Ryan Murphy joins the gay parenting bonanza with this new comedy about two men and their surrogate. It stars Ellen Barkin as a big big bigot, the cute guy from National Treasure and The Hangover, and one of the dudes from The Book of Mormon which is funny because a Mormon-owned Utah tv station is refusing to air the series. It premieres on NBC on September 11. Plenty of winces between the laughs. "You guys are gross." If you have trouble viewing, watch it here.
The unstoppable gay surrogate boom continues in September with the release of Michael Lowenthal's new novel The Paternity Test, which Stephen McCauley calls, “A good, old-fashioned page-turner and a sophisticated look at the mysteries of long-term love and the convoluted reasons for wanting a child. Lowenthal writes with intelligence and passion and made me care a great deal about the fates of his flawed, fascinating characters.”
Serious swashbuckle. Professor Samar Habib balances historical detail and sociological insight with a classic tale of starcrossed lovers, injustice, intolerance, exile, death threats, disguises, and swordfights in her new novel, Rughum & Najda. Rughum is a devout Muslim married to a much older man; Nadja is a beautiful agnostic adopted and raised by a Manichean family. A little like One Thousand One Nights or Nobel winner Naguib Mahfouz's The Harafish, the story of their difficult love unfolds in a narrative crowded with other lives, creating a communal portrait of 9th century Baghdad. It may have been the Golden Age of Islam but women risked death for their sexuality. Nevertheless, the author, who is an expert in this area, renders a convincing lesbian subculture of that era.
For more queer Arab studies from then to now, read her anthology of twenty essays Islam and Homosexuality.
Or watch her discuss Queer Representation in Arab Cinema.
“Until my dying day I will look back with pride that I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the spectre which for time immemorial has been injecting poison into me and into men of my nature. Many have been driven to suicide because all their happiness in life was tainted. Indeed, I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt.”
Tucked away in Saturday's WSJ was Colm Tóibín's invigorating review of a 416-page book about the writing of The Portrait of a Lady, which he finds "masterful" and "exemplary in its approach." Of (straight) professor Michael Gorra's Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece [Kindle], Tóibín writes:
"Mr. Gorra writes clearly; he is eminently sensible; and he attempts to be as intelligent as possible. His examination of James's sexuality is exemplary in its attention to sources. His own judgment of James's work is also careful: He views "The Portrait of a Lady" as a great novel; and while he values some of the other work, he believes that the novel was not matched until the miraculous flowering of 20 years later, when James produced his three masterpieces, "The Wings of the Dove" (1902), "The Ambassadors" (1903) and "The Golden Bowl" (1904). Mr. Gorra manages to connect the earlier novel and these three books with real insight by showing how James returned to the theme of Americans in Europe with greater refinement and nuance, having written novels in the meantime such as "The Bostonians" (1886), which is set in America with Americans alone as the protagonists, or "The Tragic Muse" (1890) and "The Spoils of Poynton" (1897), which explored the tone and texture of English life without any drama coming from across the Atlantic."
Again discussing the great novel, Tóibín continues:
Tóibín's review will certainly find its way into one of his future compiliations similar to All a Novelist Needs: Colm Tóibín on Henry James or New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families [Kindle]. As for TPOAL, if you haven't, you must.
"The discovery of Isabel in all her sparkling inwardness and allure in the first half of the book is exhilarating, but then the book darkens and, Mr. Gorra writes, "shifts to a minor key, less exhilarating but with a new gravity and indeed, nobility, whose force increases with each chapter." This leads us to the famous Chapter 42 of the novel, which, as James himself writes in his Preface, "throws the action further more than twenty 'incidents' might have done." As Isabel sits by the fire, the reader knows no more than she does. In paragraphs of extraordinary rhythmic power she begins to realize what has happened to her. She begins to understand that her husband and his friend Madame Merle are not what they say they are. "What she sees," Mr. Gorra writes, "as she sits there will produce a moment of reverie that lasts the full length of a night, a chapter that stands as one of James's greatest achievements and a turning point in the history of the novel.""This new tone in the book, more stately and grave, will lead to one of the greatest scenes in all of fiction, the deathbed encounter between Isabel and her cousin Ralph Touchett, filled with melancholy wisdom and hard-won tenderness. In his description of this episode, Mr. Gorra writes with majestic ease and affection. He points out that neither Ralph nor Isabel evoke God or an afterlife but "nevertheless, the two of them seem, in confessing all, to float for a second beyond their bodies, unbound by any sense of self and with their minds moving at the end as one. It is as if their souls stood naked to one another, a flash so powerful—so rare, so brief—that it makes all the suffering needed to produce it seem worthwhile. I cannot read this scene without tears."
*not sure about this BBC2 film
Two weeks in Wellfleet, with many native Cape Cod sightings: two deer, three herons, eight turkeys, a raft of seals, and one writer. Alec Wilkinson read from his new book The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration [Kindle]. His New Yorker fact piece about Andrée's 1897 air voyage with a crew of three to reach the North Pole by hot air balloon was a riveting revelation. The book promises to be more. If you admire foolhardy, courageous attempts at the unknown, or anything at all about the Arctic, get it now.
One of my very favorite people dislikes publicity to the exact degree that I admire her: immensely. A careful, thoughtful editor by temperament and trade, she taught me how to eat, speak, read, write, museum-go, and travel internationally... six of my all-time greatest pastimes. Though I couldn't hope to match her knowledge, natural skill, and intuitive elegance in any of those activities, it has been an abiding pleasure to fall short in her shadow for these many, happy years. In my case, 'born lucky' is a magnificent understatement.
She recommends Andrea Barrett's National Book Award winning collection, Ship Fever, most especially the story "Rare Birds."
(Matisse, Woman with Folded Hands, 1918.)
The flinty, fighting lesbians on the neighboring ranch may be the happiest couple in Alison Hagy's fine novel of the new West, Boleto [Kindle], unless you count the hero, 23 year-old Will Testerman, and his beloved but unnamed filly. In the opening scene, he spends all his savings to buy her, and plans to train her in order to sell her, yet even so their relationship is deeper and more respectful than most of the human pairings. Will's father is a bitter, failed rancher who runs a dying printing shop; his mother is struggling with her second bout of breast cancer; his brothers are selfish and stubborn; and his one serious girlfriend got pregnant by someone else. The action follows Will and his horse through three seasons in different places: spring with his family in Lost Cabin, Wyoming; summer at a just-barely-hanging-on guest ranch east of Yellowstone; fall at an absent Argentine's polo estate in California. These shifts allow Hagy to explore the overlapping clashes of the mythic old West and the new reality, working families and the very rich, dependence and power, injury and redemption. Most of the novel is surprisingly, wonderfully open-ended and under-explained, which may make the too-neat ending seem simplistic.
The Wyoming sections take place in an area I've visited eighteen times in the past nine years and I can attest to Hagy's skill in evoking the dry grandeur of the landscape and her talent for illuminating the complex inner lives of the tight-lipped locals. Especially recommended for fans of elegiac yet clear-eyed fiction from Annie Proulx, Wallace Stegner, Ron Carlson, and Kent Haruf (who finally has a new novel coming next March). Hagy's Ghosts of Wyoming won a High Plains Book Award.
To the long line of queer lives stolen, degayed, and straightened by writers and filmmakers craving a broader audience, add László Almásy [seated], the Hungarian aristocrat, desert explorer and Nazi smuggler who may have spied for both sides in WWII, and is the protagonist of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. Almásy was gay and certainly didn't have a soaring romance with anyone's wife; he and a young German soldier named Hans Entholt were lovers and letters unavailable to the public offer proof that he also had sex with Egyptian princes. Born in what is now Austria, educated in England, he joined the Hussars in WWI, was shot down over Italy, continued as a flight instructor, and after the war was a winning speed racer. After driving along the Nile from Egypt to the Sudan in 1926, Almásy became interested in the area and led expeditions in search of the mythic Zerzura. His sponsor died and his wife perished in a mysterious plane crash the following year. In 1934 or 35, Almásy and another adventurer became the first whites to establish contact with the Magyarab tribe and earned the title Abu Ramla [Father of the Sand] from his Bedouin friends, developing desert skills then that would come in handy during WWII as part of Operation Salaam when he smuggled Nazi spies across enemy lines and drove 4,200 km across the Sahara. Yet when he returned to Budapest, he helped hide and save several Jewish families from being deported to death camps. After the war, he was arrested in Hungary, sent to a Soviet prison, was acquitted thanks to a bribe allegedly paid by MI6, was smuggled to Austria by British officials on a fake passport, and sent to Egypt where King Farouk got him named the technical director at the new Desert Research Institute. Visiting Austria in 1951, he contracted dysentery and died at 55.
The English Patient won the Booker Prize and the movie version won nine Oscars, including best picture. For a more accurate portrayal, read John Bierman's The Secret Life of Laszlo Almasy: The Real English Patient.
Directing a film is hard enough in the best circumstances, yet Marcel Carné made his three-hour epic period piece Les Enfants du Paradis in France under Nazi occupation. All materials were rationed and electricity was, at best, sporadic. Some of the huge cast were Resistance fighters using the filming as their sole way of meeting during daylight and constantly dodging the Nazis and collaborators put on the production by Vichy officials. The music and the sets were designed by two Jewish men who worked from hiding. Some of the 1,800 extras were starving and stole food from the banquet scenes before it could be filmed. Although there was nothing overtly queer in the plot, gay viewers could probably sympathize with the story of a beautiful woman in the 1830s, Garance, who was torn between four lovers: an aristocrat, a thief, an actor, and a mime. Instantly adored when it premiered in March 1945, the movie played in Paris for more than a year and its prestige has endured. The movie theater at Centre Pompidou is named Salle Garance in honor of the heroine, and in the late 1990s a poll of six hundred critics and movie people in France named it the greatest French film of the twentieth century. Carné was thirty-nine when he directed Les Enfants du Paradis, his seventh movie, and over the next thirty years he made ten more features, some of which starred his partner Roland Lesaffre. He died at ninety in 1996.
What does it mean that three new gay novelists have trounced the old guard in garnering online reviews? While Ed White, Chris Bram, and Felice Picano's latest books have enjoyed wide mainstream praise including the NYT and The New Yorker and overall higher sales, they have each inspired fewer than 20 customer reviews on Amazon. Three new authors so far have been mainly ignored by the straight press yet they appear to be really connecting with readers, each earning an average of 4.5 stars with a very impressive 56, 125, or 155 customer reviews, respectively.
The most literary of the trio is Ryan Quinn's The Fall [Kindle], told in alternating voices from two boys and a girl -- gay film geek, football jock, and classical music prodigy -- at Pennsylvania's Florence University. Ryan is a 2003 NCAA champ and All-American skier who penned this essay about coming out to his team and that essay about whether or not gay books are gay.
The most fabulous is Justin Luke Zirilli's Gulliver Takes Manhattan [Kindle], about a 20-something's misadventures in NYC while working for a talent agency. Justin is a gay nightlife promoter and co-owner of BoiParty.
The sweetest is Jay Bell's Something Like Summer [Kindle], a love story that spans a decade as two Texan boys "discover what it means to be friends, lovers, and sometimes even enemies." A movie adaptation is in development from the team who made Judas Kiss.
Forty-one years ago, way back in 1971, Australian gay rights pioneer Dennis Altman published his groundbreaking book Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation. While teaching at the University of Sydney, La Trobe, and Harvard, he has continued to publish "savvy, energetic" work, including Gore Vidal's America, AIDS in the Mind of America, and Global Sex, about which PW said: "Altman is best when he... compares Bangkok's current reputation with Vienna's as "the global brothel" circa 1900; when he traces the dissemination of U.S. gay culture around the world; or when he discusses how Reagan and Thatcher used traditional "moral panics" to promote their agendas. Drawing upon a wide range of sources and cultural artifacts including Playboy, U.N. Development Programme reports, Sharon Stone's famous leg crossing in Basic Instinct, and La Cage aux Folles, as well as the theories of Freud, Herbert Marcuse, William Reich and Franz Fanon Altman ranges outside the usual boundaries of academic research."
Born in Remscheid, Germany in 1968, photog phenom Wolfgang Tillmans made it to England as an exchange student when he was fifteen in 1983, just in time for the queerish alt rock explosion led by Depeche Mode, the Smiths, the Cure. After stints in Hamburg, and a year in New York where he met his German partner Jochen Klein, they settled in London in 1995. Two years later Klein died of aids. Three years after that, in 2000, Tillmans became the first photographer and the first non-British artist to win the UK's prestigious Turner Prize. Two years later he filmed the video for Pet Shop Boys' "Home and Dry." In 2006, he opened Between Bridges gallery space in London to promote overlooked political art. But what's his own style? All over the map. New York mag tried to nail it last year: "A Tillmans has slackerlike beauty and nonchalance; a color sense that is more like that of a monochrome painter who works in large or otherwise unbroken fields; an accidental and uncontrived appearance; an attraction to the abstract and fragmented; and a sense of the photograph as an object that (usually unframed) occupies wall space more like a sheet than like a piece of art." Taschen has a three-volume, 556-page retrospective of his work.
Unlikely that those tabloid photos of Anderson Cooper's boyfriend Ben Maisani kissing another man in a NYC park are going to become a cultural moment, but HuffPost's Gay Voices editor Noah Michelson dreams they will launch a national discussion about healthy open relationships. Once again, it's the gay vs. queer divide. Michelson writes:
"One gay friend of mine, who has been with his partner for nearly a decade but is unable to marry him because they reside in a Midwestern state where gay marriage isn't legal, thought the photos of Maisani could make it even harder for him to wed. He questioned how mainstream America would react to Maisani's public display of affection with a man who wasn't his boyfriend and how it would do anything to 'help gay acceptance.'
"But in my fantasies, we're not gunning for gay acceptance -- especially not if the only way we're granted it is by "behaving ourselves" and struggling to fit into a heteronormative mold (which, as far as I can tell, hasn't really benefited heterosexual people very well, either). Instead, I want us to be pushing for queer liberation, which, to me, has always meant that when it comes to sex and love, we all get to do whatever we want with whomever we want as long as we're not hurting anyone..."
Michelson doesn't mention aids but the pandemic further cemented the dichotomy between the good, monogamous gay and the bad, promiscuous queer. The broader debate has lasted nearly fifty years: Are we going to get equality by saying we're the same as you or by saying it's okay to be different.
Horst patriotically joined the U.S. army as a photographer in July 1943, three months before he became a U.S. citizen. (He was German, born Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann but chose to be Horst P. Horst because he was known by his first name and to distance himself from the Nazi officer Martin Bormann.) By then he had been famous for eleven years, thanks initially to lesbian Janet Flanner's New Yorker review of his Paris show in 1932, and he had already shot Dietrich, Davis, Crawford, Coward, Schiaparelli, Chanel, and Garbo, as well as his most famous photograph, The Mainbocher Corset. He had already had an affair with his mentor George Hoyningen-Huene, who took this photo of Horst age twenty-five in 1931 and had dated future-filmmaker Luchino Visconti; and he was five years into his relationship with former British diplomat Valentine Lawford, with whom he would stay for sixty-one years. Together, they adopted and raised a son, Richard J. Horst. Out of favor and largely ignored in the 70s, Horst made a comeback starting in 1980 when Life hired him to shoot nine photos. In 1990, David Fincher used Horst's signature light-and-deep-shadow style to create Madonna's video Vogue, even reenacting his Mainbocher Corset shot. Horst continued to work until close to his death at ninety-three in 1999.
By the time he was twenty-five, Illinois native Jonathan Strong had graduated from Harvard, won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, had twice won O. Henry awards for his short fiction (including 3rd prize), and published his first book, Tike and Five Stories, winner of the Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. (Rosenthal recipients just prior to his win were Thomas Pynchon and Joyce Carol Oates; soon after him came Thomas McGuane, Alice Walker, and Richard Yates.) In the intervening forty-three years, Strong has published eleven more books. Two recent novels are the just terrific Drawn From Life (2008) and the Lammy finalist Consolation (2010). Both books' protagonists are out gay men, which may or may not contribute to why Strong is not as widely read as he ought to be; or it may simply be the unfair wheel of literary fate. Either way, he is overdue for his Barbara Pym moment of rediscovery. Last year he published his opera novel More Light, and his next novel, finished two years ago, Hawkweed and Indian Paintbrush, is still forthcoming from a very small press. A longtime lecturer at Tufts, he is happily partnered and lives without the internet or email in Rockport, Massachusetts.