'Love' bonds: Dorothy Allison introduces collection: Acclaimed author talks to The Dartmouth about "Love Makes a Family," a photo exhibit about gay families

by Joe Manera | 5/3/99 5:00am

It was bound to complement her vision, and it was bound to be a unique vision, with or without the children yawning from heat exhaustion in the front rows.

Author Dorothy Allison introduced the photo exhibit "Loves Makes a Family" at Collis Commonground yesterday in a dark, humid room on a warm, sea-sky day. "Love," like much of Allison's work, gives voice to families including gay or lesbian parents, grandparents and children with a glistening, life- and love-affirming language that champions human similarity and human difference simultaneously. Intended as an educational instrument for all age groups, the collection immobilizes hate by illuminating love's constants; family and togetherness of all genetic and gendered make-ups is the theme that runs graceful lines through and between the works. The pictures counter pessimism and violence by distilling the strongest ties that bind into stark, definite black and white.

Perhaps it was this unpolitical political urgency and unaffected simplicity that captured the attention of the acclaimed "Bastard Out of Carolina" National Book Award finalist in the first place. Allison had already included pictures of her family in "Two or Three Things I Know for Sure" for strong personal reasons, so she approached friend and "Love" co-creator Peggy Gillespie about being featured in the show. Her participation was more than encouraged.

"With 'Two or Three Things,' I deliberately included pictures of my family," Allison explained in an interview with The Dartmouth. "People judge families. People use words like 'white trash' and 'redneck' without having ever seen the real thing. With those photos, and with this exhibit, I go around. It makes people seem more real to each other. We can get lost in stereotypes of who we are."

The author dismisses stereotype by outlining our shared responsibilities, voting for hope and togetherness alongside the lovingly depicted moms and pops beaming down on gallery white walls. A committed mother to her six-year-old-son Wolf Michael, Allison and her life partner of 11 years have the same bus-stop safety and recess peace concerns as all other parents.

"The dyke, the queer, is considered the Lone Wolf," Allison said at the exhibition's opening. "But we are not that. We are all of us. We don't live in isolation. I see the people in the exhibit, and I see people who choose to live for love."

While the daily struggles that Allison encounters have made her less sensitive to personal attacks, she is more adamant than ever about demanding social acceptance for her family unit. Noting that we decide what kinds of families we raise, she praises those who make eyes-open efforts to better their lives.

"I don't mind being seen as a Lone Wolf if credit is given to the families I've made, to the families I've been a part of. We know so much, but we have to choose to do something different," Allison said.

In speaking about her own family and the choices that she has made, Allison mentions an unfortunate tradition of "babies having babies." It's a cycle she chose to break. "I didn't have patience till I was 40," Allison admitted. "So it was probably a good thing."

A good thing to place alongside some excellent work and several smart choices. Certainly the decision to become involved with "Love Makes the Family" was a wise and worthy one. Commenting of the uniformly positive reactions to the collection, Allison takes time to praise her audiences, especially those that live in gay-unfriendly cities.

"In one place, the attendees took pictures of themselves that we added to the exhibit. People think queers live only in New York and San Francisco. Hardly. And it's some of the people outside of the center who are making all the differences," Allison said.

And, if her son's wisdom is any indication, a difference is certainly being made, one whose branches are extending within a very intimate sphere.

"My son, he feels sorry for all of those kids who have only one mom," Allison laughed. She's reaching someone close and closely, and he's the most important one.

The "Love Makes a Family" exhibition is sponsored by the Gay & Lesbian Education and Resource Network, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Upper Valley, The First Congregational Church of Thetford, ACORN, Dartmouth Hillel, Dartmouth Women's Resource Center, Dartmouth Rainbow Alliance, Green Lambda, Dartmouth Education Dept., Dartmouth Women's Studies Program, the Dartmouth Office of G/L/B/T Programming, the Carpenter Foundation and the Coventry Village School. It will run at Collis Commonground through May 9th.

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