Monday, September 04, 2017

Booknote: Live Through This

Clay Cane, Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race. Jersey City, NJ: Cleis  Press, 2017.  ISBN: 978-1-62778-218-0.

Find it in your nearest library via WorldCat.
You can also buy a copy from the publisher.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: essays, LGBT, pop culture, race, religion, politics, identity, memoir
Format: e-book
Source: review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I recently finished reading this moving book, and I have to say it left me with much to think about. This is Clay Cane's memoir of growing up and becoming a man as a gay and African American male. The book looks at sexuality, love, race, religion, and how those areas intersect. The book is arranged in five major parts. Each part contains a series of essay chapters. Right away, I found it an easy book to read, and once I started I could not put it down.

The author starts life with his White mother in the Pacific Northwest, and then she sends him to live with his Black father in Philadelphia, in part so he can learn what he needs to know as a Black man. His father is a typical strong macho male who needless to say is not pleased with his son's orientation, but the author survives that and more to go on and become a writer, documentarian, and journalist. His writing gives us a view beyond our comfort zone combining personal memoir with very insightful analysis. His writing ranges from humorous to sad to campy to heartbreaking and inspirational. He covers a lot of ground, and he goes from one range to the next with ease. Personally, I found the writing very accessible and moving; he has a tone of writing that makes you feel like you are right there with him. There is a powerful sense of humanity in this book that folks need to read and experience.

This is a very timely book given current events. It is the kind of non-academic book that I think we should be reading here in the college in classes as well as for faculty reading groups. Cane battles with religion, identity, race, so many issues of our time. He is the odd one that we want to root for, and he is minority fighting for his voice and his place. Additionally, his commentary and insights are very relevant to our time. He tells it like it is in a candid and open way. By the way, I highlighted a lot of sentences in the book and took small notes, which for me is always a good sign for an engaging book.

This is one that is a must-read and a must have. I recommend it for public libraries. Academic libraries, especially ones with good LGBTQ and gender studies programs, need to add this to their collections if they have not done so already.

5 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes:

An early thought and an important one on mothers:

"When your mother loves you, when your mother affirms you, no one else matters" (11). 

Why is Clay Cane gay? You can blame it on Prince, according to him:

"He triggered my sexuality. Yes, Prince officially made me gay. Blame it on Prince" (15).

That line made me smile. I loved Prince back then, and perhaps I love him more even now. I have a feeling he triggered a lot of sexualities back in his prime.

Cane writes more on why music is important, especially for the poor and marginalized:

"Poverty shames, and when you have no agency to express your rage, music is often your only outlet" (16). 

A detail that caught my eye is Cane's relationship with Nikki, who takes the time to explain to him concepts like femme queens and transgender. She would explain things to him with generosity and patience, not making a big deal out of it. There are not many people like that out there.

On the connection between poverty, race, class, and sexual orientation:

"Clearly, homophobic attacks occur in every racial demographic of the LGBT community, but the connections between poverty, race, class, and sexual orientation are often overlooked, especially by heterosexuals who think of a gay black man as weak. Gay black men are deal the blow of unachievable standards of manhood. Therefore, the double consciousness of blackness and gayness often manifest into rage, especially when pushed by antagonizers who believe you are a sissy, punk, or faggot" (24).

I am reminded a bit of Martin Luther King's quote, "a riot is the language of the unheard." As I read, I also see that Cane writes in the tradition of writers like Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright.

A not-so-small reminder, and one that I wish were not true but in the end, the fight goes on:

"The fight never really ends, it just takes on new opponents" (45). 

Here is something to think about, the melting pot is not all that:

"As LGBT people sink into the melting pot of heterosexual America, vital areas of our community that represented non-conformity dissolve in the political, anti-sexual, and anti-expression mix" (50). 

Hip hop is often known for being anti-LGBT, and yet, for Cane, it was music he loved and found that it shamed him:

"However, LGBT identity and hip-hop are not mutually exclusive. I am still a black man grappling with police brutality, a crumbling education system, lack of jobs, and the struggle of day-to-day survival. The music of the streets simultaneously loved and shamed me" (56). 

A lesson we need to be teaching our boys. I certainly did not get that lesson back in my day and had to learn it along the way: 

"It takes years of work to remember, believe, and own that your sexuality does not make you less or more of a man. Existing as who you truly are makes you the greatest man you can be, regardless of sexual orientation. If only men were taught this as little boys" (63). 

All forms of oppression are linked, and this is another lesson that various oppressed groups who fight for their freedom need to understand. It is not right to advocate for just yours while you put others down on account of your prejudices. A few years ago I attended a church service in a church where a certain famous black civil rights leader preached.  Today, their current minister is more than happy to preach homophobia in the name of his deity, and his black congregation is fine with that. To me, at least, that is not right. Cane writes:

"The truth is, all forms of oppression--sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism-- have a link. You cannot advocate for an end to racism but still be a proponent of homophobia" (73).
In fact, Cane goes on to point out that the black church may been a beacon for African Americans back in the day, so to speak, but it may be losing its relevance:

"The black church provided safe spaces for black Americans to gather without the presence of whites. That said, today, I believe that many-- not all-- sectors of the black church are losing relevance and compassion and are steeped in oppression" (154).

And he goes further on the black churches, and again, I am reminded of that sermon I heard a few years back on that one famous black church:

"It is one of the most poisonous aspects of our community. One would be shocked how much the agendas of some black churches have in common with conservative, racist groups-- on issues of sexuality, gender, identity, and interracial relationships. Some black churches have uncomfortable bedfellows rooted in oppression. Don't be appalled if your homophobic church marches at an anti-gay marriage rally and a good old boy from Alabama is walking right next to the reverend and his wife. Yes, anti-gay beliefs are funded by whites, but there is a common denominator that links racist whites and homophobic blacks--religion. These were not the ideas of African religions, but a direct result of Eurocentric Christianity" (156).

Here is another life lesson:

"You discover the most about a person after you learn what they've survived" (88). 

The book brings in all sorts of epiphanies, lessons, stories overall.

Cane even speaks of the undocumented immigrant worker experience. He worked some of those fields with his mother too. It was not because he was undocumented; they needed the work:

"Whenever I hear the term undocumented workers, I think of the hardworking, complaint-free, and dedicated people on those berry plantations. They did the work other Washingtonians would never agree to in their worst nightmares and suffered terrible treatment from the plantation owners" (109).

And don't discount white poor people. Granted many of them fall in line with right wing bigoted politics, but not all:

"In reality, I've had more in common, felt more sincerity, and engaged in more nuanced discussions about race with poor whites than with rich, privileged, and sheltered black Americans" (116). 

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This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

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