I don’t want kids, so why would I get into books on homosexual parenting?

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I don’t want children. Except for a few months from the time of my first nephew’s birth, when I thought, Hmmm maybe – I never wanted children. While some people always know for sure that they want or do not want children, my desire not to have my own has not always been absolute; It is waxed and has diminished over the years. These days, he’s very dismissive, disinterested, never at all. Ten years ago, it was a softer refusal – because it’s not in the plan, but I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. Now, in my late thirties, I have settled comfortably into a life without my children, a life full of siblings and children of dear friends. I hope my life will continue to be full of children. I would love to be an aunt. I have no interest in being a parent.

However, I can’t get enough books on fatherhood. I’ve never met a strange paternity diary that I didn’t want to read. I am constantly looking for it. It’s not just that I find her fascinating, informative, beautiful and poignant. There is just something about parenting books that makes me feel visible. Sometimes they feel like they’re written just for me, although that’s not the case objectively – they talk about experiences I’ll never have, and I don’t Wants to have. I know this, however, every time I pick up one of these books, I get a shiver of appreciation. I feel at ease right away.

I initially felt this intense sense of connection while reading Maggie Nelson’s classic strange book Argonauts. Felt it again with Chris Malcolm Belk’s wonderful memoir TThe natural mother of the childOne of my favorite books of 2021. Recently I felt it while reading a book-length article by Julita Singh breaks.

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

For most of my teens and twenties, I equated motherhood with a loss of character. All of popular culture and the media it has consumed – books, movies, television – have portrayed mothers as selfless beings dedicated to their children above all else. Happy, heterosexual housewives. Or housewives of the severely heterosexual. As heroic, angelic, infinite, willing to sacrifice their own needs, every time, for the needs of their children. Or as monsters to leave their children. You know the metaphor: A father leaves his children which is sad but what do you expect? My mom leaves her kids and suddenly she’s out of tolerance. All this terrified me – I could not imagine anything worse. If having children means losing myself, I don’t want any part of it.

Furthermore, outside of my extended family, I have seen very few gay parents. I had no idea what was possible. I grew up thinking about parenthood in the very narrow sense – the terms of a nuclear family. Even after years of rejecting the idea that there’s only one way to have a family, even after years of celebrating all the glorious ways my friends made queer families and became parents – well, extreme white patriarchy leaves its mark on all of us.

It’s clear to me, looking back, why books about fatherhood made me feel so lonely. I felt like I was missing out on some innate human experience that everyone but me wanted to have. I felt like I was wrong for not wanting to. There was no version of fatherhood that I could understand or relate to in the novels I loved, anywhere on TV, or in my favorite movies. I felt there was only one choice, and it wasn’t the one 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 decipher this desire from the world in which we live. It is with this conflicting and complex understanding that the books about fatherhood have entered my life. This is why they feel so alive to me: reading them is a kind of healing.

Books about queer parenting don’t make me feel wrong or alone. They make room for me. They don’t make me want to be a parent, but they do allow me to imagine what kind of parent I might become. Singh writes about the queer family she built with her father, a dear friend with whom she shares life and duplexes, but not a romantic relationship. Belc writes with great detail about the joys and challenges of LGBT parenting and, more broadly, creating a queer family. ArgonautsIn many ways, it is a book about same-sex parenting itself, about rejecting narrow heterogeneous ideas about pregnancy, childbirth, the body, desire, home, and partnership. All these parenting experiences, all these iterations of the gay family, read 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 her amazing collection of articles Tomboyland, Melissa Valvino has a great article about choosing not to have children, and the ways in which society doesn’t make room for grief over that choice. It is one of my favorite articles of all time. You write how, if you don’t want children, it is almost impossible to express any sadness about it, because then people will immediately assume that you do want children after all and will try to tell you “it’s never too late”. In fact, it’s much more chaotic and subtle than that. I don’t want children. I’m not sad about it – but sometimes I do sad about the life I might be living with the kids.

Reading books on parenting allows me to sit with this sadness, grief over the unchosen path. At the same time, these books open up new possibilities in my life. They offer visions of a future in which parenthood will be extensive and infinite. They give me hope. They celebrate beautiful networks of home, kinship, belonging, and care that make me intuitive. They make room for space that a lot of contemporary parenting discourse doesn’t provide: a space for me not wanting kids, a space for me to change my mind, a space for me to celebrate not having children in my life, a space for me to grieve, a space for me to conceive and build my own family.

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