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How do queer parents form families within a legal system that has so often been used against them?

Ahead of a free talk at the University of Sheffield alongside SJ Cooper-Knock and Surabhi Shukla, Katie Jukes uses creative tools to explore how the law shapes families and how queer parents adapt to it in turn.

1280px Gay Pride London 1991 2 March

Promoting LGBTQI family life was illegal in 1980s Britain.

Fæ on Wikimedia Commons.

How does the law in the 21st century shape our lives?

Do we change our lives to adapt and survive it? Do we rely on it to protect us? Or is it possible to imagine that the law is something we can teach our children to play with, negotiate with – another language to learn.

This is a poem I wrote about a schoolgirl’s crush on her female music teacher. It’s set in a time, the 1980s, when promoting LGBTQI family life was illegal in England.

Blue Danube Assembly

Day after day, children shuffle in,
fill the bleached hall like air fills a lung,

Anthea Weekly on her burnished throne,
fingering notes of Morning Has Broken,

mouth set in a lipstick bloom,
eyes more bedroom than classroom.

Every morning, I pray I’ll be the one
she beckons to her smoky bosom,

a strip of lace as she bends towards me,
“Put the record on!” she whispers gently,

I leap to my feet to balance the stylus,
violins begin, sotto voce, desirous,

cymbals crash, I sway and swoon,
tapping my toes to drums and bassoon,

feet keeping pace as we dance front to back,
I waltz out, through the smallest crack

in the highest window.

Katie Jukes

What happens to this child once she has grown up, come to terms with her sexuality and wants to start a family?

Family building choices for an LGBTQI person in 2024 are very different than they were in 1984. New laws in England and Wales allow gay adoption, more inclusive conception and parental rights, LGBTQI education in schools and same-sex marriage.

The law allows women in same-sex couples to have children through assisted reproduction technology such as donor insemination (or intrauterine insemination) or in-vitro fertilisation (more commonly known as IVF), and if successful, for both women to be registered as parents of the child on the birth certificate.

1280px Faust Island Mom Blogger Pride Parade Hilton Head Island
Faustisland on Wikimedia Commons.

Another legal choice is surrogacy, restricted by law so that it is not possible to enter into a surrogacy arrangement for the payment of money. Adoption is yet another legally recognised way of starting a family.

All of these choices are ‘state sanctioned’, which means that queer folk often need to understand complicated legal language and navigate complex relationships with social workers, doctors and psychologists. These laws require queer folk to fold away their bright and bold banners of resistance and activism, and to surrender an idea of kinship nurtured through the need to be imaginable in a world that renders them invisible – or do they? Another poem I wrote explores this question.

A Field of Mothers

Once upon a time, there was a mother,
her great limbs sheltered the children
in summer like a canopy of leaves, &

a patchwork blanket sewn by her mother
and her mother before, squares of worn
cotton & corduroy, blues & browns, held

the weight of her baking. Another mother
wandered restless through knee-high grass,
gathering frogs and toads, to sketch their skin

in a notebook packed with dried beech, maple
& oak, a host of wildflowers, stork’s bill,
meadow vetchling, forget-me-knots, pressed

between thick paper leaves, preserved worlds.
A third mother climbed trees, scraping her knees,
calling to the children from high branches,

a lighthouse, careful, don’t fall, you can see
the island from here
. Her light bounced
from rock to wave, keeping the darkness safe.

Together they grew a knot of roots, tethered
leaves, tendrils of their days, gentle winds
dispersing their inheritance, like seeds.

Audre lorde

Audre Lorde.

Elsa Dorfman, Wikimedia Commons.

As Audre Lorde famously said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In the context of queer families and the law, this wisdom sings out as a call to nurture language and imagination, song and voice, as an act of both belonging and resistance, insider and outsider, domestic and wild. The law places restrictions on the possibilities for queer families, but we have the tools to resist and reshape our families around them.

The Holiness of Minute Particulars

how your soft skull squeezed itself
through your mother’s vagina
how the first smell of the world
was the smell of her blood
how snuggled up in your future
like a ship inside a bottle
were two mums and their baby girl

Katie Jukes

Katie Jukes will be joined by SJ Cooper-Knock and Surabhi Shukla on 21 February at the University of Sheffield for an entertaining and informative journey through the subject of queer families and the law.

The free event takes place at Mappin Hall from 4:30 to 6pm. Please join us if you can!

(The poem A Field of Mothers is included in the forthcoming edited collection, Sanna Elfving, Katie Jukes, Miriam Schwarz and Surabhi Shukla, 'Queering EB v France (European Court of Human Rights)', in N. Ferreira, M. F. Moscati and S. Raj (Eds.), Queer Judgments, Counterpress, Coventry and is printed here with the kind permission of the editors and publisher).

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