Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

milkboys Books & Magazines 9 Comments

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

milkboys Books & Magazines 2 Comments

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.”

Read More

Gay Man’s Worst Friend

milkboys Books & Magazines 4 Comments

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

milkboys Books & Magazines 2 Comments

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 

Cult of Boys

milkboys Books & Magazines 3 Comments

With her scrapbook Cult of Boys fashion photographer Toyin Ibidapo created a visiual memorial for the (slightly older) androgynous sons of the fading emo decade.

You can’t always trust your gaydar. Opening this book might let you think of the numerous gay photographers with their affection for teens. Not this time though. Cult of Boys comes form a woman who photographed for clients like the Dazed & Confused magazine or the late queer fashion star Alexander McQueen.

The portraits of the emosih lads featured in this book were made over a longer period of time in her own flat. Most of the boys are scantily clad (or not at all) but eroticism isn’t the major theme; there seems to be an intimate atmosphere built on trust and maybe even friendship. Ingenuous models explore who they are–and who they could be. Although carefully staged the photos seem genuine and emit the honesty and frankness the photography of the young and beautiful so often lacks. Impetuous and with lots of charm the fascinating pictures capture the raw vulnerability of the soft youth.

Leviathan

milkboys Books & Magazines 4 Comments

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is a half adventure, half coming-of-age novel set in an alternate steampunk past, in which the powers of the world are divided into “Clankers” who favour huge, steam-powered walking war-machines; and “Darwinists,” whose hybrid “beasties” can stand in for airships, steam-trains, war-ships, and subs (they even have a giant octopus called the kraken that can seize whole warships and drag them to their watery graves).

Set on the eve of WWI, the story’s two main characters are Aleks, the incognito orphan of the freshly assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand (fleeing his murderous uncle Emperor Franz Josef from Austria to the safe haven of Switzerland in a liberated battle-walker); and Deryn, a Scots girl who has dressed in boys’ clothes to muster into Britain’s Darwinist air-corps and finds herself a midshipsman on the Leviathan, a floating ecosystem a quarter-mile long, made up of whales, bats, bees, six-legged hydrogen-sniffing dogs, and all manner of beasties that make her the meanest thing in the sky.

Filled with gripping air and land-battles, political intrigue and danger, science and madness, Leviathanis part Island of Dr Moreau, part Patrick O’Brien. And to top it all off, the volume is lavishly illustrated with fabulous ink-drawings of the best scenes from the book, executed in high Victorian style by Keith Thompson (who also produced contrafactual propaganda maps of alternate Europe)

Westerfeld writes gripping, relentless coming-of-age novels that are equally enjoyable by adults and kids, and Leviathan is no exception. Leviathan is also available as an unabridged 8-hour audiobook on DRM-free CDs for a very reasonable price. The reading is by Alan Cummings, who absolutely nails it, and the production — bed music, editing — is just superb, bringing the whole swashbuckling tale to life.

The Empress Sword

milkboys Books & Magazines 4 Comments

With a kingdom to save and a dragon to slay, not to mention the loss of a dear friend and the first stirrings of a childhood crush, transitioning into a female is literally the least important problem on Crown Prince Aster’s mind. See, there’s this dragon attacking Caledon, and the only way to defeat it is to find and wield the mythical Empress Sword—a sword that will not bear the touch of any man. So Aster does what any sensible thirteen-year-old crown prince would do: he gets magical gender reassignment surgery.

Actually, it’s more complicated than that, and Aster doesn’t exactly understand what he’s agreeing to when he grasps the sword for the first time. Nonetheless, Aster becomes Astrid and what had the danger of becoming yet another too-straightforward boy’s adventure book on the shelves swiftly takes on new dimensions. We suddenly have a strong, female protagonist where we once had a slightly naive but endearingly noble male—one who has no problems with it beyond the obvious issues of a changed centre of gravity and a vague sense of “this is new and a bit weird!”

The narrative continues to refer to the prince as “him” because for Aster (as he still thinks of himself—though he quickly realizes that introducing himself by the prince’s name would draw confusion), the transition to “femaleness” is at first only a matter of changing some outward behaviors—like when the prince has to convince people that “he’s” become a girl, but maintains a comfortable male wardrobe, manners, and speech with friends. The prince’s own perceptions of “femaleness” are challenged and turned over frequently, but Aster’s assumptions are the fault of a royal upbringing (and a perception of “maleness” that is also quite skewed due to that heritage).

Aster’s transition is a non-issue in the book, with no broad, overarching statement made about transphobia. There is no fear over body image, shame, disgust, or humiliation—these things are entirely absent from Aster’s transition experience. And that’s a statement in and of itself. The fact that Jaxton doesn’t make a big flurry/trauma/statement about the gender change—nobody calls Astrid gross, unnatural, or a freak when they find out she used to be the prince—is a small but important victory.

In Aster’s arrogant and selfish selflessness, we see the ego of a child who has always been treated like an equal and a grown-up, played fantastically against the condescending humiliation of being a “little girl.” More important is Aster’s realization that people were just as condescending when she was a boy, but in a more subtle way because she was a prince. And Aster has no problems with being a girl in love with another girl.

Aster is also rather egalitarian in other relationships. Aster is good friends with a stable boy and doesn’t see why a merchant’s daughter can’t be asked to dinner, and when confronted with a monster who displays intelligence, actually listens to what the dragon has to say and concedes that the dragon’s point of view and concerns are as valid as the humans’ are. In that moment, the book is elevated from mere adventure story to a tale about equality, compassion, and the basic rights of all people—be they dragons, foreigners with unfamiliar features, or boys in dresses.

In the end, the success of The Empress Sword lies in the normalizing of transgender characters and heroes who treat everyone around them equally, and offering a fantastic quest adventure yarn for young people that teaches as well as entertains.

Annabel

milkboys Books & Magazines 12 Comments

“Boy or girl?” It’s the one question people feel safe asking a new mother, since it can hardly cause offence. But what if the answer isn’t straightforward? Even today, in our supposedly broad-minded age, you’d feel a bombshell had been dropped if the proud parent were to reply simply: “Both.”

In Annabel, an intersex baby – one testicle, a penis, one ovary, a womb and a vagina, since you ask – is born to Jacinta. It’s 1968, and she lives in a remote Canadian hamlet with her husband, Treadway, a trapper of few words but strong principles. It is he who decides that the child will be brought up as a boy, to the eternal sorrow of Jacinta, who, unlike him, is quite capable of encompassing her baby’s male and female identities in her love. She feels she has lost a daughter, and a friend secretly christens the baby Annabel behind the minister’s back. So, with a little help from the doctors, young Wayne unwittingly starts life as a boy with, as he puts it later on, a girl curled up inside him. Read on…

Adrian Mayfield

milkboys Books & Magazines 9 Comments

Rarely has a book for young adults been so eagerly anticipated as Tricks of the Trade, the third book by the popular young author Floortje Zwigtman. She understands better than many that adolescents aren’t looking for a neat book of instructions for the future. These are stories that tell it like it is, historical novels about surviving in conditions where the laws and morals of polite society no longer seem to apply.

Adrian Mayfield is born in the poor East End of Victorian London, the son of a pub landlord and a seamstress. However, a different career lies in store for him. It’s not a scenario that the street-hardened lad could have envisaged: a wealthy older gentleman falls in love with him and takes him home. The man is Augustus Trops, a second-rate artist from Flanders. He introduces Adrian to the flamboyant circle of Oscar Wilde, where he meets other men like Augustus and finds work as an artist’s model. The work pays well and he meets the most interesting and powerful people of his time. Adrian is very pleased with his new life at first. Everything appears to be going swimmingly. Until, that is, London’s beau monde decamps to Europe for the summer holidays, as happens every year. Adrian, by now accustomed to luxury, ends up without any income.

In a male brothel he discovers the flip side of his new life in the twofaced London of the nineteenth century, where gossip, blackmail and brutal police violence make homosexuality a highly dangerous way of life. Then he faces the choice of whether to put his integrity and his friendships on the line so that he doesn’t have to live in a mouldy, cockroach-infested garret.

Tricks of the Trade is an intense book that is difficult to put down. It draws the reader in without resorting to cheap sensationalism. This is a result of Zwigtman’s unique ability to combine critical distance with open intimacy. The raw, breathtaking writing of this sharp, historical portrait really makes the reader think about life. Zwigtman is one of the great modern writers of books for young adults.

This is the first book in a series of three and was published in Dutch under the title Schijnbewegingenand in German as Ich, Adrian Mayfield. There is no English translation yet because all interested publishers asked the author to remove some of the explicit sex scenes considering the age of the target audience but Zwigtman, luckily one could argue, refused to do so.

The Center of the World

milkboys Books & Magazines, Film & TV, Films & TV 6 Comments

When I was about 14 I carried a book with me everywhere for months because I just couldn’t let go of the protagonist. It must have been the first time that I really fell in love with a book. Welcome to The Center of the World… 

A coming of age story set in a remote mountain range in Germany; Author Andreas Steinhöfel weaves the elegant tale of a seventeen-year-old boy named Phil. Although the novel does deal with Phils sexuality, it primarily illustrates his tumultuous relationship with his unconventional mother, Glass, and reclusive twin sister, Dianne.

The family occupies a large estate, called Visible, on the outskirts of a socially repressive and ultra-conservative town. The town not only discriminates against Glass because of her promiscuous nature, but they transfer their criticisms to her two children. Therefore, throughout Phil’s childhood, he feels ostracised despite his mothers advice to ignore the harshness of the “Little People,” the people who inhabit the town.

Phil does discover refuge in the form of a young and vivacious girl named Kat who becomes his one and only ally. However, despite Phils seeming acceptance of his sexuality, he does not believe that his family or his friends would approve of his relationship with charming and attractive runner Nicholas who becomes his first boyfriend.

The novel is written in a first-person narrative with intermittent flashbacks that describe the roots of Phil’s personality. Steinhöfel’s greatest accomplishment is that he portrays homosexual relationships as the equivalent of heterosexual relationships. By demonstrating that the journey towards self-discovery of a young gay man is the same as that of a young straight man, Steinhöfel shows that discriminatory views on homosexuality are completely unfounded. In addition to vividly depicting Visible’s breath taking surroundings, his crisp and graceful prose provides insight into Phil’s complex thoughts and emotions.

Satisfying the reader with Phil’s self-discovery, the author does an excellent job of balancing the scales between satisfaction and misery, having and longing. By the end of the novel, one aches with a confused combination of happiness and grief. Steinhöfel and his novel deserve every word of praise.

English ISBN: 0440229324 | German ISBN 3551353158
English Version at Amazon | German Version at Amazon


A film based on the novel was released in 2016 in both German and English. I haven’t seen it yet and therefore can’t tell you if it does the book justice.  I have my doubts after watching the trailer which you can find below (and the actors being too old, as always, is only the most obvious of my many little complaints) but then again, I’m as biased as it gets so if the story sounds interesting to you at all, do give it a shot; or, if you already did, let us know in the comments how you liked it.

Enable subtitles in the bottom right corner of the player

Center of My World (Original Title: Die Mitte der Welt)
Release: 2016, Germany | IMDb | Facebook | Website