In her graphic memoir, Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag, A.K. Summers chronicles her difficult journey as a butch lesbian navigating her way through pregnancy. Summerswho also illustrated the novelstarted writing it in 2005 after giving birth to her son Franklin. Despite being taken out of her comfort zone, Summers injects humor into her memoir even during some of her darkest days.
Windy City Times: Where did the idea for your graphic memoir, Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag, come from?
A.K. Summers: It came from the experience that I had being a pregnant butch, and telling a lot of stories about it afterwards.
WCT: Although it is based on your life, did you embellish at all?
AS: I changed all the names, but that's about it.
WCT: Were you out as a teenager and, if not, when did you come out?
AS: I was absolutely not out as a teenager. That felt far too dangerous to me although I was certainly self-aware. I didn't come out until I was in college and safely away from home.
WCT: When did you come out to your parents and what was their reaction?
AS: I came out to my parents about two weeks after leaving for college. They were very solemn. My mom cried, but they weren't particularly surprised. This was the late '80s and it seemed like a very difficult life path. They were worried for me and they thoughtI thinkthat this meant that I would never have a family.
WCT: Did you see it that way as well?
AS: I really wasn't concerned about it as I was 18.
WCT: Were there any lesbians in your surroundings that you could talk to or identify with?
AS: I didn't know any gay people before I went away to college, although I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend in high schoolso of course I knew her.
WCT: Was there a time when you did meet a pregnant butch lesbian?
AS: I definitely have met pregnant lesbians, but I never met a pregnant butch lesbian.
WCT: Did you feel like an outsider of sorts because you did not know anyone that you could relate to or talk to?
AS: At the time it was kind of a discovery about how it was going to effect me. I didn't go into it thinking that it was going to be a huge deal being butch and pregnant. I wasn't looking forward to it, but I didn't realize how deeply it would effect me.
WCT: When did the idea of motherhood become important to you?
AS: It really didn't occur to me until I was in my mid-30s and I had straight friends who started having kids. I had an eerie fairy fantasy about having kids and having a family. I wasn't one of those people that was certain that they wanted to have five kids and that they wanted to have them by age 28. I had a very warm, friendly and laughter-filled family experience of my own and I wanted something like that. But I didn't have very concrete goals about it until I got a warning from seeing my peers start doing it. My ex-girlfriend said to me, "You really need to get on a stickyou at 35. This stuff starts to get a lot harder."
WCT: What was it like living outside of your norm for nine months, in terms of the clothes you wore while pregnant?
AS: That's kind of the meaning of the subtitle of my bookNine Longs Months Spent in Drag. I did not feel like myself.
WCT: Is there a significance in the book of drawing men with large bellies?
AS: I draw lots of fat guys in the comic. It's an ironic comment. I am making a point about the difference between pregnancy and just being a fat guy. I certainly was mistaken for a fat guy a number of times while pregnant. As the pregnancy got on, that happened less frequently, because I started to look really pregnant and not just like a fat guy.
WCT: When you look back on your pregnancy today, what feelings come to mind?
AS: There is a lot that was funny about it, but I think, even more, it was a wrenching and deepening experience for me. I anticipated a certain kind of struggle and I got a different one. There was more to being pregnant than I anticipated. When it was over I felt that I was tougher and more flexible, and better able to not be so concerned with the way the world treated me.
A.K. Summers will be part of a panel of three leading graphic novelists at Northeastern Illinois University, NEIU Auditorium, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave., on Tuesday, March 24, at 6 p.m. Visit neiu.edu/university-life/arts-northeastern/visiting-writers-series/graphic-novelists-panel; for more on A.K. Summers go to aksummers.com/.