Women's Books Online Reviews

A Cooperative Book Review

Reviews of Women's Books by Women Around the World

Third Quarter, 1996

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Updated on July 31, 1996

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Third Quarter, 1996

* Amy Clampitt's A Silence Opens

Reviewed by Lee Lawton (Q3 1996) (P)

* Ann Linnea's Deep Water Passage:

A Spiritual Journey at Midlife

Reviewed by Lee Lawton (Q3 1996) (NF)

* Caitlin Sullivan and Kate Bornstein's Nearly Roadkill:

An Erotic Infobahn Adventure

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips (Q3 1996)

* Helena Maria Viramontes' Under the Feet of Jesus

Reviewed by Lee Lawton (Q3 1996) (NF)

* Janet Bukovinskyl's Women of Words:

A Personal Introduction to Thirty-Five Important Writers

Reviewed by Lee Lawton (Q3 1996) (NF)

* Leslie Feinberg's Transgender Warriors:

Making History from Joan of Arc to Ru Paul

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips (Q3 1996) (NF)

* Maia Dzielska's Hypatia of Alexandria

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips (Q3 1996) (NF)

* Patricia Mellencamp's A Fine Romance:

Five Ages of Film Feminism

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips (Q3 1996) (NF)

* Nanci Little's Grass Widow

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips (Q3 1996)

* Nanci Little's Thin Fire

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips (Q3 1996)

* Rochelle Hollander Schwab's In A Family Way

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips (Q3 1996)

* Sheri S. Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country

Reviewed by Lee Lawton (Q3 1996)

* Sheri S. Tepper's Raising the Stones

Reviewed by Lee Lawton (Q3 1996)

* Suzy McKee Charnas's The Furies

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips (Q3 1996)



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Where To Find Women's Books

You can find the books reviewed here at one of the many women's bookstores listed in the Feminist Bookstore Index. The links indicated here point to text-only versions of the index for the convenience of women with slow modem connections but a prettier Netscape-enhanced version is just a hotlink away.

Feminist Bookstores in Canada and the USA:

http://www.igc.apc.org/women/bookstores/

Feminist Bookstores in Europe, Asia, South America, Australia & New Zealand:

http://www.igc.apc.org/women/bookstores/widehtml.html

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Thin Fire

by Nanci Little

Madwoman Press, Northboro, MA, 1993

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips

This is a great summer read for the beach or park during those lazy summer days in the shade of an umberella or handy tree, a fine companion for a winter's evening as well.

It's a romance of sorts following the life of Elen McNally through a two-year hitch in the army and, after suitable false starts and adventures, after a lingering frisson of anticipation, into the arms of the lover she was meant for. Nanci Little is quite a good writer and the novel has a somewhat literary, but with a very realistic depiction of working-class views and life in the Army. She closes with a line from Faust, “linger a while: thou art so fair,” which reflects both the mood of the book and the voracious reading habits of Elen, not limited but driven by her small town upbringing.

The title is from a line in one of Sappho's poems.

As I look at you my voice fails,
my tongue is broken and thin fire
runs like a thief through my body.
My eyes are dead to light,
my ears pound,
and sweat pours over me.
I shudder.
I am paler than grass.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Anne Phillips
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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Grass Widow

by Nanci Little

Madwoman Press, Northboro, MA, 1996

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips

This is a meticulously researched historical romance of 1876, set in a small midwestern town shortly after the Civil War. The dialogue is superbly represented and she even gives her bibliography, more than a dozen books she used to ensure a realistic portrayal of life on the frontier. The title comes from a practice of the times which sent young women “in trouble” away to rusticate for a year with distant relatives until she could safely return with her child claiming an “official” marriage and the untimely “death” of a non-existent husband to explain the child.

I'm surprised I've never read or heard of Nanci Little before now. Where on earth have I been? She's very skilled, I thought, the sort who makes you cry without reaching for it or belaboring a point.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Anne Phillips
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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Let's Face the Music and Die

by Sandra Scoppettone

Little, Brown and Company, 1996

Reviewed by Lee Lawton

Let's Face the Music and Die by Sandra Scoppettone. Little, Brown and Company, 1996.

I'll bet that Sandra Scoppettone would be the kind of friend who, if you were riding on the bus together, would be making smart-ass remarks about everything and everybody she saw, and you'd be laughing until you peed your pants, even while feeling slightly guilty about it. Scoppettone's New York sense of humor comes through loud and clear in this fourth Lauren Laurano detective novel.

Laurano is hired by a friend to help solve the murder of her aunt. And Laurano is pretty good at solving such matters, even while fretting about the problems in her relationship with her lesbian lover, Kip, and becoming way too hot for a gorgeous young thing she met online. This is a satisfying murder mystery, with just the right amount of red herrings, good clues, and no resolution under nearly the end. The online subplot is nicely presented, but a third subplot, introduced about halfway through the book, is not smoothly woven into the story, and almost seemed like an afterthought. This subplot could have kept me gnawing on my fingernails, but instead I found myself shouting at the author not to drop the ball.

The best part of the book is the mixture of good mystery, wry humor, and all-too-accurate depiction of lesbian life. Here is the fourteen-year relationship, the declining intimacy, the attraction, the guilt, the angst, and the fibs to friends and lover. Dollinks, what lesbian has not walked this slippery slope?

Laurano is a very believable character, who gets her own way even while being tackled by a fiftyish receptionist with apricot hair. And the end of the book leads right into the next in the series, and just where *is* the next book anyway? How can Scoppettone leave me hanging like that?

Is this a seven-course meal of great literature? No. But it is pretty darn good snacking!

Copyright © 1996 Lee Lawton
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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Raising the Stones

by Sheri S. Tepper

Bantam Books, New York, 1990

Reviewed by Lee Lawton

In Raising the Stones, Tepper introduces us to great Old Testament plots and subplots, including wild-haired characters who could have walked right out of biblical illustrations. But this is an Old Testament seen from a feminist, humanist and pantheist viewpoint. An extreme fundamentalist religion with prophets hurling death and destruction comes face to face with new and gentler gods. Who are the heroes? What *is* a hero? Does god exist? What does the concept of god mean?

Tepper is considered to be a science fiction writer, and there are certainly elements of sci-fi in her writing, but I would have to call her work more metaphorical and philosophical than anything else. She puts her humans in places humans have not yet lived, or so we think, and gives them the job of figuring out their own lives, in the context of challenges that have always been, and will probably always be, a part of the human condition. Tepper likes to explore the BIG ISSUES, and she does it with suspenseful plotting, vivid description, and believable characters.

In Raising the Stones, Tepper also exhibits a sly sense of humor, a bit of satire about human foibles, which I haven't noticed before in any of her books I've read.

An altogether excellent novel by Sheri S. Tepper, but then I must admit that I have yet to read anything by Tepper that wasn't excellent.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Lawton
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The Gate to Women's Country

by Sheri S. Tepper

Foundation Books, New York, 1988

Reviewed by Lee Lawton

Here she goes again...Tepper exploring those itsy bitsy details of human existence, like the differences between the sexes, the nature of war, the nature of community, the nature of coercion, the nature of commitment, and a few other wee, bitty things.

Women's Country is just that, a place where women live and rule. A few men live there also, but only the ones who are not warlike; presumably they've been gelded--haven't they? The men do what men do, outside the walls to Women's Country -- they play at soldiers. All this takes place after most of the world has been destroyed by those soldier/men in a nuclear holocaust which has left large portions of the earth uninhabitable. If you're thinking Handmaid's Tale here, you're not far off. But here the women have the upper hand, or so they think, while the men/soldiers plot against them for control of power.

The women refuse to let the world be destroyed again, and through strict rules and even subterfuge, they raise children and try to regain civilization and biological diversity, while the men do what men so often do: destroy. This is not a book to read if you're a testosterone lover. Men don't look very good is this novel. Fortunately, that doesn't bother me one bit!

This is yet another Tepper novel with great plotting, can't-put-the-book-down suspense and well-drawn characters. And Tepper is another author to add to my "oh, I wish I could meet this person" list.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Lawton
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Deep Water Passage: A Spiritual Journey at Midlife

by Ann Linnea

Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1995

Reviewed by Lee Lawton

This book is so...so....honest. So honest that sometimes I felt a little uncomfortable, as if I were reading confessions meant for someone intimate with the author.

This deeply introspective book is about the author's kayak trip around Lake Superior, alone and in the company of her friend, Paul, during the summer of her forty-third year. The summer weather around Lake Superior, however, sounds more like winter on the rest of the planet, with high winds, sleet, rain, fog, and waves 5-6 feet high. I can't imagine paddling a kayak all day in bathtub conditions let alone in high seas and freezing temperatures.

Deep Water Passage describes the author's spiritual quest, and the discoveries made through her physical marathon, and through physical danger and extremity. It is also a story of grieving and love for her friend Betty, who died of cancer before she was fifty. My eyes filled with tears as Linnea described dropping Betty's ashes into the lake, and wearing Betty's oilskin parka as angelic protection from the elements. Her memories of Betty are as poignant as anything I've ever read.

Linnea is seeking an answer to the question of what she will do with the rest of her life. Her marriage is uncertain, she wants to be a good mother and mentor to her adopted children, and she wants to be her own person. Near the end of the 65-day odyssey, when she finds herself unwilling to return to her old life, she says, "This was the strength I was seeking to be able to return home -- enough confidence to claim my own truths, the ability to invite others into my space rather than always accommodating myself and trying to fit into theirs".

This book is that rare combination of excitement and spirit. Linnea meets her self-imposed challenges with courage and humility. As an observer says to her after she skillfully negotiates a stormy, roiling, harbor mouth, “that was a hell of a job paddling, young lady”. Not a bad job with the writing, either.This one deserves an A.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Lawton
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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The Furies

by Suzy McKee Charnas

Tor Books, NY 1994

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips

This could happen. I believe it. The Wasting, an ecological collapse exacerbated by global warfare, has left a small pocket of “Real Men” huddled at the shores of the poisoned sea, dependent on seaweed and hardscrabble crops to eke out a living in a world which has shrunk to encompass one river valley whose horizons bind their vision as thoroughly as walls of iron.

Their country is named Holdfast, a reference to the kelp which feeds them and to their vainglorious pretensions to being the last keepers of “real” civilization. They are no such thing of course, they are barely surviving and depend on the forced labor of others to accomplish the simplest of tasks. Everything is really done by the hated women, the “fems” they've settled on as being to blame for everything bad that ever happened and especially their much-reduced circumstances. Gosh! Where on Earth have I heard that before?

Since they've “purified” the world by killing all the non-whites they could find, they need someone to be the bottom rung of their rigid caste system and the fems do very nicely as long as one keeps their witchcraft under control by physical brutality and cruelty.

In the first books the women are depicted as the disgusting but necessary breeders of men and also slaves who farm the hemp (marijuana) which forms the staple crop of drugs and cloth to complement the bulky soup of the seaweed. The drugs are used for several purposes, to control the mindless Rovers who are the paramilitary “muscle” of this dystopian world, and to hasten the voluntary deaths of their excess male population.

In this book, the rapid disintegration of the patriarchal community has progressed to the point where starvation threatens everyone and the excess “fems” are being ground up and fed to other fems so that the pure seaweed and other crops can be saved for real men, fem flesh being poisonous, as everyone knows.

We follow Alldera the Messenger, the same swift runner who left Holdfast in Walk to the End of the World, whose story continued in Motherlines (both available from The Women's Press, London) as she left the wild community of nomadic Riding Women to join the Free Fems, as she leads a company of Free Fems back into the land of men, the land of their bondage. She has been a catalyst who changes relations between the Riding Women and the Free Fems forever and this is the final journey of faith and discovery, at the head of an armed party of liberators to confront the rotting hulk of the feared male power.

How the remaining women of Holdfast have handled the inexorable slide into barbarianism and how the three groups of women handle their own fear and distrust of each other forms a satisfying conclusion to this concluding volume of an ambitious and well realized trilogy.

Suzy McKee Charnas is an excellent writer whose other works have sometimes not received the recognition they deserved. The Vampire Tapestry was, in my opinion, the first and among the very best of the “modern” vampire stories; it started a trend which is unacknowledged by most but spawned a host of vampire progeny from Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat to Jewelle Gomez' The Gilda Stories. Another of her works, Dorothea Dreams, is quite simply stunning. Sadly, it is out of print although The Vampire Tapestry was recently reissued by The Women's Press of London. Look for them if you possibly can; the effort is well worth it.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Anne Phillips
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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Hypatia of Alexandria

by Maia Dzielska

Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1995

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips

Forget everything you may think you know about Hypatia, the truth is much more interesting. Although this scholarly book is slightly marred for the general reader by the lack of a glossary to explain the occasional difficult term (tribon, for example, evidently a garment of some sort but my dictionary fails to cast any light on the subject), the author has fairly set out a portrait of an influential and much-respected philosopher and mathematician of Alexandria at the time when Christianity was beginning to exert more sway over the life of the people and the great Pagan centers of learning were beginning to come under active attack by intolerant Christian fundamentalists.

Hypatia was cruelly murdered in 415 of the Common Era by a gang of religious "enforcers " in the employ of the church, the parabolans, who have been variously described as monks or thugs, take your pick. What is incontrovertible is that the vicious assault and horrible violation was instigated by Bishop Cyril of St. Mark's who was later canonized in a shocking display of bad taste on the part of the church. Of course the mob found it necessary to strip off her clothes before killing her by slicing her flesh with shards of pottery or shells. She was sixty years of age.

The worthy group of the faithful also found it necessary to throw pieces of her body all over town as a warning to others. Besides his campaign of slanderous and rabble-rousing accusations of witchcraft against Hypatia, which culminated in her murder, the “good” St. Cyril had also been responsible for driving the Jews out of Alexandria in a violent pogrom. He sounds a lot like some of the current crop of hate-mongers who call themselves Christians.

For any woman who wants to know about the positions women held in ancient times, this is a valuable addition to the many recent books which have sought to rescue women's history from centuries of indifference or active repression. Although she concentrates on Hypatia, the author supplies enough context to show that she was not alone in being widely respected as a teacher in the sciences and in sacred philosophy; other respected women philosophers whose names are largely forgotten and whose writings have been deliberately destroyed are named and briefly described. Hypatia was only one of many politically active and astute female teachers who carried the high culture and knowledge of late Pagan antiquity up to the onset of the Christian Dark Ages.

Hypatia's murder, although reported by a few of her students and publicly carried out, resulted in no prosecutions; the Alexandrian church, having accomplished through violence what it could not achieve with reason, suppressed the story as best it could and protected the participants. Cyril, the ambitious and envious mastermind behind the plot, was never brought to justice and is now a saint to whom the faithful can presumably pray for intercession. How terribly inappropriate; even after 1600 years or so, Hypatia's story still possesses the power to arouse indignation and anger.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Anne Phillips
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A Fine Romance: Five Ages of Film Feminism

by Patricia Mellencamp

Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1995

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips

I usually have trouble with books that purport to classify everything into a few neat categories; I can't quite get a handle on the need to arrange things in taxonomic buckets. Patricia Mellencamp has done a fine job of it though, with a wit and insightful intellect that is a pleasure to read and with an unassuming admission of the idiosyncratic nature of all systems of classification, including her own, that makes this one quite charming and much more approachable than the typical “scholarly” take on film and film theory.

True to her modest disclaimer, she ranges widely, examining many films which defy neat labels but which she uses to illustrate her approach in a convincing analysis of this century's most distinctive social artifact. Along the way she manages to lay waste the argument that filmic romance is a woman's invention, revealing most of it as the male gaze narcissistically fixed on its own maleness; puncture the arrogant and dangerous pretensions of Freud, Lacan and Derrida (to name only a few in the male cast of thousands); and have a great time deriving the lessons of life from life itself, as women have lived it and as it has been depicted in film and popular culture.

The five ages of the title reflect a growing feminist consciousness that most cinematic romance is a cheat, that women's lives go on after the final scene and that economic and personal reality always demand something more than being “swept off one's feet.” It is surely telling that the preceding phrase could as easily describe a brutal rape as well as it does a delicious surrender to passion. All too often, the movie heroine's final-scene “victory” has lain in giving up her independent will and life; in return she is duped into a false sense of economic and emotional security.

She distinguishes Intellectual Feminism, with its focus on heterosexual norms - women's bodies and men's thoughts - from Irascible Feminism only in that in the latter stage women have gotten angry about it. Experimental Feminism then addresses difference - lesbian desire, the lives of older women, multi-racial and multiethnic possibilities, and the woman's point of view - before moving into Empirical Feminism, a working out of historical perspective and theory. She closes with a very short discussion of Economical Feminism, which she characterizes as restoring our fragmented lives in a new unity of mind and spirit.

This is the rough framework on which she drapes an overview and feminist analysis of the cinema from the early films of Buster Keaton and the official racism of D.W. Griffith to the innovative work of Jane Campion (The Piano) and Sally Potter (Orlando).

Lovers of the cinema will find much to admire, as well as ample room for thought, in the facility with which she turns the knowing female gaze on the often male-dominated world of the film. Simply as an examination of women's film, this volume is a worthy addition to anyone's library, but the context in which she places those films, with the clear explanation of topics as diverse as the star system and cinematic conventions in the depiction of women makes it invaluable.

The difference between the Hollywood version of romance, which she defines as the naive conflation of love and sex, and the complex reality of women's lives is made clear in her insightful analysis of the eroticized violence and sex-as-romance of most male films, made to fit stereotypical “genres,” and the charming ambiguity of female films which often defy those stultifying molds which have little room in them for real women and their real hopes and desires.

Women are changing the face of cinema, slowly to be sure, a casual glance at the movie listings in any paper will tell you that, but the production and instant popularity (among women at least) of such films as Thelma and Louise and Orlando shows that the world of film is changing and the everyday world outside the theater is changing too. Film both reflects that change and carries it forward, as does any medium of culture. It can be a tool not only of a reactionary male nostalgia for the “good old days” when men “wore the pants” and women “knew their place,” but as a revolutionary vehicle for the transmission of a new vision of women's possibilities to a wider audience than ever before. The irony of the fact that this conception of film is a romantic one is not lost on me, but we can hope that this, at long last, is a true romance.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Anne Phillips
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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Nearly Roadkill: An Erotic Infobahn Adventure

by Caitlin Sullivan and Kate Bornstein

High Risk Books/Serpent's Tail, London, 1996

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips

Have you ever felt out of your depth, flummoxed and dumbfounded by the language and behavior of persons younger than yourself? I never thought I'd feel that way but this book is so avant garde they're still making up the language they use to describe themselves. I now realize that I'm a boring old crone with only the faintest of clues as to what the hell is going on out there. Luckily, there's a short glossary at the end so even I can sort of figure out what's being said, even if the deeper meanings escape me.

This is cyberspace with a vengeance and if you're too old-fashioned to go with the flow and tolerate a dozen things and conversations going at once, a bound volume of mainly fast-paced online screen dumps and e-messages, this book may be beyond you. If you want to take a quick look at Scratch and Winc the way they really are on their native soil, you can visit their website at http://www.nearlyroadkill.com. If you want a turbocharged rollercoaster ride into the “wired” future, buy this book.

It follows the cyberfugitives, Winc and Scratch, persons of intentionally indeterminate gender, as they seek to evade the dread minions of the law and have a really good time along the way. Most of the “action” takes place in cyberchat “rooms” on the net -- an experience which this reviewer has admittedly only attempted once and was dismayed by -- with occasional “face time” which is the best part of the book for me but that only shows how hopelessly outmoded I am.

If you want to learn the latest (at least I think they are) buzz words and arcane computer chat phrases, this is the ideal primer and road map, a “total immersion” language and culture school. If you are interested in queer theory at the bleeding edge, this is your textbook of case histories.

Kate Bornstein is of course the author of Gender Outlaw: Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, as well as a performance artist specializing in confronting the limits of rigid gender roles; Caitlin Sullivan hosts a program on public radio, so we know how offbeat and avant garde she can be. The two of them together have come up with an epistolatory book to beat them all, with multiple online personae and "handles" morphing into a male/female/inbetween, straight/gay/bisexual, transsexual/pansexual Wonderland as these two people fall in love with each other and discover themselves in a way only possible on the world wide web.

The feds of course want to rain on everyone's parade, having enacted strict laws requiring registration of identity and sex as well as stringent prohibitions of pornography on the net (sound vaguely déjà vu to you?) which have far-reaching consequences, not the least of which is that the government's chief cop is now saddled with a completely false (Dammit! I'm a MAN!) identity as Ms. Budge which he is unable to rectify through the stifling layers of government bureaucracy enacted to make sure nobody escapes the “naming of parts,” which, in our case, we have not got.

Of course this is a metaphor for the situation our heroes (heras?) find themselves in; the one is uncomfortable with her own female body and the other is a transsexual woman, but they both want to be free. Freedom in this context means not getting the eye from a loudmouth jerk at the corner, not being automatically classified and discarded as a non-person, not being “put in their place” by everyone they meet.

In cyberspace they are free to be whoever and whatever they want to be, beyond the limiting restrictions of bodies too fat or too ugly or too male or too female or too young or too old or too dark or too light to be acceptable and accepted by the people they meet online. They can realize a dream common to many women (and men I suppose) of being taken for the people they really are instead of “at face value.” The whole book is infused with this powerful sense of liberation; I can only describe it as being like waking up one morning and discovering you were really an angel all along.

Winc and Scratch have an incredible tenderness toward each other, in spite of their virtual sleeping around with other faceless persons on the net. This is what rescues the book for me; the online chats and going back and forth to private “rooms” and through anonymity-preserving gadgets and aliases confused me, even written down on the page instead of being typed at you in high speed, but the personal interaction carried over into their screen lives for me, turning what could have been a techno-nerd fantasy into a strange love story.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Anne Phillips
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Ru Paul

by Leslie Feinberg

Beacon Press, Boston, 1996

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips

Leslie Feinberg is one of those authors whose whole heart is visible in her work; this beautifully illustrated book integrates seamlessly into her own life to form an coherent whole that is persuasive because you know, at a deep level, that this has been tested against reality. It is my very great pleasure to be privileged to read this book and review it in these pages.

If you've wondered where Leslie Feinberg has been and what she's been up to since Stone Butch Blues, here's the answer, a passionately researched and profusely illustrated compendium of who's who and who was who in the transgender world. She casts her net widely, from the ancient Gallae, transsexual priestesses of Cybele who castrated themselves to enter the service of the Goddess, to the activist drag queens and drag kings of today, and shows how transgendered and other queer peoples have been at the forefront of many progressive social movements.

Jean d'Arc was not an accident, nor was the Stonewall Rebellion, nor are they isolated from each other. Crossdressers of all sorts have been prominent in resisting oppressive authority for thousands of years, as Leslie convincingly demonstrates. Persons acting in defiance of the state chose crossdressing as the symbol of their rebellion time after time in widely separated circumstances and cultures. There is, in fact, a folk tradition of crossdressing during festivals and, surprisingly, popular uprisings.

Transgendered persons, persons of individual shamanic power, have been feared and marginalized by the ruling classes in many societies while the people on the bottom have been tolerant or even celebratory of the “queers” in their midst. The Molly Maquires, the Ribbon Societies, the Rebeccas, representing the working-class victims of the oppressive princes and potentates have been composed of cross-dressers, a confusion of identity that represented grassroots resistance to the strictures imposed by the conquerors, although their meaningful choice of clothing is all too often explained away by prejudicial scholarship.

Ordinary people have a natural inclination to resist the artificial order imposed by imperial states; they have everything to lose and nothing to gain from governmental interference with their freedoms. For the state, it was and is important to classify people according to their roles so bureaucrats can easily control and tax them.

Women are reduced to the status of chattels attached to a male household not because we are inherently unfit to control our own lives, but because the power of the state to raise armies and money to pay for their wars of conquest is enhanced by forcing people to organize into rigid economic units. The present unequal distribution of wealth and ensuing concentration of power was facilitated by laws which limited the freedom to inherit or bequeath and made possible the rise of powerful families which could sustain their power across generations.

It is this power that finally broke the communal power of the village or settlement, the overarching power of the nation state to coerce and enslave beyond the natural limits of the surrounding fields and the reach of their own hands. When people are faceless ticmarks on a tally, they can be easily treated with contempt; it's harder to oppress your friends and neighbors. Transgendered persons were among the first targets of the state control and extermination because of their powerful hold on the imaginations and religious sensibilities of the communities they lived in. Their influence was enormous in times past and it is exciting and empowering in the present day to read of the high regard gay and lesbian and transgendered people were held in during times past.

When religious festivals and rituals are mediated by the person next door, the holy witch or shaman in touch not only with both sexes within themselves but with the gods and goddesses, the edicts of the central government lack the persuasive force of laws supported by organized hierarchies of priests in the service of the state. It is a vital necessity for every powerful state to repress the individual and enlist the help of sycophants and self-serving toadies and hangers-on in order to maintain its power. The reward to the enforcers is always, in one way or another, the property of the dispossessed.

Hierarchical power is a defining characteristic of the nation state, the limitless expansion of the power of a small group to control the lives of people they have never met and to funnel collective resources and wealth into the pockets of an ever-narrowing group of supporters. Against this linear power the circular give and take of individuals is often obscured but, as Leslie shows, has never been completely lost.

The metaphor of a circle runs through the book; instead of defining the world as black and white, us and them, polar opposites with no common grounds for meeting or understanding, Leslie Feinberg advocates an inclusive circle of human possibilities with all persons honored for what they can become instead of what they have been, for what they want for themselves instead of what the state demands of them. She demonstrates that the current atmosphere of intolerance and suppression of people not conforming to prescribed sexual and gender role standards is recent in history and not the “natural” aversion that right-wing apologists purport to believe.

This is a political book. Like many queer theorists, Leslie sees in gender and sexual oppression an important revelation of the naked truth of rule by force. The right to define and control your own life, who you love, the kind of family you want, the clothes you wear, the work you do and the names you take, is a central core of identity that cannot be placed in the power of the state without losing other freedoms less basic and more tenuously held. She closes with the raison d'etre and hallmark of the committed political organizer, a manifesto calling for specific and irrefutable freedoms and a resource list of organizations dedicated to fighting for them.

This book is important and valuable for students of liberation movements and queer theory as well as the transgendered community; it is clear from the author's intimate and loving portrayal of the real “Family of Man” that we have nothing to lose but our chains and a world of freedom and dignity to win.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Anne Phillips
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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In A Family Way

by Rochelle Hollander Schwab

Orlando Place Press, Alexandria, VA, 1995

Reviewed by Lee Anne Phillips

I liked the first half of this book well enough but about halfway through it fell apart for me and just made me vicariously furious.

This is a cautionary tale of sorts, lesbian couple seeks gay sperm donor and watch out! Look how many things can go wrong. The big thing, of course is that someone dies and everybody left alive winds up in court squabbling over the body, I mean baby. On my gloomy days, this seems like the story of our times: How many selfish jerks can we count?

Let's see... a pair of jerky grandparents who decide that their Sacred Granddaughter is not going to be raised by a “pervert,” in spite of the fact that their daughter had gone to considerable trouble to ensure that she and her lover raised this child (who cares? She's dead and besides, she was a pervert too! Now we get to have our little revenge, the very last word when she finally can't talk back because her mouth is stopped with dirt); a jerk of a sperm donor who decides that his sworn word means nothing when it's his Sacred Flesh and Blood we're talking about, a jerk of a boyfriend who walks out on his lover when the chips are down (this is evidently to show how devoted the donor jerk is to his Sacred Responsibilities - Gasp! He's giving up Hot Sex for the sake of Sacred Fatherhood!), and of course, a nebbish of a co-mom who pays for her emotional devastation at the death of her lover and a few stupid remarks by having to pick up the crumbs from this guy's table.

Oh, he turns out not to be quite so bad in the end so we can see what a Swell Fellow he really is and never mind the fact that all the money of all parties has been blown away on lawyers to satisfy the ego boosts of the grandparents and himself. Of course the fact that the money could have been used for bringing up baby in comfort, with access to the material things that only money can buy, is conveniently ignored, as it always is by the vile instigators of these legal pissing contests. Of course the fact that the co-mom has been reduced to the status of beggar at his table, dependent on his whim or mercy, is only just; he is the Sacred Father, after all, and won the pissing contest, presumably because he was the biggest dick.

Like the old serial episodes at the movies, we see the impending doom approach and are powerless to stop it. But there is no last minute rescue here; the innocent child and the co-mother are swept over the cliff and run over by the train. Their needs, best interests, and even lives are ignored while a heartless legal system trashes their futures and destroys their happiness. Not enough for the baby to lose one parent in a sudden tragedy, both are snatched away in a relative instant.

That this is irreparably harmful to a baby is well-known although the infant is not a “party” to the case, only a victim. It reminds me of the story of Solomon who gave the disputed baby to the right mother because the wrong one was willing to have the baby cut in half. Unfortunately, in this case the baby goes to the one with the sharpest knife and Solomon was conspicuous by his absence.

Most visible are some legal pimps called lawyers and their whores, the expert witnesses. Actually, that's insulting to the honest profession of whoring and I apologize; these people are more like kidnappers and extortionists. Their moral crimes are cynically connived at by a legal system that has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with “might makes right,” money being the current measure of strength and virtue in our society.

This story may be redeemed by the valuable lessons it contains for lesbian couples contemplating motherhood. Lesson one: Don't let the sperm donor know, ever. Lesson two: Move immediately to somewhere far far away and change your names. Lesson three: Make arrangements to have your parents abducted by aliens in the event of your untimely death.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Anne Phillips
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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Under the Feet of Jesus

by Helena Maria Viramontes

Dutton, New York, 1995

Reviewed by Lee Lawton

This little gem concerns the lives of piscadores, the Hispanic people who follow the harvest all over the country. Estrella is in the center of the story, a daughter just coming into adulthood. Around her revolves Petra, the mother, who tries to hold her family together in the abject poverty in which they live; Perfecto, the husband, whose dreams, at his older age, lead him backwards into times of strength and beauty; and Alejo, a young man who wakens Estrella to first love.

This is the story of people who work from age four, from daylight to dusk, in the broiling summer sun, and who are exposed to deadly pesticides and early death. There is no sentimental attitude here, however. Viramontes describes their lives through powerful vignettes, and she invests the land and its features with far more sentience than any of the “gringos” we find in these pages. This is not a religious book, either, despite the title. Jesus' role in this book is to stand guard over the family's birth certificates, and to provide the fragile lifeline to whatever tiny feeling of safety these people can find.

If you are a person who suffers from an abundance of empathy, you will find this book a difficult one. You may also see grocery store vegetables in a different way from now on.

Copyright © 1996 Lee Lawton
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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Women of Words: A Personal Introduction to Thirty-Five Important Writers

Edited by Janet Bukovinsky, Illustrated by Jenny Powell

Running Press, Philadelphia, 1994

Reviewed by Lee Lawton

This is a nice book, in a large format, with an interesting bio of each author, a pen/pencil portrait of each woman, and a short selection from her work. It covers authors from Mary Wollstonecraft to Edna O'Brien. Most of the authors are very well known, so you won't find anything new or juicy here.

But the thumbnail sketches are well done, and this would be a good book to have around just in case you had to find the answer to a trivia question!



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A Silence Opens

by Amy Clampitt

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994

Reviewed by Lee Lawton

Imagine....Literature driving a mini-van full of squalling children, Nature driving an 18-wheeler, Philosophy driving a racecar....all approach an intersection at once, at high speed; a 4-way stop....what happens?

Poems with manatees and outer space explorers, bears and slaves and sugar cane, potatoes and slaves and stones; Clampitt shows us how such disparate things are related. These poems are thick with allusions to literature, history, natural history, politics and botany. Clampitt uses unusual juxtapositions, in a dense, layered manner. Reading her poetry is rather like entering a maze. You may walk for miles, fascinated at first, then frustrated, then perhaps a little frightened, and even if you find the exit, you have no clear idea how you got through.

This is not an easy read. I was impressed with Clampitt's knowledge, with her ability to find relationships in widely divergent themes, but frankly, I couldn't understand about half the poems in this book. Ms. Clampitt would surely make a successful Jeopardy! contestant!

Copyright © 1996 Lee Lawton
All Rights Reserved Worldwide



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