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A Child in a Gay Family Never Comes About Accidentally...

by Monique van Miltenburg in Films & Books , 03 september 2017


A Conversation With the Creators of the Book ‘We are Family’. The interview and photograhy book “We are family” is a project by Emma van Zalinge and Bernice Siewe that, in their own words, “got out of hand.” The book will be launched on September 8. Emma van Zalinge is seventy-two-year-old retired psychologist and is in a nearly forty-year relationship with her wife Ineke.

BerniceShe likes tennis, travel and writing. Bernice Siewe is a sixty-six-year-old photographer and still working. She also likes playing tennis, travel and art, but mostly photography. Bernice and Emma met at tennis club Smashing Pink, the largest gay tennis club in the world. The even played the occasional match.

The Start of the Book

“Whenever I’m on a holiday,” Emma says, “walking around, pondering, thinking things over, an idea always springs to mind. A year ago, give or take, I considered how interesting it would be to write down the stories of the Smashing Pink families. Smashing Pink is the gay tennis club in Amsterdam I have been a member of since its formation in 1996. Twenty years ago, two of the club’s male members told me they had helped lesbian women out with their desire to have children. That was the first time I had heard of such a thing. I thought that was remarkable. And because I had more time on my hands, I thought about making this book. It also seemed a nice idea to work with a photographer, and that is how I came into contact with Bernice. She is also a member of Smashing Pink. The first thing Bernice said was that she liked the idea, but would only work on the project if it was paid. Unfortunately, that was not feasible in the end.”

Chris, Marije and Marco

Why a book on gay families?

“Initially, we wanted to make this book exclusively available to the members of Smashing Pink. While working on the book, however, we considered to expand its reach to the world of gay families, a subject that is still largely uncovered. It is getting better with more publications on the subject, but it is still very limited. After we decided to go beyond the tennis club, we re-examined the stories we already had, and looked for other kinds of families. We had an almost endless list of families to choose from, and it is unfortunate we weren’t able to speak to all of them. You had to stop at one point, otherwise the book would never get finished.”

Striking?

“Gay families consider the division of parenting roles very carefully. The whole process demands it, as a child in such a family never comes about accidentally. How will we proceed, and what do we want from each other? All concerned parties have to make well-considered choices, much more so than in the straight families we know. We do think that those straight families can also benefit from the book. What do you expect from each other when you start having children, and how will you proceed? It is a subject we truly dove into.

Aernout, Esther, Jet and Lucius

In the book, we want to take people on a journey through this process and help them with making choices. The interviewees were extremely candid. We were regularly moved by their openness, as well as the pain in their stories. A number of people would have liked to have such a book as a reference during their decision-making process. Therein lay their motive to cooperate with us. We realized that we were dealing with stories that are very important to those involved.”

Prejudices and Other Images

Emma and Bernice“People generally do not think of children when you think of homosexuality,” Bernice notes. “It holds true even more so with men than with women. Homosexuality and children is not a common combination, which is also evident in the parent’s reaction to the coming out of male children: So, I will not be a grandmother or grandfather was and is a common reaction. A lot has changed since then, but for those with children now, that was not always the case.”

“I became increasingly curious, but the project did get somewhat out of hand. It usually takes much more time than you think to create something worthwhile and beautiful. As a photographer, I quickly had some ideas of how I wanted to portray the families. People are always interested in family relations: who is the biological mother, who is the father, what is the story behind the child? I wanted to make this visible with a twist, and decided to make a rather detailed portrait of everyone. When you include these portraits in a fold out in the book, the reader can examine who they look like. Incorporating this idea into the book turned out to be quite expensive.”

Did you do a lot of research?

“We did not do extensive research, as we just wanted to tell these stories through words and pictures. During our interviews, we often heard that people have had to search for information and that ‘hands-on’ stories were scarce.”

Sacha, Gerard and Werner

What is your affinity with (gay) families?

Emma herself never had a desire to have children: “I am not sure whether things would have been different, as it is quite common now. Unfortunately, that was not the case in my days. I do like children, and I did partly help to raise my sister’s children, my nephews. They are adults now. Thijs, my youngest nephew, has two children, and I babysit them once a week. Jesse is also a member of our tennis club. I was always around children throughout my life and really enjoyed it.”

Bernice also never felt the need for children: “My mother and I weren’t close, and perhaps that had something to do with it. When Regi and I got involved, a desire to have children did surface. Regi would have to be the one getting pregnant as I was too old, but she wasn’t keen. It does not feel as a loss, although I can very well imagine what a child’s omnipresence can bring. Perhaps some king of parenting will come into play when I’m not as busy.”

What are your ambitions with this book?

“We would like to give the book greater publicity. The book will be promoted in Amsterdam at the time of the launch and hopefully it will also get a nation-wide launch. It would be great if the book would be available all over the world. The book is bilingual, both in Dutch and in English, so that should be possible. We are not concentrating on our international aspirations yet, but that may happen in the near future. We are also exploring a possible collaboration with the ‘Meer dan gewenst’ foundation. And in twenty years’ time there will be a sequel, of course.”


 “We are Family” is not available in bookstores yet, but can be ordered directly on the website www.gayfamiliesbook.com.



 







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In the New Issue of Gay News, 316, December 2017

















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