Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Gift… or Not: Reflections on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and Its Implications

A Christmas Gift… or Not: Reflections on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and Its Implications

By Alina Oswald


Holiday seasons offer a way for us to make and send wishes, and hope they come true. This holiday season is no different. But some wishes will not come true. Not this Christmas anyway. And that’s a good thing for many of us. Let me explains…

Not long ago, Uganda’s Speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, promised to pass the infamous anti-gay bill as a “Christmas gift” to its proponents. In its earlier version, the “kill the gays” bill called for punishment of members of the LGBT community with life imprisonment or death sentence. International uproar contributed to help the death penalty part of the bill to be dropped. Yet, this was not necessarily a good thing, because it made the bill potentially easier to be passed. (Some other sources maintain that the death penalty is still on the table.)

While Uganda and the world were waiting for some decision to be made this Christmas, fortunately, Ugandan Parliament went home for the holidays, thus postponing voting on the bill until the beginning of 2013.

Yet, homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda. Recently, BBC News Africa posted an article in which they quoted the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, saying that gay individuals should not be killed, but also that homosexuality should not be promoted.

While still hoping for a resolution, let’s go back in time and examine how this “anti-gay” bill came to be…

Years ago, almost a decade ago, Uganda made the headlines with its ABC AIDS prevention program: Abstinence, Be faithful, and wear a Condom. This Ugandan AIDS initiative was praised around the country and the world. The results were phenomenal and many more countries were encouraged to follow Ugandan’s example.

This year Uganda made the headlines yet again. It wasn’t necessarily to praise the country’s AIDS initiative—actually its once successful ABC AIDS prevention program has lately been reduced to AB. While using a Condom became of lesser importance and, thus, less emphasized, the number of new infections in Uganda were on the rise again. As a matter of fact, Uganda and Chad are the only African countries to experience this kind of AIDS statistics. But this year, Uganda made the news because of its views on homosexual rights.

It all started in 2005, when Juliet Victor Mukasa and her partner were attacked and harassed, strip searched and detained by the police. But rather than being quiet, they took the police to court. Three years later they had a court victory.

This behavior shocked the entire country. Ugandans were used to the LGBT community living silently on the sidelines. Mukasa’s court victory has inspired other members of the LGBT community to speak up and defend their rights. That up-rise sent a shock-wave throughout Uganda and the entire world.

The following year, in 2009, American evangelists came to Uganda. They cited the court order, saying that the LGBT community was trying to get their rights and liberties, like in the States. As a result, Ugandan authorities cracked down on the LGBT community in that country. To this day, the court victory is rarely mentioned, but many believe that the court order was pivotal in terms of what went on in the summer of this year, when it held the first Pride event.

Uganda has always been a source of inspiration many Ugandan artists, including Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, an award-winning artist creating in the realms of photography and film, performing arts and television. He has appeared in Blood Diamond, Heroes and Law & Order. He also plays a chef in Treme.

Mwine is the creator, producer and performer of two outstanding one-man shows inspired by Uganda: one is Biro, inspired by the AIDS pandemic touching a member of Mwine’s family; the second one is A Missionary Position, inspired by the latest happenings related to the fight for equal rights in Uganda.

Mwine explains that A Missionary Position is a multimedia piece, like Biro. But, while in Biro a lot of multimedia was still photos, in A Missionary Position, the multimedia is mainly video. A Missionary Position captures the soul of the vibrant, courageous Ugandan LGBT community through four characters representing each subgroup of the community, inspired by real lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals: a (closeted bisexual) brigadier, a transgender sex worker from Kampala (Ugandan’s capital), a gay priest, and a lesbian activist, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, founder of Freedom and Roam Uganda and organizer of Uganda’s first Pride parade.

********

A Missionary Position BBC feature from Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine on Vimeo.
BBC World Service radio feature including video and stills from the REDCAT premiere in Los Angeles.

Written, performed, directed and shot by Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine
Direction and dramaturgy by Emily Hoffman
Video Design by Carole Kim
Lighting design by Tiffany Willams
Production still photos by Steven Gunther
Hair and make up by Wamuhu Waweru


President Yoweri Museveni also appears, indirectly, in A Missionary Position. “I’ve used newsreel of Museveni speaking about the anti-gay bill,” Mwine explains. “I don’t know if the president has mentioned anything about the play,” Mwine adds. “If this issue is such an [important] issue and still grabs the headlines, if [A Missionary Position] echoes some of the voices in the LGBT community, it would be great if [Museveni] could hear the stories from these people, his fellow countrymen who are proud standing up, are patriotic and fight for their own rights.”

Where does this leave us, Ugandans or not? Should we wait patiently until Uganda’s “anti-gay” bill is voted on? And if it does become the law, how would it affect other African countries and how would it affect the rest of the world, including the United States?

While trying to find the answers, let’s not forget that it wasn’t too long ago that homosexuality was illegal in the western world, too. How many still remember that feeling?




As always, thanks for stopping by. I wish you all Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year, and leave you with one note on Alan Turing. I came over his name while researching material for this post.
 

Some may remember Alan Turing was a mathematician who helped decode German encrypted signals during World War II. Some say that England's victory over Germany in WWII is, due, in part, to Turing's work. In 1952, when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK, Turing was prosecuted for having consensual sex with another man. He underwent a chemical castration procedure in exchange to avoid imprisonment. Two years later, in 1954, two weeks shy of his forty-second birthday, he killed himself. Only this year Alan Turing was posthumously pardoned.





Warm and joyful holidays!

Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer/Author
Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS
with images by award-winning photographer Kurt Weston

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Balancing Act: An Interview with New York City Author Arthur Wooten Whose Latest Novel is Dizzy, a Dazzling Fictional Memoir


A Balancing Act: An Interview with New York City Author Arthur Wooten Whose Latest Novel is Dizzy, a Dazzling Fictional Memoir 



I've followed the work of New York City author Arthur Wooten for a few years and became of fan, I must admit. He had me at On Picking Fruit and I still can't get enough of his books. I think I'll never will. Recently I had the chance to talk to Arthur about his latest novel, Dizzy. Here's what he had to say about his fictional memoir and its story.



Author Arthur Wooten. Photo courtesy to Arthur Wooten.
Hi Arthur! Congrats on your new book! I couldn’t put it down. Readers are in for a treat and a delightful surprise—they’ll get to take a peek at Arthur Wooten the author/the artist, and also the person, the individual behind your amazing work. It’s kind of a revelation. Why now?

I waited almost seven years before I wrote Dizzy. Like my lead character, Angie Styles, I too have her medical challenge. In 2005 I was diagnosed with bilateral vestibular disease with oscillopsia. I basically have no sense of balance and every step I take feels like I’m bouncing on a trampoline. And unfortunately it affects my vision too. My eyes no longer track evenly, so I see life as if it’s through a handheld camera that is bouncing all over the place. I couldn’t have written it sooner, it was so emotional for me. Even now it was cathartic. But it was important to come out of the “vestibular” closet and help others, while, hopefully also entertaining.


In many ways Dizzy is a candid story about the power of reinvention. Humans have that ability, although sometimes may not be aware of it. In Dizzy, the amazing Angie Styles shows them the way. In many ways she’s like a role model, don’t you think?

Oh I think she’s a brilliant role model. When you look at the arc of her journey – she goes from being a self-absorbed Broadway mega star to...nothing. And it happens within weeks. It’s a painful road back but she reinvents herself and becomes a better person for it.


Let’s talk about your characters for a moment, because, as readers, we have a lot to learn from them. Years ago, when we talked about your earlier novels—On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail—you mentioned that your characters are all part of you, in some way, because, after all, you are the author who creates them all. It makes sense. Was this different when giving life to the characters in Dizzy? And if yes, how?

You’re right, I am a part of all of my characters. Even the animals! I actually think the characters in Dizzy were easier for me to write. I’m still living everyday with the vestibular challenge and I spent almost fifteen years in the theatre working as and actor, singer, dancer. So once the storyline was in place, the book almost wrote itself.


Let’s get… Dizzy. Your new novel is not only entertaining, but also a vital source of information for those living with the same mysterious health condition as your lead character. I suspect newly diagnosed patients will find it quite resourceful and informative, more like a unique textbook through which you (or I should say Angie Styles) hold(s) their hands every step of the way. You’ve played a myriad of roles in your life, but this is a different kind of role. How do you feel about it?

I take on this role with great respect and honor. If I can help anyone out there with this same disease, it will make all the hard work of putting this book together worth it. Just the other day – before Dizzy launched – I received and email from a woman in the UK who has the same syndrome. She had read somewhere on the internet that I had this book coming out and she was so exciting to read it. Not only for herself because she knows she’s not alone out there, but also because her daughter is a dancer. This book truly joins two genres together...an exciting backstage Broadway tale coupled with a frightening medical drama.


I noticed you included a list of links to resources at the end of the book. Any others you may want to share? Or any particular favorite one you want to point out?

VEDA, the Vestibular Disorders Association is the best! Great info for people in all stages of the disease. They also tell you where there are local support groups and are working hard to enlighten the world about this silent disease.

http://vestibular.org/


Your stories are so… realistic. As readers, we feel we can just reach out and touch those characters (comfort them or laugh with them, depending on what point in the story we find ourselves) and become involved in their lives. And we do, in our minds, of course. Dizzy, being a fictional memoir, takes that element of reality to new heights. How do you achieve that kind of writing and what tips do you have for those who’d like to follow in your footsteps?

Write truthfully. Write what you know about. And I always keep in mind humor, heart and humanity.



Talking about footsteps… I’ve read (I think) most of your books. I’m still enjoying the journey. Dizzy seems to be a pinnacle of your work so far. It is, indeed, Arthur Wooten at his best… so far. Would you want to comment?

I think with any craft, hopefully, as you travel on you improve. I honestly think I’m a better writer now than I was in the beginning of my career.



Dizzy a fictional memoir by Arthur Wooten. Image courtesy of Arthur Wooten.




Where can readers find Dizzy? Also, are you going to do any book signings?

At the moment I don’t have any book signings lined up. So much of promotional work is now done on the internet. For the next month Dizzy will be appearing on blogs and websites, interviews and Q & As, like we’re doing right now. And truthfully, with the physical challenge that I have now, book signings are really hard to do and very exhausting.



For reasons mentioned above, I’d think Dizzy is a hard act to follow. Yet, knowing you as much as I do, I think readers will relive the dazzling effects of Dizzy in many of your future books. Are you working on anything new?

I just returned from Venice where I did research for my new novel titled, Aqua Alta. That refers to the flooding that occurs in that glorious and gorgeous city. And lo and behold, what happens while I’m there? They have the sixth highest aqua alta in recorded history. I think it’s a true sign that I’m supposed to write this book.







NOTE: Dizzy, a fictional memoir by Arthur Wooten, is available in paperback and in different e-book formats, including Kindle and others.

Find Dizzy in paperback on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/XuE40o

Also find the ebook version of Dizzy on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/XuEofN

Or if you prefer to read Dizzy in other ebook formats, check out: http://bit.ly/XuEFiX


Thank you, Arthur, for taking the time. As always, thanks everybody for stopping by!

Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nine Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Nine Gift Ideas for the Holidays


Have you been naughty or nice this year? Have you started your holiday wishlist? If not, you'd better hurry. After all, holidays are just around the corner. And if you need help with your wishlist ideas, here are a few:


1. If you love books, check out JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS: A BIOGRAPHY  of AIDS, by yours truly with photographs by award winning, legally blind photographer Kurt Weston. JOURNEYS is available on Kindle and Smashwords at a discounted price of $0.99 throughout the month of December.

Cover for the Kindle First edition of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography by Alina Oswald, with photographs by Kurt Weston
Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS by Alina Oswald, Photographs by Kurt Weston

2. If you enjoy story collections, check out real stories by everyday people told "Along the Way" in Sketch People, by award winning author T.J. Banks.

Sketch People: Stories Along the Way, by award winning author T.J. Banks. Cover designed by Alina Oswald.

3. If you prefer photo-books, check out BACKBONE, a collection of images praising the unsung heroes. Don't forget to use code GIVE10 for $10 OFF your purchase.

Cover of Backbone, a photography collection praising unsung LGBT and AIDS heroes, by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
BACKBONE a photography collection by Alina Oswald


4.  If poetry is your thing, especially poetry and photography, then you may wanna check out The Awakening..., a poetic visualization of the darker side of life. Again, don't forget to use the coupon code GIVE10, for $10 OFF your purchase.

Cover for The Awakening... a collection of poetry and photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
The Awakening... a poetry and photography collection by Alina Oswald






5. While we find ourselves delving into the darker side of life... for the vampire fans and enthusiasts out there, check out Vampire Fantasies, a collection of vampire photography focusing on the myths and beliefs surrounding the Undead.  As mentioned above, don't forget the coupon. Use GIVE10 for $10 OFF your purchase.

Vampire Fantasies, a photography collection capturing vampire myths and beliefs, by Alina Oswald

 
6. Are you a fiction lover who never has enough of impossible-to-put-down novels? Then check out books by these authors:

* award winning author of Well With My Soul and Patchwork of Me, Gregory G. Allen 

* award winning author of Songs of the New Depression, Kergan Edwards-Stout 

* New York City author of, among others, On Picking Fruit, Fruit Cocktail, Birthday Pie and the new fictional memoir Dizzy, Arthur Wooten  

* Carey Parrish, author of Big Business

* David G. Hallman, author of August Farewell and Searching for Gilead


7. While most of us don't use paper notebooks too often these days, some may still consider an actual notebook a more "traditional" gift for the holidays. Therefore, if you want more of a traditional notebook gift with images of a unique place (and learn at least a few words in German, while at it, if you feel like), check out Sylt: Stairway to Heaven, a notebook with images from the German island of Sylt. Don't forget to use coupon GIVE10 for $10 OFF your purchase!






Cover for Sylt: Stairway to Heaven. A Notebook with images from Sylt, Germany, by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Sylt: Stairway to Heaven. A Notebook with images from Sylt, Germany, by Alina Oswald



8. If you'd like to check out photography gifts, stop by Alina Arts store, browse the galleries and choose images available as prints, metal prints or canvases, and more. Below are only a few of the images you may find at Alina Arts, to decorate your or your friends' homes. Here are a few examples of my Hawaii pictures, including Hawaii sunset images, Hawaii lava images, and other pictures of Hawaii.

Sailboat Silhouetted by Maui Sunset. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Hawaii Photography: Sailboat Silhouetted by Maui Sunset. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Hawaii image of tourists horseback riding at the bottom of Haleakala Volcano, a dormant volcano the size of Manhattan island, located on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Haleakala rises 10k feet above the sea level. Haleakala crater is giant, hosting several smaller, also dormant, craters. The area is known as Haleakala National Park, a must-see while in Maui!

Earth Shapes: Horseback Riding at the Bottom of Dormant Haleakala Volcano. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Hawaii Images: Earth Shapes--Horseback Riding at the Bottom of Dormant Haleakala Volcano. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Here is an example of Hawaii aerial lava photography of lava fields and live lava flow reaching the ocean. I took this Hawaii lava aerial image from an open-door helicopter.

Fire & Ice: When Lava Meets the Ocean. Aerial Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Hawaii Images: Fire & Ice--When Lava Meets the Ocean. Aerial Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.


9. How about a magazine subscription, say for A&U Magazine , as a gift? You'd support a good cause (that is, spreading the word about HIV/AIDS and, with that, supporting the fight towards against the pandemic and for an AIDS-free generation). Or buy a calendar (another one of those more 'traditional' gifts) to support animal rights? Or adopt a pet? Or... There are plenty of possibilities out there.

Hope this possible wish-list will help jump-started your own holiday lists. Happy shopping! And, as always, thanks for stopping by.


Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS












Monday, December 3, 2012

Reinventing Black-and-White and Other Colors: An Interview with New Jersey Artist Tai Lin


Reinventing Black-and-White and Other Colors: An Interview with New Jersey Artist Tai Lin
[an article originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine, Oct/Nov 2012]


Not long ago I got to interview Tai Lin, a New Jersey visual artist who creates stunning, seductive and dark homoerotic artwork. The article called "Reinventing Black-and-White and Other Colors" was originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine, Oct/Nov 2012 issue, as the annual LGBT History Month column. 



Had Tai Lin been born in the United States, he would have become a doctor or an engineer, or maybe an astronaut. But Lin was born and grew up in Taiwan. For that and more, he is now a visual artist.

But don't expect Lin to talk about how he first became aware of his artistic talent. "It’s never like that,” he comments. “I think it’s more like a diary kinda thing. People write when they feel they have these feelings, [when] they need to express themselves in other ways and not necessarily [share with] other people.” 

Instead of words Lin's diary is filled with seductive, dark and dramatic drawings. “I feel comfortable drawing,” he explains. “It’s a way to escape the surroundings, the environment, [and] hide in your little world and create this fantasy.”

One can only imagine Tai Lin's life experiences that had fueled his fantasies and, with that, his artwork. Yet one is hesitant to ask bluntly in part because the artist subtly hints that he doesn’t necessarily want to talk too much about his life in Taiwan. His artwork—rich and deep, subtle and mysterious, breath taking in an unexpected way--speaks out for him, telling the story he shelters deep inside.

To better relate to the artist's experience, one has to cross the deep schism between the Western and Eastern cultures. In Asia people tend to understand subtleties better than they do in the States, while in America they are "more jade," with an in-your-face kind of attitude. In Asia everything is more... quiet and requires more adjustment time. “It’s more like tofu,” the artist explains, “not much taste in the beginning, but if you know how to cook it, it can be very delicious.”

In Taiwan the LGBT movement has made some progress and there’s even talk to legalize same-sex marriages, but people are still conservative, for example when it comes to one's appearance. Lin himself wears his hair long and dresses up more "gay-ish," and as a result he gets “that look” from other people. They don’t say much in words, but sometimes their body language says it all.

"What I went through in Taiwan and my experience there have shaped my artwork," Lin comments. Yet living in Taiwan allowed the artist to develop a certain kind of sensibility, something that cannot be taught in school, only by life. "It is a very personal kinda thing," Lin explains.

He came to the States in 2000 and went to art school in New York City, where he studied art and oil painting. Then he started to show his work in Manhattan and New Jersey galleries.

While the artist has studied oil painting in school, he likes using pastels, which, applied on paper, are like powder that comes in different color. The process is much faster than oil painting and all the artist has to do is pick the color he needs.

Lin also experiments with a new technique--using black paper to achieve the black-and-white feel. “When you work on black paper you need to bring the object forward [using] light pastel. Paper is two dimensional, and [you] give it depth.” Lin explains his technique.

The result is a stunning body of work--subtle and dark, sometimes dangerous, others sad, often intriguing, seductive, daring, challenging viewers to visit or revisit their own fantasies and, thus, become part of the artwork.

"Searching for Peace," for example, from Lin's Light and Shadow album, was created based on a photo, because, the artist comments, “for me it’s impossible to hire a model sitting on top of a horse riding through the river.” The image portrays an exhausted young man, his fingertips gently tapping the water surface. It evokes a mysterious sadness because viewers cannot quite decipher the man's face, nor do they know where he's heading to or why. The story told in "Searching for Peace" holds many possibilities and, therefore, it can be quite engaging.

Another image from Lights and Shadow album is "Northern Lights." It is a nude, but also it’s a bit mysterious, inviting in a quiet way. "Fade" is yet another stunning example of Lin’s black-and-white artwork portraying a man rushing into blackness as if daring viewers to take the leap into the unknown with him.

Sometimes the artist adds a touch of color, like in "Couple" or "Golden Pond," both part of his One album. “I tried adding a little bit of something else [then black-and-white and thought] gold works because it adds warmth,” he explains.

"Break Through," from his Dark Side album, symbolizes a "break away from doing the black and white thing,” Lin mentions. In this case he used color paper and acrylic to paint over then applied pastel for the model on top of it. He played some more with colors and made changes to the background. The fact that some parts of the image seem to be fading away didn’t bother him.

"Pride" is a portrait of a Native American. The model is an artist himself posing for the class in his traditional outfit. “There’s something… there’s pride in it,” Lin adds, “I needed to capture that.”

Lin doesn't focus on one type of model. Rather he tries to discover what’s most interesting in the model he has to work with, regardless of their looks. The artist can spend two to three weeks with a model, enough time to develop a connection without exchanging too many words. Because of this connection, when students have to draw the same model, they create different portraits of that model. “It has a lot to do with the artists themselves," Lin explains, "how they see the model, what they see in the model. It can become a very personal connection. You [don't necessarily] get better work only from the beautiful models. It’s deeper than that. So you want to capture what it connects you to that model or his story, and translate it onto the canvas and, this way, convey it to the viewers."

Creating artwork is one thing. Choosing titles for his artwork can be a headache. Lin often titles through objects present in the image as a way of identifying the piece. Sometimes he uses models’ names or initials. “I try not to be direct,” he comments. “Titles imply what you want viewers to think about your work. You just lead them into [a general] direction and [let] them make their own mind. I leave space for [them] to complete the story. It’s more engaging this way."

Lin has been creating seductively rich homoerotic artwork but he is opening up to showing other works. “It means a lot to me to explore different ideas like the contrast between life and death, love and sadness, not necessarily just pretty boys and pretty girls.”

As for future plans, Tai Lin hopes that one day he’ll show at the Met. “I think most artists are dreaming about this, to have a big break,” he comments. “But a lot of [times] artists have to work their way up there. Meanwhile we do what we do, and see what happens.”


Contact Tai Lin at: http://tailin.webs.com/



As always, thanks for stopping by!
Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS

Saturday, December 1, 2012

World AIDS Day 2012: A Day to Remember the AIDS Pandemic

World AIDS Day 2012: A Day to Remember the AIDS Pandemic


It’s that time of the year again, when AIDS is mentioned in the mainstream media. Although to be honest, this year, if we listened closely, we did hear the word AIDS this summer, during the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. That in itself is a sign of progress, thanks to President Obama’s decision to lift the travel ban on HIV individuals and, with that, to allow the US to once again host the International AIDS Conference.

But that took place during the summer. Today is December 1st, World AIDS Day, celebrated for the first time on December 1st, 1988. I guess the meaning of World AIDS Day is subject of interpretation and may differ from one individual to another. But usually, AIDS related organizations plan events around this day. So do art galleries showing AIDS inspired work, for example Day Without Art (DWA) or Postcards from the Edge at Visual AIDS gallery in New York City.

Here are a few events happening on and around December 1st, 2012, World AIDS Day:

1. President Obama signs World AIDS Day proclamation

2. NY State Department of Health holds a Healthy Living Expo, December 4th

3. The UN sets its goals for 2015 and to “get to zero”

4. UN Time and Date list of events

5. Florida Department of Health teams up with We Make the Change to observe World AIDS Day 2012, and bring us vital information about the pandemic: statistics, links to resources, prevention and education programs, HIV/AIDS hotline contact information, and much more.





While AIDS has a human face and while the epidemic is not only about numbers, AIDS statistics help bring into focus the importance of the continuing on our effort to “get to zero” (infections) goal. So, here’s an AIDS profile in numbers, conform the Florida Department of Health:

1. 1 in 5 people in the US have been infected with HIV and are not aware of it

2. 50,000 Americans become infected with HIV each year

3. Almost 100,000 Floridian residents are living with HIV

For more vital information about HIV/AIDS, please visit We Make the Change campaign.


More links to HIV/AIDS resources and other information:

The National AIDS Museum


Image of Bethesda Angel in Central Park taken with a lensbaby by Alina Oswald. Angel in Central Park was inspired by Angels in America and now is part of the AIDS Museum permanent collection.
Image of Bethesda Angel in Central Park taken with a lensbaby by Alina Oswald. Angel in Central Park was inspired by Angels in America and now is part of the AIDS Museum permanent collection.


Caregiver, by Rick R. Reed

I Am That Child, by Elizabeth Geitz

Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS, by Alina Oswald with photographs by Kurt Weston
Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS. FREE Today, December 1st, World AIDS Day, from SMASHWORDS. Use COUPON SY98T

Journeys Through Darkness is available for FREE on December 1st, World AIDS Day. Use Coupon SY98T. Journeys will be available at a discounted price of $.99 throughout the month of December.

No Time to Lose, by Peter Piot, Founder and Former CEO of UNAIDS

Well With My Soul, by Gregory G. Allen


As always, thanks for stopping by!
Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 20th Is Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20th Is Transgender Day of Remembrance


Introducing Fresh Voices of the Trans Community Through a Candid Interview with a Young and Charismatic Artist, Zeke Spooner


LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. While many may be familiar with the first three letters—the L, G and the B—they may still have questions about the T, because, of all the letters in the LGBT, T is the most difficult to grasp.


Transgender Remembrance Day Event 2007 hosted by the LGBT Center, NYC. Remembrance Tree. Photo Copyright 2007 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Transgender Remembrance Day Event 2007 hosted by the LGBT Center, NYC. Remembrance Tree. Photo Copyright 2007 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.


So let’s try to grasp it today, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and every other day. The history of TDofR begins on November 28th, 1998, in Allston, Massachusetts, with the brutal murder of an African American transgender woman by the name of Rita Hester. One year later, on November 20th, a vigil took place in San Francisco, in her memory, and, with it, the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, founded by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender graphic designer and activist.




Transgender Remembrance Day 2007. Leaf with Sylvia Rivera on It. Photo Copyright 2007 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Transgender Remembrance Day Event 2007 hosted by the LGBT Center, NYC. Leaf with Sylvia Rivera on It. Photo Copyright 2007 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.


While I’ve covered Transgender Day of Remembrance related events in the past and interviewed out trans actors and esteemed, well-known members of the community, like Ron B., only recently I had the chance to be able to see life through a trans person's eyes, while talking with a young, charismatic, creative and inspiring new member of the community, Zeke Spooner, who took the time to talk candidly about things we may want to know about being trans, but are hesitant to ask. I've learned a lot from Zeke's story and I'd like to share it with you, in Zeke's own words.


When did you first realize you were different? How?

Nobody really teaches you about sexual identity. I went through it thinking I was gay, maybe bisexual, and every time I thought it was close, but didn’t quite fit. And then I thought maybe I’d feel better if I just saw myself as a guy. So I started envisioning myself as male, and as soon as I had that image in my head I really couldn’t see myself as anything else.

I realized something was odd when I hit puberty. I figured it out on my own but didn’t really pursue it for a long time. I mentioned it to my mom [but] she wasn’t ready to come to terms of losing a daughter and gaining a son. So I kinda went along with it for a while, to be nice to my mom... I mean, I had that “Aha!” moment, figured it all out, but let it sit on the back burner. Eventually, as time went on, I found it harder and harder to let it sit on the back burner. So, in school, I started having my friends call me Zeke, which was a name that came to me because I didn’t know anyone else with that name.


How did you choose your name, Zeke?

I really liked the sound of it. It kinda fit me for one reason or another. It comes from a part of the Bible related to mysticism. Not that I’ve been studying the Bible, but I just thought the concept was interesting. There was also a band at the time called Zeke. So I thought the stars aligned to give me a suiting name. And because my female name was an ode to my grandfather, I decided to use the  male name version of it, Morris, as my middle name, as a tribute to grandpa.


Zeke Spooner: B&W Portrait. Photo Courtesy of Zeke Spooner, edited by Alina Oswald. Copyright 2012.
Zeke Spooner: B&W Portrait. Photo Courtesy of Zeke Spooner, edited by Alina Oswald. Copyright 2012.


Can you describe a typical day in your life, in the life of a young trans-man?

I basically do the same things as everybody else. When I was first coming to terms with my trans life, I kept thinking “Why is life so unfair?” But I really worked through it. My first surgery, the chest surgery, made it much easier. It made me more like an average Joe. You know, I can now take my shirt off—not all the time, because there are statues of limitation—but I have the option.

At this point, the trans [part of my life] almost doesn’t factor at all. With the exception of my weekly injections and every so often meeting up with my therapist or endocrinologist, getting blood work to make sure everything is ok or scheduling surgeries, it’s really nothing that makes me all that different.


Can you talk more about the injections?

I take testosterone intramuscularly once a week. I generally end up doing it wrong and hurting myself, I think because I’m too skinny and there’s not enough room for me to inject the stuff. Have to talk to my doctor about that…


Aren’t you afraid of needles and/or giving yourself the shots?

Luckily I’m not afraid of needles. Last year after the October snowstorm it was the worst time. I was even worse at it than I am now. We didn't have power for a week and my testosterone went down to a lower temperature [than normal]. And I had to inject solidified matter into my leg. But other than that, it really doesn’t hurt too badly. It’s kind of a pinch. You put a big needle into your leg. It’s a decent size needle, thicker than your standard [one], because testosterone as a solution is kinda thick, like syrup almost. So it would get stuck if you use a smaller needle. The main issue with testosterone for a lot of trans guys is really the psychological aspect of injecting yourself, which I’ve never had a problem with.


Can you talk more about the psychological aspect?

I’ve never had a problem. When I went to the endocrinologist for the first time to get my testosterone prescription, I was excited. The doctor showed me how to do it and then I was on my own. I was really, really nervous about it, but figured it out.


You mentioned earlier your first surgery. How do you feel after it and do you plan on having other surgeries?

For a long time I wasn’t feeling as brave as I [feel] now. I didn’t want to have surgeries or do the testosterone because I was afraid of how it would change me. But then eventually I became more confident in myself and met more people like me.

[About the surgery] I wasn’t particular scared of [it]. I scheduled it in the middle of finals. So I was so busy that I didn’t have time to be afraid [or] think about it. Stress was extraordinarily high [at the time], but I couldn’t attribute it to surgery.


There is also therapy involved, correct?

Therapy is necessary to make sure that this transformation is what you want. I believe [for testosterone] is three to six months of counseling; for chest surgery it’s one-year of therapy. Any sort of surgery involving below the belt requires at least one year of therapy, generally more. Reason for therapy is to prove that you won’t sue the doctors for doing these kinds of surgery.


You have a girlfriend. How does she feel about your transition?

She’s [been] one of my biggest supporters from the get go. She’s been helping me figure out what I want to do and take the steps I needed to take. She’s been a great support.

When you're transgender and you’re in a relationship, you want to be seen as the person you are [inside]. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen all the time. Relationships with trans people can be very difficult. I was really lucky to find someone so supportive.


Going through this transition is a complex process. There's a lot to process. Where should someone in your shoes start looking for information?

It’s kind of a standard process. Whenever you are learning something new or discovering something new, you have to look into it. So I did a little research. If you look online, there’s a wealth of information, forums, chat rooms, [etc.], good for talking it out, but also for sharing resources, names of therapists who are familiar with and friendly to the T [community]. I started going to a trans youth support group in New Haven. These kinds of support groups are definitely helpful for people who have questions about their gender identity.


How would you advise young new trans individuals to deal with their parents?

First, it really depends on the individual’s parents. Be patient. Give your parents time to adjust. Even parents who are supportive [like my mom] need time to come to terms [with it], because “trans” is not something you hear about all the time.

People have issues coming to terms with their child being gay, and that’s something more relevant in the media [nowadays]. Think about how much more difficult it is gonna be [for parents] to digest the fact that their kid is trans, something that we [still] hear almost nothing about.


Unfortunately, members of the LGBT community are still being bullied, especially young individuals. The topic has been on the news quite recently. Aren’t you concerned of being bullied? Discriminated against?

Back when I was in high school the NAMES program came to our school, and I ended up writing a speech about being a trans man because so few people knew about it. I’ve actually never had to worry about that. Even when I was going through the gamut of sexualities and I came out, I really didn’t face discrimination or bullying... but talked to people who had.


What would you tell individuals who have been bullied?

There’s a local foundation called Jim Collins Foundation started by Tony Feraiollo [and Dru Levasseur], which tries to help people in the trans community with financial needs. They give free chest-binders to people who cannot afford them. Tony told me about this guy we wanted to send a binder to, and who was having a really rough time. So, when I sent the binder, I also sent a letter along, saying that it takes a lot of courage to be true to your identity; that the fact that you’re willing to stand up for who you are means that you’re already manly enough, so don’t let anybody tell you that you are a girl because you may look female; because being a man it’s not only what’s on the outside, but also what’s on the inside. People need to unlock their confidence, because it takes a lot of confidence to know for sure that you are someone people say you are not, and stand by it.


What other advice do you for trans individuals or people who may think they are transgender?

When it comes to surgery or hormones, it’s important to know that nothing is set in stone. Every person creates its own path. For me it’s not necessarily that I need to, but I want to go the whole nine yards. But some people are content never going on testosterone or only going on testosterone, having chest surgery, etc. It’s an individual thing. Do not feel like stuck in a box. People [need to follow their own paths] and do what’s best for them.

Also, when it comes to hormone therapy, do it safely. Try to go about it in the most legitimate fashion, to minimize the risks involved.


What do you think about celebrities, like Chaz Bono, who come out?

In my case it had no effect, but I’m sure it can have a positive effect. The more well-known people come out, the more attention—hopefully positive attention—they bring to the topic. Knowledge is power.


You also have an artistic side…

I paint traffic cones. One day I was coming back from the movies with one of my best friends. And he saw this traffic cone on the road and said, “Hey, dude, you should totally take that cone and paint a smiley face on it.” And I stuck it in my garage and forgot about it for a few months. Then I started painting it, and showed it to my friend, [and then] to other people… and started getting requests of other things to paint.


What do you paint on the cone? How?

I do all sorts of random things—faces, ice cream cones. The first thing I do is spray paint [the cone], apply a nice basecoat so that the paint would stick on it. It takes awhile because I don’t use the paint I’m supposed to use. I get whatever I find. So I spray paint them, dry them, and then I paint the design and go over and varnish them. It seems to work very well.


Do you plan on having a show, displaying your artwork for others to see?

There’s actually a craft show happening at the teen center in town, in November. But for the most part I don’t do much with them, unless someone makes a request.


Any other future plans you’d like to share?

I’m hoping to go into massage therapy. It’s one of the most selfless professions out there, because you’re helping people relax, which is good and it doesn’t happen often enough. I also realized while talking with a massage therapist that it would be extraordinarily beneficial for me, when I have surgeries, because I’d be learning all about the body—how it all connects, how to make it heal, how to minimize scars and all that. So I realized that, if surgery is my priority—which at the moment it is—doing something like massage [therapy], which will help the body heal and go very well with surgery, is a good path to take.

Friday, November 16, 2012

When the Interviewer Becomes the Interviewee or When British Author E.L. Lindley Interviews Me

When the Interviewer Becomes the Interviewee or 
When British Author E.L. Lindley Interviews Me


Have you ever taken a jump, a leap of faith into the less known or familiar? How does it feel?

Young Men Taking a Leap on Coconut Island, Hilo, Hawaii. Photo Copyright 2010 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Images of Hilo, Hawaii: Young Men Taking a Leap on Coconut Island. Photo Copyright 2010 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

I'm asking because I had to kinda do just that a few days ago, when I agreed to be interviewed by E.L. Lindley, a wonderful British author of books like Dare to Lose and Don't Look Back.

Young Men Taking a Leap on Coconut Island, Hilo, Hawaii. Photo Copyright 2010 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Young Men Taking a Leap on Coconut Island, Hilo, Hawaii. Photo Copyright 2010 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

See, usually I am the one who's doing the interviewing, not the other way around. I feel more comfortable putting the questions than answering them. While I don't usually get interviewed, when I do, I get nervous. That's because it's not always easy to switch hats.

But E.L. Lindley was superb! (Thanks again E.L.!) She made it so... exciting and intriguing to go through her list of questions and speak freely while coming up with the answers. What I loved about her questions was that they helped me take a fresh look at what I've been doing so far and what I'd like to do in the future, and put a name to it all, so to speak.

So, if you wanna check it out, please visit E.L. Lindley's Website. I hope you'll enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed answering the questions.


As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS

Monday, November 12, 2012

Seven Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy

Seven Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy taught us many lessons. Here are a few I've learned and a few more I already knew:
 

1 - Most and foremost, money talks.
Money Talks: Dead Nature Post-Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Money Talks: Dead Nature Post-Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.


2 - Don't underestimate the power of Mother Nature. Instead, respect the environment and try to protect it. Preparing for a possible natural disaster is not foolish, quite the contrary.

3 - Don't overestimate your capabilities yet, don't underestimate them, either.  Same goes for your officials.

4 - Eventually, this will also pass. Even when left in total, or partial, darkness, know that, eventually, the light will return, be that in the shape of hope, natural light or electricity, which will eventually be restored. After all, Lady Liberty cannot be left without power forever. As a matter of fact, Miss Liberty got its power back this past (Veterans Day 2012) weekend. I cannot be sure if it's a partial or permanent fix, thus this calls for a more in-depth inquiry.

Statue of Liberty Post-Hurricane Sandy:

Statue of Liberty got its power/electricity back on on Veterans Day weekend, post hurricane Sandy. Copyright 2012 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Statue of Liberty got its power/electricity back close to Veterans Day weekend, post hurricane Sandy. Copyright 2012 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

More Post-Hurricane Sandy Photography:

5 - And even more. Even after the storm, in the aftermath of disaster and devastation, the sun will rise, again.

Post-Hurricane Sandy Manhattan Sunrise. Photo Copyright 2012 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Post-Hurricane Sandy Manhattan Sunrise. Photo Copyright 2012 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

6 - Life will eventually resume. As did the helicopter rides, ferry or speed boat rides. 

Black & Red Tones of shark speed boat with tourists passing by Ellis Island. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Tourists in a shark speed boat on the Hudson, with silhouetted Ellis Island in the background. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
7 - To speed up the recovery, donations and volunteering help are encouraged. Options are many, from the Red Cross and other national centers, to the more local ones, like Jersey City NJ Recovery.


Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time,

Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer
Author of SANDY TALES:  Snapshots from a Hurricane


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Empire State Building Lights Turn Blue for President Obama's Reelection

Empire State Building Lights Turn Blue for President Obama's Reelection


Oh what a night! November 6th, 2012, at about 11:20-ish PM, President Barack Obama made history again by being reelected for a second term!

To keep up with all the challenge keeping up with the election night predictions and polls, Empire State Building decided to use its magnificent lights to keep NYC Metro updated on what was happening. I peeked through at around 7:30 PM and didn't notice anything different. It looked something like this:

Empire State Building lights change colors to keep up with latest polls, presidential election night 2012. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Manhattan on Election 2012 Night: Empire State Building lights change colors to keep up with latest polls, presidential election night 2012. Photo by Alina Oswald. This image was taken at 7:30 PM, election night.

In the beginning, the ESB antenna displayed its white color, while the rest of top was showered in a combination of red, white and blue stripes. As results started to trickle in, the antenna was changing its colors displaying two columns--one in blue and the other in red.

I took the image below right after they announced the prediction that Obama had won the reelection. I chose to wait until after the speeches to post anything, just to be sure.

And here it is: Empire State Building lights announcing the reelection of President Barack Obama: The antenna displays a simulation of the final count (with Barack Obama at 303 electoral votes!) and the rest of the ESB lights turned blue, for democrats, for Obama's victory.


Empire State Building lights turn blue to celebrate President Barack Obama's reelection. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Four More Years: Empire State Building lights turn blue for the reelection of President Barack Obama. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. 

On January 20th, 2013, we'll start the four-more-years we've asked for (and our wish has been granted). But until then, there's half a winter, which, in addition, decided to start early. Like in today. Yes, we're waiting for the Nor'easter...

Stay safe. Stay warm.

As always, thank you for stopping by!

Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS






Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Importance of Voting even in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

The Importance of Voting Even in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Today is the day. Every four years, first Tuesday in November is election day. So, don't take it for granted. Don't think it's enough if others vote. If you want to fight for your rights, vote even in the aftermath of Sandy. It is imperative. Let me tell you why...


People's belongings damaged by hurricane Sandy on Jersey streets. Copyright 2012 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Images of Sandy Damages: In the aftermath of the flood people's belongings spread along Jersey streets, both damaged by hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved

Don't take your right to vote for granted. Most importantly, don't take your right to actually elect your leaders for granted. That's because people in certain countries can vote, but their votes don't make a difference. Yours does.

Properties damaged by hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved
In the aftermath of the flood: Jersey properties and businesses damaged by hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved

Vote for your rights, vote for your future, vote for your well-being. You are still undecided... ask yourself a few questions:

What's important to you?

* good paying jobs?
* equal rights (when it comes to your personal and professional life)?
* peace or I should say... world peace?
* affordable and better healthcare?
* better education?
* R&D progress?
* science & technology progress?
* medical breakthroughs: finding a cure for AIDS, cancer, etc.?
* protecting the environment?
* dealing with disasters, natural (like the recent hurricane Sandy) or otherwise?

Sunrise over Manhattan Island, in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Photo Copyright 2012 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Sunrise over Manhattan Island, in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Photo Copyright 2012 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Believe in hope. It sees us through another day. It helps us witness another sunrise, even in the aftermath of a disaster like the recent hurricane Sandy...

I can continue, but you get the message. What's important is to vote.

Thanks for stopping by! See you on the other side of election day!

Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer
Author of SANDY TALES: Snapshots from a Hurricane

PS: Help in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
If you live in or around Jersey City and want to help hurricane Sandy victims, drop-off point is Barrow Mansion at 83 Wayne Street.



Monday, October 29, 2012

Awaiting Hurricane Sandy

Awaiting Hurricane Sandy

Monday, October 29th, 2012

The wind woke me up this morning. It was still dark outside. Moments later, rain started splashing against my window. Daylight made its way in shy slivers of dim light... and offered a hint of the reality of the day. Sandy Day. Yet each hour turns the day darker and grayer, heavier with water and wind. Then waves start spilling over, splashing the waterfront.

Here are a few images taken while awaiting for Superstorm Sandy:

Before Sunrise: Manhattan cityscape before the arrival of hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Morning of the Storm--Before Sunrise: NYC cityscape before the arrival of hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
As I post this image, there's nothing left of the calm before the storm of this morning. The wind has intensified. Water levels are not that high, but the waves are. Everything is grey and wet. The only sound around is that of the wind, a furious wind ripping through the city... My fingertips, slightly tapping the windows, can feel its rage.

A few people are still on the streets, taking pictures with the wild waves as background or going home, hands full with grocery bags.
While awaiting Hurricane Sandy, waves reach people taking pictures on Jersey waterfront. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Hurricane Sandy: High Waters. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. I had to crop this image. Only hours from the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, Hudson waves splash and spill over Jersey waterfront, while, a few steps, people (one with a small child) are taking pictures.
Police arrived at the scene, flashing lights and siren and everything. Told them to leave. They returned a few hours later. Police returned, too...

Hurricane Sandy: Hudson water rising, taking over piers in NYC Metro area. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Hurricane Sandy: Hudson water rising, engulfing piers in NYC Metro area. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Hurricane Sandy: Hudson water rising, engulfing piers in NYC Metro area. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Hurricane Sandy Photography: Piers under water--Hudson water rising, engulfing piers in NYC Metro area. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Still, earlier today I saw a guy on a bike, people walking their dogs, just one more time...

In preparation for hurricane Sandy, pipes were pulled in on Jersey waterfront, ready to be used. Photo by Alina Oswald.
In preparation for hurricane Sandy, pipes were pulled in on Jersey waterfront, ready to be used. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Water levels are rising. Boats are still on the Hudson. Police trucks carrying sand bags take over the streets, only for a moment. Then the sirens vanish away.

Wind is picking up. So does the water. Is it time to get serious?

Be well, stay safe!

Thanks for visiting!

Alina Oswald
Author of SANDY TALES: SNAPSHOTS FROM A HURRICANE