July 2003

 

SUMMER READING

No, the title of this month's editorial is not metaphoric. In fact, this is a real reading list, posing as an editorial. You see, once upon a time BENT did feature reviews of books relevant to our cripgay experience (and may one day again), but finding titles that met that criterion proved more and more difficult.

Using the excuse of a summer reading list, I've decided to offer a handful of books, wildly disparate in subject matter, that I have found thought-provoking. Not all of them are current. Some are decades old but new to me.

How relevant are these books to "our cripgay experience"? I'll leave that to you.

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COMEBACK: Six Remarkable People who Triumphed Over Disability
By FRANK BOWE (Harper & Row, 1981)
Get past the "inspirational" title and you may be in for a few surprises. The publication date alone guarantees historical interest. "One wonders whether his parents were right to withhold from Roger the fact of his retardation. It is easy to understand why they did. After all, they continued to hold out hope that it would all be 'cleared up' someday soon, so why worry the child unduly?"

FIREBIRD, A MEMOIR
By MARK DOTY (Harper Collins, 1999)
"Sixty years before, as a second- or third-grader, Warren sat behind a boy whom he admired, a popular and handsome kid, and one day Warren noticed something he had never before observed. When the handsome boy wore a polo shirt, his arm filled the sleeve so that the fabric stretched a little. Warren's arms did not fill a sleeve in this way; it had never occurred to him that an arm could fill a sleeve, and in observing this characteristic of the boy's body Warren realized that he found it remarkable; the muscle, in its taught encasement of cloth, was a beautiful thing."

GEEK LOVE
By KATHERINE DUNN (Warner Books, 1983)
"We have this advantage, that the norms expect us to be wise. Even the rat's-ass dwarf jester got credit for terrible canniness disguised in his foolery. Freaks are like owls, mythed into blinking, bloodless objectivity. The norms figure our contact with their brand of life is shaky. They see us cut off from temptation and pettiness.. Even our hate is grand by their feeble lights. And the more deformed we are, the higher our supposed sanctity."

I PUT A SPELL ON YOU
NINA SIMONE with STEPHEN CLEARY (Da Capo Press, 1993)
"I didn't suddenly wake up one morning feeling dissatisfied. These feelings just became more and more intense, until by the time the sixties ended I'd look in the mirror and see two faces, knowing that on the one hand I loved being black and being a woman, and that on the other it was my color and sex which had fucked me up in the first place."

UNCHAINED MEMORIES: True Stories of Traumatic Memories, Lost and Found By LENORE TERR, M.D. (Basic Books, 1994)
"Gary strove for control because he once had none. His mother's games of death had given him plenty of ways to 'play' with his own anticipated demise."

A MIND OF ITS OWN: A Cultural History of the Penis
By David M. Friedman (The Free Press, 2001)
"At first, most circumcisions were done on boys, not infants, of the middle and upper classes. According to historian David L. Gollaher, a circumcised penis soon became a badge of status—proof of one's membership in the American elite. (Europeans, however, never bought this argument, though they were as phobic about masturbation as everyone else. As a result, circumcision failed to spread outside the Jewish community there.)"

PUSHING TIME AWAY: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna
By Peter Singer (Harper Collins, 2003)
"A misguided upbringing and a hostile social environment may suppress our natural sense of community, and instill in us the false belief that we can find fulfillment by thinking only of ourselves. If education can change the way in which children are reared, they will cease to see work for the common good as an obligation imposed from outside. Working with others for a common goal will instead be the natural result of following our need to belong to a community."

TIMES SQUARE RED, TIMES SQUARE BLUE
By Samuel R. Delany (New York University Press, 1999)
"I remember I asked him. 'Why are you sitting on your hands?' He laughed. 'Cause they're so big and ugly. And I bite my nails so bad. My mother used to make me sit on them, for an hour, every time she caught me chewing on them. It never broke me of the habit—it just got me in the habit of trying to hide them whenever I could.' 'I think you have the most beautiful hands I've ever seen,' I said."

© 2003 BENT

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Bob Guter has been a bilateral amputee since the age of six as the result of multiple birth defects. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Stagebill, and other publications. He lives in San Francisco where he publishes and edits BENT.