“I like seeing queer people falling in love in Christmas movies,” a 70-something, hetero friend who’s a queer ally and a Hallmark movie aficionado told me recently. “We get to kiss, queers, should, too.”
Forty years ago, in June 1983, when Alison Bechdel’s iconic comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” (DTWOF) was first published in the Pride issue of “Woman News,” this conversation would likely not have happened. Then, “Ellen” was only an ordinary person’s name. No one would have watched “The L Word” or have known what it was. And, electing a lesbian U.S. senator (such as Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.) would have been unthinkable.
“Dykes to Watch Out For” ran until 2008. The comic strip ran in the “Funny Times” and in many queer papers. Several book collections of DTWOF were published, including: “Dykes to Watch Out For” (1986), “New, Improved Dykes to Watch Out For” (1990) and “The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For” (2008).
It’s hard to convey how groundbreaking DTWOF was (especially in the 1980s and early 1990s) at a time when there was virtually no representation of queer life in pop culture.
Set in a small city (some think it might be Minneapolis), “Dykes” tells the story of a group of lesbians – their friendships, exes, love lives, struggles against the patriarchy, work lives – their cats.
DTWOF was diverse long before “diversity and inclusion” became buzzwords. The comic strip’s characters include people of color. There’s concern about disability accessibility. Other aspects of lesbian life aren’t neglected: there’s therapy and a vegan café.
The characters in DTWOF grew up and older in “real time” during the strip’s 25-year run. Bechdel, whose 2006 memoir “Fun Home” was adapted into the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name, has said DTWOF is “half-op-ed column and half endless, serialized Victorian novel.”
The protagonist of “Dykes To Watch Out For” is the lovable, neurotic kvetch Mo, who along with some of the other characters works (for a time) at Madwimmin Books. Some of the other characters include: Lois, a feminist “Casanova” and activist; Ginger, a professor; Sparrow a former women’s shelter director who identifies as a “bisexual lesbian;” Clarice, Mo’s ex and a lawyer; Toni, Clarice’s partner and a CPA; Harriet, a human rights lawyer; and Jezanna, the owner of Madwimmin Books.
To the delight of generations of readers (from Boomers to 20-somethings), neither Bechdel nor the DTWOF characters take themselves too seriously. They care deeply about the political (the cruelty of Ronald Reagan’s treatment of people with AIDS, unjust wars, etc.) and their personal dramas (from coming out to whether to embrace monogamy). But, they get how absurd — how overly earnest — they can be.
To commemorate DTWOF’s 40th anniversary, Audible has released a spectacular three-hour adaptation of “Dykes to Watch Out For” as an audio series.
You might wonder how well DTWOF, a comic strip combining indelible drawings with, by turns, funny, poignant, smart dialogue, could be performed in a sound-based medium. You needn’t worry. Through an alchemy of writing, direction, acting, narration and podcast production, DTWOF has been superbly translated into sound. Proving that while a picture may be worth a thousand words, there’s nothing more intimate than listening to a story you love.
Playwright Madeleine George (“Only Murders in the Building”) adapted DTWOF for the Audible series and Leigh Silverman (“Violet”) directed the adaptation. Alana Davis, Faith Soloway and Bitch scored the series.
The Audible adaptation of DTWOF combines stories from the first three years of the strip. One of the lovely things about it is that the cast is so queer – from Jane Lynch, the series’ narrator, to author Roxanne Gay, who plays Jezanna.
I don’t know if there’s an afterlife. If there is, I hope it’s narrated by Lynch. Listening to Lynch tie the story of the series together is like hearing the Voice of God. God as a combo of a lesbian (Vince Scully, sports announcer, and a dyke Edward Everett Horton (from the Bullwinkle cartoons).
Carrie Brownstein (“Portlandia”) nails Mo. You’re right in Mo’s head as she obsesses about whether to call Harriet and ask her out. Harriet has given Mo her phone number two months before. (This is in the 1980s, long before texting.)
Along with the cast, which is a stellar ensemble, the series is filled with memorable, moving, energizing soundscapes: from lesbian softball players batting to footage from the 1987 National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights.
Stories of love, friendship – the personal and political – never get stale. Especially, in this time of anti-queer backlash. Listen to “Dykes to Watch Out For.” It’s the best soundscape of the summer.
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New book explores why we categorize sports according to gender
You can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think
‘Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates’
By Katie Barnes
c.2023, St. Martin’s Press
The jump shot happened so quickly, so perfectly.
Your favorite player was in the air in a heartbeat, basketball in hand, wrist cocked. One flick and it was all swish, three points, just like that, and your team was ahead. So are you watching men’s basketball or women’s basketball? Or, as in the new book, “Fair Play” by Katie Barnes, should it really matter?
For sports fans, this may come as a surprise: we categorize sports according to gender.
Football, baseball, wresting: male sports. Gymnastics, volleyball: women’s sports. And yet, one weekend spent cruising around television shows you that those sports are enjoyed by both men and women – but we question the sexuality of athletes who dare (gasp!) to cross invisible lines for a sport they love.
How did sports “become a flash point for a broader conversation?”
Barnes takes readers back first to 1967, when Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the Boston Marathon. It was the first time women had audaciously done so and while both finished the race, their efforts didn’t sit well with the men who made the rules.
“Thirty-seven words” changed the country in 1972 when Title IX was signed, which guaranteed there’d be no discrimination in extracurricular events, as long as “federal financial assistance” was taken. It guaranteed availability for sports participation for millions of girls in schools and colleges. It also “enshrine[d] protections for queer and transgender youth to access school sports.”
So why the debate about competition across gender lines?
First, says Barnes, we can’t change biology, or human bodies that contain both testosterone and estrogen, or that some athletes naturally have more of one or the other – all of which factor into the debate. We shouldn’t forget that women can and do compete with men in some sports, and they sometimes win. We shouldn’t ignore the presence of transgender men in sports.
What we should do, Barnes says, is to “write a new story. One that works better.”
Here are two facts: Nobody likes change. And everybody has an opinion.
Keep those two statements in mind when you read “Fair Play.” They’ll keep you calm in this debate, as will author Katie Barnes’ lack of flame fanning.
As a sports fan, an athlete, and someone who’s binary, Barnes makes things relatively even-keel in this book, which is a breath of fresh air in what’s generally ferociously contentious. There’s a good balance of science and social commentary here, and the many, many stories that Barnes shares are entertaining and informative, as well as illustrative. Readers will come away with a good understanding of where the debate lies.
But will this book make a difference?
Maybe. Much will depend on who reads and absorbs it. Barnes offers plenty to ponder but alas, you can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think. Still, if you’ve got skin in this particular bunch of games, find “Fair Play” and jump on it.
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New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’
‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more
‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.
“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.
In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.
The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.
The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.
Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.
“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.
While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.”
In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.
“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.
Girls and women still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.
Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.
Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort. There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.
The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”
“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches.
Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.
“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”
“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.
Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.
“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”
Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.
You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.
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Season’s best new books offer something for every taste
History, YA, horror and more on tap
Shorter days, cooler temps, and longer nights can send you skittering inside, right? Don’t forget to bring one of these great books with you when you settle in for the fall.
Releasing in September, look for “Between the Head and the Hands” by James Chaarani, a novel about a young Muslim man whose family turns him away for being gay, and the teacher who takes him in (ECW Press, Sept. 10). Also reach for “Cleat Cute: A Novel,” by Meryl Wilsner (St. Martin’s Griffin, Sept. 19), a fun YA novel of soccer, competition, and playing hard (to get).
You may want something light and fun for now, so find “The Out Side: Trans and Nonbinary Comics,” compiled by The Kao, Min Christiansen, and Daniel Daneman (Andrews McMeel Publishing). It’s a collection of comics by nonbinary and trans artists, and you can find it Sept. 26.
The serious romantic will want to find “Daddies of a Different Kind: Sex and Romance Between Older and Younger Gay Men” by Tony Silva (NYU Press), a book about new possibilities in love; it’s available Sept. 12. Historians will want “Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City” by Elyssa Maxx Goodman (Hanover Square Press, Sept. 12); and “Queer Blues: The Hidden Figures of Early Blues Music” by Darryl W. Bullock (Omnibus Press, Sept. 14).
In October, you’ll want to find “Blackouts: A Novel” by Justin Torres (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a somewhat-fantasy novel about a dying man who passes a powerful book on to his caretaker. Look for it Oct. 10. Also on Oct. 10, grab “Love at 350º” by Lisa Peers (Dial Press Trade Paperback), a novel about love at a chance meeting at a baking-show contest and “The Christmas Swap: A Novel” by Talia Samuels (Alcove Press), a holiday rom-com.
You’re just warming up for the fall. Look for “Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date” by Ashley Herring Blake (Berkley, Oct. 24) and “Let Me Out,” a queer horror novel by Emmett Nahil and George Williams (Oni Press, Oct. 3).
Nonfiction lovers will want to find “Dis… Miss Gender?” by Anne Bray (MIT Press, Oct. 24), a wide, long look at gender and fluidity; “Friends of Dorothy: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Icons” by Anthony Uzarowski and Alejandro Mogollo Diez (Imagine, Oct. 10); and “300,000 Kisses: Tales of Queer Love from the Ancient World” by Sean Hewitt and Luke Edward Hall (Clarkson Potter, Oct. 10).
For November, look for “Underburn: A Novel” by Bill Gaythwaite (Delphinium), a layered novel about Hollywood, family, and second chances. It comes out Nov. 14. For something you can really sink your teeth into, find “The Bars are Ours: Histories and Cultures of Gay Bars in America, 1960 and After” by Lucas Hilderbrand (Duke University Press, Nov 21). It’s a huge look at the spaces that played strong roles in LGBTQ history.
And if you’re looking for yourself or for a special gift in December, check out “Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects” by David Evans Frantz, Christina Linden, and Chris E. Vargas. It’s an arty coffee table book from Hirmer Publishers of Munich. You can find it Dec. 20. Also look for “Second Chances in New Port Stephen: A Novel” by T.J. Alexander (Atria / Emily Bestler, Dec. 5) and if all else fails, ask for or give a gift certificate.