Teaching The Cat To Sit: A Memoir, by Michelle Theall
Review by Kristy McCaffrey
Michelle Theall grew up in a household steeped in Catholic faith and tradition, in the Bible belt of Texas. She is also gay. Teaching The Cat To Sit is a memoir of both, and so much more. Her story is told in parallel chapters, alternating between her childhood and early adulthood, and her present life as part of a gay couple raising an adopted son. Michelle wants her child to have the love and nurturing of the Catholic Church that she had but soon bumps into the hard realities of church teachings and doctrines. She argues that children shouldn’t suffer for the sins of the parents, although she hardly views her sexual orientation as a sin. Her son is christened in a ‘closet’ baptism, eventually forcing Michelle and her partner to remove him from the local Catholic preschool. She doesn’t want to hide or have secrets. As she relates in the book, she carried many such secrets herself, including a rape by the father of a friend when she was very young.
But Teaching The Cat To Sit is, ultimately, a story about mothers and daughters. Michelle’s mother, Phyllis, casts a long and wide shadow, her staunch beliefs permeating every aspect of her daughter’s life. Michelle’s strong devotion to Catholicism is both a love of God and a love of her mother. When she finally comes clean to her parents many years later about her sexual orientation, Phyllis falls to pieces. But, slowly, they forge a new relationship. It is ever fraught with the friction of not being what the other wants, but beneath all the cracks, love still shines through. This is the real message: Love holds us together no matter how wide the rift, whether it be a lifestyle or a religious choice. Teaching The Cat To Sit bravely illuminates the painful struggles of finding a life that honors the past while at the same time embracing our deepest selves.
Read an excerpt here.
Kristy McCaffrey is a key member of the Women’s Adventure book club on Facebook. Join her and more than 700 women from around the world as we read and discuss an adventure book each month here.