Buy, Borrow, Bypass: Queer Parents in Fiction

Happily, more and more queer books are being published each year, and many of them are even finding their way onto best-of and bestseller lists. Queer representation across all of literature is getting better, and although it still skews toward cis white men, there are lots of stories out there about the beautiful diversity of queer humans living on this planet (and others). But one thing that’s still way too hard to find in fiction is queer parents in fiction.

Perhaps this is partly a function of the false idea that parenting is not a common queer experience. Most stories about queer folk focus on more stereotypically queer experiences: coming out, coming of age and self-acceptance, first loves, dealing with/overcoming homophobia, transitioning.

Those stories have value, and those experiences are important to queer life. But queer people also have kids! I am continually on the lookout for novels staring queer parents. Here are my thoughts on a few of books with queer parents in fiction.

Cover of A Home at the End of the World by Michael CunninghamA Home at the End of the World by michael cunningham

I read this book for the first time when I was twenty. Over a decade later, it’s still one of my favorite novels. It was the first book I can remember reading that featured an explicitly queer family, a group of people who choose to make their own kind of belonging, despite all the obstacles the world throws at them.

Bobby and Jonathan are boyhood friends with a deep bond that persists into adulthood. When Jonathan leaves for college in New York, Bobby eventually follows him, and moves in with Jonathan and his friend Clare: quirky and fiercely independent. The three of them muddle their way through ’80s New York, as AIDS descends on the city, falling in and out of love, and struggling to hold onto themselves and their connections to each other. When Bobby and Clare fall in love, the three of them decide to have a baby. They move to a big old house in upstate New York, where they discover how complicated parenthood can be. Cunningham tells their story with nuance and heart, turning the gay-man-and-straight-woman-have-a-baby-together trope into something that is both entirely original and universally relatable.

The writing is lyrical and gorgeous, and the book is sprawling in the best of ways, imbued with the messiness of being human. It dazzles with the ’80s music scene and pulses with the rhythms of both urban and rural life. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about as close as a book ever comes to being perfect.

Verdict: Buy, buy, buy!

Cover of From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacquline WoodsonFrom the Notebooks of Melanin SUn by jacquline woodson

If queer parents are rare in fiction, black queer parents are even rarer, so I was pretty excited when I discovered that Jacqueline Woodson wrote a middle grade novel staring a black boy and his gay mom. This short but powerful book packs a lot of heart and truth into its 150-odd pages. I would expect nothing less from Woodson.

Thirteen year old Melanin Sun lives with his mother in Brooklyn. They’ve always been close; she’s the one person he can count on no matter what. Then one day she tells him that she’s gay, and that she’s in love with a white woman named Kristin. Melanin not only has to deal with how this revelation changes his own relationship with his mother, but also with how his family suddenly shifts in the eyes of his friends and community. Melanin is a fantastic narrator, and his journal entries add a lot of depth and insight to the story. Woodson seamlessly weaves together issues of race, neighborhood, friendship, and family in a novel that is honest, compelling, and ultimately, full of warmth.

Verdict: Buy. Then buy copies for all the kids in your life.

O Human StarO Human Star by Blue Delliquanti, Volumes 1 & 2 by blue delliquanti

I am a little bit obsessed with this comic. I recommend it every chance I get. Whenever a fellow Rioter asks for book recommendations of any kind, for themselves or for a piece they’re working on, my first thought is: does O Human Star fit the bill? O Human Star is tied with Saga as my current favorite comic of all time, and that’s saying a lot.

Blue Delliquanti describes the comic as “a science fiction family drama.” When robotics inventor Alastair Sterling dies just before his biggest breakthrough goes public, he has no idea that his work will transform the world. Until he wakes up sixteen years later in a robotic body that is a perfect replica of his own. He goes looking for his former lover and scientific partner, Brendan Pinsky, and finds him, along with Brendan’s fifteen-year old robot daughter, Sula. Mysteries abound and past and present tensions flair as Alastair, Brendan and Sula tentatively work out how to be a family.

Gay parents, a fifteen year-old trans girl who’s also a robot, a crew of awesome diverse supporting queer characters, a love story/family drama, gorgeous artwork, fantastic world-building—what more could you possibly want in a comic? It’s sweet and intimate, but it also asks big questions about what it means to belong and who gets to be human.

O Human Star began as a webcomic, and you can still read it on Blue Delliquanti’s website for free. But I strongly encourage you to buy the first two volumes—the digital versions are only $5 each. Your money will go directly to a queer comic artist who is doing some pretty incredible work.

Verdict: Buy. Buy Volume 1. Then Buy Volume 2. Then hop over to Blue Delliquanti’s Patreon and support her there, so that she never, ever stops writing comics. 

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