Matteo B. Bianchi and Wendell Ricketts
Cher Upon a Midnight Clear is written by Matteo B. Bianchi and translated from Italian by Wendell Ricketts.
In Cher Upon a Midnight Clear, Luca is a little boy of around 10. The toys that have fired his imagination during his childhood—the gold wristbands that the Winx Club fairies wear on TV, a Barbie Magic Hair—aren’t “right” for boys, at least as far as his family are concerned, and he never gets what he wants for Christmas. Instead, other people decide he should want bicycles, a Game Boy, Pokémon trading cards, a toy farm, and he becomes convinced that Santa Claus is either not getting his letters or, worse, must be ignoring them.
What motivated you to write a book(s) that is specifically inclusive of LGBTQ families/issues?
I can tell you what Matteo B. Bianchi, the Italian author of Cher Upon A Midnight Clear, wrote regarding his inspiration for the book. He wanted, he said, “to write about … the innocence of a child and the distortion of that innocence by an adult world so cynical it even threatened to ruin the magic of Christmas. Who can a child turn to when he can’t even count on Santa Claus? I wondered. And that was when, on a sunny summer afternoon, an image of Cher appeared before me in a glittering cascade of sequins, as if from out of nowhere…. The idea of a child who loses his faith in a white beard only to regain it in the form of a phantasmagorical hairdo was all I needed. I knew I’d found the fairy tale I’d been searching for.”
In my case, when I read Cher in Italian, I immediately wanted to translate it, and Cher Upon A Midnight Clear is the result. Even in the form of a brief “fairy tale for adults,” Matteo’s book celebrates the idea that what makes us feel like ourselves, what resonates within us, should be honored and encouraged—especially when we’re children and are still too honest to hide those things or haven’t had them scared out of us yet.
It’s a story whose themes are so familiar to many of us who grow up to be lesbian or gay or trans or even straight: sometimes the people who love us won’t let us be ourselves. In fact, Luca himself asks, “How do grownups know when something is for boys and when it’s for girls? Who tells them so? Where do they learn it? How come Luca can’t tell what the difference is, but it’s always so clear to them?”
Parents who seriously considered just that one question would revolutionize childrearing.
I grew up in Hawai‘i, where close adult friends of my family became “auntie” and “uncle,” even if they weren’t blood relations, and older women were tūtū (granny). I knew and went to school with “hanai children”—in other words, kids that had been informally adopted, sometimes because the original family couldn’t care for the child but other times as a form of respect and love. Sometimes children were hanai’d to childless couples or were given to grandparents to raise. So it has never seemed strange to me that there were all kinds of families or that “family” could be intentionally created.
Fast-forward to the early 1980s, when I began working at a public-interest law firm in San Francisco that housed what later became the National Center for Lesbian Rights. NCLR took on some of the very first co-parenting and second-parent adoption cases in the country, legitimizing—in a legal sense—the kinds of families that many of my friends had already created. I wrote Lesbians and Gay Men as Foster Parents in those years (University of Southern Maine, 1991) because it was important to sum up what was known about lesbian and gay parenting at a point at which courts were just beginning to take chances on same-gender parents. Since then, so much has been written on the subject that it’s impossible to keep up!
It’s not original, but I think a family is whatever you say it is, though I think we should be careful not to take the word lightly. It’s easy to say “love makes a family,” but what makes a real family includes commitment, loyalty, tenacity, and hard work.
What does “equality” look like to you?
Complicated question, because I don’t think human beings are all “equal” – and that’s a very good thing. I worry sometimes that an emphasis on “equality” too often ends up being translated into “being like everyone else” or “being like the majority.” But, of course, it depends what we mean by the word. Equal before the law, equal in terms of access to resources and opportunities, equal in having the ability to meet basic needs like safety, shelter, food, medical care—certainly. Beyond that, I’d like to see more respect and accommodation for all the ways in which we’re not “equal.”
Whose books do you admire and why?
I still love all those great, flawed novels that we were reading in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was coming out and which were my first inkling that there was gay life beyond what I could see around me. In terms of more contemporary work, what I really admire is that there’s just so much of it. I admire that there are so many people writing work that includes queer lives that it has become literally impossible to read everything. I don’t like all of it necessarily, but that’s sort of the point. If you pick up an LGBTQ book that you don’t like, there are a hundred more to take its place. That kind of choice has developed just in my adult lifetime, and it still amazes me.
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m continuing to work with FourCats Press to find LGBTQ titles that can be translated from Italian. In many ways, the gay movement in Italy is a couple of decades behind the U.S., and, except for a relatively short list of titles, homegrown, Italian LGBTQ literature remains scarce. (Of course, almost all important LGBTQ books published in English get translated into Italian.) I’m also working on a book about LGBTQ theater and other performance in San Francisco during the “AIDS years” and an anthology of the work of a largely forgotten working-class gay writer from the 1950s.