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Lighthearted looks at gay & lesbian life [book review]

by Margaret Campbell


So You Want to Be a Lesbian?, by Liz Tracey and Sydney Porkorny, St. Martin's Griffin, 1996

The Unofficial Gay MANual: Living the Lifestyle or at Least Appearing To, by Kevin Dilallo and Jack Krumholtz, St. Martin's, 1994

The History of Lesbian Hair, and Other Tales of Bent Life in a Straight World, by Mary Dugger, Doubleday, 1996

Gay doesn't always mean gay. Like, you know, funny, happy, Holly Go-Lightly. But sometimes it does. So, a triad of 3 funny books about what it means to be gay, all playing with stereotypes, stereotypes both among queer folk and stereotypes in the mainstream.

So You Want to be a Lesbian? and The Unofficial Gay Manual books make a nice boy/girl pair. Both mix a healthy dose of real advice, contact groups, friendly, welcoming conversation, with smart-ass descriptions and quizzes.

And they are funny. The MANual has been out for 3 years now, and I still hear people quoting one line from their list of what not to tell your mother-honest, it doesn't hurt that much. The book offers a number of photos of various clone types, showing their "natural" habitats, protective coloration, opening lines, and discusses the care and feeding of each type. Interspersed with this is serious advice on relationships, sexuality, spirituality, family relationships, coming out, etc.

I hate to say it, but So You Want to Be a Lesbian is the same book, all over again. Not that it rips off the MANual or anything, but if you've read one, you've sorta read the other. Like the MANual, scattered through the book are pictures representing the "standard" types: in this book, from the Postmodern Lesbian ("pursue[s] all manner of academic endeavors.... big shoes, big glasses, and often, real big books") to the Powerdyke ("men's suits by expensive designers, fashionable accesories, and an occasional cigar").

Both books cover must-read novels, must-see movies, and the must-have CD collection. Some will probably object to the books because of the stereotypes used. The proper response to such people is "Get a life." Alternatively, "Here's a quarter, buy a clue." Yes, the books play on stereotypes. As long as you don't believe that stereotypes are the only reality, these books can be funny. If you do believe stereotypes are reality, might I suggest leaving the house occasionally, maybe even meeting people?

Interestingly enough, both books spend quite a bit of time (after the chapters on coming out, and telling people, and who do you tell, anyway?) on the difficulty of fitting queer couples into the standard two-people-and-no-one-else-forever paradigm. Although both books are careful to say if that's what you want, go for it, they also allow for all sorts of alternative arrangements, discussing both the plusses and minuses of such relationships. Given that Betty Berzon, one of the big psychologists who deals exclusively with same-sex pairs, strongly discourages this sort of thing, and all but condemns any other sort, this is refreshing, and, to my mind, much more reflective of the real world. Pity that you have to go to a "funny" book to find it.

The History of Lesbian Hair is a much edgier book than the other two. Funnier in spots, too. Dugger's introduction to "Novel Lesbians" talks of her fear of "a not-too-future grad student who will catalog any of a billion lesbo-mystery novels and receive a doctorate based on her dissertation: 'Lesbians in the 21st Century: Were They All Detectives?'" If you don't follow lesbian publishing, you may not see why this is funny, but trust me, it is.

The book also has a lot of really cool clip-art graphics, although it doesn't have a picture of every stereotype with the stereotype's appropriate care and feeding.

Dugger's book will also appeal to some that aren't interested in the other two books' more welcoming tone. She assumes her audience is other out gay women, and feels no need to include the references and support groups that the other books include. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing-when she's on, this book is the funniest of the three, but it can also be off-putting, especially when she veers into bisexual bashing-unless, of course, you agree with her.

At any rate, you should read, if not one of these three, at least something funny about gay folks, both male and female. Think of it this way-what would piss off those that hate homosexuals more than a happy, well-adjusted, laughing, queer?


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