Monthly Archives: March 2016

Days and Days and Days: The Fun Home Musical

Last Saturday night, I got to (finally) see Fun Home: the Musical.


I am a HUGE Bechdel fan.  I starting reading Dykes to Watch Out For secretly, when no one was looking, while shopping at a women’s book co-op tucked into the basement of a Carytown food co-op while I was in graduate school in Richmond.  My very first therapist had told me where it was in hopes, I think, that I would realize both that I was a lesbian and my boyfriend of the time was an abusive asshat.  The bookstore had a central table and all the Dykes collections were tucked onto the side of the table toward the back of the store, and my glimpses of the interiors of the five books that were available then made me wonder where I could find these amazing women, or people like them.  I was disappointed that the women who ran the co-op weren’t Mo or Lois or Ginger, despite their best efforts to bring me into the circle.  Eventually, I ran out of excuses and halfway workable lies to tell my boyfriend about where I was going, and I stopped going to the bookstore.

I didn’t see more of Bechdel’s work until a few years later, when I left that asshat and got together with my current wife, who owned all the collections.  I read through them ravenously and then kept current via Lesbian News, which always had a set of the latest Dykes in the center of the issue, and eventually moved to the web, where Bechdel was posting them on her website.   Naturally, when Bechdel first published Fun Home, we bought it almost immediately.  (We were also lucky enough to get hold of an autographed copy of the sequel, Are You My Mother?)   If I’d been more familiar with NYC, as many of my friends are, we probably would have seen the musical sooner, but I am something of a coward about traveling, and require some time to adapt myself to the idea of going somewhere relatively new.

In this case, travel was facilitated by a friend who so strongly recommended the show that she offered us crash space at her house if we wanted to see it.  So we took her up on it.

So after spending the afternoon at the Met, we settled down to wait in the lobby of the Circle in the Square Theater on Broadway, and watched people come in, including many of the actors.  I was feeling tense already.  I’d read reviews, I’d watched performances of “Ring of Keys,” I’d read Bechdel’s reaction to seeing it. I was afraid my expectations might be too high.  I was a little afraid of my own reactions to seeing it.

Annnnd right from the dimming of the lights and, “Daddy, hey, Daddy, come here, okay?” I was sitting on my vast array of feels and trying to keep them down.

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More thinking about representation

I posted about Trixie Belden as one of my earliest, favorite People Who Looked Like Me.  But I’d be really remiss not to post about the One True Baby Butch I looked up to through my teen years.


Simultaneously an object of one of my longest-standing crushes and an example of how to perform as a tomboy/butch, Jo Polniaczek of The Facts of Life was one of the touchstones of my adolescence.  She first appeared on the show after its major reorg in 1980, and stuck with the show until it folded in 1988, which neatly bracketed my wakening realizations about How I Felt About Other Girls and the first times I stumblingly came out to friends in college.

Like Jo, I tried very hard to “soften” my tomboy image as I grew up.  I have photos of me with long hair, in makeup and skirt, and I don’t even look quite as uncomfortable as I felt in those pics.  My hair didn’t get quite as high as Jo’s did in the late episodes, but it was a close thing.  And I only briefly had a mullet.

But Jo really was was the one visual tutorial I had for how to be butch.  I wasn’t a working-class Polish-American kid, but if I squinted, I could still spot the Irish-American dye factory foremen and shoemakers in my family history.  For my last two years of high school, I was also a scholarship student at a local private school.  I couldn’t claim any particular mechanical aptitude, but I was at least not afraid to change my own damn tires once I learned to drive.  So I was certainly closer to Jo than… pretty much any other girl attending Eastland.

Jo had that masculine kata, the firm connection to the earth with each step, shoulders back, arms and fists ready to take up space, arms crossed to fend off the world when she was at rest.  She didn’t smile unless she wanted to — she certainly wouldn’t smile if some dude told her to on the street — and she almost never hid her cynicism behind an acceptable feminine expression.


The ongoing flirtation (what?  what would you call it?) between Jo and Blair fueled some of my most frustrating moments of watching television.  Just kiss already! I wanted to shout, but couldn’t because, you know, I was watching these shows with my parents.  You know you want to!  I knew I wanted them to.


Look at that flannel.  Just look at it.  It is a thing of beauty.

Mallory Ortberg put it beautifully:

Every one of Jo and Blair’s interactions falls into one of the following categories: Unhand Me You Brute You Awful Brute You’re Covered In Oil And You’ll Get My Hair Greasy, My God I Hate You Come Closer And Breathe Into My Mouth So I Can Tell You Just how Much I Hate You, and LEAVE HER ALONE SHE’S MINE. Blair’s not just from the right side of the track; her father owns most of the track. Jo’s not just a motorcycle-riding, jeans-wearing rebel without a cause, she’s the Artful Dodger in Jo March’s body in James Dean’s clothes.

I never wrote fanfic about Jo; I actually feel kind of remiss that I didn’t.  I suppose I read too much about Lisa Whelchel’s born-again Stuff to be able to manage to write something that put Jo and Blair in that long-waited clinch.  And so much else about Jo just didn’t need fanfic… it was text, it was there for us to see if we chose to.

People keep talking about a Xena reboot, and that’s cool, especially if Xena/Gabrielle is text, but I’d love a Facts of Life reboot where Jo and Blair do kiss and carry on a 1980s super-closeted torrid roommate relationship.  Nowadays, that kind of thing would be a Historical Piece.  For me, it would be the resolution of 35 years of frustration.

In any case, thank you, Jo and Nancy McKeon, for giving me that one tiny glimpse, that one striking example of gender performance that could carry me on for years until I could take up my own space and stomp the earth myself.  Until that time, I did my best imitation of Jo and carried on.

senior pic

Celebration time!

The Lambda Literary Awards have released their list of finalists, and Wonder City Stories is on that list!


The new Ghostbusters

I am completely and totally THERE for the new Ghostbusters movie.

ALL WOMEN?  No more Bill Murray?  (Well, apparently, except for some cameo bullshit?)  I’M THERE.

Yeah, I tried rewatching the old one a few months ago, and we got so bored about half an hour in that we turned it off.  (I might have been shouting at Bill Murray to shut the fuck up too, I can’t remember.)  I remember loving it when it came out while I was in high school.  I saw it with my best friend, and we adored it.  We went to see the sequel together too.  I was sad.  This was clearly not one of the movies of my adolescence that has held up.  (Don’t get me started on my sadness about The Princess Bride.)


Also, okay, hot tall black woman, check, hot fat white woman, check, hot goofy geeky probably queer white woman, check!*

So OF COURSE I jumped on the new trailer.


But why, why, why, why whywhywhyWHY is Leslie Jones’ character NOT A GODDAMN SCIENTIST LIKE THE WHITE WOMEN?  Why is it all street cred and sassy black friend?

I would LOVE to see an African-American woman in a genre movie that was more in the mold of, say, Clarice or Ginger from Dykes to Watch Out For: ferociously smart, viciously sarcastic, and otherwise fully-rounded human beings that refuse to play into cliches.

clarice.thumbnail moreginger.thumbnail

[Art by Alison Bechdel, from]

I’m desperately hoping that Leslie Jones has chosen to play her character this way and that there’s moments of redemption from cliches (something like finding out that she does, in fact, have an advanced degree that she worked her ass off to get, but couldn’t get a job, so she ended up working for the transit authority for the union, decent wages, and decent bennies; something that plays up code-switching and whatnot).  ETA: I note that I had not, in fact, seen that Nora Jemisin had suggested this as headcanon when I wrote this.  She suggested it first, though!

That said, I like the little I’ve seen of Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon’s characters (heeeey, rock it, fellow Micks! I hadn’t even noticed that before). I’m  wondering if Kristen Wiig’s character is purposely a bit of an homage to Jane Fonda’s character in 9 to 5 or if it’s just that she, too, is playing a cliche.  There was just something in the character’s mannerisms that struck me.  (Or maybe it’s that 9 to 5 is the last good all-female caper comedy I remember seeing.)

Part of me deeply desires the ubiquitous and unidentifiable Chris** manly-man who is apparently in this movie to turn out to be a gay man.

TL;DR: I will go see this movie because GODDAMMIT MORE WOMEN-LED MOVIES DAMMIT and also I like many of these actresses (seriously, have you seen Leslie Jones’ standup?).  But I really hope there will be cliche-breaking lampshades all through this movie.




*Okay, yes, I’m sorry, I AM shallow, especially about things that poke my sparkly shallow teenager gland, but it’s SO UNUSUAL for there to be a movie that STARS WOMEN THAT I FIND ATTRACTIVE.  All the other women in Hollywood that other people find hot generally make me go “Meh.”  Even women as beautiful as, say, Brigitte Lin or Michelle Pfeiffer, I find beautiful in a, “Well, what a lovely work of art,” kind of way, not a, “Let’s have a shag, shall we?” kind of way.

**I can’t tell any of the Hollywood boy-men named Chris apart when they aren’t wearing their particularly iconic costumes.  (And sometimes even when they are.)  They’re all straight and white and vaguely blondish and look the same to me.

Rabbit, rabbit!

I learned that particular bit of folklore (if the first thing you say in the morning on the first day of the month is  “rabbit rabbit,” you’ll have good luck all month) while reading Trixie Belden mystery novels when I was a 7- to 13-year-old.  I originally inherited several hardbacks from my cousin, like this one:


I added a few of the late 1970s hardback editions to fill in the blanks between her old books, like this one:


(Yes, the bindings were that crappy, and mine looked pretty much like this one did, with pages falling out.)

And later found a paperback edition that further extended the series:


I certainly read (and reread) the complete series up through book #20, and may have read a few beyond that, I don’t remember any more.

I’d made my very best attempts to read Nancy Drew, because That Is What Girls Read.  I just couldn’t manage it.  She was repellently girly.  I just couldn’t care about her. I turned to reading the Hardy Boys, and even religiously watched the Hardy Boys TV series (with Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy).  (THAT Nancy Drew — Pamela Sue Martin — was watchable, even though the books were unreadable, but they didn’t make as many episodes for her as they did for the Hardy Boys.)

My point is: Trixie Belden was the first time I saw myself in a book.

Okay, I’m not blonde OR perky OR outdoorsy.  I didn’t have any siblings, my friends were thin on the ground, and I certainly didn’t live in suburban/rural New York OR have a club for investigating mysteries.

But I was a baby butch from pretty much age 5 onward.  I resisted skirts, dresses, and anything frilly because they made me feel stiff and icky, basically, and my mother, kind and patient woman that she is, let me.  More than that, she supported my right to dress however I wanted.  The woman went toe-to-toe with the parish priest to get permission for me to wear a pantsuit for my first communion when I was six.  And won.  So I wore pants.  I wore turtlenecks.  My 7th and 8th grade pictures are rife with me in turtlenecks and flannels, for gods’ sake.

Trixie Belden wore short-sleeved buttondowns and jeans by preference.  She had a best friend, Honey, who was beautiful and femme.  I had some serious Feels about their friendship that often slid into wondering when they’d start kissing, which they never did, of course, but I shipped them hard before I knew what shipping even was.

All the other “girl sleuths” in existence spent nearly as much time on their wardrobes and other girly-ass things as the heroines of Regency romances, but not Trixie!  She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty or be clever (heck, she saved her younger brother from a snakebite!), and the boys in the club almost never ended up saving her, or if they did, it wasn’t nearly as overweening and preachy as in other books.


Plus, come on, this chick is a butch:


The heterosexual romance threads all annoyed the hell out of me, but even at that age, I realized that they were compulsory in this genre, so I held my nose and read between the lines for what I didn’t know at the time were the “slash moments.”

This culminated in my starting to write a fanfic sometime in my late 20s in which Trixie did, in fact, grow up to be a private investigator, but was also a dyke, and was coming home to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance. Alas that I never did finish it.

Trixie  holds a special place in my heart as the first other butch I ever really discovered, and whose adventures I could read and actually enjoy, as opposed to those (heterosexual propaganda) stories written for the YA population.  Finding her was my own  “Ring of Keys” moment: there ARE other people like me.

We exist.

Representation matters.

I still have trouble finding butches in the genres I choose to read, despite increasing visibility for the FABGLITTER population.  I’m happy to read about FABGLITTER folks anywhere, any time, but I confess that my delight is just a little greater, my mind a little lighter, when I stumble on someone who looks like me in fiction.

And this is why I write what I do.  Because it matters.