In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

Alternative family structures

So when I was growing up, I had an understanding: one would grow up, fall in love with someone of the opposite sex, marry him/her, have kids, and be happy. As I got older, this understanding was expanded to include the possibility of falling in love with someone of the same sex. These, as I understood it, were my options, along with the ever-popular dying alone and childless (it would’ve been childless for me, I’m not commenting on anybody else’s child-having preferences). The older I got, and the lesser my aptitude for romantic relationships was revealed to be, the more convinced I became that dying alone was my doom.

That’s actually not what has happened (yet, anyway). I have grown up, but I never fell in love with anybody, at least not in a way that stuck, and as yet I have not married (it seems less and less likely to happen, though I won’t rule it out). I live with my best friend and her husband and their child, my godson. I am pregnant with, I’ve just found out, a baby boy (if the kid is cis) and my best friend is due to deliver my wonderful goddaughter any minute now, actually. And we are a family.

Since this seems to confuse or arouse the interest of a good many people, let me just make it clear: I am not sleeping with anybody in my family constellation. That’s not the kind of relationship I’ve built my life around. This feels right to me, as I’ve always had very enduring, very intense best friendships, lasting for years. Of the best friends I’ve had since turning 13, one friendship ended when my friend’s parents very deliberately separated us by moving her out of state (they thought we were gay; we’re friends again now); one ended when we did drift apart after several years; one ended when my best friend died; and one is my best friend now. That’s not a bad track record. That’s not a bad kind of relationship to build a life or a family on. My sexual/romantic relationships though–one, when I was in my early twenties, lasted a year and a half. That’s the best I’ve ever done. More usually, they last 3-6 months and are long distance and fraught with anxiety and insecurity. That’s no way to raise a child. It’s really no way to be happy, either.

I feel like I’ve hit the family jackpot. I can be happy with the people I love best in the world, who love me best. We take care of each other. And the pressure is off, I can date or not date, and it has absolutely zero effect on my long-term family plans. I can have the best of both worlds–a loving, reliable family, and I can still sleep with cute, feckless young men on the side, if the opportunity arises.

I know another family trio, a polyamorous family, who are equally happy. And of course, middle-class white people are quite late to the party when it comes to non-nuclear family structures. The essential role of extended family in African-American communities, including family who are not blood kin, such as othermothers, is well documented. I first ran across the concept of othermothers in the work of Patricia Hill Collins, I believe Black Feminist Thought. And numerous cultures, including Native American ones, build family with and around people and relatives white people would term “extended” family.

These families are real and effective in doing all that families do–caring for each other, supporting each other, fighting with each other, raising children if children there be. But, like same-sex marriage in most of the US until the past couple years, they have no legal protections. People with resources and knowledge and money can see a lawyer and draw up a number of documents, none of which are iron-clad–co-parenting agreements, wills, stand-by guardianships, health-care proxies. But there is no recognized way to make somebody part of your family unless you marry them or adopt them. Even if you are family, there is no way for say, a sister and brother to legally protect a primary family they choose to make together. Why? We do we base our standard of family on sexual relationships between two people not otherwise related? Yes, reworking our definition of family would require reworking lots of things–how we apportion health insurance, for instance. But so what? The way we apportion health insurance in this country is pretty stupid anyway. What makes sexual/romantic relationships so special that they deserve recognition available to no other kinds of relationships? Or, to put it another way, what makes my decade-long bond with my best friend so much less deserving? If love, as we have said, makes a family, why are we making invidious distinctions among types of love and family bonds?

In defense of “bad” abortions

Most women don’t need to be told the story of a woman’s abortion (or two abortions) after forgetting to use birth control in the heat of the moment. Most of us know a woman who’s done that. About one in three women will be her. Statistically, several women reading this post at this moment have not just had an abortion, but have had a “bad” abortion. So they don’t need to read about someone else’s just to understand.

Banned Books Week: Your banned-kids’-book reading list (updated)

It’s Banned Books Week, celebrating books that are absolutely, objectively horrible and mustn’t be read by anyone. They’re books that need to be blocked from school libraries, ejected from public libraries, struck from publisher’s lists and set on damn fire every time they’re encountered. Which means that most of them (although by no means all of them) are worth reading, particularly when it comes to books for school-age kids who shan’t be exposed to naughty language or mentions of sex. Because if there’s one thing that abstinence-only education has taught us is that if you never, ever mention it, kids will never do it.

So here are six banned and/or challenged children’s and young adult books to read to a kid this week in honor of Banned Books Week.

Yes, but still: Dude plants a flag and claims a kingdom in Africa

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, there are things of more urgent concern than one imperialist guy and his princess-obsessed daughter. But still, we have yet another entry into the saga of White Guy Plants a Flag in Africa and Calls Dibs:

Jeremiah Heaton, who has three children, recently trekked across the Egyptian desert to a small, mountainous region between Egypt and Sudan called Bir Tawil.

The area, about 800 square miles, is claimed by neither Sudan nor Egypt, the result of land disputes dating back more than 100 years. Since then, there have been several online claimants to the property, but Heaton believes his physical journey to the site, where he planted a flag designed by his children, means he rightfully can claim it.

And call his 7-year-old daughter Princess Emily, the fulfillment of a promise he made months earlier.

“Over the winter, Emily and I were playing, and she has a fixation on princesses. She asked me, in all seriousness, if she’d be a real princess someday,” Heaton said. “And I said she would.”

(My parents called me “princess” all the time*, and those assholes never even got me a Power Wheels.)

Heaton flew to Egypt in June and took a 14-hour caravan through the desert to land where “Bedouins roam the area; the population is actually zero,” he says, to plant the flag in what is now the totally rightfully claimed Kingdom of North Sudan. He then flew home to Abingdon, Virginia (originally home to the Mattaponi tribe of the Powhatan confederacy, while we’re talking about flag-planting), where he and Queen Kelly bought their daughter a tiara and ordered the family to address her as Princess Emily.

Lest this sound like some guy willing to go way, way far (like, a $1,500 plane ticket and 28 hours on a camel far) for a gag, the new king of North Sudan has expressed an intent to pursue formal recognition with other African nations, starting with Sudan and Egypt, possibly on the new letterhead he’s ordered. In the meantime, the royal family is discussing what to do with their new kingdom, thinking specifically about agriculture, since that’s what’s on Princess Emily’s mind. Because in the end, it’s all about her. And him. And love.

But the main intent, he said, was to show his daughter that he would follow through on the promise he made.

“I think there’s a lot of love in the world,” Heaton said. “I want my children to know I will do absolutely anything for them.”

*Sarcastically, when I was being a jerk

Pope Francis to childfree couples: Even your dogs suck

For all of the misogyny inherent to the Catholic church (and evangelical and conservative Christianity in general), newbie Pope Francis has gotten a lot of attention for his (relatively) more progressive views and policies in his year of service. And yet. On Monday, Il Papa celebrated Mass with a group of 15 lengthily married couples to celebrate their marital milestones and deride those selfish, fruitless couples who would rather have pets and vacation homes than kids.