Thursday, June 5, 2008

Was she wrong to out her father?

I finally finished this book: The first half was slow for me--too many details that I wasn't gripped by. I was waiting for more about the relationship between her and her father--and the revelation of her father's bisexuality (which, in a way, corresponded with her own . . . reminding me of Alison Bechdel's brilliant graphic memoir).

I was very moved by the second half--and saw the whole book as a complicated homage to her father, as well as an important exploration of sexuality in relationship to religion.

Of course this is very complicated since she "outs" her father. He was a well-known New York Episcopal bishop who fathered 7 children and had been having sex surreptitiously with men for most of his life. Moore demonstrates what a toll this hidden life took on both her father and his family.

And yet she also points out how this hidden anguish made him in many ways more compassionate and progressive. I love that take because so often suppressed or hidden gayness is portrayed as turning someone into a homophobe. Instead, in the bishop's case--in addition to being harmful, it may have fostered a certain goodness in him. That's a very important story to tell.

Apparently, some of her siblings don't see it this way. Some are upset that she revealed this family secret (even though both their mother and father are dead). They write: "We wish that our sister Honor Moore had grappled, in her memoir of our father, Bishop Paul Moore, with the ethical dilemma of 'outing' a man whose public legacy is great, whose private life he chose to keep private, and whose personal agony often estranged him from many of us who loved him."

It makes me feel they didn't read the book. I think she does grapple with this throughout the memoir, especially toward the end. And yet, I can empathize with the fact that his adult children are very tender about it all. It's hard for those who lived through the stories you tell to recognize that everyone has a right to craft her own version of events. We own our lives and our subjectivity.

Being a writer and a memoirist, I think a lot about the ethics of "telling all." What seems to me crucial is to not tell all for the salacious sake of it, but to write well and deeply about our humanness. That is what Honor Moore has done.


Listen to an interview with Honor Moore here.


(An aside: Since I mentioned Alison Bechdel here, I wanted to mention that on her blog she writes about being a dyke who loves Sex & the City--the TV show, not the movie. I was also interested to see that, like me, Alison doesn't like The L Word, which I find poorly written and badly acted. Annie doesn't seem to mind that. She watches it without me. Poor Annie; most lesbians watch it in big groups, but she sits in front of her laptop with an earbud in because I can't even stand to hear it. What kind of lesbian representatives are Alison and I?! Iconcolasts, I suppose!)


Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Kate,
I saw your comment on the other Martha's blog and thought I'd say hi!!
Congratulations on your book!!!
Sound like an intriguing read.
All the best.
PS -- If you have any tips for writers on the revision process, please comment at:

Plot Whisperer said...

Oops!! Skimmed too quickly. You finished reading the book. I thought you finished writing the book.
Ah, well. I best slow down and breathe.........

jennifer said...

If I lived near you, I'd watch the L Word with Annie. It's like the soap operas I watched as a kid, but porn-ier. ;)

Julie R. Enszer said...

I agree completely with your comments about the Bishop's Daughter - and its connection to Alison's book.

I'm not an L Word fan either, though I sit next to my wife and respond to email while she watches it!