A compelling memoir of a gay Catholic woman struggling to find balance between being a daughter and a mother raising her son with a loving partner in the face of discrimination. From the time she was born, Michelle Theall knew she was different. Coming of age in the Texas Bible Belt, a place where it was unacceptable to be gay, Theall found herself at odds with her strict Roman Catholic parents, bullied by her classmates, abandoned by her evangelical best friend whose mother spoke in tongues, and kicked out of Christian organizations that claimed to embrace her - all before she’d ever held a girl’s hand. Shame and her longing for her mother’s acceptance led her to deny her feelings and eventually run away to a remote stretch of mountains in Colorado. There, she made her home on an elk migration path facing the Continental Divide, speaking to God every day, but rarely seeing another human being. At 43 years of age and seemingly settled in her decision to live life openly as a gay woman, Theall and her partner attempt to have their son baptized into the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in the liberal town of Boulder, Colorado. Her quest to have her son accepted into the Church leads to a battle with Sacred Heart and with her mother that leaves her questioning everything she thought she knew about the bonds of family and faith. And she realizes that in order to be a good mother, she may have to be a bad daughter. Teaching the Cat to Sit examines the modern roles of motherhood and religion and demonstrates that our infinite capacity to love has the power to shape us all.
I found the book to be entertaining but more so heart wrenching. I could relate to some of the author's moments and some I could only imagine experiencing. From the joys of falling in love to the torment of wanting to belong, this memoir was excellent. I highly recommend it.
If you could sum up Teaching the Cat to Sit in three words, what would they be?
Honest. Vulnerable. Revealing.
What other book might you compare Teaching the Cat to Sit to and why?
Parts of the book remind me of The End of the Affair—because it made me want to believe in God again. The God I was taught to believe in sometime during Mass. The God I stopped believing in, many years later, sometime during Mass.
What does Gabra Zackman bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
Great narrator. I found myself unconsciously echoing her light Southern accent after listening to the book.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?
Sometimes the hardest person to live with is yourself (and your mom—she's super hard to live with, too.)
Any additional comments?
Really well written. I loved the narrative structure, which shifts back and forth, from past to present—each section informing another. It feels like the piecing together of a life. And at the end, the pieces fit.