Changing perspectives on the family

March 15, 1995

Beyond Blood: writings on the lesbian and gay family
Louise Wakeling & Margaret Bradstock, eds
Blackwattle Press, Sydney, 1995. 151 pp. $14.95 (pb)
Reviewed by Kath Gelber

Blackwattle Press promotes itself as "Australia's foremost gay and lesbian literary publisher". Its achievements in the last couple of years seem to bear this out. It has published an array of fiction, short stories and faction covering a wide selection of gay and lesbian interests, which are eminently readable by a wider audience as well.

Beyond Blood attempts to provide a more comprehensive overview of gay and lesbian families than the sound bite garnered from the International Year of the Family coverage. It tells the stories of mothers who have had to come out to their children, their children's perspectives on homophobia, and gay men who choose to donate to lesbian friends who wish to start a family, and it takes on some of the theoretical debates around difference as well.

It's an ambitious task, and some of the articles are a little pedestrian in style. Nevertheless, it's an interesting collection, particularly if the reader is entirely new to the idea that families can come in all shapes and sizes.

For those of us who have gay or lesbian friends already involved in the family thing, it doesn't provide much that's new, but it is a heart-warming and real account of many of the issues to be faced. It also fills a yawning gap in terms of publications which recognise and therefore validate the role gays and lesbians play in their own families — however they define them.

It's not surprising a collection like this should emerge in the wake of the IYF propaganda, and attempts by progressives to broaden the definition of "family" in the context of that year. As is recognised in the introduction, "we've come a long way" in the last few years in challenging traditional notions of what defines a family. However, individuals involved in lesbian and gay families still face homophobic persecution, for example at school.

The collection deserves praise for its refreshing honesty. "The opposition point of view gets no house-room here", the editors declare, referring to the bigots who refuse to move beyond normative notions of husband, mother and 2.3 kids as constituting the bedrock of society.

In the end, the message here is that love, commitment and communication are what constitute a "family", in the sense that these ingredients provide for healthy relationships between human beings that provide a nurturing environment in which people can grow, develop and become active participants in creating their own society. This is a powerfully positive message when we remember the extreme levels of dysfunction apparent in contemporary "normal" society.

The collection does not try to move beyond redefining "family". It takes the notion of family as a given, and explores themes within those parameters. This begs for the production of another, future anthology, one which explores beyond "two mothers" or sperm-donor ideas to investigate the possibilities for an altogether new kind of structure within which human relationships can develop.

Perhaps as the debate around family continues, such possibilities will emerge. In the meantime, Beyond Blood is important food for thought.

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