Family is About Love

Toni Nielson and Bronwyn Grant NielsonJune 1st was National LGBTQ Families Day. Last week I talked about my own definitions of the word “family.” Family can be genetic, but family is also about choice. Two people who have helped me form my own definition of the word “family” are members of my chosen family, Bronwyn and Toni. I have been lucky enough to know them for sixteen years. Despite our NFL rivalry (I like the Niners, they like the Cowboys), we’ve leaned on each other for support. I love having Toni and Bronwyn in my life. I caught up with them to ask them what family, marriage, and parenthood mean to them.

How did you meet?

Bronwyn: Dixie College debate team in St. George, Utah (1997). I was the debate team president. Toni was by far our best debater, but she didn’t come to class much. Lol. Spring semester we finally recognized each other. She was so funny, sincere, genuine.

Toni: We met on the debate team. Bronwyn was the team president and I was the team’s “bad child” (assuming they even thought I was on the team). I had a habit of showing up on my own schedule, but always the week of the tournament so I could go. In the spring semester, we went to a tournament together and I got a chance to watch Bronwyn in one of her events. It was a theater piece on modeling. At the end there was a section where each person spoke about their perspective on beauty. Bronwyn said she had a complicated relationship with beauty. What she said was deep and powerful. I needed to know if it was scripted, or is these were her real thoughts. I marched up to her and asked. Once she said the thoughts were her own, I felt like I had to know her. She wasn’t the Mormon preppy president I thought she was; there was more to her. After that night, we spent a ton of time together and have ever since.

When did you get married?

B: October 8, 2000; later legally recognized July 26, 2013; legal partnership happened shortly after the wedding.

T: To add to Bronwyn’s account, we had a domestic partnership in grad school, probably around 2003. We don’t know the date because it wasn’t emotionally significant to either of us. We registered with the government because Bronwyn worked for the county and they decided to offer health insurance benefits to domestic partners. I was in grad school and needed insurance. We have been through every phase of gay marriage together. Honestly, I’m not sure what the date of the legal wedding was. The legal wedding felt like a triumph and we treated it as a celebration, but our wedding was on October 8, 2000. [Read more…]

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

What Does Family Mean?

It’s National LGBTQ Families Day, and I thought I would share my own experience as an intro to the interviews I’ve gathered for this celebration. I am a dyke. I came out in the Fall of 1998. I had questioned my gender and sexuality throughout adolescence. The murder of Matthew Sheppard was the final nudge out of the closet. I transferred from Brigham Young University to Arizona State University in 1999, shaved my head and started wearing khakis. I registered for my first Women’s Studies class, stopped shaving my legs, discovered Ani DiFranco, and tried to define my identity as a lesbian. I became very estranged from my birth family and started to forge strong relationships with my friends. I met my soul mate and helped him navigate the pathways out of the closet. One of my professors and her partner became my chosen moms. People from the college debate community were like cousins/siblings. We helped each other deal with emotional and financial challenges. We served as role models and confidants to each other. I realized that biology doesn’t dictate who we are or can become in this life, that everything is open for interpretation(s). I learned that love is not limited to a single definition. I learned that even damaged relationships can be repaired. After nearly two decades of deconstruction and reconstruction, I still embrace the militant dyke label. I’ve also come to realize that it’s OK to embrace traditional ideas of what family means as long as we remain open to alternative definitions.

To me, family is about love and support. It is about embracing our flaws and celebrating out strengths. It’s about finding joy in the little things, like listening to a two-year-old nephew sing cartoon theme songs, or brushing a four-year-old niece’s hair. It’s watching your partner’s eyes light up when he’s around his fairy godchild, or hearing him roar like a lion with his nephew. It’s watching football with your chosen moms, and playing Magic with your lezbros. It’s about taking someone to chemo, or scrubbing a friend’s toilet when they’re unable. Family can be genetic, but family is also about choice. I choose the people I want to share my love with, and I focus my intentions on building positive relationships. Love manifests itself in many ways, and I am grateful for all of the love in my life.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Gearing Up for National LGBTQ Families Day

Historically, “women’s work” has been defined (in America) as being a stay-at-home mother who packs the kids’ lunches for school; cleaning the house; running errands; making sure that dinner is ready by the time Mr. Familyman comes home fro work; and putting the kids to bed at night. This definition has been critiqued since the 1700’s (at least from an upper-class, heterosexual, white perspective), but it still the cookie cutter image that comes to mind, even in the 21st century.

American suffragists started to deconstruct this definition in the 1800’s. One example is founding suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She told women to stop having children so that they could start petitioning for the right to vote. Women’s work was redefined even further in the 1940’s when women were recruited to help with the Second World War (think Rosie the Riveter). However, when the (primarily male) troops came home, Rosie and her sisters were told to go home so that the men could have their jobs back. Second wave feminists of the 1960’s and 1970’s started rabble rousing, demanding that women be allowed to work outside of the home. This struggle is still active today. Women as a whole are still paid 78 cents for every dollar that a man is paid. The gap gets even wider for women of color. Age is also a factor.

Economics aside, raising a family is still considered to primarily be “women’s work.” This definition is problematic on several levels. The economic reality is that most households need more than one income provider. When you consider additional factors, such as race and economic class, the definition of women’s work becomes even shakier. When sexuality gets added to the mix, the definitions of “women” and “family” get even more complicated.

June 1st is t2015lgbtqfamilydayhe annual Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day. Bloggers from all over the worldwide web will be writing articles about queer families. I will be focusing on the same topic throughout the month of Jun. I hope you’ll join me in the discussion, either in the comments section or on Twitter. What does family mean to you? And how did you develop this definition? I’d love to read what you have to say.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feminist Conversations: An Interview With Lesbian Icon Ann Bannon

Ann Bannon, in my opinion, is the queen of lesbian pulp fiction. Her books in the Beebo Brinker series served as a roadmap for many lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s. I was introduced to Bannon’s work in a Women’s Studies class at ASU. Bannon’s novels helped me navigate my own coming out process. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I was given the opportunity to interview her.

1. What was your initial inspiration for writing the Beebo Brinker novels?
I began by falling in “fascination” with the first original lesbian pulp novel, Spring Fire, by Vin Packer. It’s a story of two young women who meet in their college sorority house and fall in love—not a terribly original premise these days, but a dangerous and thrilling one then. The consequences of being outed in the 1950s were appalling, and I had been close enough to a similar disaster in my own sorority to empathize with the girls in Packer’s novel. I knew I wanted to write, and it turned out that this little pulp paperback I had found on a newsstand shelf was the creative trigger. [Read more…]

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Stone Butches and Lipstick Lesbians: Gender Role Construction in the Works of Ann Bannon

Before the days of Facebook and Twitter, lesbians were largely confined to meeting in bars or in secret, and they had few sources to link them to a broader community. Logging onto the Internet these days, one can literally find thousands of websites and social media groups dedicated to helping lesbians from across the country and around the globe forge a sense of virtual community.

Although we live in an age of hashtags and electronic tablets, many of us still read bound stacks of paper called books. Lesbian pulp fiction still has meaning for both young queers who are just coming out of the closet, as well as with lesbians from an older generation. What is it about these dated stories that both younger lesbians and those who made the journey to Stonewall find compelling?

One explanation is that younger lesbians are turning to these artifacts of the 1940s and 1950s to gain a sense of a separate lesbian history. In particular, what these books teach us about the construction of gender roles within lesbian relationships is a key component in that history. One of the most pervasive questions that helps one to identify her place within the lesbian community is “are you butch or femme?” Although these gender roles are hotly contested (some say they don’t even exist), it is my contention that they still serve an important function for lesbians of all walks of life. Lesbian pulp, then, is a means of tracing the development of butch/femme roles that is difficult to find outside of oral histories. [Read more…]

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail