Browsing: Another Country

July – August, 2010

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WHAT’S WITH THE “GOOD” in the subtitle of your book? people ask me. Couldn’t you get the “best” writing? or (tongue in cheek) is it writing by “good lesbians”? The subtitle of Something to Declare echoes that of an earlier anthology, Wonderlands: Good Gay Travel Writing.

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“PARIS IS WHERE the 20th century was,” declared that eccentric raconteur and occasional aphorist, Gertrude Stein. Writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein herself, artists like Picasso, Dalí, and…More

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Over two months later, this quiet event was recapitulated in a public way in Israel. I was speaking to a crowd of Israeli men at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Tel Aviv, when the subject became gays in Lebanon. “We’ve heard there is better nightlife there than here,” one man asked, wanting to know about the bars and clubs. The comment shocked some of those in the audience. Beirut was as forbidden to him as Tel Aviv was to Khaled. All the men in the room suddenly leaned forward in attention, wondering what the Lebanese capital, once the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan city, would be like.

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Brief Lives: E. M. Forster by Richard Canning
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Reviews of The Scandal of Susan Sontag, and Brief Lives: E. M. Forster.

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WHAT’S WITH THE “GOOD” in the subtitle of your book? people ask me. Couldn’t you get the “best” writing? or (tongue in cheek) is it writing by “good lesbians”? The subtitle of Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing echoes that of an earlier anthology published by the University of Wisconsin Press, Wonderlands: Good Gay Travel Writing (2004). Editor Raphael Kadushin explained in his introduction that he used “good” because he was tired of every other damn collection’s claim to be the “best” writing—which is logically impossible, after all. I admired his reasoning but avoided repeating his explanation in my own introduction—hence, the questions. Meanwhile, I’d like to address the other questions that the four-word subtitle has raised.

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The Pride
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PART OF a spate of gay-themed plays on the boards in New York this season, two from Off-Broadway present contrasting approaches to the recent history of same-sex male love. The Temperamentals by Jon Marans dramatizes early activism: the creation in Los Angeles of the Mattachine Society by Communist organizer Harry Hay and his then lover, costume designer Rudi Gernreich, and a small circle of friends. The story unfolds in the early 1950’s with America moving from the war years into the McCarthy Era. The Pride, on the other hand, a first play by Alexi Kaye Campbell, is a British import that views the gay present through the lens of the past. It features two different male couples in London in 1958 and 2008; each pair must come to terms with the personal price of gay relations. In 1958, the context is one of social repression; in 2008, one of sexual and social liberation.

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THE DISCOURSE on homosexuality is a major part of current American culture, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing. Thus, it is all the more noteworthy that a recent production of As You Like It that ran at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this year, directed by Sam Mendes and cast with a bi-national troupe of American and British actors, seems to go out of its way to suppress the homosexual dynamics that are inherent in Shakespeare’s play. An eerie sense of homophobia comes across as this production unfolds.

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LADY GAGA could be a cannibal. If you don’t believe me, have a listen to the most dental song to date, “Teeth” (from her EP The Fame Monster), in which the 23-year-old New Yorker growls: “Take a bite of my bad girl meat.” The fantasy of being eaten alive recurs in “Monster” with the lyric, “He ate my heart/ He licked his lips, said to me/ Girl, you look good enough to eat.”

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BETWEEN THE SUMMERS of 2007 and 2009, I traveled the country interviewing a diverse group of prominent, interesting, and accomplished gay Americans. Out of those interviews—102 in all—came a book, Travels in a Gay Nation: Portraits of LGBTQ Americans, which was published this spring by the University of Wisconsin Press. Throughout the project, diversity was my guiding principle.

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