Author: alan

Alan Chelak is an artist and poet living in Philadelphia.

Welcome 2021 Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference!

video created by @analogerelim

Although we can’t meet in person this year, the staff and volunteers at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room have been busy preparing these inclusive and thought provoking recommendations for all of your needs. Please take a moment to browse these lists:

LGBTQ Books for Black History Month 2021

It’s Showtime!

Help us celebrate Philly AIDS Thrift’s 15 Year Anniversary with a Drive-In screening of BEETLEJUICE at PSF Drive-In at the Navy Yard!
We couldn’t think of a better way to honor this milestone (AND our favorite holiday…Halloween) than to partner with the folks at the Philadelphia Film Society, to present a fun, safe way to celebrate the years we’ve loved and served the community.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Start time: 
7pm (lot opens at 6pm)

$30 Per Car Purchase Tickets Here:

In addition to the film there will be Treats, Food Trucks & Prizes. And you never can tell…maybe even Beetlejuice himself?

We look forward to seeing you there! Xoxo


Can I purchase a ticket on site?
No. ONLINE SALES ONLY. Operations will be check-in only, no box office sales at all will be conducted on site.

When will the lot open?
Drive-In will open 1 hour before listed showtimes.

What should I bring with me?
Please make sure to have a your confirmation email and/or printed ticket – and that of all the passengers in your car – with you for check in.

What about the weather?
All screenings are rain or shine unless weather is determined to be too dangerous by management.

What if the show is cancelled due to weather?
We have a rain-date of Tues, November 10th

Will there be restrooms?The site does have restrooms. Attendees must obey postings at the restroom entrances. Capacity limits must be adhered to.

Can I bring my pet?
No pets or animals of any kind are permitted on site, except certified service animals.

Will there be concessions?
At this time, we are preparing to have Food Trucks on site.

Can I bring my own food?
Yes. But please make sure to keep your food inside your vehicle and respect the grounds of the Navy Yard.

Do I have to wear a mask?
When outside the vehicle, attendees must wear a mask at all times.

How will I hear the movie audio?
Tune to 89.9 FM on your radio for the movie audio.

Audio is also available through the ListenEverywhere app. Guests can log onto the PFS DI wifi to download the app.

Can I sit outside my car?
No. Following the City-approved safety guideline – all attendees are required to remain in their vehicles at all times unless using the restroom.

Is it drive-in only or can I walk in and sit social distance?
This is a cars only drive-in.

How do I get to the Drive-In at the Navy Yard?
For GPS: Input “League Island Blvd & Admiral Peary Way” as the destination, or use the following directions from South Broad Street:
Enter the Navy Yard via Broad Street entrance.
Travel 0.7 mi to the end of Broad Street, then make left onto Admiral Peary Way.
In approx. 0.5 mi, you will see the Drive-In movie theater, just past the intersection of Admiral Peary Way & League Island Blvd.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to email !

Katharine’s Review of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls

My love for Clarissa is so strong it changes the temperature of the air around us — that’s how it feels — which is precisely the thing about losers, the thing that binds us here on Mrs. Vag’s floor, and the thing that will bind us even after we change, grow up, become new people, meet other former and current losers: losers stick together. We recognize one another.

— T Kira Madden, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls

There are two ways to write a successful memoir. One is with sheer talent of prose, making even the ordinary moments of our lives shine with their own luster. The other is to recount kind of experiences that make most people go: “Holy crap, I can’t believe that’s been your life.”

Luckily for T Kira Madden, she gets to do both at once. 

Long Live The Tribe of Fatherless Girls is Madden’s account of growing up queer and hapa in Boca Rotan, Florida. Awkward and alien even among similarly nouveau riche classmates (her uncle is Steve Madden of the shoe empire, just to give you a sense of the tax bracket), Madden was caught in the crux of both being the Other and having immense privilege. Her language is deeply creative and visceral, and she appreciates the surreal amidst the superficial; it’s Welcome to the Dollhouse as envisioned by Francesca Lia Block. 

Another movie comparison: the book reads like the flip narrative to The Wolf of Wall Street — what all that excess and drug abuse looked like when it wasn’t cinematic enough to be adapted by Scorsese, the effects on family members and daily life. That’s not so much a comparison, however, as the actual truth. Madden’s father was good buddies with Jordan Belfort, and we’re left to assume he made a lot of his money the same way. Madden’s account is quite the palate-cleansing contrast to the movie — she talks about the house rules where she was effectively locked inside her room at night when “company” came over, the sex and drug parties she glimpsed when she managed to sneak out, how she was babysat by some of the shadiest characters you’d ever think to trust with a preteen. And that’s when she isn’t digging into the real darkness, such as her parents cycling in and out of rehab, or how her father, high as a kite, once chased Madden and her mother into a locked bedroom and beat the door with a baseball bat until it splintered. He didn’t remember the incident afterward, claimed his little girl must have broken the bat herself.

One of the striking elements of the book is Madden’s lack of anger, or accusation, toward either of her parents. She has anger, but she focuses it squarely on their dealers. When it comes to the adults directly responsible for her — the ones who lied to her, neglected her, once forgot about her entirely and left her at a baseball game — Madden spends a lot of time trying to contextualize their behavior, if not excuse it. Madden clearly loves them both, and the book’s overarching narrative (if it can be said to have one, more on that later) is about attempting to incorporate that love into her adult understanding of her trauma. She unpicks her mother’s past and insists she did the best she could. But it’s her father whom Madden really labors over, sifting through her memories like they contain precious grains of wheat, even as she acknowledges the growing excess of chaff. Madden’s father is alive for most of the book, which might seem to contradict its title — but as one character in a similar situation points out, your father doesn’t have to be literally dead in order to grow up fatherless. (He’s the one who left her at a baseball game.) 

It’s Madden’s strained connection to her father, or lack thereof, which guides her choices in most of the relationships she chronicles in the book. Madden now identifies as gay, and her book touches on queer desire, but her overwhelming hunger for adult, or at least older, male attention dominates the narrative. Toxic boyfriends, abusers, predators — they all find their way into her life, and as Madden tells it, they’re all connected back to that initial disconnect. It was the first really big, really damaging crack in the foundation of her life.

And Madden’s own life contains considerable damage: eating disorder, assault, addiction. There is a lot of ugliness couched in the book’s beautiful prose. Details in the later chapters make it clear that Madden eventually overcame these obstacles: marriage to a supportive partner, repaired relationships with her parents, getting clean. But the book itself isn’t interested in the resolutions, or with much of the process of reaching them. Instead Madden seems to fixate on the worst parts, such as the more bigoted reactions to her coming out among an otherwise accepting family, or her teenaged partying and its excesses instead of how she came to be a lauded nonficition writer. Arguably, that’s because these things make for a more interesting story. It can still be frustrating, to feel like Madden doesn’t acknowledge how lucky, ultimately, she has been — especially how much of her family’s money contributed to that luck. For instance, after she all but flunks out of high school, Madden is sent to a Manhattan fashion school with her tuition and expenses paid. In these chapters she talks about her ongoing emotional turmoil, her struggles with queer identity — all of which is valid. But it’s hard to ignore how much better she had it than most with similar sorrows. 

In fact many of the narrative threads of Long Live The Tribe of Fatherless Girls feel incomplete, and often we’re given endings and beginnings with no details of what happens between. Even in the very end, where the audience might finally believe Madden has reached a place of balance and perhaps emotional wholeness, a revelation in the last pages lands like a sucker punch. The book won’t give you any sense of resolution, and those in search of it should look elsewhere. But if you’re more inclined towards intensity, or a nostalgic look back at the weirdest aughts-era adolescence you never really lived, let T Kira Madden tell you stories of her tribe.  

Books for #TransDayOfVisibility

Happy #TransDayOfVisibility — today, and everyday, we are celebrating transgender and non-binary people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by trans people worldwide. Today we are recommending these books for all our customers and hope that you know, even though our store is closed right now due to COVID-19, we are still here for you.


Stuck inside? Catch up on your reading!

Stuck inside for the next few weeks? This is a great chance to catch up on your reading. Self-isolation can have a real impact on your mental health, so treat yourself by getting your hands on one of these books that you can order from us right now. That’s right, even though our physical location is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can still ship books to you!

Volunteer Phoebe’s Review of “I Know You Know Who I Am”

He often found himself looking up in study carrels, bored by the material, and tending to his ever-evolving image, the mirage of himself growing fainter and fainter before disappearing entirely. Who knew what of him? How many times had he existed out there, in others’ minds? In his?
I Know You Know Who I Am

As a collection, the stories in Peter Kispert’s I Know You Know Who I Am are concerned with the white lies we tell that grow monstrously, the selves we present to others, and the people we are at our core. Unexpectedly for a collection of queer people lying, it is largely unconcerned with being closeted; most characters are out and in long-term relationships, dealing with the deeper lies of who they are after the point at which they are supposedly living their most authentic selves.

Most of the lies at the heart of the collection are small: yes, I have friends in the area; yes, I used to swim competitively; yes, I hunt; yes, I believe in God. Rather than the lies themselves, it’s how they grow to the size of giants and destabilize the relationships they are the foundations of. More so than the act of lying, the collection is focused on how people react to the lies they tell and their fraught relationship to truth. Afraid of getting caught in first-meeting spur-of-the-moment lies, they begin to live them, choosing to move forward in untruth than admit the truth of having lied. The lies gain lives of their own, growing to the turning points these stories center around.

Telling the truth is an act of full vulnerability in these stories, and that’s precisely why so many of the characters in them avoid it. In the titular story, a friendless man hires an actor to portray a friend he lied to his boyfriend about having, propelled by the fear that his loneliness marked him as unlovable. In “Breathing Underwater,” another man lies about having an illustrious background in swimming to bridge the gap he sees between himself and his boyfriend, who he considers out of his league. The lies are born out of a desire to seem more than they are and to protect themselves against points of insecurity, unwilling to recognize until it’s too late that vulnerability is the basis of intimacy. The narrator of “I Know You Know Who I Am” implausibly makes it through the gauntlet of his own making, but the relationship unravels not long after.

In one of the strongest stories in the collection, “Aim for the Heart,” a man shoots and kills a deer in an attempt to prove to his boyfriend he was telling the truth about being a hunter. The narrator, Troy, hadn’t expected to see any deer and then had planned to miss the shot, scaring it off. Instead, he’s left with the corpse and the strange liminal half-truth of having lied about something that’s now true. Like other characters in the collection, his relationship ends not because his partner finds out the truth, but because the lie sits heavily on him and his perception of himself.

In a collection of stories all centered around queer characters, “Aim for the Heart” is also the story that most directly addresses the way so many queer people are forced to lie about who they are, in ways big and small, for the simple act of survival. While other stories briefly mention the danger of being visibly queer—”If he finds us, we’re not a couple”—this story ties Troy’s compulsive lying throughout college and the rest of his life to the root of his childhood friend’s attempted suicide. After his friend narrowly misses shooting himself in the heart, Troy is asked whether his friend had ever done anything to make him uncomfortable, which Troy intuitively understands as Did he ever come onto you? Is he gay? and underlying that, Are you gay? While Troy says no, he recognizes the underlying threat and his own underlying lie. I Know You Know Who I Am ties queer people and lying together, and here questions the scars being closeted leaves.

If the book is concerned with the lies people take as truth, just as important are the truths people take for lies. In “River is to Ocean as ____ is to Heart,” a teenage boy becomes obsessed with finding the skull he swears he saw in shallow water. In “Please Hold,” a stalled actor’s best performance comes immediately in the wake of getting bad news about his boyfriend’s health. In “How to Live Your Best Life,” a secret thief’s daughter is killed when she says the crime he’d most like to commit is robbery. Truth and duplicity still war at center stage but from another angle: these are all boys who cried wolf, and who now have to deal with the unsettling fallout, internal and external, of muddying the truth themselves.

I Know You Know Who I Am takes occasional trips to dystopian Black Mirror-type landscapes, but those are ultimately its weakest stories and they stand out against the rest of the cohesive collection as not far from gimmick. Instead, the collection is at its strongest with the sensitive and insightful realism that characterizes the rest of the stories.

The prevailing theme throughout I Know You Know Who I Am is the relationship between intimacy and truth, and it explores it by looking at the way relationships and lives fall apart with lies and half-knowing. Emotional intimacy can’t be achieved before the truth comes out, the lie always hang in between. To be truly loved requires being truly known, for both the good and the bad: what makes you laugh, the things you get excited about, how you look in the light, and the uncomfortable truths of your present, your worst mistakes, your biggest insecurities. If loving requires the mortifying ordeal of being known, how does a relationship move forward when it’s based on lies? I Know You Know Who I Am says it doesn’t, but the real question it asks is if you strip a liar of their lies, what’s left?


“Dream House” as Book Review

I am unaccountably haunted by the specter of the lunatic lesbian. I did not want my lover to be dogged by mental illness or a personality disorder or rage issues. (…) Years later, if I could say anything to her, I’d say: “For fuck’s sake, stop making us look bad.” 
In the Dream House

The awful truth about stories of abuse is that they are, at brass tacks, incredibly banal. Most manipulators and abusers follow the same patterns, as if a sulfuric and still-smoking demon popped into existence and gave them a handbook. But that’s still too interesting an image for the bitterly basic truth: certain patterns of behavior just work. So many of these stories share the same narrative structure. 

True as this may be, it’s infuriating — for two reasons. One is how reductive this fact becomes: really, that’s the problem with abuse stories? They’re all the same? How dare you, how dare you dismiss the horrors of the human condition as not having enough plot twists, etcetera, so forth. The other reason it infuriates is that the familiarity makes the fact of the abuse all that less believable, to some: how could you not see it coming? How did you not understand what was happening? (Why didn’t you leave?) We all know this story, how did you not know you were living it?

Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House tries to tackle these issues (which are, in a sense, the same issue) with vaulting ambition: recontextualizing and re-imagining Machado’s time spent with an abusive partner as different literary and film genres, as sociological text, as fairy tale metaphor… the list goes on. She takes us through the relationship linearly, but slices defining moments up into an arrangement of essay-like chapters: “Dream House as Lesbian Pulp,” “Dream House as an Exercise in Point of View,” “Dream House as Chekov’s Gun.”

Her overarching thesis — that queer women have been and continue to be just as likely to abuse each other in relationships as anyone else, that queer women are just as resistant as anyone else to admitting this fact — is a live wire. Its current lights up the book with urgency, taking anyone who reads it to task by asking the hard questions. How do we define abuse, where do those definitions come from, how are they perpetrated? How does the stereotype of predatory queerness interact with our reluctance to name and expose abuse, as a community?   

The constant framing and re-framing of her experiences also serves to draw on different elements, play with style and form, heighten atmosphere. Machado invites the reader to experience the relationship as something other than the too-familiar narrative structure, even though they know its real “genre.” It’s a fantastic way to capture the conundrum of examining abusive relationships in retrospect, the frustration of how obvious the signposts are, coupled with how, when it was happening, you kept hoping you were reading it wrong, and you’d wake up in a different story. 

In the Dream House is a wholly admirable work. It’s cleverly imagined and skillfully executed. It tackles meaningful issues and uses its platform to shine a brighter light on things left in the dark for too long.

The book’s subject matter makes it hard to critique. Tackling the author’s choices feels like criticizing her very personal journey in processing her trauma — which is exactly what the book is, and so the snake eats its own tail (/tale). And yet for all the book’s admirable qualities and as much as I enjoyed the process of reading it, its overall impact felt surprisingly light once I finished. Possibly because I am already a convert to Machado’s arguments about abuse in queer female communities and how important those stories are, because, as she writes, “our culture does not have an investment in helping queer folks understand what their experiences mean.” 

But possibly because Machado does a neat little disappearing trick into her own narrative. She distracts you with form and style and citations, and although she preserves the details of what she said and did, she deliberately exorcises her own rage. It lurks in the shadows — most notably in the “Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure” section — and she tries to claim it, in the end. But by that point Machado has spent so much effort talking about her experience in every context but this one, the context of her own pain, it doesn’t quite click. Arguably it isn’t meant to. Machado has been upfront on social media on how difficult this book was to write, how she has sometimes regretted selling it. Turning personal horror into publicly-consumed product requires distance, if one wants to stay sane. 

The result is perhaps more like an excellent master’s thesis — or, to extend Machado’s own metaphor, a recreation of the dream house in exacting and perfect miniature. An incredible recreation instead of the thing itself, built to be contained and never meant to be inhabited by living creatures. The bulk of In the Dream House is written in the second person (you do this, you hear something, you drive the car), and I was reminded of a line from Richard Siken: “This is in the second person. This is happening to you because I don’t want to be here.”