Monday, May 27, 2024

Two must-read queer books to see out Summer

Beat the heat with a cool drink and a hot read. Here are two outstanding books that will intrigue gay men and lesbians with their incredible insight into our identities.

The last days of Summer are a time for living it up and relaxing. But if you don’t want your brain to turn to mush, while sipping a cocktail poolside, we have found two compelling ‘keeper’ reads—from powerful prose, to poetry that sets the page ablaze.

The Lookback Window by Kyle Dillon Hertz

This novel packs a punch! If you ever looked around at a gay bar or a tea dance at Fire Island and wondered what lies beneath the surface of party-hard young men, The Lookback Window offers some powerful, poignant insight. Kyle Dillon Hertz’s stunning debut novel has the kind of punchy and polished prose packed with danger, nuance and beauty that makes you believe once more in the Great American Novel and the possibility of literary fiction to shines a light into the dark corners of the human heart. An immersive, visceral, and risky novel The Lookback Window plunges us into the life of New York gay guy Dylan, as he peels back the hedonism of his life to deal with deeply embedded trauma and embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing. Dylan grew up in New York and as a troubled teen, fell into a sex-trafficking ring which intersected with his own nascent homosexuality. When a groundbreaking new law—the Child Victims Act—opens a window for retribution or justice, Dylan takes it. But it also means he must go back into the underworld of bathhouses, bars, clubs, and strangers’ homes. The Lookback Window is a page turner but it also might be triggering to victims of sexual abuse. It may also be truly helpful to those who love and know victims of child sexual assault. August marks the four year anniversary of the passage of the Child Victims Act in NY.

In an author’s letter Dillon Hertz released in time with the book’s publication this month, he writes: “When I was a teenager, I met an older man who drugged me, raped me, took child porn of me, and then sold me to much older men for drugs and cash. What I now know as trafficking, and what, before I knew the words for what ailed me, took me on a journey across the country, over ten years, trying to heal from what happened to me. Throughout this course, I attended rehabs, support groups, and various programs where I encountered hundreds of other men who had been raped. I learned one out of every four men is assaulted. I heard stories of their overdoses, suicide attempts, and everything that people do to relieve themselves of the extraordinary shame and pain from childhood violence. Accidentally, I learned, despite what I had read about and personally experienced, that it is possible to heal.

“Part of this process included tracking down the old men who had bought me and recording their confessions for the FBI. Part was New York passing the Child Victims Act, which allows child victims a year to bring a civil case against their abusers. The other part was attending the Crime Victims Treatment Center, where I spent years being treated for C-PTSD and childhood sexual violence. There is a path to healing, and I was lucky enough to find that treatment, unlike many others in parts of the country where these programs don’t exist.”

He explains the novel is fiction and departs from the true story of his life, but contains a similar journey. “This novel helped save my life, and to have the experience to turn a volatile story into an artfully crafted work of literature allowed me the opportunity of a lifetime: to craft the chance for others to, if not heal, see what it might look like to get that shot. Subjects can be important, but without the craft of structure, lyricism, humor, and heart novels fail at their most extraordinary possibility: liberation.”

Fire-Rimmed Eden: Selected Poems by Lynn Lonidier

This epic collection of lesbian poetry from a poet you may not even have heard of is a must-have for your collection. Edited by Julie R. Enszer, Ph.D, who may be known to readers as the editor of lesbian journal Sinister Wisdom, Lonidier’ should be up there’s work makes an excellent companion to Adrienne Rich’s more acclaimed work as it shares some of the intellectual, emotional, political and sensual scope of her poetry. Lonidier’s poems, which were written on typewriters and published by independent presses, many in the Bay Area, touch on many of the key narrative concerns of 1960s, ’70s and ’80s feminist poetry and literature—from finding feminism in ancient civilizations such as Minoan Crete, to the lesbian-feminist aspects of drag and AIDS, gender and sexuality. Nevertheless, you could be forgiven for not being familiar with Lonidier. I asked Julie Enszer for her thoughts on this major poet slipping from a history which stretches back to Sappho.

“Lonidier was well known in the San Francisco Bay Area during her life, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s when she was publishing her work,” Enszer told me. “To some degree she was known and recognized nationally as a poet. Barbara Grier published some of her poems in The Ladder, and many lesbians have told me that they remember reading her work there. Her last book, Clitoris Lost, published during her lifetime, was in 1989. So it was a long time ago that she was alive to promote her work. In many ways, she parallels Pat Parker. Parker’s Movement in Black was reissued posthumously in 1991 by Firebrand Books, but when Sinister Wisdom published The Complete Works of Pat Parker in 2016, many people had not heard of her work. Neither Lonidier nor Parker were widely anthologized, which is one way that poets become known.”

Enszer surmises that poets like Lonidier can also be overlooked or forgotten if their poetry doesn’t stay in print. Keeping the texts and work alive of lesbian writers is time consuming, and especially difficult for the under-resourced LGBT community of the 1980s when so much energy needed to be devoted to feminism, AIDS activism and the fight for equal rights. And then there is the matter of Lonidier’s death. She committed suicide in 1993 at age 56 (which Enszer has written about here).

“I find the circumstances of her death very sad,” says Enszer, “but also I think it is important to talk about her life and death and the mental health struggles that lesbians have and how homophobia can contribute to them. Lonidier was a school teacher, a job she loved and was great at, but during the 1970s and 1980s, like today in many ways, queer public school teachers were suspect and under attack, particularly in the state of California. I wonder if in the immediate aftermath of her death, attending to a lesbian poet who committed suicide was a fraught situation.”

Fire-Rimmed Eden: Selected Poems collects poems from Lonidier’s five rich and varied collections: Po Tree (1967), The Female Freeway (1970), A Lesbian Estate (1977), Woman Explorer (1979), Clitoris Lost: A Woman’s Version of the Creation Myth (1989), and a posthumous book, The Rhyme of the Ag-ed Mariness (2001), and delivers them to a new generation of queer women.

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Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 140 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

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