The Way We Were

The new queer memoirs go far beyond the traditional coming-out narratives.

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

July 12 2013 4:00 AM ET


The most enlightening of the memoirs, though, revolve around family — having one, making one, losing one. Suzy Becker, who wrote I Had Brain Surgery, What’s Your Excuse? returns with another poignant and hilariously illustrated memoir that details her quest, at 39, to become a mother. One Good Egg (Bloomsbury, $25) follows Becker’s quest to become a mom with old eggs, a defective tube, and a post-brain surgery body, with but her Aussie friend Steve and her new partner Lorena there by her side. It’s both modern and timeless and funny as heck.

Jennifer Finney Boylan (pictured right), perhaps one of the best-known trans writers of our generation, is back with Stuck in the Middle With You (Crown, $24), her story of living as a father for 10 years, a mother for eight, and some time in between as both (she calls it “the parental version of the schnoodle or the cockapoo”). What makes the book remarkable are the conversations Boylan has with other LGBT notables — many of whom are parents — including gay authors Edward Albee and Augusten Burroughs, New Yorker scribe Ann Beattie, and Dr. Christine McGinn, the backup flight surgeon for the space shuttle and a trans woman. In the final chapter, Anna Quindlen interviews Boylan and Deedie, her wife of 25 years. The variety of opinions and voices makes this the least self-congratulatory memoir of all time and lends an “it takes a village” feel to a fantastic book about parenting in three genders.

Another book that tackles gender and parenting is Lori Duron’s smart and witty Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son (Crown, $15), which is out in September. Duron is the popular blogger behind RaisingMyRainbow.com, which has fans far and wide; Neil Patrick Harris and his husband wrote the book’s introduction. The memoir expounds on the blog’s topic in this first-of-its kind volume, a frank, funny, feminist book about raising two kids, both assigned male at birth, but one who likes to sing Lady Gaga, dance ballet, and wear a sparkly pink tutu. C.J.’s gender variance is not just tolerated by the family; they’re working with schools and other institutions to make the world a better place for their child, whom Duron calls her “slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son” while also making the admission that C.J. could be transgender — and that’s fine by her. Duron and her husband consider themselves part of the LGBT community, an expansive view that seems to make for a whole new subgenre of the LGBT memoir. And two of the best new books fall within that canon.

Amy Hollingsworth’s new memoir, Letters from the Closet (Howard Books, $19.99), follows her sort-of platonic contemporary love affair with her gay high school English teacher, whom she credits with having saved her life. Hollingsworth weaves together a decade of letters between them, a raw and unvarnished look at an intimate relationship between a brilliant but vulnerable student and her mentor, John, a closeted gay man, as they each reach beyond the confines of their lives. Hollingsworth is anorexic, coping with a broken home and an alcoholic father; John is a closeted man dies of AIDS at 40. It’s a tale of beautiful self-discovery and harsh truths, and at one point John writes to the author, “I hope our relationship survives your growing up and my growing down.” It clearly did. The book serves as a tribute to a man who, warts and all, impacted the life of a young girl.

A pair of books are exquisite and personal tales of love and community, resilience and family, and life as the daughter of queer man in the 1970s. The first is Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father (W.W. Norton, $25.95), by Alysia Abbott; the second is Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad (Knopf, $24), by Alison Wearing. When Wearing’s father came out when she was 12, she “went in” and began not just to hide her father’s sexual orientation but to concoct creative stories about the “straight” things he did. Fast-forward decades, and her memoir weaves together the story of this time from three perspectives: her own, her mother’s, and her father’s, the latter of which includes reams of journal entries and newspaper clippings he collected before and after coming out.

The more compelling of the two is Abbott’s, whose father was poet and activist Steve Abbott. After his wife’s death in 1973, Abbott comes out and moves his 3-year-old daughter to San Francisco, a city bustling with performers and poets, queers and intellectuals, freaks and gay men indulging in the height of sexual liberation. The two struggle to make a home in a world of bad boyfriends and wonderful intellectuals, finding an equal balance between his need to express himself and her need to be parented by someone who understands girlhood. Just as they reach a happy place and as Steve gains recognition for his work, San Francisco is hit with the first wave of AIDS, which kills many of the duo’s friends, and eventually Steve. Abbott writes eloquently of the cultural amnesia around AIDS today, the “heavy, warlike losses of the AIDS years” that are now relegated to queer studies classes, and how it stuns her still. She incorporates her father’s work, his poems and letters, into her own book, and contacts his old friends, each time hearing the words she so longs to hear: “I remember you.” She seeks out her dad’s obituary in the Bay Area Reporter, the most exhaustive collection of AIDS obits from the early years, finding her father and their old friends, long gone, obits of young men with their ’80s haircuts, frozen in time in a way that makes the author sob today. She lived queer history, she shared the grief of those years, and she carries with her the disruption of that fairyland as they knew it even today. “Though I am straight and haven’t had a living gay parent for almost 20 years,” she writes, “I still feel a part of this queer community. This queer history is my queer history. This queer history is our queer history.”

That’s what the best of these memoirs proves: this isn’t just LGBT history; this is American history, as told by the next generation of voices brave enough to tell it like it is — or was.

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