|"Family" is a complicated word for those of us who are gay and
lesbian, bisexual and two-spirited and transgendered. The concept of "family
values" is used to attack usand meanwhile we are often kicked out and excluded
from our families of origin simply because of who we are. But in the South when I was
coming out, in North Carolina in the 1970s, we would identify another gay person by saying
In Crime Against Nature, I wrote about my
struggle as a lesbian mother to stay connected to my two sons, who I lost custody of.
Through our struggle to love each other, we never lost each other. The "boys"
are now grown men. I am so proud of them and happy that they are very much part of my
life. And that theyve had a chance to live a life in which "family" has
been expanded to mean a group of loved ones that is consciously chosen and created.
In 2006, the Syracuse University LGBT Resource
Center sponsored the national exhibition "Love Makes a Family" in
central New York. The original photographs and narratives for that show
were gathered together by Peggy Gillespie and others into a book, "Love
Makes a Family: Portraits of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender
Parents and Their Families" (University of Massachusetts, 1999).
I wrote the introduction, "Family Album," to that
volume, (included here).
I had begun teaching at Syracuse University in
2005, so I was happy to participate when Adrea Jaehnig and the wonderful
staff at the LGBT Resource Center suggested a Central New York version
of this project, and asked local photographer Ellen M. Blalock to
collaborate in making portraits of the many kinds of loving families in
They described their effort as a parallel to the
original exhibition that "challenged damaging myths and stereotypes
about LGBT people and their families through first person accounts and
positive images by using an "approach of positive images and first
person accounts to relay the stories of LGBT people and their families
here in the Syracuse area."
From their "Central New York Pride" exhibit here
is my narrative and two photos:
In 1975, I lost custody of my two sons, then seven
and six years old, when I came out as a lesbian in Fayetteville, North
Carolina. Later I wrote a book of poems, "Crime Against Nature," about
that experience and our successful struggle to stay connected as mother
and children, as "family."
The sodomy statute, the "crime against nature" law,
which the state and my husband used to take the children was repealed at
a national level only three years ago, in 2003, in the Lawrence decision
by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here I am holding three pictures-one of me and my
youngest son Ben with his wife Katie and their two children, Simon Bruce
and Ruth; one of me and my oldest son Ransom with his wife Laurel and
their newborn son Alden; and one of my beloved partner of fifteen years,
transgender lesbian activist Leslie Feinberg, with my aunt Gilder Brown,
who loved me unconditionally all my life, before and after I came out
to her as a lesbian.
Surely the depth of Gilder's love came in part
because of her own queer life, that she was someone who, in 1925, when
she was six years old, walked a mile into town to demand the barber cut
her hair "like a boy's." She wore it that short until the day she died
at 85, a working woman who never married, who led her life with
courage--unnamed, unknown, and unhonored by the world. I pay tribute to
the passionate love she gave the world. (October 2006)
Photos by Ellen M. Blalock
You can view the photographs and family narratives
Photo by Joan E. Biren
Here I am, with my sons Ben Weaver (left) and
Ransom Weaver (right) on an island in the Potomac River in 1988. This
was my "author" photograph for "Crime Against Nature" when it was
published in 1989 by Firebrand Books and received the Lamont Poetry
Award from the Academy of American Poets.
And here's section 5 from the title poem of the
book, about that moment when we were together in the river:
"Crime Against Nature"
Last time we were together we went down to the
the boys and I, wading. In the rocks they saw a yellow-
striped snake, with a silver fish crossways in its mouth,
just one of the many beautiful terrors of nature,
how one thing can turn into another without warning.
When I open my mouth, some people hear snakes slide
out, whispering, to poison my sons' lives. Some fear
I'll turn them into queers, into women, a quick reverse
of uterine fate. There was only that little bit of androgen,
the Y, the diversion that altered them from girls.
Some fear I've crossed over into capable power
and I'm taking my children with me. My body a snaky
rope, with its twirl, loop, spin, falling escape,
falling, altered, woman to man and back again, animal
to human: And what are the implications for the political
system of boy children who watch me like a magic
trick, like I have a key to the locked-room mystery?
(Will they lose all respect for national boundaries,
their father, science, or private property?)
In Joan's picture of that day, black, white, grey
gleaming, we three are clambered onto a fist of rock,
edge of the river. You can't see the signs that say
Danger No Wading, or the water weeds, mud, ruck
of bleached shells from animal feasting, the slimy
trails of periwinkle snails. We are sweaty, smiling
in the sun, clinging to keep our balance, glinting
like silver fishes caught in the mouth of the moment.
Minnie Bruce Pratt
People who have read "Crime Against Nature" often
ask me, "What happened?" Meaning, I think, what happened to you and your
children? And that question holds so much of everyone's fear and hope
about love--Did the three of you stay in touch? What do they think about
your sexuality? Did the oppression that you all suffered break your love
apart, or cause you to be lost to each other? How did you hold closeness
together when you lived so many miles apart, and during a time when
lesbian mothers and children of LGBT families were not visible at all?
Is it possible to make a different kind of family, with honesty about
sexuality, with flexibility and complexity in gender roles?
Twenty years after "Crime Against Nature" I can
answer those questions by saying that the fierce dedication to love
between me and my children has meant that love has made our family bigger
and more joyful. Here's a picture to show you how big and happy our
family is now:
From Left: Laurel Graves Weaver, Alden Weaver,
Minnie Bruce Pratt, Katie Kent, Ransom Weaver with Mae Weaver, Ben
Weaver kneeling next to Simon Bruce Kent, Leslie Feinberg holding Ruth
Weaver, during the winter holidays 2007.