Archive for March, 2011

Echoes of History


by Rebecca S. Buck

April sees the release of my second novel Ghosts of Winter and I wanted to talk a little about the title and my inspiration. This is not the ghost story you might expect. The main plot of the book is a modern story of self-discovery and fulfilling romance. However, the spark of inspiration for this novel, and the thread which is embroidered throughout, was the idea of history echoing forward into the present. My protagonist, Ros, inherits a country house in need of renovation. During the novel there are glimpses of the history of the house, and importantly, the lives and loves of its former inhabitants.

Anyone who has read my first novel, Truths, will recognise this as a theme I like to explore. When I talk about “ghosts”, I don’t mean ghouls; I mean shadows, echoes, remnants of the past.  They are the reason I have written two novels combining modern and historical stories. The idea that we are all part of a continuum of humanity, that people before us loved, cried, laughed—experienced life—in much the same way as we do, is something I always hope to convey.

I almost studied history academically, at Oxford, no less. But after nine weeks I knew I couldn’t do it. Not because I was academically incapable, but because the academic study of history involves a focus on great events and people, on dates, battles, politics…and what I was really interested in was the people. I wanted to hear the stories. This is why I turned to literature. When I read a book by Austen or Eliot, a poem by Blake or Byron, what I see is a window into the past. I hear the voice of someone who lived before me, not just the words on the page.

But so many stories have never been told. Ordinary people very rarely wrote a record of their lives. In many cases they couldn’t, in others it probably never occurred to them that anyone would be interested. And in this context, our queer ancestors are almost entirely absent from the pages of history. Their stories have always been secret, barely spoken of, and certainly not written down.  But this does not mean they didn’t exist. I would never presume that my works of fiction give an entirely accurate representation of people who really existed in the past. But if I can suggest what might have been, give just a hint of the untold stories of days gone by, I will be a very happy writer indeed.

So, why weave this in with a modern story? Because I don’t want there to be a separation. I don’t want there to be a “then” and a “now”. Times might have changed, but we’re still only human, with everything that brings, just as we always were.

When I visit a historical building—a castle, a stately country house, a church, a prison—I can feel the past. Sometimes I even put my hands on the stone and make the connection even stronger. And what I feel very powerfully is that I’m part of it. I’m touching the brickwork, walking up the worn stairs, looking through a window, in just the same way as generations have done before me. I always wonder who saw the view from just the same place. Who ran their fingers over the same smooth stone carvings? A fine lady? An arrogant gentleman? A lowly servant girl? Did they feel some of the same things as I do? I like to think some of them did.

We have our own ghosts. Those parts of our lives that shape us, which haunt us and make us who we are, for better or worse. Part of Ghosts of Winter deals with that, as Ros confronts her own recent past. But the “ghosts” of the title are more than that. They are the echoes of history, the untold stories which still, inextricably, shape the world we have today.

“I’m a sweet bisexual, from sweet Bisexualinia.”

 by Mel Bossa

I like girls who like girls who like boys who like boys who like girls.

Yes, I’m one of that kind.

Way too queer for straight, a little too straight for queer.

Gays to the left of me, lesbians to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with who?

Where are all the bisexuals in the world? Have they boarded the purple spaceship back to their wonderful, inclusive little planet of Bisexualinia? And when they left, why didn’t they take me with them?

I struggle here on Earth.

Dissociated, yet whole, always in search of validation. Am I a friend to the gay community, or a nuisance, a nagging note in the margin? And what about the straight world? Yes, I live within its confines, but whenever I allow myself to open up to it,  I am quickly stuffed back in what I call “the queird” box. You know, where straight people put everything they don’t quite understand: transgendered people, intersexed people, polyamorous people, and those people…Those damn confused bisexuals.

Well, no surprise when you look at how bisexuality is portrayed in the media (yes, let’s blame them a little, it feels good). Most straight girls view bisexuality like a Katie Perry song; catchy, temporary, soon forgotten. Yes yes, something one does to stir the boys up—a cheap way of drawing some attention from the jaded male audience. Or maybe, a harmless experiment? Others, let’s call them men, see bisexuality (especially within their own gender) as one tiny but oh so slippery step away from being FULL BLOWN OH MY GOD gay. Meanwhile, the silent majority still believes that bisexuality is another term for “exploration.”

Wake-up call boys and girls. Bisexuals aren’t exploring their sexuality—they’re living it.

Now the question should be, are we living it in a healthy way?

Not so much, on a collective level I mean. It’s a dirty little secret, this bisexual thing. Trust me, I’ve had to give  a bisexual absolution to two different men this year. One of them came to me, tormented, guilt-ridden in his faded blue jeans—this man, this self-defined beefcake, gay all the way baby, had the misfortune of being attracted to—brace yourself—a WOMAN. How could he tell his gay friends about this?

Another poor soul, a young stud with numerous male admirers, had kissed a girl that night, and wondered if the said girl would tell the rest of the staff (he works in a gay bar which shall remain nameless to protect his all mighty gay reputation). “Oh man,” he said to me, that dark night, sucking on his cigarette, glancing around nervously. “I’m so fucked.”

What did he fear, deportation? Would the romeos tear his gay badge right off his perfectly trimmed chest?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

One thing I’ve learned about being in the middle—it gets real tight. Sometimes, you can barely catch a breath.

But, we are here. We exist. Do we challenge comfort zones? Perhaps. Do we mix the cards up a little? I think so. Should we pick a lane and go with it?

No thank you!

This is one of our truths: we are not a threat. We won’t steal your girl or sleep with your man. But if we do, it will be because we are human, thus terribly flawed.

Not because we are bisexual.

And we won’t bite you.

Well, I might, but only if you ask me nicely.

So, I declare today, “Hug a bisexual” day.

But first my sexy queer friends, you’ll have to find one. 🙂

At the Mercy of Strangers

by Justine Saracen

Readers who grew up in pre-gay liberation times, or who come from conservative religious families, will remember the loneliness of the deep closet.  Mine, in the 1960s was no different, but was exacerbated by my living in a foreign country.    

In the 1960s, Europe was still a very foreign place: few people spoke English, the food was strange, the clothing was different, and you couldn’t even telephone the USA directly. I’d lived with a German family but then, to immerse myself in German culture, I moved to a room in Frankfurt and audited classes at the university. It was like learning to swim by leaping into deep water. In the arctic.

Studies kept me busy, and I had a few acquaintances, but there was that continuous hunger which I’m sure you all remember. Not for sex, or even romance, but for someone who lived in the same emotional world that I did.

A school friend, a very effeminate boy who I was certain was gay, was studying in Bordeaux, France, and at some point, when I couldn’t bear the loneliness, I decided to visit him. I thought we could commiserate and I would know that at least I had an ally some place.  Being poor, I hitchhiked. Alas, my feeble attempt to reach out was wrong, reckless, and unrequited. In a word, folly.

The hitchhiking to Bordeaux went smoothly, but the friend was way too deep in his own closet to deal with me. He insisted he had a girlfriend at home, and was going to marry her. He was still a flaming queer, only a frightened one. After a desultory few days, I headed back to Germany.

I must have started too late, and got too few rides, because night fell and was on the roadside and still in France.  Finally a car stopped, and I climbed in gratefully. But the moment the car door closed and we took off, I sensed I had made a mistake.

The driver kept asking in French if I was a ‘good girl,” but I feigned ignorance, and kept saying “’Allemagne, s’il vous plait”,  and “je ne comprends pas.”  Just how much trouble I was in became clear when we passed a highway sign that said “Allemagne” and he turned instead in the opposite direction, back into France, while I sat cowering and clutching my knapsack. Finally he turned off the highway and onto a dirt road into the woods. Woods. That was it. That was the place were I was going to be raped.  I wondered if he would kill me too.

What kept it from happening immediately was his bladder. He must have known that I would run the moment he stepped away from the car, because he came around to the passenger side and leaned against the door, imprisoning me, while he relieved himself. Then he zipped up and got back into the driver’s seat and laid his hand on my knee. At that moment I threw myself out of the car and ran full bore into the woods. I don’t know when he stopped chasing me, or if he chased me at all. In any case, there I was, in the woods. Somewhere in France. In the dead of night.

I stumbled through the woods for hours before finding a road into a tiny village. No one in sight, of course. I began knocking on doors, trying to find someone to talk to. After several cold receptions, a woman opened who spoke German and I told my story. She said she could not invite me in, but she’d seen the town mayor in his barn and maybe he could help me. The mayor fortunately also spoke German so I asked if I could sleep in the barn. I must have looked a wreck, for he took pity and said yes, then left. Five minutes later he returned and said he wife insisted on inviting me in. Their son was in the army and his room was free. Groveling with gratitude, I went with him, and was promptly put to rest in the son’s room.

I spent a restful night, in the house of complete strangers, putting the lie to the idea that there is a French national character, of rudeness or aloofness. The next morning, the family gave me breakfast, packed me a lunch, and brought me to the highway to Germany, where I resumed my trip. I arrived in Frankfurt that afternoon, wiser, soberer, and still gay. I had not found any comfort from my closeted friend, but a renewed appreciation of human unpredictability.

This is a commiseration story, for those who are still struggling, with no particular moral to it except that, if you are lonely, you probably should not hitchhike to France.

Broodings on Sarah, Son of God

by Justine Saracen

 As anyone who has read my novels knows, I have no love for the traditional western religions.  Mainly because they have no love for me.  To be sure, Moses himself brought down no Commandment against homosexuality from the mountain, and Jesus never made a single utterance on the subject. But religion, alas, has ever been practiced according to the edicts of commentators, preachers, prophets, rabbis, imams, and their holy books. These are virtually unanimous in their condemnation. 

Judaism: Leviticus, 20:13 (God speaking): “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.”

Christianity: Jesus’ main publicist, Paul (Saint, apparently) wrote to the Corinthians (Cor. 6: 9) that “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards,… shall inherit the kingdom of God,” and to the Romans (1:26-27) “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.”

Love, Paul (Saint)

 Islam. The Hadith (sayings attributed to Mohammed) are damning as well. They announce, “When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes,” and hold multiple condemnations of “what Lot’s people did.” For the biblically uninformed, Lot’s people tried to bugger angels.

On the basis of these Scriptures, homosexuals have been tortured and murdered throughout history.

But, you say, that was then and this is now.  And surely modern liberal believers do not take these proscriptions literally. I agree. In fact, liberal Christians, Jews and Muslims take very little of Scripture literally. Some religious scholars also re-interpret the original Greek or Aramaic documents to develop an alternative theology. And yes, some churches/temples now have gay clergy. That’s all very well and good. It is also self-evident that some gay people want and need religion, for the same reasons that everyone else does, for comfort and community/identity, for rules of behavior, or in the hope that a divine power is looking after things. I do not begrudge this need.

But western religion has an ugly centuries-long record of mistreatment of women and dissidents of any sort, regarding faith, social behavior, sexual desire, and even dress. For the insidious element of most religions is the concept of purity. Purity of faith, of thought, of behavior and body. We are not pure. We are animals that do animal things – and most animal of all, we lust, and religion cannot abide this. The ritual bathing, baptizing, ablutions, and slicing off of ‘unclean’ infant private parts, arise from religion’s obsession with sex.

It is strange. Religion proclaims a Creator of the Universe, who crafted the galaxies, star systems, black holes and the unfathomable depths of space. Yet this same deity peers into our bedrooms and bars, even into our thoughts, ever on the lookout for impurity.  And that’s just rude.

On behalf of all of us whose lusts are particularly ‘impure,’ I take issue with this. If God reproaches me for my sexual habits and partners, I reproach Him for His cruelty. If I have to answer for sodomy and cunnilingus, then God has to answer for birth defects, childhood cancers, and the suffering of countless billions of animals and other innocents. I particularly accuse Him of callous indifference for the earthquake in Haiti, and for the tsunami of 2004 that in a single day killed over 230,000 people in fourteen countries, nearly all of them believers. If there is a divine authority that intervenes in our lives, it is surely malevolent.

With this kind of deity on offering, we should not feel grateful when a church or mosque or temple withdraws its condemnation and allows us to put on its costumes and join its rituals. While they grudgingly make a place for us at the table, I have concluded that it’s not all that great a meal.

How much better to look into the cosmos, or the biosphere, or the living cell, or the atom, and see ourselves as part of life’s infinite variety, and never, never, ask for forgiveness for what we are and who we love. We are the newest, most complex children of nature. Eons of evolution have developed animal caring in us and so we have the makings of a moral foundation already in our genes. It does not come from on high.

And yet, we have our tales, our parables, our visualizations of perfect love and martyrdom and meaningful suffering. We can’t erase them from the cultural landscape and we shouldn’t. But we can examine them, put a rational stamp on them, and make them mesh with our modern understanding of ourselves.

Sarah, Son of God is such a re-telling of a story we thought was set in stone, but it never was. It weaves through the shifting fabric of culture and anyone can change the threads. I have simply rewoven it now for us.

Here endeth the lesson.

The Plotter

Bold Strokes Books author Jane Fletcher aka The Plotter discusses her current project and getting civilized.

Paranormal Pair

Nell Stark and Trinity Tam give us a sneak peak at what’s next in their vamp/were series.

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