[DWJ] Alison Bechdel--Dykes to Watch Out For

Farah Mendlesohn farah.sf at gmail.com
Sun Nov 5 15:32:46 EST 2006

Ok, by popular demand, and despite being off topic, a short guide to
Dykes to Watch Out For by the luminous Alison Bechdel.

DWTOF started as a series of one off pictures of lesbians (often
naked) doing absurd things. Then in the early 1980s Alison created Mo,
a rather anxious, radical lesbian with short hair, round spectacles
and a tendency to wear horizontally striped t-shirts. Mo also had two
siamese cats, Virginian and Vanessa. We (fans) are currently in
morning because three strips ago Mo and her current girlfriend
(Sydney) found that Vanessa had died.

See: http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/dtwof-episode-496

This is actually a good strip to start with because it has all the
things that make Bechdel so utterly brilliant. All the emotion, all
the feeling is coded in body language. Black lines on a white page
simply shouldn't be able to do all of that. Look at the very last
strip, at the way the remaining cat sits watching them, and the slump
of their bodies.

But back to the strip.

Mo acquired a job in a women's book store, owned by Jezanna, a black
woman with no intentions of nurturing anyone. She has friends:

Lois, who is currently having fun as a drag king, lives with Ginger,
once the neverending grad student but currently actually with a job
teaching preppies at Lake View College, and also with Sparrow, whose
mother is Vietnamese and father a good old boy, and who has recently
come out as a bi-dyke, and whose boyfriend is called Stuart (Stuart
moved in with the three of them to help pay the new mortgage). Stuart
and Sparrow are into saving the earth through meditation, but Sparrow
has a very tough job running a women's shelter. They now have a small
girl whose name I can't remember how to spell.

Stuart is a very good judge of whether a woman is gay. If he fancies
her, she's a dyke. Ginger has found this very useful in the recent

Over the road in a suburb some distance away are Toni and Clarice,
poster children for the right to marry, Unfortunately, right now they
are in the throes of separating except that Clarice (black woman
lawyer) is too busy obssessing about the election results to notice.
They last had sex just before Bush won. They have a son, Rafael, who
is hitting the stage of being deeply embarrassed by his parents.  He
and Stella (daughter of the woman Toni is sort of in love with) have
just loaded a video of Clarice and Toni rowing to Youtube. There are
hints that they are about to do something worse.

Some minor characters:
Carlos is the gay man brought into be role model to Raffi
Audrey is Jezanna's lover
Janice is the transgender child of Lois's lover (a woman Ginger
fancied but panicked when she met the then Jonas).
Thea worked in the bookshop and was a crush of Mo's. She also used to
date Mo's current lover, Sydney who is a high spending, fiercely
competitive. credit card addicted cultural studies academic.
Harriet is the first of Mo's lovers we ever met, and I have a huge crush on her.

Yes, it's a soap opera, and me, who never watches or listens to them,
is addicted. Bechdel's drawing is amazing: she encodes race and class
in the way people move, and talk (and I do know this is a cartoonist
I'm talking about).

The books are available from Giovanni's Room
http://www.giovannisroom.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp or multinational
book store of your choice, or you can find old strips at Planet Out,
and more recently (since PO made the insane decision to drop her) at

This woman saved my sanity as a young dyke and provided positive
re-enforcement when I started to think my sexuality a bit more
complicated than that.


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