Stella Maxwell
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The Best Queer(ish) Non-Fiction Tomes We Read in 2019

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Rocking the Closet: How Little Richard, Johnnie Ray, Liberace, and Johnny Mathis Queered Pop Music by Vincent L. Stephens takes a look at the evolution of pop music from squeaky clean crooners to the gender-bending bands and LGBTQ icons of the present day. Four prominent artists of the ‘50s and ‘60s rebelled against the entrenched notions of masculinity and used the medium of pop music to help guide a nation on the first steps towards tolerance and inclusion. By using the concepts of novelty and eroticism, these artists appealed to fans starved after decades of artistic and cultural homogeneity. Each of these musicians used their own unique style to break through societal norms. Liberace was extravagant and flamboyant. Mathis was intimately sensitive. Ray was “Mr. Emotional.” Little Richard subtly bent gender while raising the roof. Each in their own way challenged the post-war definitions of masculinity and, as the author writes, behaved in ways that let the public assume — but not see — their queerness. They all paved the way for the queer icons of the modern-day even if they weren’t always "out" (in our contemporary sense) while they did it. (University of Illinois Press) — Donald Padgett

Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Mind by neuroscientist and author Gina Rippon argues against a biological distinction in the male and female brains. What little research has been done is often little more than what is described as "neurotrash." Rippon argues that this scientific consensus is outdated and has engendered bias and stereotypes by rewarding and funding research that supports the accepted claims. Instead, she uses cutting-edge research and studies to show how the old beliefs are no longer supported by the evidence. Brains are not binary monoliths but instead a mosaic of male and female components that remain pliable throughout a person’s life. This plasticity allows for adaptability, responding to events as well as societal norms. As such, Rippon argues, discernible gender identities are often the result of scientific misconceptions that can damage rather than nurture the true identities of our children and lives, as well as the accepted constructs of what defines gender. (Pantheon Books) — DP

She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak edited by Chitra Nagarajan, Azeenarh Mohammed, and Rafeeat Aliyu, is a groundbreaking collection of 25 first-hand accounts of queer women in Nigeria, a largely conservative country of over 170 million people where it is illegal to be LGBTQ. The powerful narratives give a voice to queer Nigerians who are often silenced out of fear of retribution. Offering a first-hand look into their realities, She Called Me Woman highlights stories of real women navigating love, spirituality, and womanhood against the backdrop of a heightened anti-LGBTQ regime. Edited by three LGBTQ-identified women from Nigeria — a lawyer (Mohammed), an activist-writer (Nagarajan), and a communications expert and researcher (Aliyu) — the book is a must-read for anyone hoping to gain a new perspective on the importance of LGBTQ equality across the globe. (Cassava Republic) — David Artavia 

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Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of Their Jungle by Dr. Steven Yacovelli is the perfect manual to help queer people of all ages learn the tools of effective leadership. Using his 25 years of experience in management and consulting, Yacovelli breaks down the most important assets one needs to build, shape, and cultivate without sacrificing their queerness. The Winner of the 2019 New York City Big Book Award for LGBT Non-Fiction, Pride Leadership identifies six particular leadership traits that greatly increase an LGBTQ leader’s influence: authenticity, courage, empathy, great communication, relationship building, and influencing organizational culture. An easy read with a vital message, Yacovelli’s powerful guide tackles each of these traits in such a relatable way, making it easier for LGBTQ leaders to find their voice in a crowded workforce that often silences us. (Publish Your Purpose Press) — DA

LGBTQ Stats: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People by the Numbers by Bennett Singer and David Deschamps is a must-read for all LGBTQ activists. Singer and Deschamps expertly chronicle statistics from old and newly-collected data around the world, providing a prominent resource for advocates, journalists, lawmakers, and anyone else who needs to understand the long and winding road we’re currently traveling in the ongoing LGBTQ movement. The award-winning authors provide targeted facts and figures on family, workplace discrimination, criminal justice, immigration, education, youth, and much more. The researchers also write about how local and federal policies impact LGBTQ communities, sometimes invisibly, as well as the status of LGBTQ rights across the world. The helpful handbook provides alarming numbers that will certainly make you pay attention (For example: Did you know that in 1991, the average age of coming out was 25? Now, it’s 16.) Without a doubt, even though it first came out in 2017, LGBTQ Stats is still a required read for both trivia lovers and anyone who is passionate about social justice. (The New Press) — DA

Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement by David K. Johnson looks at the genesis and evolution of the male physique magazines of the last century. When these gay-produced and targeted magazines hit the newsstands in 1951, they proved revolutionary on multiple fronts. Not only did they show pictures and illustrations of nearly naked men, but these men’s mags also provided an initiation into the gay culture through articles, letters from readers, and advertisements. These physique entrepreneurs also ran photography studies, book clubs, mail order catalog, and important pen-pal services that catered to the burgeoning gay community. Johnson, an associate professor of history at the University of South Florida, shows how these magazines blazed trails for the community via their open expression of the male body and gay ideals, but also through their legal struggles against censorship laws and their successful fight against the U.S. Post Office. (Columbia University Press) — DP

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Poor Queer Studies: Confronting Elitism in the University by Matt Brim is a damning critique of the impact of academic elitism on poor and working-class students. Using firsthand information from time as a teacher and researcher, the author shows how accepted dogmas of thought are driven by material and intellectual resources that neglect poor and minority communities. Poor Queer Studies lays bare the structural and disciplinary mechanism of inequality, from overcrowded classrooms and inadequate educational resources to more basic deficiencies of the underprivileged such as homelessness, lack of access to food, healthcare, and childcare, and more. Brim is the author of associate professor of Queer Studies in the English Department at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. (Duke University Press) — DP

In Search of Stonewall: The Riots at 50, the Gay & Lesbian Review at 25: Best Essays 1994-2018 edited by Richard Schneider Jr. is a celebration of not just the 50th anniversary of Stonewall but also the 25th anniversary of the famed Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review. Schneider has collected work from some seminal gay authors: There’s a letter from Edmund White drafted shortly after Stonewall telling of his experiences and an essay on sex on Fire Island by Felice Picano. Broken into four sections, the book focuses on the riots themselves, the background and historical context, the aftermath, and the legacy of that event. The book is a reminder that Stonewall was not just an outburst of anger but a moment when queers began to demand a place for themselves in public spaces and the broader society. (Gay & Lesbian Review) — DP 

The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History by Marc Stein is a powerful volume of documents that provide context to the riots and suggest that the times made Stonewell probable, if not inevitable. Stein’s book is a serious yet inviting collection of accounts and perspectives. There are eyewitness statements and observations, articles and editorials, snippets of interviews, and dozens of pictures and illustrations. The book captures the radical spirit of the time, with highly charged opinions and manifestos that form the basis for later actions. In doing so Stein helps us understand how Stonewall affected what came later and how to view the impact of other uprisings. The Stonewall Riots also shows the vibrancy of gay life at the time, with colorful descriptions of bars and bathhouses, and inspiring protests in the face of police brutality. (New York University Press) — DP

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The Stonewall Reader edited by the New York Public Library is a comprehensive anthology of writings that provide a greater, fuller understanding of Stonewall and its significance to the community. “Before Stonewall” is the first of three sections examining the time leading up to the riots and featuring essays from the renowned LGBTQ pioneers like John Rechy and Barbara Gittings. The section “During Stonewall” incorporates a wide range of first-person accounts, news articles, and other narratives. “After Stonewall” looks at the immediate aftermath of the riots and the queer rights movement that arose in its wake. The collection reminds readers that LGBTQ activism didn’t start at Stonewall, that transgender political organizing was sparked that night, and our community — and Stonewall protesters — represented people from a wide range of backgrounds. From excerpts of Mario Martino’s trans autobiography to a foreword written by great gay author Edmund White, The Stonewall Reader is a definitive work that has been expertly edited with the assistance of Jason Baumann, curator of the library’s Stonewall exhibition. His introduction itself is an excellent primer on the LGBTQ movement before and after Stonewall. (Penguin Books) — DP 

These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore is the first single-volume American history written by a female historian. It examines not just the historical record but how and by whom that record was created and maintained. Beginning with the 1492 “discovery” of the New World by Christopher Columbus and continuing through to the current era, Lepore focuses on both events and their narratives. These Truths contextualizes current political problems within the broader sweep of the country’s history, showing how the Jeffersonian truths of natural rights and equality are still sacrificed today for peoples of color and the less privileged. Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and staff writer at The New Yorker. She is a bestselling author and finalist for the National Book Award. (W.W. Norton Company) — DP

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence by Ronan Farrow is an examination of the state of diplomatic affairs in the time of Trump. Drawing on meticulous research, unearthed documents, his first-hand experience working in the State Department, as well as interviews with every living Secretary of State from Kissinger to Albright to Clinton and Tillerson, Farrow charts the dramatic depletion of the diplomatic corps serving under a President who often shuns their expertise and goes it alone instead. War on Peace is an impassioned plea to halt the collapse of the foreign services and a return to a more professional policy. Farrow won a Pulitzer for his exposé of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults and the cover-up by NBC. (W. W. Norton & Company) — DP

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Conspiracy: A True Story of Power, Sex, and a Billionaire’s Secret Plot to Destroy a Media Empire by Ryan Holiday exposes Peter Thiel’s toppling of Gawker Media. The PayPal founder had been exposed by Gawker, and Thiel was out for revenge. When an illegally recorded sex tape of wrestler and actor Hulk Hogan with his best friend’s wife was released by the media company, Thiel saw his chance. Gawker was confident he could beat the lawsuit as they had many others, but this time the law was not on their side. And neither was Thiel, who secretly masterminded efforts that led to the stunning victory for Hogan and the ultimate destruction of Gawker. Informed by interviews with all the key players, Conspiracy reveals the machinations of Thiel is in quest for revenge. Holiday is a bestselling author whose work has been translated into 30 languages and read by over two million people. (Portfolio) — DP

American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation by Holly Jackson studies the impact of protest at a time when the denial of agency and even personhood was embedded in the fabric of society, and how their efforts impacted the development of the nation. Jackson chronicles how a new generation of activists vowed to finish the work of the founding fathers. She weaves together stories of historical figures both prominent and obscure as they grapple with racial, sexual, political, and societal oppression and injustice. American Radicals shows how the past has shaped present forms of resistance and protest. Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton take their place alongside Fanny Wright’s scandalous critiques of marriage and faith. From the forced displacement of indigenous peoples from their native lands through the battles of abolition to the high-minded ideals of the reform-minded progressive movement, Jackson takes the reader back into the earliest socialist communes and bohemian parlors where newfound freedoms inspired Americans to change both their country and the world for the better. (Crown) — DP

Silent Cells: The Secret Drugging of Captive America by Anthony Ryan Hatch is a broad indictment of the use of psychotropic drugs in systems of mass captivity. Hatch breaks down his analysis along four interconnected uses: during legal struggles between institutionalized peoples and the state’s police powers; experimental drug testing in prison; for behavioral control in the military, nursing homes, and the foster care system; and as extralegal torture among migrant communities. Silent Cells debunks the question of whether systems of mass incarceration could exist without psychotropic drugs to uncover patterns of misuse and abuse that threaten basic human and civil rights. Hatch is author of Blood Sugar: Racial Pharmacology and Food Justice in Black America and is currently associate professor in the Science in Society program at Wesleyan University. (University of Minnesota Press) — DP

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Walmart: Diary of an Associate by Hugo Meunier and translated by Mary Foster is the Canadian journalist’s retelling of his short time spent working at what many have labeled the evil empire of conglomerate retailers. Meunier is an immersion journalist, one who surreptitiously embeds himself within an event or organization to find and report on a story. Sometimes it can take weeks or months to find a lead or angle. Or it is as simple as his first assignment: crashing the wedding of Justin and Sophie Trudeau and reporting back to the world before the officially-sanctioned media could tell the approved story. Meunier reveals the life of the average floor worker, the ritualistic chants that begins each shift, the pressure to sell, and the low wages that leave employees only able to afford shopping at Walmart. He goes even further by charting the efforts of the box store giant to block unionization and their decision to close a store rather than recognize the certification rights of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. (Fernwood Publishing) — DP

You Throw Like a Girl: The Blind Spot of Masculinity by former NFL quarterback Don McPherson is an examination of society’s traditional definition of masculinity and how this narrow focus creates blind spots that hinder the healthy development of men. Using examples from his own life, McPherson dissects the strict beliefs and unspoken rules that define our views of manhood, the behaviors of masculinity we instill in growing boys, and how the resulting lack of emotional wholeness can lead to violence against women. He passionately advocates against the dangers of viewing such violence as strictly a ‘women’s issue.’ Instead, he argues that the toxicity of the traditional views of masculinity are ultimately culpable. McPherson was an All-American quarterback at Syracuse University and played professionally in both the NFL and the Canadian Football League. He is a strong advocate for women’s issues and has been particularly active in the fight against gender-based violence. (Akashic Books) — DP

 

Tags: Exclusives, Books

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