by Anne Moore
Last week, I spoke at an event, ostensibly for undergraduates, called “This is What a Queer Family Looks Like.” The way it went was pretty simple–lots of GLBT faculty and staff spoke about their families, sometimes about their coming-out processes, how they got families, etc. I don’t know what I expected going in, but I hadn’t spent any time preparing. I talk about my own experience so much in front of big groups of people that I figured it would be a breeze. But when I got up, I realized that I didn’t have much to say at all about my family as a special rainbow unicorn–weirdly, my family often feels like the least queer thing about me. As an undergrad radical, I swore I’d never marry, and then I did. I assumed that I’d only have kids on my own, perhaps not trusting my ability to choose a partner, but here I am, married with a baby and having just placed on offer on a condo in the suburbs, worried about school districts, the whole deal. So sometimes I feel like the No Future folks are right, and that there’s something inevitably rightward-leaning about parenting, maybe especially gay parenting (I know this is an overly simplistic reading of that book, but I do think this is the vulgar seed of the central idea). With all this prevarication swirling around in my brain, my actual remarks were on the incoherent side, and weirdly self-involved, since I ended up talking more about my own coming-out process than about more concrete stuff like how Ariel and I got pregnant (unknown donor, in case you were wondering), or what it was like being a non-gestational parent.
What I tried to say was this: that, unlike a previous speaker, I had thought that coming out meant I would never have children, and I had certainly thought it meant I would never get married. I didn’t think I’d be alone forever, but I never envisioned that a queer relationship would lead to my being welcomed into another family the way I have been, or that my family of origin would prove as flexible as it has. The only couples among my parents’ four children this Christmas were queer—my younger sister brought her butch fiancé, and my older sister and brother are both single (divorced and widowed, respectively). I’d assumed that I’d find comfort with a family of choice, not my family of origin. This turned out to be true, but not in the way I’d expected, since my identity as a drug addict ultimately trumped my identity as a queer. We have lots of queer friends, but my Family of Choice is primarily made up of other people in recovery from addiction and trauma. When I came out, I assumed that so many doors had closed to me: social recognition, familial acceptance. In the wake of that presumed closing off of opportunities, lots of other things opened up: new ways of being in intimate relationships, new political possibilities. As a young queer, I took comfort in the idea that the things I’d always wanted had been misguided—that I’d been duped into wanting them. I’ve since turned back toward lots of those things I thought I’d left behind, and some of the consequences of that fact sit more easily with me than others.
I took comfort after the talk, as I often do, by thinking about Judith Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure, the book that saved my dissertation and my faith in the transformative power of queer theory. In it, she talks about the possibilities that open up in moments of failure—not in terms of redemption, but the opening up of new possibilities (although I have to fight hard against emphasizing redemption, what with all the Protestantism still up in here). Looking at history from the perspective of the losers is one of the central objects of feminism, and Halberstam extends that to how we think about rhetoric. What might it mean to let go of our attachment to theoretical “rigor”? To let ourselves explore half-baked ideas? So my hope is that my brief talk the other night might have created a rhetorical space for less ends-oriented narratives, especially around coming out. Maybe this focus on resolution (marriage, babies, etc.) is the thing that didn’t sit right about the event for me—it felt like a celebration of the gay marriage plot. And although my life right now might look like the happy ending of just such a plot (seriously, this condo in Arlington is so beautiful, I kind of can’t believe it), little feels resolved. As we all are, I’m still in the messy middle.