Happy Birthday, Heather!

“So, tell our studio audience and the viewers at home some of the most interesting things that have happened since Heather Has Two Mommies was published ten years ago,” says the Oprah of my fantasy life who has chosen the special ten year anniversary edition of Heather for her newest reading club selection.

“Well, Oprah.” I lean back in my chair, crossing my legs at the ankle and keeping my best side to the camera. “There was the time Representative Robert Smith read portions of the book to the entire United States Senate, though no milk and cookies were served. There was the time a man took the book off a public library shelf, went into the bathroom and defecated on it. There were many instances when I was accused of writing a book that taught first graders the ins and outs of sodomy, no pun intended. And there was that nasty ‘no promo homo’ bill which, if approved, would make reading Heather Has Two Mommies to a child without parental permission a felony.” (Luckily the bill never passed.)

As we cut to commercial and the studio audience in my mind ponders what I have just said, I can’t help but think what a long, strange trip it’s been.

The idea for writing Heather Has Two Mommies cannot be credited solely to me. In 1988, I was strolling along Main Street in downtown Northampton, Massachusetts (affectionally known as Lesbianville, USA) when a dyke I knew approached me. “Listen,” she said. “Somebody needs to write a book I can read to my kid about a family like ours: a family with two moms and a daughter.” She looked me right in the eye and I swallowed hard. This was not a lesbian who would take no for an answer (it takes one to know one). So I went home, started writing and came up with little Heather, who has two elbows, two earlobes, two kneecaps, and two mommies.

When the book was finished, I sent it out to publishers. Editors’ reactions varied from “Great idea, but I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole,” to “What are you, nuts?” When the book had been to every publishing house I could think of, I remembered two things: the fiery eyes of the lesbian mother who had planted the idea in my head, and the words of my beloved, stubborn grandmother: “Just because they say no to me, you think I’m finished?” There had to be a way. And there was. A friend of mine, Tzivia Gover who was a new lesbian mom, had just started a desktop publishing business. We decided to publish the book ourselves. Through the lesbian grapevine we found a friend of a friend of a friend who was an illustrator. We sent out fundraising letters and raised $4,000.00 mostly in ten-dollar donations. We found a printer and a distributor and before you could say, “turkey baster,” a truck pulled up to my driveway, and 40 cartons of 100 books each were unloaded into my living room. Six months later, Sasha Alyson, the publisher of Daddy’s Roommate called. He had seen Heather in a bookstore and thought we should join forces. After conferring with my business partner, I had a better idea. “Why don’t you take over?” I asked Sasha. “That way, you can be Heather‘s publisher, and I can have my living room back.”

Soon after Heather became an Alyson Publications title, the book started hitting the news. Some people were ecstatic and called me an “honorary lesbian mother.” Other people, less-than-thrilled, called me “America’s most dangerous writer.” From that day forth, the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword” took on a whole new meaning. I watched in fascination as Heather was included in New York City’s Rainbow Curriculum and then in horror as the Chancellor of Education, Joseph Fernandez, lost his job because he supported Heather‘s inclusion. I watched the town of Fayetteville, North Carolina divide itself over the question of whether or not Heather should remain in the public library. Some citizens felt it was their duty to defend freedom of expression. Others felt it was their duty to defend freedom to express homophobia. When the controversy became a ballot issue, the latter group ran an ad in the local newspaper that said, “Cumberland County Library takes the lead in pursuit of legitimizing homosexuality. Can prostitution, bestiality or incest be far behind?”

My response to all this brouhaha is one big fat oy. I never intended or expected to cause such a fuss. I just wanted to give the dyke on the street a warm fuzzy bedtime story she could read to her daughter.

The commercial break is over and we’re back on the air, only my fantasy has changed and now I’m sitting next to Rosie, that champion of children’s literature. Rosie welcomes me warmly and then tells everyone in the audience they are going home with a free copy of Heather Has Two Mommies. There is a wild burst of applause. Then Rosie asks me how kids have responded to the book. I show her a photo of a little girl grinning proudly and wearing a homemade T-shirt that says, “Heather Has Two Mommies….and so do I!” Rosie motions for the cameras to move in and a close-up of the little girl’s photo is flashed across the screen of every television set in America. Again the studio audience bursts into wild applause. The show ends with Rosie and her audience singing an enthusiastic, off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” in honor of Heather turning ten and I am presented with a cake even bigger than Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out confection.

Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

© 2000 Lesléa Newman