This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story

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This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by author Kheryn Callender focuses on the messy complexities of romance, friend-love and parental love in all of its frustrating, confusing forms.

Seattle-raised sixteen-year-old high school junior Nathan Bird, stuck mending a broken arm in the middle of the school year, is trying to navigate the world around him with the help of his best friend and ex-girlfriend Florence.

An aspiring filmmaker who’s afraid he has no real talent and who’s realistic about happy endings, Nate’s been avoiding anything approaching romance since Flo cheated on him with her current girlfriend, Lydia – a relationship that’s currently on the rocks.

Out of guilt, at least in part, for the end romantic relationship, Flo decides it’s her mission to help Nate lose his virginity before he turns seventeen, to his great embarrassment. Flo’s mission might come to fruition, for Nate is hiding a slowly developing crush on Oliver James Hernandez, a budding photographer and his former childhood best friend.

This is Kind of an Epic Love Story is true to its title. It’s definitely an epic love story with ups and downs and many trials, both internal and external, for is main character Nathan.

The book is unabashedly queer and intersectional. It explores diversity as it relates to race, sex, socioeconomic status, deaf culture, and more.  If you love stories with a focus on relationships and all kinds of romance this book is for you. If you’re not into that kind of drama, it may not be completely your cup of tea.

Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities

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After becoming blind in his late 20s, Belo Miguel Cipriani found himself in search of disability stories. “As a gay teen,” he writes in his introduction:

I found great comfort in the writings of Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, and Edmund White. So, it felt pretty natural to seek comfort in literature once I learned the rest of my life would be spent in darkness.

After countless hours of audiobooks, though, he was struck by “how little discussion there is of the rites of passage of people with disabilities.” This was the genesis for Firsts, his anthology of coming-of-age stories by writers with disabilities, published in October by Oleb Books. But Cipriani’s book does not simply tell the stories of how these writers’ disabilities happened, it tells about the firsts in their lives. Their firsts in independence, first jobs, schooling. Love. Sex. This review will focus on essays by three LGBTQ contributors to the anthology: Caitlin Hernandez, David-Elijah Nahmod, and Andrew Gurza.

“Star Words,” by David-Elijah Nahmod, begins with Nahmod’s early, relatively happy childhood in an Arab/Jewish family. “We were Jews but we were also Arabs,” he writes. “We were hardly the All-American, Caucasian family my parents fervently believed themselves to be.” Upsetting this life is Nahmod’s enthusiasm for a movie musical, which leads his parents to believe (correctly) that he’s gay. As Nahmod puts it, “I was branded for life.” In 1964, at the age of eight, he was committed to a Children’s Psychiatric Ward at the advice of a rabbi. During three months in the hospital, he was treated with Thorazine (now banned for use on children) and received electroconvulsive therapy. This left Nahmod, in his words, “an emotional wreck.”

A fascination with TV and movies just may have saved him. It motivated him to interview a disabled cast member of the TV show Passions, who became a big inspiration to Nahmod. And in spite of a discomfort with crowds, Nahmod has carved out a career as a writer and interviewer.

Caitlin Hernandez’ essay, “Landmines,” follows her efforts to find love and sex despite her blindness. Much of her essay is also about a male friend, to whom she becomes close. As they are both gay, the relationship is, to say the least, complicated:

The hopelessness of the situation was, to my mind, absolute. We’d each loved both men and women but I’d been with more women and he’d been with more men. He was excited and carefree about love; I was frightened and cautious.

Nonetheless, there are touching, loving, and funny moments between them, such as going to a concert where she sits behind a pillar (“I figured you wouldn’t mind taking one for the team,” her friend says), walking and talking together, and eventually, making love. “I’d taken a chance,” she writes, “a wild, graceless leap off a long-feared precipice—and not only was I intact, I was better for having leapt.”

Andrew Gurza’s essay, “Baring It All,” is at times funny and at times brutal in its story of Gurza leaving home for college and his quest for sex. This is another difference in Firsts: most books do not talk about people with disabilities having sex lives. This one does. Gurza opens the essay describing the routines his caregivers would go through to bathe and dress him daily, and how being naked in front of other people was something he had become used to living with cerebral palsy.

“I wanted so badly to be touched in a way that was different than I had ever been before,” he writes. “In my head I had fantastical daydreams of being swept up out of my wheelchair feverishly and undressed by a beautiful man who wanted me just as much as I wanted him.”

He makes contact online with someone, laying bare his desires and his disability. The resulting encounter is everything Gurza wished for, but it comes to a shattering conclusion, one that eventually changes him. “Ultimately, though, being naked for the first time with a man was a stepping stone for me as a queer, disabled man,” he says.

Cipriani’s anthology is at times entertaining, but it is moments like these that make it truly inspirational. The essays in Firsts are a well-written blend of funny, sad, informative, and ultimately life-affirming personal stories, and the collection is recommended highly.

via Lambda Literary

Many banned books in the U.S. challenged for queer content

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More than half of the top 11 most frequently challenged and banned books of 2018 include LGBTQ content, according to a report released Monday by the American Library Association.

“Books for youth with LGBTIQ+ content are consistently on our list of most challenged books; this trend goes back to the mid-1990’s, when Nancy Garden’s ‘Annie on my Mind’ was banned by a school board in Texas,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, interim director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement. “That said, we are noticing a greater number of challenges to books with LGBTIQ+ content, especially those that have transgender characters and themes.”

In 2017, four of the top 10 banned books were challenged for LGBTQ content, and in 2016, five were challenged for this reason.

George,” a coming-of-age story by Alex Gino, topped this year’s list. The award-winning, young-adult novel is about a transgender girl coming to terms with her gender identity. This is the third consecutive year “George” made the ALA’s “Most Challenged Books” list, which is part of the association’s annual “State of America’s Libraries Report.”

According to the report, “George” has been repeatedly “banned, challenged, and relocated” because it’s “believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones.” The ALA also noted there were complaints about the book for “mentioning ‘dirty magazines,’ describing male anatomy, ‘creating confusion,’ and including a transgender character.”

Read on…

More Happy Than Not

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Part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, part Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Adam Silvera’s debut More Happy Than Not confronts race, class, and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again—but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

More Happy Than Not is, in the simplest interpretation, a novel of self-acceptance, a description that surely attaches to 90 percent of all young adult fiction ever written. But it also tells us something else: that misery, while it is always available to be romanticized (and, of course, romanticizing misery remains a default position for countless 15-year-olds), is at the same time something that cannot be disposed of.

That sounds as if it might lead to trite messaging along the lines of “All that makes us suffer makes us stronger.” But what Silvera is saying is different, and profound: Hardship should always be kept close, so that we know happiness when we find it.

The New York Times

J.K. Rowling can’t stop spilling tea about Dumbledore’s sex life

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J.K. Rowling just can’t stop making her wizarding world seem more diverse and progressive than it really was in her books and films. In her latest attempt she said Albus Dumbledore and Fantastic Beasts villain Gellert Grindelwald had a ‘passionate’ love affair. Something that was barely hinted at in her works.

Even long-time fans are tired of Rowling shenanigans. And they’re letting her know as you can see in some of the tweets below…

Rowling’s comments come after Fantastic Beasts picked up criticism for skirting the subject of the romance between the two characters. In the film, Dumbledore hints that the pair were “closer than brothers,” and one flashback sequence featured a homoerotic moment between the lovers.

However, the plot was largely sidelined in the film, leading to accusations that it was being downplayed to allow the blockbuster’s release in overseas markets that forbid depictions of same-sex relationships.

Carry On

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Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right. Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Simon, an orphaned magician whose power is so immense that he is mostly inept at wielding it, returns to Watford School of Magicks for his final year of education in the magical arts. He has a talented, stalwart friend, a fascinatingly ambiguous foe, and a complicated, emotionally unavailable mentor. There is a great battle between good and evil. But there are also mobile phones, contemporary slang and pop-culture references, and gay romance.

The book is less preoccupied with the trappings of wizard life than it is focused on the relationships of the characters. The narrative perspective, shifting among Simon and his supporters and opponents, gives voice to their deeper motivations and angst; the dialogue, both internal and external, is contemporary and occasionally profane, with an authentic level of teenage snark.

The novel playfully twists genre conventions—there are plenty of wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments to satisfy faithful fantasy readers—but it also stands alone as a (very) modern novel. Read more at NPR.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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At age 15, Ari is a loner who has never had a friend before — until he meets Dante at the swimming pool. When Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim, the boys discover they make each other laugh, which seems more important than the fact that they have little in common.

Dante’s love of books and art, as well as his open appreciation of his parents, makes Ari look at his own family differently and inspires him to try to uncover the mystery of his dad, who rarely speaks. Over two summers and the intervening school year, the boys share laughs, secrets, and philosophies. As Aristotle tries to figure out his role in the universe, the importance of Dante’s friendship both bothers him and keeps him going — and, ultimately, changes the course of his life.

The story is narrated by Ari and it’s his point of view that colours the narrative. Ari is a loner who likes to wallow in its loneliness and who is in a state of constant anger: at the secrets his family keeps from him, at his father for not being open and talkative.

Dante is in a way, his opposite: quick to laugh and play, an artist and philosopher as well as a crier. Except as it turns out, they are not so different after all – and soon Ari learns to love poetry and philosophy and words whilst still being the same questioning, angry Ari (it takes him some time to learn that boys can cry too). The letting go of this anger (for a myriad of reasons) is one of the driving points of the novel and one that comes with a series of moments of self-discovery and life-discovery.

It’s interesting how Ari’s narrative is somewhat unreliable although not on purpose because it is very clear that Ari represses his feelings and don’t tell us how he truly feels about certain things because he doesn’t know them either – but his actions speak more than a thousand words.

Aristotle and Dante is a smart, intelligent, engaging coming-of-age story and a deep, thoughtful exploration of identity and sexuality. It turns out that both Ari and Dante are gay although it takes Ari the whole book to come to terms with it, whereas Dante is much more conformable in his own skin when it comes to his sexual identity. But there are other sides of who they are that are also thoughtfully examined here.

Shelter

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Some people say that heartbreak can make for great art, and the details of gay poet Kevin Tyler Norman’s failed long-distance relationship that he digested in his book Shelter might be an argument in favour of that point.

What would you do if you travelled to the other side of the world to surprise your long-distance boyfriend, only to learn he’d been dating someone behind your back? That’s what happened to Kevin, who met his then-boyfriend in the United States while the latter was travelling for work. While it could have been a summer fling, this guy told Kevin he wanted more, and the two carried on a long-distance relationship, Kevin in Los Angeles, his boyfriend in Australia.

The following months saw multiple trips back and forth, a surprise in which his boyfriend visited him for his birthday, regular video chat sessions, even meeting the family. Kevin and his boyfriend even bought a plane ticket to Australia so Kevin could make the big move Down Under.

“I planned a surprise trip to visit him, and right before I was to leave the U.S., he called me and confessed he was seeing someone else in Australia but ended that relationship because he ultimately wanted to be with me. So, being foolishly in love, I still followed through with my trip, letting him know I was coming, and after a week with me in Australia, he said he made a mistake and wanted to be with the other Australian guy. He then left me alone in his apartment while he went to go make amends with his now-boyfriend.”

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Gay Man’s Worst Friend

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In the early years of this blog the glossy Destroyer Journal from Swedish queer activist & troublemaker Karl Andersson was a steady source of inspiration. It was the first magazine that dared to put teenage boys into a perspective that modern society had reserved for adolescent girls. What was normal for the latter—to be adored and idolised—was unforgivable once the same patterns were applied to boys.

The predictable outrage didn’t just come from the usual right-wing suspects but also, and even harsher, from the gay community. While love without boundaries was an ordinary part of the queer spectrum once (no matter if you take historical personalities like Oscar Wilde & Walt Whitman or the fact that mainstream gay mags in the 70s & 80s used to make no difference between teenagers and buff men when it came to lewd photos) it seems to have become somewhat of a dark family secret of the past that must be kept under the rug lest we fuel the “homos are pedos” argument and eventually lose the equal rights and fragile freedom we achieved over the last decades.

You can read the whole story in a recently published book. Gay Man’s Worst Friend is not only the thrilling story of Europe’s most controversial gay magazine, told from Stockholm, Prague and Berlin. It’s also the story of the gay movement in the 21st century. The outraged reactions to Destroyer expose hidden power structures and show how gay identity has been steadily shrunk over recent decades, excluding ever more expressions of queerness.

You can order the book at cmykrush.

School Lies

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A post from my dear friend Xag:

I wanted let you know of this project I’ve been working on and that you might find interesting: As a photographer I’ve been working with my own body in front of a camera and I’ve made a photo book about my memories from school, because being in school is weird, being a teenager in school is weirder and my time there was especially weird.

During the past years I’ve kept my used teenage uniforms, and created images, that I hope to share with you to give you an insight with a photo story that shares what happened there, what I saw, what it felt like.

This recreation was a methodical effort. I stalked people’s old photos on Facebook, I had a list (I keep a lot of lists) of moments, of memories from what I witnessed back then. Then continued to shoot myself all over the city of Bogotá, especially around the neighborhood I grew up in and reenacted through images, my experiences of those transgressive school moments as faithfully as I could.

There are a lot of behaviors almost exclusive to school-like environments, some which are unexpectedly outrageous, or silly and simple and some that are… just hot (Specially if you are boy, a queer boy, in a boys-only catholic school.) The themes of bullying, hazing, boyhood and masculinity are at the cornerstone of this work.

Now, I’m looking for your help, to publish a photo-book I created called: School Lies.

If you want to help Xag publish School Lies you can read more about it at http://igg.me/at/school-lies