I don’t want kids. With the exception of a few months around the time my first nephew was born, when I thought, hmm, maybe — I’ve never wanted kids. While some people have always known for sure that they do or do not want kids, my desire not to have my own children hasn’t always been an absolute; it’s waxed and waned over the years. These days, it’s a vehement no, not interested, not ever. Ten years ago, it was a softer no — as in, it’s not in the plan, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out. Now, in my late-ish thirties, I’ve settled comfortably into a life without my own children, one that is full of niblings and the kids of dear friends. I hope my life continues to fill up with kiddos. I love being an aunt. I have no interest in being a parent.
I can’t get enough books about parenthood, though. I’ve never met a queer parenthood memoir I didn’t want to read. I’m constantly searching for them. It’s not just that I find them fascinating and informative and beautiful and moving. There’s something about queer parenthood books that makes me feel seen. Sometimes they feel like they’re written just for me, even though, objectively, this is not the case — they are about experiences that I will never have, that I do not want to have. I know this, and yet, every time I pick up one of these books, I get a shiver of recognition. I feel immediately comfortable.
I first felt this intense sense of connection reading Maggie Nelson’s queer classic The Argonauts. I felt it again with Kris Malcolm Belc’s gorgeous memoir The Natural Mother of the Child, one of my favorite books of 2021. Most recently, I felt it while reading Julietta Singh’s book-length essay The Breaks.
Why are these books so important to me? Why do they sometimes feel like lifelines, like I’ll drown if I can’t read them?
For most of my teens and twenties, I equated motherhood with the loss of personhood. All of the pop culture and media I consumed — books, movies, TV — depicted mothers as selfless beings devoted to their kids above all else. As happy, heterosexual housewives. Or deeply unhappy heterosexual housewives. As heroic, angelic, without boundaries, willing to sacrifice their own needs, every time, for the needs of their kids. Or as monsters for leaving their kids. You know the trope: dad leaves his kids and it’s sad but what can you expect? Mom leaves her kids and she’s suddenly beyond forgiveness. All of this terrified me — I couldn’t imagine anything worse. If having kids meant losing myself, I wanted no part of it.
On top of that, outside of my own extended family, I saw very few queer parents. I had no idea what was possible. I grew up thinking about parenthood in the narrowest of terms — nuclear family terms. Even after years of rejecting the idea that there’s only one way to make a family, even after years of celebrating all the glorious ways my friends have made queer families and become parents — well, the white supremacist heteropatriarchy leaves its mark on all of us.
It’s obvious to me, looking back, why books about parenthood used to make me feel so lonely. I felt like I was missing out on some innate human experience that everyone wanted to have but me. I felt like I was wrong not to want it. There wasn’t a version of parenthood I could understand or relate to in the novels I loved or anywhere on TV or in my favorite movies. It felt like there was only one choice, and it wasn’t the choice I wanted. I’m old enough now to know that my desire not to have kids comes from somewhere deep inside me, and also that it’s impossible to untangle that desire from the world we live in. It is with this conflicting, complicated understanding that books about queer parenthood have come into my life. This is why they feel so vital to me: reading them is a kind of healing.
Books about queer parenthood don’t make me feel wrong or lonely. They make space for me. They don’t make me want to become a parent, but they allow me to imagine the kind of parent I might have become. Singh writes about the queer family she’s built with her co-parent, a dear friend with whom she shares a life and a duplex, but not a romantic connection. Belc writes with gorgeous specificity about the joys and challenges of queer and trans parenthood, and, more expansively, queer family-making. The Argonauts, in many ways, is a book about queering parenthood itself, about rejecting narrow heteronormative ideas about pregnancy, birth, bodies, desire, home, partnership. All of these experiences of parenthood, all of these iterations of queer family, are legible to me. They may not be what I have or what I want, but they are kin to what I have, and kin to what I want.
In her stunning essay collection Tomboyland, Melissa Faliveno has a brilliant essay about choosing not to have kids, and the ways in which society doesn’t make space for the grief of that choice. It’s one of my favorite essays of all time. She writes about how, if you don’t want kids, it’s almost impossible to express any sadness about it, because then people will immediately assume that you want kids after all and try to tell you “it’s not too late.” In reality, it’s a lot messier and more nuanced than that. I don’t want kids. I’m not sad about it — but I do sometimes grieve the life I might have had with children.
Reading books about queer parenthood allows me to sit with that grief, the grief of 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 is expansive and infinite. They give me hope. They celebrate beautiful webs of home and kinship and belonging and care that make intuitive sense to me. They make the space that so much contemporary discourse about parenting doesn’t make: space for me not to want kids, space for me to change my mind, space for me to celebrate my childlessness and the children in my life, space for me to grieve, space for me to envision and build my own queer family.