Freak of Nurture

Essays and Stories by Kelli Dunham

I got this email after I was on Penn and Teller’s Bullsh**, a woman wrote to me and said ‘you are SO disgusting, you are a freak of nature.’ Oh, my little hateful friend, you do not know me, you don’t know my family or you would know that indeed I am a freak of NURTURE“ -Kelli Dunham

the books arrive

About the Book

In Freak of Nurture, Dunham demonstrates that hilarity and chaos reign when you combine what her therapist calls “deep biological optimism” with a hearty midwestern work ethic and determination to make bad ideas a fantastic reality. Whether she is writing about hitch-hiking across Haiti to help out with disaster relief or living on a houseboat in Philadelphia in the winter, Kelli Dunham‘s humorous interpretation of difficult situations is both inspiring and entertaining.kelli reads from book at funeral home

KELLI-AND-LEATHER-JACKETIn the tradition of authors such as David Sedaris and Ellen DeGeneres, Dunham’s “slice of life” stories remind us that even though humans are deeply flawed, we’re also seriously hysterical that way.

If you have a blog or write for anyplace that might be interested in reviewing this new book, hit up the contact page to ask for a review copy!

Buy it directly from Topside now!

STORIES INCLUDE: (Dis)honoring Columbus, Sister Mercy Writes Her Home Letter, Lulu the Cat Says Screw You, Clit Teasers, Does It Take More Than Duct Tape To Be A Dyke, The ABCs of Adventures in Gender, Performing By the Numbers and many more….

FREAK OF NURTURE ALSO INCLUDES the full text of Kelli’s award-winning solo performance pieces, PUDDING DAY and BAD HABIT, edited into narrative form, updated and sprinkled with never before heard anecdotes. If you’ve ever wondered why Kelli carries a sign in the Dyke March that says “I taught a nun to masturbate” you won’t want to miss this book.



at bluestockings 2Because I have a good number of these good Christians in my past, I accept Facebook requests from people I knew at any period in my life: friends I went on mission trips with in the 80s, fellow (now ex) nuns, Bible College classmates, the first guy I ever kissed who is now sporting a non ironic mullet. Like the Queers, The Christians often create a middle username for Facebook that advertises their beliefs. My queer friends sport names like Steve Equality Diamond or Amanda Marriageforall Smith, the Christians create monikers like Pam Jesuslovesyou Wheeling or Kate Prayerbackinschools Turner.

Having Kate Prayerbackinschools Turner and her like-minded souls as Facebook friends makes for interesting reading, since so many evangelical Christians use their status update to talk directly to God. What’s on your mind? Jesus, always. So Kate writes “Dear Lord, I thank you for my two handsome responsible sons. Please keep them safe as they travel to their soccer tournament and help them glorify You, win or lose.” Directly under this post on my news feed I see “Joe Equality Forester is attending the Deep Dick Collective.”


G is for Government

A few years ago then United States Senator Arlen Specter came to the health center where I worked to take credit for something. It was a big press event. He shook all my co-workers’ hands but when he came to me, he clapped my back and said “Good to see you son.” Please note I was dressed for work and, if memory serves, wearing a professional ID.

My co-workers thought this was hilarious and so began good-naturally calling me “Son.” When I (not so brilliantly) mentioned that I had been compared to Macaulay Culkin they adopted that name as well. All the time. Even in meetings. “well let’s ask Macaulay about that.”

KELLI-DUNHAM-FROM-TONY-e1356308069135H is for Home Alone

One of the new interns thought that my actual name was actually, for real, Macaulay Culkin. Somehow she had never seen Home Alone.

The longer it went on, the more awkward it would have been to correct her. Until one day she referred to me, as “Macaulay” to the dean of the college affiliated with our health center. When the dean didn’t know who she was talking about she said “You know, Macaulay Culkin”

The dean had seen Home Alone.

And that was really awkward.


Mom: [talking about her visit to the Louvre] ….and so I asked the museum guy, “How come all the artists painted Jesus like a sissy?”

Me: Oh. Well what did he say?

Mom: He said “to show his divinity.”

Me: Huh. (Thinking: Whoa, French fags have an answer for everything)

Mom: I don’t like that namby pamby Jesus. He was a carpenter! He was strong and muscular and virile!

wrapped up in raindbow fladConsidering my mom’s deep concern that artistic renderings of Jesus might not show his gender presentation strictly enough within the confines of the rigid gender binary, perhaps I should not have been surprised by her reaction to my coming out.

To express her subtle displeasure at my announcement, she ripped up my birth certificate and sent it to me. This was both inconvenient and annoying because she destroyed the certified copy.

My mom cannot remember this incident but apparently she was not first parent to use this method of communication. When I went to the county vital statistics office to have my birth certificate replaced, the clerk looked at me, then looked at the pieces, then stamped a form that granted me a free expedited replacement.

“We get a lot of that,” he said, nodding with his chin at the pieces, “from people who look like you.”

I complained to my therapist that my mom was being passive aggressive.

“No,” she corrected, “that’s aggressive aggressive.”


Kelli-Dunham-aka-Sister-Mercy[When I was nun, during Holy Week] We also spent the week cleaning our already spotless convent. As we scrubbed the underside of a sink with a toothbrush, wiped imaginary dust from the doorjambs and disinfected the ceilings, Sister Milagro would ask “When we see things are neat and orderly, what does it remind us of?”

It reminded me of obsessive-compulsive disorder but it turns out the right answer was “God.”

I was continually confused by Sister Milagro’s questioning. It felt like I was the perpetual losing contestant on the “Who Wants To Be A Living Saint” game show. In retrospect, I would have done okay if I’d learned to rotate three answers: “God,” “The Virgin Mary” and “Because I suck as a human being.”


[When I was 19 I dropped out of college and went to volunteer in Haiti at a school for kids with disabilities] The first week I taught the kids to make paper airplanes, which they immediately used to pelt each other in the head. Considering the limited supplies and my even more limited knowledge of arts and crafts, it was probably one of my most successful lessons.

I learned Kreyol on the job, from the kids. I recommend this method of instruction if you want to learn a language both very quickly and very badly. Whenever I asked the kids how to say something, they would always pick the most vulgar word that more or less meant was I was saying, often passing off fully disgusting idioms as if they were sacred Haitian proverbs.

Occasionally the kids, bored with being uncompensated Kreyol instructors, would tell me that a word or phrase meant something very different than what it actually did. This led to some rather interesting situations, for example, when I went to a small café beside the school and thought I was asking for a “cold coke” when in reality I was asking-apparently in a rather vulgar way-to see a private part of the waiter’s male anatomy. That same week, when I was attempting to quell the mass chaos that was erupting among the children as we practiced for the school play I thought I was saying “Everyone please listen.” I actually said (much to the children’s delight) “Everyone please spit.”

They of course, complied.

Even now, more than 20 years later, occasionally an adult will blanch at my choice of vocabulary. I’ve learned to immediately backtrack “I’m sorry, I learned Kreyol from children. Could you please tell me the more polite way to say that?”

My friend [who hooked me up with the volunteer spot] not been wrong when she said they “desperately needed” volunteers. The kids, who mostly came in from provinces to the only school that would take kids with orthopedic disabilities, were very overcrowded in their dorms and and very bored. After 3.30 pm , when classes were done, it was not unusual to turn the corner and find two kids, each hopping on one foot while they attempted to beat the other with a removed prosthetic leg (hence, the hopping). These were not titanium false legs made for running in the Olympics, they were heavy duty wood prostheses appropriate for village life and climbing up the side of deforested mountains. I had major respect for how tough these kids were, but this was not a safe activity.

Providing recreation was almost a defensive act.


C-PICTURE-Heather-pink-chemo-e1356308148470[When Heather, my first partner, was very sick, I was grossly oversolicitious] Heather had pretty effective ways of communicating that she did not want me quite so far up her ass. For example, one day when she was getting chemo at the outpatient clinic I was fussing around, getting her graham crackers and tea she didn’t ask for, and finally, when she fell asleep, I rubbed her hand and said in what I thought was a soothing voice “it’s okay, I’m right here, you’re doing great.”

Heather opened one eye and said “what the fuck are you, the chemo whisperer?”

Another time she had changed pain medications and because of confusion with dosages, had taken what seemed to me to be a dangerously high amount. She was very sedated and I slept on the couch and tiptoed in to check on her frequently. Clearly she thought it was too frequently, because at one point as soon as I took a few steps into her room, I saw that her eyes were wide open and her chest was not moving. I ran to the bed, started to shake her and said “Heather, Hea-” Just then she grabbed me by the shoulders and said “gotcha!”

It took me probably five minutes to catch my breath, and she was overcome with giggles the entire time, clearly taken by her own cleverness. I stared her down. “That’s never going to happen again, right?”

She winked at me. “Oh now there can only be one comic in the family?”


Planning the Funeral

Heather is the kind of person who wants every detail of her funeral planned in advance. When we are finished, I am crying.

She hugs me and says “It will be no fun, when I’m done.”

And then adds “How’s that for Dr. Suess meets Elizabeth Kubler Ross?”

All These Tests

You know the dream you have, the dream where you’re panicking because you’re at school and you have a test, but you haven’t been to class all semester?

I feel like that a lot.

Like all of life is a test I didn’t study for.

Heather died at home, and once the hospice nurse declared the death, I called the funeral director to come pick her body up.

Three hours later they still hadn’t showed

I called again.

The funeral director said “Oh were you done with the body.”

I stuttered. “What. We. Um. Oh. Um.”

What were we supposed to be doing with the body?

My friend Stacy said “We kept expecting the grown ups to show up.”

Turns out we are the grown ups.

I Have the Raw Material For A Practical Joke But No Ideas For Completion

What am I supposed to do with all these Amnesty International return address labels


with my dead lover’s name?

A-TRAIN-IMAGEEveryone Cries on the A Train

I cry a lot on the A train, but, I am noticing, so does everyone else.

I am an aggressive cry-er though.

If someone stares, I say “what, ya never saw a bulldyke cry in public before?”

And then add

“Well stick around, because there’s about 20 more minutes just like this.”

I Am Visiting My Grief Counselor

I am visiting my grief counselor at the Cancer Resource Center. Her services are free because Heather died of cancer.

If Heather had been hit by a bus, I guess I would be paying out of pocket.

I am sobbing. For a very long time.

My grief counselor says “it doesn’t seem like you are having any trouble accessing your emotions.”

Free or not, sometimes I want to punch my grief counselor in the head.