Not Your Mama’s Literature–Happy Mothers’ Day!
Back when my mother’s partner, Annie, came of age, a lesbian protagonist in most novels had two choices. “She could either convert to heterosexuality,” Annie tells me, “or she could die.”
When I began studying LGBTQ young adult literature in graduate school at Goddard College, I found that the main characters in newer novels had slightly more leeway . . . but not much. Amelia, in Christina Salat’s excellent novel, Living in Secret (Doubleday, 1993), has to escape from her father’s house in the middle of the night to live with her beloved mother and her lesbian partner. In Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind (FSG, 1982), teens Liza and Annie begin a relationship which almost gets one girl expelled from her private school and leads to the firing of two lesbian teachers.
Gradually, LGBTQ literature for both young and older readers has evolved into a more balanced, nuanced genre. Even if authors have difficult stories to tell, they do so with a refreshing objectivity and humor. Consider Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Mariner, 2007), which chronicles in graphic novel form her own coming-of-age as a lesbian while her father struggles with the repercussions of his closeted bisexuality. Consider David Levithan’s jubilant novel, Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2005), with its gay protagonist who has homosexual and heterosexual friends in a happily-evolved high school that wouldn’t dream of expelling same-sex couples for a kiss.
Still, when I decided to write my own piece of LGBTQ literature, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood (Seal, 2009), I ran into issues about how to tell the story. No, my lesbian mom and her partner didn’t convert to heterosexuality or die; nor did either get fired from a job. Still, they did lose custody of me and my two siblings while we were still young, and I couldn’t figure out how to turn the courtroom’s homophobia into comedy. There’s a lot of humor in Gringa, but–much as I’d like to say otherwise–lesbian moms in the 1970s and early 1980s had a difficult time. If they didn’t lose custody of their children, they and their kids often experienced discrimination and alienation. I worked with three Seattle filmmakers on the documentary, Mom’s Apple Pie: The Heart of the Lesbian Mothers’ Custody Movement (Frameline, 2006) and heard stories more heart-breaking than mine.
How joyful, then, how encouraging to turn on The Daily Show the other day to find Jon Stewart interviewing 20-year old Zach Wahls, author of My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family (Gotham, 2012). With wit and candor, Wahls, an LGBTQ activist, fielded questions about growing up with lesbian moms, as well as issues surrounding same-sex marriage, medical care, and how to build tolerance for all families through his innovative program, Out to Dinner.