In 2013′s Blood, Marriage, Wine and Glitter, essayist and publisher S. Bear Bergman wrote about the myriad forms of family: the one you’re born into, the one you marry into, your community of conscience and your chosen ones. Five recent queer books untangle what family means today (with some helpful lessons for whatever your family might look like).
“Four’s a good number,” a character muses at the start of MP Boisvert’s novel about a polyamorous household. “Although we’re less a square than a triangle with a line extending from one of the corners.” Nevertheless, “the Family” (as they call themselves) in this romantic polygon is solid: There’s Camille, a trans woman, and her lover Gayle; Simon, who’s in a relationship with Alice; and Alice, who loves everyone. Then Alice decides to invite a fifth person into the Family’s Sherbrooke apartment, and everything changes. Critically acclaimed in its original French, The Fifth: A Love(s) Story (Dagger Editions, 144 pages) is translated by Monica Meneghetti.
Wendy and Eve want to have a baby. The year Paul turns 40, he agrees to his long-time friends’ request that he be their sperm donor. Paul will not be the baby’s father but he will be something to the child – what exactly that will be, he has to work out. Others in his chosen family are mulling similar questions over drinks in Montreal’s gay bars and parties at Provincetown’s beaches. Christopher DiRaddo’s latest novel, The Family Way (Esplanade Books, 418 pages), is about this journey of self-discovery in finding who we want to be to other people.
Early in his relationship with Tarn, Hasan saw in his mind’s eye the child that would one day be theirs. They choose surrogacy. Hasan Namir’s latest autobiographical poetry collection opens with the pure joy of calling forth his eventual son, Malek. Umbilical Cord (Book*hug Press, 96 pages) delves into the lows of (queer) parenthood – the fear after a preemie birth, the prejudice of immediate family and strangers, depression – but throughout, there is the high of the profound connection Namir feels with his child. “I didn’t have to wear a dress to be a mother,” he writes to Malek. “I am drawn to you the way the umbilical cord is a feeling.”
Some time around 2017 you may have come across the story of Trystan Reese, a pregnant trans man. Unless you read beyond the headlines, you may have missed that Reese’s first pregnancy was actually his third child. In contrast to other books here about gay couples’ very intentional family-making, Reese’s memoir, How We Do Family (The Experiment, 232 pages), recounts how he and his husband, Biff, became “accidental gay parents” long before they tried for a baby: Biff’s niece and nephew needed adopting. If the start of this family was accidental, the queer parenthood has been purposeful. How We Do Family has advice for queer and trans would-be parents on navigating legal and medical systems, as well as parents who want to rethink their family’s values.
Returning briefly to S. Bear Bergman’s work, his most recent non-fiction for adults is Special Topics in Being a Human (Arsenal Pulp Press, 272 pages) a how-to spin off of his advice column “Asking Bear.” Chapter topics include “How to Tell People Things They Very Probably Won’t Be Happy to Hear, at Least at First” and “How to Apologize (Properly, Not like a Republican Congressman).” Being a better person often involves taking a look at yourself. That can be hard, but Bergman is gentle with readers and Saul Freedman-Lawson’s illustrations throughout add an engaging, light touch. This is not a book specifically about family, but it will help you take better care of the people in your circle, including yourself.
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