselves boyfriends, but we went to the movies together, went to dinner together, and had a lot of sex. Part of the reason we didn’t call ourselves for what we really were is that it was the ’90s and things then weren’t what they are now. More than that I think, even though he was out of the closet, was my insistence that I wasn’t gay. And I wasn’t and am not. I was a bit of a coward, though.

I didn’t realize at the time that there was another option or, as it turns out, countless other options. And who knows, maybe I’m being presumptuous to think that he would have wanted to call me his boyfriend. He was beautiful and wild and unpredictable. He had a lot of suitors. Still, I do sometimes wonder if things would have been different if I, at that time, could have just went all in so to speak.

It wouldn’t be until several years later that I came out to my friends as a bisexual male—something seemingly as rare as a unicorn. That’s when things got weird. Some of my friends shrugged, and said, “So?” That was the best response possible, and I appreciate each and every one of them. Others weren’t sold on the idea. How is that possible, they wondered, you’re married to a woman.

The reaction from my gay friends could be even more baffling. I heard the old standby, “Bi now, gay later” plenty. That one didn’t bother me at first because so many gay men I knew at the time did go through a period where they told people they were bisexual. They were just testing the waters. But, five years later, it started to get a little old. When I agreed to sit on a panel hosted by the university I attended as the “representative bisexual” most of the questions I got were variations of, “What does your wife think about you cheating on her with men?” My relationship is monogamous I said . . . over and over and over.

My oldest friend, a guy I grew up with, went to church with, love like a brother, had one of the hardest times believing it. His dad was a preacher. Once, when we were young, we were having a conversation about homosexuality in my bedroom. He had not yet come out of the closet and wouldn’t until his early twenties, but it was something we’d talk about now and again. Maybe he was seeing how I would react, but I believe him when he says he just hadn’t been able to admit it to himself yet. We lived in a community that was violently homophobic.

“Look,” I said. “If I was gay I’d march up and down the street telling people. There’s nothing wrong with it.” I don’t know where I got this attitude. Not from my parents, any adult I knew, and certainly not from my hellfire and brimstone church. A church where, mind you, I made the mistake of wearing an earring. The preacher, looking right at me the entire time, went on a rant against homosexuality before saying, “When I was a kid, if a boy had an earring it meant one thing. It still means that today.” Amens all around.

I think what my friend meant when he told me I wasn’t bisexual was that he really expected, if I were, that I would be marching up and down the street telling people. I still love him. He’s incredibly accepting of who I am. We’ve been friends for thirty years. We Skype on Sundays to watch a classic episode of Doctor Who—a tradition started when we’d watch it Sunday nights on PBS. But, I digress. However, I wondered that if he, someone who knew some of the men I had slept with, didn’t buy it, why, I thought, would anyone else?

Continue reading