Advocate Bookshelf: Gay Baseball, Perverse Painters, and the Religious Right

By Diane Anderson-Minshall

Originally published on Advocate.com September 27 2012 5:00 AM ET

Fontana by Joshua Martino (Bold Strokes Books, $16.95)

A book about a closeted ballplayer couldn't come at a better time, as more and more pro athletes are both coming out or standing up for their teammates' right to do so and just two weeks ago a pro baseballer was suspended for displaying a homophobic slur on his face. In Joshua Martino's new novel, Ricky Fontana is one incredible baseball player, a New York Mets outfielder who is worried that his skyrocketing popularity will reveal his big secret: that he's gay. Of course there is a world-weary and grizzled sportswriter, Jeremy Rusch ("hardened by drink and disappointment" because journalists in novels, at least, often are) who exposes Ricky's secret just as the athlete is on a Barry Bonds-like hot streak. The drama that ensues changes both men in a book that's illuminating and  beautifully written. Even better: This isn't a classic gay love story or a traditional coming-out narrative. In a world where there's never been an active out pro baseball player, it's about about a love affair between a man and his sport, the sort of classically masculine narrative in which gay men have rarely been visible previously. (BoldStrokesBooks.com)

The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, edited by Ron Padgett and Paul Auster (Library of America, $35)

Joe Brainard was a gay painter, set designer, writer, and influential Greenwich Village personality during the 1960s and ’70s. Brainard, who died in 1994 of AIDS-related pneumonia, is best remembered as the author of the unusual book I Remember, which was really a litany of things he remembered from his childhood, including “I remember white bread and tearing off the crust and rolling the middle part up into a ball and eating it” and “I remember crossing your fingers behind your back when you tell a lie.”

This must-read 544-page collection of Brainard's writing is a fun and utterly enjoyable pairing of I Remember with  mini-essays, nano stories (“Ten years ago I left home to go to the city and strike it big. But the only thing that was striking was the clock as it quickly ticked away my life”), reimagined comic strips (like Dick Tracy thinking, “Beware of boys in tight pants”), ruminations, favored quotes, overheard phrases (“Things we see from car windows are remembered for many years”), and reflections on art. (LOA.org)  

Darger's Resources by Michael Moon (Duke University Press, $22.95)

Outsider artist Henry Darger (1892-1973) was a hospital janitor. When he died in 1973, he left behind a enormous epic, the 15,145-page In the Realms of the Unreal, an extravagantly illustrated saga revolving around children (especially girls) enslaved and savaged by adult overlords. The oddly sexualized girls he created and the passages that depicted girls strangled and eviscerated led many critics to dismiss him as a sadistic pedophile — even if there was no evidence Darger ever acted out violent fantasies. In Darger's Resources, author Michael Moon (who also penned the book Displacing Homophobia) puts Darger’s art in perspective, demonstrating how it was influenced and inspired by other creative works of the times, including comic strips, pulp fiction, and illustrated children's' books (especially Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz books), and freeing us up to appreciate Darger’s work without worrying about our own moral compass. Even better, the author tackles Darger's cross-dressing or transgender kids, boys who are discovered to be girls, and nude girl warriors with male genitalia. Moon says that "the spectacularization of girlish bravado in In the Realms may be reparative in a somewhat displaced way: if little girls can not only show valor on the battlefield but can also outwit and even outmaneuver gangs of male bullies, maybe sissy boys have a chance in the battle of life, too." (DukeUPress.edu)

Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All — and What We Can Do About It by Sean Faircloth (Pitchstone Publishing, $14.95)

It should come as no surprise to the readers of The Advocate that when the religious right wields power it has detrimental effects on LGBT rights and freedoms. In Attack of the Theocrats! author Sean Faircloth, a former state senator in Maine, details the negative impacts religious exemptions have on children, women, and public health. He argues that at no other time in history have religiously conservative politicians held so much sway over the laws of our country, and he identifies the 50 members of Congress who most egregiously violate the separation of church and state, push for religious laws, and attempt to insert Judeo-Christian (especially evangelical) moral values into legislation.

Faircloth, a former director of the Secular Coalition of America, also includes that organization’s blueprint for secular political activism in his book. The political action plan advocates outreach to the LGBT community and women’s organizations and calls for the election of at least 10 openly secular members of Congress by 2020 (at present, Faircloth could find only one). It's a smartly energizing idea that many, no doubt, will agree with.

While the increasing power base of the religious right is truly terrifying, Faircloth’s book doesn't adequately address why its pro-Christian, anti-science rhetoric appeals to so many Americans. In the coming years we’re likely to witness an increasingly powerful religious right as people respond to economic turmoil, global climate change, and an uncertain future by clinging to the security of religion. But there is hope: Recent statistics suggest the younger generation is America’s most secular generation since our founders first established the separation between church and state. When they come to power, perhaps we’ll finally see the secular Congress Faircloth envisions. (PitchstonePublishing.com)

Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin (Walker Books, $16.99)

This young-adult retelling hues closely to the true-life story of high school student Constance McMillen, whose 2010 announcement that she would be attending her prom with another girl became national news when the homophobic school chose to cancel prom rather than allow a same-sex couple to attend. Tessa Masterson’s similar story is told alternately by Tessa and her best friend Lucas, who is devastated when Tessa rejects his prom invite to make one of her own. Readers 12 and up (and even adult fans of thoughtful youth media like Easy A) will find an accessible, if not entirely original, story about coming out, taking stands, and fighting homophobia. One original element is Lucas’s mom, who has a surprising and humorous response to his (initially) angry reaction. (WalkerBooks.com)

Gabriel by Marten Weber (CreateSpace, $19.69)

This long-winded, 414-page epic follows a modern-day Australian angel who becomes an internationally famous supermodel. Attacked by jealous haters, he goes into hiding, then takes up with an older man who takes him on a trip to China, where Gabriel is wrongly accused of murder and winds up in prison, where he develops a deep emotional and physical relationship with an Australian diplomat who is hell-bent on proving Gabriel’s innocence. Although the story has engaging, vivid moments, some readers will struggle with the author’s decision not to use quotation marks, his omnipotent point of view, and the long-winded, pontificating characters (who sometimes have monologues continuing on for multiple pages). Weber could have used a more objective editor but fans of his previous works, including Shayno and the engaging Benedetto Casanova: The Memoirs, will still enjoy this one. (MartinWeber.com)

Searching for Gilead: A Novel by David G. Hallman (iUniverse, $21.95)

When they meet  in 1976, Tom Fischer and Jonathan Compton, the young protagonists in Searching for Gilead immediately fall in love. The next 30 years see the couple’s families become increasingly at odds, with one side devoted to business and the other to missionary service. It's a gay modern Romeo and Juliet. Toronto-based author David Hallman has written several nonfiction books, including last year's very touching memoir August Farewell, which wove vignettes from his 33-year relationship into the story of his partner's final two weeks of life. Gilead, his first novel, could be a thinly veiled retelling of his own life, and a life dedicated to the United Church of Canada and the World Council of Churches. That familiarity with the subject has led to a realistic portrayal of convoluted familial relationships and  an honest examination of questions about God, injustice, love, and death with a story that's more universal than it is gay — rare for a self-published book. (iUniverse.com)

Don't Let Me Go by J. H. Trumble (Kensington, $15.00)

In this debut novel, author J.H. Trumble captures the rich details of teenage existence and the highs and lows of teen love. But this is no simple love story. First Nate and Adam come out, then they are brutalized by homophobic bullies. Then comes the real test of their relationship: Adam graduates and takes a job in New York, and Nate's fears and insecurities about their long-distance relationship intensify when he sees Adam's hot new roommate. Blogging about his frustrations only lands Nate in the center of a school controversy, and it draws the attention of another schoolmate. Ultimately, Nate must decide who and what he really wants. It's a classic young-adult book with some modern gay themes. Bonus for teachers and GSA groups: There’s a discussion guide included at the end of the book, which offers questions to spark classroom discussions about what it means to live (and love) in a hostile environment. (KensingtonBooks.com)