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A “Brief” History of LGBT Book Censorship

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A few weeks ago was banned book week, a time where we celebrate and fondly read, a little out of rebel instinct, such classic banned books as Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. However, it is a good time to look at what books still get banned today. Yes, even in the Good Ol’ U.S.A we still ban books.

The trend in banned books in the 21st century is a little disturbing. According to the American Library Association (ALA) Top Ten List in 2016, half of the books on the top ten list, the top five to be exact, were challenged because of LGBT characters and mentioning trans characters. Books like This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jenning.

This is not the first time that LGBT books and writers have been banned or challenged by the public, since the Renaissance. So, for LGBT history week, let’s take a look at some of the popular and extreme classes of LGBT censorship.

The Poetry of Sappho 570 BC (but censorship probably happened during the 14th century)

Oh, if you have not heard of Sappho my friends, you are in for a treat. Sappho was a Greek poet who lived on the island of Lesbos, which, fun fact, is where we get the term Lesbian, because her poetry was all about loving women, in every sense of the word. In her day, her work was extremely popular, being required reading for Greek Citizens and praised by Plato himself as the tenth Muse. It’s said that she wrote nine volumes of poetry. Unfortunately, most of that is lost, with only fragments and one full poem remaining.

So what happened?

Censorship, that’s what. Historians suspect that Sappho’s work had been censored or destroyed by leaders of the early Roman Catholic and Byzantine churches in order to destroy Sappho’s message of erotic female love, paganism, and just female empowerment. It also could be assumed that, until the invention of the Gutenberg Press, most Ancient Writings was copied out by hand by monks, who were bothered and intimidated by Sappho and her lady love and refused to copy it, or censored out all the gay parts.

However, in 1960, Sappho was saved from obscurity when Mary Barnard, a poet, and English-to-Greek translator, reintroduced Sappho to the reading public by translating her work using fresh language that better reflected the clarity of Sappho’s lines, thus creating new interest in Sappho’s poetry, which you can find here.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855)

Leaves of Grass is a collection of poetry which, just like Sappho, was censored for its homosexual themes and sexual imagery. So much so that Walt Whitman could not get a publisher for his work and had to self-publish his poems. During his lifetime, his poetry was heavily critiqued. When the poetry collection was first published, Whitman was fired from his job at the Department of the Interior when his boss read it and found it offensive. Literary critics thought the homosexual themes and images in the collection were “disgusting.” However, Whitman always believed that he would be accepted by the American people, and today Leaves of Grass is considered one of the most important collections of American poetry.

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde (1895)

It feels like Oscar Wilde was legit the embodiment of the term “Too Gay to Function.” When Wilde first took his book The Picture of Dorian Grey to publishers, they thought the book was good, but a little too gay for sensitive Victorian readers. So Wilde cut out about 500 words from his already short novel. It was published which led to a huge public outcry because it was “still too gay.” It was taken out of print and Wilde rewrote a lot of his novel, changing it from 13 chapters to 20 and doing much more character development. It was published again and the Victorian people rioted, “It’s still too damn gay!”

Oscar Wilde was gay and as open about it as a person living in Victorian times could be about it. Because of this openness, Wilde was put on trial not once, but three times, for being gay. During his three trials, the opposing side read aloud from “Dorian Grey” calling it a “sodomitical book.” Wilde tried to defend himself by saying the book is about art for art’s sake, not to have some kind of meaning, and that an artist’s rights should be defended. Basically kind of saying, “if you think it’s gay then you’re gay.”

This didn’t work. Wilde was sentenced to two years in prison and died in exile at the age of 46.

An article from the New Yorker may have put it best: Wilde went to prison not because he loved young men but because he flaunted that love, and “Dorian Gray” became the chief exhibit of his shamelessness.”

Screen Adaptions to Tennessee Williams’ Work (1950’s-1960’s)

I think my favorite saying of all time is “That’s not what happened in the book!” We are all familiar with certain changes that happen when we adapt a book into a movie. White-washing is a very popular (though it shouldn’t be) trend that happens. There is also a thing such as straight-washing, where a gay character is made straight or their sexuality isn’t stated, and that’s what happened with Tennessee Williams’ famous plays A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when Hollywood got a hold of it.

Tennessee Williams was a gay playwright, active in the 1940’s-1970’s, where it was still not okay to be out. Williams channeled his own sexuality into his work, mentioning, or at least implying, gay characters in his work. For example, the main character, Brick, in the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof who was in love with his now-dead best friend, Skipper, and the play itself having heavy homosexual themes. There is a rather long monologue in A Streetcar Named Desire where Blanche talks about her dead husband who killed himself after people found out he was gay.

These plays were extremely popular, so Hollywood quickly snatched them up to make them big pictures. However, due to the Hollywood mortally code at the time, they couldn’t mention homosexuality in any of their movies. So Blanche’s husband was cut, and Brick was made totally straight.  

Tennessee Williams was reportedly so upset with the changes made in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that he told people “This movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!”

Tango Makes Three and Other Children’s Books (2000’s)

While books are no longer being banned on a government scale, they’re being challenged at the community level, in small libraries all over the country. Most of the books that are being challenged in America today are about gay families. The most famous example is the children’s book Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell, a story about two loving penguin parents that happen to both be male.

It’s number four on ALA’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged books:2000-2009. Also challenged are the books “Heather has two mommies” and other stories that normalize LGBT families. To attack these books and try to get them out of libraries is an attack on the LGBT family.

Even though it’s 2017, we still have a lot of work to do to stop censorship. Because you can’t censor LGBT. Speak out against censorship, and read some banned books! 

Originally posted 2017-10-28 17:02:27.

Ellen Ricks is a word-for-hire, fashion blogger, and bibliophile living in upstate New York. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from SUNY Potsdam and has been published in a number of literary magazines, both in print and online. She runs the fashion blog Sarcasm in Heels.  When not writing, Ellen enjoys frolicking in fancy dresses, consuming pumpkin spice everything, and dismantling the patriarchy.

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Travel Reading: The Assassin Chronicles – Chapter One

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     Palm Springs, California; it had everything. The rolling, maroon mountains in the rural areas contrasted sharply with the sun-baked estates of the rich and famous far off in the distance. From his view on the aerial tramway of Mount San Jacinto, The Assassin – Smith – could just make out both. The tram ride was one of the most popular attractions in Palm Springs. He admired this canvas before business grabbed his attention.

     “Is it feasible?”  This was his handler, Mr. Wolf. He was an attractive man with wafting, golden hair and sparkling emerald eyes. Unfortunately, the red blazer he wore didn’t do a thing to showcase his muscular build nor add any degree of menace to his five-foot-seven stature.  

     Smith, a handsome forty-something year old man with jet black hair and a very demanding face, had quite the crush on his boss. The relationship oozed sexual tension, but Wolf suffered from a horrible disease – he was debilitatingly heterosexual!

     “Well?”

     With a sigh, The Assassin nodded once. He was a man of no words. In fact, for the rest of the gondola ride, he ignored Wolf. He peered out at a gorgeous sunset that few places in the world could rival.  

     After the charming sky-ride was finished, The Assassin climbed inside his very tasteful candy black Mercedes SLS. He opened the glove compartment, removing a silenced Colt M45 pistol from its depths. Smith tucked the weapon into its holster beneath his pristine white suit jacket.

     The car’s engine roared to life, like a pouncing lion leaping from the bush. Smith piloted the car past a string of golf courses and shopping malls which he was sure housed only the best designer brands. That reminded him: He needed to pick up an Armani tux for his mother’s vow renewal.

     As the sun continued to set, it was clear where Smith was heading; the annual White Party. The fireworks could be seen throughout the Springs, exploding in majestic whites and pinks.  

     The main event took place where it normally does, White Party Park. More than twenty thousand men, some half-naked, a few totally naked, ate, drank, made out, and partied around the giant Ferris wheel.

     Smith was both enthralled and disgusted. He loved gorgeous, sweaty men, but loathed gratuitous promiscuity at the same time. It’s true; The Assassin was a walking conundrum. Pity he forgave his own quirks. The quirks kept him single and lonely.  

     If a person were to wonder how he entered the party armed and without the complete pat down, the answer would be simple.  Security tends to become slack when Greek Gods prance around in tight white speedos.  No one detected him clambering over the scaffolding set up beside the Ferris wheel.

     Work then replaced his view of the delicious debauchery and he set his gaze on a massive VIP tent.

     Inside that tent, Fred Robertson and Graham Phelps discussed what to do with the charitable donations.  Both men were shrewd in business, but only Fred could be called unscrupulous.  He was an overweight smoker battling inoperable lung cancer.  His partner in crime, however, was one of the healthiest men in America and the owner of the largest pharmaceutical company, BioScience Labs.

     Halfway through Fred’s plan, Graham interjected.  “Won’t work, no sir.”

     “I organized the event,” Fred shot back between coughs.

     “Which is why you’d be the only suspect, you idiot.”

     “That’s why our friend’s out there.”  Fred lit another cigarette.  “I’m not gonna die for enjoyin’ life.”

     Graham chortled.  “You do know they do put the warning labels right on the package now.  In bold.”

     Fred simply glared.  “I pull this off, we got a deal?”

     “My company could always use more cancer funding.  Although, you’re screwing over your own community.”

     “I don’t have HIV.”

     Smiling and shaking his head, Graham shook Fred’s hand and left the tent.  He almost bumped into Wolf.  His odd proportions made the white BDSM outfit he wore look laughable.

     Fred put out his cigarette.  “That’s not exactly subtle, son.”

     “He’s here.”

     Wolf snatched Fred’s collar, nearly dragging him out of the tent.

      Smith was waiting.  He grabbed Fred’s head and snapped it backwards.

     Briefly stunned, Wolf watched Fred’s lifeless body fall to the floor.  He growled and reached for his gun.  Smith already had his in hand and was about to take Wolf down when Wolf grabbed the nearest bystander.  The bystander took the bullets.  Smith disappeared into the crowd.

     Wolf went another direction, but the pair of them had falcon vision.  Neither lost sight of the other.  They made their way through the crowd and into a gay bar.

     Thankfully, the gay bar was tasteful and not at all what one would expect.  Like most restaurants in Palm Springs, the bar had class and a classy clientele.

     Smith entered the men’s room right before Wolf.  He sauntered over to the urinal.  Wolf joined him.  They were waiting for a man in the middle to finish.

     After some extended eye contact, the third wheel turned to them and baited them in a butch voice.  “Want some privacy?”  Both killers almost made him their next target.  He scurried away, his pride crippled.

     Smith and Wolf still just stared at each other.  They were hesitant to even flinch.  Then, Wolf’s arrogance got the better of him and he drew his gun.  His opponent grabbed his arm and shoved it in the urinal.  When Smith flushed, he rendered the weapon useless.

     It was time for him to use his own.  Wolf countered by tackling Smith to the ground.  More punches and kicks were thrown.  While unclear, one of them managed to slam the other’s head into a sink.

     Playtime was over.  Wolf, now scared, dodged a couple punches that Smith smacked right into the bathroom mirrors behind them.  He didn’t have time to avoid the glass shard Wolf wielded.  Smith’s jugular was the intended target, but Wolf managed only to get Smith’s arm during a block.

     Another kick landed Smith on his back.  When he stood up, the bathroom door creaked closed.  Wolf ran.

     The next morning felt like Hell.  Deep bruising and bandages stretched over Smith’s face, mocking him.  He slithered up to his car, a tux slung over his shoulder and a tourist pamphlet in one hand.  The shop from earlier didn’t have Armani as he predicted; he settled for Versace.

     Smith opened the pamphlet and marvelled at all the tourist attractions he was missing out on.  Palm Canyon called to him.  He loved to hike, and these rocky mountain trails with views of palm trees and subtle peaks ignited a primal fire within his soul.  Then he took a gander at the information on the art museum in the city itself.  It featured classic and performance art; the former his favorite.  His inner child wanted to visit Soak City and ride the 70-foot twin scorpion water slide.  At times like these, Smith wished he was normal.  However, he knew he’d never be back here.  He would never enjoy these things.

     For just a minute, The Assassin examined his car, then the tux.  It almost seemed like he had grown distasteful of extravagance, too.  What else would he do with the money he made, he asked himself?  Not that it mattered.  Smith was heading for a crisis of self and he didn’t even know it.

     With that, he got into his car and headed into the mountains.  His final destination was the airport on the other side.  After showing his ticket, he headed through the gate.

      “Enjoy your trip to Switzerland, Mr. Kowalczyk,” the stewardess called out.

     Smith grinned.  It was dangerous using his Christian name, but he enjoyed hearing it.  Actually, in truth, he barely remembered it.

     Meanwhile, in the middle of the Sea of Japan, Wolf reported his failure to his superior aboard a freighter.

     If this mystery man had a physical form, it was well hidden by the shadows of the cargo hold.  “What made you think I’d sign off on this?”

     “There’s something you need to see.”  Wolf pulled a photo out of his pocket and handed it to the figure.

     “Is this credible?”

     “Yeah, boss, it is.  I triple checked.”

     The mystery man sucked his teeth.  “Have everyone waiting for us on the dock.  Dear God, how did I not see this?!”

     Wolf nodded and backed away respectfully.

FADE TO BLACK.

Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for next week’s story, full of more international intrigue, travel ideas, style, and fashion.

Originally posted 2017-09-18 22:49:12.

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Ten Great Books With Awesome LGBTQ+ Characters

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I’ll be honest, my favorite thing about traveling is all the books I get to read on the way. I’ll spend a day, maybe two packing clothes and stuff for a trip but I will spend MONTHS picking out books to reads for the trip: a book for on the way to my destination, a book for when I’m there, and a book for the trip home. Plus a backup book in case I finish one. I’ve always been on my own personal quest to try to find books with awesome LGBTQ characters (because representation matters!), which is about as easy as looking for a Horcrux. However, I have found 10 amazing books with a great cast of LGBTQ characters, because even if you’re not on your way to some exciting destination, books are always a great escape.

1) A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee      

                                        

Omg, this book you guys! Where do I even begin? A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is LGBTQ meets Jane Austen meets swashbuckling adventure. Professional family disappointment and bisexual rogue Henry “Monty” Montague is going on an unforgettable Grand Tour with his bi-racial best friend Percy (who Monty is nursing a major crush on) and his little killjoy sister Felicity. However, after Monty makes one stupid move, his plans of hedonistic behavior and flirting with Percy go down the tube as they are hunted throughout Europe. This book is great for many reasons: not only does it talk about bisexually and how impossibly difficult it is to be gay in the 1700’s, it also talks about feminism, having a misunderstood illness, loving someone with an illness, and learning that your mistakes don’t define you. It’s also a really witty, cute adventure book. Get your copy here

2) Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo

Think of every annoying YA Fantasy trope you can think of. Now imagine it being blown completely to bits and replaced with something infinitely more fantastic. Loves, meet Six of Crows and it’s sequel Crooked Kingdom. Set in a fantasy world inspired by Tsarist Russia, the first book: “Six of Crows” is about six criminals who are on a heist to break into a high-security prison and steal a highly guarded person, purely for the money. What’s great about this book is the core group of main characters are highly diverse. There are not one but TWO bisexual characters (one is a POC in a m/m relationship and one is plus size in an f/m relationship), a gay boy with a learning disability, a physically disabled boy with a phobia of touching and severe PTSD,  and a middle eastern coded girl who was a victim of sex trafficking. It’s always wickedly funny, heart-tugging,  and will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

3) Carry On: A Novel by Rainbow Rowell

Carry on is an interesting book because it’s basically a spin-off of Rowell’s other novel Fangirl and is inspired by Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy fan-fiction. However, you need to read Fangirl to understand or enjoy the book. It’s a funny, magical, sweet love story about a hate turned into love between two enemies that becoming something more. It also discusses hot topics such as sexual, ethnic and class identity. Great pick for those of you who spent hours reading Darry fanfic (raises hand)

4) The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

As a former English major who’s suffered through Classical Heritage and has read the Iliad, I know for a fact that Achilles is hella gay. You know, and I know, but dirty old scholars haven’t gotten the clue. Fortunately, Madeline Miller has gotten a clue and given us what we’ve all been waiting for: An Achilles + Patroclus love story (throws confetti)! This book sticks pretty close to the original mythology but with a tender, sweet and heartbreaking love story that will stick with you long after you finish the book. It really adds new depth to an old classic.

 

5) Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Wow, where do I begin with this amazing YA novel? Inspired by Welcome To Night Vale, it’s about two social outcasts who start a podcast together. This book not only breaks the trope of “a boy and girl are friends, they must fall in love” but the main character actually describes herself as bisexual, which is so rare to find a character that describes themselves as bisexual that you’re better off looking for a unicorn. The book also has POC characters, none of the main cast is straight and there was an honest, genuine conversation about asexuality. Need I say more? Get your copy here

6) Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Bisexual, Chinese-Vietnamese girl protagonist? Check.

Superpowers and girls being complete and utter badasses? Check.

Cute girls kicking ass together? Hell yasss.

Also, the sequel is coming out in October featuring a trans-masculine main character.

7)  Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Princesses falling in love! Princesses falling in love! Do I seriously need to write more? Fine. Betrothed since childhood to a Prince in a neighboring kingdom, Princess Dennaliea knew her future was laid out since day one. Until she learned she has an Affinity for fire, and for someone else…This book has everything: magical espionage, hate-to-love romances, forbidden love, and castles. And again, princesses falling in love.

8) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

You’ve heard the musical, now read the graphic memoir that started it all. Bechdel tells a powerful, humorous and heartbreaking story about her childhood, her relationship with her father, and their mutual, unexpected bond over their sexuality. I don’t usually like coming-of-age stories, but this is such a unique story and a must read for everyone.

9) Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson

Winterson is one of the OGs of the LGBT scene with her groundbreaking book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Her memoir now tells the story of her life’s work to find happiness, going through her painful childhood, and figuring out her life and the search for belonging. You’ll cry as many times as you laugh with this book, but you’ll also find a connection. A must read for writers and people obsessed with literature.

10) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Not typically thought of as an LGTBQ book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a tour de force of storytelling and a wild ride from start to finish. One of the main characters, Sammy, struggles with his sexuality in a way that is both painful and relatable, which makes this book a must read. All I want is Sammy Clay to find happiness, damn it! It’s also proof that comic books are gay culture.

Originally posted 2017-09-13 18:26:38.

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5 incredible LGBTQ+ films based on a True Story

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When we look back at LGBTQ+ history, there are so many heroic and fascinating people who deserve to have their stories immortalized on the silver screen.

Today, we’re looking back on five films that are based on the real stories of LGBTQ+ people that will make you want to work for a better world.

Please note: This list will not include Stonewall because, as I addressed in a previous piece, that movie was hella problematic.

Warning:  Spoilers ahead.

Milk (2008)

In 1977, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) becomes the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California and sets out to achieve a gay rights ordinance for San Francisco.

However, Milk makes an enemy of fellow Supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin) when Milk refuses to support a potential law that he believes will harm troubled youth.  As a result, White votes against the gay rights ordinance (although it passes).

Then Milk launches a battle against Proposition 6, a statewide initiative that would ban LGBTQ+ people and their supporters from working in Californian public schools, introduced by legislator John Briggs (Denis O’Hare), from Orange County. Eventually, Prop 6 is defeated.

White, who resigned after being turned down for a pay rise, asks to be reinstated but Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) refuses, after being lobbied by Milk. On November 27, 1978, White enters City Hall and shoots dead both Moscone and Milk.

What I took away from this movie: Always fight the good fight, even if no one thanks you.

Gia (1998)

Queer supermodel Gia Carangi (Angelina Jolie) is on top of the world until the sudden death of her agent and mentor, Wilhelmina (Faye Dunaway), plunges her life into a tailspin. Gia turns to drugs to alleviate her loneliness but nothing works for that long.

After a nude photo shoot, Gia begins a relationship with her make-up artist, Linda (Elizabeth Mitchell), but when asked to choose between drugs and love, Gia chooses the drugs.

She eventually tries to reconcile with Linda but when that doesn’t work, Gia begins to use heroin and contracts HIV from an infected needle. Eventually, Gia succumbs to AIDS-related complications at the tender age of 26.

What I took away from this movie: Cherish your loved ones for life is fleeting.

Freeheld (2015)

Back in 2005, critically ill Detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) just wanted to guarantee a secure future for her partner, Stacie (Ellen Page), by transferring her pension benefits upon Hester’s death.

However, the Ocean County, NJ, Freeholders made her fight every step of the way despite having the legal option to extend pension benefits to same-sex couples. Yes, that’s right. They made a dying woman fight them- practically to her deathbed- because they didn’t want to provide equal rights to their citizens.

This historic legal battle was also commemorated in a 2007 documentary of the same name.

What I took away from this movie: When you’re fighting for someone you love, you never give up.

Boys Don’t Cry

Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) is a trans man who moves town, meets four new friends, and falls in love with Lana (Chloë Sevigny).

Brandon is arrested for getting into a bar fight and is sent to the women’s section of the prison but whilst he is inside, the other friends discover documents with Brandon’s dead name and react with disgust.

John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom Nissen (Brendan Sexton III) confront him violently, forcing him to strip in order to embarrass him in front of Lana, before beating and raping him. He manages to escape but even when he goes to the police, they focus more on his gender than the crime.

As a result of the police’s inaction, the pair is free to murder Brandon and a friend, which led to increased lobbying for hate crime laws in the USA.

What I took away from this movie: Don’t let other people’s opinions stop you from living your life.

Pride (2014)

During the 1984 Miners’ Strike, a London -based group of gay and lesbian activists came together to support and raise money for the Welsh strikers in the face of demonization by the press, the police, and the politicians.

Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) finds opposition from people who believe that miners aren’t supportive of gay rights, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) who don’t want to take donations from LGBTQ+ people, and even people within the Welsh mining community that they made a direct donation to. It gets to the point where the mining town votes not to accept any more money from LGSM, the day after the Pits and Perverts concert, which raised thousands for the strike fund.

Following the end of the strike, the NUM arranged for hundreds of miners to attend Pride in 1985 to support LGBTQ+ rights and organized a block vote to incorporate LGBTQ+ rights in the Labour Party’s manifesto for 1986.

What I took away from this movie: By helping others, you help yourself.

So what did you think of the movies that I chose? Will any of them be making their way into your streaming queue or into your shopping basket? Are there any films that you would have liked to see featured here? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Originally posted 2017-09-11 19:45:45.

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