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John Waters coming to LA to promote new book

Waters is slated to appear on May 10 at the Aratani Theatre, 244 San Pedro St. in LA promoting his first novel ‘Liarmouth’ – available May 3



Image courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

By Ed Gunts | BALTIMORE – Los Angeles is one of eight stops on a coast-to-coast book tour that writer and filmmaker John Waters is launching to promote his first novel, “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance.”

Waters is scheduled to appear on May 10 at the Aratani Theatre, 244 San Pedro St. in Los Angeles, in an event organized by Skylight Books and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.

May 3 is the publication date for “Liarmouth,” from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Other cities on the book tour include: Politics and Prose in Washington on May 2; the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 3; Symphony Space in New York City on May 4; the Chicago Humanities Festival on May 7; the Green Arcade at McRoskey Co. Loft in San Francisco on May 9; Atomic Books in Baltimore on May 15; MAP in Provincetown on June 16 and the Center for Fiction in New York City on June 21. 

Well known for movies such as “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray,” Waters is the author of nine previous books, including the national bestsellers “Role Models,” “Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America,” and “Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder.”

“Liarmouth” is a 256-page novel about a woman who steals suitcases at the airport. The book costs $26 in the United States and $35 in Canada and is available for preorder.

On its website, Farrar, Straus and Giroux calls the book “a hilariously filthy tale of sex, crime and family dysfunction from the brilliantly twisted mind of John Waters.”

The publisher also described the title character:

“Marsha Sprinkle. Suitcase thief. Scammer. Master of disguise. Dogs and children hate her. Her own family wants her dead. She’s smart, she’s desperate, she’s disturbed and she’s on the run with a big chip on her shoulder. They call her ‘Liarmouth’ – until one insane man makes her tell the truth.”



Cunningham’s ‘Day’ is one of the best books of the year

Characters are resilient, even hopeful, in the midst of disease, death



(Book cover image courtesy of Random House)

By Michael Cunningham
c. 2023, Random House
$28/273 pages

“She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day,” Virginia Woolf, the groundbreaking, queer, gender-bending, feminist, novelist and essayist, writes in “Mrs. Dalloway” of Clarissa, a society woman, wife of a Parliament member and mother, who’s giving a party on a June day in 1920s London. 

Since the pandemic, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, during the Lavender Scare, going back to the dawn of time, who, especially if they’re queer, hasn’t often felt like Clarissa? Even on lovely June days.

“Day,” a new novel by Michael Cunningham, his first novel since “The Snow Queen” in 2014, beautifully and eerily reflects this feeling. Its characters are fearful and fragile, yet, resilient, even hopeful, in the midst of disease and death.

Like “Mrs. Dalloway,” “Day,” takes place during one day – April 5. Only, the day is spread over three years.

The morning of the day is in April 2019 – before the pandemic. When no one’s talking about, let alone heard of, COVID.

The afternoon of the day is in April 2020 – at the height of the pandemic. Before the COVID vaccines have been developed. When everyone (except low-income, essential workers) is locked down by themselves or with their loved ones. 

The evening of the day is in April 2021 when people, wondering what to make of the “new normal,” are beginning to emerge from the pandemic.

As it is in several of Cunningham’s novels, the main characters of “Day,” are a family (along, with a few friends and relations, who are supporting characters).

As with “Mrs. Dalloway,” and with Cunningham’s luminous “The Hours,” in “Day,” the city, New York, and the passing of time, itself, are characters.

“A man pulls up the metal shutter of his shoe repair shop,” Cunningham writes in “Day,” “A young woman, ponytailed, jogs past a middle-aged man who, wearing a little black dress and combat boots, is finally returning home.”

Dan, his wife Isabel, and their two children — five-year-old Violet and 10-year-old Nathan — live in a brownstone in Brooklyn. Dan is a musician. He’s had his struggles with cocaine and has performed in a rock band. Now, he does a lot of house husband/child care tasks as Isabel, a photo editor, works hard to keep her magazine from dying.

Isabel’s charming younger gay brother lives in their attic loft. It’s a New York City real estate/break up thing. Robbie, a sixth grade school teacher, has just broken up with his boyfriend. He can’t afford to live on his own. He questions why, 15 years ago, he decided against going to medical school.

Dan and Isabel decide that Robbie has to move out and find a place of his own because their kids are too old to share a bedroom.

Though, “Day” references George Eliot, it’s a 21st-century narrative. When Robbie, after the virus (never explicitly called COVID) enters the world, gets stuck in Iceland, he develops Wolfe, an idealized version of himself on Instagram.

You never see the word “COVID” or “pandemic” in “Day.” Yet it’s clear that a virus (likely COVID) has entered the characters’ world. Their world, as with real life at the time, has reminders of AIDS. Rob develops a cough that’s reminiscent of a symptom at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Dan and Isabel’s marriage is becoming strained. They are both in love with Robbie. Thankfully, it’s not what you think! It’s not a lust thing. Robbie represents something ideal to them.

Few have more evocatively channeled the sensibility and style of Woolf than  Cunningham. 

Woolf – her awareness that a novel about a day featuring nothing more than a woman giving a party; a man, at a street corner, taking off his hat to greet a woman he knows; or a wife trying to calm her husband, a “shell-shocked” World War I vet; can be as interesting as  murder-and-battle-filled fiction –  is as tightly etched in Cunningham’s DNA as a pair of skinny jeans.

As a teenager in Pasadena, Calif., he devoured Virginia Woolf’s novels as avidly as his friends turned on to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Cunningham told me when I interviewed him for the Blade before the release of “The Hours,” the 2002 movie of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name.

(“The Hours” was adapted into an opera with the same name in 2022.)

But Cunningham, who is married to psychotherapist Ken Corbett and Professor of the Practice in Creative Writing at Yale University, is no mere imitator of Woolf.

The alchemy of Cunningham’s talent is his own. “Day” was well worth waiting almost a decade for. It’s one of the best books of this or any year.

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Queer allyship figures prominently in Streisand memoir

‘My Name Is Barbra’ filled with dishy revelations about Hollywood, D.C.



(Book cover image courtesy of Viking)

‘My Name Is Barbra’
By Barbra Streisand
c.2023, Viking
$47/970 pages

Have you been told you’ll never amount to anything? That an angry rodent is better looking than you?

If yes, don’t worry.

Barbra Streisand (hello, Gorgeous!), the EGOT-winning (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), divine, queer icon has been told and called much worse.

“An ‘amiable anteater’?,” Streisand, 81, writes in “My Name Is Barbra,” her eagerly anticipated, recently released, memoir, “that’s how I was described at nineteen in one of my first reviews as a professional actress.”

She was then playing a “lovelorn” secretary in the show “I Can Get It for You Wholesale,” Streisand recalls. “I could see the comparison,” she writes.

But the demeaning comparisons kept coming. Over the next year, she remembers people  likened her to “a sour persimmon,” “a furious hamster,” “a myopic gazelle,” and “a seasick ferret.”

Streisand worked on “My Name Is Barbra” (whose title is the same as her acclaimed album and TV special) for more than a decade.

At nearly 1,000 pages, it makes “War and Peace,” seem like an Instagram post.

Streisand name-drops more often than your nutty uncle curses during Thanksgiving dinner. Rarely a paragraph goes by without a dishy mention of celebs and politicos she’s friends with, slept with, argued with, been mistreated by, or worked with: from her BFFs Bill and Hillary Clinton to Warren Beatty to Stephen Sondheim to Larry Kramer to Sydney Chaplin.

Take Beatty. Streisand and Beatty have been friends since they were young and in summer stock. Yet, “Did I sleep with Warren,” she wonders about Beatty, who’s known as a ladies man, “I kind of remember. I guess I did. Probably once.”

Sidney Chaplin starred with Streisand in the Broadway production of “Funny Girl.” After Streisand rejected his efforts to begin an affair, he harassed so much, that Streisand, for the first time, developed stage fright. She worried that she’d throw up on stage.

Streisand’s memoir is sprawling. There’s an ellipses, seemingly, every nanosec.

If it were written by almost anyone else but God, the Queen of the Universe (Streisand), you might think: this is too much. The audio book of the memoir is a 48-hour listen; it’s a couple- day read in hard cover or e-book format.

But, “My Name Is Barbra,” wasn’t penned by one of the lesser mortals. It’s by Streisand, the greatest, or among the greatest, in the pantheon of queer icons.

With her talent, persistence and guts, she’s earned the right to name-drop, to safeguard her legacy and to go on as long as she wants. Why rain on her parade? 

“Looking back, it was much more fun to dream of being famous than to actually be famous,” Streisand writes. “I didn’t like all the ridiculous stories they made up, or the envy my success provoked.”

Reading “My Name Is Barbra,” whether in print or as an audio book, is like spending an intimate evening with Streisand. It’s Streisand talking to you (and, maybe a small group of your queer friends and allies).

You’re there, drinking it in, as she dishes on everything from her mother (who makes Mommie Dearest seem like June Cleaver) to her love of coffee (it has to be Brazilian coffee) ice cream.

In “My Name Is Barbra,” Streisand doesn’t explicitly call herself a queer icon. But her connection and allyship with the LGBTQ community are a through line in the memoir.

Streisand notes that queer people were the first to see her when she first performed at the Lion, a gay bar, and the Bon Soir, a small  club in the Wet Village in New York.

 “I believe we all have certain needs in common,” Streisand writes, “we want to be happy, we want to be loved, we want to be respected, no matter what our sexual orientation…No one should have to live a lie.”

Streisand was an executive producer of “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story,” a 1995 TV movie about an Army nurse who was discharged because she was queer.

Sometimes, Streisand has had arguments with other LGBTQ legends. She wanted to make a movie of Larry Kramer’s iconic play “The Normal Heart.” But she and Kramer had different views of how the film should be made. Kramer, Streisand writes, wanted more explicit sex scenes, than she did in the movie. She feared that if it was too graphic, the film might turn off the mainstream audience.

She was disappointed that she couldn’t film Kramer’s play. “There are some love affairs you never quite get over,” Streisand writes, “I fell in love with a play…pursued it, won it, lost it.”

Streisand, Jewish, female, creative, assertive, born poor in Brooklyn, refusing to have a nose job, is the ultimate outsider in a culture that prefers women to be docile, middle-class and to conform to cookie-cutter beauty standards. Is it any wonder that queers are drawn to her?

Whether you’re queer, hetero, an outsider or insider, you’ll be riveted by “My Name Is Barbra.”

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A holiday book for Christmas lovers and haters alike

‘The Jolliest Bunch’ chock full of relatable anecdotes



(Book cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks)

‘The Jolliest Bunch: Unhinged Holiday Stories’
By Danny Pellegrino
c.2023, Sourcebooks
$27.99/239 pages

It’s a hard choice to make.

When someone asks you about your favorite holiday, you have to think. Do you pick a spring holiday with bunnies, hearts, or leprechauns? Or something grand with parades and flags? Then again, stuffing yourself with stuffing is pretty awesome and that whole Santa-reindeer-elf bit is pretty appealing. Do you have a favorite holiday or, as in “The Jolliest Bunch” by Danny Pellegrino, do you just pick them all?

We’ve all had ’em: legendary stories attached to holidays that are best forgotten – for at least a little while, until they become family lore. Take, for instance, the various stories Pellegrino tells, beginning with a shout-out to his mother, Linda.

Linda, controller of all holidays, who invites the family over for Christmas Eve at 6 o’clock and then, like clockwork, freaks out at 5:10 “for approximately forty-nine minutes.” Linda, who rents chairs for the holiday from a local funeral home. Linda, who once fashioned a passable angel costume from a woman’s white shirt.

For a holiday we love, we’ll do almost anything to be home with family, including taking a cross-country ride with a half-drunk driver who’s on her way to see a former lover with six kids. For a holiday we love, we hold onto Christmas Past by welcoming gay ghosts into our lives. We work retail and endure the same eight holiday songs on every store speaker, then go home and watch the same four holiday specials on TV. We hope we get the gift we didn’t ask for. We celebrate with family and friends “and sometimes we’re surrounded by people we don’t like all that much.”

And then there are the traditions and the things that make the holiday a holiday: a string of beloved lights that a childhood pet nearly destroyed. Cookie cutters in the shape of the south end of a cat. Enjoying “Midwest comfort foods… that are incredibly delectable and anything but healthy.” Knowing that you’ve wrapped the 100% exact right gift for someone you adore, but also knowing “that even the most special presents are not as important as how you make them feel.”

So, here’s the brilliance of “The Jolliest Bunch”: no matter who you are, man or woman, gay or straight, author Danny Pellegrino has a universal memory to share that’s hilariously close to something you’ve experienced. Awkward relatives, check. Meals gone wrong, check. The gift you wanted more than anything, check. Bad holidays at a stranger’s house, yep. Decorations that are older than you are, uh-huh. It’s like he was at that same get-together.

This may make you cringe, but you’ll also laugh because Pellegrino is a funny writer with a keen eye for a great (and relatable) story. Just beware, though: holidays also bring out nostalgia, longing, missing, and regrets, so watch your heart.

In his introduction, Pellegrino says this book is for holiday haters as well as for those who start singing Christmas carols in August. That means “The Jolliest Bunch” is for you, and reading it’s an easy choice to make.

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A good read for anyone who’s ever struggled at work

Memoir ‘All Pride, No Ego’ reminds us to ‘leave space for the possible’



(Book cover image courtesy of Wiley)

‘All Pride, No Ego: A Queer Executive’s Journey to Living and Leading Authentically’
By Jim Fielding
c.2023, Wiley
$28/213 pages

Auditions are always nerve-wracking. Will the part be yours?

You sure practiced enough before you were judged – and that’s what an audition is, a judgment. Can you handle the lines? Are you a fit for the part you want, or would you be better at a walk-on? Being someone else in a play is fun, but not always easy. Neither, says Jim Fielding in his new book “All Pride, No Ego,” is being someone else at work.

Born in Toledo into a big extended clan, Jim Fielding says that it looked like he was a member of “the perfect, nuclear family.” The truth was, though, that “vulnerabilities and dysfunctions were numerous” and that included homophobia, which was a problem: when he was six years old, Fielding realized he was gay.

To cover for it, he became an overachiever with a lack of self-confidence and an abundance of insecurities. To help him to conquer his weaknesses, he built a great support system but still, “I wish I had a book like this when I was starting out in my career.”

His first point here is his mantra: “Control the controllable, but leave space for the possible.”

Color “within the lines” if you must, but do it at “a company whose ethics and values align with your own.” If you’re in control, set clear goals, “hire people who are smarter than you are” and get to know them well.

“Never stop learning.” Accept that you can forgive without forgetting transgressions. Remember that if the job is right, you won’t have to change who you fundamentally are. Learn to “define FAMILY however it works for you…” Know the difference between want and need. Trust your intuition, tamp down impulsiveness, but be flexible – which will help you attract and keep the best team possible. Know that selfishness is a righteous thing sometimes.

Strive always for “cultures of excellence.”

And always “leave [your] corner of the world a better place than [you] found it.” Donate. Volunteer. Do good.

In his preface, author Jim Fielding says that he wrote this book because he “realized that my leadership style and success… are completely dependent on my personal journey.” Those words should alert readers that “All Pride, No Ego” is preponderantly a memoir, which isn’t a bad thing but it bears mentioning.

If you don’t have the patience it takes for rambling stories, you won’t like this book at all, in fact. Fielding is a storyteller, and he smartly uses his experiences to show, not tell, in a way that’s pleasant and relatable for anyone who’s ever struggled at work. Yes, the workplace tales mean that business advice is sometimes embedded, sometimes apparent, and sometimes down a rabbit hole for you to follow but for most readers, it’ll be a useful scavenger hunt.

While this book is perhaps best for the person who’s looking for a first job or who just found one and is sweating to fit in, “All Pride, No Ego” is worthwhile for anyone. Enjoy the memoir, find the helpful parts.

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Explore the history of drag in ‘Glitter and Concrete’

Book traces art form from 1800s through Prohibition to present day



(Book cover image courtesy of Hanover Square Press)

‘Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City’
By Elyssa Maxx Goodman
c.2023, Hanover Square Press
$32.99/464 pages

You simply have nothing to wear.

Old joke, that one. Really old because these days, it’s easy for anyone to have racks and shelves and dresser drawers full of casual wear, fancy duds, comfy things, and finery to put on their body. Yes, you have plenty to wear but, as in the new book “Glitter and Concrete” by Elyssa Maxx Goodman, you just have to look in the closet.

Like nearly every kid in America, Elyssa Maxx Goodman loved to play dress up. In her case, though, she didn’t hope for a princess costume. She wanted to dress like the characters in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.” Later, as an adult, she “sought to learn as much about drag as” possible and she began to see New York City as its epicenter.

“From the mid-1800s to 1900, gender impersonation became a beloved genre of theater” in New York, she says, but social attitudes and morals changed in the early 20th century. Female drag performers were often scrutinized, and worked under sometimes-unpredictable rules while male impersonators might have enjoyed the ability to live as a man, travel alone, and keep company with women in public.

By the beginning of World War I, social reformers had begun to shut down places where they thought homosexuality might be found, and that included drag venues. They did so despite that gender impersonations were important to the morale of soldiers.

Says Goodman, “female impersonator roles were incredibly popular with enlisted men” and one drag show became “an instant hit.”

Prohibition sent both booze and drag underground, but while the former was widely available again in 1933, the latter was not. And yet, it was impossible to keep drag performances from happening; in fact, the mob ran several drag clubs, including one owned by Anna Genovese, the bisexual wife of mobster Vito. Yes, drag could be found in the years 1933 to 1968, but audiences both straight and gay had to search for it.

Still, change was coming.

Then again, doesn’t it seem like change never stopped happening in the world of drag? Like, a now-you-see-it, oops, now-you-can’t kinda thing? Understanding that, and the future of drag, entails knowing its history and that’s easy to do, once you’ve read “Glitter and Concrete.”

In taking readers back some 170 years, author Elyssa Maxx Goodman shows how New York City led the way for drag to be both condemned and enjoyed in the rest of America, often seemingly in the same breath. Intuiting the difference between illegal and permissible was a matter of splitting hairs then; the scandalous nature of drag was often you-know-it-when-you-see-it, and not always firmly defined. That repeating juxtaposition, a social flip-flop-flip, if you will, is fascinating to follow here. Indeed, it was sometimes a case of one man’s trash being another man’s pleasure.

So what’s changed about that? So much and not much, and the rest of the story is inside this necessary book. Read it, and “Glitter and Concrete” will make you wear a smile.

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Family of trans daughter faces terrifying threat from gov’t

Book addresses what happens when lawmakers target youth



(Book cover courtesy of Blair Publisher)

‘Letter to My Transgender Daughter’
By Carolyn Hays
c.2023, Blair Publisher
$17.95/282 pages

The piece of cake you cut into did not have a pastel center.

There were no pretty balloons in a box, no colorful confetti, no “Team Pink” or “Team Blue” T-shirts or bracelets. You didn’t have a gender-reveal party for your baby because you didn’t want to know. As in the memoir “Letter to My Transgender Daughter” by Carolyn Hays, you’ll let your child tell you in person.

She never expected another baby.

After seven years, Carolyn Hays thought she was done with diapers and late-night feedings but the pregnancy test didn’t lie. This was good news. The whole family was excited to welcome another member into the household.

The baby was a boy – but as soon as he could talk, he told everyone he was a girl.

No problem; Hays’s other children rolled with it; they “saw” their sibling for who she was. Teachers were also nonplussed; they gave the girl a nickname, and extended family members quickly learned to use it.

Hays and her husband balked sometimes, though. They hoped it was a phase. They gave their daughter “girly” things and allowed her to wear girls clothing, but they tried “boy on the outside/girl on the inside” wordage. Their daughter patiently corrected them each time until eventually, they, too, saw the truth. Their youngest child was a girl.

They were, at that time, “a big, loud East Coast family, new to the Bible Belt” but they’d found community in the South, and a support group so Hays could parent her trans daughter better. Everything seemed to work out – until the knock on the door.

The representative of the Department of Children and Families couldn’t tell Hays who’d made a complaint about them, or when. They could only guess who was offended by their personal family matter, or their total acceptance of their daughter.

All they knew, she said, was “We could lose custody. We could lose you.”

If you are someone who loves a child – any child, even a cis child – be prepared to have your heart fall out of your chest. “Letter to My Transgender Daughter” is a nightmare, not because of the book itself but because of what very nearly happened to its author and her family.

Indeed, this “letter” in book form goes from mildly confessional to outright terrified, and author Carolyn Hays susses out all of your emotions and turns them raw. Hers is an honest story, not only of a trans girl but of parents who walk through the steps of acceptance. Cue the ominous music, though: you know what’s coming but foresight doesn’t diminish the outrage and fear you’ll feel, once you get there – although Hays doesn’t completely let you roll in misery. Readers will be delighted by the precociousness and determination in her daughter’s patient steadfastness, and by Hays’s family memories.

Now out in paperback, “Letter to My Transgender Daughter” is an absolute read for parents and for trans adults. Read it – then check the headlines and see if it doesn’t cut your heart to pieces.

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Graphic novel ‘Smahtguy’ offers timely bio of Barney Frank

Cartoonist Eric Orner makes policy suspenseful



(Book cover via Amazon)

When he was in high school, gay cartoonist Eric Orner, who makes his graphic novel debut with “Smahtguy: The Life and Times of Barney Frank,”  didn’t like the food in the school cafeteria. “The principal was always talking about how good we had it,” Orner told the Blade in a recent interview.

“But the food was deep fried – inedible,” Orner added, “even for us [teens].”

To protest the food, Orner called it out with humor in the comic strip he drew for the school newspaper. “Having this platform to express yourself subversively and sarcastically to authority,” Orner said, “gave me a buzz.”

Like a hound born to hunt, Orner has always loved to draw. A proclivity for subverting the powers that be with humor has been etched in his veins from birth.

“Drawing is what I love to do,” said Orner, who is in his 50s, “It’s been that way since I was a kid.”

If there’s a problem, Orner will sit for an hour and draw. “I’ve  been most brave – most outspoken when I’m drawing.”

Orner’s drawing and respect for outspokenness are in splendid form in his graphic novel “Smahtguy,” a biography of queer icon Barney Frank. 

As the House (at this writing), repeatedly fails to elect a Speaker, nothing could be more timely than “Smahtguy.”

Frank, who came out as gay in the Boston Globe in 1987, was a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts from 1981 to 2013. 

When you hear “bio of a queer and political icon,” you might well think: boring, musty, wonky tome. But you needn’t worry. “Smahtguy” is a page-turner about Frank, a politician who disliked politics, but loved policy. Orner, in this bio, does the nearly impossible: he makes policy suspenseful. Orner makes you want to know how Frank used wonkiness in issues from housing to banking to help people.

Equally important, Orner makes you see and care about Frank’s personal life – from his background and family, to his coming out to his periods of loneliness to his marriage to Jim, his longtime partner. 

“Publishers Weekly,” in a starred review, called “Smahtguy,” “an astute, richly detailed profile” of Frank.

Orner jokes that he has “dual citizenship.” He has roots in two cities – Chicago and Boston.

He was born and grew up in Chicago. “My Dad’s family is in Chicago,” Orner said, “My Mom’s family is in Massachusetts.”

Orner, who lives now in New York and spends time with his partner in upstate New York, is acclaimed for his groundbreaking comic strip “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green.”

The strip, first published in 1989, ran in 100 papers (gay press and about 25 alternative weeklies). “The Blade was the second paper to run it,” Orner said.

“The work of the gay press was so important to who we became as a people,” Orner said, “I’m Jewish. The Yiddish press was so important to Jewish people at the turn of the last century.”

In 1989, before “Queer as Folk,” “Modern Family,” let alone “Fire Island” or “Bros,” there was nothing like it. Except Alison Bechdel’s trailblazing comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” which ran from 1983 to 2008.

Back then, you didn’t see drawings and stories about queer people in comic strips. Especially, narratives of LGBTQ people dating, being out, dealing with break-ups, coping with AIDS, working – living ordinary lives.

Ethan was a good, but not a fabulous, guy. He wasn’t a hunky athlete or movie star. Break-ups more than picture-perfect romances were his lot. You saw yourself when you read “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,” which was made into a movie of the same name in 2005.

Orner didn’t come out early in his life. “I knew early,” he said, “but the Midwest is a little more conservative.”

There was the Stonewall Uprising. But that wasn’t part of the culture at his high school. “My high school was so conformist,” Orner said, “it could have been the 1950s.”

After high school, Orner moved to Boston where he went to college and law school. “I’ve lived in Boston, New York, D.C., and Los Angeles,” he said, “but I’ve never lived as an adult gay person in Chicago.”

Orner’s father, now deceased, was a straight guy who revered Hugh Hefner and Sean Connery. “One of the most important cultural icons,” Orner said, “when my Dad was in his prime in the 1960s, was Playboy.” 

At first, Orner’s father just couldn’t conceive of the fact that he had a gay son. “But, my Dad was a contrarian,” Orner said, “weirdly, he was the sort of person who likes to upset the apple cart.”

If there was a rule that could be broken, he’d want to break it, Orner added.

“My Dad could not get his head around my being gay,” Orner said, “until my first Ethan Green book [a collection of his Ethan Green comic strips] came out.”

One day, one of Orner’s father’s law partners saw a copy of the Ethan Green book at a bookstore at O’Hare Airport. “The straight-laced partner had a meltdown in my father’s office,” Orner said, “over how terrible it was to see my Dad’s name on the book.”

Once Orner’s nonconformist Dad saw his partner’s pearl-clutching, Orner said, “he got his head around [his son’s being gay].”

Orner’s mother was very political. Politics runs in his family, Orner said.

“The minute I came out, unbeknown to me,” Orner said, “my Mom had joined PFLAG.”

Orner has great affection for Boston. He lived there for 25 years. He’d see the Orson Welles Cinema between Harvard and Central Square as he walked toward Bay Street. The first drawing Orner sold was to the “The Phoenix,” a (now defunct) Boston alternative weekly. 

He loved cartooning. But, “like most artists, I needed a day job,” Orner said.

Orner and Barney Frank crossed paths at a cocktail party. At that time, Cardinal Bernard Law (since disgraced because of his involvement in the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal) was the Archbishop of Boston.

“I was making wiseass shit about the Cardinal,” Orner said, “Barney said it was a funny cartoon – to call him if I needed a job.”

Orner took Frank up on his offer. For 20 years, on and off, he worked for Frank as staff counsel and press secretary for the House Financial Services Committee.

In between stints working for Frank, Orner worked for Disney. “Disney taught me to draw fast,” he said, “and to capture the essence of something – like a gesture – quickly.”

Frank was your classic tough boss, Orner said. “Barney was interested in policy,” he said, “he wanted government to be professional.”

Orner admires Frank, but “sometimes he makes mistakes,” he said.

“Smahtguy” isn’t an authorized biography.  After working on it for three years, Orner packaged it up and sent it to Frank. “Barney had only a few, 19, I think, minor corrections,” Orner said.

One was over a drawing of a daily racing form in Frank’s mother’s purse. “Barney said I had to change that,” Orner said, “because his aunts gambled, but his Mom never gambled.”

Orner strived to convey Frank’s greatness – his political achievement and personality – warts and all. “I very much didn’t want to do hagiography,” he said.

With the news as terrible as it often is now, Orner’s art is more needed than ever.

“I never feel things are so fraught or horrible that I don’t want to draw about them,” Orner said in an email to the Blade.

“And, a lot of my work over the past 10 years has been about Israel and Palestine,” he added.

In comics, creators are able to tap into the full range of human emotions, Orner said.

“Watching the House Freedom caucus somehow convert a single clown car into an epic interstate pile up,” Orner said, “is for this longtime Capitol Hill staffer pretty funny.”

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Amy Schneider’s book short on ‘Jeopardy’ insights

New memoir addresses transition and life with fame



(Book cover image courtesy of Avid Reader Press)

‘In the Form of a Question’
By Amy Schneider
c.2023, Avid Reader Press
$28/272 pages

Who hasn’t dreamed of being on “Jeopardy!”?

Amy Schneider, the most successful woman to compete on “Jeopardy!,” as well as the only out trans person to compete in, and win, the show’s prestigious Tournament of Champions, has lived this dream. She won more than $1 million after winning 40 games on “Jeopardy!”, before competing in the Tournament of Champions.

Schneider’s memoir “In the Form of a Question” will fascinate fans wanting to know what Schneider is like off of TV, delight snark aficionados and disappoint “Jeopardy!” lovers jonesing for dish on the show.

Schneider, born in 1979, dreamed, growing up in Dayton, Ohio, as she watched “Jeopardy!” with her parents, of being on the show.

Schneider was raised in a Catholic household where knowledge was valued, her parents loved her, and sexuality was submerged in guilt and secrecy.

Schneider didn’t know she was trans as a child. She only knew she liked hanging with girls, wasn’t happy when her voice changed, and thought boys were crude and gross. She felt other boys felt the same way.

Being proud of yourself wasn’t encouraged. “Pride is one of the worst sins in Catholicism,” Schneider writes, “and the largely German Catholic community I was part of defined ‘pride broadly … The mere fact of being talented in some field raised suspicions,” she adds.

Thankfully, Schneider’s folks valued learning. But other kids resented her for being smart. She’d do less homework so her grades would suffer. When she was asked how she knew so much, “It always sounded to me like a potential attack,” Schneider writes, “to be deflected however I could in the moment.”

She was asked the same question when she was on “Jeopardy!” “I still didn’t have a satisfactory answer,” Schneider writes.

On “Jeopardy!,” Schneider presented as personable and almost squeaky-clean. In, “In the Form of a Question,” she illuminates this image.

This makes for fun, sometimes, poignant, reading. Frequently, our heroes emerge as one-dimensional stick figures in their memoirs. No mess, no insecurity, no annoying traits or confusion.

Refreshingly, “In the Form of a Question,” isn’t a “first this happened, then this happened” memoir. It’s structured in the form of easily digested series of essays on everything on what it’s like for her to live with attention deficit disorder (ADD) to why she, an atheist, does Tarot readings to her love for the animated TV show “Daria.”

She writes about her experience using drugs. To Schneider, “getting high” gives her new perspectives, she writes, “to better understand my own.” Kudos, to Schneider for writing about the absurdity of Nancy Reagan-era “Just Say No” anti-drug campaigns.

Schneider isn’t a mental health expert. Recreational drugs and social drinking are fun. Yet, I wish Schneider had written more (other than a snarky footnote noting the “downsides” to drug use) about the issue of addiction in the queer community.

Schneider’s memoir is entertaining. She’s delightfully candid: she loves the term “tranny” and likes being famous. She and her wife, Genevieve, who live in Oakland, Calif., with their cats, enjoy the free things (like marvelous toasters) that her fame brings them.

But, at times, Schneider’s snark nearly morphs into cruelty. One day, in Portland, a woman gave Schneider some “fairy rocks.” It’s the thought that counts, Schneider knew. “But all I could think was ‘I am not flying home with a bunch of rocks,’” Schneider writes.

Schneider is annoyed when a fan says that their father, who had cancer, enjoyed watching her on “Jeopardy!”

You sympathize with Schneider. But only to a point. Her fans have supported her fame. They’ll read her book.

Thankfully, Schneider’s too self-aware not to know this. “What did I have to complain about,” she writes.

You’ll get to know a lot about Schneider in her memoir — from her life as a theater kid to what transitioning was like for her. If you’re cool about not learning that much about “Jeopardy!,” “In the Form of a Question” will be a fab read.

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New Bayard Rustin book an essential civil rights read

‘Legacy of Protest and Politics’ overcomes minor flaws



(Book cover courtesy of NYU Press)

‘Bayard Rustin: A Legacy of Protest and Politics’
Edited by Michael G. Long
c.2023, NYU Press
$27.95/256 pages

You will never settle.

And why should you? If it’s not right, you make it right. If it can be better, well, then get at it. You find the solution or you go on to the next thing because good enough is never good enough. As in the new book “Bayard Rustin,” essays edited by Michael G. Long, there’s always work to do and good trouble.

Somehow, it seems, in the discussion about Martin Luther King and the leadership he brought to the Civil Rights Movement, certain details may be left out. In the case of Bayard Rustin, says Long, the record needs to be altered. Today, now.

His mother was still a teenager, and unmarried, when Rustin’s grandmother helped deliver him in the spring of 1912. The boy’s father refused to acknowledge him, so his grandparents gave him a family name and raised him in their Quaker faith.

Still, alongside the peaceful, gentle mandate of Quakerism, young Rustin experienced Jim Crow segregation. His grandmother left a major impact on him, teaching him compassion, kindness, and generosity – she reared him to do the right thing – but they lived in Pennsylvania, where racism was common and the Klan maintained a nearby presence. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Rustin realized he was gay, which was illegal then.

At that point, though, he had seen many wrongs around him, and he became an activist. He also worked for justice as a speaker and organizer; at one time, he’d embraced communism but eventually became a socialist. By his own admission, Rustin was jailed more than 20 times and served on a chain gang for several months – but even then, his nonviolent Quaker beliefs emerged and he befriended his jailers, gaining their respect.

By the time he met a young preacher named Martin Luther King, Rustin was well-versed in civil rights work. He had direction, contacts, and the organizational skills the movement needed.

And yet, he was willing to let King take the front stage.

Pulled together as a collection of essays, “Bayard Rustin” has one flaw that probably can’t be helped: it’s quite repetitive. Each of the essayists in this book wrote extensively about Rustin, his work, and his impact, but there just doesn’t seem to be quite enough about Rustin himself – perhaps because, as editor Michael G. Long indicates in his introduction, Rustin left a legacy but history left him more in the background. This means that the nearly two dozen contributors to this book had only what they had to go on, hence, the repetition.

Even so, if you look for Rustin, you’ll find abundant tales about him and this book has a good portion of them. Readers will be entertained, confounded, and pleased by what they read here. It’s like finding treasure you never knew you needed.

This book needs to sit on the shelf next to everything written about Dr. King. It’s an essential companion to any volume about the Civil Rights Movement. If you need history, find “Bayard Rustin” and settle in.

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New book explores why we categorize sports according to gender

You can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think



(Book cover image courtesy of St. Martin's Press)

‘Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates’
By Katie Barnes
c.2023, St. Martin’s Press
$29/304 pages

The jump shot happened so quickly, so perfectly.

Your favorite player was in the air in a heartbeat, basketball in hand, wrist cocked. One flick and it was all swish, three points, just like that, and your team was ahead. So are you watching men’s basketball or women’s basketball? Or, as in the new book, “Fair Play” by Katie Barnes, should it really matter?

For sports fans, this may come as a surprise: we categorize sports according to gender.

Football, baseball, wresting: male sports. Gymnastics, volleyball: women’s sports. And yet, one weekend spent cruising around television shows you that those sports are enjoyed by both men and women – but we question the sexuality of athletes who dare (gasp!) to cross invisible lines for a sport they love.

How did sports “become a flash point for a broader conversation?”

Barnes takes readers back first to 1967, when Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the Boston Marathon. It was the first time women had audaciously done so and while both finished the race, their efforts didn’t sit well with the men who made the rules.

“Thirty-seven words” changed the country in 1972 when Title IX was signed, which guaranteed there’d be no discrimination in extracurricular events, as long as “federal financial assistance” was taken. It guaranteed availability for sports participation for millions of girls in schools and colleges. It also “enshrine[d] protections for queer and transgender youth to access school sports.”

So why the debate about competition across gender lines?

First, says Barnes, we can’t change biology, or human bodies that contain both testosterone and estrogen, or that some athletes naturally have more of one or the other – all of which factor into the debate. We shouldn’t forget that women can and do compete with men in some sports, and they sometimes win. We shouldn’t ignore the presence of transgender men in sports.

What we should do, Barnes says, is to “write a new story. One that works better.”

Here are two facts: Nobody likes change. And everybody has an opinion.

Keep those two statements in mind when you read “Fair Play.” They’ll keep you calm in this debate, as will author Katie Barnes’ lack of flame fanning.

As a sports fan, an athlete, and someone who’s binary, Barnes makes things relatively even-keel in this book, which is a breath of fresh air in what’s generally ferociously contentious. There’s a good balance of science and social commentary here, and the many, many stories that Barnes shares are entertaining and informative, as well as illustrative. Readers will come away with a good understanding of where the debate lies.

But will this book make a difference?

Maybe. Much will depend on who reads and absorbs it. Barnes offers plenty to ponder but alas, you can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think. Still, if you’ve got skin in this particular bunch of games, find “Fair Play” and jump on it.

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