The Queer Agenda: Book Reviews

By Graham Turner, Krista Jankowski

This will be a weekly column covering contemporary queer politics and other queer issues in the Twin Cities and beyond.

She’s Come Undone
By Wally Lamb
This piece of fiction would normally be slated into a category with your run-of-the-mill coming-of-age stories, set aside for light reading about the complications and tribulations of growing up female in modern (read: post-1950s) America. Unless, of course, you factor in the pages dedicated to molestation, mental illness, obsessive stalker tendencies and lesbian sex between two obese women. Then my friends, you have an amazing work of art. Wally Lamb is dedicated to making the life of Dolores Price, in all its idiosyncratic glory, accessible to the reader, without the annoying “overwhelming sympathy for the plight of the main character” ploys commonly used in this type of work. Good enough to read twice (or four times, as I have).

Middlesex: A Novel
By Jeffrey Eugenides
In all the talk of queer movements, the voices most often lost are those of intersex and transgender individuals. When an entire group of people has trouble finding community within a part of society ostensibly concerned with equity regardless of gender identity (let alone society at large), it comes as somewhat of a surprise to find a novel dealing with issues of gender identity as a Pulitzer Prize winning, universally acclaimed hit. Moving back and forth between Cal (formerly Calliope) Stephanides’ current struggles with the reality of his contradictory genitalia and gender performance and the familial history which contributed genetically to this reality; between Detroit and Greece, Eugenides weaves a tale near-mythic proportions about the many different secrets held by the Stephanides family. Amazing is the word that comes to mind.

The Ultimate Guide to Strap-On Sex: A Complete Resource for Women and Men
By Karlyn Lotney AKA Fairy Butch
Whether you have questions about sterilizing toys, what type of harness you should buy or whether men need strap-on implements, this is the book for you. Advice about every device or position under the sun is presented in a non-threatening way (helpful if presenting information to a less-than-sure partner) and is aided by Lotney’s long-running position as a queer advice columnist. Not sure strapping it on is for you? There are plenty of other topics covered in this book, including the joys of packing and a lubricant-selection guide. Particularly encouraging are the chapters about safe toy use and use by men, which buck the traditional expectations of who does what in the bedroom. Can be picked up easily at the Smitten Kitten in Minneapolis, or online.
Gay New York
By George Chauncey
I read George Chauncey’s “Gay New York” for a class during the spring of my first year. Having now had several semesters to think things over, this book remains one of my favorites. Chauncey essentially takes New York, mixes together changing social dynamics and a capitalist economic system and emerges with an amazingly in depth study of the formation of gay male identity in New York at the turn of the century. This book provided the first of many formative texts in the development of my own ideas about my sexuality. By grounding the formation of gay male culture in a specific space, Chauncey demonstrates how much influence social location and economics have in the creation of sexual identity. This book was quite a blow to my fledgling (and essentialist) identity politics, opening the gates to wave after wave of postmodern identity crisis and angst. YAY!
The Will to Change
By bell hooks
It would be easy for me to claim that I was invested in feminism because I believe in the equality of men and women but to be frank, that’s just not it. Being a male-identified queer means that I use feminism for some purely selfish reasons. For one, I can see and use feminism to work against my own ingrained heterosexism/homophobia. Feminism challenges the parts of me that demand I adhere to male privilege/patriarchy even while being queer. This is where “The Will to Change” by bell hooks steps in. I read this book last year and it definitely stuck. Its not going to solve your problems or show you how to not be a misogynistic pig but it’s a place to start, an excellent way to bring these challenges to consciousness.