When we are children, the term “family” usually describes parents, siblings, and close relatives. As we grow older, the term describes a group where we find a belonging, our place in life. In the LGBT community, this definition can override biological families, especially if these families reject us. Thus many of us prize our families even more than people in the straight world because of the effort required to find this group where we belong.
Celebrating the world of LGBT families, Dana Rudolph is holding the eighth annual Blogging for LGBT Families Day, a time set between Mother’s and Father’s Day. Sponsored by the Family Equality Council and presented on Rudolph’s site, Mombian, the event, also honors LGBT Pride Month in its raising awareness of LGBT families, their diverse natures, and the way in which current prejudices and laws have a negative impact on families and their lives. Rudolph invites all bloggers to submit links to blog entries or videos to www.mombian.com on or before June 3.
I have a wonderful partner of over four decades, superb friends, and a close-knit relationship with some of my biological extended family. As for stories, however, I could think of nothing to say. Nothing, that is, until I thought about all the LGBT books that I read.
One of my many delights is membership in a committee called the Over the Rainbow Project from the American Library Association Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. I learned so much about the people in the over 900 LGBT books that I’ve read during the last three years that I realized some of them have become my family. I’d like to introduce you to a few of these from LGBT memoirs:
David Leddick is an 82-year-old man who didn’t start publishing books until he was 65 years old. Since then he has come out with 23 titles. The most recent, The Beauty of Men Never Dies: An Autobiographical Novel, he calls fiction. The reader is left to wonder which parts of these experiences and joys of life actually happened. Leddick is truly joyful, in the same way that my piano teacher, who lived much of his life in New York City, is. I think of both of them as uncles, and I appreciate both of them for their openness, both of them self-assured and confident after having led exciting lives.
Leddick described the book as “a vivid tale of a life lived with panache at an age when most people think the adventure has already ended.” As Amos Lassen wrote, “Leddick has the unique advantage of not letting age affect him. He shares what he has lived through and he also shares his insights and opinions. He may be a voice from the past but he is also a voice of the present.” [Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95]
I think of Clyde Phillip Wachsberger as a great-uncle because of his Old World personality. His lifetime dream was to have a magical storybook garden. In his middle age, he found a soul mate to share it with him, and Wachsberger tells about their 28 years together in Into the Garden with Charles. Both text and illustrations show his love for plants at their small 300-year-old home at the small town of Orient at the end of Long Island where his dreams come true. The author’s life may have been restrained, but his enjoyment of the plant world is not. Written as a love letter, the book is as sweet and touching as those who people it. [Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28]
Like a little sister, Karleen Pendleton Jimenez has lots of drive and won’t let anything stop her from getting what she wants. In this case, she wants to have a baby, and she won’t let being a butch keep her from her goal. In How to Get a Girl Pregnant: A Memoir, she describes the entire struggle—finding sperm and then making sure it works. The two-year pursuit of pregnancy covers experiences, yearnings, and people who come into her life through donor profiles, friends, and other characters. And like a little sister, she’s funny in her determination to follow through with her biological needs. [Zurita/Tightrope, $19.95]
Pride is important in a family, and I take almost as much pride in Zach Wahls as I do in my biological niece. Maybe that’s why I think of him as a nephew. I first watched Wahls as he stood in front of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee to tell them about his lesbian parents and why they deserved to be married. The video of this speech was YouTube’s most-viewed political video of 2011. His book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family, may require a box of tissues with its stories about his biological mother’s coming out to her staunch Iowa parents and decision to have a baby without a partner, her ensuing MS, and the wonderful relationship between the two women and indeed the entire family as they struggled with her illness. It’s a rewarding read. [Penguin/Gotham, $26]
Lopez Torregrosa who writes about her vibrant yet melancholy love story in Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love & Revolution. She follows the woman she desires from a lucrative job to the equatorial heat of the Philippines, and her experience as a journalist gives her the ability to create a superb sense of place and person. The poetry flows through the language of this heartwrenching blend of revolution, danger, and romance. Torregrosa is like an exotic aunt, who returns to tell me about her adventures. [Houghton, $25]
I grew up in a small Nebraska town, and for that reason Melanie Hoffert’s stories in Prairie Silence resonate with me. As a teenager, she exchanged her life in North Dakota for city life in Minneapolis only to wonder in her 30s what it would be like to go back and live there. In her review of the book, Lydia Harris wrote, “Memoirs are more than a recitation of facts and events or a sensationalistic recounting. They are an account of an individual’s awakening, perceptual changes and growth.” In her memoir, Hoffert writes about her first crush on a girl, her first lesbian experience in college, and her attempts to keep her sexual orientation secret from the people who live in the small town. As she talks about her past and the present when she spends a month trying to fit in with her family and learn farming, she makes me feel as if she’s my cousin, one I don’t see very often but one who is willing to share her inner-most feelings in beautiful but clear images. [Beacon Press, $24.95]
Another cousin is Ivan Coyote, a butch living in Canada. I first met Coyote in Missed Her—funny, passionate, intimate, poignant stories about growing up queer in a place that accepted her differences and her travels to the West Coast. In One in Every Crowd, her vignettes about a tomboy youth and a sensitive adult life shows her stereotypes, gender, and identify as she finds cruelty and kindness in unexpected places, places that she shares with the intended audience, young people, and those quietly sitting by, listening. Coyote is somebody you want to stay up late at night with, just drinking in all those amazing tales. [Arsenal Pulp Press, $15.95] [image]
Other members of my “memoir” family:
David Mixner, past presidential campaign advisor, writes about his country home in the tiny upstate New York town of Turkey Hollow and meditates on his past decades. At Home with Myself: Stories from the Hills of Turkey Hollow. [Magnus Books, $18.00]
Wonderful portraits and riveting narratives document the diverse lives of 140 gay men from across the United States in Scott Pasfield’s Gay in America. [Welcome Books, $45.00]
My mother is reflected both in Alison’s Bechdel’s graphic memoir Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama [Houghton, $22] and Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? [Grove Press, $15]
I taught, mostly high school, for over 30 years; my teaching family comes from these reflections in This Assignment Is So Gay: lgbtiq Poets on the Art of Teaching, edited by Megan Volpert. [Lethe Press, $24.95]
These are some of my family members. I look forward to adding to them in the coming years.