Julie Delporte's storybook memoir 'Portrait of a Body'

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday April 2, 2024
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Author/artist Julie Delporte<br>
Author/artist Julie Delporte

"Portrait of a Body" by Julie Delporte, translated from French by Helge Dascher and Karen Houle, tells the story of how one woman came to gain self-acceptance. The intimate storybook is masterfully illustrated by the author.

Born in France, Delporte lives in Montreal. Her previous books include the highly acclaimed "Everywhere Antennas" and "This Woman's Work." She is also a punk musician.

Simply and beautifully, Delporte documents her stages of healing in this book. An important part of her journey was to move away from heterosexuality quite late in life. Told in remarkably few words, she dares to delve deeply into her subconscious mind, motivations, trauma, and dissociation. Above all, she seeks to be honest with herself.

Julie Delporte's self-portrait in 'Portrait of a Body'  

The book opens with expressive India ink drawings (black and white) inspired by Chantal Akerman's 1974 film "Je tu il elle," while she tells the reader about the first time she was with a woman.

"I was a little shocked by how normal it all felt. 'Abnormal' was everything that had come before."

The next two pages lay out two pencil crayon drawings of landscapes in color that look like Rainbow Mountain in South America, representing the new life she is finally able to claim as her own as she charts a new course.

Writer Eileen Myles has high praise for "Portrait of a Body": "It's ardently alive... like being whispered to all night by someone you love."

Throughout the book Delcorte uses intricate abstract art to illustrate her states of mind, thoughts, emotions. It is intelligent, ballsy art that depicts life-like flowers, a colorful series of seashells, scenes from her life, swirling color sometimes dancing, but always very expressive.

In particular, I love the drawings of favorite dresses kept in her closet because she liked the patterns on the fabric, even though they are no longer worn.

Drawing and text in Julie Delporte's 'Portrait of a Body'  

Late Bloomer Lesbian
Echoing the sentiments of many women today, at age 35 she was "tired of trying to love men."

Like many late bloomer lesbians, the easy explanation was, "One day, I fell in love with a woman." But she knew that didn't quite explain it. If she thought about it, she had to acknowledge she had never eroticized women. She had never eroticized men either, if truth be told.

"I wanted to be Tove Jansson, Courtney Barnett, Chantal Akerman... I wanted to be a lesbian even before I was sexually attracted to women. And before I'd fallen in love with one," Delporte writes.

For a long time, she was unable to admit to herself what she felt. But she was clear that heterosexuality should not be mandatory. About the demands of femininity, she writes, "I was tired of pretending."

Psychoanalysis was no help at all. Isn't it far too much to expect a therapist to understand where she was coming from, much less offer solutions? It only seemed to have increased her anxiety.

Far more helpful was reading, writing, art and making art. The work of women like Akerman, Georgia O'Keeffe, Adrienne Rich and Annie Ernaux helped her understand herself, her childhood, her path to healing and self-acceptance much better than therapy ever could.

She recognized that throughout her childhood "no" was not an option. There were clothes you had to wear, medicine you had to take, etc. And although she was no longer a child, she was still mindlessly living as she was socialized to do, without any agency. But when does she finally get to decide for herself how to be her own person?

Delporte writes that she and all her friends were captivated by Leonardo Dicaprio's rapturous performance and no less by his unforgettable blouse in the film "Romeo & Juliet." Something about Leonardo and his blouse exuded a sense of total freedom that became an important part of her healing journey.

And finally, the crowing realization: "All those years, I had tried so desperately to be beautiful when I already was."

'Portrait of a Body' by Julie Delporte, Drawn & Quarterly. $29.95
www.drawnandquarterly.com www.juliedelporte.com

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