Honor Moore, sifting through her father’s closet

BY KATIE HANSON | APRIL 09, 2009 7:30 AM

The April 3 Iowa Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage brings homosexuals in the United States one step closer to equality with their heterosexual counterparts. But the step doesn’t mean the country can forget the pain some individuals have endured while hiding their identities.

Poet and author Honor Moore depicts the effect her father’s hidden homosexuality had on his life and family in her 2008 memoir, The Bishop’s Daughter. She will read from it at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St.

Her father, Paul Moore Jr., had a life that almost defined illustrious. Moore traces her father’s past, from his service in the Marine Corps during World War II to becoming an Episcopal priest, battling urban poverty and inequality, and ultimately dying in 2003.

“I didn’t think of it as a book, I thought of it as an exploration,” she said. She came up with the idea for the memoir around 1997, she said, but wasn’t able to write it until after her father died.

She dug up old newspapers, read books, and went back through scrapbooks while putting the memoir together. The book includes passages about her father’s war service, his family fortune, and his role in the civil-rights movement. But Moore said she didn’t really consider it research because most of the events are backed up by her memory.

“I remember a great deal,” she said. “I didn’t include anything that I didn’t go through with my father. I was trying to write about our life together.”

Moore recounts numerous painful memories in the 354-page book: Starving for attention as the oldest of nine children, her strained relationship with her father, the collapse of her parents’ marriage, and their deaths. But she said she did not write the memoir for her own healing.

“I avoid the word therapeutic because that implies there’s no art involved,” she said. “Writing the book was in some ways an ecstatic experience. Putting things into place is very integrating.”

While Paul Moore’s hidden sexuality eventually devastated his family, Honor Moore said she understands why he kept his secret.

“It was very necessary for my father to remain in the closet given what he was trying to do,” she said. “I have every sympathy for his need to keep it secret.”

When Paul Moore anointed Ellen Barrett, an open lesbian, to the priesthood in 1977, he set off a firestorm. Even today, many Christian denominations regard homosexuality as a sin.

Honor Moore, who no longer goes to church but doesn’t consider herself a disbeliver, said she doesn’t understand fundamentalism in any religion or part of the world.

“An important thing about being a religious or spiritual person is tolerance,” she said. “I’ve seen how women and gay people are marginalized, and I have no patience for that.”

Developments in homosexual rights have been slow but gradual, Moore said, noting it used to be illegal for black and white people to marry. Over the course of a few generations, she hopes many more people will realize marriage is simply a civil right.

“Younger people are far less homophobic than their parents,” she said. “And their children will be even less.”

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