rosie the riveter

Master list for June 2014

And on this last day of June 2014, we wrap up with a master list. Thanks to all who contributed and read along this year! We had 19 recs for novels, young adult fiction, non-fiction, televisions shows and movies, a Super Queer Artsy Blog, and even, for the first time ever, poetry. The majority of recs were for books, but, with five recs, graphic novels were the most popular subcategory. Hope you all found something that you'll enjoy over this next year!

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  • woldy

Book: The Queer Art of Failure by Jack Halberstam

On the surface, The Queer Art of Failure is a light-hearted academic book about pop culture and film, ranging from Finding Nemo to Austin Powers and many things in between. Digging beneath the surface, it's a provocative look at power and resistance in the context of neoliberalism, where Halberstam suggests that failure may offer a more liberatory path than success:

Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world. Failing is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well; for queers failure can be a style, to cite Quentin Crisp, or a way of life, to cite Foucault, and it can stand in contrast to the grim scenarios of success that depend upon ‘trying and trying again.’” (3)
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Halberstam's challenge to us is to ask whether we can afford to succeed on the terms of neoliberal society. Or, if we fail on those terms, can we make the space for something different?

Graphic novel: Blue is the warmest colour

First of all, I should say this rec is not about the movie Blue is the warmest colour (orig. Le bleu est une couleur chaude), which I haven't seen -- but which is, or at least that's my impression, very very different from the graphic novel it's based on. So the graphic novel by Julie Maroh is what I'm reccing here.

Clémentine (for some reason renamed "Adèle" in the movie) is a fairly ordinary teenager who one day passes a blue-haired girl on the street, a girl she's incapable of forgetting -- fearful of what this means, she gets a boyfriend in order to prove herself "normal". She later makes friends with a queer schoolmate, Valentin, and he takes her to some gay bars; in one of these, she happens to meet the blue-haired girl: Emma.

Emma and Clémentine start out as friends, on account of the former's being in a relationship and the latter's still trying to come to terms with her sexuality, but in the long run their attraction to one another can't be denied, and they become lovers. However, they don't automatically get a happily-ever-after: there are still beast that must be conquered, the most dangerous of these being homophobia, both external and, in Clémentine's case (and perhaps in Emma's too?) internal.

The novel doesn't have a "happy ending" in the usual sense -- that much is clear from the first pages on, the bulk of the story being told in retrospect -- but neither does it end with a breakup or Clémentine leaving Emma for a man (I feel like this should be stated clearly). I'm reccing it because I think it's a moving story, and an important one; I also really like the art -- mostly kept in grey, black and white, with occasional use of colour, first and foremost as the leitmotif of blue in Emma's hair.

You can buy the novel for instance here (in French) or here (in English); following the movie's success, there have also been various translations to other languages, and your local library might own a copy or two. The creator, Julie Maroh, has a blog here (mainly in French).

Film: Beyond the Hills

I'll confess upfront that I've only seen the Romanian film Beyond the Hills (orig. Dupa Dealuri) once, and it was over a year ago. I still want to rec it, though, because while it's not a happy movie, it's powerful and fascinating, and one that's stayed with me.

The main characters, Voichita and Alina, grew up together in an orphanage. They have always loved each other -- and while various reviews refer to the pair as "friends", it's clear that they're more than friends in the most common modern use of the word; their relationship is intense and emotionally fraught, and also implied to be physical. At the beginning of the story, Alina returns from Germany, where she has been working as a barmaid, to find Voichita again and persuade her to come back with her. As it turns out, Voichita has found God, joined a convent of orthodox nuns, and is rather hesitant at the thought of leaving. As the situation grows more and more tense, Voichita is torn between Alina and the convent, unable to reconcile the two opposing forces in her life, unable to see clearly for herself what is wrong and right.

As I said, this is not a happy movie, but I think it's excellent and definitely worth watching. If you like stories about female friendship and women in difficult situations, I can also recommend director Cristian Mungiu's movie 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Torchwood kiss

Meta: Softly, Softly: The BBC's LGB Research Commission and Sherlock

Softly, Softly: The BBC’s 2009 LGB Research Commission and The Johnlock Conspiracy by loudest-subtext-in-television

This is a bit of an odd rec for me today, because in the past I have steered clear of fandom-related recs for this list. However, I feel like anyone interested in queer representation in the media might be interested in the following meta, so I'm taking a chance and giving it a rec...I found it fascinating far above and beyond any implications for the specific show it was written for: Sherlock.

Just two weeks ago, Sherlock fandom's meta-author extraordinaire, loudest-subtext-in-television, posted this fascinating meta based on a research study conducted by the BBC about LGB representation in their shows. The meta is titled Softly, Softly: The BBC’s 2009 LGB Research Commission and The Johnlock Conspiracy and is available on L-S-i-T's tumblr. She links to the original study data, so I will too if you'd rather skip all of her Sherlock/John analysis and just see what the BBC thinks, but it is really fun to read her joyous fandom thoughts along with the data and research.

Of the many elements of the study I found intriguing, one I keep thinking about is the idea that the BBC is intentionally trying to help heterosexuals who are uncomfortable with portrayals of LGB characters feel more comfortable and become more open minded by the way they introduce queer characters in their shows. It's actually a part of their research and plan. Fascinating.

I found this meta and this research study to be full of hope for positive, interesting, and complex representation of LGB characters in the media, with the BBC leading the way...fingers crossed.

NOTE: For anyone who tries this meta and is not at all involved in Sherlock fandom- TJLC is the acronym for The Johnlock Conspiracy, which is a fan theory that an on-screen romantic relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson has been planned since the beginning of the series and will actually happen on the show. L-S-i-T is one of the chief meta writers in this area. If you are intrigued by the idea of TJLC, the rest of her meta list is amazing reading as well, full of detailed subtextual queer readings of the entire series that are truly impressive, thought-provoking, and fun to ponder.

Film: Torch Song Trilogy

I’m always shocked when this film is not mentioned on rec lists. I just assume because it’s so well-known and well-loved that there isn’t a person who hasn’t memorized every line already and to recommend it is completely unnecessary? But, just in case:

Torch Song Trilogy (New Line 1988) follows the life of drag queen Arnold Beckoff (played by Harvey Fierstein who also wrote the script based on his play that won him 2 Tonys, one for writing and one for acting) as he struggles to find love, family and respect. It is told in three parts that probably have titles, but I call them “Ed,” “Alan” and “David.” All three also featuring Arnold’s struggle with his family, most especially his mother, the epitome of Jewish mother, played flawlessly by Anne Bancroft.

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Please do give this movie a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

rosie the riveter

FILM: Documented by Jose Antonio Vargas

In 1993, when he was 12 years old, Jose Antonio Vargas moved from Manila, where he lived with his mother, to Mountain View, California, where he joined his grandparents. As he discovered when he went to get his driver's license for the first time, however, Vargas had arrived without papers. Both his grandparents were naturalized US citizens, but Vargas was--and still is today--undocumented.

Documented is film about the experience of being undocumented, one that combines crisp reportage on the current deportation crisis with the more personal story of Vargas' migration and his attempts to understand the implications of his status. Although he's worked for a number of national newspapers and won a Pulitzer Prize as part of a team of reporters covering the Virginia Tech shootings, Vargas lives in a kind of legal limbo, under threat of deportation. He's become an advocate for the US's eleven million undocumented immigrants, coming out as undocumented in an article in the New York Times Magazine in 2011 and organizing a campaign, Define American, to help others share their experiences and to rally support for immigration reform. The film--Vargas is writer, director, and producer--is his latest attempt to raise consciousness about the plight of undocumented immigrants by telling his own story.

Why am I posting about this documentary here at lgbtq_recs? First and perhaps most importantly, Vargas himself is gay, and his coming out story figures in the film. But I'm also fascinated by the way the two movements--immigrant and LGBTQ rights--have intersected, often through the efforts of individual activists who claim a place in both movements and who see a parallel between the process of coming out and the efforts of undocumented immigrants to gain visibility and legitimacy in US society. In both cases, there's an effort to shift the terms of the debate from the moralizing language of the right ("get in line," "wait your turn," "don't challenge thousands of years of tradition") to a more inclusive approach that emphasizes the basic rights to work, find a home, and form a family. At the screening I saw last month, the panel of Asian/API, immigrant, and LGBTQ activists who had gathered to discuss it couldn't stop talking about the connections between the two movements and how difficult it was to convince mainstream, predominantly white LGBTQ rights organizations that their issues were relevant.

You can visit the documentary's website to see the trailer. There are screenings coming up in several locations over the next few weeks (at theaters in Chicago, Denver, and Orlando, plus a free screening at the Boston Public Library) but the documentary will also be shown on CNN on Sunday, June 29, at 9:00p.

(So sorry to rec something that only seems to be available in the US, folks! I'll update this post when it's available elsewhere.)
ETA: It looks as if there's a preorder streaming option for folks outside the US. (Look under "Watch on CNN.) Thanks, Semi.
rosie the riveter

BOOK: Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

The graphic novel Skim is a quick glimpse of the life of Kimberly Keiko Cameron, "Skim," sulky biracial Goth tenth-grader growing up in Toronto in the early 1990s. Skim's broken her arm, tripping over a make-shift Wiccan altar in her bedroom. She snipes at her best friend Lisa, smokes down in the ravine behind her all-girls school, and falls in love with her drama and English teacher, Ms. Archer. Her high school, she says, is "goldfish tank of stupid."

I thought Skim did an excellent job of conveying the indeterminate, changeable quality of the teen years and teen relationships--that shaky sense of looking for authenticity when you don't yet quite know who you are. Part of the plot is driven by Skim's relationship with her teacher, which she doesn't yet fully understand herself. Part is driven by the suicide of a boy from a nearby school, the ex-boyfriend of one of Kim's classmates, which sparks a school-wide campaign to help the girls cope but doesn't seem to address anything meaningful about depression or grief at all.

Identity issues lurk in the background--what does it mean to be Asian? Queer? Overweight? Wiccan? Popular? A friend, a jerk?--but they're treated extraordinarily realistically, observed obliquely through Skim's eyes as she encounters them but left deliberately open, never resolved. It's one of the joys of a book like this that it gives you a chance to form your own opinion about Skim and her friends and measure the distance between Skim's teenage experiences and your own understanding of what they might mean.

You can find a brief description of the book here and a short excerpt here.
knitting, me, yarn

BOOK: Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir, by Nicole J. Georges

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir is a memoir by lesbian zine writer/illustrator Nicole Georges. In her early twenties, she learned that the story that her mother had always told her about her father – that he died of colon cancer when she was very young – was actually a lie. At the same time, she was navigating an intense but ultimately unsuccessful romantic relationship. The first hint that Nicole’s father might be alive came from a psychic, and she subsequently avoided dealing with other clues about the lies in her family’s past for some time. Her process of dealing with the news about her father is complex and gradual. This part of her life story is entwined with finally coming out to her mother, dealing with the breakdown of her relationship with her girlfriend and losing her place in their band, and memories of her emotionally stressful and unstable childhood.

Nicole tells her story by alternating scenes from her adult life with scenes from her childhood. She uses two different styles in her black and white artwork: memories of her childhood are told using simpler illustrations, which I think convey the limited nature of our memories of the past, as well as the emotional starkness of her particular childhood experience.

The title, “Calling Dr. Laura” refers to Nicole’s unlikely obsession with the Dr. Laura conservative radio advice show. She actually calls in to the show and has an on-air conversation with Dr. Laura about whether she should confront her mother about the lie about her father. I didn’t find that section very interesting, but I suppose it made for a catchy title.

Along with the story of how Nicole deals with her difficult family history, she also shows a lot of realistic, fun details about the life she constructed for herself many miles away from her mother: her love of animals (especially chickens and dogs!), her job as a karaoke jockey, and her artwork and music. I’m very glad I ran across this book at my local library.
Oscar drinks tea at you

BOOK: Fair Play by Tove Jansson

Although she's best known for the Moomin books, Tove Jansson also wrote a wide variety of other books and short stories which are well worth reading. My pick for today is Fair Play, published in 1989: a novel about two older women and the life they've built together.

It's a slim volume, and very quiet, composed of little free-standing chapters which are more or less short stories in their own right but which add up to a really interesting whole. The language is spare and exact and Jansson's eye for character and mood is wonderful. I like what this book has to say about relationships, and what it has to say about creativity, and I love how it's written. I will note that it's very understated as queer literature, heavy on implication and light on explicit statements, but I've never been able to bring myself to mind.

(As a sneaky bonus: a rather heavier companion to this piece might be Boel Westin's biography of Tove Jansson, recently translated into English as Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words. It's a pretty big volume, and quite lit-focused - Westin is a professor of literature at Stockholm University. It's not exactly light reading, but worth it. While I can't speak for the translation, reading it in Swedish made me very happy. In a lot of ways you'll find a mirror to the shape of the characters' lives in Fair Play in here, although I wouldn't go so far as to say that Fair Play is straight-up autobiography.)