Good question

Lesbian writer Abby Dees wrote her book more for straight friends of gays than for gays themselves

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Author Abby Dees. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Abby Dees wrote Queer Questions Straight Talk from her own experiences while learning about how others perceived gay people. The book, with “108 frank & provocative questions it’s OK to ask your lesbian, gay or bisexual loved one,” was imagined as a gift from gays to their straight parents, family or friends, to put them at ease about what being gay means — and to see that others have had the same questions. But Dees has also heard of gay people using the book to ask each other questions as a party game. But she can see it used as a part of a sensitivity training session, as well.

While she discusses the topics briefly, the book is a collection of questions, not answers. And she starts out with the basics: “Do you think you were always gay or lesbian or bi?” Comedian Carol Leifer submitted that one; others were collected by e-mail and through Facebook.

Dees found was that virtually all of the questions were things she’d heard before — everything from “Does this mean I’m not going to be a grandmother?” to “Are there any real lesbians like the ones on The L Word?

She mostly avoids sexually graphic questions and steers the conversation to “What’s your perfect date like?” (A response of “Dinner, good conversation and a movie, what’s yours?”) is more likely to help someone understand similarities than vast differences.

“What’s the most challenging thing about having a relationship with someone of the same sex?” she asks. Her own answer is that she would find it more challenging to have a relationship with a member of the opposite sex because of vastly different interests of men and women.

Dees says that her relationship with her mother has always been good and her mom edited the book. But reading the questions prompted them to have more discussions.

“She’s very proud of this book,” Dees says. “She went from ‘happy with you honey’ to a PFLAG mom who outs me every opportunity she gets.”

Dees describes her evolving relationship with her mother as more than a 20-year process. The questions in this 100-page book are meant to start a series of conversations, and were not meant to be raced through in one quick session.

The toughest section of the book to write, she says, deals with religion. She wrote it first and then went back to it last to lighten the tone. She admits that for the person whose only reference is that if you’re gay, you’re going to hell, this book might not help. But for others, “Do you feel you can be [gay] and go to heaven” might be a good starting point for a conversation.

She stressed that there are no right or wrong answers. And you don’t need to be an expert to answer these questions. “‘I don’t know.’ is a really good answer,” she says.

— David P. Taffet

…………………..

Stuff That Makes a Gay Heart Weep: A Definitive Guide to the Loud & Proud Dislikes of Millions by Freeman Hall (2010, Adams Media)
$14; 216 pp.

How many fashion faux pas does someone have to endure before everyone understands that plumber’s butt and muffin tops are not acceptable? Don’t those people look in mirrors before they leave the house? Do you need to rent a plane and sky-write “Wear pants that fit?” It’s enough to make you scream or want to break down in public — but you hate that.

But that’s not the only thing that you hate. There are dozens more, as you’ll see in Stuff That Makes a Gay Heart Weep.

So somebody gives you a bottle of cheap booze or wine. Or you got tacky home décor for Christmas. These kinds of things make you want to simply crawl into a fetal position until it all goes away … and they’re all throughout this book.

Justin Bieber: Now he really makes you want to bawl your eyes out. So does Richard Simmons and a certain Mama Grizzly with lipstick. The Kardashians — sniff. Guidos and Guidettes — pah! And that Angelina Jolie and Hugh Jackman are not gay? Waterworks.

If this book doesn’t make you weep from laughter, there’s something wrong. It’s absolutely hilarious.

With his signature snarky sense of humor and his feel for the absurd, author Freeman Hall pokes fun at kitschy, faddish, everyday things, places and people that practically beg to be ridiculed. There are more than 200 entries so hilariously, awfully tragic that you don’t have to be gay to want to break down in tears, even if you’re a guilty party (though it doesn’t hurt). And once you’re done reading, you almost have to come up with your own “Stuff List.”
Wrap yourself in your Snuggie because you need a good laugh out loud. Stuff That Makes a Gay Heart Weep is an absolute scream.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Pam Grier talked movies, relationships and even ‘The L Word’ on Saturday in South Dallas

In the triple-digit heat, Pam Grier proved she still has drawing power. Her book signing event filled the auditorium Saturday at the South Dallas Cultural Center, where she talked about her life and Hollywood and followed up with a gracious and patient book signing/photo session.The gay contingent present was far outweighed by the men and women who obviously watched Grier throughout ’70s cinema.You could literally see the men falling in love all over again with Foxy Brown and the women remembering the heroics of Coffy as inspiration.

She ran a bit late, but Grier received a standing ovation upon coming out. She looked both casual and elegant as she took the mike. I overheard earlier that she would be reading from her book, but instead she just let loose and began talking about her life. As a speaker, Grier was a little disorganized. She went on tangents about organic gardening and the economy. There were mini-moments where she had lost the audience, but magically, she would tie it back to her career and get back on track. She discussed her romances with Richard Pryor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar which are also in the book. She was never salacious about her recounts. Instead, she painted quirky, funny memories of her with Pryor and detailed some major inner conflict with Jabbar’s request for her to convert to Islam. When it came to her own life, she painted distinct pictures.

Ears pricked when she discussed film director Quentin Tarantino and their film Jackie Brown. After her initial meeting with him, he told her he had a script. Later, she received a notice from the post office that a package was waiting for her but 44 cents postage was due. She got around to picking it up three weeks later and discovered the script. She read it and loved it. She acknowledged that it was going to be low budget because “heck, it didn’t even have enough postage!”

During her speech, she didn’t mention her role as Kit on The L Word, but for that matter, didn’t discuss a big chunk of her acting work, but thankfully a woman asked about the role. She reiterated much of her answer in Mark Lowry’s article this week that she got much of her LGBT education from doing that show and how enlightening it was for her. It was nice to hear her talk up lesbians in a positive fashion to a crowd in which the topic might not have come up otherwise. Some heads nodded, some wondered and some shut off — but it was moving to see a celebrity admit to not knowing much about LGBT issues and people and then embracing it. On a personal note, she seemed to dig that I asked her to sign for my boyfriend.

She was funny, she was cool, she was down but by the end of the event, Pam Grier wasn’t just an iconic celebrity — she was also a regular person. And that made her even more foxy.

—  Rich Lopez

Sly Foxy

From famous bedmates as a ’70s icon to her gay awakening on ‘The L Word,’ Pam Grier is still one foxy mama

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor marklowry@theaterjones.com

Pam Grier
STRAIGHT NOT NARROW It took ‘The L Word’ to open Pam Grier’s eyes to gay issues — now she’s a tireless advocate for LGBT rights.

Leaders for Literary Luncheon
at Fort Worth Events Center
2100 Evans Ave., Fort Worth. July 30, Noon.

The Dock Bookstop
6637 Meadowbrook Drive,
Fort Worth. July 30, 7–9 p.m.

South Dallas Cultural Center
3400 Fitzhugh Ave.
July 31, Noon–2 p.m.

She might have kicked some drug-dealer booty as the title character in each of three iconic blaxploitation films of the 1970s — Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby — but Pam Grier wonders what might have happened had she picked a different career path.

“If I hadn’t done some nude scenes, I’d be running for president,” she said in a phone interview from her Colorado home. “And my black ass would win.”

She’s not kidding. Well, not that much. By the end of our hour-long conversation, which of course covered the films that made her a ‘70s icon, and her experience with the Showtime series The L Word, Grier is talking about sustainable farming, Wall Street corruption, Nietzsche, political analyst Fareed Zakaria, recently ousted Agriculture Department staffer Shirley Sherrod and her love of Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded.

In talking about America’s political climate, her passion is evident. “People ask me, ‘How do you know this stuff?’“ she says. “Because I read. I want to improve myself so I can vote better.”

She’s also hoping that in encouraging others to read, that their material includes her new memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. She’ll make three appearances in North Texas this weekend to sign and read excerpts from it, beginning with a speech at the Leaders for Literacy Luncheon in Fort Worth.

Grier has also become a fierce advocate for LGBT equality, thanks to her full run in the six seasons of The L Word, which she considers one of two major life-changing events in her life; the other was surviving cervical cancer.

“I loved doing that show,” she says. “It could have gone another two years, because we were just getting into the juicy meat of humanity.”

In her memoir, the chapter on The L Word discusses how the drama opened her eyes and heart to a community that she never knew much about, mainly because she didn’t have any gay people in her circle of friends or family. Although she, like Kit, her character on the show, is straight (she talks about her relationships with men, famous and not, in the book), she now sees the world through rainbow-colored glasses.

“I don’t gamble but I bet you the gay population in this world is one-third. OK? And in America, if there’s 300 million people, then it’s at least 100 million,” she says, no waver in her voice. “I’m not kidding. They might be in the closet or people who are out. When you see gay Pride week in San Francisco, and half a million people show up, that’s incredible.”

That she was never exposed to the gay community in this way is a bit of a surprise, considering that Foxy Brown is, by now, a gay heroine. In that role, as well as Coffy and Sheba, she karate-kicked her high-heeled gams through clusters of bad guys — and to a memorable backdrop of funk and soul music. She was, indeed, “a chick with drive who don’t take no jive!”

She also performed all of her own stunts (“I have the wounds and broken bones to prove it”), having always been a thrill-seeker. “They were surprised I could handle a gun. All the women in my family can shoot and bring home supper. We’re from Wyoming and Colorado — we have to. And you have to be able to change tires and get the tractor going, or you die.”

Grier is now acutely aware and appreciative of her gay following, who love her for that sexy, black and powerful vibe she sends out to the universe. “I love the emergence of the wonderful drag queens who look better than I did, who come to my book signings. When I see them I’m always like, ‘Wow, who does your hair, who does your makeup?’ It’s fabulous.”

But her book isn’t all about her time as a seminal ‘70s film star or her “comeback” as the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (although she never stopped acting, in film and TV). In the memoir, she’s confessional, revisiting secrets in her life that took her years to face.

When she was 6, Grier was gang-raped by a cousin and his friends, and was rescued by a telephone repairman who just happened to show up at the right time. It caused her to be a shy kid with a stutter. She didn’t talk about that incident until the memoir.

“It took to me four years to come to the determination to write about it,” she says, “but I knew it would be very healing for my family and friends to know that there were certain things about me that weren’t just a phase. I see people passing on their abuse and dysfunction in their families from generation to generation, when it can be addressed. Now, because I talk about it around the country, men and women come forth and talk about their encounters and issues. They don’t feel alone, when there’s this strong, vibrant icon before them who’s not swimming so deeply in despair.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the book is that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, as she had this bitchin’ Hollywood career and dated men with drug habits, including Richard Pryor, she never became involved in all those things that drag so many celebrities down.

“I was a good girl because I couldn’t afford to be a bad girl,” she says, laughing. “It costs to be a bad girl, to have expensive cars and wreck them, to go to jail. I had family to support, my mom was ill, I had relatives who needed water heaters and tires. I worked.”

Indeed, Pam Grier knows how to work and work it. If she ever appears on a political ballot, she has our vote.

………………………………………………

The Tell-All Word

Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, by Pam Grier with Andrea Cagan (Springboard Press, 2010), $24.99

Pam Grier’s memoir is a breezy read, unfolding in short chapters that follow the chronology of Grier’s amazing career, beginning with surviving a car crash when she was only three weeks old. She doesn’t remember that, naturally, but considers it the reason she was able to do her own stunts.

Grier also discusses her romances with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (his conversion to Islam, with its treatment of women, was the reason that ended) and comic greats Freddy Prinze Sr. and Richard Pryor, and to a few not-famous men whom she wishes she could have held on to. The book is a fascinating look at black Hollywood in the ’70s and the blaxploitation movement, but more importantly, her search for love and her journey of self-discovery as a strong, black, woman.

Mark Lowry

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas