Monthly Archives: July 2014

Very Specific Book Recs: Historical Queer Ladies

When I was about 5 years old, my father read Watership Down out loud to me. I was way into the characters, the epic adventures they had, and even the stories they told each other about Ancient Rabbit Heroes With Unpronounceable Names, but I was less enamored of the long descriptive passages. According to my dad, I’d sit patiently for a paragraph or two of description, but if Richard Adams’s depiction of the countryside went on any longer than that, I’d interrupt with a plaintive, “But Daddy, where are the rabbits?”

Much as I love the genre, that’s generally how I feel when I read historical fiction as an adult, only replace “rabbits” with “queer ladies.” At least 1/10 of the ladies in history must have been queer, so where the hell are they? And why doesn’t the author of the book I’m reading seem to care? And if the author doesn’t care about what was happening to people like me during the time period they’re writing about, how much do I care about what happens to any of their straight characters? (Spoiler alert: probably not that much, unless they are a Naguib Mahfouz level literary genius, because I am a cranky queer feminist, and that’s how I roll.)

Fortunately for me (and for you), there are some brilliant historical fiction writers who have not only considered my “But where are the queer ladies?” question, but have answered it with, “Right here, being awesome!” Here are some of my all-time favorite books starring historical queer ladies:

1. Hild by Nicola Griffith

9780374280871_custom-dba405fdd210ea13df71aefd93403eaf3d8501dc-s6-c30What it’s about: The first book in a planned trilogy about the life of Britain’s St. Hilda of Whitby, Hild traces the title character’s life from age 3 to age 19 as she and her family navigate war, court politics, and religious shifts in 6th century Britain.

Read this if: You want a gorgeously written, immersive experience that will make you feel like you’re navigating serious sociopolitical issues and intense emotional journeys right along with Hild, and/or you’re intrigued by the idea of a writer combining historical research with science-fiction-honed world-building skills to breathe the 6th century into life.

No, really, read this even if: You’re intimidated by trying to navigate Anglo-Saxon and Old Irish names and places on this large a scale, because never fear! Nicola Griffith has created a wealth of supplemental materials to help you through.

Steer clear if: You will find discussion of rape and consent issues triggering, or you’re not feeling up to reading about the realities of war.

2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

ColorPurpleWhat it’s about: Through a series of letters spanning several decades, Celie chronicles her life in early 20th century Georgia, from her girlhood with an abusive father to her arranged, exploitative marriage to her coming into her own, finding her voice, and creating a community for herself.

Read this if: You want a breathtakingly beautiful and compulsively readable novel about passion, love, unconventional families of choice, the discovery of self, and the survival of terrible things, and/or you are tired of white ladies hogging the historical fiction spotlight.

Steer clear if: You will find depictions of physical abuse, rape, and virulent Jim-Crow-era racism triggering.

3. The Last Nude by Ellis Avery

10836810 What it’s about: Rafaela Fano, a young Italian-American fleeing an arranged marriage, accepts a job modeling for Neoclassical Cubist painter Tamara de Lempicka in 1920s Paris. Great art, love, and betrayal ensue until World War II ruins everything.

Read this if: You want a passionate story of intense love and loss that might remind you of your own first love, and/or you find the idea of running into Gertrude Stein (and the rest of the era’s famous ex-pats, including an alternate-universe Hemingway) in a social context thrilling.

Steer clear if: You find unreliable narrators irritating or will find depiction of prostitution, rape (both statutory and otherwise), and anti-Semitism triggering.

4. Life Mask by Emma Donoghue

9781443406956What it’s about: Celebrated actress Eliza Farren, convention-defying sculptor Anne Damer, and peer of the realm Edward Smith-Stanley navigate high society and weather scandal (including accusations of lesbianism against the ladies) in 18th century London.

Read this if: You want a slow-paced, slice-of-life exploration of high society social interactions and artistic pursuits written in such a pitch-perfect historical voice that excerpts from the characters’ real-life letters are woven in seamlessly.

Steer clear if: You will be annoyed that you have to wait more than 400 pages for it to be confirmed whether any of the ladies are actually queer, let alone for any queer ladies to make out with each other.

5. Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller

f23860What it’s about: Two young women fall in love in early 19th century New England and overcome class differences, societal expectations, and homophobia in order to build a life together.

Read this if: You want a sweet, well-written love story with plenty of hot lesbian sex scenes, and/or are intrigued by the idea of 19th century non-binary gender expression.

Steer clear if: You will find depiction of sexual assault and violently homophobic families triggering.

6. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

9781860495243What it’s about: When she falls in love with a professional male impersonator, Nancy King leaves her life as an oystergirl in small town, Victorian-era England and begins an odyssey of self-discovery that includes drag show performance, cross-dressing prostitution, forays into the high society lesbian kink scene, and socialist organizing.

Read this if: You want characters who are beautifully, infuriatingly real and unpredictable, compelling plots.

Steer clear if: You are not in the mood for a potentially-disturbing detour into the seamy underbelly of the Victorian kink scene.

7. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

9781555838539_custom-5c027f71c8b1d234dfc81f043c01bb8afc5dc50b-s6-c30 What it’s about: After growing up working class in a small town in the 1950s, labor organizer Jess Goldberg navigates life in the violently transphobic and homophobic mid-century United States first as a butch lesbian, then as a trans person.

Read this if: You want a front row seat for the development of the LGBT rights movement, both pre- and post-Stonewall, brought to life through such vivid description of individual experience you’ll feel like you’re living it along with Jess.

Steer clear if: You don’t think you can handle being hit with the emotional equivalent of a sledgehammer right now. ALL OF THE TRIGGER WARNINGS APPLY. NO, REALLY. ALL OF THEM.

~~~~~~~~~

Liyana is a queer actor, aerialist, bookworm, and tea enthusiast. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is confused by the concept of “free time.”

 

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Very Specific Book Recs: Food Memoirs

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. I love to cook, to eat, and to feed people.  Since I love to read, I also spend time reading about food. While I do read academic books about food (especially history), I also read a fair number of food memoirs. These books center the experience of food: growing, cooking and eating.  Many have recipes.  Food is very universal and also very personal.  I enjoy learning what other people are eating, because it tells me a lot about them and their culture. Also, I love imagining eating yummy things.

animalvegetablemiracleAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

What is it about?  Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved from the southwest to Appalachia and decided to eat locally for a year.  They had an extensive garden and keep chickens and other fowl.  This is one of the books published in the early 2000’s that helped start the current food movement.

Read if: You like well-crafted prose and descriptions of gardening.

Don’t Read if:  You are uncomfortable with descriptions of killing animals.

farmcityFarm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter

What is it about? Novella Carpenter moved to Oakland, California and started her own urban farm, including growing vegetables, keeping bees, and eventually raising rabbits and pigs.  As well as learning new farming skills, Carpenter had to deal with urban living issues like getting along with the neighbors and potential soil contamination.

Read If: You like funny books about urban living.

Don’t read if: You don’t want descriptions of killing rabbits and pigs.

 garlicandsapphiresGarlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

What is it about? Ruth Reichl moved from California to NYC to take up the mantel of New York Times Restaurant critic. To do her job, she wore disguises so that she wouldn’t be recognized by staff at the restaurants.  Reichl found that each disguise altered her personality. Through all of this, she also had to navigate relationships with her family and friends.

Read if: You like to hear about what other people eat in restaurants.

Don’t Read if:  The restaurant scene is not for you.

 relishRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

What is it about? In this graphic memoir,  Lucy Knisley uses a series of vignettes to  explore her relationship with food. Her mother was a professional chef, and Knisley grew up in a household with a strong appreciation for food.  The stories are not strictly chronologically but thematically arranged. The art is a bit cartoony but really shows the characters’ emotions and the food. I tried the chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it turned out great.

Read if: You want to try Knisley’s family recipes.

Don’t Read If: You aren’t into comics.

 bentoboxintheheartlandBento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya

What is it about? Linda Furiya grew up as part of the only Japanese family in small town Indiana during the 1960’s and 70’s.  Her parents loved traditional Japanese food and went out of their way to create it, growing their own vegetables and often driving long ways get ingredients.  In addition, Furiya had to deal with being clearly different form her classmates.  She was often teased and worried about fitting in.

Read if: You want to know more about growing up a minority in small town.

Don’t read if: The injustice of the casual racism Furiya faced will upset you.

talkingwithmymouthfullTalking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories by Bonny Wolf

What is it about? Bonny Wolf grew up Jewish in the Midwest, and then later lived in New England, Texas and Washington, D.C.  Here she talks about food experiences from her life cooking for her family. She also talks to friends and family about what they cook. The book includes recipes for bundt cake made with pudding mix, real Texas barbecue, chopped liver, zucchini bread, and much more.

Read if: You love learning about other people’s everyday cooking

Don’t read if: You don’t want to know about Jell-o salads and recipes made with cake mix and pudding mix.

———–

Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planing. She also spends too much time reading, and loves science fiction and fantasy.

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The HPV Vaccine: Part 3

Questions and Answers

In this segment, I address common arguments concerned parents make against getting their kids vaccinated.

1. The HPV vaccine will encourage sexual activity; therefore, we should not vaccinate

One of the cool things about being human is the ability to have a lot of complex, conflicting thoughts and feelings on one issue, but when our kids’ health is at stake, I think we need to be very honest with ourselves:  The anxiety that we are feeling probably isn’t about the HPV vaccine in and of itself; otherwise we would also feel this anxiety about the hepatitis B vaccine and the possibility of an AIDS vaccine.  I’ve yet to hear someone oppose hep B vaccinations on the grounds that it might encourage sexual activity, and everyone I’ve talked to hopes the AIDS vaccine gets here yesterday, so I’m not sensing that same anxiety with those vaccines.

I would like to humbly suggest that, since the feelings about the HPV vaccine are not consistent with feelings about hep B (which is given as a routine vaccination to very small children), this argument stems from fear that teens are going to have sex before they’re ready.  The HPV vaccine and its timing (when kids are eleven and are starting to develop into sexual beings) reminds us that sex is a not-too-distant possibility, so we feel fearful, and think the HPV vaccine is causing the fear when it actually isn’t.

These fears are totally valid, and I would not discount or minimize them for the world.  We live in a highly sexualized culture where teens and preteens are getting a lot of conflicting messages about sex and how it relates to them and their bodies and their self-worth.  Sex can be a risky activity; I completely understand that parents don’t want their kids engaging in sexual activity before they’re ready, and I certainly think teens and preteens need education so they know what consent is, what sex acts are, which sexual activities put them at which risks, and how to reduce those risks.

I also think these concerns need to be addressed with frequent, frank, factual communication between parents and kids.  Withholding a vaccine—trying to scare your kid out of sexual activity by threatening them with a horrible cancer—is not an honest, effective, or fair way to attempt to prevent sexual activity.  I think that if parents are refusing to vaccinate kids on these grounds, they are doing them a profound disservice, not just by putting the kids’ health at risk, but by not discussing their views and values with them.

I remember, very vividly, that as a teen not too long ago, what my parents said to me about sex was more important than what my peers, television, or the Internet said.  It sounds corny, but talk to your kids about sex.  They’ll listen.

Then maybe, after this discussion, you’ll feel less anxious.

But even if you don’t, they should still get vaccinated.

2. HPV vaccine will make teens think they are “immune” to STDs and reduce how often they engage in safe sex.  Therefore, we should not vaccinate.

I’m vaccinated against hepatitis A because I went on a medical mission trip to a third-world country.  No one discouraged me from getting the hepatitis A vaccine on the basis that it would encourage me to drink the local water, exposing me to other pathogens.  On the contrary, I was extremely encouraged to get it because it protected my liver from hep A, should I ingest the local water.

Furthermore, during my office visit to get the vaccine, the doctor, nurse, and even the secretary educated me on why I still should not drink the local water. The vaccine was a tool to help keep me safe, but not my only tool, and they made sure I had tools in addition to the hep A vaccine to stay safe.

In my ideal world, this is how the HPV vaccine would be viewed: Not an all-powerful panacea, but a useful tool among many in the toolbox of sexual health. Teens are smart, and if we educate them about sexual health, they will understand that being vaccinated against HPV means they are still vulnerable to gonorrhea, herpes, AIDS, and other diseases they’d really rather not get.  I see no reason to keep them from getting a valuable tool just because it is not an all-powerful tool.

3. The HPV vaccine only protects against certain strains of HPV, plus most infections with HPV are cleared anyway, so we should not vaccinate.

True, but, as my mother has said, “Being protected against only four strains is still one heck of a lot better than a sharp stick in the eye!” Strains 16 and 18 are the most common high-risk strains of HPV, and strains 6 and 11, while low-risk, are also very common and do carry a risk of cervical cancer.  There are other strains, but these are certainly among the most worrisome.

Yes, most HPV infections are cleared, but enough aren’t so that over 12,500 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013.  The vast majority of these cases were preventable with the HPV vaccine.

4. There are risks to any medical procedure!  My kid will not even lay eyes upon potential sexual partners until marriage and then they will be monogamous!  Why needlessly expose them to those risks?

There are two questions here: Are the risks worth it? And why should I vaccinate my kid if, because of their beliefs and lifestyle choices, they almost certainly will not need it?
Yes, there are risks to the HPV vaccine.  Among the reactions considered serious (and thus meticulously reported to and investigated by the CDC) are symptoms like headaches, nausea, allergic reactions to a vaccine component, local pain and swelling, dizziness, fatigue, and fainting.

These same risks apply to the tetanus vaccine, too, as well as just about every other vaccine your child has ever received, and I’d venture to guess many people do not cut themselves on rusty metal at any point in their lives.  I know I haven’t!

Still, I’m betting your kid is vaccinated against tetanus, and that’s probably because you’ve concluded that the risks of your kid contracting tetanus by freak accident are significantly worse than the risks of the vaccine.

Are the risks of cervical cancer really as trivial as the risks of the vaccine?  Is a headache as bad as even the most minor outpatient surgery?  Is having a sore arm as bad as needing your pelvis, legs, urinary system, and part of your colon removed?  Is feeling dizzy worse than worrying for days or weeks about the results of a biopsy?

As to why you should still vaccinate your kid, who you believe will not engage in sexual activity of any sort until marriage and will then remain monogamous, I have a couple of reasons:

Marriage is not a cure for STDs.  HPV infections acquired before marriage will remain after marriage, and there is a good chance an unvaccinated partner will pick up an HPV infection from an infected spouse.  Given that it is generally ideal for folks to have a fulfilling, loving sex life with their spouse, abstaining from sex isn’t a useful strategy to keep them from getting infected in this circumstance.  Vaccination is.

There’s also the unfortunate but very real fact that sometimes, even married folks will cheat.  True story: One of my dear friends is a wonderful, devout, churchgoing, Evangelical Christian woman who had no premarital sex and married a like-minded man from a similar family.  She just found out he has been cheating on her with multiple women for several years.  She didn’t get the HPV vaccine because she didn’t expect to need it—she was a virgin who married a virgin, and she doesn’t believe in divorce.

Now, on top of worrying about her marriage, she is worrying about her risk of getting cervical cancer.

It would be pretty awesome if she didn’t have to worry as much about the cervical cancer.

 5. Why vaccinate just girls?  Boys get HPV, too, and it leads to anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer and all sorts of awful stuff!  If only girls get the vaccine, something is off, and I’m not vaccinating!

I have good news for you!  The CDC recommends the vaccine for all folks ages 9 to 26, including boys! The initial studies of vaccine effectiveness were only done on women and girls, so for a while the CDC only had data for women and girls, and thus they could only recommend its use in women and girls.  Western medicine, while not perfect by any means, does make a concerted effort to not recommend things for which there is no data.
Now, studies have been done on men and boys, providing data suggesting the vaccine was effective in men and boys, and the CDC was able to change their recommendation to include them.

So you’re the recipient of outdated information, and now you have current information!  Your son can be protected from oropharyngeal cancer and anal cancer, just like your daughter can be protected from cervical cancer! Aren’t you happy?  Aren’t you going to schedule that appointment right now?

No?

Much to my chagrin, folks who use this argument are rarely happy upon hearing that news, and none of them frolic joyously down to their family doctor to get their kids vaccinated.

I suspect this lack of frolicking is because they remembered that the HPV vaccine protects boys against anal cancer caused by the HPV virus.  And then they remember that boys get HPV in their anal canal by engaging in anal sex, usually by penetration from HPV-infected partners who have a penis.

Discomfort with homosexual sex and reluctance to discuss it can cause parents to hesitate in getting their sons vaccinated.

I’m not going to offer justifications about how boys are carriers of HPV so they need to be vaccinated for the sake of their female sex partners, because I think that argument is ridiculous.  There is no guarantee your son with have sex with women.  There is no guarantee your son will have sex with men.  There is no guarantee your son will have sex with anyone.  He shouldn’t be vaccinated for their sake, because we have no clue if “they” even exist.

Your son’s health, like your daughter’s, is worth protecting for its own sake.

 

Any other thoughts or questions?  Anything else you want me to argue? (Except against Anti-Vaxers.  Do I need to pull out my video again?  Because I will.)  Anything you’d like me to write about in future blog entries?  Leave it in the comments!
Until then, stay healthy, and get vaccinated!

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Fancci is a US osteopathic medical school student in her clinical years.  She hopes to one day open a rural family practice clinic, but first needs to survive the rest of med school and a residency.

Please join us over on the forums to discuss this post!