THE HUNGRY GHOSTS

SHYAM SELVADURAI

“In Sri Lankan myth, a person is reborn a peréthaya [hungry ghost] because, during his human life, he desired too much” When his father died,six-year-old Shivan’s mother and sister moved with him into his maternal grandmother’s house. Daya was an angry and demanding woman who refused to talk to her daughter. Shivan, the grandson, became the golden boy, the reason she would take the family in. While he soaked up his grandmother’s recounting of ancient Buddhist tales about ghosts who haunt their future selves until past wrongs are redeemed, Shivan also chafed against her hold on him as he aged. He persuaded his mother to move the family to Canada, as much to get away from Daya as to flee the escalating conflict in Sri Lanka. Not that he could really escape—neither his grandmother nor his troubled country were anywhere near finished wreaking havoc in Shivan’s life. On an extended visit back to Sri Lanka, Shivan was taking over his grandmother real estate business until his grandmother had his lover killed.

Ghosts is a well written book. But when Shiven’s affair with Michael goes south I wanted to tell the young men to grow up. It could have used some paring down.

BECOMING NICOLE: The Transformation of an American Family

Amy Ellis Nutt

At almost 3 years old, when Nicole was still known as Wyatt, he declared to his father, “I hate my penis.”  She alway knew she was a girl despite having an identical twin brother. Nicole’s mother, Kelly, supported Wyatt as he presented himself — a girl mistakenly incarnated as a boy. His father, Wayne, a man’s man: both hunter and ex-military, had trouble that his son was a girl. Eventually he came around and became a spokesman for transgender rights. “The world where he was a father and husband in an ordinary, hardworking, middle-class family had just blown up. He stood there stunned, unable to hear whatever was going on around him, as if deafened by the psychological explosion.” Nicole was bullied in school and the administration refused to protect her. The family sued the School Division for barring her from using the girls’ bathroom.

The author not only tells Nicole’s and her family’s story but also the medical and legal stories of transgender people. It is well research and well written.

“Lesson number one: “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with,” he told Spack. “Gender identity is who you go to bed as.”

“other words, our genitals and our gender identity are not the same. Sexual anatomy and gender identity are the products of two different processes, occurring at distinctly different times and along different neural pathways before we are even born. Both are functions of genes as well as hormones, and while sexual anatomy and gender identity usually match, there are dozens of biological events that can affect the outcome of the latter”

“When it comes to that physical self, for a transgender person every waking moment, every conscious breath, is a denial of who they truly are.”

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS

LAURIE FRANKEL

Penn and Rosie have four rowdy, rambunctious boys who they teach they can be anything they want to be. They want to have a girl but of course, they end up with another boy. But Claude is different. Claude is quieter and calmer than the other boys ever were. At three Claude starts wearing a dress and saying he wants to be a girl when he grows up. The family motto is you can be anything you want to be, so the parents take this in stride. For pre-school Claude wore pants to school then changed into his dress when he returned home. When Claude starts kindergarten he starts wearing dresses and skirts to school and adopts the name Poppy. After a playdate gone horribly wrong with a gun-toting homophobe father the family flees to Seattle for greater acceptance. There they tell no one that Poppy is both a girl and a boy. But secrets have a way of getting out.

Terribly well written, THIS IS a page-turner. It’s the best book I’ve read for some time.

TOMBOY SURVIVAL GUIDE

IVAN COYOTE imgres

Tomboy Survival Guide, by the Canadian writer, performer and musician Ivan Coyote, is of well-told tales about the author’s experiences growing up as a transgender person in the Yukon. Adapted from Coyote’s successful stage show of the same name, these stories are entertaining but also impart serious messages and offer the reader a window into the experiences of a transgender person who became a successful writer and performer. Like many transgendered people, Coyote prefers the pronouns they and them. Coyote describes grandmother Flo, a devout Catholic, as “not a cuddly woman” and as someone who was “far more likely to cuff the back of your head than she was to pat the top of it.” Yet Flo was perhaps the first person to reassure Coyote that, while they might not be just like everyone else, they was just fine the way they was. As Coyote remembers it, Flo said that “Some of us have hard roads, but the Lord never gives anyone a burden without also giving them a gift. Your job is to find out what that gift is and use it, y’hear me? God doesn’t make mistakes. Never forget that. You are exactly who God meant you to be.”Public bathrooms and change rooms for me have always been a choice between very uncomfortable and potentially unsafe, so I try to be polite about it because if I get angry it become so much easier for them to

Public bathrooms and change rooms for me have always been a choice between very uncomfortable and potentially unsafe, so I try to be polite about it because if I get angry it become so much easier for them to dismiss me, plus an angry someone who looks like a man in the ladies’ change room? Then I am seen as even more of a threat. Then it is even more all my fault.

coyote-tomboy-survival-guide-s650But my day-to-day struggles are not so much between me and my body. A am not trapped in the wrong body. I am trapped in sa world that  makes very little space for bodies like mine. I live in a world where public washrooms are a battleground where politicians can stand up and be applauded for putting forth an amendment barring me from choosing which gendered bathroom I belong in. I live in a world where my trans sisters are routinely murdered without consequence or justice. I live in a world where trans youth get kicked out onto the street by their parents who think their God is standing behind them as they close their front doors on their own children. Going  to the beach is an act of bravery for me. None of this is a battle between me and my own flesh. For me to be free, it is the world that has to change, not trans people.

YOU GOTTA GET BIGGER DREAMS: My Life in Stories and Pictures

29093006ALLEN CUMMING

CUMMING has given us another delightful memoir. DREAMS is a series of vignettes from his wild, fascinating and star filled life. Most of them delightful and hilarious. Many of them illustrated with photos. He is the king, or should that be queen of selfies. As well as day to day fun, he loves to write about meeting the big names like Elizabeth Taylor. He was nervous meeting Liz at Carrie Fisher’s birthday party and couldn’t think of anything to say. Carrie told him, “Do you know how many gay men wish they had your problem right now!” as she sent him back to converse with the star. So Cumming sits beside Liz on the bench in Carrie Fisher’s hallway. She tells him how she injured herself by falling in her dining room and hitting the floor, hard.  “‘Alan,’ she growled like the Cat on the Hot Tin Roof she still was. ‘You have never seen such a black ass.’ “My mouth gaped open in an involuntary gasp. I waited just a beat longer, then with the most saucy twinkle in my eye I had ever mustered, threw down my slam dunk. ‘Oh, Elizabeth,’ I said. ‘I bet I have!’  “Suddenly her hand unlocked from mine and slapped me across the chest. She cackled like a trucker who’d just heard a good fart joke.”

Cumming’s friend Eddie’s dream was to meet Oprah so when Allen got tickets to a dinner where she would be he took Eddie as his plus one. Only their table was far from centre near the bathrooms. But save the day Oprah is human after all and needed to pee. “Seizing the screen_shot_2016-09-13_at_4-42-30_pmmoment, Eddie says, “in a very endearing and choirboy-like voice, ‘Oprah! May I have a picture with you? It would be my dream.” “You gotta get bigger dreams,” Oprah opines as Cummin snaps the photo saving the words for the title of his book.

Dreams is a quick fun read.

DARLING DAYS

imgres-1iO TILLETT WRIGHT

At age 6, Wright declared: “My name is Ricky. And I’m not your daughter anymore. I’m your son.” Days is iO’s exploration of his tumultuous upbringing and struggles with identity and sexuality. Wright grew up in a chaotic downtown Manhattan apartment, a place that “stood out for the refinement of its violence, for its kaleidoscopic intensity.” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. “Sleep doesn’t happen much in the house, what with the plays and things late at night, plus Ma is in a real bad way. It’s like she has a night personality and a day personality.” As time passes her Mother’s mental illness worsens. The building they live in is crazy too. “Our building repels ‘normal’ people. They’d have to love cockroaches, scalding radiators and thin walls . . . they would have to establish their own niche in the zoo and defend it.”

Darling Days is one wild ride. “I don’t want to wear my tragedies on my skin, in my teeth, in my walk. I want something different than what I’m inheriting, but I’m going to have to make that happen for myself.”

TRUE LIES

MARIKO TAMAKImariko-tamaki_14

This slim volume of vignettes, stories and essays are both hilarious and outrageous. In the introduction, Tamaki confesses, “I have no problem admitting that I am a liar at heart. It’s true. I am.”  She compares “lies to pearls: they look better strung together in a set.”  Of course, the reader knows not which is fiction and which is truth. Some stories are written from the time before she came out as a lesbian, such as, “Reasons to Give a Blow Job,” and after, “The Epil-Lady vs. The Hairy Asian.” An epil pen is used to pull body hair out by its roots.

If you appreciate the ludicrous and aren’t squeamish about sex, you will enjoy this book.

GUAPA

SALEEM HADDADguapa

“Guapa” encompasses a day in the life of Rasa, a young gay man in an unnamed Middle Eastern country during the turbulence of the Arab Spring. His path winds from his family’s upper-middle-class home, where his family is on the verge of discovering his secret relationship with another young man, to the city’s poverty-stricken suburbs, where the embers of revolution are catching fire, to the police stations where regime thugs brutalize and intimidate dissidents, to a lavish wedding in the city’s most exclusive hotel. Along the way, he is forced to reckon with the hidden forces that have driven both him and his country to a fever pitch of despair and frustration.

Told with simple elegance and wry humour, “Guapa” is both a universal story of the perils of adulthood and a deeply personal examination of culture and identity. Haddad writes like an Arab Tennessee Williams, fueled equally by rage and compassion as he explores the social, sexual and economic chasms that divide his characters from each other, and themselves.

THE BOOK OF MEMORY

PETINA GAPPAHMemory

Memory starts with a bold thunder clap: in the first two sentences we learn that there has been an ugly death and that Memory was sold by her parents to a strange man, Lloyd. Immediately your mind wonders why a man is buying a child? Memory’s family was poor, “but everyone was poor so nobody knew they were poor.” Her skin would blister and burn because she was an albino. Her mother had little gentleness and kindness. The novel takes place in a Zimbabwean prison where Memory is serving a life sentence for murdering Lloyd.  In preparing for an appeal she is given a notebook and asked to write about her life. These musing make up the body of the book. A wonderful exploration of the themes of memory and forgiveness.

WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES

moleculesSUSAN NIELSEN

Molecules is a light, young adult book that is laugh aloud funny yet still able to deal with some challenging issues. The story is told from two points of view: Ashley and Stewart. Stewart is a genius, gifted academically but stunted and awkward socially. Ashley is the complete opposite: she is the queen bee of her grade, doling out social blessings on those she deems acceptable. But her grades are all D’s and C’s. Their families meld because Steward’s Mom died a year earlier and Ashley’s Dad moved into the garage because he’s gay. Ashley is horrified of the thought that people at school might find out her dad is gay. In many ways the story is unrealistic but it is still fun. So when you are in the mood for something light….

THE SILENT SISTER

sisterDIANE CHAMBERLAIN

The death of her father has brought Riley MacPherson back to her childhood home which does not hold many happy memories. Riley’s family have never recovered from the suicide of her older sister Lisa. Riley was only a toddler when tragedy struck and has had to live with two parents who rarely mention their eldest child and a brother who has a lot of built up anger.As she hears stories from old family friends, sorts her father’s collectables and old paperwork she realizes that the reason for Lisa’s suicide was not depression. Riley’s whole life has been based on a lie; she even became a counsellor to help other teens. No wonder Danny is unable to forgive their sister for ruining their family’s life – she was a murderer who took the coward’s way out. The family secrets don’t end there. The revelations are parceled out so skillfully that disbelief remains suspended until the satisfying if not entirely plausible close.

DON’T LET HIM KNOW

SANDIP ROYdon't

Don’t Let Him Know is a novel told in linked short stories but reads as a coherent novel. It tells the story of a family blinded by its secrets, some small, a grandma hiding sweet chutney in her bedroom for a treat at night, some huge, a husband hiding the truth about his relationship with a man.  As the book begins, Romola, now a widow, is visiting her son Amit in Northern California, where he lives with his American wife and young son. One evening, he gives her a letter he has found in an old address book, sent many years before from a former lover named Sumit.

“Romola sat there in Amit’s armchair slightly stunned,” Roy writes. “After all these years how could she have been so careless? She knew she had saved the letter, unable to destroy it the way she should have years ago. She remembered reading it and rereading it, each word striking her like a sledgehammer, cracking her open over again and again.”

All the characters are bound by traditions, time and secrets. They hold a mirror to our own secrets and misgivings.

A good read.

ALL INCLUSIVE

allFARZARA DOCTOR

All Inclusive follows two main characters in their intertwining stories. Ameer works and lives in a Mexican all inclusive resort. It is a heavenly environment but on occasion disgruntled tourist are difficult to placate. The resort offers Ameer opportunities to satisfy her sexual needs with couples. Then in a week the couple leaves so no awkwardness. That is until someone lodges an anonymous complaint that puts Ameera’s job on the line. Even though she is on probation she continues her exploration with three-somes.

We also follow Azeez, a newly graduated PhD who surprises himself by successfully hitting on a girl. A one night stand. The next day he flies to India to rejoin his family. How the stories come together is unusual and surprising, a simple twist of fate.

A good read.

Article: conversation with Farzara Doctor

SIX METRES OF PAVEMENT

sixFARZANA DOCTOR

Six starts as a tragedy and ends in a heartwarming silver romance. Two decades after his daughter’s tragic death, Ismail is on the brink of alcoholism with no direction in his otherwise neat life. He is unable to reconcile and move on from his loss. A friend from the local bar convinces Ismail to first, join AA with her and second, to take a university writing class. It is at the writing class he meets a young, queer (her term) woman Fatima, who encourages him to rejoin life.”The only way to survive misfortune is to stay in motion.” Fatima was kicked out of her conservative parents’ home her when she published an article titled “Beyond Bisexual: A Queer Girl’s Take on LGBT.” Across the street, six metres of pavement, lives Celia, recently widowed and orphaned, deep in depression and living unhappily in her daughter’s home. Coming from a Portuguese background, months after her husband’s death she is still wearing only black.   Celia and Ismail can look into each other’s front windows. The combination and interaction of these three engaging characters is the foundation of the novel.

Doctor is an excellent writer. Her characters are real and alive. Well worth reading.

TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME

wolvesCAROL RIFKA BRUNT

1987, AIDS is misunderstood and prejudice is running wild. At first I asked why would anyone want to document this sad and depressing time but of course we need to know where we came from to appreciate where we are now. June had a special relationship with her uncle and god-father, respected painter Finn Weiss. When he died of an AIDS related condition her mother pointed out the man who killed him, who gave him AIDS, Finn’s partner Toby. Gradually June and Finn begin to develop a relationship. June learns that the reason she never knew about Toby, essentially her uncle’s husband, was because it was the only way her mother would let her brother Finn have a relationship with June and her older sister Greta. It is interesting to see June assess the situation and come to her own conclusions.

“Toby was right. Finn was my first love. But Toby, he was my second. And the sadness in that stretched like a thin cold river down the length of my whole life.”

Wolves is a YA novel but has much to offer adults.

FUN HOME: A Family tragicomic

ALISON BECHDELfun home

Bechdel writes some of the most thoughtful graphic novels and graphic memoirs of our time. Fun Home is her dealing with her father’s closeted  homosexuality and her less than great childhood. The hopelessness of this desire is deepened by the fact that Bruce Bechdel was hit by a truck and killed shortly after his daughter wrote her parents a letter that announced, “I am a lesbian.” Robert Bechdel was a funeral director (hence fun house) and high school english teacher. Alison believes his death was a suicide, brought on in part by her own confession. She draws herself beside his coffin thinking: “I’d kill myself too if I had to live here,” in small town Pennsylvania. Her father was obsessive about the house so the family lived in a virtual museum created around them and by them but with out their permission. When Alison’s room was wall papered in flowers she thought to herself how she hated flowers.

Bechel’s writing is unusual for a graphic novel. “But how could he admire Joyce’s lengthy, libidinal ‘yes’ so fervently and end up saying ‘no’ to his own life? I suppose that a lifetime spent hiding one’s erotic truth could have a cumulative renunciatory effect. Sexual shame is in itself a kind of death.”

“The sudden approximation of my dull, provincial life to a New Yorker cartoon was exhilarating.”

“Then there were those famous wings. Was Daedalus really stricken with grief when Icarus fell into the sea? Or just disappointed by the design failure?”

It is a great quick read.

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: My Year in a Woman’s Prison

orangePIPER KERMAN

Five years after having carried a bag of money across international borders for her drug dealing girl friend Kerman was charged with money laundering. Kerman was just out of college when she met “what seemed like an incredibly sophisticated older woman. And what I learned, rather quickly, was that she was involved in drug trafficking, and rather than that scaring me off, that was, you know, sort of scary but also intriguing to me.” Together they lived a jet setting life of first class travel and the best hotels. “I ended up following that woman around the globe, and at her request, I did carry a bag of drug money from Chicago to Brussels.” Soon after she ended the relationship and returned to the States to start her life over. Her arrest came out of the blue.  “The police let me know that I had been indicted in federal court in Chicago, and I had better show up for my arraignment or I’d be taken into custody. That began my journey through the American criminal justice system.”

“One of the indelible things that I came away with from my experience in prison was a much more profound understanding of inequality in American society, and how that plays out in our courts of law. Some Americans are policed in a certain way, other Americans are policed in a different way, prosecuted in a different way, and sentenced and punished in different ways. And that is often due to race, class, access to counsel, you know, really, really important issues of inequality that play out in a place where we really expect everyone to be treated equally, which is the courtroom.”

Orange is well worth the read even if you have seen the TV show on Netflix.

RAISING MY RAINBOW: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son

duron1LORI DURON

“A person’s sex is what is in their pants, their gender is what is in their brains, and their sexuality is what is in their hearts.”

This is the story of a couple of the most amazing parents. When Lori and Matt’s son CJ saw his first barbie their livies were changed forever. “It was like watching somebody come alive, watching a flower bloom, watching a rainbow cross the sky.” But it did take them some time to realize that their job wasn’t to change CJ but to love him unconditionally. But is also a parent’s job to protect their children. One christmas they gave CJ boy toys and gender non-specific toys.  Their older son, Chase, was thrilled with his boy toys and CJ had no fun at all. Both Lori and Matt knew that they could never do that again. CJ prefers every thing that is generally considered for girls. When a parent asks what they can get CJ for birthday present, Lori answers anything that you would get for a girl [that age]. When CJ started school he complained that his friends always make him be the dad when they play house. Lori had him practice self empowerment skills to let his friends know that he wants to be mommy some of the time.The book explores the themes that parents duron2of gender-nonconforming children often share, like self blame, fear of the future, and the fierce desire to protect our children from ridicule and the possibility of bullying. It wasn’t easy for Lori to be open with all her friends and family. Some of her relations deepened but others ended because of the narrow mindedness of people.

Rainbow is a well written memoir.

CONFESSIONS OF A FAIRY’S DAUGHTER: Growing Up with a Gay Dad

fairy

ALISON WEARING

It must have taken a lot of courage for Wearing’s father to come out in the late 70’s when attitudes were much different than today. He was a university professor which would be have a liberal atmosphere. He travelled for work which gave him room to explore. Wearing describes her father as always being eccentric: hands waving as he talked, listening to opera as he cooked elaborate meals and skipping down the street. Being a child when he came out Wearing was most accepting. Though she never discussed the issue with her brothers, she did have a close friend to confess. Her friend whose parents are constantly fighting points out, “So your father’s a faggot, big whoop. At least he’s not a lying, cheating, son-of-a-bitch, drunken asshole.” As her father meets other gay fathers and realizes he isn’t the only man who married a woman in order to conform to social norms.  Both her parents are very loving and have always taken care of her and her siblings.  Still, Wearing’s father’s homosexuality does cause the end of his marriage, and Wearing deals with the experience of coming from a broken home with sensitivity and honesty. “It never occurred to me to hate Dad for being gay. What I did hate was the Greyhound bus, that long sprint on the dog’s back to and from Toronto. I hated the shame my mother wore in her eyes. But more than anything else, I hated all the stories I needed to invent about my life, the dancing pink elephant in the room that I spent my adolescence trying to conceal.”

fatherThe book has an interesting structure in that it is told from four points of view: the author’s is the majority of the book, for her father’s he provided her with a box of letters and a journal, for her mother’s she interviewed her and lastly “The Way We See It Now” thirty years later.

It’s a good read.

SEX AND THE CITADEL: Intimate Life In a Changing Arab World

Feki

SHEREEN EL FEK

Dr Shereen El Feki is an award-winning journalist and expert on sexual health and policy. Her book on muslim sexuality is thorough as well as open and honest. Interestingly when the western world was sexually repressed, sexuality and pleasure were celebrated in the Muslim world. With the rise of stricter forms of Islam and a backlash against the perceived sexual impropriety of the west in the twenty century that sexual repression became the norm. At one time in the Ottoman Empire brothels were licensed and taxed. The book that covers subjects such as female circumcision (known in the west as female genital mutilation), hymen-restoral surgery, different types of Islamic marriages, abortion, sexual violence, homosexuality and the changing views of sex amongst different generations of Muslims. Even hand holding in public is frowned upon in Egypt and other countries. Fek is trying to start honest conversations about sexuality because it isn’t discussed in the areas she writes about.