Category Archives: WC75 – Bears

WC75 – Table of Contents

75_bearcover
White Crane Issue #75

THE BEARABLE
RIGHTNESS OF BEING

Hey there.  Below are excerpts from our Winter Bear issue.  Please understand that we rely on the support of subscribers to keep going.
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Columns

Frank Talk
“Strangelove: Or How I Finally Learned To Stop Worrying & Love The Bears”  by Frank Jackson
Owner’s Manual
“Hitting thePause Button”  by Jeff Huyett

PRAXIS  “Bear Essentials” by Andrew Ramer

Departments

Call for Submissions
Letters to the Editors
Contribution Information
Subscriber Information

75wuvableoafTaking Issue

Dracaena  Art by Joe Pop
Bear Spirit  Les Wright
Getting To Know My Beast  Ed Ehrgott
Beards, Body Hair & Brawn:
Reflections of a Muscle Bear
  Jeff Mann
Self Portrait  Art by Steven Miller
Self Portrait  Art by Pi
Wuvable Oaf Comics by Ed Luce
Embracing The Bear  Jeffrey Michels
Mid-Morning  Art by Frank Muzzy
When The Bears Go Over The Mountain Ron Suresha

Poetry

"Sexual History, with action figures" by Ed Madden
"Before Spring But After New Years" by Keith Jenkins

Culture Reviews

Toby Johnson on Steve Berman’s Vintage: A Ghost Story
Kim Roberts on Walt Whitman’s Franklin Evans
Toby Johnson on Kitt Cherry’s
Art That Dares:  Gay Jesus, Woman Christ and More

Jason Mayernick on Sandor Katz’s
The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved!

Toby Johnson on Mark Tedesco’s
That Undeniable Longing: My Road To and From the Priesthood

WC75 – Letters to the Editors

LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

A Glimpse of a Gay Brother

I just finished reading Ms. Schneider’s remembrance and celebration of her dear friend David in Issue #73 of White Crane.

I never knew of either of these people until now and yet here I am with tears in my eyes at the pleasure of the description of his life and also the loss of such a life-loving man and the passing of such a beautiful friendship of which his and K.G.’s would be one of many, though I’m sure a very treasured one. Her writing is beautiful, glowing and emotive and I’d really like to thank her for giving me a glimpse into her world and that of her ‘Gay brother’ David.

Bless you both.

STEPHEN WATSON
Brighton, United Kingdom

The Importance of Health

I was very pleased to see in the Summer ‘07 White Crane that you are running a regular column on Health. I suspect we agree that the subject is critical for each of us as individuals and increasingly I think the subject will be critical for us as groups. Perhaps the best way we can become and stay healthy is to form a collective place and space both to evaluate what is good and to help us maintain the insight and discipline needed for good health.

My specific interest in this approach concerns Gay seniors and their retirement. A group of us in Austin, Texas have formed the Lambda Retirement Community, Inc. that is designed to help us deal productively with the many issues of growing old. We have discussed the potential of group health insurance; of the value of group knowledge and support to eat healthy, exercise and fight off the many temptations that lead to apathy and obesity; of learning and contributing to a green life; of creating a framework where the young and old can meet and grow; etc. Generally, of creating an environment where we can grow old as slowly as possible with grace and dignity and die when we want to.

I look forward to Jeff Huyett’s contribution in White Crane. Thanks to you, Jeff, specifically and to the editorial staff generally for this feature.

Hugs all,
DELAYNE HUDSPETH
Austin, Texas

www.lambdaretirementcommunity.org 

Age Appropriate

I am wondering if this magazine is appropriate for a 16 year old.
Please let me know your thoughts,

KATHLEEN C.
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Bo Responds:

I suppose the short answer would be: it depends on the 16-year-old.  White Crane is collected in major universities and public libraries across the United States and Europe.  In 2004 we were an Utne Independent Press Nominee for spirituality coverage, in the same category with Commonweal and Sojourners.  So if this 16-year-old might read Sojourners, for example, I’m sure he would find us of interest. My own now 21-year-old nephew and 17-year-old niece have read White Crane since they were about 15 and 12, respectively (and their mother, a family physician, puts it on the waiting room table in her medical practice in Wisconsin).

On the other hand, we’re not a pop culture magazine, so any sixteen year olds (or 46 year olds) looking for the latest dish on what’s-his-name from N’sync, or what the new hot “must-have” piece of fashion is likely to be disappointed. We’re not interested in Gay people as a marketing niche. For that reason, we don’t do advertising. Any displays you see in our pages are for people, goods and services that we believe to be in keeping with our educational mission. Each issue is themed. Past themes have been “Generation Conversation,” “Bohemia,” “Friends,” and “Lovers.” Upcoming themes include “Race & Identity,” “Bears & Body Image,” “Ancestors,” “Communities,” and “Sanctuary.”

We aren’t inclined to the objectification of the human body — male or female — but we are sex-positive. By that I mean we occasionally have a subject that might lead a writer (we are reader-written) to talk about his penis, his sexual life, etc. But we’re not publishing it for its prurient value. I wouldn’t say it is a predominant theme in every issue, but it does come up.  We think it’s healthy to talk about sex, sexuality, connections with other people, and connections with ourselves, body and mind.

The latter two of those subjects (connections with other people, connections with ourselves) would also qualify (along with connections with the world) as our definition of “spirituality.” White Crane began as a newsletter among Gay men to discuss spirituality. We aimed not to be ‘prescriptive,’ but descriptive. We didn’t want to take “sides” and say this spiritual path or that spiritual path was better or worse. What we wanted was to trust our readers to describe what worked for them and what didn’t and encouraging them to take that which worked and leave the rest behind.

Finally, our mission (we are a 501c3 educational corporation…contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law) is to assert and demonstrate that same-sex people are a critical part of the evolution of life on Earth. We’re of the opinion, supported by a fairly vast amount of historical evidence (biblical misinterpretation and misappropriations notwithstanding) that same-sex oriented individuals have served a very real purpose in society, and that the denial of this deranges not only Gay people, but society as well.

We don’t “believe” in evolution…because Evolution is not a matter of belief. It’s science. You weigh evidence and accept it or not. We understand it not as theory, but as a proven fact. And part of that fact is this: nothing survives in Nature that doesn’t serve Nature and species survival. Ergo, there must be some evolutionary reason that same-sex people have existed across time and cultures and species. Plainly there must be some evolutionary, survival purpose. The joke we share is that if the ultimate “purpose” of heterosexuality is the continuation of the gene pool, then the purpose of homosexuality is to make sure it’s Olympic-sized, with lanes, and nice towels, a round-the-clock lifeguard is on duty and a nice poolside tiki bar.

More to the point, there are demonstrable social roles that have been played by same-sex people in cultures across history. Some of these archetypes include the mediator, the shaman, the clown, the contrary and the teacher. White Crane believes that the most valuable thing taken from a people is their history. History is always the story told by the “winner,” so we are frequently a people constantly coming out of erasure.

So much of our interest in the magazine and other publishing we do (we also publish books) is exactly what precipitated this exchange between you and me: i.e. how do we pass along a culture and wisdom to the next generation of Gay people when we are (largely) not a procreative community? Many of our recent issues have been devoted in some manner to what we call "the generation conversation." There are many facets to this, but clearly one of them is young men (and their parents) are afraid that mature Gay men are purely predatory (we’re not) and, frankly, mature Gay men are afraid of being taken advantage of, as well. So where do we create safe space for the conduct of intergenerational conversations? Mentoring? etc. We hope to be making a small space for that to happen in our pages.

In the wider picture, White Crane also sponsors cultural programming that is touring to LGBT Community Centers across the U.S. We sponsor the Gay Men’s Health Leadership academies and spiritual retreats in various places around the U.S., too. And we recently took on the sponsorship of a documentary film, Standing on the Bones of Our Elders. We also do a daily Gay Wisdom email list, which is usually a “This Day in Gay History” listing of people and events that happened on a particular day, along with accompanying essays and writings from the archives of the magazine (we’ve been publishing for 18 years).

I hope that begins to answer your question. Obviously there’s a lot to say — that’s why we publish a magazine! I feel a little like Francis P. Church, in The New York Sun: “Yes Virginia, there is a Gay culture." I respect that you would write and ask on behalf of what I assume is your son. Sadly, my guess is most 16-year-olds would find reading White Crane more like homework than recreational reading, unless they were unusual 16-year-olds. We do seek to challenge and inform readers. You don’t see many 16-year-olds evincing an interest in history, anthropology and poetry, to name a few of the areas in which we are interested. But if yours is, we’re the magazine for him!

Cordially,
BO YOUNG

WC75 – Jeff Mann

MannThis is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.    Subscribe today!

…As for animality, I remember the exact moment I realized that several physical features I find most arousing in men are simply those that make them mammals. It was the first day of a Mammalogy course in the Forestry Department I took my senior year of college. As soon as I entered the classroom, I noticed and began longing wildly after a classmate, a broad-shouldered, big-chested guy named Kevin with shaggy black hair and a full midnight-black beard. Just about the time I focused on the sight of Kevin’s nipples barely and temptingly visible through the fabric of his tight T-shirt, the professor began discussing the traits that made mammals unique. Warm blood, fur, and nipples were the ones that grabbed me; needless to say, I didn’t care about live birth. Kevin’s naked body warmth, hard and tasty nipples, black beard, and vividly imagined chest hair were already the objects of fantasy. It was then that the amateur biologist in me had this revelation: Kevin’s mammality, his animality, were what was firing me up.

Not for nothing that the bear clan is named after a wild animal, for we are simply more honest about our beast-bodies than most. As many have pointed out, furriness represents on some level our inner beast, our inner wildness so fenced in and domesticated by civilization, our Id so frequently scolded stupid by our Superego. The fur on other men and on myself reminds me of that animal, its needs, the wisdom of making peace with it, of celebrating it. Dismissing the beast is impossible. Jung pointed that out when he discussed the Shadow and the imperative need of incorporating and facing it, not banishing it. Bear sex, leather sex, rough sex are all ways of coming to terms with the odd mixture of wild and domesticated, animal and human, we all are, so it makes simple sense that what I find most sexually appealing in men is what most marks them as animals.

These observations might also help to make sense of an odd sign often posted in bear or leather bars: NO COLOGNE. Many bears I know, including myself, detest perfumes and colognes as artificial blights; the scents leap from our noses to our tongues and nauseate us. Many of us love instead the musky natural smell of a man: it’s an aphrodisiac, a true pheromone. A ripe and furry armpit becomes an erotic adventure. Biology again: what’s attracting us is animal aroma. (To me, man-musk smells like cumin. I remember once entering a friend’s kitchen, catching an arousing armpit whiff, thinking to myself, “Um, yum!  Some ripe man’s in here somewhere!” only to discover that what I was randily snuffling after was a bag of cumin seeds on the kitchen counter.)

What is essential in animals is, finally, flesh and appetite. A New York City bear-chaser buddy I know recently told me that when he thought of bears, he thought of satisfied appetites. This may be because, when he visits me here in the mountains of Virginia, in what I jokingly call my B&D B&B, his hungers for good food, drink, and sex are entirely sated. (Sorry — I can’t help but boast.) Still, he has a point. If bears are honest animals, animals are honest hedonists. The animal flesh has urges; the animal satisfies those urges if circumstances permit.

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 Mann is a poet, writer and teacher.  He recently won a Lambda Literary Award for his book History of Barbed Wire.  White Crane interviewed Mann about his memoir/poetry collection Loving Mountains, Loving Men in issue #68.  He is the author of numerous great books of poetry including On The Tongue, Bones Washed With Wine, Flintshards from Sussex and Mountain Fireflies.  He teaches in the writing program at Virginia Tech.

WC75 – Les Wright

75joepop_dracaena

BEAR SPIRIT
By Les Wright

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.    Subscribe today! 

My own path to heart-centered Gay men’s tribal community has taken many circuitous side routes. I found it only after I stopped looking and allowed it to find me. My civil war is over. I am creating a place in this new Billy community, where I am seen as a Gay warrior and spiritual healer. As my heart continues, however falteringly, to heal and become free and open to the world, I begin anew, post-AIDS Holocaust, to embrace my Gay/queer brothers.

“Welcome home, Billy!” is how they greeted me. When, in a tribal drumming and chanting ceremony my remaining defenses shattered, I knew I was finally reborn, and invited to embody and give voice to the Gay archetype of bear. I have bene pondering “bear spirit” ever since.

Having always been drawn to older men, as mentors and lovers, I suddenly realize I have become the sort of older man I have always been drawn to. I now turn and face back, reaching out to my younger Gay brothers, just as I continue to reach out to my own mentors among the community elders. I’m just beginning to learn: I can leave a trail of crumbs behind me, as one elder kindly admonishes, but I cannot leave a trail ahead of me.
I am no longer imprisoned by old scripts, if I so choose. Unscripted means I have to fly by the seat of my pants. A lifetime’s preparation — of overcoming psychological compartmentalization and fragmentation, of groping blindly, backsliding and willfully self-sabotaging, of emotions frozen or out of control, of personal will paralyzed, thwarted, run amok, or liberated from — has now transformed me. At 54, I begin to take my place in my community. And I begin to understand, from a broader perspective of the evolution of queer men’s spirituality, the legacy of homoerotic community: we are perpetually engaged in liberating ourselves and each other, generation after generation.

Audre Lorde has long been a muse and mentor. When she wrote (in “Litany for Survival”) “For those of us / who were imprinted with fear / … learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk,” I understood. All my life I had been taught to mistrust — straight people, Gay people, my sense of home, my mission in life, even who I am. As I now learn to trust, for the first time, I am able to enter into tribal community.

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!

Les Wright lives in San Francisco.  He is the editor of The Bear Book I & II.

WC75 – Ron Suresha

Suresha

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.    Subscribe today!

In my Introduction to Bears on Bears in 2001 I wrote, “I am not a bear. I am Homo sapiens, of course — a thickly hairy-chested, usually full-bearded, increasingly middle-age-paunched, and balding gay man.”

Six years greyer, furrier, paunchier, and balder, I’m still questioning my identity as a Bear, while bearing witness to the strange continuing emergence of Bear subculture just as it continues infiltrating the higher strata of mainstream pop culture.

The existential question “Am I a Bear?” has always reflected a questioning of masculine identity by men like myself, who in answering that affirmatively, construct a intensely creative male body image. As bears, we have define ourselves as distinct from gay. We invented a new vocubulary and an eroticized bear code, composed music and photography and artwork which celebrated the bear body, wrote articles and novels which reinforced our sense of community, and made film pilots and movie subplots that affirmed bear bodies.

We watched an ever-growing network of bear clubs and businesses and websites and communities and circuit events around the world until it reached the golden shore of mainstream identity — during filmmaker (Clerks, Dogma) and author Kevin Smith’s Sept. 27th appearance on David Letterman.

∆ ∆ ∆

Forming bear identity was to me organic to my presence in the first community of bears and bikers in which I lived and loved in late 1980s San Francisco. While working at the Lone Star Saloon, for six months I found myself in a turbulent romance with Chris Nelson, the first photographer for Bear magazine.

While we lived together in the apartment next to the former Bear magazine offices, Chris introduced me to bears, pornography, and drugs, and in turn I introduced him to yoga and Buddhist philosophy.

Chris’s copies of his 1991 book of erotic bear photography, The Bear Cult, arrived while I was living with Chris, and unlike me, he was shy as an author, content to have a shelf lined with 75 copies of his bright yellow books and loathe to do anything for publicity.

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!

Ron Suresha is the author of Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions, Bear Lust, and Bearotica.

WC75 – Praxis by Andrew Ramer

Andrewramer_sep_2Bear Essentials
PRAXIS from Andrew Ramer

Bears were on my mind for the Winter 2005 issue, when our theme was Totem Animals. Oscar Wilde must surely have said something about the pleasure of quoting yourself, so I shall, from that issue, which seems a perfect introduction to what I have to say two winters later:

My spiritual life began two weeks after my mother’s mother died, when I was in fifth grade. I’d just gotten into bed and was about to turn off the light on the bookcase beside me – when my beloved grandmother appeared at the foot of my bed. Nothing like a movie ghost, she was solid and looked younger than I’d ever seen her, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a dress more elegant than anything she’d worn in life. Smiling, she said one sentence to me, then vanished: “Always remember that we belong to the bear clan.”

Even though I had no idea what she was talking about at the time, my grandmother seeded in me a love of bears that continues to this day. A small black iron bear that I bought on Castro Street sits among pictures of her and other ancestors. Not too long ago, stroking my facial hair, a friend said, “You’re too thin to be a bear. What are you?” Taking into consideration the habitually dark circles under my eyes, (a genetic trait according to my doctor; a sign of chronic stress by my acupuncturist), the friend decided I’m a raccoon.

Not much chance I’ll be at the forefront of a new movement. Bears have a certain clout that raccoons lack. Bear skulls have been found on stone altars in some of the earliest archaeological sites. Several years ago one of my guides told me that when Earth was deciding to generate sentient land life it chose primates as its first choice and bears as the backup, should the primate experiment fail. To this day, I was told, bears stand at the doorway to possibility for all of us, not to mention that they do stand, rendering them humanish in form, unlike most other animals.

Researching bears I discovered a few things I didn’t know. There are seven species of bears which evolved from dog-like ancestors. Imagine that! Male and female bears look alike. They are omnivores. In cold weather bears retreat to their caves or dens, but they don’t actually hibernate like some species. Instead, bears enter a period of torpor, which has inspired cultures all around the planet to connect them with dreaming and dreamtime.

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!

Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator.  He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic  Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men  from White Crane Books.

Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.

WC75 – Owner’s Manual – Jeff Huyett

Hitting the Pause Button
By Jeff Huyett

Pausing life for a few minutes can be like hitting pause on a DVD. We step out of the story and can reflect on our place within it. Without a narrative telling us what to feel or think, we can listen to what we hear from within. I routinely ask patients about the way they relax. Often, they tell me that they relax by going to a movie, watching television or reading a book. You can rest your body this way but your mind is still engaged with something exogenous. When do I clear my mind to listen to my body? Are there subtle sensations and discomfort I didn’t notice? When I do stop, become physically relaxed with my mind empty of clutter, how do I feel about myself as a person? What outside stressors in my day-to-day living really matter in the bigger picture of who I am?

This summer I had the opportunity to quit my full-time employment and spend most of my time living at Faerie Camp Destiny. Destiny is the Southern Vermont jewel in the necklace of Faerie Sanctuaries around the globe. The faeries there are building a timberframe and strawbale kitchen. I spend as much time as I can laboring, hanging out, and making music on 166 acres of mountainside woods. My days there are influenced by only a few people. The daily chores of living on a rough commune became the ritual of the place. There is always a little tending to daily food preparation, dish washing, gardening, and water hauling. But in a collective groove these tasks dissipate through the numbers and chores become simple.

At Destiny, my body feels relaxed and typically devoid of any tensions in my neck or my mind. When stressors arise, I am very aware of them. I simply attempt to diffuse them and my body and mind are back to their "baseline" place. Things feel well and right. I can cope with any obstacles in my day or my carpentry work. When I  am rested and make music with the faeries, art comes pouring out of me. In sleep, my dreams seem more vivid in sight and sound. I remember them in the morning. Twice this summer I had flying dreams that were so real to me that, when I awoke, I had that woozy feeling of centrifugal force.

In August I started working a few days a week at the queer health center in NYC. I spend two to four days in the city and head back up to Vermont each weekend. The contrast is sometimes startling but very instructive. Drinking coffee before work on the roof of my loft, I look at the view of Manhattan. The vista is breath-taking and gives me such a deep sense of awe first thing in the morning. I get the same open, expansive feeling I have at Destiny. Then, something happens. I become aware of the time and a schedule descends on my self. I tense up as a list of morning accomplishments forms in my head. I need to prepare to leave, get on a subway, call so-and-so, then arrive to work on time and keep on schedule all day. All of the sudden, I’m governed by a sense outside of me that takes my mind out of my body. The expectations of the day seem to compel me from without instead of the desires from within. A sense of irritation begins to bubble within me.

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!

Owner’s Manual is a regular feature of White Crane. Jeff Huyett is 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 and can be reached at JeffANP@aol.com

WC75 – Frank Talk – Strangelove

20071221_152236STRANGELOVE
Or How I Finally Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bears

By Frank Jackson

This is only an excerpt…

I think when you come out — and I think I’ve said this before — you should get a goddamn handbook. And somewhere in chapter two should be a play-by-play guide to the prostate and its pleasures. O, the rapture! O, the joy! And oh, shit, why didn’t anyone tell me about this? The first time I really experienced “the other orgasm,” it blew my mind way more than blowing my wad ever did. Jesus Christ and Mary as well, it was beautiful. The screaming, the gnashing, the gyrating, the whole damn lot of it — why had I not been told? I had always assumed (don’t laugh too loud at me here) that bottoms were just generous; they just liked to give their bodies for the pleasure of others. I know, I know, the ignorance of the young. But how was I supposed to know? I’m sure someone must’ve written “Frank Talk” for the 1990s (okay, maybe the 1980s), but I sure hadn’t read it.

And then I got angry at all those clueless, inconsiderate tops — some of them far more experienced than I, and thus, I thought, knowledgeable in the ways of men and their asses. What the hell was wrong with them? No fingering first? No finding the Sweet Spot? No waiting for a minute, then going slowly, then going faster, then going holy shit that’s fast oh my god yes do it please oh god yes, and then going slower again….?
So no wonder I wasn’t a bottom; I’d never been properly fucked. To think that I really thought it was just about generosity… I’m telling you, when word about the prostate gets out to the general public, we’re gonna have a whole lot more guys out at Fire Island. (Just what Fire Island needs: more bottoms!)

But for me, it took years. It took me a long time to like bottoming, and thus a long time to admit that I liked it more than topping (which I still do, and still enjoy, but not as much as getting fucked). And, surprise, surprise, as I grew to understand and accept myself, I stopped chasing after the twinks as much. 

Now, as my friends know, I still go for the Tadzios and Timberlakes of the world, and, for whatever reason, I still prefer them in my porn. But when I’m out cruising, I’ve come to like more… mature men. I wouldn’t say I’m into bears specifically – I’m not – but I’m sure not anti-. When I see a man, while of course part of me still looks for a certain physical ‘type,’ a bigger part of me tries to imagine him fucking my goddamn brains out. And that means looking beyond the boys.

I know, obviously, that bears are just as often bottoms as tops (more often, in my experience), and that sometimes the delicate twink turns out to be the piledriver in bed. But what I’m talking about is something deeper (pardon the pun) – energetic, even. It’s about accepting that sometimes what I want is a man to take me, not a boy to take me by the hand. I still think boys look better, aesthetically speaking, but fucking is not really about aesthetics, and as I’ve come to know myself more, I’ve come to desire properties other than body shape or smoothness. Not out of charity, or out of some bogus-enlightened equanimity among bodies, but out of my pure, selfish, holy desire to get fucked and fucked again.

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!

Frank Jackson is an itinerant meta-theologian living in the arcadian wilds of New York State.  Frank Talk  is a semi-regular feature of White Crane.

WC75 – Review of Steve Berman’s Vintage

Rvu_berman_vintage Vintage:  A Ghost Story
By Steve Berman
Haworth Positronic Press,
Paperback, 150 pages, $12.95
Reviewed by Toby Johnson

Steve Berman, author of Vintage, has become an integral member of the White Crane family in the past year. In addition to being a writer, Berman is also an activist in Gay genre publishing and a very competent editor. My own writing has benefited significantly from his literary astuteness and advice.

To publish a collection of his own short stories, Trysts: A Triskaidecollection of Queer and Weird Stories, in 2000, riding the wave of the Internet and state-of-the-art desktop publishing, Berman established Lethe Press out of his discovery of how desktop publishing has created a new kind of publishing industry, one built on literary experimentation through print-on-demand technology, not big-money investing in blockbuster pop hits.

Berman also saw a mission in keeping Gay classics in print and available to Gay booksellers and the internet connected public. Because my book Gay Spirituality was one of the first such books Lethe selected to save from oblivion when Alyson, though a Gay-owned company, declared it “out-of-print” despite its winning a Lammy, I forged a connection with Steve Berman. Gay spirituality titles were especially likely to be declared O.P. after a short life because they appeal to a limited audience. And, of course, part of the whole enterprise of the Gay Spirituality Movement is to keep alive Gay wisdom in order to validate and redeem our hidden history. So Lethe Press’s mission made great sense. And Steve Berman’s facility with state-of-the-art publishing made him a logical partner. He knew how to do it and he had established business relationships with distributors and booksellers across the country. White Crane’s current editors, Bo Young and Dan Vera, have now concretized that connection in forming White Crane Books as an imprint of Lethe Press. In every issue of White Crane now readers will likely find a full page ad for White Crane Books and Lethe Press titles.

Steve Berman had his own supernatural thriller Vintage published by Harrington Park Press. Vintage is “a smart and stylish work of contemporary Gay fantasy with a gothic twist,” the back cover advertises. As the subtitle reveals, it is a ghost story. In some ways, the novel follows the accepted conventions of the ghost story: an unhappy soul haunts a section of highway not realizing that he is dead and so causes problems for the living, the plot of the novel is how the ghost is allowed to rest. But Berman’s added a neat twist — actually two twists. The first is that the main characters who experience the haunting and then try to do something to help the ghost are modern day goth teenagers with a penchant for dressing outlandishly in black (with maybe a little mascara for effect), drinking and drugging with reckless abandon, and driving their parents crazy. The novel is told in the first person of one of these teenagers; Berman has got the jargon and voice down pat to introduce the reader to this goth Holden Caufield with a cellphone and taste for ecstasy and peppermint schnapps.

The second twist is that the main character is Gay; he’s living with a liberal-minded aunt because his uptight parents told him to leave when his homosexuality was made embarrassingly public. He’s got a job working in a retro fashions and used clothing store and made friends with several teenage girls, including a young Lesbian couple, who frequent the store looking for goth costumery. And the ghost that’s haunting the highway on the outskirts of town was himself a teenager of the 1950s who died mysteriously after his own homosexuality was made embarrassingly public — maybe he was murdered; maybe by the guy he was in love with; maybe in an act of homophobia.

There are twists and turns in the plot. The resolution is delightfully satisfying. Even the ghost is happy by the end and can go to his rest. And the teenagers turn their goth fascinations toward adulthood.

The most interesting and well-written section of the story revolves around the protagonist’s infatuation with the ghost — and the ghost’s with him. It’s not giving away too much to reveal that the ghost died longing for love and conflicted about his sexuality and so when the goth teenager shows up dealing with the same issues, a strange relationship develops. The description of their lovemaking is both arousing and exciting and creepy and, literally, chilling. For the ghost’s affections turn out to suck the life and warmth out of the living boy and he has to struggle against his own conflicts with growing up Gay to avoid following the ghost into icy death.

Vintage: A Ghost Story isn’t exactly a White Crane Book of Gay wisdom. But it certainly plays on the Gay interest with consciousness on the margins. It’s a fast read, entertaining, and just delightfully chilling. The reader too will be happy, warmed up, and satisfied when the steaming hot peppermint-flavored cocoa is served at the end — and Gay love saves the day.

Toby Johnson is the author and editor of countless fine books like Gay Spirituality, Charmed Lives and Secret Matter.  He is also former publisher of White Crane Journal and White Crane’s current Reviews editor. Visit him at www.tobyjohnson.com

WC75 – Review of Walt Whitman’s Franklin Evans

Rvu_whitmanfranklinevansFranklin Evans, or
The Inebriate, A Tale of the Times

By Walt Whitman
Duke University Press
Paperback, 147 pages, $21.95
ISBN-10: 0822339420 
Reviewed by Kim Roberts

Long before Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass, he wrote a novel, Franklin Evans, or the Inebriate, a Tale of the Times. Roundly scorned by Whitman’s biographers and critics, and disavowed later in life by Whitman himself (who claimed to have written it while drunk), the novel has been treated mostly as a curiosity. Now Duke University has brought Franklin Evans back into print with a handsome edition containing a fine introduction, two related short stories by Whitman, and Lincoln’s temperance address of 1842, edited by Christopher Castiglia and Glenn Handler. The question remains: will this book be of any interest to general readers, or is Franklin Evans only for academics and Whitman scholars?  The answer is: only somewhat.

When first published, Franklin Evans appeared not as a bound book, but as a newspaper supplement to the New World in December 1842. Released in large-format folio size, it sold for 12 ½ cents a copy. And it sold well — approximately 20,000 copies — making the novel by far the most widely read of Whitman’s work during his lifetime.

Readers interested primarily in the social history of the country will find much here that is compelling. The temperance movement was the first wide-spread social reform movement in the United States, and the novel’s greatest claim to interest from a wider readership comes from what it reveals about that movement.

Temperance stories were the bodice-rippers of the 1840s.  Under the guise of moral uplift, they treated readers to graphic scenes of violence and crime, featuring such underworld characters as prostitutes, thieves, wife-batterers, and the like. These stories titillated readers while adhering to a strict formula tracing an individual’s downfall and degradation as his alcoholic consumption worsens, then providing a happy ending thanks to his reform and the signing of a temperance pledge. Whitman sticks to the conventions for the most part, combining sensationalism with rank sentiment. But he tacks on some of his own additions as well: a marriage to a former slave, the loss of an investment to a swindler, the saving of a drowning child — and, for our happy ending, the completely unmerited inheritance of a fortune from a dying acquaintance.

Anyone familiar with Whitman’s democratic idealism will be surprised by several elements of the novel.  These include a defense of slavery. Whitman’s narrator tells of a sojourn in Virginia, and his host Mr. Bourne, a “gentleman planter” who “became convinced of the fallacy of many of those assertions which are brought against slavery in the south.  He beheld, it is true, a large number of men and women in bondage; but he could not shut his eyes to the fact, that they would be far more unhappy, if possessed of freedom. He saw them well taken care of—with shelter and food, and every necessary means of comfort…”

Also surprising is Whitman’s warning of the evils of urban life. We are used to thinking of Whitman as a celebrator of cities, but in Franklin Evans he says repeatedly that they are “pestilent places, where the mind and the body are both rendered effeminate together” by "the dangers that surround our young men" who can so easily be ensnared “with the seductive enchantments which have been thrown around the practice of intoxication.”

One character, Mr. Lee, warns the narrator from the back of a carriage, even before he has entered New York for the first time: “You are taking a dangerous step, young man.  The place in which you are about to fix your abode, is very wicked, and as deceitful as it is wicked. There will be a thousand vicious temptations besetting you on every side, which the simple method of your country life has led you to know nothing of. Young men, in our cities, think much more of dress than they do of decent behavior. You will find, when you go among them, that whatever remains of integrity you have, will be laughed and ridiculed out of you. It is considered ‘green’ not to be up to all kinds of dissipation, and familiar with debauchery and intemperance.  And it is the latter which will assail you on every side, and which if you yield to it, will send you back from the city, a bloated and weak creature, to die among your country friends, and be laid in a drunkard’s grave; or which will too soon end your days in some miserable street in the city itself. It is indeed a dangerous step!”

Whitman even condemns boarding houses, which he himself continued to live in for most of his adult life. His reformed narrator, at the end of the novel, asserts: “Boarding-houses are no more patronized by me…The comforts of a home are to be had in very few of these places; and I have often thought that the cheerless method of their accommodations drives many a young man to the bar-room, or to some other place of public resort, when the road to habits of intoxication is but too easy.” He goes further, adding this ironic vote for heterosexuality: “I would advise every young man to marry as soon as possible, and have a home of his own.”

The reader can certainly complain of lots of bad writing here. Franklin Evans does its share of sermonizing and finger-wagging. The novel is too quick to veer off onto tangents. The women characters are all one-dimensional. And a couple of times, the point of view changes abruptly from a subjective first-person to an omniscient narrator.

But there are also glimpses of the young poet’s developing voice. The novel reveals a belief in the power of words to change the lives and influence the actions of individual readers, most of whom would have come from the working class. Joined with more original language, this conviction would give Leaves of Grass, written a decade later, its passion and force.

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!

Kim Roberts edits Beltway Poetry Quarterly and  is the author of Wishbone Galaxy and the recently published The Kimnama.  Visit online at www.kimroberts.org

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