'A Family by Any Other Name' explores queer relationships

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What does "family" mean to you? The new anthology, A Family by Any Other Name, asks this question and focuses on the perspectives of queer relationships and families. These personal essays discuss stories on coming out, same-sex marriage, adopting, having biological kids, polyamorous relationships, families without kids, divorce and dealing with the death of a spouse, as well as essays by straight writers about having a gay parent or child. 

Editor of the collection, Bruce Gillespie, spoke with one of the book's contributors, Sara Graefe, who is a Vancouver-based playwright, screenwriter and editor. Her essay is called "Rare Species."

How did you find out about this project?

I first heard of this project through the queer literary/family grapevine. Caitlin Crawshaw, my former student and widely published non-fiction writer, saw the call for submissions on a queer family list-serve in Edmonton while pregnant. She beamed the info across the Rockies to Vancouver, knowing that I'd been writing a lot on the topic of queer parenthood on my blog, Gay Girls Make Great Moms. She and her partner had started following my blog while trying to conceive and, as queer mamas-to-be, found my posts inspirational and affirming.

Why did you decide to contribute? How did you decide what to write about?

I knew right away that I wanted to contribute, because as a queer mother and writer, the book's subject matter is near and dear to my heart. A bit of backstory: when my son was born, I experienced a bout of what I now jokingly call "post-partum writer's block." I didn't write a word for well over a year. In retrospect, I'm sure the sleep deprivation and the all-consuming demands of caring for a newborn had a lot to do with it. I found my way back "in" to my writing by participating in The Momoir Project, founded by journalist Cori Howard, editor of the anthology Between Interruptions: 30 Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood.

Cori ran a memoir workshop for mothers out of a Vancouver café. I would go each week and enjoy some adult time with like-minded literary moms. We'd talk, laugh and compare notes about our lives and our kids, and best of all, we'd take time out to write, documenting our intense, life-altering experiences as new parents. As the only lesbian in the group, I quickly noticed that I had a unique perspective on parenthood and family: all my experiences as a mother were filtered through a queer lens. This reinforced just how important it is for queer parents to tell our stories, because unless we do, our experiences remain unspoken and our families invisible. This spurred me to launch my queer "mommy blog," and then contribute an essay (an elaboration on my first-ever blog post) to the anthology.

Tell us a bit about yourself, both your life and your writing experience: have you written a lot before?

I've been a writer for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was always scribbling away in notebooks and making up stories. When I was in high school, I was the three-time winner of the National Arts Centre Young Playwrights Search, which effectively kick-started my career as a writer for theatre, film and television. My plays, which include the queer-themed Scribbles and Yellow on Thursdays, have been produced as far afield as Ottawa's National Arts Centre, Yukon's Nakai Theatre, the Sydney Opera House and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I spent five seasons as a staff writer on the Gemini and Leo award-winning CBC-TV series for youth, Edgemont, which was lauded by AfterEllen.com for its portrayal of Shannon, one of the first recurring lesbian teen characters on a network series.

I live in Vancouver with my wife, six-year-old son and two rambunctious black pugs. We make our home in a 1927 character house in the Commercial Drive area, a long-time lesbian enclave, meaning that our boy is just one of many kids at his neighbourhood school with two moms. I supplement my freelance work by teaching and mentoring emerging writers in the MFA Creative Writing Program at UBC.

Did writing about your own experiences prove challenging in any way?

It's always challenging to write about your own experiences, because you're revealing private, intimate details about yourself and your life to your reader. I'm always torn about what to include and what to leave out, in order to tell a compelling story that isn't too self-indulgent or overly exposing. With this particular essay, there was the added challenge of writing truthfully about other people, namely my wife and my young son, the two people who matter to me more than anything in the world. There was the added pressure, therefore, to get it right -- to tell my story with integrity, in a way that honours our lives without violating my family's privacy.

As I crafted this piece, I was mindful that my son might read it one day, when he's older, and that had a definite impact on the writing. I made sure that I created something he could read with pride, down the road. I also got my wife to vet each and every draft.

What did you get out of/take away from writing an essay for this collection?

It felt very powerful to compose this essay. On a personal level, it's always affirming to document and process my experiences as a queer, period. Having the opportunity to then transform these experiences into a story that can inform, inspire and affirm others is a real privilege. Every time I write publicly about my journey as a queer parent, be it on my blog or elsewhere, I feel as though I'm standing up not only for myself, but also for queer families everywhere. It's a real honour to be a part of A Family by Any Other Name, the first collection of its kind in Canada, and have my voice included amongst such diverse, powerful perspectives on queer relationships and family.

Do you have any new/upcoming projects you'd like readers to know about? 

I have a number of projects in the works. I currently have a new play for young audiences, Worry Wart, in development with Vancouver's Green Thumb Theatre.

It's a light-hearted show about anxiety geared for kids in kindergarten through grade seven. My son is now old enough to engage with the process and give me feedback on the script, so it's been a lot of fun; he's helped me craft my best jokes.

I'm also writing a feature-length screenplay, a lesbian romantic comedy called 6 Dates,which poses the following question: can lesbians take it slow, or is it inevitably the U-Haul on the second date?

Finally, I'm in the very early stages of an anthology project, a book-length collection of queer conception and adoption stories. If you're interested in contributing or want more information, please email me at sarageez[at]gmail[dot]com.

This interview originally appeared on Bruce Gillespie's blog and is reprinted with permission. 

Bruce Gillespie is an award-winning Canadian writer and editor and an assistant professor in the journalism program at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus. He has worked for Canadian Business and MoneySense, and his writing has appeared in a number of magazines and newspapers, including Canadian Geographic, Chatelaine, Financial Post Business Magazine, Applied Arts, Quill & Quire, and the National Post. Visit Bruce online at brucegillespie.com and follow him on Twitter at @bgillesp. 

A Family by Any Other Name will be released from TouchWood Editions April 2014.

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