I'm chatting in one of my alumnus pages for the DLIFLC and recounting a story that took place during my training at DLI. Someone responded and gave me some unexpected insight and I am still covered in goosebumps.
I'm having a one-on-one with my mentor Г-н Яхно (sp?), an intimidatingly brilliant man, all of 90 lbs, one pound for each year he's been on Earth (or so it seemed to my much younger self, he was actually only in his 60's at the time). He used Shakespeare to help me understand goal-of-motion words like куда, откуда and the related concepts that permeated certain verbs that had motion vs static counterparts. He made a game of collecting American neologisms and sprinkling them into his English with the most charming sparkle in his eye. I never learned who he had been in his past life, though I did know the lives of some of my other instructors.
My palatalization was not exactly excellent. I'm Latino and the similarity in phonology between Russian and Spanish kept bringing out the Ricardo Montalban in me. That's what he called me, Ricardo. It was never an insult. I was the only one with a pet name in our little group. I felt super special because the mentor had a pet name for me.
I got frustrated when he kept hitting me with lessons to get my palatalization correct. I felt like my pronunciation was really good and this one thing kept getting pointed out and it made me feel foolish, which was in such stark contrast to how this alarmingly thin old man usually made me feel. DLI was filled to the brim with young people who had been the best and the brightest whence they came, so that kind of attention was hard to get - lots of competition - and most of us were so young, just kids really.
I had a minor lapse in decorum this day and got angry that he wasn't letting go of my failure to get that dang мягкий знак right. I said something to the tune of, "Look, [redacted] can't even get the X right. He keeps saying "ya yekel, ya yekel, ya yekel.. and you never say anything to him." He stops for a minute and looks at me, hard, and says, "And he'll never get it right. He'll be lucky to get a one plus*. You should get a three. I want you to get a three. I am the mentor, you know."
It was a life lesson. A small one, but an important one. This brilliant man was paying extra attention to me, and I was being an utterly privileged little brat.
I never complained again. I got a three*. I can't imagine that Г-н Яхно is still with us these 30 years later, but I remember him like it was yesterday and the opportunity and the privilege he afforded me.
* Our final exams were threefold: Reading comprehension, writing proficiency and conversational skill, each test scored on a scale of 1 to 3 with pluses in between. My final complete score was a 2+,2+,3.
I knew Dr. Jachno very well. You were, indeed, privileged to study under him. He was one of my most beloved teachers when I went through the DTRA (formerly OSIA) Russian Arms Control Speaking Proficiency Course in 2003. Pyotr Stepanovich (Dr. Jachno), sadly, passed from this world in October of 2011. By that time, I was on the faculty in the Russian School and his wife, Lydia, was one of my colleagues.
We had the pleasure of hearing many of his stories and, man, did he have a lot of them. The following is from a 2010 article in the DLI publication "The Globe".
In 1943, the war raging in Europe had finally made its way to a small town in Southern Ukraine. For Dr. Peter Jachno, this would mean the beginning of a life-long adventure that would eventually take him to Monterey, Calif., to teach Russian to students attending the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) course at DLIFLC. The Nazis ripped Jachno from his home at age 16 and placed him in a labor camp in Stuttgart, Germany, where he was forced to work for the Axis powers war effort until the camp was liberated in 1945. Jachno did not want to return to the Soviet Union following his internment, so he travelled through Europe as a freed man until 1949. He stayed in United Nations relief camps looking for work and had an assortment of tough jobs like coal mining. “Work was very hard to come by in those days, but I did not want to go back to the Soviet Union,” reminisced Jachno.
Because of his “stateless” status, Jachno was able to immigrate to the U.S. under the Law of Admission for Displaced Persons. “I was looking for a way to make a better life for myself. I thought I could find a hopeful future in the United States,” said Jachno. Less than a year after Jachno immigrated to the U.S. he was drafted into the Army and spent 10 months on the front lines during the Korean War as a machine-gunner in the 40th Infantry Division. His actions in Korea earned him the Expert Infantry Badge and the Bronze Star. “I practically didn’t speak English, but soon I learned ‘Army’ English,” said Jachno.
When he came back from the war, Jachno applied to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but was told his English was not good enough for university study. This didn’t deter him. He went to Los Angeles Community College for a few semesters and worked on his English proficiency until he was admitted to UCLA. In 1958 he graduated with a degree in psychology. Soon after graduation, Jachno received word through a letter that his 74-year-old mother was alone and disabled in Ukraine. “I decided to go back to the Soviet Union to help her. So I applied to the consulate to receive permission to go,” said Jachno.
When Jachno returned to the Soviet Union, he looked for work to earn money to help his mother. Being a decorated U.S. Army veteran did not help his social status in the Soviet Union and work was not easy to find. Thinking that he was more of a burden than a help to his mother, he went to the authorities to tell them that he would like to go back to the U.S. because he could not find work. “They told me that I better keep quiet about going to the United States because I would get myself sent to Siberia,” he explained.
Then, unexpectedly, one of the authorities decided to do him a favor. He was taken to a metallurgical plant where he received a job as a quality control manager. As soon as Jachno’s reputation spread as having been educated in the West, he was sent to work at a middle school as an English assistant professor for two years. Recognized for his academic excellence, Jachno was sent to the Soviet National Pedagogical Institute where he worked on the methodology and psychology of teaching foreign language, and earned a PhD on the same topic. While studying, he began conducting experiments to prove his theory that assimilating a lexicon for foreign language in secondary education forums was better than existing Soviet methods. These unique and innovative experiments revolutionized foreign language acquisition in the Soviet Union.
In 1986, Jachno found his way to DLIFLC where he began teaching Russian in the basic course. In 1994, he was recognized as a candidate to stand up a new DTRA advanced Russian-language program that trains service members in advanced Russian language skills to become interpreters and help mitigate Weapons of Mass Destruction threats from the former Soviet Union. “The Russian Department was a wonderful place to work. I am proud that I spent so many years training interpreters (linguists) for such an important endeavor like DTRA,” Jachno said.
Jachno retired from DLIFLC Feb. 1, 2010 after 23 years of service.
Sure, I’ve had suicidal ideations.
And so have you.
Saying you haven’t is a lie.
You know it’s a lie.
I know it’s a lie.
We both know it’s a lie.
Everyone has thought of it.
The question is, in fact, disingenuous.
“Have you ever had suicidal ideations?” is not the real question being asked.
What’s really being asked is: “Are your survival instincts still sufficiently intact so that you lie to me (and likely yourself) with respect to the answer?”
That’s the real question.
This will be a blog entry that is continually updated.
Sometimes I feel like my own community has no idea what it wants. We want representation. Clear representation. Fuck your subtext. Stick the lines between which you expect us to read right up your wazoo. Queer-in-name-only is a smug copout. Fuck that right in the face with all nine inches of my disdain. No, reboot Lando, your vague flirtations do not earn you a Rainbow Pass.
And then I come across things like this post, currently doing the rounds at all the major LGBTQ internet venues...
So, in response to the above, my little list of books I've read that I feel satisfies both the need for real, honest, upfront representation and also the need for such stories not to always be coming of age, sappy love stores about how people come to grips with their sexuality. Like, let's move past that, culturally, into other realms. This list isn't remotely all-inclusive, and, full disclosure, it clearly represents my own personal tastes as a reader and as a gay dude of a certain generation. Again, I'm not including any stories that revolve around being LGBTQ, just works that I have enjoyed that include LGBTQ in the framework of stories, front and center, above and beyond just being LGBTQ.
I begin with Robert J. Sawyers Neanderthal Parallax.
Pontor is a Neanderthal (the word they use of themselves is barast) scientist involved in a neutrino identification experiment in an alternate timeline that parallels the work of neutrino scientists in our world working at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Ontario, Canada. A freak mishap that occurs simultaneously in both timelines causes a juncture point and Pontor is shunted into our world. All of this taking place in Canada (and boy, Sawyer drops a uniquely Canadian product placement every other paragraph to be sure we don't forget it), Pontor is engaged by his homo sapien counterparts with that most mythically ensconced of all Canadian virtues, overtly performative politeness.
We learn along the way, and rather early on, that Pontor is bisexual and involved in a polyamorous relationship in his own world. DO NOT expect the definition of either of those concepts in these books to represent the Party Approved™ meanings we use in our current world. Sawyer makes use of a little-known bit of real-world scientific knowledge that concerns the unusual gender assortment we tend to find when Neanderthal fossils have been found in groups. There is a mild tendency (not a rule, but a tendency) for these fossils to be found in same-sex groupings. Sawyer lifts that small statistical anomaly and uses it to create a Neanderthal world where everyone has both a husband and a wife. Everyone. He gives Neanderthals a mating season, rather than a monthly cycle like homo sapiens, and uses the two dynamics to create a society where you live with your same-sex spouse for most of the year (it is a full and complete sexual relationship), and then when the urge to make babies comes upon you, you go stay with your opposite-sex spouse.
I have no idea if Sawyer is or is not a member of the Rainbow Community, but he does fixate on Pontor as a sexual object. He finds himself desired in the homo sapien world of people he encounters, and, we learn, to put it plainly, that Pontor is remarkably well endowed. Sawyer spends a whole scene detailing Pontor's prodigiousness.
Gay or not, Sawyer is a size queen.
But it's not Pontor's bedroom proclivities that anchor the story (though Sawyer is not shy in giving these details). It's the differences between his world and ours, the mistakes we've made that they haven't and widdershins likewise, the chance for a peek into how things could have been had different choices been made, for both Pontor and the homo sapiens who befriend him.
Richard K. Morgan's series A Land Fit for Heroes.
Ringil Eskiath is a man stuck on the wrong side of time and history. Once a hero of epic proportion, swinging sword and fury into the scaled enemy threatening their borders, ready to kill or die a furious death rather than submit to subjugation and defeat, Ringil is now part of an inconvenient prior age. Younger thoughts and minds (and even some of his contemporaries) find his presence a nuisance to their newly freed abilities to think as they wish and do as they like. He is the victim of irony and already sliding down the backside of youth and beauty, known now only as a despoiler of honest men in sweaty pawings within dirty barns.
But fate is not done with Ringil. Like a dispassionate army that keeps tabs on its veterans, Ringil is called back into service. There is yet need of the steel sword he wields, no matter how much the citizenry may resent and disdain him for what he does with the flesh-sword with which he was born.
I love Ringil for not being young or epically handsome or tied to those youthful days when we clutch our definitions to our bosoms with such prickly heat. Ringil's definitions have long ago proven to be lies. Those whom he loved have died or found settled lives of mere mortals, not the gods of war they once were, now grown small and quiet.
These books will appeal - I think - to older LGBTQ folk. You'll find no sentimentality or saudade here. The realism of muscles gone soft with age and the ever-present enemy called gravity are taken into account. @BayView, if you've not come across these books before, they answer, I think, to the topic you brought up concerning emotional truth, rather than sticking to expectations or any kind of historical realism. In this case there is no realism to be stuck to since Ringil's world is not our own. Instead, here we find rather modern mouths speaking in modern ways to connect that emotional truth, rather than cleave to tropic expectations of how people will speak or behave in a typical Sword & Sorcery novel.
As regards LGBTQ concepts, sexualities run the gamut in these books, but again, these are all people who have lived, who have run through the years that lead to regrets and are on the other side of that gauntlet, imperfect, sometimes broken, morally clouded, very real.
The Hexlisnger series by Gemma Files.
Chess Pargeter and Asher Rook… where to even begin?
Firstly, these are not nice people. Seriously - not nice. Ash is an ex-reverend turned desperado turned hexslinger (that’s cowboy talk for warlock). Chess Pargeter is a son-of-a-whore in the most literal sense. There certainly is a love story here, but it’s not cute or saccharine or pining for some fairytale stupidity. It’s dirty and broken and fucked up and deeply darkly sexual.
Long story short, Chess and Ash are on the run for bad things they did at the end of the Civil War and because hexlsingers ain’t exactly “polite company” in this alternate world. They have some crazy times, take a great many lives, and those that manage to survive at their side never come away without some taint by association.
Chess was born to a San Fransisco jezebel name of “English Oona”. When he was old enough to be brought into the fold of selling his flesh, he did so. Chess has no need to be forgiven for his past sins. Any accusation of sin is your problem, not his.
And lord, he is desirable. In not so many words, Gemma Files makes it clear that if Chess weren’t so damned dangerous, if you didn’t have to regard him as you would a rattlesnake with whom you share a room that’s only 3 feet square, if you could slip past his ferocity, you would see that he is uncommonly, perhaps even unnaturally, beautiful.
To fuck Chess Pargeter, or to have him fuck you, is to lay with an angel. But if you know your Bible, then you know that not all angels are to be trusted.
Angel becomes a god when Chess and Ash are drawn to a conflagration of other hexslingers, brought together by an ancient goddess of Aztec or Mayan (in her eyes, she’s older than either) origin. She takes Ash as her husband and flings Chess into the rotten bowels of Xibalba, where the gods play ōllamaliztli with our souls in their sunken ballcourt, to make his way out... if he can.
These books are not for the sensitive. They are not for those of you still demanding we be represented in a certain sort of idealized light. There are no pedestals to be seen. These people are outlaws, dirty to the core, fucked up from the floor up, and amazingly engaging and satisfying to read.
Clive Barker's Imajica
In this story, the LGBTQ aspects are not quite as front and center, but I think it certainly merits a place on this list.
John Furie Zacharias is no ordinary mortal, though he’s pretty sure he’s as ordinary as they come. He becomes entwined in the machinations of secret societies, assassin angels, and realms beyond Earth. He goes by the nickname Gentle - a bit of foreshadowing - and eventually comes across the idea that he may, in fact, be the Second Coming.
Yes, that second coming.
But this is Clive Barker, so don’t expect any humble genuflecting or deference to religious sentiments. This is the same man who brought us the Hellraiser series.
In this story, God is not what we think. Earth, The Fifth Dominion, has long been separated from the other four dominions and stories have grown strange and distorted from that long ago time when we knew better. God (of the Abrahamic flavor) is not a creator, but a conqueror named Hapexamendios. A power-hungry warlord who burned an unhealing scar across the dominions in order to ensconce himself alone and quite mad in The First Dominion, what you and I refer to as Heaven.
Jesus was his first son, but he didn’t come to save us from our sins; he came to save us from Daddy.
Gentle's circle of friends includes many in the Rainbow Community, whom he loves and holds dear. In his otherworldly adventures, he comes across a shapeshifting angel named Pie'oh'pah whose original reason for coming into the story is as a hired assassin with Judith, a friend of Gentle’s, as target. Later, Pie'oh'pah becomes Gentle’s lover. Pie'oh'pah’s gender is never a fixed thing, especially with regards matters of sex, though most of his/her time is spent in the guise of a strikingly handsome black man.
But, when you’re tasked with saving the world from God, and God’s a baddie, not a goodie, and also your own daddy, the exact gender of your angel assassin lover is pretty far down the list of things to worry about.
Here’s a GI-Joe™ missing an arm, missing a leg.
There’s a Barbie™ upside down with no head, just a peg.
There are random Lego™ pieces that are strewn here and there.
This once was a Chewbacca™; now he’s bald, without a hair.
This used to be a Slinky™; now it’s tangle beyond mend.
This LightBright™ has no colored bits through which the light to send.
This Battleship™ has not one boat to place upon the waves.
Just one green soldier left, I fear, the rest all went to graves.
These broken toys upon the floor, no, none belongs to me.
My things are put away, my dear, whole and sound, you see.
Do as you wish with what is yours, the chance we all do take,
but leave them strewn about, it’s clear that surely they will break.
The ones who were bored, they had to be floored,
so we filled them with cement and lead.
And the pyros on fire, lit their own pyre,
so we figured they sought be dead.
Some poked at bees, then climbed up into trees,
crying at how they’d been stung.
And I thought in my mind, neither pleasant nor kind,
how they’d pretty much asked to be hung.
If there is a god, she’s a funny old sod,
and people - her funniest joke.
Puppy or cat; shit, I’d even pick rat,
but it’s the last time that I’m picking bloke.
Perhaps I’ll pick whale, with a bloody big tail,
diving deep to catch giant squid.
Or a big kangaroo with a joey or two.
That sounds like an excellent bid.
If I were a snake, I’d eat all your cake,
having bitten you into the grave.
Or a scary arachnid; don’t get distracted.
What, your hubby? He was never that brave.
If I were a possum, I’d lick every blossom,
then poop on you from way up high.
Or a bird on the wing, I would soar, I would sing,
and... also poop on you from the big sky.
When I am dead, having dropped on my head,
I pray that this memory lingers.
That I don’t get took by a sly salesman’s hook,
“Sonny, what you want are fingers!”
Separate names with a comma.