A Family By Any Other Name
If there’s one constant running through the wide-ranging stories in the new anthology, A Family By Any Other Name: Exploring Queer Relationships, it is the words of editor Bruce Gillespie in the introduction: “Family isn’t one set thing.”
In the book, families are ‘any or all of the above’ type units. They may or may not be connected by biology, may or may not include children, and can consist of several dozens of people — but are always connected by love. The stories are beautiful, without shying away from intelligent critique. They are by turns tragic and joyful.
A book about love will include the sweet moments, and this book has many. Nathan Burgoine writes about gaining a whole family through his relationship with his husband, who has a lesbian sister. On their wedding day, Burgoine’s proud father-in-law speech begins, “Not many parents are blessed with two gay children.” Was there ever a wedding speech worthy of publication?! So few queer folk get to hear the word ‘blessing’ in relation to themselves — especially from a family member, no matter how accepting that person may be.
Geographical borders stretch. The shared mother-son essay by Sebastian Charge and Noreen Fagan is an account of their family’s struggles with immigration, homophobia and heterosexual divorce as they move from Zambia to North Carolina (where things are the hardest) and finally settle in Ottawa. Charge tells the story of becoming a counsellor at Camp Ten Oaks, for kids from queer families. Working there validated his struggles with homophobia and shame: “If I had a place like [Camp Ten Oaks] growing up,” he writes, “I don’t know how I would have turned out but I do know I would not have been ashamed of my family all those years.”
The book also demonstrates how queer folk have liberated the term ‘family’ to suit our needs. We don’t take family for granted, ever. We create it.
And so Dorianne Emmerton describes her relationship to her partner’s child — born during their relationship — who she isn’t co-parenting but whom she loves deeply, and has integrated into her life through careful negotiation. Emmerton is not as she writes, “some queer version of a deadbeat dad,” but has found a way to help raise a child — knowing full-time parenthood is not for her. She knows also she is better off because of the little person in her life.
There are moments of pain. Jason Dale writes about the terrifying, sudden seizure of his baby daughter by Children’s Aid officials when her adoption falls through at the precise moment his own father becomes seriously ill in hospital. It’s a painful story he tells, and he imagines a world where “every parent was vetted so thoroughly before conceiving or raising children.” Though the daughter never comes home, the essay concludes with a charming scene from their present-day life: Dale and his husband in their small town with three little ones, plus the family dog.
The essays in A Family By Any Other Name are stories of choosing family, of liberation and of acceptance, and all the ways that through work and love we are better off through this thing that we define as family. The book is the fifth in a series exploring the changing nature of family in the 21st century, from TouchWood Editions.
A Family by Any Other Name: Exploring Queer Relationships
* available at your local independent bookseller; also available as an eBook.
Meri Perra lives in Toronto with her partner, two daughters, tiny cat and massive cargo bike.