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Online discussion of Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men – An Anthology begins May 1

Join a virtual book club discussion of "Recognize" #RecognizeBiMen

Join a virtual book club discussion of “Recognize” #RecognizeBiMen

Starting this Friday, May 1, 2015, there will be a 70-day discussion of selected works from the Lambda Literary Finalist anthology, “Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men,” edited by Robyn Ochs and H. Sharif Williams (who is also known as “Dr. Herakuti.”) Discussion will progress sequentially through the anthology: on the first day, readers and contributors will talk about the preface by Dr. Herakuti, and on the second day, the subject will be the Introduction written by both Dr. H and Robyn Ochs.

As Dr. H writes, there is a “dynamic tension” in recognizing oneself, and being recognized by others, as a bisexual man. As “queers among queers,” bi men are among the least likely to appreciate the breadth of our desires, or find acceptance of them from family and community. We’re often told we don’t exist at all. “Recognize” is a groundbreaking anthology, the first to bring together the voices of bisexual men.

The contributors come from an astounding array of experiences, representing broad spectrums of age, culture, experience, privilege, and gender expression. You can’t walk away from this anthology with a single image of bisexual men. Instead, you will know sixty men who are able to share something remarkable about themselves, because they recognize who they love.

My contribution to this anthology, “Why I Still Go To Pride Events,” will be discussed on Sunday, May 17. I’ll post closer to the event from Facebook: “Like” my page to get the reminder.

For more information on this event, see the Facebook event, 70-Day #RecognizeBiMen Social Media Book Club, and look for the hashtag, #RecognizeBiMen on your favorite social media platforms.

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“Heartbreak and Detox” is coming

Justin Cascio reads Heartbreak and DetoxA story of courage, transgender identity, and yes, heartbreak, coming soon on Amazon.

Not all of my stories develop such a life of their own, or recapitulate their themes when they do, but “Heartbreak and Detox” has brought me pride, grief, and hope since its publication.

I mentioned here in February that my story was accepted into an anthology from Transgress Press, “Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family, and Themselves.” The book was published in June, and has received fine reviews. I was proud to see my work in print, and read my story at a book launch event in the Boston area last month, where I was gratified by the reception. As many writers can testify, reading one’s work aloud connects the author and his audience with his words in a way that nothing else can.

However, not everyone was happy with my work. Someone I was once close to, and who I mention in my story, was upset to see her name used. Upon consideration of this fact, the publishers at Transgress Press have decided to remove my story from future editions of “Manning Up.”

This is an ironic twist, given the story’s themes of betrayal, bullying, and heartbreak. But she—and from here on I will call her “Mary Ann”—does not get to decide what I write about, particularly when it’s true. I know where I stand as a writer. My story is a powerful one, and it remains true, whatever names are used.

I still want to share my story, so I am preparing to release “Heartbreak and Detox” as a single eBook through Amazon. For a dollar, you will be able to read my story of “manning up” in the face of “indifferent fathers, screaming mothers,” and bullies, then and now.

If you’d like to see more before making this investment in my more intimate writing, here are a couple of essays I’ve published on The Good Men Project:

How We Talk About What Turns Us On

In Defense of the One-Night Stand

 

Heartbreak and Detox” will be available very soon from Amazon.

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“Manning Up” and Becoming Whole

justin in sequoia

On getting broken down and building oneself back up again.

I’m two months out from back surgery, and beginning to feel like myself again. For more than a year, I suffered crippling back and leg pain from what might be a very old injury. The body awareness I’ve regained from surgery is joined by the sense of being gladly alive and sensate, after stripping the dulling layer of pain medication.

While I was still in the throes of my ordeal, and many months from resolution, I wrote and massively revised a story, “Heartbreak and Detox,” which was accepted for publication in a new transmasculine anthology called “Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family, and Themselves,” edited by Zander Keig and Mitch Kellaway. Keig co-edited the 2011 Lambda Literary Finalist, Letters for My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect.

“This anthology will help provide the much-needed space for trans men to reposition gender change within the context of their lives as humans connected intimately with others,” writes Kellaway.

I’m at a bus stop and I hear my name being called, and try to pretend that I didn’t. I’d already seen her and Luc when I heard him innocently shout to me. He doesn’t realize how it wounds me to see her, my ex’s new girlfriend, who is with him. Of course she and Luc are friends. They’re all friends, in this small town, the whole queer, poly, trans and allied, kinky hipster crowd. Just not with me.

Avoidance of mutual friends is one of the stages of grief, but it’s not the first. We live in the same town. I used to go past her house every week. When we started dating, crossing the railroad tracks between our neighborhoods became a heightened experience, like crossing between worlds. Now her house is like a rotting tooth in my mouth that I can’t help but probe with my tongue.

 

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The Monster at the End of This Post

Image

The first rule of monsters is learning who is a monster.

I was a bookworm as a kid. Before starting kindergarten, I learned to read from a bookshelf of Little Golden Books, a book of Mother Goose, a collection of children’s Bible stories, and “Monster and Me”—a series of slim, white, hardbound books featuring a naked purple man called Monster, and his mentorship of a skinny brown boy called Boy. In my favorite story, the two are taking a walk (from the houses and trees, it looks like they live in California) when it begins to rain. Monster takes out an umbrella, turns it upside-down, and makes it grow to the size of a giant swimming pool. The umbrella-bowl fills with rain. Then the sun comes out, and dozens of kids show up to swim in this enormous, deep pool with Boy. There are no parents, and nothing bad ever happens in the “Monster” books. I would read them over and over, especially the one with the umbrella trick.

My favorite book as a child was not on my bookshelf: it was in the local public library. I checked out The Very Hungry Caterpillar so many times that the librarian suggested to my mother that she should buy me a copy. It was the first book I loved: the clever placement of holes, the delicious looking food, and how the caterpillar grows huge, then undergoes a mysterious transformation, fueled by all of that exotic fare.

When my little sister was old enough to ask me to read to her, her favorite book was The Monster at the End of This Book. It featured Grover, the Sesame Street Muppet, breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the reader. I would love this effect, later, when “Choose Your Own Adventure” books became popular. Like “Monster,” they were written in the second-person present tense. Grover is afraid of monsters, he explains, and spends most of the book trying to convince the reader not to turn the page. His plans to forestall the end grow more grandiose, but those powerful, wicked children we were, we just kept turning pages, delighting in Grover’s growing panic. Even my little sister had the power to make Grover beg her for mercy.

We knew something about monsters, and stories, that gave us an advantage over poor Grover. After destroying an entire brick wall that he builds to keep the monster at the end of the book at bay, Grover is crushed: not by the bricks so much as by his failure in avoiding his fate. We turn the final page, and find, muppet ex machina, that it is Grover himself who is the eponymous monster at the end of this book.

***

There are two kinds of monsters in stories. There are protective and friendly monsters, like the Monster who is Boy’s friend, and like most Muppets who call themselves monsters. And then there are real monsters: the things too scary for children’s movies, but which appear, anyway, in nightmares, or are known to exist, somewhere… A book like The Monster at the End of This Book was educational: it taught children to recognize that monsters walk among us and share the same fears and longings. Even you, gentle reader, could be a monster and not realize it. Better to let your nature be unfolded and to face it with equanimity.

After I outgrew picture books, I moved on to different genres of young adult fiction: the aforementioned “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, which prefigured RPGs. I was comforted by stories of neglected protagonists who get happy endings: Heidi, Oliver Twist, Black Beauty, My Side of the Mountain, The Outsiders. I went through a phase where all I read were books about teenage girls in dire circumstances: Go Ask Alice, Deenie, Karen, books about teen pregnancy, anorexia, poverty, incest. I wanted the extremities of experience, reports of life on the edges, to know how bad it could get. Like other teenagers, I was drawn to horror, fantasy, and science fiction. A young adult title that I read and reread was The Girl Who Could Fly, about a teenager who orders wings from the back of a comic book, drinks the accompanying magic potion, and finds herself with real, permanently affixed, rainbow-hued wings: able to fly, and at the same time, desperate to hide her new gift. At the climax, she panics at her transformation, and finds a way back to normalcy. I was disappointed by this ending, so although I loved the book enough to check it out of the library repeatedly, I would read the book, on subsequent occasions, only to a point at which she remains happy with her new life, and then lay the book aside and start another.

***

As a young adult in college, I read textbooks. An English major, I eventually only read what was assigned. I stopped reading much of anything when I started working as a technical writer, until one day when I was at home after my grandmother died. I’d been at her bedside when she passed, and we had been very close. After she died, I kept taking sick days from work and hiding in my apartment, chain smoking.

My roommate studied gender performance. His bookshelf was full of titles like Gender Trouble and Stone Butch Blues. Although I was keenly curious about some of these, I never borrowed one or even flipped through them. This day, I went to my roommate’s bookshelf, selected Leslie Feinberg’s novel and sat down and began to read. My life started to change that day.

When I read Stone Butch Blues, I reacted like other trans men I’ve talked to about this book, and also as I did when I read The Girl Who Could Fly. In Leslie Feinberg’s novel, a fictionalized memoir, the protagonist, Jess, medically transitions in order to pass as a man, then finds ze doesn’t identify comfortably within either the category of butch woman or of trans man. When Jess realizes that hir identity as a man is not clear or strong, I felt uncomfortable: let down because, like other trans men who found their way through Stone Butch Blues, I realized by the end of the book that this is not about someone exactly like myself.

Trans person as monster is a common trope, even when used sympathetically. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, one of my favorite films, is about a kind of Frankenstein’s monster, though when she sings and dances, she decides where to insert the laughs. Hedwig, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and The Monster at the End of This Book are all focused on the same conundrum as Mary Shelley was in the original Frankenstein: puzzling out who are the real monsters from who just looks like one, who the victims are, what is monstrous in human nature, and whether we are all, inescapably, monsters.

I want my monsters both lovable and courageous; I want them to forge on to the end, to self-awareness, able to see themselves for everything they are, inside and out. When the adventurer who orders a pair of wings and puts them on realizes she is changing, is afraid, and turns back to her prescribed and boring life, I am disappointed by her lack of character and vision.

The first Frankenstein’s monster is tragic; newer incarnations offer other possibilities. Dr. Frankenfurter’s initial inspiration spirals into madness and he goes home at the end of the film, thwarted. The hungry caterpillar is transformed—gorgeous—and young Frankenstein’s monster enjoys both a happy ending and a monster-sized member, while Hedwig’s triumph, like Jess’ and Grover’s, is a more measured one: she has an inch, no longer angry, and walks out of the last scene with nothing and no one else, free and alive and open to the possibilities.

—Photo credit:  Jim Brayton/Flickr

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