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Archive for July, 2011

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President Obama has been heavily criticized by many LGBT rights activists since taking office. A lot of queers helped make him President, including me. He made various campaign promises and there have been a lot of public statements that he has been much too slow in acting on them.

I’ve always felt kinda bad about that, that he was unnecessarily targeted too soon. It’s important to keep the pressure on of course, but I think people need to be pragmatic.

I’ve also felt kinda bad about voting for Obama, in the sense that by voting for him I was partly responsible for handing him an almost impossible task. During the 2008 campaign I despaired, thinking that no matter who was elected as President they’d be lucky in the extreme to come out of their term looking good. The Bush administration made a huge mess of this country and Americans have been expecting Obama to quickly clean it all up ever since. (Or what really grates my cheese, blaming him for problems that already existed when he took office!)

In that light I was very willing to be patient. Queer rights are immensely important to me. But I think it’s a bit self-centered to make them more important than issues that were of more immediate concern because of their critical nature to our country and to all Americans. I promised that I would only have fits and shout betrayal if nothing significant was accomplished by the end of Obama’s first term.

My patience and pragmatism is paying off. President Obama is coming through for us.

As one of his first acts in support of gay rights Obama extended what benefits were allowed under existing laws to same-sex partners of federal employees in June 2009. (DOMA prohibits some rights and benefits from being included.)

In April 2010 Obama directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to require all hospitals that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding (which is most of them) to prohibit discrimination in visitation based on many factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity. This was in response to the tragic situation a lesbian couple faced in Florida where a dying woman’s partner and children were prevented from seeing her, despite all their legal documents.

After stating in the 2010 State of the Union address that he would do so, Obama helped with the final push for the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the military. He signed the legislation into law at the end of last year. On July 22nd he certified that the repeal requirements of the legislation have been met and starting on September 20th, 2011 queers will be able to openly serve in the United States armed forces.

In February of this year President Obama instructed the Justice Department to cease defending DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), citing as the reason that it is unconstitutional. There are several cases winding their way up through the courts right now, some or all probably headed for the Supreme Court. Obama could have just let things take their natural course, but instead he was proactive, taking a clear stand for equal rights.

On July 19th this year Obama endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA. This one is huge because it’s extremely rare for a President to endorse legislation that hasn’t been passed in one of the Houses yet. In this case it hasn’t even come out of committee, the first hearing was just held this last week.

Yes, it’s frustrating that Obama has not come out and clearly stated that he supports marriage equality. He praised the recent New York state law that grants same-sex couples the right to marry, but stopped short of endorsing same-sex marriage himself.

The pragmatic part of me understands that. He’s got an election year coming up. So I’m willing to put up with a little wishy washy political dancing around. Would Obama making that statement be worth the potential price of a socially conservative Republican replacing him?

In his two and a half years as President, Obama has done more for queer rights than any other President in history. We still have a long way to go, but Obama has done a lot for us and I thank him for that. Grassroots movements are vitally important, but it also takes the leadership of people in power at the top to truly effect change, both in terms of policy/laws and in terms of public opinion.

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For a detailed listing of what the Obama Administration has done see this page at the HRC website.

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I just finished re-reading Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller. I originally read it in 1985 and hadn’t read it again since then, somehow misplacing my paperback copy in the intervening years. I was very excited when I noticed recently that an ebook edition is now available, so downloaded it for my Kindle.

I enjoyed Patience & Sarah a lot more this time around. As an early 20s baby dyke desperately looking for lesbian reading material in the mid-1980s I read it because it was always mentioned as one of the books every lesbian should read. I liked it well enough, but it didn’t really grab me. I seem to recall thinking it was a bit dull at the time. I preferred lesbian books (and books in general, actually) with less literary quality. (I’ve always been a pretty low-brow reader for the most part.) But the mellowing of age has allowed me to truly appreciate things now that didn’t wow me when young.

The book was written in the mid-1960s, pre-Stonewall, and Miller (pen name for Alma Routsong) could not find a publisher for it. So in 1969 she and her partner published it, paying to print 1025 copies, all of which they sold themselves. McGraw-Hill (one of the publishers that had originally rejected it in 1967) picked it up in 1972. Times had changed enough in just a few short years to take a chance on it. I believe it has been in print ever since.

Patience & Sarah is a lesbian classic about two women in New England in the early 1800s who, after the requisite troubles, leave their families to buy their own farm and make a life together. The story was inspired by Routsong’s discovery in a museum of Mary Ann Willson and Miss Brundidge. Willson was a primitive painter and the information in the museum stated she lived on a farm with Brundidge, to whom she had a “romantic attachment.” Nothing much is known about these women, though Routsong desperately tried to research them.

At the time Patience & Sarah was written there had been less than a handful of novels published that contained positive portrayals of lesbians and that included happy endings. Most “lesbian fiction” of the time was published as pulp novels, in which the lesbians usually killed themselves, went crazy, ended up with a man, or in some other way were alone and unhappy. Two notable exceptions are The Price of Salt, written by Patricia Highsmith under the pen name Claire Morgan and published in hardcover in 1952, and Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule, published in hardcover in 1964.

What I really appreciated most in reading Patience & Sarah this time was Routsong’s writing style. It’s simple and unadorned, yet she crafts it into prose that is both beautiful and moving. Part way through the book I realized she also did some very interesting (and unusual) things with POV. Some chapters are written in first person, some in third person, and one particular chapter is actually written in second person present tense.

This edition of Patience & Sarah includes some really neat extras. At the beginning is an introduction by Emma Donoghue. At the end are a couple pieces written by people who knew Routsong, including her partner at the time she wrote the novel. There are also images of things like the invoice for the self-published printing run, and the first cover for the book, which originally carried the title A Place for Us.

Even though I didn’t appreciate the book nearly as much as a baby dyke I was always glad I had read it because Patience & Sarah is a significant part of lesbian literary history. I understood that even at the time. I’m even more glad that I have read it again and can now appreciate not only the story, but the very fine writing. If you haven’t read it yet, put it on your TBR list.

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[At the Amazon Kindle Community forum there is a monthly thread where participants list and comment on which books they’re reading at the moment on their Kindles. These aren’t full reviews, just relatively brief impressions. I’m copying over some of my comments made there into Book Bits posts here.]

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I just finished reading The Girl with the Long Green Heart by Lawrence Block. It’s the first time I’ve read anything by this Grand Master. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys crime and mystery novels, especially anything concerning grifters and running cons. It was originally published in 1965 and, while dated in terms of setting, the story itself doesn’t really feel dated.

The story is told in the first person from the POV of John, a grifter who recently finished doing seven years hard time and is working towards a dream that doesn’t include crime. Someone he’d worked with in his past life convinces him to run a long con to raise the money he needs.

The book dragged a little in a couple parts after the halfway point, but not enough to kill enjoyment. This is the kind of book that’s fun to read because you’re trying to figure all the angles to see where it’s going the entire time you’re reading it.

I just had to use one of the original covers. I’ve developed a thing for pulp fiction over the last year. The story isn’t at all salacious, which makes the cover even more amusing.

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Today was one of those perfect Seattle summer days. The sun shining, temperature in the high seventies, not humid, and a light breeze blowing to keep it comfortable. It was the kind of day I love driving in my car with all the windows rolled down and the stereo cranked up with Melissa Etheridge singing California and Ann Wilson belting out Queen City.

On days like this people pour outside to make the most of it. Pedestrians everywhere. A woman working in her flower garden. People walking their dogs and riding bikes. The little city park near me fills with children, boys playing basketball, and families barbequing picnic dinners.

On the other side of a tall hedge from the park is the parking lot for a small office complex. There’s a corner in the shade, a perfect spot to park my car on weekends when no one else is there, and read.

That might sound a little odd. Why not sit on the lawn under a tree at the park and really be outside? But I love the privacy of that corner and being in my own mobile personal space, surrounded on two sides by giant leafy bushes and maple trees which attract squirrels and birds. I open the moon roof, roll down the windows, and enjoy being outside with the comfort of being inside.

So what does any of that have to do with boobs, burdensome or otherwise? As I was sitting there I noticed in the side mirror that a man had passed through the hedge into the parking area. He was wearing only shorts and sandals, no shirt. And it struck me in a visceral way that he was enjoying the perfect Seattle day in a manner that is off limits to women.

Men can go topless, women can’t. Boobs make all the difference. I don’t think most of us spend much time thinking about what that actually means though. It’s usually considered in terms of being an unfair nuisance.

But as I sat there I got to thinking about what it would be like to strip off my shirt and bra. Exposing skin that is normally clothed to the outdoors air feels wonderful. It’s different than being inside. On a really warm day the caress of wind on bared skin is soothing and sensuous. Women can strip down to just a sports bra and most people don’t bat an eye these days. But it’s not the same thing.

It’s those darn boobs. They’re why we can’t go around completely uncovered. And keeping them covered, even if that’s all that’s covered, is missing the best part. Wearing a tank top or sports bra leaves a lot exposed, but it’s truly amazing how much those little bits of cloth accomplish in creating a barrier.

My thinking about this naturally wandered on to swimming. Sure women can be naked in a cramped bathtub, if they even like taking baths, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about what it’s like to be fully immersed, freely moving, with no artificial barrier between you and the water. I don’t have the words to describe the incredible, luxurious sensation. It’s literally like nothing else in the world.

Do men even notice it? I have absolutely no idea, I’ve never even thought to ask one before this.

I don’t have a history of skinning dipping or anything of that sort to draw on. My experience is mostly relegated to large, semi-private hot tubs with friends. But today my mental meanderings took me back to a day twenty-eight years ago when I was visiting a close friend in California.

We’d met in college in Washington, but I had to leave school after our second year and she transferred down to UC Santa Cruz, closer to where she’d grown up. I visited just after the start of the school year. She and a roommate were renting a small house only a few blocks from the beach. We went swimming in the ocean a few times while I was there.

The first time was it was dark, lightly raining, and we were fully clothed in jeans and sweatshirts for our midnight dip in the sea. A generous quantity of imbibed beer prior to our stroll to the beach was responsible for some of that. My lifelong magnetic attraction to water and her ‘what the hell’ attitude in life did the rest. It was a great night.

The next time it was a sunny afternoon and we were properly attired in our one piece bathing suits. We were swimming in the deeper water beyond the breakers when my ‘what the hell’ friend, who, unlike me, wasn’t terribly constrained by American attitudes about nudity, pulled down the top of her swimsuit so it was down around her waist. Emboldened by not being too close to shore, though remarkably, no beer this time, I did the same.

Fantastic, amazing, and unbound are the only words I have to describe how that felt.

As we go through life we collect experiences, and later on savor our memories of perfect days or perfect moments. That time in the ocean in the company of a friend I cared deeply about, with the glorious feel of water on unfettered breasts, is one of my treasured memories of perfection.

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[At the Amazon Kindle Community forum there is a monthly thread where participants list and comment on which books they’re reading at the moment on their Kindles. These aren’t full reviews, just relatively brief impressions. I’m copying over some of my comments made there into Book Bits posts here.]

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Originally posted on June 3rd, 2011

Earlier I finished Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. (Free ebook download here.) This is a short Utopian novel written in 1918. It starts out as sort of an adventure story, ala Lost Horizon. Three young men go in search of a fabled country inhabited only by women. It’s told from the POV of one of the men. The second half gets bogged down in mostly describing what the culture is like and there’s no more real adventure, other than the two peoples learning from each other.

I haven’t looked up any info on the web yet about the author, I’m still mulling over my own thoughts. But I plan to. The book is right on the money in some ways, especially pointing out how our culture, especially at that time, sees everything revolving around men, and women adapt to that. Also some of the ridiculous hypocrisy, such as, “women don’t do heavy work”. Oh, well okay, except for the poor women, who made up 30% of the population. I think it also presented some really interesting ideas about education.

But there are also some really laughable extrapolations made on what a culture made up entirely of women would be like. Most of the people are fairly even tempered and there’s little to no strife. They don’t understand competition at all. And of course, since they don’t need sex to procreate the women have no sexual impulses whatsoever, and there’s no such thing as romantic love between any of them. It’s an alien idea.

All in all it was an interesting read, but hardly a gripping one. What I’m interested in learning is how much of what was contained in the book directly reflected the author’s personal views and how much was a product of the time in which the book was published.

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Originally posted on June 8, 2011

I finished Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews last night. It’s a very solid addition to the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series and was a good read. (First book is Magic Bites.)

One thing that I’ve really appreciated about this series is the development of the friendship between Kate and Andrea. Neither of the characters are used to having a best friend and I love their relationship. I’ve noticed that really good, well-developed friendships between women are usually lacking in books, or at least the type of books I tend to read. It’s not unusual for there to be a sidekick type friend character, but important friendships between equals, not so much.

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Originally posted June 12th, 2011

A Creative Kind of Killer by Sandra Scoppettone. This is a PI mystery that was published years ago under her pen name, Jack Early. It won a Shamus award and was nominated for the Edgar.  Scoppettone is in the process of self-publishing all her older titles as ebooks.

It was a bit of a slow starter but I became more interested the further I got into the book. The main character is a NYC PI, but he’s not your typical hard-bitten detective. He doesn’t drink, he’s not hurting for money, and he’s a single father of two teenagers. In the end it didn’t wow me, but it was a decent, solid read. For the cheap price of the ebook it’s definitely worth giving a try. (I bought it for $1.99 but it’s only 99 cents at the time of this posting.)

There are a few places where OCR errors weren’t caught, but it’s not horrible. The worst is several places the word I uses a 1 instead.

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Originally Posted on June 16, 2011

My latest read was Dear Joan by Francine Saint Marie, a short story available for free download. I’d read her trilogy not long after getting my Kindle and found it infinitely forgettable. But I kept reading people praising it so thought I must have missed something. I figured the free short story was a good way to give her another chance.

Nope. It was a short story about two unlikable characters having a lover’s spat in the wee hours of the morning. I couldn’t even discern any purpose in writing the story. So crossing that author permanently off my list now.

I also read the sample for Gladiatrix by Russell Whitfield which I had downloaded a while back. I’m interested in the story but the writing seemed kinda iffy. I don’t want to spend $10 on a book that ends up being very average. So I’m gonna hold off and see if I can catch it on a price drop sometime.

A book with a similar theme, though in the science fantasy genre, is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Warrior Woman. I read it a year or so ago and while it’s not high literature I found it to be engaging and fun. Read the info on what prompted Bradley to write it to know what to expect.

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Originally posted on June 27, 2011

I finally finished reading Jane Eyre yesterday. (Free ebook download here.)

I had read it once before when I was in my late teens or early 20s but I really only remembered a couple things about it. (The mystery of who the crazy woman was and Jane going back to the Hall.) So it was mostly a new to me book.

Bronte’s writing is wonderful, though I do admit to skimming a little in a few parts when she got overly wordy. What really strikes me about Jane Eyre is the characterizations and being able to emotionally identify with what happens. Most books I’ve read that are now in the public domain have a writing style that, while usually conveying a good story, maintains an emotional distance from the reader, unlike modern writing. (It’s the main reason I don’t read many classics.)

However, in Jane Eyre that wasn’t true. I cried at a couple parts, my heart twinged at others, I grinned several times, and closer to the end I was hating St. John with the intensity of a thousand fiery suns. A writer engendering that sort of emotional response in me towards a character is tops in my book.

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[At the Amazon Kindle Community forum there is a monthly thread where participants list and comment on which books they’re reading at the moment on their Kindles. These aren’t full reviews, but people find the comments interesting or useful for their own book shopping. I’m copying over some of my comments made there into Book Bits posts here.]

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I just finished Kitty’s Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn. It was released on Tuesday and is the ninth book in the Kitty Norville urban fantasy series. It was a good, solid addition to the series.

What I appreciate most about Vaughn’s writing is that it only takes a couple sentences before I’m swept away and immersed in her world. Her writing is very fluid. She also has a nice touch with adding in some humor. Here’s an example:

“Was it made by dragons or magicians? Is that important?” I said.

“It was created by a magician,” Anastasia said. “There’s no such thing as dragons.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. I never knew anymore what was going to turn out to be real and what wasn’t. Being a werewolf tended to give one an open mind.

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However, where I think her writing lacks, and this comes from reading the stand alone novel Steel  also, is she doesn’t really do intensity. She does good adventure and interesting characters, but the danger doesn’t seem too perilous, the emotions seem a bit lukewarm, etc.

Which makes her books very enjoyable, light reads, but they don’t have the depth and meat that makes a book truly compelling.

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