Book about LGBTQ fam­i­lies doesn’t shy away from hard is­sues


AND RE­FLEC­TIONS ON GROWING UP WITH LGBTQ+ PAR­ENTS edited by Sadie Ep­stein-Fine and Makeda Zook (Deme­ter), 208 pages. $29.95 pa­per. Rat­ing: NNNNN

Given that ho­mo­pho­bia isn’t ex­actly a thing of the past and that queer fam­i­lies are still a rel­a­tively new phe­nom­e­non that need “ex­plain­ing,” you’d think Spawn­ing Gen­er­a­tions, a col­lec­tion of es­says by peo­ple brought up in

LGBTQ fam­i­lies, would be full of tri­umphant rah-rah tales of how glo­ri­ous it is to have LGBTQ par­ents. You’d be wrong.

This ex­cep­tional col­lec­tion has its share of ref­er­ences to over­com­ing strug­gle, but it’s also full of nu­ance, hard is­sues, painful emo­tions and am­biva­lence, along­side a well­spring of in­spi­ra­tion.

Thanks to the ex­pert work of rel­a­tively novice edi­tors Makeda Zook and Sadie Ep­stein-Fine, the col­lec­tion scores on many lev­els. Every piece is dif­fer­ent and, be­cause Zook and Ep­stein-Fine didn’t or­ga­nize them based on pre­dictable themes – be­ing bul­lied, say, or life with gay dads – you never know what you’re go­ing to get next.

There are sto­ries about hav­ing a trans dad, fam­i­lies with mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions of les­bians and mul­ti­ple queer par­ents, for that mat­ter. There’s lots of in­spi­ra­tion – not the least of which is a gob­s­mack­ingly good opener by nineyear-old Liam Sky – but not one of the es­says is ick­ily cloy­ing.

In fact, the two agreed right away that they wanted to dis­rupt the nar­ra­tive of what they call “shame-to-tri­umph”: kid har­bours a se­cret, lets it out, gets bul­lied, strug­gles but over­comes and lives hap­pily every af­ter. They both had been the equiv­a­lent of poster girls for how ev­ery­thing’s just fine in queer fam­i­lies. Ep­stein-Fine in par­tic­u­lar has aired this con­cern pub­licly, that if she weren’t per­fect she’d give queer fam­i­lies a bad name.

“As queer spawn, we’ve been re­pro­duc­ing that shame-to-tri­umph nar­ra­tive since we were kids,” Ep­stein-Fine says. “We’ve been vo­cal about how chal­leng­ing it is to re­pro­duce that nar­ra­tive – it’s dam­ag­ing to have to pre­tend that per­fec­tion.”

“One of the truths is that things are more com­pli­cated, it’s more messy and a lot less lin­ear,” de­clares Zook.

“And as peo­ple who’ve been there and done that,” says Ep­stein-Fine, “we wanted to hear new queer spawn sto­ries.”

They came rolling in, thanks in large mea­sure to the Amer­i­can or­ga­ni­za­tion COLAGE (formerly an acro­nym for Chil­dren of Les­bian and Gays Ev­ery­where, but now just the word it­self) and to the fact that there has been so lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for queer spawn to speak their minds.

When I heard that Zook and Ep­stenFine were co-edit­ing a col­lec­tion of es­says, my first re­ac­tion was, “Re­ally? That must have been some process.”

I’ve known both of them all of their lives – lit­er­ally, since I’m con­nected to their les­bian moth­ers – and you couldn’t find two more dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Ep­stein-Fine rev­els in risk – she’s a stage artist, in­tern artis­tic direc­tor at Night­wood The­atre – and is con­stantly ex­plod­ing with en­ergy, an­swer­ing ques­tions spon­ta­neously. Zook, now a health pro­mo­tion and ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer at Ac­tion Canada for Sex­ual Health and Rights, is more cau­tious. Her re­sponses are thor­ough, mea­sured, as if every word counts.

Both talk in­tensely about how over­whelmed they were by how raw and vul­ner­a­ble the con­trib­u­tors be­came in the process of craft­ing their sto­ries. The book in­cludes an essay by Mered­ith Fen­ton, who dis­cov­ers her mother’s a les­bian only when she comes out her­self. An­other, by Kimmi Lynne Moore, has a sex­ual abuse com­po­nent. But Ep­stein-Fine, to bor­row the ti­tle of an­other iconic fem­i­nist col­lec­tion, still ain’t sat­is­fied.

“We see a gap in sto­ries about In­dige­nous queer spawn. I think we could have dug fur­ther. We also don’t have writ­ers who are trans and non­bi­nary them­selves.”

Their hope is that the book will help cre­ate com­mu­nity among queer spawn and a sense of his­tory for all read­ers.

“For queer spawn, it’s find­ing com­mu­nity and see­ing them­selves re­flected,” ex­plains Zook. “For all queer au­di­ences, the hope is that they will ques­tion some of the ways they might be un­know­ingly pres­sur­ing their kids into be­ing a poster child. We need to chal­lenge queer par­ents to nav­i­gate that, to start talk­ing about it and to for­give them­selves for not be­ing per­fect as par­ents. It’s an open in­vi­ta­tion for us to be more gen­tle with our­selves.”

“What I love about the book is that it shows our his­tory,” say Ep­stein-Fine. “Most peo­ple have the idea that queer spawn were born in the 90s. It’s ex­cit­ing to think that peo­ple will say, ‘Oh shit, peo­ple were deal­ing with this in the 50s.’”

“Some­times I feel like a science ex­per­i­ment,” Zook de­clares. “That’s the way the gen­eral pub­lic sees us. There’s a kind of look­ing in on us with a het­ero cis-nor­ma­tive gaze: how are we go­ing to turn out, or giv­ing us all these psy­cho­log­i­cal as­sess­ments.

“We don’t need to rely on re­searchers or jour­nal­ists or our par­ents. We have our own voices.” Spawn­ing Gen­er­a­tions launches at Glad Day Book­shop (499 Church) on June 18 at 7 pm. su­ | @su­sang­cole

“As queer spawn, we’ve been re­pro­duc­ing that shameto-tri­umph nar­ra­tive since we were kids.”

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