In Meags Fitzgerald’s previous book, Photobooth: A Biography, which documented just about anything you ever wondered about photo booths, she went far beyond her central subject, wrapping in segments of autobiography, making it a work about a wider swathe that her more intimate moments exist within.
For Long Red Hair she does the exact opposite, focusing on her intensely private evolution not just as a bisexual, but as a young person doing their best to figure out who they are and what they are, and to be able to name it or at least in some way define for her own satisfaction, missing the attention of the wider queer culture by both identifying with it, but also falling through the cracks.
Fitzgerald begins by examining identities within the context of her family, and how a family friend — who she now understands as gay — and her family’s enthusiasm for playing Dungeons And Dragons together shaped the way she approached self-identity. From there hopping back and forth to various points in Fitzgerald’s life, key moments of awkwardness and realization unfold as Fitzgerald navigates the awkwardness of interpersonal relationships with any gender. She fumbles for her understanding of where she stands with these people in context of her own feelings and desires, and measured against what she sees in the world. There are uncomfortable sleepovers and misdirected kisses, as well as a desire to embrace what perfect girl traits are in order to combat her own self-deprecation.
It’s Fitzgerald’s delivery that makes a big difference here. These kinds of memoirs can be enveloped with anger and despair, but Fitzgerald has a calm, almost analytical approach to the retelling that resonates as healthy. In presenting her story out of sequence, it feels like the same kind of orderly investigation that Photobooth: A Biography boasted, an understanding that autobiographical non-fiction can be more than a vomiting of emotion. It can be a precise examination of how things came to be. That’s not to say Fitzgerald doesn’t portray emotion in her storytelling, but it is to say that she doesn’t seem interested in claiming her own story so fiercely that no one else can see themselves in it. If anything, Fitzgerald’s motive seems to be to help and offer some plan for others going through the same alienation and trying to figure out the what and why.
By the end, Fitzgerald settles into the bisexual label, but in an afterword explains that “queer” is her preferred identification, especially given the shifting terminologies in regard to cross-gender sexualities. But queer is apt, because it points to the notion that what makes Fitzgerald so different isn’t just her sexuality — it’s Fitzgerald herself, and sexuality is one manifestation of that difference.
Fitzgerald seems to have come to terms with the fact that there is no easy definition for her own being — a state many people find themselves in, as the reasoning and emotion behind a societal term is far more complicated that what the term describes. They used to call them square pegs, and though nowadays a lot of the focus is on gender and sexuality, these are just the physical manifestations of the neurologies and more that are at play. Fitzgerald’s book captures this inner dialogue well. I’d recommend it to any young person just trying to figure out who the hell they are, and with an inkling that there might be no pat answer to be had and working to figure out what to do with that.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book author living in Western Massachusetts who has written about comics for a number of publications over the years. Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven. John will be contributing regular comics reviews to The Beat on Tuesdays at 5PM. To welcome him to the fold, this week we’ll be posting his reviews on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.