Category Archives: Book Review

REVIEW — Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin

In celebration of black history month.

The proof that one believes is in action. — Bayard Rustin

The proof that one believes is in action. — Bayard Rustin

The best way to destroy a culture is to deny, suppress, or appropriate that people’s history. A culture without its art, without its myths, without its heroes will soon wither and die. For millennia indigenous peoples all over the world have suffered this kind of cultural rape at the hands of more powerful invaders. In America, slavery and segregation did its worst for African culture. And, in a rather different way, homophobia robbed LGBT people of their sense of self.

Do you know who Bayard Rustin is? I’m gonna guess not. That’s no surprise really, because his life exemplifies the impact that both segregation and homophobia has had on our culture. Despite being pivotal to in the struggle for civil and sexual rights for well over 50 years, he is all but forgotten now. His memory has been whitewashed, if not totally wiped out, and our culture is the poorer because of it. But thanks to Time On Two Crosses this American patriot is reinstated to his rightful place in the American pantheon.

Time On Two Crosses showcases the extraordinary career of this black, gay civil rights pioneer. The book combines classic texts ranging in topic from Gandhi’s impact on African Americans, white supremacists in congress, the antiwar movement, and the assassination of Malcolm X, with never-before published selections on the call for gay rights, Louis Farrakhan, affirmative action, AIDS, and women’s rights.Time on Two Crosses

Bayard Rustin was a key civil rights strategist and humanitarian whose staunch advocacy of nonviolent resistance shaped the course of social protests from the 1950’s through the close of the twentieth century. And he was also openly gay at a time when that simply didn’t happen, especially among people of color.

Perhaps because of his unique position at the crux of the struggle for civil rights and sexual rights, Rustin insisted on the interconnectedness of all human rights and justice movements. He focuses not only on overturning racism and prejudice but also the systemic causes of injustice and disparity in the US and around the world. And his message on many issues is as relevant today as it was in his lifetime. He writes of himself:

“I am Bayard Rustin, Chairman of the Randolph Institute and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which is composed of over 150 national groups dedicated to human rights for all. As one who has been active in the struggle to extend democracy to all Americans for over fifty years I am opposed to any attempt to amend the recently enacted law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

I have been arrested twenty-four times in the struggle for civil and human rights. My first arrest was in 1928 merely for distributing leaflets on behalf of Al Smith’s candidacy for President in a climate of anti-Catholic hysteria. Since that time I have fought against religious intolerance, political harassment, and racism both here and abroad. I have fought against untouchability in India, against tribalism in Africa, and have sought to ensure that refugees coming to our shores are not subject to the same types of bigotry and intolerance from which they fled. As a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council I have fought anti-Semitism not only in the United States but around the world.”

But Rustin’s sexual openness and his controversial political positions came at a great personal cost. He wound up behind bars for practicing his nonviolent Quaker faith (from 1944 to 1946 in a Pennsylvania prison for conscientiously objecting to serving in World War II) and for practicing homosexuality (60 days in a California jail for “sex perversion” in 1953). And his many achievements — like pioneering one of the first Freedom Rides, refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus in 1942, more than a dozen years before Rosa Parks did, and helping found the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition to support the efforts of a then young, largely unknown minister named Martin Luther King Jr. — often were tainted under the threat of exposure for his unpopular behavior and criminal convictions.

Bayard Rustin introduced Martin Luther King, Jr. to the precepts of nonviolence during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, thereby launching the birth of the Civil Rights Movement in 1955. When that movement needed a man who could get things done, even his detractors acknowledged he was the best organizer in the country. He was the man who was able to turn out 200,000 people on the Capitol Mall in an orderly fashion when no one else had ever done such a thing. He singlehandedly created the blueprint for the modern American mass political rally. The 1963 March on Washington was the pinnacle of his notoriety.

cover of LIFEFew African Americans engaged in as broad a protest agenda as did Rustin; fewer still enjoyed his breadth of influence in virtually every political sector, working with world leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, President Lyndon Johnson, and Golda Meir. Yet, for all his influence and all his tireless efforts, Rustin remained an outsider in black civil rights circles because they refused to accept his homosexuality, which remained a point of contention among black church leaders, a controversy that sometimes even embroiled Dr. King himself.

The very people who he was fighting for shunned him. He was indeed the proverbial prophet “not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house”. (Mark 6:4)

For example, in 1960, Rustin and MLK were preparing to lead a protest of African Americans outside the Democratic National Convention. This would have deeply embarrassed the leading elected black politician of the day, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. Powell threatened to spread a rumor that Rustin was having a sexual relationship with King. King canceled the protest, and Rustin resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization he helped found. Bayard Rustin felt that his homosexuality, which he never tried to hide, put him in a unique position, a minority within a minority, as it were.

That year was not the first time Rustin was forced to negotiate how much sex could be a part of his life. After his 1953 arrest, in which he’d been picked up with two men in the back seat of a car in Pasadena, California, he wrote, “Sex must be sublimated if I am to live in this world longer.”

Though marginalized by the Civil Rights movement he helped found he was not embittered by the experience. Yet, when one lives in a society in which they’re constantly being told that they’re less than or that they’re not as good as, because of being black, or a Jew, or gay, or anything else deemed less than, a certain amount of the negation is bound to get internalized. That can’t be helped.

Despite it all, Rustin remained upbeat. In 1986, just a year before he died, Rustin gave a speech at the University of Pennsylvania in which he exhorted gay people to “recognize that we cannot fight for the rights of gays unless we are ready to fight for a new mood in the United States, unless we are ready to fight for a radicalization of this society.”

Veering into the economics of poverty, Rustin said, “You will not feed people à la the philosophy of the Reagan administration. Imagine a society that takes lunches from school children. Do you really think it’s possible for gays to get civil rights in that kind of society?”

His thoughtful writing ennobles us all. Rustin never fails to come down on the proper side of a moral or ethical question, no matter whom it may offend or support. He was willing to stand up for people — even though they had mistreated him — if it was a matter of principle.

Rustin’s legacy doesn’t live in the past, but in the present and future of America. His work linking sexual, racial, and economic rights was not only forward-thinking in 1963, but it is also forward-thinking today.

“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers,” Rustin said in one of his most famous quotes.

Time On Two Crosses is the first comprehensive collection of Bayard Rustin’s writings ever published, comprising forty-eight essays, speeches, and interviews, many of which were never widely available. From the birth of nonviolent direct action to the rise of Black Power, Rustin’s writings function as a road map for the meandering course of the black protest movement over the past century.

As a gay man, I found Bayard Rustin’s writing fascinating and uplifting. They give an unvarnished look into the civil rights movement through the ‘50s and ‘60s, and also a view into the heart and mind of one of the most remarkable men of our time. The book also includes twenty-five photos from the Rustin estate and a foreword by Barack Obama, and an afterword by Barney Frank.

Bayard Rustin is a true hero for the ages. And Time On Two Crosses is a marvelous and edifying read.

Review: An Intimate Life: Sex, Love and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner

Hey sex fans!

I have another swell sex-positive book to tell you about today. Anyone who frequents this site will already be familiar with my dear friend and esteemed colleague, Cheryl Cohen Greene. If ya don’t believe me type her name into the search function in the sidebar to your right and PRESTO!

Not only will you find the fabulous two-part SEX WISDOM podcast we did together, (Part 1 is HERE! And Part 1 is HERE!) you will find a posting about the movie The Sessions. You’ve seen it right? It’s the award-winning film staring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy. It’s the story of a man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity. He contacts a professional surrogate partner with the help of his therapist and priest. Ms. Hunt plays Cheryl, the surrogate partner in the movie

Cheryl also contributed a chapter on sex and intimacy concerns for sick, elder and dying people for my book, The Amateur’s Guide To Death And Dying.

With all that as a preface, I now offer you Cheryl’s own story: An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner. The first thing I want to say is this book is it’s not a clinical or technical tome. It is an easily accessible memoir. And that, to my mind, is what makes it so fascinating.

She writes in the Introduction:An Intimate Life

I started this work in 1973, and my journey to it spans our society’s sexual revolution and my own. I grew up in the ‘40s and ‘50s, a time when sex education was—to put it mildly— lacking. As I educated myself, I found that most of what I had been taught about sex was distorted or wrong. The lessons came from the playground, the church, and the media. My parents could barely talk about sex, much less inform me about it.

What follows is a candid and often funny look into the personal and professional life of a woman on the cutting edge of our culture’s movement toward sexual wellbeing.

Cheryl comes out of her conservative Catholic upbringing and her often tortured family dynamics with what one would expect—her own sexual awakenings as well as the conspiracy of ignorance and repression that wanted to stifle it. This is a common story, the story of so many of us.

Starting when I was around ten, I masturbated and brought myself to orgasm nearly every night. … If my nights began with anxiety, my days began with guilt. I became convinced that every earache, every toothache, every injury was God punishing me. … I couldn’t escape his gaze or his wrath. Sometimes I imagined my guardian angel looked away in disgust as I touched myself and rocked back and forth in my bed.

The miracle here is that this troubled tween would blossom into the remarkable sexologist she is today.

rsz_1greenecherylSome of the chapters in her book describe one or another of her hands on therapeutic encounters as a surrogate partner, but equally important and compelling are the chapters that describe Cheryl’s own sexual struggles as she moved to adulthood and beyond. Cheryl’s acceptance of her own sexuality enables her to build a career out of helping others do the very same thing.

Everyone has a right to satisfying, loving sex, and, in my experience, that most often flows from strong communication, self-respect, and a willingness to explore.

Despite the frank discussion of sexual topics within the book, there is no prurience or sensationalism. For the most part, Cheryl’s clients are regular people, mostly men, who have pretty ordinary problems—erection and/or ejaculation concerns, dating difficulties, as well as self-esteem, guilt and shame issues. Cheryl helps each of her clients with the efficiency and confidence of the world-class sex educator she is. Most of her interaction involves her supplying her clients with some much-needed information, dispelling myths, and giving them permission to experiment. As she says;

I continue to be amazed at how solid education delivered without judgment can eradicate much of the guilt and shame that turns life in the bedroom into a struggle instead of a pleasure.

Her most famous client, Mark O’Brien, the 36-six-year-old man who had spent most of his life in an iron lung after contracting polio at age 6, was the author of How I Became a Human Being: A Disabled Man’s Quest for Independence, in which he writes about his experience with Cheryl. This, of course, was adapted into a film, The Sessions, which I mentioned above. For her part, Cheryl delivers a most poignant remembrance of Mark early in her book.

I explained Sensual Touch to Mark. Although he was paralyzed, he still had sensation all over his body, so he would feel my hands moving up and down. … I encouraged him to try and recognize four common reactions: feeling neutral, feeling nurtured, feeling sensual and feeling sexual.

An Intimate Life chronicles Cheryl’s life-long interest in human sexuality. Her life and sometimes-turbulent loves are on display, but in the most considerate fashion. She teaches by example. She’s even able to speak with great compassion of her time living with and through cancer.

As I inch toward seventy, I appreciate more and more how much I have to be grateful for and how fortunate I’ve been. I was lucky to find a wonderful career and to be surrounded by so many smart, adventurous, caring people. My personal sexual revolution auspiciously paralleled our culture’s, and in many ways was made possible by it. I am eternally grateful to the pioneers, rebels, and dreamers who made our society a little safer for women who embrace their sexuality.

There is so much I loved about this book, but mostly it’s the humanity I found in abundance. Cheryl’sdr.-cheryl-cohen-greene enlightened soul shines brightly from every page. Her no nonsense approach to all things sexual is an inspiration. And her perseverance to bring surrogate partner therapy into the mainstream is laudable.

…what separates surrogates from prostitutes is significant. When people have difficulties grasping [that], I turn to my beloved and late friend Steven Brown’s cooking analogy that I’ve so often relied on to help me through that question: Seeing a prostitute is like going to a restaurant. Seeing a surrogate is like going to culinary school.

Finally, An Intimate Life is the culmination of Cheryl’s life as a sex educator, her surrogate partner therapy practice being just part of that mission. I highly recommend you read this book. You will, I assure you, come away from it as I have, a better person—enriched, informed, as well as entertained.

Cheryl, thank you for being in my life and being such an abiding inspiration. Thank you too for this marvelous book; now you can be in the lives of so many others who need you so that you can inspire them along their way.

Be sure to visit Cheryl on her site HERE!

Review: The Ultimate Guide To Sex After 50

Hey sex fans!

2015 is turning out to be a banner year for sex positive books. Here it is still only January and this is my second review of a noteworthy book about human sexuality.

A few weeks ago, January 8th to be precise, I introduced you to Cooper S. Beckett’s book, My Life on the Swingset. In that review I mentioned that Cooper had been a guest on my Sex EDGE-U-cation Show.

Today’s review features a book written by another guest on my show, but this time it was the SEX WISDOM Show. Today’s book, The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty: How to Maintain – or Regain – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life, was written by the brilliant, Joan Price.

Joan is on the forefront of our culture’s discussion on ageless sexuality. She is the author of Ult+Guide+Sex+50+covertwo other books, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty and Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex. She is a sought-after speaker and workshop leader. And, if that weren’t enough, she’s also a fitness expert. This woman is a ball of fire, sex fans, and an absolutely charming interview. Be sure to listen to the two-part interview I did with Joan, you’ll find them archived HERE and HERE!

Joan and I talked about some the many myths that surround sex during life’s second half; she covers this topic more in depth in her new book. The misinformation about sex after 50 is so pervasive that even many of us seniors and elders perpetrate it. And, of course, we’re often the butt of jokes.

1. We lose interest in sex as we age.
2. Senior sex is boring.
3. Dating as a senior/elder is depressing and hopeless.
4. Seniors with arousal issues just give up on sex.
5. Sex becomes more frequent as we age.
6. Real sex must involve intercourse and orgasm.
7. Health concerns and menopause will end one’s sex life.
8. If you’re interested in sex after you turn 50, you’re a dirty old man/woman.

The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty is the perfect antidote to the dismissive and degrading way that so much of the popular culture deals with senior and elder sexuality. Joan celebrates not only the existence and appropriateness of sexual desire for seniors and elders, but how sex can and does increase the health and wellbeing of older people.

Joan states her credo in the Introduction.
“…being sexual at this time of life means:
• Enjoying arousal and orgasm, with or without a partner
• Having a zesty, sex-positive frame of mind
• Being open to new possibilities
• Giving pleasure to this body that is capable of great delights
• Making a commitment to myself to be sexually aware and healthy”

Joan invites her readers to join her in conversation. And a big part of that conversation is being aware of what’s going on with our body as we age. Being attuned to that, and being able to communicate that to a partner, is key to great senior/elder sex. (To be frank, it’s the secret of great sex at any age, but I digress.) To that end, Joan includes in her book actual comments from real people that she has encountered in her work. These anecdotes reflect an array of feelings that underscore the conflicts, successes, and complexities of real life situations. And this being the Ultimate Guide, Joan includes the input from many of our colleagues who weigh in with their expert opinion on the topics she is addressing.

I love that Joan often makes the point that having a fulfilling sex life is not dependent on having a partner. Lot of seniors and elders are without a partner, but that ought not be an impediment to sexual enjoyment. Self-pleasuring, with one’s hand, or any of the myriad toys available to us, is the foundation of a rich, healthy, rewarding, and ageless sex life.

Joan also examines a topic near and dear to my life. In my book, The Amateur’s Guide To Death And Dying; Enhancing The End of Life, I took great pains to include a chapter about the sex and intimacy needs of sick, elder, and dying people. Joan does something similar in her chapter — Cancer, Cancer Treatment, And Sex. I am so grateful that Join addressed this timely topic, suggesting, as she does, that people challenged with cancer, or any other chronic condition for that matter, take their sexual performance questions to their doctors. I think we both believe this will go a long way to underscore the notion that wellbeing is not merely about absence of disease, it’s’ about quality of life. There’s also a marvelous section about sex and grief too.

And, just so you know, this isn’t a hetero-centric book. Joan includes all sexual orientations and lifestyles.

I highly recommend Joan’s new book, The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty, to everyone. If you are a fellow senior or elder, this book is chock full of important and practical information about things we care about. It also provides much needed support and encouragement as we make our way through this season of life. If you’re not a senior or elder, this book is an indispensable resource for you too. Not just so that you will be sensitive to the needs of others, but that you’ll grow in appreciation of the fact that sex is for a lifetime. And hey, you just might learn a little something new from someone who isn’t “new”.

I want to say a special thanks to Cleis Press, Joan’s publisher, for sending me this review copy of The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty.

Kudos to Joan! Your book is a marvel.

Be sure to check out Joan’s websites: joanprice.com and NakedatOurAge.com.

PS: This book would make a fantastic Valentine’s Day gift.

REVIEW: My Life on the Swingset

Hey sex fans!

Have I got some marvelous news for you! My friend and colleague, Cooper S. Beckett, has written a new book. It impressed me no end so I thought, rather than keep this all to myself, I’d share it with you.

Ya’ll remember Cooper, right? OK, maybe ya don’t; it’s been a long time since he was last seen skulking around my site. Way back in March of 2011 I had the pleasure of welcoming Cooper and his ever so lovely sidekick, Ginger, to my Sex EDGE-U-cation show for a two-part interview. You can find both parts in the Podcast Archive HERE and HERE!

Cooper and Ginger are the hosts of the Life On The Swingset podcasts, where they discuss a wide range of topics, with a focus on consensual non-monogamy. swingset

Cooper’s new book: My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory, is a collection of essays on…wait for it…his personal journey through ethical non-monogamy. This is what he says about it in the Introduction:

You should read this book because it represents my journey. From starry-eyed newbie swinger, through my dealing with jealousy and conflict, through the triumphs of orgies and play parties, through the devastation of breaking up, through exploring polyamory, through divorce, through major life changes, through depression, through success and failure, through the rise and fall of new relationships.

Triumphs of orgies?? How you do go on, sir!

It’s no secret that Cooper is unabashedly biased when it comes to swinging, polyamory, as well as other forms of ethical non-monogamy. And why shouldn’t he be? As he plainly states he has grown in his appreciation of himself and his sexuality in the process. Now, how many of us can make a similar claim? However, in his enthusiasm, he doesn’t gloss over the difficulties. He speaks honestly and earnestly about this particular way to live one’s life. He describes the opportunities that allow for growth in terms of understanding one’s sexuality and one’s loving relationships through experimentation and self-reflection.

To my mind, there is nothing more compelling than a “coming out” story. It’s one thing to quietly self-identify as a fellow big-fat-pervert, as I am apt to say on my podcasts, it’s quite another to tell the whole world. I am pleased to welcome Cooper to the Out-There-Come-What-May club. It’s good to have you here, my friend.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is titled: Bi The Way – Male Bisexuality and Swinging. Cooper, Ginger, and I talked about this very thing, at length, in our podcast together. So it was delightful to find him exploring this concept in print as well.

There is a huge double standard in the swinging lifestyle when it comes to acceptance of bisexual males. We all know this, it’s endemic. As swingers we seem perfectly happy that our women are bisexual. We encourage and expect them to be so often. Some more than others, but by and large, definitely bisexual. Now don’t jump down my throat here, I’m well aware that straight swinging females exist, and probably in a decent sized number, but wouldn’t we all agree that the VAST majority of females in the lifestyle are bi? This fact isn’t really shocking, as even the mainstream vanilla world has embraced girl-on-girl dalliance action in the past ten to fifteen years. So when a lifestyle such as swinging presents itself as an option, affording them the opportunity to play with girls, well, there ya go, that’s where the bi girl inside comes out. Many of the swing couples I’ve met said that this was one of the prominent reasons they got into this lifestyle in the first place. So Mrs. could play with another woman. You raise the call for bisexual males, however, and tumbleweeds blow by. Invisible because it’s been made very clear in club and party rules and pricing that a man who wants to play with another man is an unwelcome addition to the scene. This doesn’t make sense.

See why I like Cooper so much?

Another thing I liked a lot about the book, and I think every reader will echo my feelings about this, is Cooper’s thoughtful addition of a glossary of pertinent lingo. If you don’t know the difference between a Full Swap and a Soft Swap or don’t know PIV and PIA from a hole in your head (someone’s gonna appreciate that pun, don’t cha know), not to worry because Cooper takes great pains to spell it out for you.

On a personal note, I want to say a special thanks to Cooper for his chapter titled: Podcasting Can be Lonely. I thought I was the only person who thought this way.

Podcasting can be a lonely pursuit at times. You predominantly interact with people that don’t have physicality in your world. They’re avatars, they’re ones and zeros. They exist for real somewhere, of course. (Most of them, there are the bots after all.) But few exist beyond text on a screen. Writing for a website is the same way. It’s a lot of work, and a tremendous output of self. We sex bloggers reveal so much to so many people (at least we hope for “so many”) and can often get to wondering if we’re just shouting into the void.

Funny, erotic, thought provoking, authentic, and true. My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory raises the bar for all of us who are trying to live honest ethical non-monogamy and talk with others about our experiences. Cooper Beckett, you are an inspiration!

My Life on the Swingset is available exclusively as an Amazon Kindle e-book. A print edition will follow later this month. And be sure to look for the audiobook release in the spring. Check it out, sex fans; you’ll be so glad you did.