A distinguished essayist, poet, and professor reflects on a life lived in a female body.
In this memoir in essays, Wade (English/Florida International Univ.; When I Was Straight, 2014, etc.) meditates on her lifelong fascination with words, language, and the body. She opens with a piece that establishes herself as a body living in “a constellation of bodies” called a family. Wade depicts herself as a girl who loved the beauty of actresses like Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe but whose own body did not fit the conventional mold of feminine desirability. Like a scientist, she wrote about the imperfect bodies of those around her in journal entries that looked like “inventories” rather than personal reflections. In the second essay, the author examines the differences that sometimes made her feel like a “monster in your own closet.” An only child who took comfort in an imaginary sister/friend, Wade developed secret affections for two females: a female teacher and a camp counselor. At the same time, she writes, “I have also failed to love someone I was expected to love—my first boyfriend.” In the third and fourth essays, the author remembers adolescence as a time of growing awareness about the consequences of being female in a patriarchal society. While her parents warned her about the dangers of sex, she learned how to engage in heterosexual courting rituals that would lead to marriage and motherhood. Yet at the all-girls Catholic schools she attended that taught her to appreciate everything from religious difference (she was Protestant) to the “‘poetry [of] math,” she also learned about the power women had to be autonomous beings. In the fifth section, Wade intermingles episodes from her early life with those that tell the story of her final, joyful acceptance of the lesbianism she had suppressed with a witty series of quasi-mathematical equations and philosophical propositions. Intelligent and lyrical, the narrative mingles often comic musings on female embodiment with insightful observations about the meaning of love and self-acceptance.
A sharp, innovative text.