(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.) As an LGBTQ parent, I sometimes feel like I’ve had to make things up as I go along. But Pride and Joy: A Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Parents, gives queer parents and parents-to-be a handy way to tap into the collective wisdom of many who have gone before. The new book, by Sarah and Rachel Hagger-Holt, offers stories, advice, and insight not only on starting a family, but also on navigating the years to follow.
The book is not meant to be a manual, however, the authors tell us, but rather “an invitation to join a conversation.” They hope that the stories in it “will spark moments of recognition,” help readers find solutions to their own dilemmas, and convey that we’re all part of a community.
The Hagger-Holts are themselves raising two children, ages six and eight, in the U.K. Rachel, a clinical psychologist and Sarah, who works in charity communications, have already published one book together, a guide for living as an out Christian. For their new and non-denominational work, they interviewed over 70 LGBT parents, their grown children, sperm donors, prospective parents, and others across the U.K. and Ireland to provide a range of perspectives, anecdotes, and advice. And despite its British and Irish roots, most of the book is broadly applicable to LGBT parents in the U.S., too.
The first section covers starting a family, beginning with how people have decided to do so in the first place. Even the chapters about specific options—adoption/fostering, sperm banks, surrogacy, known donors, and straight relationships—are less about the mechanics and more about sharing insights on why people chose that option and what it was like for them.
Part Two, “Coming Out as a Family,” includes choosing names for parents and donors, telling extended family about your plans to parent (and navigating what could be varied reactions), responding to questions from medical and social service professionals as well as from other parents, and being an LGBT family in the school system. (Best section heading: “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re on the PTA.”)
A third section explores “Creating New Forms of Family,” and the importance (or not) of biological connection, gender roles and expectations, being out as a parent, and relationships with co-parents, donors, birth parents, and others.
The final part looks at life changes that some LGBT families may face, such as gender transition, divorce, and new relationships, and then turns to ways of maintaining our own LGBT identities as parents. It wraps up with a chapter about talking with our children about sometimes tough topics like sex and relationships, prejudice, diversity, “and what it means for them to be part of an LGBT family, helping them to be confident in their own story and in sharing it with others.”
Several “special feature” essays also take in-depth looks at additional topics like cross-cultural parenting, seeking asylum as an LGBT family, being an ally to LGBT parents, and choosing not to parent.
The book is consistently encouraging but not saccharine, balancing practical tips with stories that cast light on the emotional aspects of being an LGBT parent. The Haggar-Holts do a good job pulling together the diverse opinions and experiences of their interviewees, but are not afraid to offer their own insights, too. In talking with children about LGBT people and relationships, for example, they observe that this isn’t a matter of sex; instead, “We’re telling them a story about how much they are loved, wanted and surrounded by people who care for them.”
Pride and Joy is a welcome addition to the small canon of guidebooks for LGBT parents, most of which (like Stephanie Brill’s The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy, and Birth, Rachel Pepper’s The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians, and Eric Rosswood’s recent Journey to Same-Sex Parenthood) focus on starting a family rather than raising one, and do not fully include transgender or bisexual parents. Arlene Istar Lev’s The Complete Lesbian and Gay Parenting Guide is probably closest in covering more than just how to start, but like Brill and Pepper’s work is now over a decade old. And Michael Shelton’s more recent Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods, feels less like a guidebook and more like a survey of the state of LGBT families in 2013.
The Haggar-Holts, in contrast, offer a broader look across the family lifecycle and the spectrum, even including several bisexual parents in different-sex relationships, as well as trans and genderqueer parents. They acknowledge the need for bisexual and transgender people to sometimes find their own spaces. They also wisely include insights from adults with LGBT parents.
Some might argue that a cross-spectrum book isn’t necessary; that each part of the spectrum has its own specific concerns on the way to and through parenthood. While that may be true to some extent, a cross-spectrum book also shows that we have many things in common; that some of us sit in multiple or changing places on the spectrum; and that we can learn much from each other to enhance both our own parenting and our ability to support others in their journeys.
The book will likely appeal most to new LGBT parents or LGBT people considering parenthood, but even those of us with a few years of experience under our belts will find much of value in this bouquet of stories, tips, and reflections about the grand adventure that is being an LGBT parent.
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