The literary world is not the only ones mourning the passing of the reclusive author Nelle Harper Lee on February 19 at the age of 89. So, too, are many gender nonconforming Americans.
Lee leaves us with two novels: Go Set A Watchman, published last July after 55 years since the 1960 publication of To Kill A Mockingbird which catapulted her onto a world stage.
Several good biographies have been written about Lee – Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Sheild, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja, and Up Close: Harper Lee by Kerry Madden, to name a few.
However, one of the most frequently asked questions about Harper Lee was about her sexual orientation. Lee obviously wanted this answer hidden and on the down low from the public, but her reclusiveness and annoyance with the question only contributed to it.
In Mill’s biography on Lee she gingerly broached the topic.
In Nelle’s annoyance at speculation about whether she is gay, Mill screws up her nerve to ask each sister, neither of whom married or had children, whether the other ever dated. “A little,” they said. Mills concludes, “And that was that.”
But as doggedly silent as Lee was on this question the American public has not been.
For example, the question “Is Harper Lee gay or straight?’ still appears on the website vipfaq stating “Many people enjoy sharing rumors about the sexuality and sexual orientation of celebrities. We don’t know for a fact whether Harper Lee is gay, bisexual or straight. However, feel free to tell us what you think.”
And the public did: 88% of the respondents think Harper Lee is a lesbian whereas 13% thinks she’s bisexual and no one voted her as heterosexual.
One of the reasons many people speculate about Lee’s sexual orientation are the adoringly beloved gender nonconforming fictional characters – Scout and Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird.
Scout’s tomboyiness and Dill quasi-effeminate mannerism inextricably connected LGBTQ readers to the novel, themselves and Harper Lee.
“No lesbian or gay reader of To Kill a Mockingbird came away from the book without feeling that there was someone else like him or her, be it Scout or her friend Dill. These were not the stereotypical characters that we knew: the fey timid girly boy and the courageous rugged tomboy. Unless, of course, we looked in the mirror,” Victoria Brownworth wrote in the July issue of Lambda Literary.