Entertainment

Behind 'A Family of Their Own': The Personal Beginnings of My First Fiction Novel

Author Malcolm O. Varner explains the motivations behind his first novel, "A Family of Their Own."

Growing up without a mother and having a father who was mostly absent throughout my adolescence gave way to parenthood and family being touchy subjects for much of my adulthood. I can recall my twelve-year-old self asking what my mother was like, how she looked, what she did for a living, and why she had abandoned her own two kids. There's one day I keenly remember when my younger sister and I discussed our plans to write Oprah in hopes of reuniting with this woman we only knew from our dreams, but I ultimately never wrote the letter out of fear. And for the father who had raised me throughout most of my school age years, a man that I referred to as "Duck," I only called him dad once before he died in 2011. Although he did his best as a single father, our relationship was significantly strained by his drug addiction and incarcerations during my middle and high school years, not to mention my own effeminate traits. If it wasn't for my grandmother stepping into the picture after one of his jail stints, my attitude towards family would've been indifferent at best. She provided me with a stable foundation in life that included home cooked meals, a peaceful and meticulously decorated home, and enough love to let me know that there was someone in this world who cared for me. She was someone in whose eyes I was special.


After writing A Family of Their Own, it's quite apparent how much my early understanding of family, particularly the dysfunctional type, informs the storyline and characters that I created. In many ways, the protagonist, Max Webber, represents my ideal alter ego. He's smart, hardworking, successful, cynical, and private; but most importantly, he has this urge to become an involved and concerned father, which he lacked for most of his childhood. Fortunately for Max and his siblings, their mother exemplifies strength, resilience, warmth, and acceptance. Max's husband Brian, however, was dealt a different hand in life, having grown up in a stable home with two parents. But even then, their support was far from ideal based on his sexuality. Despite their different upbringings, Max and Brian are united by their commitment to one another as well as their desire to be better fathers than the examples they had growing up. The challenges that they face aren't financial, marital discord or incompatibility, infidelity, nor related to drugs or alcohol, but based on the resistance they receive from family members who disagree with their adoption decision. These are the circumstances they must navigate after they start the adoption process and welcome Donté, a shy and inquisitive five-year-old, into their home.

Aside from Max and Brian's motives to become parents, it's this latter challenge that readers will likely find familiar. Many gay youth and adults still find themselves victims of religious intolerance and discrimination. In my book, I consider the Black church and much of its theology as an impediment to healthy relationships for gay men with their families. The more positive and healthy relationships LGBTQ parents have in their lives that are supportive of their parenting and households, the more supportive role models their children will have to look up to in life. Religious discrimination can prevent LGBTQ parents and their children from fully being engaged in all areas of their lives. This is especially true when you consider the broader context of marginalized groups, such as the significant role often held by the Black church in African American communities. Its effects, whether direct or indirect, can have serious implications on LGBTQ persons who are churchgoers or those closely affiliated with those who ascribe to fundamentalist beliefs.

Ultimately, the alternative narrative offered in my book is the importance of creating one's own family through healthy friendships. Such intentionality, I believe, is yet another truism for many within the LGBTQ community. What we are not afforded in mainstream society, it's that for which we must diligently advocate and boldly create our own paradigms. In doing so, we are healed from the pain of rejection through self-acceptance and the families we fabricate for ourselves. And as a black cisgender gay man who has lived betwixt and between virtually my entire life, this is a topic that I have come to understand on a personal level.


A Family of Their Own
is available on Amazon. Check out www.malcolmovarner.com for more info from the author!

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Gay Dad Life

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Gay dad Mark Loewen wanted to change this. "I couldn't believe that almost 200,000 children raised by same-sex couples in the US couldn't see themselves in coloring books. And that's just one country!"

Loewen already included gay dads in his first picture book, 'What Does a Princess Really Look Like?' (2018), because he saw the need for LGBT characters in stories that didn't revolve around a specific LGBT-issue. "There are some really good books out there that explain our families. I wanted to write one where the family is just who they are, and where they don't need to be explained," Loewen states about his picture book debut.

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As a parent, prior nanny, early childhood music educator, and current psychotherapist, I have read my fair share of children's books and have always found it to be an enjoyable part of my life. Unfortunately, LGBT families have an incredibly small fraction of the children's books market. The few books that I encountered about same-sex parents did not follow the family as a normal family but focused on nothing more than the same-sex parents. They don't take you on adventures, or teach everyday educational lessons that our children need. Some of these books even deliver a weird message in between the lines saying, "see, same-sex couples can be loving parents." I wondered how that is teaching our kids that there is nothing unusual about LGBT families?

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Gestational Surrogacy Legalized in New York State

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Yesterday, a years-long battle about the state of compensated gestational surrogacy came to an end in New York when the Governor signed into a law the Child-Parent Security Act in the 2020 as part of the state budget.

The effort stalled last year after opponents, including several Democrats, successfully argued that the bill didn't go far enough to protect women who serve as surrogates — even though it included a surrogate "bill of rights," the first of its kind in the country, aimed at ensuring protections.

"Millions of New Yorkers need assistance building their families — people struggling with infertility, cancer survivors impacted by treatment, and members of the LGBTQ+ community," the Family Equality Council said in a statement about the victory. "For many, surrogacy is a critically important option. For others, it is the only option. Passage of the Child-Parent Security Act is a massive step forward in providing paths to parenthood for New Yorkers who use reproductive technology, and creates a 'surrogate's bill of rights' that will set a new standard for protecting surrogates nationwide."

Opponents, led by Senator Liz Krueger, had once again attempted to torpedo legalization efforts this year by introducing a second bill that would legalize surrogacy in New York, but also make it the most restrictive state in the country to do so. "A bill that complicates the legal proceedings for the parents and potentially allows them to lose their genetic child is truly unfortunate," said Sam Hyde, President of Circle Surrogacy, referencing to the bill's 8-day waiting period. He also took issue with the bills underlying assumptions about why women decide to serve as a surrogate. The added restrictions imply that "they're entering into these arrangements without full forethought and consideration of the intended parents that they're partnering with," he said.

The bill was sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay man who became a father via surrogacy, and Assemblymember Amy Paulin, who has been public with her experiences with infertility.

"My husband and I had our two daughters through surrogacy," Holyman told Gay City News. "But we had to travel 3,000 miles away to California in order to do it. As a gay dad, I'm thrilled parents like us and people struggling with infertility will finally have the chance to create their own families through surrogacy here in New York."

"This law will [give intended parents] the opportunity to have a family in New York and not travel around the country, incurring exorbitant costs simply because they want to be parents," Paulin said for her part. It will "bring New York law in line with the needs of modern families."


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Fatherhood, the gay way

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