The Unspeakable

Meghan Daum

Meghan Daum opens her second book of essays by explaining how she hoped that all together they would “add up to a larger discussion about the way human experiences too often come with preassigned emotional responses.” This examination of the disconnect with how one is “supposed to feel” compared to our actual feelings succeeds best in the opening essay, “Matricide,” largely about her mother’s death and complicated relationships between mothers and daughters. Some of the other apparently “unspeakable” topics — like loving dogs and Joni Mitchell and not being a foodie — ring rather false in comparison. But by that point, I was also less inclined to find common ground with Daum, since these all came after the essay on her being an “Honorary Dyke.”

This is certainly not the first essay I’ve read by a woman trying to suss out her discomfort with femininity by rooting around in gender essentialism, but it’s the most annoying I’ve read thus far. Daum isn’t a super feminine woman and because she once dated a woman and was the one who didn’t cry when they broke up, she decides that she is butch. A “phantom” butch. And not just her, but a few celebrities she lists out as well; further, she declares pointlessly that “many actual lesbians don’t even make the cut,” seeming to miss the entire context of the word she’s appropriated. The whole essay attempts to deconstruct something that needs no explanation to begin with: femininity isn’t an inherent, all-or-nothing quality of any gender identity. It ends, bafflingly, with Daum talking about how much she loves the Title Nine sports clothing catalog before declaring that life is a process of deciding what teams we’ll join, a suitably privileged conclusion considering what came before it.

In the introduction Daum reveals that she expects “this is the kind of book that winds up being loved and hated in equal measure,” so I suppose I respect her for knowingly opening herself up to negative reactions. But much of what she writes about isn’t that provocative and then when it is, it just feels misguided instead of refreshingly honest.