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Jacqueline Taylor's Waiting for the Call: From Preacher’s Daughter to Lesbian Mom [13 June, 2007]

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By Jacqueline Taylor; University of Michigan Press, 232 pages

The Jacqueline Taylor memoir Waiting for the Call: From Preacher’s Daughter to Lesbian Mom is, in many ways, a classic Christian lesbian story.  Taylor grew up in the 1950s as the daughter of a Kentucky Baptist preacher in a household so strict that she had to fight to attend a dance.  Once in college, Taylor flew away—literally and metaphorically—from her Christian upbringing, marrying and divorcing twice before she finally came out.  Eventually, she became a professor at DePaul University in Chicago and met Carol.  They moved in together, adopted two little girls from Peru and now live as a family that regularly attends the gay-friendly Broadway United Methodist Church.  Along the way, Taylor rediscovered her faith among fellow believers.  Her parents came to accept her as their lesbian daughter.

The arc of the story is set in the title itself; we can guess what the end of Taylor’s journey will be before we turn a single page.  But even conventional memoirs can become riveting tales if the writer allows herself to be occasionally overtaken by some details instead of trying to corral them into a tidy, happy story.

In Taylor’s memoir, her mother’s story leaves the reader wanting more.  If the young Jacqueline had the burden of always being the role model for the other children in town, her mother, Marjorie Kerrick Taylor, bore a much bigger burden as the preacher’s wife, a model of rectitude and piety and an example to all the other women.  Eventually, something unraveled in her and, in 1972, she succumbed to a long bout of depression and mental illness that lasted until her death in 1995.

Taylor struggles to understand the root of her mother’s illness and comes to her own conclusions: “She was a splendidly creative and brilliant woman trapped in a high-pressure and isolating role.”  She’s determined never to suffer the same fate: “I resolved that I must find a way to work that was my own.  I did not want to emulate her role of helpmeet.”  From here on, Marjorie remains in the background until she reappears years later as a doting grandmother.

Much of the latter part of the book is spent on the adoption of Grace and Lucy and we learn about the arduous and often nerve-wracking process of adoption for two lesbians who must pretend to be non-sexual partners in order to have their adoptions approved.  To their credit, the women make a point of satisfying their daughters’ curiosity about their adoptions, and the four take a trip to Peru to try to reconnect with the birth mothers.  Both children seem to acquire a healthy sense that having—and deeply loving—more than one set of parents and relatives, whether by blood or adotion, is perfectly natural.

These parts of the book are filled with details about the sometimes difficult conversations between the women and their daughters, to the point of inducing a kind of claustrophobia in the reader.  The book is aimed at gay adoptive parents, especially religious ones, who enter into trans-national adoptions.

The rest of us are left wondering why Taylor’s story needs to be so rigidly and neatly ordered and smoothed out.  Waiting for the Callbegins with an intensely drawn picture of Taylor’s family and her distraught and unhappy mother.  This part of the book is vividly written and stands in stark contrast to later chapters, which are overtaken by caution and circumspection, and are presented as carefully calibrated accounts of domestic happiness.  But what accounted for Marjorie’s decline that proved so debilitating and happened for so long? And if Taylor assumes that her mother’s life as wife and mother is what caused her breakdown, why and how does she herself identify so much as a preacher’s daughter and lesbian mom? The reader is left with these nagging questions about untold stories.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 13 June, 2007

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