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Review: Girlfag: A Life Told In Sex and Musicals

Review: Girlfag: A Life Told In Sex and Musicals

By Dug Y. Lee, Ph.D. | From the August 2014 Issue

Janet Hardy's memoir, Girlfag, is an outlet for the author's wide range of creative skills. The author's other books are largely educational and, although Hardy's voice still comes through, her creativity is constrained by the necessity of teaching about a topic. In contrast, she is able to freely use her lively voice in Girlfag as she shares her thoughts, tales of her origins, and her perspectives using a variety of storytelling strategies.

One's experience of the book starts at the cover. The title, Girlfag, is, as aptly described by writer/sexologist Carol Queen, PhD,  in the foreword, "the opening line of a flirtation," the come-hither look that draws in potential readers. Such enticement is partially due to the unfamiliarity of this term, but perhaps the greater source of curiosity stems from the second half of the word. "Fag," similar to historically hateful labels such as "chink" or "whore," is a term applied to men that is generally avoided. Hence, seeing a female author proclaim herself to be any type of fag may prompt an observer to investigate further.

Upon doing so, the reader comes across the well-crafted foreword by Queen and writer/educator Robert Lawrence, EdD (co-founders of the Center for Sex and Culture). Lawrence recounts his personal history with girlfags and Queen provides a witty and tightly-written etymological review of the word "fag" versus terms such as "gay," "homosexual," or "queen." She ends the foreword with a concise description of her own experiences as a girlfag. 

The tone of the book abruptly shifts as Hardy's voice takes over. What follows is a memoir that reads very much like a journal. In some cases, journals are filled with dry summaries of the author's day and, in other cases, journals are energetic and filled with anecdotes, introspection, drawings, ticket stubs, and other keepsakes. Hardy’s book is the latter. Being journal-esque is a charming aspect of the book, but it is perhaps unavoidably accompanied by the other characteristics of journals, in that journal entries don't necessarily follow a specific timeline, nor do they have to logically transition to the next entry or maintain a consistent narrative style.

These qualities are certainly entertaining in a conversation. In fact, I believe I would enjoy talking with Hardy, because the conversation would be dynamic, funny, and intelligent, and we would banter easily as we jumped from one topic to the next. However, even though I enjoy this type of verbal exchange, I prefer for written material to linger a bit longer on and delve a bit deeper into each topic. 

In contrast, the vast majority of Girlfag's chapters are 1-2 pages long, with an occasional 6- or 7-pager. Such paucity would be welcome if Hardy's life stories were boring, or if her writing style was bland. However, after reading the first few sentences of each chapter, I couldn't wait to dig in, only to be disappointed by a premature end. 

Such a predicament is reminiscent of Hardy's description of "extreme flirting" with straight men. Extreme flirting is the "… kind of flirting… with the intention of leading up to sex" (p. 81). Hardy contrasted this type of flirting to the flirting one does with gay men, when both parties know it will not lead to anything. As I started each chapter, I thought we were extreme flirting — the chapter caught my interest, I wanted more, and I thought things were going somewhere. But then the chapter would suddenly end, leaving me confused and disappointed.

Therefore, if you are someone who likes memoirs that have a linear presentation, and that provide a deep perspective of a person's life stories, this may not be the book for you. 

However, even though the structure and style of Girlfag didn’t meet my expectations for a memoir, it has merit as a clinical or educational tool. While writing this review, it struck me that this would be an excellent book for those clients who are struggling to define their identities in a binary world of man/woman and gay/straight. This book is a quick and entertaining read that could help clients understand that questions surrounding gender and sexual orientation don’t have to be limited to an either/or perspective.

Dug Y. Lee, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist in Vancouver, WA, where she provides therapy and psychological assessments. Dug has been on the Contemporary Sexuality Editorial Committee since 2007 and is a new member of the Public Relations, Media and Advocacy Committee.