Category Archives: Reviews

WC77 – Review of Edward Field’s After The Fall

Rvu_field_2 After The Fall: Poems Old and New
By Edward Field
University of Pittsburgh Press, 160 pages.
ISBN-10: 0822959801
Reviewed by Dan Vera

The appearance of new poems by Edward Field is always a cause for celebration. The master poet begins his most recent collection, After the Fall: Poems Old & New with a series of poems that serve as gutsy ars poetica on the engagement of the poet with the world. Under the title “What Poetry Is For” Field surveys the landscape of the wartime Bush years. Some of the poetry is time-sensitive and will soon (hopefully) read to the future as a time capsule of our era. In “Letter on the Brink of War” Field bears witness to what the unjaundiced eye sees at the beginning of a disaster he has lived through before:

They even talk of shock and awe–
another term for blitzkrieg’s sturm and drang–
and instead of Jews, the roundup of Muslims,
But you have to ask, Who’s next?

“Homeland Security” extends the theme by offering an analysis of the police state tactics faced by those who raise suspicion. Field has a way of writing that delivers a punch with the deftest of comic timing. It leaves you smiling and wincing at the same time.

What I have always loved about Field’s writing is its utter lack of pretense and its firm conviction in telling the truth.  Beauty is not the word here.  Breathtaking is.  You read a marital poem like “Oedipus Schmoedipus” or the searing indictment of Jews complicit in the current administration’s wrong-doing "But what are Jews doing in this government? / Wasn’t civil liberties always a Jewish passion?" and you understand why Plato wanted poets banned from his Republic for their insistence on telling the truth.  There is also humor. Lots of it —whether writing on aging in “Prospero, in Retirement,”  or his apologia to his lover who must live with “the poet” in “Mrs. Wallace Stevens,” Field always delivers.  Take “In Praise of My Prostate” in with Field celebrates his body’s resiliencies:

and you still expand, your amazing flowers
bursting forth throughout my body,
pistils and stamens dancing.

When you’re dealing with a great poet, the beauty of a volume of selected works like this—especially for the uninitiated—is its ability to offer up new work that captures your affections, and also present the earlier work that serves as confirmation that this genius has roots and, even better, offer a past catalogue of volumes to seek out. Here in one gem of a book are the poems I have loved for many years.  Field’s “The Life of Joan Crawford” from his 1967 volume Variety Photoplays, “From Poland,” and “Mae West” are here too.

As he did in his memoirs published three years ago, Field continues his clear-eye seeing and saying of the world. I believe he writes with the clear understanding that there is a beauty to be found in honesty.  With After the Fall Field somehow gives courageous permission to be more honest in our lives.  As if saying life is more fun and more compelling by facing the truth of oneself.  In all its beauty. I truly believe it.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Dan Vera is managing editor of White Crane.   He lives in Washington, DC where he writes poetry, organizes readings and publishers books of poetry.  Visit him at

WC77 – Review of So Fey

Rvu_bermanSo Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction
Edited by by Steve Berman
Haworth Positronic Press, 370 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1560235903
Reviewed by Steven LaVigne

In his masterpiece, Peter Pan, Sir J. M. Barrie tells us that “Every time a child says, “I don’t believe in fairies, somewhere a fairy falls down dead.”  Fortunately, I do believe in fairies and so do the 22 authors who contributed to So Fey.

This is an outstanding collection, because without a direct chronology, the reader time trips from modern times with the hero of Tom Cardamone’s “A Faun’s Tale,” who discovers the pleasures held within Central Park’s Rambles, to Delia Sherman‘s medieval “The Faerie Cony-Catcher,” as the queen of Elfland (borrowed from Purcell’s Faerie Queen) and her handmaiden lead their prey, a smith, into gay sexual fulfillment. The queen of Elfland makes another appearance in Sarah Monette’s “Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland,” as a young wife is drawn to the queen, in spite of her husband’s pleading to stay with him.

Three tales focus on tragic love with objects from nature: Danny finds a tragic love with his perfect man in Kenneth D. Woods’ “The King of Oak and Holly;” a monk is fascinated by Craig Laurance Gidney’s “A Bird of Ice,” and an Asian princess discovers love in the Tolkien-like, “Year of the Fox” by Eugie Foster.

Some of the pieces collected here are drawn from or are renovated versions of classic literature. The myth of Orpheus and Euridice is used by Holly Black for “Coat of Stars as Rafael,” a young gay dancer, Rafael, returning to his hometown and visiting a strange underworld where he makes a bargain to reconnect with his deceased love. Laurie J. Marks’ “How the Ocean Loved Margie” borrows from the same Celtic tale which John Sayles used in his film, “The Secret of Roan Inish.”

Two stories toward the end of the volume held special interest for me.  Because I recently completed the first volume of His Dark Materials, The Golden Compass, I loved Lynne Jamneck’s “How Laura Left a Rotten Apple and Came Not to Regret the Cold of the Yukon.”  Told in first person, Laura leaves Manhattan for a place called Poniwok. There, she finds herself attracted to Gwen, the town’s police sergeant.  At first rejecting her friendship, Laura finds herself fascinated by the woman who shows her the Northern lights.

Borrowing the names of Jane, George and Michael from P.L. Travers, Joshua Lewis was inspired by the aforementioned J. M. Barrie in his lovely piece, “Ever So Much More Than Twenty” (the words Wendy uses tell Peter Pan that she’s no longer a child). In this enchanting story, Michael’s daughter, Jane, recommends that they return to the cabin of her father’s childhood. It was in the magical woods that both Jane and Michael encounter the joys of his youth, as they both encounter a fairy who is every bit a modern incarnation of Barrie’s most famous hero.

A sublime experience for any gay reader, So Fey has 22 remarkable stories you’ll return to on a frequent basis, and if you don’t already, will have you believing, once and for all, in fairies!

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Aside from his role as a regular contributor and reviewer for White Crane, Steven LaVigne is also a teacher, playwright, reviewer and director who lives in the Twin Cities.  His work appears regularly online and he frequently adapts literature for children’s theatre.  His most recent play, based on the Arabian Nights, was presented this past summer.  He’s presently doing research for a new project.

WC77 – Review of Forgiving the Franklins

Rvu_forgivingthefranklinsForgiving the Franklins (DVD)
Written, Directed & Produced by Jay Floyd
Grinning Idiot Entertainment – 2006
Starring Teresa Willis, Robertson Dean, Aviva,
Vince Pavia, Mari Blackwell, and Pop DaSilva as Christ
Reviewed by Bo Young

OK. This one is never going to make it to the malls, which is a shame, because that’s precisely the audience that needs to see this satirical parable of modern fundamentalist self-righteousness. Well…maybe not the audience that needs to see it, but it sure as heck it the audience you’d want to see it, if for only the moment when they ran screaming from the theater, their heads exploding from the sheer sacrilege of it all.

I don’t really know from sacrilege anymore, but I sure as hell know from sacred cows and this movie grinds up every Christian sacred cow and turns them into quarter-pounders with cheese. Think Will and Grace crossed with Six Feet Under. Your basic Sears catalogue suburban family, stiff with their religious piety…suddenly dead. Literally, hit by a truck, only the daughter is (you’ll pardon the expression) left behind. The other three…her deeply frustrated mother, her stiff (and yet somehow humpy) board of a father (who have intercourse without ever opening their eyes) and her big pretty football playing brother (who listens to Gilbert & Sullivan in his car CD player, to give you some idea of the subtlety of the script) wake up in a vast arid plain of the afterworld, a little disoriented, a little confused to see a decidedly third-world looking guy taking an axe to a large wooden crucifix. Like I said…subtlety isn’t one of the strong points of this script, as entertaining as it is.

Anyway, the dark-skinned Jesus, in one of the more delicious visual metaphors, proceeds to remove “bloody apples” from the backsides of the brains of the three undead family members, who quickly find themselves back in the hospital with nary a scratch. Their just-this-side-of-bulimic daughter, who wasn’t hurt as badly in the accident is still limping around on a crutch. Ah metaphor.

The script is a ham-fisted from time to time as if the director and writer were “trying to make a point” and sometimes the jokes seem a little bit like shooting fish in a barrel. That said, there is a hilarious discussion of the pros and cons of teachers having sex with their students around the family dinner table at one point which is no small feat to pull off humorously. Male teachers and football playing students, that is. And again, this story gets a little ham-fisted.

But frankly, if LOGO had real balls, they’d turn this into a regular, ongoing television series. It has a TV sitcom feel. And while it’s a very funny movie that takes predictable turns, they’re fun to watch.

My favorite line is when the mother is talking to her self-righteous fundamentalist (is that redundant?) “best friend” and says, “When you talk about God, you sound like one of those women on the talk shows who’s still in love with the husband that beats them.”

The ending has a twist that I wasn’t so sure I liked that seems like the writers just didn’t know what to do with the characters after a while. But at least the daughter loses her crutches.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Bo Young is the publisher and editor of White Crane.  He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his fere and two hair children.

WC77 – Review of Murder in the Vatican

Rvu_gregoire_2Murder in the Vatican: The Revolutionary Life
of John Paul and the Vatican Murders of 1978

By Lucien Gregoire, Authorhouse Press
ISBN1-4259-5309-3, pb 385 pages, $19.99
Reviewed by Toby Johnson

George Lucien Gregoire, a Gay man, happened to be boyhood best friends with John Champney who grew up to become a Catholic priest and was for a while the personal secretary to Albino Luciani, the man who, in 1978, became Pope John Paul I but who then died—mysteriously—just thirty-three days after his election to the Papacy. Champney “happened” to die the very next day, killed by a hit and run driver outside the walls of the Vatican (along with another some twelve people related to John Paul I who also died mysteriously in ensuing months).

Gregoire has made it one his life’s missions to bring attention to what he sees as the murder of this Pope who had promised to be a truly revolutionary figure in the history of religion. Had he remained Pope, Luciani would probably have changed the Church’s position of birth control, priestly celibacy and, notably, homosexuality.

White Crane previously reviewed Gregoire’s book Murder in the Vatican. Now that book has been rewritten and reorganized. The story is now presented as “Two Books in One Volume:” The Revolutionary Life of John Paul and The Vatican Murders of 1978.

Conspiracy theorists will love this book. It certainly makes one wonder. But more important than the questions about all the deaths that seemed to follow from Albino Luciani’s elevation to the Papacy is the presentation of this man’s modern and sensible ideas about what religion should be. The world really did suffer a tragedy and the evolution of consciousness was set back by whatever machinations cut short the term of John Paul I.

The new edition of the book is better organized than the first. And the story of John Paul I and his “revolutionary” but imminently sensible ideas, has been told in yet another volume by Lucien Gregoire titled White Light Dark Night. Gay Catholics, especially, should be interested in these various accounts by this Gay writer who just “happened” to be close enough to see what the world wasn’t allowed to see.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Toby Johnson is the author and editor of countless fine books like Gay Spirituality, and Charmed Lives.  He is also former publisher of White Crane Journal and currently Reviews editor. He lives in San Antonio Texas.  Visit him at

WC77 – Review of Freethinkers

Rvu_jacobyFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism
By Susan Jacoby
Holt Paperbacks, 448 pages
ISBN-10: 0805077766
Reviewed by Dan Vera

I was a history major in college and have retained a deep interest in historical subjects. I consider myself pretty well-read in history. My time in seminary and a lifetime in the church also left me with what I thought was a pretty good sense of the religious history of the United States. Then I picked up a copy of Susan Jacoby’s best-selling book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism and discovered how little I really knew. It would seem strange that a book about the secularist history of the United States would teach me so much about American religious history but as is often the case, you need to know both sides to understand the full story. Having read and enjoyed this incredibly well-researched and thought-provoking book, I now realize that what I most love about the religious contributions to American culture were forged and informed by its progressive and open exchange with secularists and freethinkers.

Freethinkers came out in 2004 and spent some time on the New York Times best seller lists so it is widely available in paperback now. I can say without reservation that it is the best book I’ve read this year and perhaps the most mind-altering book of history I’ve read in the last ten years. I cannot think of another book that left me with a clarifying “aha!” moment on almost every single page. I tend to read a few books at a time and I’ve enjoyed savoring Jacoby’s writing. It is laid out in chronological order but its abundance of new information of a largely overlooked section of American history makes it an almanac of sorts on those figures who stood for free expression, for reason, and for a clear separation of church and state. There were many misconceptions about religion in American history that were deflated by this book. One discovers that in the colonial period it was the South, in states like Virginia and Georgia that the power of religion and of church structures was most fought, most notably by founding fathers Jefferson and Madison. The northern states were zealous in their desire to have an established church and to have religious tests for office-holders. It was Baptists in the South who, fearing the dominance of the Anglican/Episcopal church, wanted no church sponsorship of religion.  Of course this geographic split would be reversed in a generation in ways that would echo the culture wars we are currently living in. This is the gift of Jacoby’s book. So many “how did we get here?” questions, whether we have even known to ask them, are answered in her entertaining and informative writing.

Along the way Jacoby recovers some astounding exemplars of freethought—people like Robert Ingersoll. Known in his day as “the Great Agnostic,” he drew enormous audiences to his live talks around the country and had the admiration of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, who said that Ingersoll was “from head to foot [sic] is flushed with the square — every line of him—of his books—bathed in justice, love of right, human generosity, to a degree I fail to find in any other.” Ingersoll’s words still resonate more than a hundred years later:

“For while I am opposed to all orthodox creeds, I have a creed myself, and my creed is this: Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so. This creed is somewhat short, but is long enough for this life; long enough for this world. If there is another world, when we get there we can make another creed. But this creed certainly will do for this life.”

We are in many ways indebted to Ingersoll for the fact that we even know and read Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As an attorney Ingersoll was instrumental in battling the Comstock censorship laws that barred the distribution of materials deemed “obscene.” For years it kept Whitman’s work from not only finding a publisher but from receiving a wide audience by mail. Ingersoll’s importance to Whitman was clarified by the fact that the great “agnostic” speaker was chosen to give the eulogy at Whitman’s funeral.  Jacoby, in her sole appendix item, includes Ingersoll’s moving tribute to Whitman’s vision and importance.

Jacoby’s book is thoughtfully written and such a pleasure.  She does not have an axe to grind, but just tells the stories we have never been told. The book traverses through the history of the country and ends with a very pointed critique of how much we have lost by being cheated of this important history of freethought.  Liberalism and skepticism and reason—those movements or understandings that have been so instrumental to a social and cultural relaxing around sexuality—are the result of individuals and movements for a rejection of illogical dogma and towards a clear-thinking approach to living life.  We owe our liberty of mind and body to those who challenged the assumptions and laws of tradition and institution. Jacoby’s book should be on every reading list this year.

Jacoby’s latest book, The Age of American Unreason offers up a critique of the current war on intellect that we are living through in the United States.  I look forward to reviewing it for these pages.  But don’t wait for me. Read Freethinkers and I suspect you will seek out Jacoby’s newer book soon after.  It’s that well-written.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Dan Vera is managing editor of White Crane.   He lives in Washington, DC where he writes poetry and organizes readings and other arts and culture events.  Visit him at

WC77 – Review of The Voyeur

Rvu_luongo The Voyeur
By Michael T. Luongo
Alyson Books, 308 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1593500177

Reviewed by Steven LaVigne

Any book that begins with its leading character fighting off an attacker with a wooden dildo deserves attention.  That book is Michael T. Luongo’s deliciously entertaining novel, The Voyeur. Write what you know, and always have an opening that will grab the reader are valuable pieces of advice for all writers, and Luongo’s novel definitely fits the bill. Inspired by Rudy Guiliani’s moralist campaign to clean up Manhattan, it’s the story of Jason Green whose job as a sex researcher will earn him a Ph.D. When a reporter misconstrues the facts, it sets the comic tone for the upheaval of Jason’s life.

Following the press coverage, Shelley, his boss, who’s always looking for methods of raising funds for her projects,  She puts Jason in charge of an NIH study on HIV+ Gay men, that will take him into sex clubs, the baths and other dark Gay locales.  Due to his upbringing, Jason’s a little like a fish out of water here, but he’s got the support of his office staff, including David, whose stiff and formal demeanor hide an interesting secret; Alicia, Jason’s close friend, who sometimes camps out in the office overnight rather than going home to her husband and family, and Ricky, hip, handsome and horny, whose attitude often forces Jason to question the realities of his life.

Because he’s so involved in his work, Jason has been ignoring his boyfriend, Mark to the point that their sex life is nonexistent. Convinced by Ricky that he needs to peruse the internet, Jason discovers that not only is Mark cheating on him, but the cheating has changed his health status, and that he’s now a likely candidate for Jason’s research.  The Voyeur, then, becomes Jason’s personal journey toward self-discovery. Luongo adds a cliché character by drawing his mother as a bossy, but loving 1960s housewife, whom Jason loves teasing. The conclusion even pays homage to the cinematic version of Valley of the Dolls, and the reader understands how Jason will be able to face his future, with or without Mark.

Anyone who’s ended a relationship can appreciate how much Luongo’s writing captures the situations and can take comfort in the manner that Jason endures and articulates his feelings. The Voyeur is an enlightening and enjoyable read.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Aside from his role as a regular contributor and reviewer for White Crane, Steven LaVigne is also a teacher, playwright, reviewer and director who lives in the Twin Cities.  His work appears regularly online and he frequently adapts literature for children’s theatre.  His most recent play, based on the Arabian Nights, was presented this past summer.  He’s presently doing research for a new project.

WC77 – Review of In The Eye of the Storm

Rvu_robinsonIn The Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God
By Gene Robinson
Seabury Books
ISBN 978-1-59627-088-6, HB, 162 pp. $25
Reviewed by Toby Johnson

In 2003 the New Hampshire diocese of the Episcopal Church elected the openly Gay Gene Robinson as its bishop. He’d been an exemplary priest and religious leader, popular in the diocese, loved by his congregation and more than competent to serve as a church official. He also led what many of us would think of as a satisfying and successful life as a modern Gay man: settled with a long-term partner of twenty years, with two daughters from a previous heterosexual marriage, contributing significantly to the lives of his friends and neighbors.

Of course, as we all heard in the news that year, trumpeted over and over on the TV as though it really mattered, his election by his local community, then ratified by the national Episcopal Church, brought on a veritable firestorm of protest and internecine rancor from conservatives who declared him unworthy of the post of bishop because he was openly Gay—and apparently a proponent of “Gay marriage” since he was in one. His election was pushing the Episcopal Church in a direction that conservatives, especially in Africa, disapproved of and could wave their Bibles at with chapter and verse. (One can’t imagine Episcopalians in New Hampshire sharing much of a worldview, culture or lifestyle with Episcopalians in Africa.)

In the Eye of the Storm is the very readable and interesting autobiographical account of the events surrounding Robinson’s election interwoven into a theological discussion of homosexuality and Christian doctrine.

Readers of White Crane probably won’t find anything new in the theology or the discussions of “what the Bible really says” or how the teachings of Jesus would almost necessarily have been pro-Gay (if Jesus would have known about this as a social issue). Robinson does have an appealing homiletic manner of presentation. One might even imagine he writes like Jesus would have if he were writing for a 21st century audience: Robinson uses personal examples and anecdotes—that seem very much like New Testament parables—and keeps applying the Christian teaching to real life examples instead of focusing on abstract theological principles of morality or obedience to the letter of the Law. Just like Jesus!

The book isn’t really directed to Gay people—that would be “preaching to the choir.” It’s written for the laity of the American Episcopal Church. It certainly provides those readers with new information about a topic not discussed very openly in religious circles. One would hope Robinson’s detractors would study this book.

I enjoyed reading the book; Gene Robinson comes across as a very nice fellow. Gay Episcopalians will also find the reports of Church business revealing and the projections about the future of the Anglican Communion salient: will the Church schism over sexual issues? To wit, the ordination of women, the appointment of a woman as bishop (Barbara Harris) and then another woman as head of the American Church (Katharine Jefferts Schori), and the acknowledgement of sexual goodness in an openly Gay person (Bishop Robinson).

Another openly Gay Episcopalian priest, Malcolm Boyd, is, of course, an important member of the White Crane family. He and his life partner Mark Thompson have helped shape the Gay spirituality movement. Mark’s 1987 book Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning was the book that really articulated the movement for the first time. Mark’s book is one of the anchor titles in White Crane Books‘ Gay Spirituality Series. And this past year, White Crane has brought out a new edition of Malcolm’s autobiographical Take Off the Masks AND most recently White Crane editors, Bo Young and Dan Vera, have produced a “Malcolm Boyd Reader” titled A Prophet In His Own Land which includes interviews and commentaries about Boyd’s work as a proponent of social justice and civil rights in America down through the decades (and for which Bishop Robinson has written a Foreword).

It’s been curious for me to notice how Episcopalian White Crane has suddenly gotten (I say, tongue-in-cheek). Coincidentally (??), at the same time, I’ve been watching the Showtime cable TV series The Tudors which recounts the creation of the Church of England in a schism over the sexual life of King Henry VIII. Showtime has certainly made vivid the sex and the gore that accompanied this development in Christian history!

The iconoclast in me—an integral part, I believe, of my Gay spirituality—jokes that the carrying on of Henry VIII, matched by that of his antagonist Pope Paul III, certainly demonstrates empirically that matters of Church organization are not being guided by the hand of a provident, personal God. And that is demonstrated again in our own day by the rancor over Bishop Robinson.

The spiritual visionary in me—also an integral part, I believe, of my Gay perspective—observes that the forced evolution in thought among the Episcopalians is a wonderful demonstration of the role Gay consciousness plays in human evolution. Gay spiritual writer Christian de la Huerta identifies ten roles Gay people have played throughout history. The first of them is as “catalytic transformers.” That is, Gay people have been involved in the major transformations of human thought—in the religions, the arts, the sciences, all forms of human culture. De la Huerta’s observation includes the idea of our being “catalysts,” i.e., not actually entering the change itself, but creating the ground in which the change can occur. That is, we have bigger effects than just our own minor issues (say, of sexual freedom and personal respectability).

Robinson’s subtitle for this autobiography of turmoil is “Swept to the Center by God.” That is, he’s been pushed into being the catalyst for a much bigger transformation. What will follow from his appointment as Bishop of New Hampshire is likely to have far greater effect: Christianity itself is challenged and forced to mature and face modernity.

We can all be proud we live in the same world as Gene Robinson. It’s getting to be a better world because of him.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Toby Johnson is the author and editor of countless fine books like Gay Spirituality, and Charmed Lives.  He is also former publisher of White Crane Journal and currently Reviews editor. He lives in San Antonio Texas.  Visit him at

WC76 – Review of Michael Tolliver Lives

Rvu_maupinmichaeltolliver Michael Tolliver Lives
A Novel by Armistead Maupin

HarperCollins, 288 pages, $25.95
ISBN-13: 978-0060761356

Reviewed by Steven LaVigne

When debating the greatest collection of Gay novels following Stonewall, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series is an obvious standout. Readers have long been drawn to the residents of San Francisco’s 28 Barbary Lane, where the “trannie landlady,” Mrs. Madrigal sees her special residents as her children. They consider Mary Ann Singleton, Brian Hawkins, Mona Ramsay and Michael “Mouse” Tolliver their friends and they hold a special place among American Gay literary characters. We’ve followed their activities through six books, until Maupin ended the series in 1989.

Denying that Michael Tolliver Lives is a sequel, this volume brings the denizens of 28 Barbary Lane into the new century. Michael, now close to 60, has met, fallen in love and married Ben. Over two decades younger and aware of Michael’s HIV status and reliance on testosterone injections and Viagra, Ben is the genuine love of his life. Of all her “children,” Michael is, perhaps, closest to Anna Madrigal, who, at 85, has mellowed only slightly following a trio of strokes. He’s the one who stayed close when the others moved away and she sold the property. For one thing, Michael’s connected her with Jake, a female-to-male transsexual who rents her his garden apartment and takes on the position of caretaker.

There are too many loose ends of plot to recap in a review, but this is Michael’s story. Michael is Maupin’s literary alter ego. Just as Michael married Ben, Maupin himself married Christopher Turner several years ago. Like Maupin, Michael is a transplant to San Francisco, so Michael’s conflicts toward and commitment to his family, both his genetic and his adopted one, are one reason he’s managed to survive for the past 15 years.

Michael Tolliver Lives takes readers across the country. Michael and Ben visit Florida, attending to family business, when it’s announced that Michael’s mother is on death’s doorstep. While there, he learns of conflicts full of sexual politics between his mother, brother and hyper-religious sister-in-law. It seems that everyone is either leaning on Michael or they rely on him for various reasons. With Ben’s complete support, he realizes where his genuine commitment lies, and, of course, he comes through for everyone.

There’s no guarantee that Maupin will return to the Barbary Lane characters, and after reading Michael Tolliver Lives, there’s really no reason he should. Michael’s story is a stellar coda to this significant contribution to Gay literature.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Steven LaVigne is a contributing writer to White Crane.  His book reviews have graced the pages of our magazine for many years.

WC76 – Review of Double Cross & The Transcended Christian

Rvu_ranandoublecrossRoman Catholicism:
The Wrong Way and the Right Way

Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church
By David Ranan

Theo Press, pb,
426 pages, $25.95

The Transcended Christian:
Spiritual Lessons for the 21st Century

By Daniel A. Helminiak

Alyson Books, pb, 315 pages, $16.95

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

On a flight to Easton Mountain Retreat Center in upstate New York for a gathering of “leaders” in Gay spirituality, I read David Ranan’s scathing report on the history and organizational structure of the Catholic Church in regard to power and politics. As disturbing as the book was, it was interesting reading and held my attention even through all the distractions of air travel.

Ranan is surprisingly evenhanded and low-key in reporting on a history of unbelievable abuse of power, corruption and hypocrisy (especially regarding sexual ethics). In almost every case he calmly presents the facts and explains that the various abuses seem to come from organizational imperatives and maintenance concerns rather than from flaws in doctrine. At times you wonder how he can keep cataloguing all these apparent crimes against humanity without ever quite calling for the abolition of the institution and the damnation of all its layers of minions.

The book begins with an explanation of the structure of the Church and particularly the Vatican authority. He explains the origins of the church, the notion of miracles as evidence for authority, and the place of sin—and the sacramental power to forgive sin—as a tool of social control. The next chapters report on the Inquisition, the Index of Forbidden Books, and, specifically, the case against Galileo in the 17th century at the beginning of the development of the scientific method and observation as the source of truth (rather than religious authority or revelation).

Poor Galileo, the prelates showed the seventy-year-old man the instruments of torture they’d use to question him and scared him into recanting facts he’d seen with his own eyes about the movement of the heavenly bodies. All because Psalm 104 says: “The earth is firmly fixed; it shall not be moved.” Even a cursory reading of the verses in context can see the Psalmist was praising the wonder of God’s creation, not describing astrophysical dynamics! Yet for that verse, the advance of Western science was delayed centuries. Of course, in the end, the Church lost. And in due course the pope forgave Galileo. Though the pope to do so was John Paul II, in our own lifetimes—a little late. And even then, JP II didn’t admit the Church was wrong, only that Galileo turned out to have been right about the astronomy.

The next chapters deal with the corruption of popes, religious violence, anti-Semitism (and the Holocaust). Some of the medieval popes amassed huge fortunes that some passed on to their illegitimate offspring, all the while calling the faithful to obey the rules about avoiding sexual pleasure and giving generously to the Church. The list of popes with offspring just goes on and on. Popes apparently don’t have “children”; they have “nephews.” By the 20th century these kinds of abuses had disappeared, but there was still a Vatican banking scandal around the time of the election of John Paul II. (Lucien Gregoire’s Gay consciousness-sourced book Murder in the Vatican, reviewed previously in White Crane #67, gave the banking scandal even more sinister overtones.)

Then there’s the chapter on sexual morality and the Church’s intransigence with regard to issues like the dignity of women, divorce, homosexuality, contraception and family planning, even condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS. At every point, Ranan shows, the Church opted to ignore human suffering and up-to-date solutions to age-old problems and to insist instead on reiterating its errors from the past in order to assert that it had never made any mistakes. A classic example Ranan cites is telling women whose husbands are HIV+ that they should trust in God’s will for their health since they are not permitted to use condoms to prevent their infection.

And finally there’s a long discussion of the sexual abuse scandal that has surfaced in the last decades. Ranan focuses mainly on the cover-up, rather than the supposed evils of pedophilia itself, since that is the institutionally generated criminality. The catalogue is long.

The conclusion the book reaches, a little equivocally, is that maybe the Church needs dismantling, but that “matters of faith such as virgin birth or transubstantiation” are not necessarily threatened by this critique of the institutional structure.

I personally would go a bit further. Bringing a Buddhistic perspective to the question of the Catholic Church and its elaborate system of doctrines, I’d say the bad behavior Double Cross documents is empirical proof—like that Galileo saw with his own eyes—that there is no God, at least the way the Church teaches, and that that God has no power over human affairs and does not answer prayers. That’s a bold and difficult assertion (though thoroughly and reverently Buddhist). But some huge number of the prayers that go up daily from Catholics is for the guidance of Church leaders. It is abundantly clear they aren’t getting any divine guidance. The behavior of the Church doesn’t seem to reflect any awareness at all of the teachings of Jesus about love trumping rules.

Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church certainly challenged my affection and nostalgia for the religion of my youth. It was much more readable and compelling than I’d expected. It’s well written and it is pretty convincing.

The final paragraph sums up the argument that Gay people, in particular, should take to heart: “Faithful Catholic liberals hope and believe that change can be effected within the Church. They hope for reform. Such reform, however, is unlikely to suffice. The shape-up which is necessary is beyond the scope of a reform.”

Rvu_helminiakGay spiritual writer, theologian, psychologist, scholar Daniel Helminiak offers another way to think of the Catholic Church. Helminiak was for many years a Dignity priest. He still speaks to Catholic—and non-Catholic—groups around the country about the real meaning of Christian and Catholic religion. His book What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality is one of the perennial bestsellers in the Gay genre, addressing a central question religious homosexuals have to ask themselves in the process of coming out.

Helminiak has far surpassed traditional Catholic religiousness, yet without dissing the tradition. His most important insight (and that is an important word in a discussion of his thought because it is the name of the major book by Helminiak’s great intellectual influence, the 20th C. Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan, author of Insight: A Study of Human Understanding) is that “spirituality” is about human consciousness and personality and only tangentially about “God.” Indeed, you don’t need a concept of “God” to be spiritual, and your accomplishment at being “spiritual” will be to understand what God really is. This is religion in service of the human spirit, not the human in the service of institutional power structures.

Not only is Daniel Helminiak an astute thinker and an accomplished writer, he is also a wonderful and interesting teacher and, from his history as a priest, a marvelous preacher. His most recent book, The Transcended Christian: Spiritual Lessons for the Twenty-First Century, is, in fact, based on sermons he gave during his Dignity years that were preserved by members of his flock because they were so impactful. Now these sermon notes have been updated and rewritten into eighteen interesting and sometimes entertaining essays that demonstrate the right way to think about Catholic teaching and tradition. Readers of Helminiak’s serious theological works will find this book just as intelligent, but also as readable and personable as it is intelligent. There’s a sweetness to his voice that reveals the pastoral origins of the texts.

Let me proudly report that Daniel credits me with the inspiration for his title. Years ago when I was the Gay therapist and a community spokesperson in San Antonio and he was the Dignity priest, we had a delightful conversation about the evolution of religion. Coming out of my Campbellian/comparative religions vision of “the new myth” as the understanding of religious imagery and myth from outside and over and above — in which all myths are true insofar as it’s possible to rise to a higher perspective and transcend the conflicting details, I called Daniel, with his post-mythical, post-institutional spirituality, a “transcended Catholic.”

Each chapter of the book begins with a Scripture text. The commentaries then offer insightful ways of understanding what the texts can really mean to us two thousand years later. This isn’t religion looking back at a fantasized past to give it validity, but rather the familiar symbols and metaphors of religion applied to our lives today to give our lives validity — and that’s especially so, of course, of our Gay lives.

To offer but one example, in the essay on Christmas and Jesus as a prophet revealing a new kind of attitude about God (based in love of others, not obedience to taboos), Helminiak offers recognition of Gay identity as an experience of such “a revelation from God”: “In the depths of our own soul, we experience a dawning, a realization. We grasp an intuition, and from it we form a new message, we configure a new vision. It comes from the source of all goodness. It emerges out of the Life Force that is working in and through us all. Our vision or message points toward a more wholesome life for everybody. Isn’t this what ‘revelation from God’ is about?” Helminiak ties in the Christmas story with the image of John the Baptist, the prophet who calls for the transformation of society, as opposed to the popular character of modern Christmas, Santa Claus. Santa Claus represents the mythological, fairytale side of the story that just reconfirms conventional assumptions, while John the Baptist represents the transcended vision.

Over and over again in the book, Helminiak gives a Queer twist to usual stories. And I mean the double entendre. He offers new and unexpected ways to understand the familiar stories, and he interprets them to offer positive and inclusive meaning for us Queer Gay people.

This is a book I’ve been reading slowly, one chapter at a time, relishing the twists.

Just as David Ranan’s book about the Church makes one question the usefulness and validity of Catholic tradition, so Daniel Helminiak’s redeems the tradition by showing how transcending it is, in fact, doing it right, doing it the way Jesus would have intended.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Toby Johnson is the author and editor of countless fine books like Gay Spirituality, and Charmed Lives.  He is also former publisher of White Crane Journal and currently Reviews editor. He lives in San Antonio Texas.  Visit him at

WC76 – Review of Fenway Guide

Rvu_fenwaylgbthealthFenway Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,
and Transgender Health American College of Physicians

ISBN-10: 193051395X
544 pages $54.95
Reviewed by Jeff Huyett, NP

A colleague asked if I would talk with a friend, also a nurse, about her college-age son who is “just out.” “Would you just talk with her about how to keep safe, which vaccinations to get and all that? Should he get an anal pap smear?” Working in a college environment in New York City, I play the role of homo-expert since I’m an “out, Queer nurse” who is also proficient in LGBTQQ health concerns. (I add QQ to cover “Queer and questioning,” too, as many folks will never fit into a neat and tidy box of sexual identification.) I take this seriously because formal education about sexual minority “health” is missing in most nursing and medical curricula. Mental health programs tend to lead in teaching professionals about particular LGBT health issues.

Mother’s fears about her son’s coming out are about his medical safety. As a health issue, sexually-transmitted disease risks and prevention are the focus of mainstream education about LGBT patients. So it’s typical she would see these as primary concerns for her son’s health. But, really, risk of diseases specific to LGBT sex are easy to obviate with measures like protected sex and preventive vaccines. Our medically modeled “healthcare system” focuses on diseases, though, not health. So, many health concerns of an LGBT patient will not be met in our current health care system.

I encouraged her to focus on the social and emotional issues her son will be faced with and not just the sex/safety. She knows that he is aging into a world that is still pretty hostile to Queers. She knows that her son will experience hateful conversations, slurs, taunting, and possible physical violence just for being Gay. His experiences will shape a worldview that will inform him and affect his health throughout life.

Or, maybe she doesn’t know this. That’s why the Fenway Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health is essential for anyone practicing healthcare. I say ‘anyone’ because every healthcare provider is likely to take care of someone who is not heterosexual at some point in their career.

This scholarly text takes a holistic view of the term “health” in the title. “Health” affected by self-concept, the people around you, the place you live, and the air you breathe. The reader learns about LGBT people, history, culture, sexual minority phobias, politics and the effects these have on individual health and well-being. Much of the information about living in environments of oppression, repression and stigma will be fresh and thought-provoking for the reader.

I write this review with great pleasure and respect for the Fenway Community Health Center in Boston and all the people who have been associated with it. Full disclosure: I practiced there for six years, during a time of expansion from a basement clinic to large, multi-service health center in a state-of-the-art facility. It all happened as AIDS raged around us. Fenway endures and advances the LGBT health movement for all of us, not just Boston. Those times and this “model” of care permeate my own caregiving, teaching, research, and political activism.

Like the few other urban LGBT health services, Fenway came into being because men having Gay sex didn’t have a comfortable place to get checked and treated for sexually transmitted infections. Most communities forming post-Stonewall realized that “out” people had difficulty finding any kind of health care that was welcoming. The emergence of HIV further compounded the deficiencies of a mainstream system to care for sexual minorities. The fact that Fenway is expanding again exemplifies that specific agencies are still needed for LGBT health. The mainstream health care system still doesn’t get it. I advise corporate health executives, managers, and industry leaders: read this book. You are TOTALLY missing our market niche when it comes to LGBT health care.

For most clinicians, the Fenway Guide will fill in virtually all the information gaps about LGBT health. The style is scholarly, with footnoting and referencing. It reads like a textbook for a really interesting class. Each chapter reviews current scientific literature and synthesizes the findings into cogent practice recommendations for medical, nursing and mental health clinicians. Authors provide community and professional organizations information, websites, and resources. Sample intake forms, patient handouts, and health proxy forms are provided in the appendix for reader use in the clinical setting. Scientific literature and clinical recommendations will help clinicians to shape programs, staff offices, and provide care that is evidence-based. There are facts, figures, statistics and charts to highlight areas of strengths and deficiencies in programs. The 544-page text is a tome, but I cannot find information to edit, because, frankly, this is a primer, a beginner course. It is Queer health essentials.

The authors are physicians, social workers, psychologists, therapists, public health, health education professionals, lawyers and a physician’s assistant. These LGBT health experts practice in a variety of settings around the country, but most are from Boston. Some are in Gay-identified health service organizations similar to Fenway. Others are “out” and working in universities, hospitals, government agencies and grassroots organizations. Most of the authors are involved in ground-breaking research and community development. They acknowledge the extreme lack of population-based evidence of LGBT-particular health needs to guide us scientifically. They reinforce the clinician’s need to practice the “art of medicine” as stated in the preface by the editors. The term “art of healing” would have been more inclusive and better reflect the wide array of disciplines represented by the authors involved in this ground-breaking book.

This brings up my biggest criticism: there is a lack of nurse authors in the contributor list, though nurses are mentioned in the reading. This glaring omission demonstrates how nursing is reflected, or not, in the medical community, especially on the East Coast. Nurses have had great impact in the development of a wide array of LGBT services across the country.

Most authors use case studies to illustrate particular health topics. Many clinicians will be shocked when reading stories of coming out, abandonment, violence, and flat-out rejection by parents, family, friends and health care providers. Clinicians will learn how to better interpret the effects of oppression and stigma on individual health. This learning can readily be transposed to any care provided trans-culturally to assess the health affects of minority status. Effective history taking is reviewed in detail. Concrete examples are given for language and question formation to improve patient encounters, engender trust, and enhance the patient-provider relationship. The tone is matter-of-fact when it comes to discussing drug use, fetishes, and sexual behaviors. Especially important, the book reviews the need for sensitivity development in non-clinical staff as well as providing a safe, welcoming office environment for LGBT patients. Suggestions include LGBT representation in artwork, education materials, forms and questionnaires.

Families are explored from chosen families, bearing and raising children, Queer kids in straight families, and the notion that American families are just plain changing. LGBT folks are well aware of the importance of our close-knit circle of friends or chosen family. Fenway Guide carefully illustrates how society and laws dishonor these families. It teaches the clinician how to explore this realm with a patient to provide care to all who are family. Clinicians can use draft health proxy and living will forms to legally document the patient’s wishes in their medical record. The paradox is that America professes “family” as a core value, and yet we dismiss so much of what family is or can be.

Bearing and raising children happens in a variety of ways for parents in LGBT communities. The complexities of our couplings, alternative insemination, and the realities of raising children in same-sex-parent families is taught with census data, clinical research, and case studies. Like so much of this book, the discussions are full of examples from clinical experiences. I found this imparted a human-ness to the repeated statistics and study regurgitation. From a learner’s standpoint, I found this a good way to acculturate clinicians to the realities of Queer people.

Readings about transgender health are new and insightful. The reader will have a better understanding of the psychological, emotional, and cultural underpinnings of being transgender. This text does not outline methods of cross-gender hormone therapy but refers the reader to other resources. Given the lack of evidence-based research in cross-gender hormone therapy, the editors avoid recommendations about pharmacological measures. This reflects the reluctance of agencies to incur liability for recommendations in light of a lack of research. There is ample overview of hormone management and side effects monitoring as well as methods of surgical interventions for feminization and masculinization.

The Guide discusses physical, emotional, and familial experiences of people with disorders of sexual development (DSD) or intersex patients. This helpful chapter guides the family and clinician in the difficult decision making when it comes to treatment of infants with hormone therapy when there is ambiguous genital formation.

Evidence and recommendations for screening, treating and preventing sexually-transmitted infections are well provided. The specifics of HIV care are abbreviated, given the constant emergence of new studies. The reader is referred to current scientific guidelines and literature regarding HIV treatment specifics.

When a clinician wants to initiate practice changes in a health care environment, they must present documented need and proven methods of improvement. Getting clinicians to perform new behaviors or interview techniques is typically met with groans of “I’m already so busy. How will I have time to ask that or do this?” The Guide recognizes the over-worked, stressful environment that is health care today. Feasible suggestions are made for practice improvement, with average times given for elements of an interview or intervention. This allows the clinician to see how to integrate practice changes into the “ten-minute office visit.” There is ample discussion about the LGBT provider, navigation of coming out in the system, staying out, and helping colleagues with the coming-out process. The Guide is not simplistic about the value and risk still inherent in being out in today’s health care environment. There are good legal, professional, educational, and support resources.

Health care professionals and consumers alike must take the opportunity to educate with this book. We recommend it for coursework in universities, libraries in health care institutions, and reference book shelves in offices everywhere. Similarly, we challenge organizations to develop non-discrimination policies in practice and employment. The Guide gives helpful suggestions for doing this.

This book can shape a paradigm for health care that is sensitive to our needs as patients and as people. The majority of LGBT patients and clinicians will not have access to the resources offered in urban centers. Therefore, all clinicians need to develop an LGBT health care vocabulary because we are everywhere.

And I have to tell you, I love the rainbow umbrella on the cover.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Jeff Huyett is a contributing editor to White Crane and a nurse practitioner in NYC.  His clinical work has primarily been in Queer Health with a focus on HIV, rectal and Transgender care.  He is the Radical Faerie Daisy Shaver and is involved with the development of Faerie Camp Destiny Radical Sanctuary in Vermont.  He can be reached at  He writes the "Owner’s Manual" health column in each issue.