Gary L. Atkins is an award-winning journalist whose works include the critically acclaimed Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging and his new book, Imagining Gay Paradise: Bali, Bangkok and Cyber-Singapore. He specializes in creative non-fiction journalism, fusing an easy-to-read narrative style powered by strong characters with questions about history, geography, communication, and social justice. Gay Seattle follows the 100-year-long saga through which gay men and women imagined their “coming home” – rather than just their “coming out” -- in the context of the Pacific Northwest’s famously wet landscape and roguish history. Similarly, Imagining Gay Paradise journeys through a century of imaginings of paradise and manhood by gay men in the tropical geography of Southeast Asia. The story stretches from the end of the colonial empires to the present world of cyberspace, ranging across the development of the aesthetic paradise of Bali in the 1920s and 1930s to the erotic paradise of Bangkok fostered from the 1960s onward, and to the cyber-paradise promoted since the 1990s in Singapore. Gay Seattle was published by the University of Washington Press in 2003 and received numerous accolades for its fusion of journalism and scholarship, including a Washington State Book Award and a national Jesuit Book Award. The University of Hong Kong Press is publishing the hardback edition of Imagining Gay Paradise and is joined by Silkworm Press of Thailand as co-publishers of the paperback edition. Imagining Gay Paradise is also being made available as an e-book.
Gary first became interested in writing about age six when his parents gave him a rubber-type printing press. He immediately started producing a newspaper for his local neighborhood in New Orleans. In high school, he initially thought he might become a historian or a biologist – two other strong interests – but eventually he realized that if he entered journalism, he could write about all three of his interests: current political and legal events, history, and nature. He graduated from Loyola University and then Stanford University, served an internship on the Washington Post and joined the Pulitzer-winning Riverside Press-Enterprise in California -- where he won numerous awards for his narrative and environmental reporting and writing. Seattle University hired him to teach in and chair its Communication Department and, in 2005, named him a full professor. He teaches courses in narrative journalism, communication justice, media and sexual/gender justice, and international communication in Asia.
It’s an ironic turn of the flow of history. The Seattle archdiocese was once renowned for its dedication to social justice care inclusive of all, including LGBTQ individuals, and thus was investigated in the 1980s by the Vatican at the instigation of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Now that Ratzinger is Pope Benedit XVI, the Seattle archdiocese has been transformed into being one of the swords of the Vatican’s crackdown on those who resist its legendary three D’s of discipline, dogma and docility. Archbishop Peter Sartain has been assigned to impose the three D’s on, of all people, the church’s own nuns. A Vatican assessment has accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of nuns in the United States, of deviating from Catholic teaching in areas such as homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and women’s ordination. Sartain has been handed the power to put them back in line.
Coming on the heels of Sartain’s unique and aggressive stance against Washington’s marriage equality law (see post below), he now moves into a very high-profile role amongst U.S. bishops. Why give the job to someone in such an out-of-the-way diocese as Seattle’s? Well, as some have speculated, a cardinal’s red hat may be waiting — depending on Sartain’s own acts of determined discipline.
Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain has urged all parishes in the archdiocese to collect signatures for a referendum to overturn the Washington marriage equality law. This is in stark contrast to the more courageous and welcoming stance that a previous archbishop, Raymond Hunthausen, took three decades ago. While the Catholic Church has long expressed opposition to the government treating lesbians and gays equally in the application of civil marriage law, this appears to be the first time an archbishop has actively promoted the use of the churches themselves in such an aggressive anti-gay manner.
For those living near the Seattle area, I’ll be reading from and discussing Gay Seattle as well as my new book Imagining Gay Paradise at Seattle University on Thursday evening, April 12. The focus will be on the age-old notion of a “search for home” — that plot line of struggle and human creative endeavor we all know so well from stories like theOdyssey.Gay Seattle, treated that theme — but, of course, imagining a home in the soggy Pacific Northwest is considerably different from imagining one in tropical paradises. I’ll be comparing and contrasting the approaches used in the two geographic areas. And, we’ll be talking about writing and what techniques come into play in book-length narrative journalism.
At least one if not more additional discussions of the books will be scheduled in the Seattle area during the Pride Month of June. Then I’ll be attending other readings and discussions in Bangkok, Singapore, Bali, and Amsterdam. I’ll post those as they are scheduled.
A colleague, Dr. Sam Boerboom, who teaches courses in LGBTQ rhetoric, will also be on hand to discuss his insights about how sexually marginalized groups have to re-imagine their homelands since they are often shut out of those imagined by others.
The event starts at 7 p.m. at SU’s Commons on the 5th floor of the Casey Building and runs until 9 p.m. It’s being co-sponsored by the university’s Communication Department, International Student Center, and Asian Studies program and has been organized by Dr. Mara Adelman — who, as everyone at Seattle U knows, always does a fabulous job of making sure there are great snacks to go along with the conversation! The event is open to the public.
Good news…. Gay Seattle joined by Imagining Gay Paradise
A companion volume to Gay Seattle has now been published and is available in hard cover, paperback and digitally. Gay Seattle examines the ways lesbians and gay men constructed a new home in the temperate rainforest climate and culture of the Pacific Northwest despite being exiled by sodomy laws and anti-gay medical practices.The new book, Imagining Gay Paradise: Bali, Bangkok and Cyber-Singaporetakes the exploration to the tropical beaches and peninsulas of Southeast Asia, tracing a century-long saga of gay men who created an aesthetic paradise in Bali in the 1920s and 1930s, an erotic paradise called Babylon in Bangkok in the 1980s, and a cyber-paradise in Singapore at the turn of the 21st century. You can get more information and read excerpts at the site linked above.
Both books will be the topic of a reading and discussion scheduled at Seattle University, April 12, 7-9 p.m. Stay tuned for more details about that and future discussions, particularly in Bali, Bangkok, Singapore, and Amsterdam.
This February, the fight for gay and lesbian marriage in Washington state is finally moving toward a successful legislative conclusion — some four decades after two men, Faygele benMiriam and Paul Barwick, went to the court house in King County to demand a license. They were, of course, denied. The two later filed a lawsuit that made its way to the Washington State Court of Appeals which ruled that marriage was between a man and a woman only. What’s fascinating, of course, is that both men worked more from a fraternal understanding of how extended and innovative gay relationships could be constructed rather than a romantic mindset. Neither especially believed in that triple supremacy of romantic, heterosexual monogamy — but they did believe queers everywhere had a right to claim whatever type of relationship they wanted. Theirs is one of the many stories you can read in Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging.
For the present, the accolades go to those legislators, especially state Senator Ed Murray, who patiently worked through years of objections with a step-by-step approach: a judicial challenge to the states Defense of Marriage Act (sorry to say the judges had not enough courage to strike down the law); a domestic partnership law; an “everything but the marriage word” domestic partnership upgrade; and finally gubernatorial support and legislative success. A new story for another edition of Gay Seattle!
For an update on current relations between the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese and the local LGBTQ community, following the recognition by Washington state of marriage equality, see “Mass Uprising” by Dominic Holden in The Stranger.