Good morning and happy Sunday to everyone! I hope y’all have fabulous plans to enjoy the beautiful spring weather. We’re taking the kids on a hike on one of our favorite trails and I can’t wait to get going. Before y’all head out on your journey for the day, you should take a few minutes and read this inspiring guest post from author Doreen Perrine. She just released a new book called Kid. It’s about a lesbian mom and her fight for custody of her daughter. The experience is part of our history and, in some areas, still very much a reality.
I am the proud mother of Kid, my newborn novel, just released or midwifed by Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company. Pun intended when I say that this novel is my baby as the first draft among my novels, which evolved out of dreams, when I started to publish in the mid-2000s. Set in the late 1970s into the mid-80s, Kid borders on historical fiction about a lesbian mother and photographer who fights tooth-and-nail for custody of her daughter.
Although the story is entirely fictional, the truth behind it is stranger than fiction. When I’d first pitched the idea—a twinkle in my eye at the time—for the plot to a writer’s group, one woman had loudly protested, “That would never happen!” I went home to come up with eleven pages of online links on the subject of lesbian mothers who’d fought and often lost custody battles for their children. Then I emailed every last one of those links to that woman.
Another strange and hard truth is that too many of these cases (documented or otherwise) are far from historical. I put out a call for lesbian mothers and found Ginny Poindexter, a mother from Oklahoma who lost custody of her son less than twenty years ago. Ginny was beyond helpful with the research for this book, not to mention the translation of regional slang for a native New Yorker like me. Kid is dedicated to Ginny along with all of the gutsy mother-heroes or pioneers of so many of the freedoms that bless our community to this day.
Ginny is a courageous three-dimensional character in her own right as a woman who runs for political office in her efforts to drum up change. A trained skydiver, Ginny even jumps out of planes. Ginny is also a hero as an out lesbian living on the front lines of conservative America—a region where many of us, myself included—would hesitate to make our homes. She stays for the grown son who, thanks to her inspiration, just graduated college and remains in her life. She also stays because, as she told me, “If I had allowed this to make me bitter, it would have destroyed me.” Bitterness couldn’t contain or crush a maverick spirit like Ginny’s.
An analogy to the movie, The Wizard of Oz, also resonated for me as I wrote this novel. Lor, the main character, the character I dreamt, sets out as a misfit girl who asks her mirror, “Who am I?” as a kid. She grows up as a budding photographer and lesbian in the Bible Belt world of a fictional hometown her aunt described as “a tumbleweed place that so happens to be.” It became crucial as I wrote this story that I didn’t simply trash or mock that conservative world. But how could I relate, if only to invent some hopeful bridge for Lor’s escape?
In 2004, I moved in what I call my immigration experience from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley of upstate New York. Although I refer to myself as a city hick, I needed to delve into why people, like Lor’s earthy stock who survived the nightmare of The Dust Bowl, clung—still cling—to their diehard views of family and God. I also needed to create a character with the chutzpah to, not only escape that world, but to break away; to rebirth, not just herself, but to recreate the ingrained notions of family that had been forced on her as a kid. I drew on my own upbringing in a Catholic family on the forgotten borough of Staten Island, somewhat countrified in those days. Even Arshile Gorky once painted unpeopled landscapes there. I’m no photographer, but, as a tomboy and budding artist, I tapped into my own misfit feelings as a girl to better grasp Lor’s past.
I was also told by the facilitator of that writing group to make my main character more androgynous. Not femme. Not butch. I mulled that over and even slept on the idea. She was an established author and a writing professor, and I certainly honored that. And, sure, I knew the rule about writing from what you know. But one thing Catholic school with its plethora of rules had inadvertently taught me: never do exactly what you’re told. My foray into juvenile delinquency was about to pay off in more grownup ways. Although I’ve taught children for over twenty-five years, I am not a mother myself. I also identify as more androgynous, but this character—the character whose inner world I felt as she appeared within my dream—did not present herself to me that way.
The more the facilitator insisted that I change this character, the deeper I dug in my heels. It became a sticking point of more than mere contention: I needed to create Lor on the butch side of her identity. I needed to honor our not-so-feminine mothers. Lor evolved throughout my writing process into a voice for mothers like her who questions, “Wasn’t she as much of a mother as anyone?” As her courage grows with the love the birth of her daughter brings to her life, Lor realizes how much she nurtured Andy; how she taught her to read and write, and to speak her mind. With a resounding yes, however unfeminine, she is as much of a mother and a parent with a right to motherhood and family as anyone. Like Ginny braving the pioneer world where she chooses to live, Lor sure nuff—to jive with her Kansan phrase—needed to live on the front lines of being all out there.
This novel, which I hope to expand into a trilogy that follows Andy’s rite of passage into adulthood, is about more than one fictional mother’s custody battle. And like The Wizard of Oz, Kid is just as much about the character’s journey from the stifling world of her black-and-white past into the progress of a world in living color.
Doreen Perrine’s novels are published through Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company, and her third novel, Kid, about a lesbian mother’s custody battle for her daughter, has just been released. A recent finalist in South Africa’s Bloody Parchment Literary Festival and the recipient of a PEN Writer’s Relief Award, Doreen has published her stories in numerous anthologies and literary ezines such as The Copperfield Review, Lacuna, Raving Dove, Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly, Sinister Wisdom, and Queer Collection. Doreen, whose plays about hate crimes have been performed throughout New York City, is also an artist and teacher. Her website address is http://www.doreenperrine.com/.