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BOOKS: Rock 'n' roll queer families
VIEWPOINT
by Dana Rudolph
2016-01-13

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The tension between assimilation and queerness has long hovered over the LGBTQ community. As English writer Jonathan Kemp said a few years ago, "The assimilationists want gay marriage, inclusion in the military, the right to adopt children... Queers, on the other hand, … [regard] the most vibrant and radical aspect of homosexuality as being precisely its opposition to normative sexuality and society" ( Graduate Journal of Social Science: 2009 ). Two new memoirs, however, show that these concepts do not always have to stand in opposition to each other.

In Queer Rock Love: A Family Memoir ( Transgress Press: 2015 ), Austin, Texas writer and activist Paige Schilt takes on a journey with her tattooed, genderqueer, rocker spouse Katy Koonce, their son Waylon, and a varied and quirky cast of family and friends. A jacket blurb from Lynn Breedlove, lead singer of the lesbian punk band Tribe 8, indicates this isn't the usual lesbians-in-the-suburbs tale.

Schilt, a self-described "depression-prone approval seeker with an addiction to vintage clothes," first met Katy at a concert where Katy was "wearing a full beard and a prosthetic man-chest … playing bass for Raunchy Reckless and the Amazons, a Xena-inspired art band." A year later, they met again in a group therapy session. Schilt was finishing a dissertation in English; Katy was a therapist, musician, and former drug addict with hepatitis C and a New Age bent.

More than any other LGBTQ parenting memoir I've read, Queer Rock Love makes the case that not only are LGBTQ people as capable of being parents as any others, but that it is possible to be both a parent and queer in the "vibrant and radical" sense of the word.

It was Katy's fantasy of having a child, she says, that helped Schilt "[stop] thinking of motherhood as a retreat from being a lez. In a sense, I realized, becoming a parent might make me even more visibly queer." When their son calls the masculine Katy "Mommy" during a family trip to a convenience story and everyone looks, one suspects she might be right. The coexistence of radical queerness and children gets further proof when they attend a local church and find the childcare being ably run by two members of the local drag king group, one with green hair.

Schilt's thoughtful descriptions of Katy's identity, masculine but tender, illuminate the wonderful complexities of gender. Katy "knew that choosing to be called 'Mommy' might tether her to the feminine end of the spectrum," she writes, "But long ago, in her moments of childhood need, she had decided that a Mommy was the strongest thing she could be." She shows us, too, how their son accepted Katy's status as "a mix of girl and boy," and came up with his own terms to describe people's genders: girl, boy, boygirl, and girlboy.

Schilt writes of many common situations that most parents will likely relate to—the sleepless nights and hectic days of the early years; negotiating boundaries with our own parents; how much to limit a child's television time. But other experiences are unique to them, such as a show in which Katy performs in both male and female drag, and a reunion heavy metal concert between Katy and Brian their sperm donor, at which four-year-old Waylon desperately wants to perform with the band.

Schilt moves back and forth from childhood to college days to the present to explore the messages of faith, family, and gender that she has wrestled with throughout her life. She shows us the challenges her family has faced, including difficulty breastfeeding, Katy's hepatitis C, laws that didn't recognize them as a family, and trying to care for a young child while also helping Katy recover from top surgery. She doesn't flinch from exposing the stress from these events that drove her and Katy to couples' therapy.

This is not a sad or angry book, however, but a hopeful and often humorous one. Despite the obstacles, the love she and Katy have for their son and the commitment they have to making their family work shine through like a beacon.

Queer Rock Love is a captivating read that should be on the shelves of anyone who ever wondered if marriage and parenting mean giving up a certain radical queerness—and those who knew it didn't all along.

It also brings to mind a second new rock 'n roll-themed memoir. At one point, Schilt notes that her idea of a good dance song "was something that allowed you to thrash wildly, like Sleater Kinney or Sonic Youth." As it happens, riot grrrl band Sleater-Kinney's own Carrie Brownstein has just released her own autobiography, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl ( Riverhead Books: 2015 ).

Brownstein, also co-creator and co-star of the IFC show Portlandia and a recurring actor on Amazon's Transparent, has not written a memoir about being in a queer family per se, but rather about her own quest for identity from childhood through her years in the band. She writes at length of her dad's coming out at age 55, however, which to me is enough to place her book in the realm of memoirs by LGBTQ parents and our children. Brownstein, herself bisexual, offers proof that having an LGBTQ parent doesn't necessarily mean having an assimilationist worldview, as she writes of "the mainstream's toxicity" and the context of Sleater-Kinney being "one of fairly radical politics."

Have no fear, then, those who doubt: Even in these days of marriage and kids, there's still a fine stream of vibrant, radical queerness among LGBTQ parents and our children. Not that we all have to follow it, but it's good to know we have the choice. Rock on.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian ( mombian.com ), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.

Paige Schilt will be at Women & Children First bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St., on Wed., Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m. See WomenAndChildrenFirst.com .


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