Could It Be Queer? After plodding through debates on assimilation, heteronormativity and homonationalism, what can we make of these new stories and new families?

Image sourced from GQ

My last post on the hauntings of past trauma in queer lives that lingers in the depictions of queer futures imagined through texts like Born of Man and Could it be Magic? is here picked up again. After using an antisocial critique to break down these imaginings, I now want to approach the queer families that these texts point to in order to consider this idea that a return to the family will, for queer folks, always be a return with a change. To ignore the past is to see through ghosts.

If the 1980s and ‘90s saw a “gayby boom,” Gamson notes that recent years have seen further growth regarding this phenomenon.1 He goes on to say that reproductive technologies and assisted reproduction have increased these opportunities for “messing up” more traditional forms of kinship (33). But “messing up” the status quo has always been a key function of queerness. In interviews with queer parents involved in various family formations, Laura V. Heston finds that one of the most prominent, recurring themes is the “fluidity” of families.2 They’re neither fixed nor static. While queer kinship has historically functioned in this manner, the introduction of these formations into biological families is more recent.3

As noted in an earlier post, the nuclear family once functioned as an institution that both policed and excluded queer folks. But the nuclear family itself (referring to a heterosexual man and woman, married to one another, living together, with biological children; male breadwinner, female caregiver) is itself a myth.4nnovations outside legal and culturally normative boundaries show that people raising children aren’t waiting for permission to queer their families, they are doing it and forging a queer future in the process” (261). In this equation, bringing queer folks into a traditionally heteronormative structure doesn’t straighten out the queers; it queers the institution.

And while the changes going on within this institution are, as we have seen, bringing about new opportunities for queer futurity, Gamson calls for new origin stories as well, in order to communicate these narratives (4). We shouldn’t be surprised, he says, in discovering this new drive “to piece together the details of how, if not in the old-fashioned way, these new families came to be. The old origin stories no longer hold” (10). Bookending his work with this idea, he concludes on the importance of these narratives: “Stories help make things make sense. They put things in an order. This is how it happened. They are also the stuff from which identities are built. Creation stories, in particular, are about selfhood” (204). What Gamson points to here is the importance of phenomenology in our understanding of family, and these concerns surrounding how we came to be have always played an important role in understanding queer identities.5 Thus, in creating new origin stories, this element is magnified. How, then do these phenomenological questions regarding queer origins interact with the narratives about queer family making?

This is the question that the novels we’ve been examining help us to imagine. In a text like Born of Man, which portrays layers of queer kinship—from protective groups of gay male friends (the “two hundred screaming faggots” ready to attack Henno “like a flock of furious gulls” if he were to strike Kev, p. 41) to the intergenerational affair that the narrator likens to parenthood6 Then I moved into thinking it was the way the part of being gay that’s kept in the cupboard until last finally comes out: parenthood! Those boys turn into your own sons, with you their almighty missing father. Without that moffies are doomed to extinction” (142).]—what a text like this illustrates is that parenthood is only another dimension, the next step, in the history of modes by which queer folks create family—modes in which queer communities are already so well-versed.

As Montegary concludes her own text on queer families, “[T]he queer family project of trying to transform our material and discursive conditions must aim not just to sustain but, crucially, to spawn and strengthen more perverse ways of being, belonging, and building families” (182). While new opportunities are spawned through surrogacy or built through biology, viewing these modes through the larger history and network of queer family making allows us to come away from these projects with new insight. And while many theorists have warned that families are not “queered” automatically, this history certainly lends itself toward that trajectory.

  1. According to Gamson, “new family forms have become more common in recent decades and their existence harder to deny” (10).
  2. Laura V. Heston. “Utopian Kinship?: The Possibilities of Queer Parenting.” A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopias, edited by Angela Jones, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp. 245-268, p. 258.
  3. Returning again to Gamson, he acknowledges the legitimacy of non-biological familial ties that have often driven queer kinship: “One of the contributions of queer family making has been to push forward the claim that ‘families we choose’ are just as authentic as those tied by ‘blood’ and to demote biology and genetics from their privileged place as detriments of kinship” (96).
  4. “To the degree that such a ‘nuclear’ family form ever existed,” states Gamson, “it was dominant only for a brief period and only for some people” (7). And with the increased forms that queer families take, this myth, which still pervades Western politics and the cultural imagination, has begun to be rewritten. In this way, queer parenting functions as a form of activism, where “heterosexual sex, and, therefore, heterosexuals” are eliminated “as a fundamental part of reproduction” (Heston 260). Under this lens, the assimilationist charge of antisocial theory misses its mark. As Heston states, “[I
  5. This is emphasized by Salomon in “Justification and Queer Method, or, Leaving Philosopohy” from Hypatia (2009).
  6. What is it with older men and younger?” the narrator asks. “Perhaps it’s our way of recapturing our youths, though there’s not much of mine I’d want to win back. […