I don’t want kids, so why am I so interested in gay parenting books?

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I don’t want children. With the exception of a few months around the time my first nephew was born, when I thought, hmm maybe “I never wanted children. While some people have always known for sure that they do or do not want children, my desire not to have my own children has not always been an absolute; it has waxed and diminished over the years. These days, it’s a vehement no, not interested, ever. Ten years ago it was a softer no – as in, it’s not in the plan, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out. Now, in my late thirties, I have settled comfortably into a life without my own children, a life full of nibbling and the children of dear friends. I hope my life will continue to be filled with kiddos. I love being an aunt. I have no interest in being a parent.

I can’t get enough parenting books, though. I’ve never come across a memoir on queer parenting that I didn’t want to read. I am constantly looking for them. It’s not just that I find them fascinating, informative, beautiful and moving. There’s something about queer parenting books that makes me feel like I’m being seen. Sometimes they feel like they’re written just for me, even though objectively they’re not—these are experiences I’ll never have, that I haven’t. want to have. I know it, and yet every time I pick up one of these books, I get a shiver of gratitude. I feel immediately at ease.

I first felt this intense sense of connection while reading Maggie Nelson’s queer classic The Argonauts. I felt it again with the beautiful memoirs of Kris Malcolm Belc Jthe natural mother of the childone of my favorite books of 2021. More recently I felt it while reading the essay of a book by Julietta Singh The breaks.

Why are these books so important to me? Why do they sometimes feel like lifesavers, like I’m drowning if I can’t read them?

For most of my teens and twenties, I equated motherhood with losing personality. All of the pop culture and media I consumed — books, movies, television — portrayed mothers as selfless beings devoted to their children above all else. As happy, heterosexual housewives. Or deeply unhappy heterosexual housewives. Like heroic, angelic, borderless, willing to sacrifice her own needs, every time, for the needs of her children. Or like monsters for leaving their children behind. You know the trope: Dad leaves his kids and it’s sad but what can you expect? Mom leaves her children and she is suddenly beyond forgiveness. All this terrified me, I couldn’t imagine worse. If having children meant losing me, I didn’t want to be part of it.

On top of that, outside of my own extended family, I saw very few gay parents. I had no idea what was possible. I grew up thinking of parenthood in the narrowest terms – nuclear family terms. Even after years of rejecting the idea that there’s only one way to start a family, even after years of celebrating all the glorious ways my friends made gay families and became parents – eh Well, white supremacist heteropatriarchy is leaving its mark on all of us.

It’s obvious to me, looking back, why the parenting books made me feel so alone. I felt like I was missing out on an innate human experience that everyone but me wanted to have. I felt like I was wrong not to. There was no version of parenthood that I could understand or relate to in the novels I loved or anywhere on TV or in my favorite movies. I felt like there was only one choice, and it wasn’t the choice I wanted. I am old enough now to know that my desire not to have children comes from somewhere deep within me, and also that it is impossible to disentangle this desire from the world in which we live. It is with this conflicted and complicated understanding that books on queer parenting entered my life. That’s why they seem so important to me: reading them is a kind of healing.

Queer parenting books don’t make me feel bad or alone. They make room for me. They don’t make me want to be a parent, but they allow me to imagine the kind of parent I could have become. Singh writes about the queer family she has built with her co-parent, a dear friend with whom she shares a life and a duplex, but no romantic connection. Belc writes with wonderful specificity about the joys and challenges of queer and trans parenting, and, more broadly, about creating a queer family. The Argonauts, in many ways, is a book about same-sex parenting itself, about rejecting narrow heteronormative ideas about pregnancy, birth, bodies, desire, home, partnership. All of these experiences of parenthood, all of these iterations of queer family, are readable to me. They may not be what I have or what I want, but they are close to what I have, and close to what I want.

In his superb collection of essays Tomboy Country, Melissa Faliveno has a brilliant essay on choosing not to have children and how society doesn’t allow for the heartbreak of that choice. It’s one of my favorite essays of all time. She writes that if you don’t want kids, it’s almost impossible to express sadness about it, because people will immediately assume you want kids after all and try to tell you “he doesn’t. it’s not too late”. In reality, it’s a lot messier and more nuanced than that. I don’t want children. I’m not sad about it, but I sometimes mourn the life I could have had with children.

Reading books about queer parenting allows me to sit with this grief, the grief of the path not chosen. At the same time, these books open up new possibilities in my life. They offer visions of a future in which parenthood is expansive and endless. They give me hope. They celebrate beautiful webs of home, kinship, belonging and caring that make intuitive sense to me. They make the space that so much contemporary discourse on parenting does not: a space for me not to want children, a space for me to change my mind, a space for me to celebrate my childlessness. and the children in my life, a space for me to mourn, a space for me to imagine and build my own queer family.

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