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Found Family

Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys:
True Tales of Love, Lust and Friendship Between Straight Women and Gay Men

Edited by Melissa de la Cruz and Tom Dolby
Dutton, 2007

The recent anthology Girls Who like Boys Who like Boys, a book about fag hags, dandies who do and dandies who don’t, is a soufflé of college memories, friendships born, and more. As such, it is surprisingly levelheaded, in that it contains a number of witty, knowing, and well-written pieces, though it does not collapse when you cut into it. This is a demure, well-dressed book that prefers happy endings. Its evenness keeps the collection from bursting, but that’s a bad thing. This is not well trod ground, so high heels aren’t always a good fit.

 

Edited by Melissa De La Cruz and Tom Dolby, the book has a chummy cordiality that makes me suspect it was culled from friends and the glitter-glued rolodexes of said friends. The consistency it offers is arch queen, full of bi-coastal bon mots; literary and theater references abound, but there’s an underlining cliquishness. The looser definition of “found family” is less represented here than a group of interesting people who might just share the same agent more than any larger shared experience.

That said, the humorous pieces are often pitch perfect. Mike Albo, author of the excruciatingly titled Hornito: My Lie Life just nails the nouveau bourgeois of Park Slope: “I pass by these stores and try to calculate how many hundred dollar hoodies…they need to sell simply to make the rent.” He’s also sharp on the awful experience of losing girlfriends to marriage and babies:

I feel like I was on the phone, put on call waiting, and then the next thing I knew, many of my female friends became married mothers with solid careers…. Around the time we all hit thirty-two or thirty-three, they radically changed from being confused single women worried about finding a suitable mate (how twee and immature it all seems now) to being busy, married decision-makers who dash to their jobs from their apartments after they deal with ear infections, preschool politics, and nanny guilt. Is it because they stopped producing new episodes of Sex In The City?

Cue Sex In The City writer Cindy Chupack. Her piece on getting re-married after finding out her first husband was gay is read-out-loud hilarious (like when she realizes she’s scheduled her second wedding during New York’s Gay Pride Parade) and, in the end, touching. In order to remarry, she and her first husband had to ceremonially reunite before a rabbi. When she witnesses some offhand bigotry from the rabbi while here husband is out of the room, she gains an understanding of the daily pressure that kind of hatred imposes. It’s what builds the closet – and often closes the door. In recognizing her husband’s bravery in opening that door, she transcends a merely comical essay with the kind of insight that deserves loud applause.

Funny, too, although in a different sense, is how the three biggest names all contribute duds: Armistead Maupin’s foreword adds nothing, Michael Musto’s biographical tidbit doesn’t come close to his better columns in the Village Voice, and Andrew Solomon does one of those “there are two kinds of gays” routines that plays better at brunch then in written form, mostly because you can just ignore someone when they go off on such an inconsequential tangent, the better to concentrate on your crepes before they cool. The writers fare poorly because each focuses almost entirely on himself. In contrast, the best moments in Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys come from men and woman writing honestly about the women and men who have been in, or still are, a major part of their lives. Friendship is just so real that the celebrity solipsism here is a more conspicuous sin than usual.

Also problematic is that the book is arranged thematically, with sections called “Close Confidants,” “Growing Up, Coming Out,” and so on. The editorial decision takes away from the mixture of voices and belies the collection’s intended spirit of diversity. Still, this doesn’t impact the book’s mostly successful goal of celebrating the unique relations which have helped gay men cope, come out, and stay alive.

One of the best (and most fey) essays rises above the pack in large part because of its striking style. James Lescesne, who helped found the Trevor Project, a gay youth suicide prevention initiative for which this book benefits, pens an exceptionally touching open letter to his unnamed fag hag, asking permission to write about their friendship:

Finally, I plan to end the piece with a conversation we had not that long ago about the nature of friendship. I think it will make a good wrap-up. I can’t seem to recall if it happened at Orso’s or at Joe Allen’s. Not that it matters, but maybe you can remember…we were talking about the nature of friendship and you said, “This is how it works. I love the people in my life, and I do for my friends whatever they need me to do for them, again and again, as many times as is necessary. For example, in your case you always forget who you are and how much you’re loved. So what I do for you as your friend is remind you who you are and tell you how much I love you. And this isn’t any kind of burden for me, because I love who you are very much. Every time I remind you, I get to remember with you, which is my pleasure.”

Along with some very Dorothy Parker moments, the way Lescesne toys with the playfulness of memory works wonderfully. Less successful, though, are the essays that stretch the boundaries of the book in the completely wrong direction, extending the definition of “girls who like boys” and vice versa to include dog walkers and favorite waiters. When co-editor Tom Dolby writes seriously about his temporary reliance on a psychic, I craved an essay where someone became emotionally dependant on their non-English speaking dry-cleaner. Seriously, when he mentions that his Mom warned him off on writing this essay, I don’t think when she said “I just don’t want you to get hurt” she was referring to vengeful psychics so much as foaming critics. Still, de la Cruz follows with an astute essay on a close friendship and its end that evens the keel. She gets into the meaning of relations and reveals the essence of this book.

So back to the soufflé: if it doesn’t pop it settles, but life is more of a mess, isn’t it? And unless I just happen to be a super wreck, nearing the end of this book I wondered, where’s the shared cab ride after an abortion? Should I put this book down and call all of the girls who patted my head while I wept copiously in their laps, awaiting the results of an AIDS test? And I mean wept. I nearly drowned those chicks. But then in the last act the book delivers. The closing section, “Fathers and Daughters, Mothers and Sons” showcases a great batch of writing. Abigail Garner, author of “Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is,” writes as a daughter with two gay dads. She looks at the world with queer eyes and sees for miles – or at least past the constant prejudices her family faces and towards a pair of hot joggers. Playwright Zach Udko writes about his mom claiming she never knew her son was gay, even after working overtime to instill in him a love for the theater:

A lot of gay men fall in love with Auntie Mame, but very few have mothers who plop them in front of the television, put in the video, and proclaim, “This is my alter ego. Pay attention,”

  Throughout his piece, Udko deftly delves into his parental relationship, demonstrating that he’s got reams of funny, insightful material to draw from.

And then…Ayelet Waldman blows it with a tiresome defense of a Salon.com article she wrote in which she said she wouldn’t mind if her son were gay. Personally, I’d have rather read about her and her husband Michael Chabon having, say, Sex In The City marathons in bed. Wouldn’t it just show up that Cindy Chupack if he was to come out but they stay married, you know, for the kids and the shopping? Or maybe she could leave him for Andrew Solomon.

Girls Who like Boys Who like Boys doesn’t necessarily play it safe – people write about their messy lives, but in a tidy way. The essays are almost always set in LA or New York, and too much space is given to fabulous people who’ve experienced the edge with the safety of that bungee-cord that comes from having a college degree or parents with money; this puts the book squarely on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, probably right next to something titled Gays And Their Pets.

But frankly, I don’t have time to be cynical. One of my dearest friends, someone who has been there for my worst, and knew enough that if I called with a certain twinge in my voice and announced that I was coming over, a Jack and Coke would be waiting by the saggy Danish loveseat by the time I arrived (and we lived next door, she’s that good) – well, she’s getting married and I’m lending a hand. Though she knows I loathe weddings, she doesn’t have a bridesmaid. But she does have me.

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Tom Cardamone is the author of the erotic fantasy novel, The Werewolves Of Central Park. His short stories have appeared in several anthologies and publications, some of which you can read at his website, Pumpkinteeth.net.