(Originally published in my Mombian newspaper column.)
This past year saw a number of new books for and about families with LGBT parents. Here are some favorites.
First, several memoirs each showed a different aspect of LGBT families.
Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan, professor of English at Colby College and a New York Times bestselling author, tells of Boylan’s experiences as a mother, father, and in between. This is not a story about the details of her gender transition, however (which she has shared elsewhere), but rather about her family relationships. Boylan’s brilliance is that she not only shows us her particular experience as a transgender parent, but also helps us to reflect upon the whole venture of parenting in general.
Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father, tells of her childhood and young adulthood in 1970s and 80s San Francisco with her single gay father, Steve Abbott, an author, editor, and leading figure in the New Narrative poetry movement. After he died of AIDS-related complications in 1992, Alysia began reading his journals, and eventually interwove them with her own memories to create a compelling tale that is part history, part memoir, and part coming-of-age story.
Candace Walsh’s Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity, is another coming-of-age story, in which food forms a metaphor for her personal life. Walsh begins with the stories and foods of her Cuban and Greek grandparents, and leads us through her growing up, failed relationships, struggling career, drug and bulimia problems, marriage and parenthood with a man, and finally, divorce and falling in love with a woman. This is a rare lesbian mom memoir that isn’t about a lesbian couple trying to get pregnant. It isn’t primarily “about” being a lesbian mom — the “mom” part comes late and the “lesbian” part later — but reminds us that we come to LGBT parenthood in a variety of ways.
In a more traditional “lesbians have a baby” vein, Cheryl Dumesnil’s Love Song For Baby X: How I Stayed (Almost) Sane on the Rocky Road to Parenthood is a memoir that shows her background as an award-winning poet in its careful details, metaphors, and self-reflections. While Dumesnil’s struggle with infertility provides the main theme of the book, the marriage equality fight in California — and her role as participant, chronicler, and media subject — also looms large.
Two books took a broad look at queer families past and present.
Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods, by Michael Shelton, is a good book with a bit of an identity problem. The subtitle, “What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods,” makes it seem like a parenting handbook. While it does contain some actionable information for LGBT parents, however, it feels less like a handbook and more like a readable synthesis on the state of LGBT families in our country today, discussing our racial and economic diversity as well as specific challenges related to coming out, schools, health and mental health care, recreation and leisure, religious institutions, and the legal system. The book should be valuable to allied policy makers, teachers, doctors, and youth and faith leaders as well as to LGBT families ourselves.
Daniel Winunwe Rivers’ Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and their Children in the United States Since the Second World War shines a needed light on the earliest out lesbian and gay parents. His coverage is sketchier for more recent years, but his book demonstrates both that we have a longer history than many think, and that we parents have helped shape the direction of the LGBT rights movement as a whole. [I will have a fuller review of this in another venue shortly; stay tuned.]
The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year, by Dawn Dais, is a funny, no-holds-barred look at the early days of motherhood. Dais, a lesbian mom, uses her own experience as a jumping-off point, but weaves in the perspectives and advice of 16 lesbian and straight friends. This is not a reference manual for raising an infant, nor a memoir, but rather a hilarious, anecdote-driven, lesbian-inclusive guide for biological moms (and their partners) who are realizing their new bundle didn’t come with an instruction manual.
Finding Our Families: A First-of-Its-Kind Book for Donor-Conceived People and Their Families, by Wendy Kramer, founder of the Donor Sibling Registry, and Naomi Cahn, a professor of law at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, offers detailed and sensitive advice for parents and teen/grown children on both practical and emotional issues. While not exclusive to LGBT families, it addresses areas where we might have particular concerns—noting, for example, that fears of an unknown donor making a legal claim to the children may be greater for LGBT parents than for others.
Similarly, Grandmothering: Real Life in Real Families, by public health professional, midwife, and grandmother Becky Sarah, is a general guide that includes a sensitive and positive discussion of being a grandmother to a child who has gay or lesbian parents. (Alas, there is nothing there on being a lesbian grandmother.)
Whether you’re looking for personal stories, practical advice, or a bit of history about LGBT families, this year gives us plenty of reasons to curl up with a good book.
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