Yesterday was the release day for Lara’s memoir. Over the past half-year, I’ve grown to adore both Lara and her writing as I’ve gotten to know her as a colleague on the Debutante Ball. I’ve read many a memoir before so I knew to expect a lot of personal information, but this is the first time I’ve read one written by someone I know. And man, was I surprised.
Reading Girlish: Growing Up In A Lesbian Home is a commitment. I don’t care who you are or what you believe, at some point this book is going to make you sweat and squirm and gasp. It’s not because the home in question is parented by two lesbians—although there are undoubtedly some people out there who’d stop reading at the title—and it’s not because of the writing, which is gorgeous. It’s because this narrative is the most unfiltered thing you’re ever likely to read.
Total honesty is so uncommon among human beings it’s shocking when you encounter it. Lara Lillibridge is that rare individual whose essential nature is such that she tells the truth. It’s not that she possesses unusual confidence; she’s the opposite of a narcissist. She’s real. And her vulnerability in relating a childhood so outside the typical boundaries others experienced is what makes her deeply relatable.
One of the commonalities of childhood is a desire to fit in, to be viewed by your peers as normal, to be part of a group. Humans are hard-wired to appreciate similarities. Most of us have experienced the surge of anxiety accompanying the realization that we’re different in some way, and for most of us it it winds up being not that big a deal. In Lillibridge’s childhood, the comfort of belonging was almost entirely absent. At every turn, she was smacked upside the head—sometimes literally—by the differences in her circumstances versus everyone else’s. Yes, her parents were lesbians, and yes, she was taunted and harassed at times for this. But that paled in comparison to the sheer differences of her various homes. Her mother, enmeshed in a decades-long dysfunctional relationship with a mentally ill partner, did not always provide Lillibridge and her brother with the stability they craved. Her father, a brilliant physician, subjected them to a blend of neglect and TMI, careening from one marriage to the next in a fusillade of sexual oversharing. (He had seven wives!) The children had minimal privacy. Everything was in their faces, especially the unpredictable and often terrifying mood swings of people larger and more powerful than them. Lillibridge, like all children, could not control the adults around her. We forget, as grown-ups, how utterly at our mercy a child is. Reading these passages, I wanted to gather the little Lara into my arms and protect her.
And yet, the adult Lillibridge—whose current-day thoughts make cameos in the form of first-person chapter breaks from time to time—is a lovely and lovable human being. She’s funny. She’s kind. She’s a caring, attentive, protective parent to her own sons. She’s witty and warm and intelligent and empathetic. She admits her own misdeeds and mistakes and even offers love, if not total absolution, to her parents. In the end, this is less a memoir about a lesbian home and more a memoir about a dysfunctional one, illustrating that any home, with any kind of person, can be fraught with peril. Or full of love.