It has been a while in coming, but here is my review of *The Essential* Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF) by Alison Bechdel.
As a child (9ish-12ish) I distinctly remember reader my mother’s copy of a previous compilation. I recalled it being interesting but more or less a Lesbian soap opera. Which it is. Now don’t get me wrong, I grew up watching soap operas. I like them, especially the ones with a more comedic bent. Which DTWOF also is. [As an aside my favor with soaps probably stems from the same neurons that enjoy epic stories with long complicated plots].
But it is more than a Lesbian Soap! It certainly functions on that level, but as a kid I totally missed all of the commentary and debate that goes on. Ms Bechdel certainly has her own beliefs that come through. But through all of the various characters a lot of opinions get expressed about every subject with relative objectivity. Like in real life, nothing is ever ‘solved’ or ‘decided’. But while reading it I kept thinking, “I’ve had this conversation! I have had this argument! I have felt this way.”
Since the comic has been written every couple of weeks since 1987, each strip is deeply entrenched in its own temporalness. It is beautifully morose document of American/Lesbian political culture from the initial AIDS crisis through the disillusioned Clinton years onto 9/11 and the following and ongoing two wars. There is that old South Park joke about how Cancer is now the sympathy disease, making AIDS funny. DTWOF emotionally doubles down and covers both with pure seriousness. In light of our more irreverent demons, this is impressive.
Now before I go any further, I want to make sure that you understand that DTWOF is very, very funny. Seeing the old hat Lesbians tackle with the conservative republican Lesbian is a hoot. Not to mention the Jewish man who is more of a dyke than his bisexual girlfriend. But a significant portion of the humor is well-placed background puns and opportune Shakespeare and Talking Heads quotes. Repeating them wouldn’t do them justice.
At first glance it is tempting to say that the main character Mo is the author mies-en-scene. This might even be to first approximation true. However, after learning something about Ms Bechdel herself, the comparison seems less meaningful. Yes, Mo may have stepped out of Good Ole Alison’s shoes. However, she took of running to different 5k marks.
Which brings me to another point about the naming schema used. I know about the Law of Conservation of Names. Mo’s girlfriend was named Sydney; eerie… Bisexual-stealing boyfriend named Stuart, anyone? How about one of the main character’s being named Toni (Lord help you if you know anyone by *that* name though!).
Mo was very identifiable. At least to me. Maybe ‘Our Heroine’ was meant to be that way, but there was just too much to ignore safely. Smart, but not quite the intellectual cut, plagued by the worlds problems there isn’t much she can do about, goes through long celibate streaks, cuts friends off when they lose her trust, Democracy Now obsessed, basically monogamous as a risk prevention strategy, likes girls with boy cuts and fetishes, and values her privacy. Yes, our heroine rings many bells. But then again, maybe I am projecting.
Still, DTWOF provoked me to think; never a bad state of affairs.
There was a time when we were developing the Mark profile that leximancer said something like “There is nothing that makes Mark gay. He just fucks boys.” He was right and we fixed it. But still it took me back. That same concept, that being a Lesbian nowadays is a different thing than being biological female and having a strong gender sexuality preference to other females, is repeated and struggled with by the different characters throughout DTWOF.
But this brings us to an important point in our Straight-Until-Proven-Otherwise culture. The analogous contra positive is that maybe, just maybe, you be a guy who fucks girls or a girl who fucks guys without being straight. Maybe you can fuck both girls and guys with impunity without being Bisexual. You don’t have to buy into the culture identity that surrounds the gender preference.
Now it has been said (by ex-patriot Idahoans) that I am their gayest friend in Austin. I certainly wouldn’t deny it. But not because I associate with the with Gay or Straight culture. If anything I associate with Lesbian culture (but you’d have to know my mother to understand that one).
Lois in DTWOF, upon finding out that Stuart has a habit of dating women who then turn out to be Lesbians says, “Jeeze, what is with those guys?” I wish I freaking knew.
Duly prompted, I am renouncing the “Straight” tag. I don’t think it really describes me. I am now (and likely have always been) the quainter, more direct “boy who fucks girls”. I think that there are enough criticisms out there of Straight (and Male) culture in the milieu that I need not provide examples.
Maybe I am crazy (You Decide?), but I think this makes sense. I dropped the “Nerd” tag with 90%+ success. I think it helps me define who I am a lot better. And who knows, maybe it will even help me find a meaningful relationship again. And maybe she’ll even be Jewish. And then we might even make a symbolic affirmation of our commitment to one another. That’s right, we’ll open a joint checking account (0xDTWOF#7)!
But I get ahead of myself…