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It's Time for a True "Focus on the Family"

by Valerie Tobin

Today is Friday. In a few hours I am going to start preparing dinner. Friday night is shabbat for Jews, a night to rest from the week. For many of us, this is also a night of thanks for our loved ones. I never celebrated shabbat in my family of origin and I was not raised Jewish, since I am the daughter of a mixed marriage. However, as an adult I am increasingly grateful for the people who share my life. I want to take time out to appreciate them with a good meal, wine and conversation. Tonight at my table will be my best friend and her partner, my boyfriend and our (female) lover. Other nights, other friends join us. With our modest feast, I acknowledge not only this family of choice, but the family who survived to pass on this ritual.

Like many other bisexual families, my family is not always safe or respected because we are different. The Religious Right has co-opted the meaning of "family" in our culture, defining it narrowly as "a mom, a dad, and their kids."

Yet family is much more than that. It is all of those people who share your intimate life. Our families are our lifeblood, literally and figuratively. They provide our life passages with context. They nourish, support and challenge us.

But the Right has one thing right: Family is the cauldron that creates us. However, many of us have realized also that we create our families. This is a dynamic and exciting process, not a stale one-liner, "family values." This is especially true in the queer community, where coming out is not only an individual journey but a family one, too.

When I came out at 18, my parents and I went through the process of separation and reconciliation that so many of us go through. When my parents went through their anger and pain about my sexual orientation, I found my own brood of friends who became family. I have relied on them through moves, career changes, the confusion of young adulthood and my mother's death. They, in turn, have had a loyal friend in me.

As a culture, our network of extended kin has begun to dissolve. We are expected to move for school, jobs, "opportunity," often far away from those we love. This leaves new families without a lot of help when they most need it, without parenting role models or people to turn to for advice. It is no surprise to me that many new mothers suffer from postpartum depression. Raising your beautiful, entirely dependent baby in isolation or trying to combine breast-feeding with almost any job is courting calamity. A 12-week postpartum leave, only for mothers, is abysmal. Many European nations provide paternity leave and maternity leave, some for up to one year with pay and flexible work-time.

Most of the women I worked as a midwife with were heterosexual and in partnerships. For those of us who do not fit this model, there are even fewer societal supports. Yet I see examples of unique and brave families everywhere in our eclectic community.

I approached Anything That Moves about this focus more than a year ago. With this issue, I wanted to take a look at bisexual families. How do we define our families? How have we created and maintained them? What issues do we face? I did not want to focus solely on families with children because this is not the only way to define a family. As Felicia Park-Rogers says in "Queering the Family", "To quote a brilliant eight-year-old, 'a family is one or more people who love each other.'"

In the following articles, you will find life experiences, advice for how to protect your family and a look at how we fit into a major social/cultural shift in family structure. BobBI Keppel, age 66, has watched this transformation happen. She shares from her personal as well as professional experience as a social worker in "Families and Change."

Juba Kalamka also offers slices of his experience. In "We Are Family?" he looks at the intersections of black family and identity, sexual orientation, and community expectations in his life.

Felicia Park-Rogers' own unique family was profiled in a local San Francisco television show about the Castro. Now, as executive director of COLAGE, Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, she hears from BGLT families across the country. The speech reprinted here, "Queering the Family," continues her outspoken support for BGLT families.

Whatever your opinion is about same-sex marriage, most of us agree that all families need protections. Attorney Liz Schwartz provides information about how to create legal safeguards for unconventional families in "Legal Protections for the Alternative Family." Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot discuss the significance of this issue for bisexuals and their organization, The Alternatives to Marriage Project, in "White Picket Fence-Sitting: Bisexuality and Family Diversity."

I encourage all of you to share your stories. The world needs to know we are responsible to those we love; not nymphomaniacs who swing right out of ourr commitments as it believes us to be. As well, each of us needs role models and community so we can protect and honor our particular family.


Valerie Tobin is ATM's guest editor for issue #20.

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