HIS HANDS, HIS TOOLS, HIS SEX, HIS DRESS Edited by Catherine Reid and Holly K. Iglesias
HIS HANDS, HIS TOOLS, HIS SEX, HIS DRESS
Edited by Catherine Reid and Holly K. Iglesias
Alice Street Editions, Harrington Park Press, 2001.
$22.95, 200 pages.
Contrary to stereotypical belief, most lesbians really like their fathers. The idea that brutish, or absent, male figures drove the lesbian into the arms of other women is simply not true. Catherine Reid and Holly Iglesias have again gathered essays, poetry, performance pieces by formidable lesbian writers in an anthology entitled His Hands, His Tools, His Sex, His Dress: Lesbian Writers on Their Fathers. This collection completes their first anthology, from 1997, which focused on mothers and daughters. Both collections are compelling additions to lesbian studies, but with writers of this caliber, no single category is going to hold them. All women will appreciate these essays.
In the introduction, Reid quotes poet Audre Lorde: I have always wanted to be both man and woman, to incorporate the strongest and richest parts of my mother and father within/into me….
While the mother/daughter relationship often required an escape, a loss in order to find identity, the father/daughter relationship seems to evoke an expansion. It does not take much to realize early in life that boys have the advantages. V. Hunt writes, in Cheaters at the Wedding:
Maybe I missed some Freudian stage…or maybe I just looked around and noticed that guys got a better deal. Boys could make money. They could mow lawns and have paper routes. They had sports equipment- helmets, pads, masks, gloves; uniforms. And they could get girls to wait on them.
In a keenly perceptive and beautifully detailed essay, Just Like Him, Laura Markowitz observes:
As a girl, I wanted to be just like him. I studied him each morning…After the tie was straightened, I listened for the snap of his watchband. I wanted one just like his….it seemed much more advanced than simply an instrument to measure the passage of the sun….I imagined my father lost in Iceland using his watch as a map to the sea. I imagined him holding his watch to his ear and hearing the pulse of a volcano about to erupt. My mother’s watch was a woman’s watch—small, dainty and only good for measuring how late we were in the morning, or what time we had to go to bed, or if he was on his way home from work. I wanted a man’s life, an explorer’s life, not a woman’s life of waiting and worrying.
As Reid writes in her intro, who wouldn’t want to be a boy? Neither restricted by their mother’s roles, nor bound by their father’s roles, the writers could experiment with a genderless freedom, an amalgamation of roles that became their own creation. This liberty is an important part of the generosity these daughters granted their fathers. More often in these essays we find adoration, forgiveness, pride, amusement, gratitude. In the anthology of mother and daughter relationships the very fact of having to escape in order to become, leaves little room for the objectivity daughters display toward their fathers.
There are fathers who enthrall: …my father was magic… says Jewelle Gomez in her essay about a father who has two wives simultaneously; and fathers who delight, as does Christian McEwen’s father in Conversations with My Father:
There was a certain deliberate innocence between us. It was as if we were asking each other over and over, Are you a child, too? Are you a secret child?
Fathers who kill, fathers who rage at the shame lesbianism has brought to the family, transsexual fathers, philandering fathers, dying fathers and gay fathers, who didn’t learn about feminism in college; he figured it out in life. He saw inequality and oppression and took notice, gave it a name, tried to make sense of it (TristanTaormino).
The triumph throughout the essays is that these daughters did recognize what was best about their fathers, or about men, and were bold enough to blend all they admired in him with all they celebrated in women: I want to be a woman like my mother: outspoken, joyful, ready to laugh. I want to be a man like my father: gentle, generous, in control says Laura Markowitz, and Sheila Ortiz Taylor explains becoming herself by “by positioning herself between her practical mother and her dreaming father, then adding a little something of her own.”
It is, as Tristan describes her own father, such a gorgeous combination of boy and girl, and I look for that blend everywhere. It is a potent blend of strength and repose, presumption and reflection, simplicity and complexity. Who does not sense the justness such a combination could be, and the difference such a balance would make in our human interactions?
(Ellenburg can be contacted at email@example.com)